Sunday 26 December 2010

Minus 14 degrees, No Water, No Rayburn & Festive Lunch To Cook - Merry Christmas!

Boxing Day.
Well, Christmas Day dawned at -14 degrees C. and we were greeted with almost our entire water supply frozen solid and the Rayburn in the kitchen having gone out.
We did have water here in the house but only cold and the milking parlour, dairy & cattle shed were without water as were Elder Son's cottage and the holiday cottage (fortunately empty at present).
The Farmer set to and performed major surgery on the Rayburn threee times before it was going again and and outside the boys struggled to thaw pipes and troughs.
Trying to cook Chrismas lunch in a cold kitchen with the internal parts of the Rayburn scattered across the floor and reeking of household oil & men-folk tramping in & out for kettles of  hot water is certainly challenging.
I do have a gas cooker as well as the Rayburn but having intended  to use both as per usual and then finding that it was not to be, I ended up trotting across to Elder Son's cottage and asking KT to cook the roasting vegetables in her oven while I battled on with the gas cooker. The Turkey of course, took up sole residency in the one oven left to me, the Christmas pudding steamed away to itself on the top and I juggled with saucepans on the remaining three gas burners, making bread sauce, red-currant sauce (an excellent substitute, having been unable to find the cranberries in the deep-freeze), gravy, boiling potatoes, steaming vegetables & boiling kettles for thawing out procedures outside. It was a miracle that lunch was only an hour late!!!

Today it is a little less cold but there is still a battle to get water to the livestock and for tractors to start. Elder Son has gone to a neighbour to help feed his stock as none of his tractors will start.
The Farmer has spent the morning filling tankers with water from under the ice on the ponds as there is no other way of getting water to the cattle troughs. It is a constant struggle to keep one jump ahead of the freezing conditions. The streams & rivers have iced over and as soon as any water is exposed to the air it freezes around the pipes & taps. Still, as the Farmer says it is not as bad as 1601...the Thames has not yet frozen solid!

Friday 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas One & All...Nadolig Llawen

Christmas Eve and what a busy day ahead. The most important thing to be done today is the Christmas tree...its something of a family tradition that the tree comes into the house on Christmas Eve and is taken out again on Twelfth Night. I love decorating the tree and re-discovering all the old and precious ornaments, some of them dating back to the childhood of the Farmer's grandmother at the end of the 19th century, and of course the newer ones from the childhoods of our boys. Father Christmas always brought them a tree decoration  and so we have quite a large collection of pretty things.

As well decorating  the tree I have to ice the Christmas cake which I try to get done while listening to the Nine Lessons & Carols from Kings College, tho' almost inevitably it is interupted by various things cropping up. There is the stuffing for the turkey and trifles to be made and last minute wrapping of presents to done. I know that a number of people are due to call here today so there will be constant supply of hot fresh coffee to on the go and mince pies.

With the cold weather everything outside is very difficult. Each morning all the water pipes & troughs for the livestock are having to be thawed out which takes a long time. A neighbour has just rung to say that they have no water at all and could the Farmer go down to help sort it out (which of course he will, but after he's dealt with the problems here).

The ponds are frozen with a cap of ice about 6"-8" thick and the dogs run around on the ice skidding & sliding with joy. Each day we have the wonderful sight of laughing labradors leaping about in the snow.

Wishing Everyone A Very Merry Christmas

Nadolig Llawen

Sunday 19 December 2010

'The Weather Outside is Frightful.....', Emergency Milk Tanks, Favourite Christmas Reading

