More wine, less whine.

Illinois was the fourth largest producer of wine grapes in the US up until Prohibition in 1919.  Johns Great-grandmother being one of those paid up card carrying tough old prohibition women. I even have her prohibition prayer cards to prove it somewhere around here. During this period many vineyards were ripped out and put into corn and beans.  My throat clenches at the thought. Sometimes a  few vines were kept for (wink) ‘juice’.  Since prohibition was lifted in 1933 the grapes have begun to slowly creep back into the state.
So Our John and I thought we would help out with the growth of local wine production.  As our patriotic duty of course.

This year will be our first vintage. Though vintage is rather a grand term grand as I only have twenty vines producing so far. This is the third summer for these vines and so we are looking at a small but (fingers crossed) decadent harvest. I have planted Vidal Blanc. A sweet grape on a tough sub zero rootstock. It does not mind the terribly cold winters we have here  and loves the dry breezy summers. This grape is perfect for those little bottles of sticky whites. Known as dessert wine in some circles. Later when I have more vines coming into production we will try our hand at an ice wine. But this season our objective is to get a nice quaffable wine into a bottle then back out again via a  wine glass!

They have been grown organically so they are not the prettiest grapes. They were infested with the Japanese beetle a while ago so the vines are looking quite bare. Our trellisses and wires are sagging in some places. Those damn barn chooks spend way too much time in there. They were terribly pruned by a novice who is learning as she goes. But there are grapes there and this is the one crop that loves it dry at this time of year. 

In Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, where I grew up, there are thousands of acres under grapes. The wine industry is huge and growing so fast. Each winery has  a fancy pancy restaurant and tasting rooms and a wine cellar for their magnificent products. We trail around the vineyards  every summer, tasting and giggling our way across Hawkes Bay. There are even wine trail bus tours (not that the locals need THOSE, in fact we make sure to avoid them). My favourite one to watch go by is a wine trail on horseback.  The tourists get a guide and a horse and wander through the lazy Hawke’s Bay summer grapevines  tasting as they go. They (the fun police)  tried to make it illegal to ride a horse whilst drinking wine but the trails actually go through the vineyards so it is all good. Only very gentle, very slow,  very patient, very sober horses need apply for this position! It is advertised as a good way to avoid drunk driving. ( My little brother was once charged with being ‘drunk and in charge of a bicycle with a pot on his head’ – he said he could not find his helmet and it is against the law to ride a bike without a helmet in NZ.  Obviously a sensible chappie. He had not been on a wine trail though.)

For table grapes I have grown the Concord.  I know I should be making jelly but they are so tasty I cannot stop myself eating them off the vine. I am the bad bird pecking at the grapes.

So we are watching the Vidal, they will be netted this week to keep the chickens and starlings out and then we will wait for the optimum day and BEGIN!

Stay tuned.

c

Daisy lost in the cornfield and grandma’s rissole recipe,

So the pasture is beginning to wane a bit. Not as much grass. At this time of year we put a harness on Daisy, the milk cow to be, and take her on a dog leash into the wild long grass.  I am not kidding, I wander along (she will not be hurried)  leading this cow  – I come up to her shoulder, she is a bison of a cow.   I lead this 1500 pound full grown Ayrshire like a dog, out the gate, around the outside of the fence and clip her to a long dog chain attached to a fence post.  She has been doing this all her life and loves it because the leash and the click of the dog chain mean untouched long long green grass… her absolute fave!  Click, click all good – I take her more water and will be back to  shift her every few hours.

I meet Our John at the barn and we load another hundred bales of hay and straw.  He takes more water to Daisy.  I come in, the tomato sauce is on, the mail is in, I have posted my latest post and I am trying to decipher my grandmothers recipe for  rissoles and I hear The Shout. If either of us hear The Shout we RUN  straight out the door then dance around in circles like a bird dog, trying to get an idea of where the call for HELP has come from.

Another shout and I get the direction.  I head South.  As I run closer I hear what is being shouted. Which frankly cannot be repeated here (the language you know) but I got the jist of it, so I veer west, over a gate, grab the leash and a stray piece of rope back over another gate and jog North again.

