My Happy Place
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I seem to have spent my life tromping around the woods with a badly behaved dog by my side.

The other day we were all arguing about what we were going to go do.  Some of us wanted to go swimming, others needed to work and one, rather stubborn little boy quite didn't know what he wanted.  After running through a list of just about every activity I could think of, I asked him to lay down with me, close his eyes and imagine what his best day would look like. Where would he go? What would he do? Who would be with him? What would he eat?

After a few minutes of silence, I asked him what he had been thinking of. As it turned out, his perfect day involved watching Netflix in bed alone eating crisps in his pants...not quite the wholesome activity I had been hoping for. We laughed and then he asked me what I had been dreaming about. I told him that what I most wanted to do that day was to wander in the woods with my dog and a basket, foraging for dinner.

For as long as I can remember, rambling through the woods with a badly behaved canine at my side has been my happy place. The dogs have changed, as have the woods and what I am looking for, but the essence of the activity has remained the same. One of my favourite memories of my childhood summers was that my mother sliding the glass back door closed and sending us into the woods for the day.  My Scottish Terrier, Snickers, and I would head out into the woods with a small flower identification book and I would spend my day searching for flowers to classify then press in the pages of my book before Snickers would tear away towards the road to chase some unknown (and probably squirrel shaped) threat.

There is something deeply meditative about focusing wholly on one thing - whether it be looking for North American wildflowers, small yellow mushrooms unfurling on the ground, scanning the hedgerow for berries at exactly the right shade of red or purple, gathering up the greens that add an extra bite to a salad or reaching into the trees to compete with the birds for the juiciest berries. Foraging requires a special kind of focus, not dissimilar to those magic eye pictures where if you look at it correctly a sailboat appears out of the jumbled mess of colour, but in the case of foraging, it is the infinitely more useful dinner that appears. 

I have come to recognise that this is my kind of meditation. Where apps and guided audio fail me, walking out in the woods helps quiet my mind and ground me fully in where I am, the season we are in and the nuances of my surroundings. As someone who struggles to "do nothing" the productivity of gathering items that can be of use in our kitchen, medicine cabinet and dye pots helps me to justify this precious act of self care in a way that I probably wouldn't without that utilitarian aspect. Step by step, through the woods, always watchful of my surroundings...

Until the dog runs away towards the road, of course. Because some things never change.

Some of the things we are foraging at the moment:

  • Cherries

  • Blackcurrants

  • Yarrow

  • Sorrel

  • Nettles

  • Raspberries

  • Blaeberries (also known as Bilberries or Huckleberries)

  • Chickweed

  • Fat Hen

  • Cleavers

My favourite foraging book is Food for Free by Richard Maybey

We have a couple of spots left on our August Wild Kitchen course as well, if you want to trop around the woods here with me (badly behaved dog will be staying home).

Kat GoldinComment
The Weight of Responsibility
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I wasn't going to add any more animals to the farm, so I added 10,000

We all sat at the front door from 10:55am.  Our postman, Jim, has always been a punctual sort of fellow and we can set the clock by his 11:10am arrival on the farm. The waiting isn't uncommon  - in turns we have all been known to watch the windows for our much awaited deliveries from the back of his red van - for me, cookbooks and yarn, for Kevin  - new saws and blades for carving and the kids seem to forever be waiting for a package from Grammie. 

That day, though, we were all waiting together, guessing at every passing sound if it was Jim bringing us our much anticipated parcel. Our 15 minute wait dragged on for what seemed like ever until finally, the crunch of tyres on the drive were his.  He climbed out of his cab and slid open the side door as we stood back and watched him pull out the small white box marked "Highland Bees".  We laughed about how his job was never dull, chatted about our plans for honey and he put his name down for the first jar.

As he handed me the box, I was struck by the weight of it.  In retrospect, I don't know what I expected from 10k+ honey bees, their brood, frames and honey, but I definitely expected it to be lighter.  The physical weight aside, there was something else heavy about the box...

