Posts in Life at the Farm
Goatus Interruptus
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Goats seemed like such a good idea...

Earlier this week, a friend shared a comment she'd seen about Instagram stories. The poster was recommending her favourite accounts and added me to that list (thank you, if it was you!!) and writing that I speak to the camera well but always seem to be looking for my goats. 

While I can't particularly comment on the first bit, the latter is not actually true, because I don't really have to look for the goats any more. If they aren't in their field, I simply need to consider where in the vicinity they could get into the most trouble and there they will be.  I hear our neighbouring farmer driving up? Without a doubt, they will be in his field grazing with his cows. Next door's holiday cottage door is open? They will be in the kitchen eating the holiday maker's dinner (true story). Have I bought new houseplants that day?  Unquestionably they will have broken into the house to eat them. While the sheep just escape, the goats plot.  
 

On Thursday morning, I woke up early to water the garden before the heat of the day. As I turned the corner to the veg plot, I saw 5 goats happily munching away at my peas, dahlias and raspberry bushes.  They looked up at me quite innocently as I screamed at them to get the *&^* out of my garden, unperturbed by my flailing arms, tears and cuss words. If goats could wear facial expressions, theirs was one of utter astonishment...as if they couldn't believe I hadn't grown the whole garden just for them.

Of course I threatened all sorts of ends they would meet (meat), as I led them out into their field.  Curry was mentioned, as was a rug or 5.  I locked the door behind them and stomped off back to the house to compose myself with coffee and breakfast.

That breakfast was an omlette - eggs from the hens, spinach from the garden and the best feta you will ever eat, made from the milk of those horned ravagers of vegetable patches.  I softened by bite one and by bite five, I sort of forgot why I had ever been mad at them in the first place. The power of a good cheese.

The Power of Doing it Yourself

A few months ago, Scotland came to a standstill.

The "beast from the east" came and dumped snow upon our normally green land, then blew it into drifts large enough to grind the motorways to a standstill and leave most of us able only to travel for as far as we could walk safely.

Living at the end of a 1.5 mile single track road, we expect to spend some part of the winter cut off and prepare accordingly, keeping a couple of dairy goats and plenty of flour on hand so at the very least we can have bread and cheese (I won't go into the fact that we'd under prepared without enough coffee and tonic water to get through - rookie mistake, Goldin), but my uncharacteristically Facebook timeline was filled with my more urban friends who could make it out of their homes and to the shops only to find them empty of bread. Scotland had run out. 

A few weeks previously, I'd run my first Sourdough Bread making workshop. Our informal class had taught a handful of people the skills necessary to make bread with the most basic ingredients - flour, water, salt - in their own homes. As the majority of my timeline filled with folks mourning their lack of toast, these students were posting pictures of their homemade bread.

I count that as one of my best moments in my working life. Of course, not that the country had come to a standstill or that people couldn't get out of their homes to get basic necessities, but that some how in a world where we are so dependent on systems that don't always serve us, I had given a handful of people the skills to do it themselves and provide for their families.

The times that I have felt most creative and then empowered are those where I have HAD to be creative. Maybe we didn't have enough money to buy a finished product or couldn't find something we were looking for and we had to make it ourselves. I started baking because we moved too far out and my love of a baked good wasn't enough to get me to drive the 20 minutes to the nearest cafe. I had to figure out how to do it myself on a budget that ensured we could continue to pay the rent. And once you get into that mindset, its addictive.  I look around at all of the things that need to be done in our kitchen or around the farm and I instantly start singing "I Can Do That" from A Chorus Line**.

Making from scratch, figuring things out, embedding creativity into the most mundane things, taking back a tiny bit of power in a world that wants us to hand it over with our cash...yep, pretty much the reason I get out of bed every morning. Well, that and coffee. 

**In our next instalment, Kevin lists the DIY projects that fall into the "Just Because You CAN, Doesn't Mean You Should" category. ;) 

I've put my favourite sourdough recipe on the blog, if you fancy giving it a go. If you don't have a starter, I recommend this method, or you can always buy one from the shop.

I also have spaces available on my upcoming sourdough workshops!!  

Life at the End of The Road

I am pretty sure I have told you before that our house sits at the end of a 1.5mile track.  We are the only ones who live this far down, with our nearest neighbours just over a mile back towards the main road.  99% of the time, this isolation is so welcome.  There is nothing quite like heading up the track after travelling for work and knowing that I won't see anyone but my family until I make my way back down the road.  And then there is that other 1% of the time - when the milk runs out or someone is sick and the outside world can't come fast enough...

Or when it snows.  In our 4 years in this house, we have only been properly snowed in once before this year. It was for about 24 hours and the snow melted quickly and we were released. For 6 days last week, the Beast from the East kept us firmly indoors and cut off from civilisation.  Our road made impassable by about a quarter mile of drifting snow.  Fortunately, I shop like the apocalypse is coming and with a dairy goat and the fact we make our own bread, supply wise we were ok. It was more the constant presence of my family that had me clawing at the door and imagining a Shining type situation.  Fortunately, we were released from our snow bound prison before I started writing Red Rum on anything. 