Past where Daisy SHOULD be.. ok..  so now I am looking for John and a very tall escaped cow. I am running down the bank above the creek and I see nothing unusual, which only leaves the actual corn field. You will remember that we are surrounded on all four sides by corn fields.  I appears that Daisy has escaped and is in the corn.  This is not good. The corn is about 10 + foot high and thick. I can see nothing. Nothing.

TonTon and I dive into the corn, walk through about ten rows and then stop to listen, turning and peering down each row. We are blind in here there is nothing but corn stalks, soon I am not even sure which way I came in,  so I watch TonTon listen, his ears veer to the west and so we walk that way for a bit going in deeper and deeper, another shout, it is muffled now but the general message is painfully clear, they are together and Our Johns language is very seriously in the gutter. I call back. I still only have a vague idea as to where they are.  I am in a 60 acre field and that joins another field and another field right across the plains. I can see a scrap of sky above me and about five rows in on either side. It is suddenly very quiet.  TonTon is trained to walk behind me, this command is ‘in behind’ and so this is where he is. I look at him, call him to the front and say  ‘TonTon. See John.” (which means,  find John) he is off, in fact he is instantly gone,  and  in seconds I am alone.. mm.. well that was useful.  Then I hear him find John (one bark).  I must be getting closer because I start to hear rustling, corn breaking, some new cuss words,  and then Our John command ‘See C’ within a few seconds  TonTon bursts into my row and barrels straight to me, panting.  He turns and I follow him back towards John.  Where did this man learn words like these, I smile as I  move closer because he is alternating the most awful cussing with this  sweet talk as he keeps Daisy calm and with him. So he is calling her all kinds of dreadful names  in a sweet gentle voice. An unnerving combination.

Out of nowhere I see the paisley hide  of the cow and the blue of Johns shirt,  ‘TonTon down and stay’.  I creep up and hand John his leash, then as he attaches his,  I go  around the other side and attach my rope to her harness. She is looking quite wild. But we have her now.

Ok, so Our  John has her on one side and I have her on the other and we look at each other, eyebrows raised –  which way is back?..(though it seems Our John has lost his sense of humour by now) .. mm…Daisy has begun to frantically pull every which way ripping off ears and munching on corn, sensing that her adventure is over.. BAD CORN too, Genetically Modified corn.  I am completely lost.  John looks up and with the instincts of a farm boy, heads out and I tell TonTon Go Home and he takes off in the same direction.  And so we make for home, the rows are about 18inches apart and the plants about 4 inches together. Two adults being shouldered and shoved and stood on by a very annoyed cow means you are making your own trail out.  There is very little room to maneuver in a corn field.  We just hold onto her as  she smashes and stomps her way destroying the perfect rows of corn until we erupt back out into the home orchard.

She is in a paddock now. No more tying out this summer. She has got a taste for the corn and  there will be no stopping her dragging her chain and the fence with her.  Poor naughty Daisy is supposed to be an organic GRASS fed cow!  Ah well.

Those of you who have been in the corn fields with me before, the night the coyotes came, will notice that the corn is drying.  The plant dries from the bottom up and is turning more  golden every day. Soon it will begin it’s crackly whisper, my favourite sounds in the corn field.  Any breath of air will set off a concert of bush stroke rustling in the field. It is worthy of a pause.

Now as promised: Grandmas rissoles

These are Grandma’s words. This is written in her beautiful copperplate handwriting as a big paragraph straight into my recipe book.  I have placed the comma’s and full stops exactly where she placed them.

Left over mashed potatoes. Cold meat minced or cut into very small pieces, small onion chopped finely, parsley chopped, salt and pepper and a wee pinch of seasoning. Mix together, stir in with beaten egg.  Dip hands in cold water and roll portion of the mix together then roll in flour, put into pan, all ready with really hot fat. Keep rissoles apart and shake pan frequently to prevent sticking. Remember to dip hands in cold water for rolling mix into balls.

CMC 23.10.84

Grandma was born in 1905 and died in the early 1990’s.

Actually I have her recipe for scones too, it is in my head, I will write that for you another time.  Her scones were really good.

c

My grandmother made wild rabbit stew.