I have been responsible for lives other than my own for the last 11.5 years.  I remember the moment the tiny 5lb baby Ellis was placed in my arms and the following realisation that his life was literally in my hands.  I thought there must be some mistake - how could I be in charge of such an important thing, I had barely kept a houseplant alive in the previous 27 years. 

Two more children, a dog, 3 cats, 5 goats, 17 sheep, 16 chickens, 3 geese, 5 ducks, 2 turkeys and a peacock later, you'd think that I would be well used to the role of caretaker, but there was something different this time and it wasn't the sheer number of lives contained therein. Bees aren't like the hobby sheep I keep to cut the grass that could as easily be done by the mower or the goats I milk for cheese that I can find in shops, there is something a bit more urgent about stewarding these little lives that simply wouldn't exist without beekeepers.

And just like those early days with my other babies, I keep checking that they are ok - watching them come in and out of the hive, just like I had watched little chests rise and fall in their sleep, leaving them for longer in between visits, trusting that they will be OK. 

Mama's Super Magic Cream (aka Yarrow, Comfrey and Plantain Salve)
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The first time I watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I laughed hardest at the dad who sprayed Windex on every problem. Not only because it was funny, but because I had grown up with a mother who had her own particular panacea for all that ailed us - Bag Balm.  Got a big bite? Bag Balm. Sunburn? Bag balm. Infected nose piercing you weren't supposed to get? Bag balm. Despite not having used it in 20 years, I still remember the acrid smell and sticky consistency that sat in the top shelf of her bathroom cupboard in its green tin throughout my childhood. 

This salve has replaced Bag Balm in my own kids' lives, so much so that they often fetch the jar before they come to me crying with scrapes and bites. The making of this salve has become one of our early summer rituals for years and we always have some tucked away for whatever we might need it for. I start scouring the hedgerows as soon as its warm enough, stockpiling jars to last us throughout the year.

The balm is based on yarrow, comfrey and plantain infused olive oil and thickened with beeswax.  This process of infusing and oil and then thickening it with wax is a great technique for making all manner of balms. We also make a lovely calendula balm in a similar manner.

The Herbs:

From Left to Right:

Yarrow: a hedgerow relative of the sunflower, its scientific name Acheallia Millefolium  relates both to the invulnerability powers it supposedly gave Achilles and its highly segmented, feathery leaves.  It has a peppery smell and likes dry environments.  It has a range of uses, but in a salve it helps stop bleeding and has anti-inflammatory properties. 

Comfrey: Large, green furred leaves with purple flowers. Its used for healing wounds and broken bones, in fact traditionally it was called "knit bone". It has been shown to enhance cell production and is mildly astringent, helping to kill bacteria.

Plantain (both narrow leaf and broad leaf plantain): the long veins in this plant are the key identifiers.  Plantain is great to stop itching and is known as a sort of hedgerow panacea, with antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Used together, these three hedgerow powerhouses are my favourite blend for the scrapes, brusies, bug bites, nettle stings, scraped knees, sunburn and chapped lips. 

Note on picking from the hedgerow: To harvest herbs responsibly - never take more than 10% of a plant and look to harvest in areas that aren't heavy in traffic and haven't been sprayed. You may well find all of these in your garden, I know I can. 

The Salve

Ingredients:

  • 50g of freshly picked comfrey, plantain and yarrow leaves

  • 250g olive oil

  • 200-250g of beeswax (I buy beeswax pellets from here)

  • (optional) a few drops of rosemary essential oil

Method:

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1. Place your herbs in a glass jar and cover with olive oil. Let it infuse for 4 weeks in a warm spot.  Ensure your herbs are fully covered in oil as anything exposed to the air may grow mould.

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2. Strain off your herbs and compost them. Place the oil in a small saucepan.  Add beeswax (more makes a firmer ointment, less makes it looser - start with less if you aren't sure what you would like and if it sets too soft, reheat and add more wax)

3. If you would like to add essential oils, do it once the pellets have all melted.  We don't use essential oils and don't miss it from this salve. 