However, a week on life has mostly returned to normal.  The storm began and ended in time with both of our goats kidding.  Freya, our Toggenburg had two bouncing (and I mean BOUNCING) kids and, sadly, Dasher, our Saanen, lost her singleton buckling to dystocia (getting stuck).  We've had to watch D like a hawk, so rather than heralding the snow melt with getting stuck into garden tasks like planting seeds, we've spent most of the last week walking back and forth to the barn.

In between those moments, we have been dreaming about the seasons ahead. We've had a number of really successful fermentation and sourdough workshops and have planned a series of foraging and feasting days as I simply can't wait to get back into my normal routine of walking the dog, basket in hand, looking for that night's dinner and I thought it would be fun to take 10 or so people with me!!

19th January 2018

Its just gone 7am.  I've thrown Kevin's oversized lumberjack shirt and boots over my pyjamas to make the 8 steps to the studio.  My coffee has settled to the perfect lukewarm temperature and I am squeezing in a few precious moments of writing before I begin the daily ritual of breakfast/chores/school run.

This week has been exactly what I needed.  The first week since the holidays where our familiar routines seemed to fall into place - work/school/farm all bustling along at exactly the right speed. We hosted our first workshop of the year on Saturday, which was so wonderful and I feel like the positive energy of that has propelled us along all week (plus workshop leftovers are the best leftovers to start the week). Even little Theo, whose reluctance to leave my side and go to school has been the dominating force in our mornings, seems to have decided that school isn't that bad after all and I have been able to wave him off at the bus stop two days in a row.

I have to admit that I am always a fan of January for precisely these moments - when the excitement of the holidays is behind us and we settle back into our little habits and routines - with the added dose of New Year's reflection. There has been a lot of the latter, being the sucker I am for resolutions, but also coming out of a challenging year for work and family life - with 2 new ventures (workshops and air bnb), a thriving Crochet Project, a new flock of sheep and the tiny seeds of a long awaited yarn line they signify. With the addition of some personal problems that effected us deeply, the last half of 2017 felt overwhelming. So, I head into this year feeling I need to at least to attempt to future proof our lives as much as humanly possible. Being much more intentional with our time and money and growing our businesses to support us and toying with some big questions about where we go from here- with some big questions like should I rename Slugs on the Refrigerator? (turns out it's not a great name for a workshop venue! ha!) to smaller ones like which homemade dishwasher soap recipe actually works (I'll let you know).

Fortunately for the over thinker in me, there isn't much time for reflection with a herd of sheep hell bent on getting into my neighbour's field, 2 pregnant goats who are eating me out of house and home, a peacock and a chicken who believe they should live in the kitchen, an attack turkey and the rest of the menagerie.

And the school run...there always seems to be a school run! 

Have a wonderful weekend!! I will be:

Reading:: Playing Big by Tara Mohr and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz

Making:: Beeswax Wraps and Sourdough Bagels (and dishwasher tablets)

Listening:: THE NEW FIRST AID KIT ALBUM!!!

12th January 2018
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If there was a word to describe this week, it would probably be full. Or chaos. Or “pretty much normal” because chaotically full and full of chaos seem to be our new normal. 

Recently, I've felt thrown back into the early days of blogging and designing when the kids were little and I woke up crazy early to work before the rest of the house woke up and swept me up in the raging tide of family life. Some of this is motivated by my renewed energy to get shit done and starting fresh in the new year. However, a lot of it is just that every other moment seems to be full, so getting up earlier seems my only option.

The truth is, I thrive on busyness.  I am at my best when my days are full and my over analytical brain can't engage and I just have to do. I think my most happy days are when I haven't sat down all day - doing the mix of farm, work and family tasks that seem to expand to fill every moment of time available.

There is one caveat to this.  The control freak in me hates when things don't go to plan. It is a terrible character flaw that my most beloved Kevin will tell you has caused more fights in our 20 some years together than any other thing. And I have learned recently that nothing throws a spanner in the works like animals. 

Because in amongst the added work of busy deadlines, back to school angst and January financial juggling is a farm yard of animals hell bent on escaping/breaking into the feed store/getting into the house/developing health concerns/keeling over dead. You know how lessons in your life come back again and again until you learn them? Smallholding is that lesson in adaptability biting me in the backside on a daily basis.

So please excuse me for the short blog post today, because the carefully carved out hour I had to  tell you the tale of my week has been cut in half by 9 sheep who will not stay in their field and have wandered half a mile away, a goat who may be giving birth any day, chickens that knocked over two bags of feed outside the front door, a peacock who got into the studio, a dog that seems to have developed some sort of allergy to everything and a cat who left me just the innards of a mouse on the living room floor.

Full of chaos, chaotically full. Wouldn't change it...well, mostly. 

Out of the Corner of My Eye

There are 25 pounds of green tomatoes sitting in my window sill. They've been there for 3 weeks, bought from the local market after asking weekly for a month if the owner was going to be able to get any in for our year's suply of green salsa. And there they have sat - waiting for the final ingredients of jars, green peppers, onions and tie to do something with them.