My grandfather, who we called Pa,  loved rabbit stew.  He had been a rabbiter in the Great Depression.  After losing his trucking business, this was how he fed his family. He took his rifles, his old truck, his ammo and his dogs and drove up into the hills to hunt rabbits. He sold the pelts to the tanners and divided the meat out amongst the families.

In those times you grew and hunted your own food if you wanted to eat. This is how it was. I have only seen the pictures of the Depression of the 30’s in black and white so that time seems to have been lived sepia. Try as I might I cannot add colour. The depression left my grandmother with the same feeling. She was often querulous and scathing about the plenty that we had in the 70’s, which she directly compared to the Depression and so was bound and determined to teach us how to live frugally. For her it was a proper treat to walk into town and buy a cup of tea and a custard square. For us it was just a long walk.

So it was important to Pa and Grandma that we were all able to grow our own food, or hunt for it.  That we could ‘make do’.  As far as I know Pa only hunted rabbits, he never hunted anything else. He was not interested in an entire deer, he did not hunt for glory or antlers. He just wanted dinner.  And My grandma cooked a mean rabbit stew. When I say mean  that is exactly how it was. It was mean as in awful. My grandmother never grew out of her frugal use of ingredients and her overuse of salt as the only flavouring to a meal.  I know it is fashionable to wax lyrical abut your grandmothers cooking but most of my grandmothers food turned me into a secretive hider of food.  I could apparently put food into my mouth appear to chew and swallow, then put my hand to my mouth for a discreet cough and down the lump of inedible meat went to join the little freight train of childrens hands that were passing food under the table and dumping it into her pot plants, under cushions, behind chairs or into our mothers serviette for collecting later and feeding to the chooks when Grandma was not looking.

My Great-Aunts were the cooks of wonderful meals. My Grandma was the beautiful one.  She really was a beautiful looking woman. She was dainty with the smoothest skin and wore her hair short and crimped and set in a twenties style all her long life. Her fingernails were always clean and well shaped, her hands slim and pale.  As a young woman she was a millener.  She had been raised for a modern life of music and books and sewing the tiniest of stitches. Her father was an editor of a newspaper. She and her sisters were educated and wore the latest fashions. They made their own clothes and they were beautiful.  She was quiet, demure and fiery when raised. As a young girl she fell in love with and married this extraordinarily good looking, gregarious, young, strong,  blue eyed charmer with the gift of the gab, and not a penny to his name. Our Pa.  He would try his hand at anything and did, he would strike up a conversation with anyone at all and yarn for hours and did.  And so her life took a wild, adventurous, sometimes dangerous  and sometimes desperate turn. For soon after her marriage the Depression came. A real Depression.

But we will not stay in the depression with Grandma today, (though I would like to return as there are some fantastic stories from that time) for today we are going to fast forward to her granddaughter. Her little tiny, all knees and elbows granddaughter who was the apple of her grandma’s eye.  The daughter of her daughter. Her first granddaughter. Me.

Pa and Grandma had another holiday home in a place way out in sheep country. Very different from Kumara and the cows.  Huge open hills and shallow rivers lined in huge old  willow trees. This place was all light. It had  a bach, big, very basic, no electricity and an out-door dunny and a collection of odd little buildings surrounding it.  We will return here another day as this place is not our ramble for today either.

Anyway Pa, who ruled with an iron rod or whatever stick was closest, chose this summer to teach me to shoot rabbits. Why I do not know. I was tiny and scrawny with this wild long curly hair that no-one but my grandma could get a brush through without a screaming fight.  I was Grandma’s child.  Grandma and I had one of those special bonds that sometimes blow up between a small  girl and her grandmother. Pa was a towering terror to me.  I was about ten or eleven years old the summer  I was handed my first rifle and told I was to go out rabbiting  with Pa. My stomach was roiling with nerves.