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4. Pour into jars and let cool.  Label and save.  We like to have a couple of small jars for handbags and backpacks and one large jar that just sits on the counter. 

We are running a new Natural Home and Beauty course this autumn if you want to learn more about making your own cleaning and natural beauty products.

 

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.

Feta & Quinoa Patties
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Fact: things in 'burger' format are 267% tastier.  Maybe its the fact that the outsides are fried? Or that they are easily slipped into bread and carbs are life?  Who knows, but quinoa mixed with cheese and then fried turns this 'health' food into something even my kids like.  

I've used my homemade feta here, which is a bit less crumbly than the store bought kind that uses calcium chloride to help firm it up. 

Ingredients:

300g Quinoa (Ive used Lidl's multigrain quinoa here, but plain works well)

200g feta cheese - crumbled or cut into chunks

2 eggs - beaten

2 Tablespoons of flour (GF is fine)

25g finely chopped herbs. I love chives in mine.

Method:

1. Cook quinoa according to pack instructions.  Usually this involves boiling it in 1 part quinoa, 3 parts water for 15-20 minutes, until the spiral germ separates from the seed. Leave to stand for 10 minutes then drain off extra liquid.

2. Once its cooled, add the rest of the ingredients.  You may need to add a bit of extra flour to get it to stick together. 

3. In a frying pan, heat 2TB of oil.  Once the oil is hot, shape the mix into patties slightly smaller than your hand and place in pan.  

4. Fry for 3-5 minutes on the first side. Don't flip too early or it will fall apart.

5. Flip and brown on the other side. 

Serve with a salad and homemade chips. 

Want to learn to make your own feta?  Its covered in our Intro to Cheesemaking class. 

Any Green Pesto
carrot top pesto

In summer, at least twice a week, we have "Stuff on Bread" night.  It really is that simple - we rummage around the cupboards or the garden and see what is available.  Some veg get roasted or grilled, there may be a bit of leftover meat or egg mayonnaise from earlier in the week, and there is almost always cheese. If we are low on toppings, out comes the food processor and some form of pesto is added to the mix. 

I've used carrot tops in the recipe below, but really you are only limited by what is in your fridge, garden or hedgerow here.  We use this same recipe with ground elder, nettles (don't forget to blanch them first), spinach, rocket, chard, young kale leaves, beetroot greens and wild garlic.  Sometimes we leave out the cheese, if you leave a bit of water on the greens from washing or blanching them, the liquid and oil will emulsify nicely to form a creamy base.  

Carrot Top (or any Green) Pesto:

A big pile of carrot tops (from a bunch of carrots, this is usually around 200g)

2 cloves garlic

1/3 cup (50g) nuts - I like walnuts

1/2 cup (60g) parmesan

1/3 cup (80ml) extra virgin olive oil

Using a food processor, chop the nuts until they start to stick together. Coarsely chop the garlic, carrot tops and cheese and add them in. Blend until finely chopped and start adding olive oil to form a paste.  Salt to taste.

Serving suggestions:

Mix into whole wheat pasta with sautéed courgette (zucchini), red onions and pecans with oregano sprinkled on top.

Put onto sourdough bread (homemade goat's cheese an added bonus!)

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!!  

Kat's Everyday Sourdough
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We bake sourdough bread most days. Be it as a morning breakfast/vehicle for melted butter or a staple in the summer time "stuff on bread" dinners we have at least twice a week, sourdough is embedded in our life.

We've tried a lot of methods and recipes, but with so many of them, there was a level of technicality that simply didn't fit into our busy family life.  While technical aspects of hydration and starter peaks are important to know, we have come to the understanding that the best bread is the bread that fits easily into your every day life. This bread dough isn't very wet, which makes it ideal for a starter sourdough, as its a lot easier to handle.

I've written this recipe for people who make bread regularly - every day or every other day.  If you are baking once a week, you may not get the rise you need from your starter, so feed it about 12 hours before you are due to make bread and see if that helps.