 

If anything were a symbol of the last season we've been through, it would be that rotting basket of tomatoes. So much intention, so little time. 

I do hate it when people tell you how busy they are - the modern status symbol where people compete with each other to see who can drop down more dog tired than the other. But it has been busy here and in the moments it hasn't, we have dropped down dog tired. We seem to careen through the day by simply solving the latest and most urgent catastrophe. Any plans for moving forward, knocked back by the reality of forever trying not to slip backwards - chasing escaped goats, making beds, making food, making messes, chopping firewood, doing work, listening to trombone practice, fighting about homework and somewhere in there gulp down dinner and pray the bills get paid on time.  Its all so fast, it feels like a blur.

These daily routines are also a tour through the things we haven't done. We haven't sorted the garden for autumn. We haven't planted the 10lbs of tulip bulbs I bought. We haven't put in the garlic or the onions. We haven't fixed the fence where the goats got in and ate all the beans and corn. We haven't sorted out the strawberry bed that was infested with creeping buttercup. The barn needs cleaning. The coops need wintering. I need to find a new straw supplier. I've always hated having items on a to do list hanging over my head and smallholding is a lesson over and over in never being finished. 

And then out the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of how far we've come in the 3 and a half years we've been here. I see the much longed for sheep, happily munching in the field.  I have a  freezer full of chicken and lamb that we butchered ourselves. We had the best growing season yet in the garden, thanks to a new fence Kevin built.  The autumn program of workshops was a huge success and more are booked in the spring.  If I stand just so and squint, I can just about see that we are on the path we'd intended to be on when we drove down the drive way 4 years ago. 

That is as long as I don't look at those fucking tomatoes. 

The Summer Summary

High fives and belly bumps, people.  We made it. Summer holidays are over and the children are safely back in school. *insert celebratory emojis here*

I want to tell you about all the great adventures we had, how we seamlessly blended the work and kid juggle and how great it was...and it was in parts, but the truth is that I found this summer hard, and I am glad it's over. Summer is always a perfect storm of being both the busiest time of year work wise, prepping for an autumn and winter of releases, events and workshops and the slowest in terms of income.  And while we did really awesome, fun things, we also sat around and watched a lot of TV in our underpants, me working, kids eating cereal for every meal.

 

There were a few moments where I was able to pry them out of the house.  Usually it involved throwing them in a loch or river, sometimes with Kevin as well.  

We also, 

  • worked steadily on building up natural dye samples for the upcoming Foraging for Colour workshop
  • perfected sourdough croissants
  • swam, swam, swam
  • got a new billy goat, named Red/Harry/Oi You!
  • visited the glorious Seacliffe Beach near North Berwick.  What a place!!
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However, the absolute highlight of the holidays came on the Monday of the 2nd week.  I was working on a deadline for the Great Wave KAL and needed to knit like the wind.  Ells, tired of being ignored, climbed into bed with me to watch a film.  Luna the cat crawled between us.  As the movie went on, I noticed Luna acting a bit strange.  I checked her out and realised she was having kittens on my bed!! An amazing experience to get to watch them come into the world and we have absolutely loved having these 6 bundles of fluff running around the house. 

And that's that, really.  On to P2, P3 and P6, a very full autumn and deadlines galore. 

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There's No Business Like Yolk Business

For roughly 3 of the last 3.5 years of living here, Kevin and I have talked about selling our eggs in an honesty box at the end of the road.  We've always had an abundance of eggs and a sweet little egg box sat unloved and filling with wasp nests next to the bus stop for that entire time.  We'd absent-mindedly mention it to each other, agree that it was a good idea and then nothing would happen...some other more urgent farm task taking precedence. 

A few weeks ago, the dreaded topic of summer pocket money came up. Our implementation of pocket money has been very hit and miss in the last 10 years of parenting.  Never having had a firm stance on the concept, other than Kevin and I firmly agreeing that we didn't want to pay the kids for doing tasks they really should be doing any way, we would implement a plan and then the kid's interests would fizzle out with screens or running around with their friends being far more interesting. 

In the end, it was Georgia who decided that the solution to both problems was the kids starting their own egg business.  Kevin and I contributed labour, fixing up the old hutch and making signs, while the kids would be responsible for gathering and sorting the eggs and making sure the hutch was always stocked. They would pay us the first £7 a month for feed (roughly the cost of feeding the laying hens and ducks in a month) and they could keep the rest.

For two days, the eggs sat. Georgie would check every morning and every evening to see if someone, anyone had bought her eggs - with big tears when she was convinced that no one wanted her eggs.  She even wanted to miss school and camp out at the bottom of the road, calling out to passers by, letting them know that she was selling eggs. As I was on the verge of giving my neighbour who has chickens £1 to take a half dozen and someone bought 2 cartons.  Since then, we've done a steady business and we actually make it to the bus stop early enough to check on any overnight purchases before Jim arrives. 