But as we walked up into the gently rolling scorched summer hills across farmland, my grandfather changed and softened and shape-shifted into a new grandfather. The crotchety short tempered old Grandad sitting on a tree stump grumbling in the yard sloughed off to reveal a long limbed, laughing, strong, old man. I was taught how to climb through a fence with a rifle and not shoot my foot off. I was taught how to hold a rifle -my hands manipulated into the correct positions, my trigger finger getting special instruction, the stock tucked into my bony shoulder and my legs knocked apart to get the proper stance. I was taught how to sight down the length of the barrel, lining up the two bits on top of the barrel that have to be dead on (no fancy stuff here). I was taught how to follow a running rabbit with the rifle, then run my eye and the barrel ahead of it at the same speed and shoot. I was taught never ever to let my head rise above the horizon.  I was taught to breathe down and shoot. I was taught to be still and quiet for a very long time. I was taught that most importantly I had to kill the animal.  I was shown where to  shoot the rabbit so that it was instantly dead with no suffering. To wound was the most terrible thing. This could never happen.  Pa was adamant about this.

I was  placed just below a hilltop with a couple of dogs (to retrieve the rabbits) and a big view. Pa beside me with his rifle as back up and  to my Pa’s absolute beaming delight I did not miss. I was evidently a natural. When I sighted down that barrel my nerves just disappeared. I hit everything I shot at.   I was a star. My dogs brought in rabbit after rabbit.  Day after day.  All clean shots.  Pa was so proud you would think he had given birth to me himself.  For those few weeks of high summer I basked in the glory of this most unexpected talent and we were the hunters.

My brothers were appalled (they hated rabbit stew), my sisters giggled. My mother and grandmother were secretly proud. A girl who could shoot would never go hungry! Pa uncurled his spine and started telling stories and  told anyone who came within shouting distance about the crack shot his eldest granddaughter had turned out to be.

And that summer my brothers and sisters and cousins and I pretended to eat a lot of rabbit stew!

The next summer that we came to this bach was terrible. I just could not make myself shoot the little rabbits any more than I could  eat them. My Pa was heartbroken and went quite silent when he realised.  He blamed puberty.  he blamed the feminist movement. Heaving great sighs, he returned  to his tree stump and mumbled about useless modern girls.  I felt wretched with misery. But there was nothing for it.  I had gone soft. Pa waited for my elder boy cousins to arrive with their own rifles,  and I was consigned back into the rabble of laughing kids carrying huge heavy rocks into the  deep river pools to see who could hold their breath the longest!

Grandma and Mum switched to cooking great legs of mutton that summer. My grandmother could stretch one roast of mutton into three or four meals. The roast was always good, then we waited through the next days of inevitable mutton  stews and soups which were frankly horrible, until Grandma made rissoles out of the last of the mutton on the last day. We loved the rissoles.

I am going to share that rissole recipe with you tomorrow as we are running out of time today.  And somewhere in my old recipe book is the original recipe written in there by my grandmother. I will find it for you.

c

Easy Tomato Chutney

My mother was the jam maker and my father  preserved hundreds of jars of fruit,every summer. We ate one huge jar of peaches or pears every day at breakfast –  if  the season had been good. So it was kind of rare for one of my parents to make a chutney or relish. My great Aunts were the real chutney makers.  It is a summer smell.  A summer taste, along side all those other summer tastes.  Chutney should be chunky with that whole sweet and sour thing going. It complements cold meats and is perfect with cheese. 

But on the rare occasions that my mother did make a chutney it lasted about a week. So good. Today I thought I would be clever and make this batch with the yellow tomatoes. There are so many.  I imagined I would get a creamy golden product.  Instead I got a brown kind of snotty product. But it tastes perfect.  The next batch I will make with the red tomatoes as it is really such a simple recipe. And the deep rich burgundy colour is a little more appetising!

This is an old early 70’s  recipe  and it really does reflect the period i think. All that sugar and cayenne!

My darling friend in NZ makes this every summer as well.   She just makes it in tiny batches, whenever she gets a few extra tomatoes out of the garden.   She is a very laid back cook. She just wanders about the kitchen as she drinks her coffee in the morning,  throwing bits and pieces into the pot.  Later in the day she pops it into any jars or containers she can find and seals it up.    All very matter of fact.  No fuss. We are sisters from different mothers. She is the sister who does not fuss.  I said to her years ago that I had lost my Mothers recipe and she pulled out hers and it was the same one from the same book.  An old  NZ Womens Weekly recipe book if I remember rightly.