I start my bread as I am making dinner in the evening and it sits next to the aga for the first few hours before it goes in the fridge for over night.  I then turn on the oven to bake when I go down in the morning for coffee. 

Ingredients:

  • 200g 100% hydration starter (This is a good method for starters here, or you can buy a kit here).

  • 400g tepid water

  • 650g strong bread flour

  • 20g salt

Method: 

1. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients until the flour is completely incorporated.

2. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 3-4 hours, depending on the warmth of the room.  Every so often (at least 3x), stretch and fold the dough to help with the gluten development.

3. Tip dough out onto a floured surface and shape into a tight round. To get a nice surface tension, stretch the dough from the outside and bring it into the centre all the way around. This will be considered your seam.

4. Place seam side up in a banneton or bowl lined with a lightly floured towel. You can either leave for about an hour in a warm place and then bake or place in the refrigerator over night.

Baking:

1. Place your dutch oven in the oven and heat the oven to its highest temperature.

2. When the oven has reached temp, place your baking parchment on top of your banneton, then the baking tray on top of that and flip your bread out of the banneton onto the tray.  There is no need to remove your bread from the refrigerator prior to this, in fact it is easier to work with a cold loaf.

3. Score your bread using a knife or razor blade.

4. Slide the loaf into your hot dutch oven and put the lid on.  Place it back in the oven and reduce the temperature to 220c/430F. Bake for 35 minutes with the lid on. Remove the loaf from the dutch oven and bake for another 12 minutes or until the crust is brown.

 

Variations:

– Replace 200g of the white flour with brown flour

– Add 2T of turmeric at Method stage 1. Then add about 2c of finely chopped leeks and onions on your final stretch and fold.

Want to know more about Sourdough baking? We have on online course!!

 
 

 

 

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. 

5th January 2018

Did I ever tell you about the years we lived across from Windsor Castle? Our flat was the top floor of an old guard tower, with views to the Castle, exposed, black beams and the changing of the guard disrupting our weekly garbage pickup (they were deemed a security risk). We spent our weekends wandering the town and Great Park, drinking coffee at this little cafe in the station we liked, joking about how many tourists' photos we were inadvertently in the background of as we wandered the streets

I worked for the NHS at the time, in Public Health - a field I'd been passionate about since I was a teenager, but the passion was slowly leaking out of me - my skin worn thin by the constant brushes with bureaucracy of the health service. On one hand I felt like I was living in a chic lit novel about an American girl finding her feet Across the Pond (though my meet-cute had been years previously)and on the other I felt unbelievably out of place. When I wasn't looking for an escape at the bottom of a wine bottle, I was doing every self help course I could find, studying for Master's degrees I never finished, trying to imagine a life outside of the one I had. Outwardly things were so perfect, but I still drew pictures of cottages with chickens and dogs and wanted something else. That desire would move us 5 more times in 8 years, forever looking for a place where we fit.

We had this small roof terrace that I was determined to fill with flowers and vegetables. With no car, we would drag bags of compost up the three flights of stairs and through the flat, leaving a trail of dirt behind us. I wanted an english country garden, with mismatched pots and blousy flowers, so when an old butler sink appeared on Freecycle, I made kevin take the train with me across Berkshire to get it.  It was the day before the wedding of Charles and Camilla and we had to wheel this enormous sink across the town, through thousands of tourists and reporters all so I could have my little patch of earth.  

I've been thinking about that flat a lot recently - nostalgia being a common occurrence at the beginning of a new year, I suppose. Now, rather than being the chic lit novel itself it is the flashback in another book about a woman that goes back to the land, makes her own cheese and deodorant and collects sheep. When things get hard here, I imagine wandering down to the station and ordering a flat white and a bagel.