Early morning across our snow-bound valley...pretty spectaucular, eh what!
We are indeed snow-bound...the Farmer decided to walk to the shoot yesterday morning across the fields having taken the 4x4 out to end of of our lane and having seen the state of the main road with lorries slewed at odd angle across it and foolish car drivers struggling to get up the hill, it seemed the only sensible thing to do. I had walked out with the dogs to exercise them before going beating and was then left to drive the car back up the lane (in low box) and the only time I slid (even in 4 wheel drive) was turning in to park on the yard.
The main concern today is getting a load of cattle cake delivered which we have been waiting for since Thursday. It has to come up from the West Country but we've had a message to say it is in Wales  and so should get to us sometime, however, whether the lorry will get up the lane is the big question. If it can't do it then it will be a matter of shovelling 4 tonnes of cake into bags and bringing it up with tractors! What a joyful prospect!
The milk tanker came on Friday night okay but tonight will be another matter. We have though been told by our milk buying company that unlike last winter, we can use a portable emergency milk tank and take it out ourselves with a tractor to end of the road. All dairy farms used to have these emergency tanks and they were invaluable, then it was decided by the powers that be that they were unhygienic and dangerous for the lorry drivers to empty being up on trailers so their use was banned. Last winter when so many farms could not have their milk collected much milk was lost but this time common sense has prevailed and the old tank can be brought out of mothballs. It will of course be thoroughly cleaned and sterilised and our particular tanker driver has assured the Farmer that he will collect our milk from the end of the road if we can get it there.

It is very, very cold here today and the snow is crunching underfoot and the skies are grey and full, I think we are supposed to have more snow tomorrow which may put paid to the half-plan of meeting family members in Llandeilo to hand over turkeys & pressies. We will see.

This is the first Christmas in almost 20 years that I have not got the cottage booked out. I think the weather has made people think twice about venturing too far from home over the festive season, however, that said I have got people arriving for New Year...if they can get here that is.

It is a day for sitting by the fire reading some favourite Christmassy, snowy books, having been busy cooking and baking for the last few days, so this afternoon I shall settle down witth 'Wind in the Willows', 'The Children of Green Knowe', 'Lanterns Across the Snow' by Susan Hill & The Faber Book of Christmas. That is the plan but I may well be asked, in the nicest posssible way, to go out and shovel cattle cake!!

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Winter Work, Good Books, Rampant Rams

Even a fence post & barbed wire can look beautiful with a coating of hoar frost!

Despite the run up to Christmas beginning to gather pace, things are quite quiet here, though busy, but its a routine sort of busy-ness. Elder Son is off hedge-trimming while he can get onto the land with frozen fields, Younger Son is off each morning working on a tree-felling job & the Farmer is also working with chain-saws today thinning out out a conifer plantation on the farm. Again, while the fields are frozen and hard, work with tractors & winches becomes posssible that is normally only done in the summer.
So while all the men-folk are off being manly I keep warm in the house with cooking, ironing, Christmas preparations & grabbing the odd moment to read some very good books.

K.T. has just lent me 'The Winter Ghosts' by Kate Mosse...wonderful! A clever & poignant ghost story linking the distress of the grief & guilt of the 1914-18 War with the horrors of the torment of the Cathars in France in the 14th century. It is not a long book but totally gripping.
As bit of light relief I have also been reading a couple of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries by Carola Dunn. Good whodunnits set in the '20's with a delightfully nosy society flapper and a solidly attractive Inspector from the Met. as their leading characters in a series of good old-fashioned murder mysteries. Good stuff on cold winter evenings by the fire.
For even lighter relief 'Chocolate and Cuckoo Clocks; The Essential Alan Coren' has been unbeatable. It is laugh-out-loud stuff and so clever and off the wall. I loved hearing Alan Coren on the radio but as we rarely buy national ( or local for that matter!) newspapers I did not see his regular column in The Times, but have now discovered what we missed. Glorious eccentricity.

We had a small & fortunately short-lived, unpleasantness yesterday when our two rams were brought into the yard to remove them from the flock of ewes, who are now hopefully all in lamb. The rams who have been happily living together in the main flock since October, once separated from their harem decided to kill each other! They have incredibly hard skulls and just run at each other with their heads lowered and inflict an astonishing amount of damage. They were quickly separated & removed to other parts of the yard but an amount of blood had been spilled. They now just roar at each other balefully from behind their respective fences. Murderous sheep...the power of instinct and the survival of the fittest & all that stuff!