Tomato Chutney

4lb ripe chopped tomatoes (about 16 big ones)

1lb peeled and chopped apples (about 4 or 5)

1lb onions, sliced and diced (about 4 or 5)

2 cups each  of sultanas and raisins

1/4 tsp cayenne (or more if you want it hotter)

1tsp each dry mustard and ground allspice

1tblsp salt

3  heaped cups brown sugar

2 1/2 cups cider vinegar

Place all ingredients in the big heavy bottomed pot and stir, cook for 1 1/2 hours to two hours until thick.

Ladle hot chutney into hot jars, seal.  These keep quite well in a dark cool cupboard but to be on the safe side you may choose to  store them in the fridge.

Last night I roasted two chicken breasts, basting them with the last of the pickling brine and a little oil. After turning the chicken twice I slathered it with a little mountain of  fresh warm chutney, grilled, after 10 minutes or so I topped that with heaps of grated parmesan and grilled some more.  So good. And very pretty.  Actually I almost took a picture but hunger got to me first. So here is a picture of Queenie’s bottom instead!

c

Confessions of a Basement Farmer with a Frisbee

Back to the Farm.

There is more to this little farm than meets the eye. And in the interests of honest and transparent discussion I feel I must tell you something. I have been hiding this from you. I have a confession to make.

In a very large iron bathtub, down there in the gloom of my basement I  keep .. um.. sigh.. Worms. (Gasp!).  I know.  It is a rather dark secret. I don’t tell many people because I am afraid they may look at me funny. Well, it is true that the moment I open my mouth and speak they look at me a bit funny (NZ accent) but no need to compound my problems.

Now there are a number of reasons why I have a Worm Farm. I drink a lot of coffee, it is all freshly ground every morning in Our Johns great grandmothers coffee grinder and it seems terrible to waste the coffee grounds after all the care we put into making the perfect cup and worms love those expensive coffee grounds.  Also I really hate junk mail which is  the only mail I receive, though I had to change my name  to  Miss T H E  Resident just to get this rubbish, so I find enormous satisfaction in shredding it all up and feeding that to the worms!

The real reason of course is worm tea. This stuff is magic fertiliser.  Really, really good fertiliser.  And it is free.  You can make it yourself.  My bathtub has a small bucket under the drain to collect any tea. Plus you can make liquid fertiliser from the worm castings when you want more than a cup full. We spray gallons of it onto my recovering  fields in the spring and of course the vegetable gardens.  (Our John tried to tell me that maybe I should be spraying it under a full moon, naked with a hat on in case I got cold and doing some kind of funny dance. I don’t know. Seemed a little far fetched to me.)

To make worm tea from the castings fill an old thin pillow case with worm castings, immerse and  suspend it  from a stick in a really big bucket of water with a cup of molasses added. Using a fish tank air pump bubble the air under the bag for 24 hours. Dilute with water into your sprayer and  use within the next 24 hours.  Dig the left over soil into your garden around your favourite tree!

Worms are easy, they stay in their pen and they don’t talk back. Feed your worms with equal amounts of green and brown and keep moist. Just like regular compost.  When I say green I mean, salads, peels, good weeds, anything really except dairy and meat.  When I say brown I mean, paper shreds, coffee grinds, tea leaves, straw, autumn leaves, etc. I always keep a layer of shredded paper on top – there are little bugs that are important to this mini  ecosystem  and the shredded paper seems to keep them IN.  Then a wet sheet of paper and your lid.

A wee worm farm is perfect for the small urban gardener.  You can turn your left overs into the most beautiful soil conditioner plus the liquid gold fertiliser. Even if you are in a condo, maybe you have a garage, or back entrance or somewhere out of your home, you can start a wee worm farm to fertilise your house plants and recycle your kitchen waste.  You can even use the worm casings to mix into your indoor potting mix.

Worm compost is made cold though (not heated like regular compost) so be aware that any seed you put in will grow when you bring it out.

And if you do start a worm farm.  Ssshh. I will keep your secret.

Today I am making Mama’s Tomato Chutney so stand by for the recipe. And I really must practice my frisbee technique.  TonTon has such a time!

c

Route 66 and Lasagne

A wee while ago we traveled down Route 66 from Chicago to California.  We did not get to eat any lasagna on our travels. Because no-one wants any lasagna other than Mama’s.  I am going to part with my old family lasagna recipe.  I have no photos of the dish itself as it is very hard to make it look pretty.  I like my lasagna saucy. So instead I will show you some of the service stations we found on the way across the country via as much of Route 66  as we could find.  Then you have something to look at as you are cooking.