In truth though, those moments of sentimentality are few. I make my own bagels now and there is always a pressing need that keeps me out of my head and in the thick of life here. I've traded castles for mountains and tourists for a raggedy band of Soay sheep, wine tends to be of the home brew kind and my commute takes me 8 steps across the courtyard to a cold, converted barn. I think Windsor Kat would be delighted that this is where Part 3 of her book took her. 

 

Kat GoldinComment
Counting Goats
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I've stopped looking out the back windows to the house. While the views beyond the paddock to the forests and mountains is stunning, inevitably when I do look I will see that the three goats that are supposed to be grazing and foraging in the foreground are no where to be found. 

I'd like to think that you haven't lived until you have chased three dairy goats through two pastures, over a stone wall and down a lane so muddy you lose a shoe that turns up three days later, unrecognisable as a brown lump left on your front step by a hunter. Or stood in your kitchen making a cup of tea after that escapade and watching those hooved Musketeers head straight back over the wall and into trouble, their little upright tails flipping you the bird as they go. Climbing back into the muddy coat and new boots to spend the next 45 minutes looking for them, only to give up and head back to the house to find them standing in your kitchen waiting patiently for you, having eaten your houseplants.  Who needs a gym membership, TV, a life or to get anything done when you have goats.

For the first year or so of goat keeping, goat escapes were tame. With just two goats, Dascha and Freya, they didn't get far.  D was too fat and unweildly to go anywhere and F didn't want to leave her friend behind.  At worst, Frey would stand on the wall just outside the pen and wait until bed time to go in.  And then we got Red.

In order to keep ourselves in milk, the girls need to kid, or freshen, every other year or so. Dascha, being the breed that is one of the heaviest and longest milkers in the dairy goat world, has been in milk since a teenage pregnancy (she busted out of her pen as a youngster to cavort with a field of billies) since January 2015. But, her production slowed to a stop over the autumn and our supply of home grown milk and cheese was replaced with the store bought variety. Our debates about whether or not to bring a billy goat into our lives were abruptly put to bed when my friend said she had a billy in her trailer and was bringing him over for us.  

And so Red joined our little herd.  Despite his small stature and with the aid of his daily baths in urine and ejaculate (yes, I just typed that!!!!) he has proven irresistible to the girls whose increasing plumpness indicate that he has been successful in his wooing. So enamoured are they, in fact, that they follow him anywhere - over the fence and into the fields and forests surrounding the house in search of the tastiest leaves, branches and trouble they can find. With the expectation that his progeny will be equally as ornery, I have been costing up prison fencing and full time guards as my only viable containment option.

And so, I avoid looking at the paddock, knowing that when and if I do, I will be tromping through mud to round up my merry band of naughty goats who are never where we left them. 

 

 

Kat GoldinComment
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. 

A Trip to Kintyre - Part 2

Continuing on my posts about our trip to Kintyre with CalMac ferries.  You can read Part 1 here

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On Sunday, we were up early to catch the 10am ferry to the Island of Gigha. We’d been before, taking Ellis as a baby and had fallen in love with the tiny island just off of Kintyre, plus it has a botanic garden – Achamore – and I couldn’t wait to nosy around the plants.

The ferry takes just 20 minutes and with glorious warm, weather it felt like we were stepping off the boat into another world. Gigha is lush with plantlife, that coastal climate making it so intensely green and lush.  In fact, where our leaves up here had started to turn weeks earlier, we could only find one sign that autumn was on its way to Gigha as well.

Our first stop was Achamore Gardens.   Wandering around the woods and the gardens was really like stepping into the foothills of the Himalayas.  There were rhododendron specimens everywhere, and while we had missed the blooms, it wasn’t hard to imagine the woods being a light with colour in the spring.  The walled gardens were full of late summer blooms and we could see signs of the new work being undertaken to restore the gardens by its new caretakers the Achamore Gardens Trust.

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We spent the rest of the morning wandering around the beautiful little island.  First, exploring the ruins of the Kilchattan church, then heading to the north of the island for some beach time. We had reservations for lunch at the Boathouse at the dock and I begrudgingly peeled myself off of the beach.