Sunday 12 December 2010

Thaw & More Frost, Free-range Turkeys

After two days of thaw we have silvered roofs & fields again with another frost having come overnight. However,we no longer have the glassy sheets of ice outside the house & across the yards that we have had to negotiate so gingerly for the past week, which is great relief. The Farmer fell twice but without any damage and vehicles were having difficulties getting in or out as our steep driveway had some bad patches of black ice. The milk tanker driver was very pleased when Elder Son had put a goodly quantity of grit on the drive so he was able to collect the milk without too much trouble.

We have been rearing our usual small number of turkeys for Christmas and they spend their short but happy lives roaming around the yards & buildings. They had found their way up to the children's old climbing frame the other day where there was a patch of warm sunshine and sat there for a long while gobbling gently to each other before heading back to their more usual haunts down on the yard. They are truly free-range and as a result of the freedom they have they taste wonderful... or should it be wanderful!
They are such ugly creatures I find, with their naked vulture-like heads & necks & strange swivelling eyes. The cock birds are spectacularly hideous with their blue wattles and aggressive fanning out of feathers when alarmed and the way they seem to hiss & spit is very intimidating. We have a friend with a couple of pet turkeys and I find them quite scary!

Sunday 5 December 2010

Rainbows & Ice,Peacocks, Homemade Mincemeat, Local Arts,

This morning we are having such peculiar weather...this wonderful rainbow appeared arching across the farm in extraordinarily strong colour and I was walking across fields white & crisp with frost in a fine drizzle. There are still sheets of ice everywhere and icicles hanging in the streams. We have not had the excitement of snow sadly, just treacherous ice and deep cold. Yesterday the yards were like sheets of glass and this morning the Farmer was to take our cattle trailer to help a neighbour move house but the car dooors were frozen solid so instead of going at 9 o'clock it has been postponed until later this morning when things have 'warmed' up a bit and he can get into the car!
From this same neighbour the Farmer has acquired a pair of peacocks, which he brought home yesterday in a cage . They are called Charlie & Hettie and because peacocks apparently have a strong sense of home they are to be kept under high security for 3 months to reduce the risk of them them making a break for it and heading back across the valley & also to keep them safe from Mr Fox. The Farmer has always wanted peacocks and he will win them over by hand feeding them, hopefully. I'm not sure how we are going to cope with haunting scream that peacocks make...people have told us that it can be fairly persistent and therefore intensely annoying.
'Who said, 'Peacock Pie'?
The old King to the sparrow:'
(Walter de la Mare; The Song of the Mad Prince)

Yesterday which was horrid, very cold & damp, I spent making & bottling a large quantity of mincemeat that I had set on the go the day before, and baking while the Farmer & Younger Son were off beating with the dogs. Making mincemeat is one of the Christmas preparations that I really enjoy and I make enough of it to see me through the year not just the festive season. it is very useful stuff, not just for mincemeat pies, but it it makes a lovely pudding with sponge on top and a good spoonful in a cake mixture makes a good moist fruit cake.

 Homemade Mincemeat
4lbs. apples cored but not peeled, chopped small
8oz. suet
2lbs. mixed dried fruit & candied peel
12 oz. dark brown sugar
Grated zest & juice of 2 lemons & 2 oranges
4 tspns. mixed spice
1/2 tspn. ground cinnamon
A little ground cloves
A little grated nutmeg
6 tblspns. brandy
(I double everything & sometimes add a couple of tblspns. of ground almonds)
Mix everything together well except the brandy,in a large bowl and leave overnight covered with a clean cloth.
The next day cover the bowl loosely with tin foil and put in oven for 3 hours
 (Gas 1/4, 225 degrees F, 120 degrees C or the bottom oven of the Rayburn).
When it is taken from the oven the suet will have melted and the whole thing will be swimming in fat... this is how it should be.
As it cools stir occasionally.
When quite cold add the brandy & pack into clean jars, cover with wax discs seal.
It will keep indefinitely in cool dark place

We are always interested in local artists & craftspeople and try to support them when we can afford to (!) and recently a friend has set up a new online business selling work by graduate students from the local art college where she lectures. The original designer pieces produced are wonderful and S. is keen that the young artists should be given a shop window for their talents. Look at and see what remarkable and lovely things are being made here in Carmarthenshire.