We live a stone’s throw (well a long throw with a very good arm and just the right stone) from Route 66. In fact I am going to get my hair done in a little hairdressers ON Route 66 this morning. What? You thought I was a natural blonde. Oh that is so kind! But no, my blonde needs a little chemical encouragement. My Friend who is a natural blonde says it is blondes like me that give real blondes a bad name. Really!  How unkind!  I have to point out that she would be saying this in her NZ drawl, as she tipped her natural blonde head back, to tip a lively East Coast Sauvignon Blanc down her tipply throat.  I love that girl!

 lasagna!  Take your time. One of the secrets to this recipe is long cooking of the sauce. Then a lovely settling cook in the oven once constructed. So a rainy afternoon is perfect.  The rain is not madatory to the taste but it does help!

1. One large onion, and one small stick of celery sliced and diced and slowly, slowly cooked in butter until transparent. Then add two cloves of garlic finely sliced and toss for about 30 seconds,with a tiny bit more heat, until they are fragrant. 

2. Add one can of dark red kidney beans, washed. Quickly toss about in the onions and garlic. I love a good toss in a recipe don’t you? It is fun to bounce food around in the pan. Remember the three second rule if anything hits your perfectly clean floor!

3. Add two cans of good Italian tomatoes or your blended summer sauce. A couple of fistfuls of basil. And a chilli  to taste(without its seeds unless you are quite, quite crazy). This is not meant to be spicy.   Then cook stirring often for at least an hour and a half. Reducing until it gets thicker.

4. Add one medium sized chopped zucchini. Once the zucchini starts to soften begin to stir and lightly pound with your potato masher. Mash up some of the soft beans and zucchini into the sauce this helps the sauce thicken. Make sure your beans are soft before you play with the masher though.

5. When you are almost done add a jar of tomato conserva or a little tin of tomato paste. Not yet though. Your sauce may catch on the bottom of the pot once you do this so be careful. And half a teaspoon of sugar. I do not know why but the tiny bit sugar has to be in there. It is tradition.  Of course lots of pepper and salt to taste.

While your lovely sauce is simmering after Step 3. Make your pasta.  Zap your little internet wand, click on the word pasta and go over to Bartolini Kitchens and grab his recipe. It is very very simple and very very tasty. You know how I like simple and tasty.  But really I was at the kneading stage is seconds!!  Well, it felt like seconds but you know how time flies when you are having fun.  After your dough has rested, been rolled and cut into sheets and when your sauce is good and saucy. Time to construct your lasagna. 

Now be kind to yourself. If you do not have ricotta, use cottage cheese. If you do not have egg plant use thawed, drained frozen spinach.  If you hate both use mushrooms (pan fried in nothing until moisture evaporates.)  I think I am saying just use whatever veg you have on hand, that you love to eat, that will hold its form but become soft in the cooking.

To construct your lasagna. Spoon a generous layer of sauce into the base of your greased DEEP  dish.  Always start with sauce.  Then a sheet of lasagna pasta.  A layer of sauce, sheet of lasagna, layer of egg-plant (sliced, dried and lightly fried in olive oil, drained) or spinach fresh or frozen. Layer of sauce, sheet of lasagna, layer of ricotta or cottage cheese, layer of sauce, sheet of lasagna,  layer of eggplant, or spinach and then sauce and lasagna until finished. You get the picture. Start with sauce and end with sauce the rest you can make up. Leave enough space at the top so the mixture can bubble in the oven without making another mess! My oven is a fright if I forget.

Grate your fantastic homemade cheddar, or a nice sharp tasty one from the store, mix with a handful of breadcrumbs and pile on top. Make sure the cheese mixture covers your lasagna, think of it as a lid to keep in the moisture!

Pop into a medium oven, and cook for about 30 – 45 minutes or golden brown. Serve with a big herby green salad.

Note: Make more sauce than you think you need because you always need more!  Any leftover sauce goes into the freezer.

Now I had better go and try to drag a brush through my hair before I go to the hairdressers. You know how that is!!

c

Don’t look, revolting shots today.