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If I had known what came next, I would have run. Holy lobster. I have never been a huge fan of seafood since an unfortunate incident with a fish finger when I was 3. I always want to like it, but very rarely can be convinced to try some.  Well, count me a convert. The Boathouse’s menu of local (as in so local the lobsters are actually in kreels at the end of the dock and the oysters and halibut are from down the road) seafood completely knocked my socks off. I even ate an oyster. And loved it. Lobster mac n cheese, fresh langoustine tails, good bread and an outside table with a view of the sea.  The perfect way to end a holiday before we made our way back by ferry to the mainland.

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ScotlandKat GoldinComment
A Trip to Kintyre - Part One

I can go for a week at a time without going further than the bus stop at the end of our road. Working from home and being a general home body means that, other than the occasional trip out to a friend's for a coffee and the weekly veg market, my world doesn't really need to be bigger than the 4 acres the house sits upon. I spent so much of my late teens and early twenties travelling that I rarely get much wanderlust and if I did, the sheer effort of packing up 3 kids and leaving a farm for any length of time cures me of any lingering desire to travel.

And then one day in my inbox popped an offer from Caledonian MacBrayne ferries asking if I wanted to work with them on a piece of content. Though travel and sponsored content aren't my normal scene, I've had a soft spot for CalMac ferries since I arrived in Scotland and this landlubber was introduced to the joy of travel by boat. I'll never forget our first trip to Arran as I nervously drove my car onto a boat, certain that such a thing shouldn't be possible (I'm from land locked Iowa, remember and such a feat was beyond what my Mid Western brain could handle). I was hooked. 

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And so, after a fair bit of scrabble to find house, farm and child sitters, Kevin and I departed on our first trip in 10 years without children. We took the ferry from Ardrossan to Campbeltown, boarding as the rain fell so hard it was bouncing off the deck.  I’ve only ever taken morning ferries before and swapped my usual bacon rolls and tea  (a firm requirement for all AM ferry crossings) to steak pie and local ale. It was all local and fresh, not the limp school cafeteria food that I was expecting (and worrying about how I'd write about it if it was awful) - the beef from Kintyre and the beer from just up the way at Loch Fyne.  

The ferry takes 2.5hours from Ardrossan to Campeltown, with another 1.5 hours before that from the house to the ferry terminal.  It is a bit longer for us to travel this way than just to drive, but the appeal of dinner and both being able to enjoy the trip really outweighed any extra travel time. I don’t like being inside when we travel by boat – its not travel sickness or anything, just a love for that feeling of being windswept and salty that only the top deck can give you – so the moment we finished I forced Kevin onto the deck. We watched for sea life and birds, and caught the sunset fading over Arran.

Arriving in Campbeltown just after 9, we checked into the Royal Hotel for our two nights there.  The hotel is beautiful with views over the harbour (which obviously meant I took roughly 1,000 photos out of the window trying to catch the perfect sunrise). After finally tearing myself away from the window for breakfast the next morning, we headed a few miles over the peninsula to Machrihanish. 

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The tiny village sits on the the Atlantic side of the peninsula with wide, sandy beaches and views to Northern Ireland. At the southern tip of the village, there is the Seabird Centre and Wildlife Observatory.  It’s a very small place, maintained by the local community, but with its resident seals (Kevin was sad he didn’t bring his mandolin to play to them) and bird life, we it was quite easy to lose track of time with so much to see.

The village boasts 2 golf clubs and another beautiful hotel and pub. Have I ever told you that I took golf lessons as a kid?  Oh yes.  My family was extremely into golf, so much so that at one time my brother wanted to study golf course management.  However hard the rest of them tried, that love did not pass on to me, but as we walked around the beautiful Machrihanish Dunes Golf Course, I suddenly understood the appeal. In contrast to the golf course of my youth with views over Highway 30 and my friend's house, I could see the appeal of wandering this amazing landscape, watching the Atlantic and her wildlife, even if it involved a level of hand eye coordination that I was not blessed with.