And so, the kids are in the egg business. They've decided that they want to get a proper logo stamp for our cartons and have grand plans for selling all sorts of lemonade, flowers, veg and crafts over the summer.  We are even off to pick up some green egg laying hens today to add to their production line. The only problem now is convincing Georgia that she probably isn't going to get the brothers to agree to spend the profits on a horse...

Living The Dream

About 15 or so years ago I took a course with an activity to draw your dream life. I drew a cottage in the country, with chickens and dogs, flowers, a big garden where we grow our own food and lots of space for children to run around. There were big blowsy flowers, a rainbow and wild birds in the sky.  I drew part of it at night, with clear bright stars shining through. It was a far cry from our flat in Windsor's busy city centre and our 4 mile commutes that could take 2 hours on a bad day and a sky with so much noise, light and air pollution I am pretty sure I only saw pigeons and seagulls.

This dream stayed with me and pushed us on -  from Windsor, to a small flat in Stirling, to a house in Alloa, to where we are now - in the middle of nowhere with a full menagerie of chickens, dogs, turkeys, geese, guinea fowl, peacocks, sheep, a cat and some goats. The children have miles to run around and our garden, cupboards and freezer are full of things we grow ourselves. 

There is a moment every single day where I am so unbelievably grateful to have found this place and to have the opportunity to live this life. And then, usually about 5 minutes later, I am overwhelmed just how hard it is. So much of this journey reminds me of parenthood - the unbelievable work involved, the heartache, the expense, the raw emotion and then the unfathomable joy. And the poo. So much poo.

Take this morning.  A dog got into the car and managed to lock it with the keys helpfully sitting on the dash, so I am waiting for the AA to come and break into my car. The sheep broke down a fence yesterday, letting all of the meat birds out and now the path between the house and the garden is covered in bird poo. Milking took an extra person and 35 minutes because the goats have figured out how to tip their feed bucket to get into it. The grass is knee high. I had to retrieve a dead turkey poult from under its mama so the dogs would leave her alone. While checking on another mama, I found the coop swarming with mites. We have been eating only things I can cook in an electric frying pan, as the oil is about to run out and I am not sure when it will be delivered.  Less than dreamy.

 

And just like when my children were little and a well meaning lady would come up while my children were screaming and tell me to "enjoy minute because they grow up so fast", I've come to understand that not every moment, maybe not even most of the moments of this dream are good.  Some are pretty crappy, but just like the pink-tinted cheeks of a sleeping baby who spent the whole day crying - it is the perfect moments that make the rest of it worth while. Its the perfect meals that only travelled down that poopy path from the garden to the kitchen. It is watching Georgia tell everyone about her Turkey, Jerky, as they walk past its cage at the local country show.  It comes from standing at my window watching the sun go down as the local osprey flies past.  

Its worth it, I think. The expense and the work and the heartache for the dream. I wouldn't mind less poo though.  

 

 

A Year With Goats

Over the Easter Holidays, we were sitting in the living room with some friends we hadn't seen in awhile. As we ate and chatted, we heard loud laughter coming from the gaggle of children in the next room. A few moments and a thundering of hooves later, in comes Freya Goat to say hello. 

I wish I could have told my friends that this was a one off, that some random and unavoidable set of circumstances out-with our control led to there being a large hooved animal busting up our dinner party, nibbling the oat cakes and that such a thing had never happened before. In fact, I probably said as much, covering my embarrassment the best I could.  The truth of the matter is that probably only 12 foot high deer/prison fencing could keep that goat in and most days are spent playing the delightful game of "where's the goat" with the "where" frequently being "in the kitchen".

When we embarked on goat keeping a year ago, I don't know what I expected. I'd read the books, scoured the blogs, posted on the forums and felt that I had enough of the basics to get us started. A year on, I've learned a few things:

  • Keeping a dairy animal is a commitment.  When we first got the goats, we were milking twice a day. This meant that someone always needed to be here at 7am and 7pm. While Kevin has the milking itself to about 15 minutes, our plans always had to include someone being at the house for milking. We've since cut the evening milking but still in the last year, neither of us have been able to go away at the same time. We do have a friend who will milk for us if we ever do go out, but it's a big ask.
  • Using up the milk is serious business. Other than the endless task of getting her and her crazy companion into the field, the single biggest task is figuring out a way to use all the milk. Our single Saanen goat, Dascha, produces about 3 litres of milk a day. While cereal and coffee uses up a fair chunk of milk, we frequently end up with a refrigerator full of milk in ever available receptacle we have. As we are not a licensed dairy, I can't sell any of the milk or cheese and it is not uncommon that the milk goes straight to the chickens. 
  • Cheese making makes friends. In the last year, I have perfected goat's curd, yoghurt, halloumi and mozzarella. You have not had goat's cheese until you have had farm fresh, small batch cheese. It is simply the best cheese you will ever taste and I am 99% sure most of the time I am invited over for dinner because my host gift is usually half a kilo of goat's curd. 
  • Goats are trouble. Other than the constant struggle of keeping Freya in her pen, goats are wiley. They know where the corn for the chickens (aka Goat Crack) is kept and how to open the barrel if it is even slightly ajar.  They know which plants they shouldn't eat and go straight for them every time.  Freya knows that if she leans on me in a certain way, I will absolutely give her a scratch just the way she likes it.  They are forever on the lookout for a way to get out or get food and usually both. Kevin and I often say that the goats are like large cats. But with horns.
  • In our homesteading journey, goats are the biggest step in our food independence. While we raise our own food because of big and noble reasons - health, environmental, etc, there is also a level of practicality to it all, I just really hate going to the store. Having milk on tap means more of our food can come straight from here.  
  • Finding a Billy is a Bit of a Problem. Dascha has been in milk for about 2 years, so she will need to be put to a billy this year if we are going to keep her in milk. This is a slightly daunting task, and one we haven't decided on.  All of the options come with some negatives.  We would happily keep a billy, but they can be aggressive and smell bad, plus the presence of a billy on the farm can taint the milk.   Transporting the goats is another option, but we don't have animal transport and would need to get help, plus a slew of medical tests to insure the health of our herd. So, watch this space.