My Mother had a spider, who sat down beside her and lived in her wash-house (in our house we called the laundry the wash-house). This spider was called Elizabeth. A  perfectly lovely name for a spider I always thought. Anyway Mum said that she did not do major housework in the wash-house because it might disturb Elizabeth. Mother hated flies and Elizabeth loved to spin with them so they worked together in the wash house very happily for a number of years. Yes, YEARS… mm, I hear you say. I did not realise that spiders had that long a life span.  Well they may not have but Mothers ability to make up stories to avoid housework lasted many years.  Of course I am doing my best to keep her memory alive by adopting spiders and avoiding housework at all costs too.   I do relocation housework, it is the best kind.  Remind me and I will explain the concept to you one day.

Below is a spider. This is not Elizabeth. This is called The Big Spider. Now you might think that The Big Spider is not a very original name.  But we also have a dog referred to as The Big Dog.  And you know how married people have pet names for things. Well when Our John comes in from the garden and says there is a Big Spider by the Wendy house I grab my camera and go to the woodshed expecting to find this guy. And so I did. (No this is not the revolting shot)

The Big Spider is a protected species in the gardens because this spider has a huge web, he will run 3 foot lines to trees on either side of his web because he is after a big catch.  So in fact it is hard to get a shot of him without disturbing him with all that webby stuff everywhere. He is waiting for the quiver.  He is very big, from foot to foot about as big as the palm of your hand.  (No this is not the revolting shot either)

Then I took this just to terrify myself a little further and when I looked back to shoot again he had disappeared.  GONE.  Gone Where!!!  I have to confess that I brushed my hands wildly all over my body as I leapt without looking, back out of the garden. I am not afraid of spiders but it is hard not to get some prime -evil shudder when you don’t know where the little buggers are hiding.  I hate it when they do that.  I left the spider then, as I could not bear the thought of it scuttling around like that.

And off I went to check my hives.

But look at this.  My poor hive.  No I did not have a bear! We don’t even have bears here! I did this taking the hive apart after I discovered  ruined comb from the DREADED wax moth. He had to be found and rooted out but he was already all over the place in there.Usually this moth and their clean up larvae live in a symbiotic relationship with a strong chemical free hive. The bees move them along quite smartly. And sometimes they will pop into the hive  and clean up an old unguarded area before being shuffled out by the bees.   But when a hive is weak,  and combined with a cold snap (last week) which means the bees leave their doorways unguarded (to cuddle up against the cold),  these hideous creatures get in and will take over and move further into the warm dark nest and the larvae burrow in and eat the brood. Bad bad wax moth.  Yes, this was one of the weaker hives. I am so mad I could just spit. This is the revolting shot!

I have taken off the two infested supers.  Ripped out the nasties. I will wrap them in black plastic and store them in the shed. The freezing temps in the winter will kill what moths are left and then I will have to take out each foundation and burn it.  A winter job.

Two interesting things. I was able to take this whole hive apart and brush the bees into their one clean super without smoke or protective gear, in a short skirt and singlet. My only extra gear was gloves. Not a peep. A depressed hive indeed. Plus there is another underlying cloying smell in amongst the honey scent. I think it comes from the damaged comb. So this can be an extra warning trigger for me next time. Now I know that this next image is out of focus but really it is the sentiment.  You will agree I am sure. Go little fly guy!!  What a mess. 

I have comb in the freezer with good honey in it. I shall put this into their clean box  as a pick me up.  Now they are in coventry. Isolated. But well fed.  But on the edge poor bees. 

What I should have done.

Listened to my instincts and made the hive smaller a few months ago. Initially I was so afraid of them swarming again that I gave them too much room, they were not able to guard it all and  with the weather cooling – the moths got in.

Or I should have combined this hive with another stronger one much earlier. Instead of trying to build up a hive that was too weak.

Now the really bad news is that Our John fell off the wagon yesterday, caved in, succumbed and went to the supermarket and bought BAD stuff! And brought it home in plastic bags –  PLASTIC BAGS! Little plastic containers of fake food in Plastic bags! I was appalled.  I won’t tell you what he bought, it will make you sick in your mouth! I said what is all this Unclean Fake Food in my kitchen, my voice rising to an hysterical tone and he says well there was nothing in the fridge for my lunch. I spluttered (as you do) and  stomped a bit.