After exploring the dunes and the amazing beach just behind, we headed back into the village for lunch at The Old Clubhouse.  The Dunes hotels are all owned by an American and the menu was a glorious mix of locally sourced produce, meat, fish and dairy, with many American touches - which meant I got to eat the best beef brisket this side of the Mississippi.

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After lunch, we drove back to Campbeltown for the Springbank Distillery tour. Unlike the other distilleries we’ve visited Springbank does all of its own barley malting and smoking itself and by hand. I don’t drink whiskey, but it was so interesting to hear about working with local farmers – either to use local barley for special batches or to move on the spent grain for animal feed.  I love a family run business and Springbank really had that feel to it.

In fact, that was one thing that really came over strongly everywhere we went in Kintyre – from family run shops that haven’t been replaced by high street equivalents to the food on every menu being as local as possible. There was a strong sense of provenance – knowing where things came from and valuing the local.

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The absolute highlight of the trip for us for us was visiting my friend Emma in the afternoon at the Torrisdale Castle Estate.  The Estate has been in Emma’s husband’s family for generations and they moved back 4 years ago from Stirling, where Emma and I had met (over crochet of course). In that time, Emma and Niall have made some amazing improvements to the estate, including refurbishing their holiday cottages, to building a hydro electric scheme, and even starting a gin distillery! As Emma showed us around, we were just so inspired by the way the land and the residents work together – the hydro scheme powers the distillery, the forestry powers the wood fired hot tubs, Aunty Carol lives in the archway, Niall's mum runs an organic tannery that tans local sheep hides – all fitting together.

So as Emma and her family headed out to the local village hall for a celebration of the local fishing community and a haddock supper caught by those same fishermen, we headed back to the hotel for dinner in the Harbourview Grille and our own locally caught Haddock (well, Kevin had that, I had Chicken Parmigiana, because its my favourite and I’ve never seen it on another menu in the UK and it was exactly how I remembered it).

I'll be back next week with our trip onward to Gigha! 

Kat GoldinComment
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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Life On The Edge of Summer

It happens every year...a slow panic that starts on June 1st and builds up as each day ticks by...the end of term and summer holidays.

Part of me craves the break to the routine. The alarm goes off and I spend a good 20 minutes fantasising about not having to start the uniform/lunch/breakfast/teeth/chore cycle. Something is usually missing or forgotten, someone is usually upset at having to go to school, we are usually late for the bus. One morning, our neighbour/electrician popped up to look at the studio at 8 am and bore witness to full chaos - naked and crying children, goats escaping, sheep in the house, and worst of all, pre-coffee me. He left just about as fast as he could get in the van and it took all the control I had not to ask to hop in with him and drive away with him. 

 The prospect of lazy mornings aside, summer holidays mean an end to my working routine for 8 weeks.  With my children more and more independent and clear expectations of what I will be able to realistically achieve, school holidays are marginally less stressful than they used to be.  I structure my work so that I have some clear computer days where the kids are with Kevin or friends and the rest of the time I plan work that involves things I don't need to concentrate as much on usually small making projects that I can cart along with us as we go. Also, this summer's main task is getting the farm ready for the programme of workshops and retreats (more on that later) that are starting this September.   Kids can usually be roped in to help with painting and tidying if a bribe of ice cream or swimming can be offered at the end.

Sometimes I look back on the early days of Kat Goldin Designs with amazement.  I started with all 3 kids at home full time - Ellis was 4.5, Georgia was 18m and Theo was 6 months when I started selling handmade hats and patterns.  I blogged every day and I even wrote books before they were all at school! HOW ON EARTH DID I DO THAT?  or more accurately HOW ARE KEVIN AND I STILL TOGETHER AFTER THOSE YEARS?!?