A year on, bringing our goats home has been the best decision, not without its downsides, but overwhelmingly positive. 

Though I may have put on 10lbs in goat's cheese alone. 

The Anti-Authoritarian In Me

When I was in the first grade, my mother was called in to talk to my teacher Mrs Westercamp.  It seems that I had a VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM that needed addressing. My mother tells the story of how she was sat down and expected the worst - and given that I was the 4th of 5 children, "the worst" was probably pretty bad in her mind. 

However, rather than horrific crimes against my fellow pupils or failing anything one actually needs to pass when one is 6, Mrs Westercamp told my mother that my offence was quite simply that I refused to wear socks. There were no smell or temperature issues, no hygiene ones either.  She just felt very deeply that it was improper for children to attend school with nothing between their feet and their soles and that in future I *must* wear them. While my mother laughed at the thought of Mrs Westercamp trying to get me to do anything of the sort. And of course, I put my unsocked foot down and refused and after awhile it was never brought up again.

I think my mother should've taken this as foreshadowing for the rest of my school career.  Year after year she was hauled in to discuss various other ways in which I simply refused to follow the convention of school life. In the 4th grade, I declined to do the full math's worksheets insisting a random sampling of questions was sufficient to show my understanding of the skills. I would get sent to the hall as punishment, but it just never seemed worth the extra effort of completing any future worksheet. In the 5th grade, Mrs Whitman called my mom to tell her I refused to read Laura Ingalls Wilder in class and that my choice of book (a non-fiction book on Pocahontas) wasn't appropriate for 5th grade American history. I still wrote my final book review on Pocahontas, despite being told not to. On and on it goes. I just never liked to be told what to do. In fact, telling me to do something was always the quickest way to get me not to do it.

Even now, at the age of 38, I see this defiance come out in funny ways. Hashtags on Instagram:  Ugh, do I have to? Children's project homework: What do you mean I have to make a cardboard castle that I would normally enjoy doing but now despise because you told me that I had to make it. Tell me what to do and I instantly start thinking of ways out of it.

I tell you this all in hopes that it goes some way to explain my absence in this space. I woke up one day after 10 years of blogging and realised it had become a chore - something I was told I had to do by all the people who know stuff on the internet. I tried to keep it going, but failed and resented it. So I stopped. Six months away and I didn't give it much thought, but then the domain came due and I decided to press delete on the whole thing. But then I didn't. Simple as that, really.

And here I am. I have so much to catch you up on. But one things hasn't changed...I still bloody hate wearing socks.

 

Goats and a Recipe for Soft Chevre

"I did think, let’s go about this slowly.
This is important. This should take
some really deep thought. We should take
small thoughtful steps.

But, bless us, we didn’t."

--Mary Oliver

I am pretty sure that Mary Oliver was writing about the adventure that is smallholding when she wrote that poem.  I can't tell you how many times similar thoughts have crossed my mind in the last 3 years - from buying far too many seeds to fill our not terribly big garden to ordering aproximately a dozen more meat birds than we could possibly house to getting a second crazy collie dog to keep our even more insane one company.  However, the goats have taken our insanity to new levels. 

I can't remember exactly how the goaty Rube Goldberg machine started, but before we knew it, Dasha the British Saannen nanny goat and Freya, a companion British Toggenburg/saannen cross kid, arrived here and we were in the dairy animal owners club.

Our first few weeks were, um, interesting as we tried to learn to milk and contain two lively goats in what we learned was hugely inadequate fencing. Twice a day, Kevin and I would trudge out to the barn, each milking one side as we tried to learn the skills and build up the hand strength to get the milk out in a decent time. Dasha would kick and walk away and put her foot in the milk more often than not as she grew completely impatient with us both. For weeks we had to bribe her with apples to get her to stand and it has taken months to get her milked and out in a reasonable time.  As you would expect, fencing has also proved challenging, with the goats unexpectedly arriving in my kitchen a couple of times over the summer or eating all of the holiday cottage's roses. 