Because, that really is the crux of it.  Kevin and I don't fight about anything, except who gets to work. Part of me recognises that my work is more flexible than his, part of me hates that it feels like time and again his work comittments trump mine. On my good days, I accept it and work with what we've got - he tries to take 2 days off a week to work at home and look after the kids. On my bad days, I see it for the patriarchal nonsense it is - my work constantly having to  fit into other people's schedules and needs. He says he would choose differently if he could, and makes up for it by doing all the laundry and vacuuming and chores and we call it even as I lay in bed with the kids, blissfully enjoying my slow summer mornings.

Regardless of how I feel about it, summer break starts in 1.5 days...and the juggle begins. 

Kat GoldinComment
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...

Dyeing with Cow Parsley

Ah, early June.  I don't know about where you are, but up here the roadsides and hedgerows are simply bursting with flowers.  

Perhaps the most eye catching at the moment is Cow Parsley.  It is the tallest of these first umbellifers to open up and its billowy head, hollow stem and fern-like leaves can be used to for something other than dropping little petals everywhere when your kids bring you a bunch.

Materials:

  • a Large Pot
  • Pre-mordanted fibres*
  • At least the same weight of cow parsley as the weight of your dry fibres.  Using more will produce a more vibrant colour.
  • Tongs or a wooden spoon.

Note: its not a great idea to use the same pots and utensils for dyeing as it is for eating. 

* A mordant is a mineral salt that helps dye afix to the fibres you are dyeing.  For protein based fibres (wool, silk, soya) alum is commonly used.  You can find instructions and buy materials here. For plant-based fibres, I have heard people having great success using soya milk baths, though I have not tried it myself. Read more here

1. Collect your Cow Parsley

From left to right: Cow Parsley, wild carrot (also good for dyeing) and hogweed leaves (no flowers are out yet)

From left to right: Cow Parsley, wild carrot (also good for dyeing) and hogweed leaves (no flowers are out yet)

Cow Parsley (also called Wild Chervil or sometimes referred to as Queen Anne's Lace) can be mistaken for a number of other umbellifers. At this early point in the season, it is really only wild carrots that are also out and they are easily distinguished  from cow parsley by their smaller size and thinner leaves.  Later in the season, giant hogweed can be mistaken for cow parsley and as its sap can cause burns, so be careful!

It is best to harvest your cow parsley when it has been a dry day.  Collect flowers, stems and leaves for the dyepot as this will give you the greeny colour shown here.  

2. Chop up and weigh your collected dyestuff

I aim for about 2x the weight of the wool I am dyeing. This means for 100g of wool, I would be looking to collect around 200g of cow parsley.  Other people will use other ratios and experimentation is the best part of natural dyes.  

3. Simmer the cow parsley for about an hour

Place your chopped up herbs into a large pot and add enough water to cover it and so that the dyestuff can move freely.  You won't dilute the dye if you add more water, but equally you want to be energy efficient.

4. Add your mordanted wool. 

The best way to do this is to let your dyebath cool then add your mordanted  wool, as sharp temperature changes can cause your wool to felt. However, I have found that gently heating the wool in some warm water and bringing it close to the temp of the dyebath is another way to get it in without shocking it. 

You can strain your cow parsley out at this stage.  This is especially useful if you aren't going to use the dyebath immediately as it can then be stored in the fridge.  However, leaving the plant matter in will get you a stronger colour. You may want to put your wool in a mesh bag at this stage to help keep plant matter out of the fibres. 

5. Simmer your wool for about 45 minutes. Then you can remove or for a deeper colour, leave in overnight.

6. Rinse your fibre and hang to dry.

And bob is your uncle. The light fastness is OK with cow parsley, but as with any naturally dyed object, it is best to treat it gently and keep out of the sun where possible. 

Interested in natural dye?  In September, we are hosting a workshop let by Callum McNeill-Ritchie a local environmental consultant who specialises in humans' historical links to the environment and use of the natural world in human activity. He likes to interpret both natural and cultural heritage together, to give a better understanding of the environment around us. Callum will be leading us in the morning's plant identification and gathering walk and talking about the use of dyes in a historical context. We will spend the afternoon dyeing a range of fibers.  You can find out more here.