All in though, the experience has been a good one.  All of our milk needs are covered by Dasha's twice daily milking, with plenty left over for 2 batches of goat's cheese a week. I make chevre most of the time, but mozzarella has been an epic addition to Friday night pizza night. There is no question that keeping dairy animals is at the same time extremely liberating - with one of our main staples completely provided for on farm and intensely tying, with one of us needed to be here to do chores each morning and night.

The chevre has become a hot commodity on the estate and as I can't sell it, the transactions are strictly barter-based, with wine, beer and even pottery used as payment.

 My Soft Chevre Recipe

Makes about 500-800g of chevre

  • 4.5l (1gal) of Goat's milk
  • 3T of prepared starter*
  • 4 drops of Rennet diluted in 1/4 cup of cold water
  • salt to taste
  • thermometer

* I use mesophillic starter from Homestead Cheese Supplies prepared according to directions and frozen in ice cube trays once prepared.  1 ice cube = 1 T.

Heat the milk to 90C/194F. Cool rapidly to 30C/86F. I use a sink full of cold water.  I pop the pan in with the lid and change out the water every so often.

When 30C has been reached, add the prepared starter.  If it is ice cubes, let it melt. then, using up and down strokes (not circular ones) stir in the starter and then the rennet that has been dissolved.

Let it set covered for 24 hours. It will be a soft yoghurt texture when done.

Line a seive with cheese cloth or muslin (I use baby muslins or the cheapest dish towels from Ikea) and pour the whole mixture through.  You may need more than one.  Tie them up and let them hang with a pot underneath for at least 24 hours.  Dont handle the curds too much, as it can change their texture and make them tougher. Discard the whey or use it in fermenting or breadmaking.

Once a soft texture has been reached, remove the cheese from the cloths and salt to taste.  Cheese keeps for about a week, if it lasts that long.

I am often asked if you can use goat's milk from the store for this.  I would bet that you can, as my milk is pasteurised (the heating process) before I make cheese.  I know that some people make this cheese from raw, but I have found that the natural bacteria interferes with the starter culture giving inconsistent and sometimes grainy results.

Is, Was and Will Be

I am sitting down at the computer for the first time in over 3 weeks. The kids took over the space over the Winter break to play minecraft and the room smells like salt and vinegar crisps and chocolate milk. I've had to push aside roughly 75 photocopies Georgia made of various items of clothing in the copier and I found Theo's shoes we looked for all throughout the break. I found the wrappers of a box of chocolates that went missing last week and sticky labels have been stuck on every item with Georgia obviously practicing her writing skills. 

I feel like I should be annoyed with them, but am not because the office's neglect sort of parallels how I have felt over the last few months about work...an outward expression of the mental neglect this space has had. 

2015 was a strange year.  It started, like so many things do, with good the intention to "Tend" my life, my garden, my business, but within days I found myself back in my usual pattern of over work, anxiousness, careening towards (and often missing) deadlines and generally not taking care of anything, especially myself. The kids lived on a diet of beans on toast and frozen pizza and I felt like all I did was fail everyone, at everything. I lived with near-constant anxiety attacks, where even thinking the word "anxiety" would drain the blood from my hands and send my heart pounding. I had chased big business dreams for so long that I lost sight of what I really wanted.

Miraculously, change happened. I took charge, cut back over half of my work, slowed down, got help. The last few months have mostly been about learning how to run my life on something other than pure adrenaline - a long slow process about finding motivation from something other than panic and fear. 

And just like that it is 2016 and for the first time in a long time, I feel tentatively hopeful that I can find the balance that I have sought for so long. Rather than ambitions that are big, this year it is the small things I want to focus on. Enjoying Theo's last few months at home before school, seeing the sea more often, cooking, growing, making, spending time with Kevin, being outside, crocheting and working with Joanne, building a sustainable business.

In many ways, I feel like all I have done is come full circle, back to doing the things I love and that sustain us, capturing the journey on the way. 

I am off now to round up the kids, dogs and the last of this amazing clementine cake for a morning out, maybe at the sea, maybe in the woods. 

“As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness -- just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.” 
-Laura Ingalls Wilder
Around Here

I am sitting at the computer today. There is a bearded collie snoring loudly on the bed next to me. Yesterday I counted he slept for 22 hours - waking up only to go on his walk and to play with the puppy for about half an hour. He couldn't even be coaxed out to go for a second walk in the afternoon, taking one sniff at the rain and heading back to the sofa.

I can empathise. Normally an outdoorsy sort of family, it feels like we haven't left the house in weeks. Even calls for normally exciting adventures are met with replies of "But we just want to stay home!" and tears.  I get it. I may have cried a couple of tears the other morning when I was out doing chores and I realised the hole in my wellies were bigger than I thought and a large amount of muck leaked in. Joanne tells me that the UK average was only 36 hours of sunshine all month. I believe it. 

However, all of the pent up energy isn't going to waste, deciding finally to spend some time decorating the house and sorting out many of the jobs we just haven't done since we moved in - arranging book cases, cleaning out the laundry room, sorting mountains of school-related paperwork (I am registering Theo for school next month! Eeep!!!) and generally just being home. 

Even though we have lived here 2 years, I still catch myself being so overwhelmed with gratitude that we found this place.  That we are able to live here, so see these views to have these neighbours, to be able to hold early morning kitchen dance parties with our only fear being whether or not the game keeper will be out feeding the pheasants and watching my (really embarrassing) dance moves. Home is so good, so I am OK not to go out.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I am off to take a nap with a bearded collie. Have a lovely weekend!

Embracing the Season

November is halfway over. When I realised this morning that it was already the 16th, I had this moment of blind panic - partially because both Kevin and I forgot it was our 14th wedding anniversary - but mostly because I realised that 2015 is almost over. 

It feels like I just got used to writing 2015 in my diary when I am already making plans for New Year's Day 2016's first footing. We went to see the switching on of the local Christmas lights, but even standing on the high street, dancing to "All I Want for Christmas is You" in the rain with the kids, I still couldn't get my head around the fact that Christmas is even approaching, still feeling stuck somewhere in mid-September. 

But whether my head is with me or not, Winter, as they say, is coming. On Friday, snow graced the hilltops for the first time this year.  My office time has to be limited to a few short hours in the morning before my fingers seize up and I have to go into the house to work (not helped by the chimney sweep condemning the stove in the studio and my oil filled radiator giving up the ghost). It's already approaching twilight when I collect the kids from the bus at 4pm. The social calendar speeds up to a point where most evenings and weekends are accounted for with school plays, Christmas do's, family visits and seasonal preparations. 

And while my head may be slow to catch up with the time of year, for the first time in awhile, my body is obviously ready. I've been going to sleep before 9, spending as much time as possible knitting in front of the fire, craving soups and bread and as much tea as I can drink in a day. With a mountain of making to do between now and March, I feel like I am ready for the months of dark and wet and cold that lie ahead.

What about you?  Are you ready for Winter? 

For the Love of Bread.

When we first moved up to Scotland, Kevin was unemployed for 6 months. Despite searching for a job, it just didn't happen right away.  He would spend his days writing a novel (that I accidentially deleted - oops!) and making bread.

It is amazing the magic a freshly baked loaf can work - he never cleaned the house, rarely bought groceries, we were barely making it on 1 income, but who cared because when I got home from work each day, there was a warm loaf of bread with butter waiting for me. 

For 8 years we made bread almost daily - working our way through more traditional loaves, to the "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" method and then back again.  We rarely bought bread - except for the odd pregnancy induced cravings I had for shop bread, our house was our own bakery.

Then we moved here, to a house with a beast of an Aga-style range.  On our first day here, we set pizza on fire. No matter what we did, everything baked unevenly, if it baked at all. 18 months in, we finally had someone out to look at the 35 year old Rayburn to discover that the innards were rusted to bits and nothing could have cooked correctly even if we wanted it to.

In the last 6 months, we have slowly been experimenting with baking - a cake here, a pie there, but last on the list was bread. There were some mega-fails - flat hard, burnt loafs that not even the chickens would eat.  However, we seem to have fallen into a groove with it all, having perfected a sandwich loaf that is not only light and delicious, but a hit with the kids. Its honestly a strange sort of relief to be able to reliably make bread again.

As a rather introspected aside, I don't think its a coincidence that just as my crafting mojo returned, my baking one came back as well. I have this sort of manic desire to just make things all the time. I was up at 5am this morning to knit and bake and as soon as I possibly can tear myself away from the computer this morning, I will be back at the baking and making again. I forgot how good it feels to make things (other than sentences or pattern layouts or crocheting for deadlines)!

Basic Sandwich Loaf

(Makes 1 - 2lb loaf)

Ingredients:

Sponge:

320g strong bread flour

7g of instant yeast

350ml warm whole milk

Dough:

200g strong bread flour

3T sugar (or less to suit taste)

60g melted butter

3t salt

1 egg yolk

Method:

Mix the ingredients for the sponge, cover and set aside for about an hour until its frothy and has swelled.

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well - either use a machine with a dough hook or knead until it is silky and smooth.  the dough should be sticky, but not too wet. If you are using a machine it will stick to the bottom of the bowl but not the sides, so adjust the mixture accordingly. 

Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled (about 1.5-2h).

Punch down and reform to go into a loaf tin.  Let rise for 1-1.5h. Bake at 180C for 35-40 minutes.

This recipe is easily doubled and makes delicious light dinner rolls as well.  

The Second Act
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Like everyone else, I spend a lot of time on the internet.  My journey starts out on Facebook, then I click off to ready about the 28 best Scottish tweets, then click through to Wikipedia to look somethings up, then over to a news site then an article on Mashable, and so on and so forth.  This circut can last a good hour or more a day, just a drop in the ocean of what is on the internet. And like the ocean, the vast majority of it washes past me without taking any real notice of what I've read.  Bit sometimes, something remarkable sticks.

Earlier this week, I read this article about Brene Brown's new book Rising Strong (via Lottie). The idea that life and movies have a difficult second act:

In the first act, the hero is introduced, the adventure presents itself and the hero accepts the adventure. In the third and final act, there is some sort of resolution and redemption. But the second act is basically a shit-show. Everything goes wrong. 

Rather than being something that you can skip over, Brown writes:

 it’s a non-negotiable part of the process. Experience and success don’t give you easy passage through the middle space of struggle. They only grant you a little grace, a grace that whispers, ‘This is part of the process. Stay the course…’ The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens.”

Other than immediately putting Brene's book on my wishlist, the article really hit home and it rings so many bells for me on so many levels. On a project level, the middle bit is where I chuck my crochet across the room and cry, swearing I WILL NEVER DESIGN ANYTHING AGAIN. On a business level, the enthusiasm of early entrepreneurship wore out some time ago and I am at this middle bit where there is so much work and so little motivation to do it. When I think about it there is no part of my life where I can't see that process at work - from chicken keeping to keeping the house tidy.

I have to be honest, things haven't been that great here for some time. I know that I have hinted at it on and off for the last year or so - burnout, struggles with the kids, making a living in a low paid industry is fucking hard. It feels like all we do is run from some catastrophe to another. This week - more of the same. But this idea  - that it is normal, that its part of the process, is a life raft through it all. I suppose its the same when you suffer from a mysetry illness, only to get a diagnosis.  Having a name for it doesn't change anything about what you are going through, but at least you know what it is.

So here is to the second act. And to last minute costumes for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And to a weekend full of wool, wood fires and enjoying the small things, even if the big ones are hard. 

 

 

Autumn Living

I suppose it is only fair (not that the weather has any obligation to be fair) that after a miserable summer, Autumn arrived in a glorious burst of warmth.

I know I  say this about pretty much every season, but this year at least, Autumn is my firm favourite. I am working on slowing down a bit more and enjoying the things I love about Fall - foraging, cooking, gorgeous light and an excuse to wear all the shawls I can.

After a long pause due to a dodgy oven, we have started baking bread again.  We have two staples on the go - the Smitten Kitchen's whole wheat and oat sandwich bread, which is a firm favourite with the kids and the River Cottage Sourdough that is my morning staple.  Wild hedgehog mushrooms and smoked garlic sauteed in butter and eaten on a slab of soudough toast could well be my Death Row meal (not that I am planning on ending up there any time soon!!). 

It always amazes me that simply making something helps me feel so much better about everything else - be it bread or a crocheted something - having something tangible to show that I have DONE something at the end of the day helps put everything else into perspective.

And the making in October has just begun. We have also ordered an apple press for cider (American and UK) making, the hazelnuts are just about ready to pick and I have a red deer coming my way in the next week or so (the benefits of living on a hunting estate).  If I put on 20lbs in October, you know why!! 

I hope your October is starting on the right foot!! Have a gorgeous weekend. 

 

Morning Routines

Our mornings are awful.  Honestly, its a good thing we live alone at the end of a 1.5mile track because no one would be able to make eye contact with us if they saw how we tumbled, yelling, crying and screaming out of the house in the morning.

It wasn't so long ago that I was extremely disciplined about getting up, doing the chores, walking the dogs, and generally helping ease ourselves into the day.  I would get up at the crack of dawn and be ready and raring to go when the kids and Kevin left for the bus at 8:20. Maybe it was a rubbish, wet summer or deadlines that made it hard to think straight, but my mornings now consist of:

  • dragging myself out of bed at 7:30
  • running around like a lunatic, usually screaming, sometimes crying
  • kids missing the bus, Kevin having to drive them in
  • Theo freaking out because that kind of chaos isn't great at a time when he is struggling with the transition of Georgia going to school.
  • dogs not getting a walk, so taking their own wander...usually after pheasants that are being fed in our paddock (this is not a popular activity with the gamekeeper).
  • chickens hollering until after 9 to be let out and fed

And then I wonder why I have a bad day, feel like a terrible mother/person/entrepreneur, get nothing done and feel generally like shit. 

For me, this is a lesson I come back to time and time again.  Its rarely the big things that make me feel like a success or a failure. Its the small things - checking things off my list, having time to make sure everyone gets off to school and work without sobbing, and that all important cup of tea when I sit down at my desk. If I can get these small details right the big things flow a lot easier.

So, this morning I was up at the crack, walked the dogs, made my list for the day and, already at 8:37am, I have been able to check 2 things off of it. Now its head down to get Shawls 2 in layout and off to print...and maybe have another cup of tea. 

Postcards from a Weekend

Today, I need to write 25 (small) patterns and submit an invoice or else we won't pay October's bills. Ah the end of the month as a freelancer - ha!

So, if you need me, I'll be chained to my desk, clutching the last dregs of tea occasionally looking at the photos from this weekend and remembering I did manage to get out at least some of the time to go on our first geo cache, pick and pod all the broad beans, finalise a new shawl design, play with the puppy and admire a sunset. 

Now to write.