Today I am making a pound cake. Maybe a bacon  and egg pie.  Hopefully that help pull him back from the brink. WELL!  I ask you .. mutter mutter.. it is hard only eating the food you cook yourself with the stuff you grow yourself, but living simply is not always that simple! AND  (please don’t tell anyone) the words LOW FAT  were stamped on the side of the container that he was eating out of with a spoon  – the horror of it.)

Told you not to look.

c

The 7 Links Challenge is well met

I have been writing in the world of Blog since July 4, 2011. So you can imagine my surprise when I was asked to join the illustrious cast of the 7 Links Challenge and have a go myself.  It is really hard to describe the feelings that are generated when you watch your readers popping in and out of the pages on your own blog. It is not like sending work away to be edited and printed. This is instant coffee. This is personal.  This is right now. This is sitting around my table.  This is just so much FUN with a little pressure thrown in just to keep me on my toes.

And  this 7 Links Challenge is so hard!  My body of work is so slim and most of it still cooling. It is like having to pull SEVEN really excellent shots out of ONE roll of film. However the challenge gives me a chance to look back and do some searching myself.

Thank you ChgoJohn from the  Bartolini Kitchens for issuing this challenge and consequently scaring me half to death.  His food is great so pop over there and have a look. I love him because he loves tomatoes!

Most Popular Post :

Even reading the word popular is exciting for me and  sexy on the farm has been the most popular so far. And a good one to start with as it is a wee roundup of all the characters on the wee farmy.  Now,  you have to do the voices.  With all the accents. I will be listening. No cheating.

Most Controversial Post:

Not controversial really, just funTen tips on surviving a heatwave   People were awfully hot this summer, suffering from the heat, the news was full of it. It was murderous outside and then I publish this flippant piece.  I did not mean to be flippant. OK you got me. I did.  But I have to say that some people would moan if their arses were on fire.  It is either too hot or too cold or too something. So I bite my thumb at them.  How did the weather become NEWS anyway.

Most helpful Post :

How about this one.  capturing a swarm of bees. Well, I think that should you ever wander out into your yard or onto your terrace or into your bathroom and discover a swarm of bees sat in your tree or your pot plant glaring solemnly back at you then you would find this a very helpful page. Don’t you think? Nice little fluffy bees. 

Most beautiful post:

For me piles of fresh vegetables at a farmers market in chicago are the most beautiful. If you are not into vegetables just scroll past them and look at the naughty naughty sheep at the end of that post! But I love this post. I do see the irony (these are not MY vegetables) but oh they are gorgeous. However just out of interest which post did you think was the most beautiful because I had a really hard time with this criteria.

Most surprisingly successful post :

This one I put together for a new bloggie friend who is going to get her first bees next year and asked me what flowers to plant hence flowers for bees  It was quick and easy and pretty. This was the first page I wrote that attracted readers who I did not know. Which really did surprise me.  And pleased me! Of course. And now look!

Most under-rated post :  

This was a little story  about some cows in church.  It only made a wee splash. But I just love it. I loved the sounds in it.

The Post I am Most Proud of :

I have agonised over this. I do not have a post that is perfect yet.  I am still working at getting it just right. Now, I know it should be a post, but it is actually a shot in a post, that I am most proud of. I took this out of the train window as I was being whisked up to the Big City a few weeks ago.  

 I love this shot because it roars along just like you and I do.  Here is the post that goes with this image  taken on the way to chicago   I love this city and have only just begun my exploration of it.

My last task is to pass forward this challenge. If any of you have done this before I am sorry, I did not know. Mainly I am nominating you because I want you to show us your work.  And I want everyone to see your work because you are some of my favs!

Bird Light Wind

The Dassler Effect

Mini State of Mind

Camerahols/Food, Photography and France

Chica Andaluza

Most blogs are new to me and these ones strike a chord. I do recommend a look.

Whew!  Now back to work. I had better get out and do some weeding.  There are huge weeds actually growing IN through my bedroom window.  I don’t think they are meant to be doing that.

c

Bridge on Route 66

Yesterday we were on Route 66 and we found an amazing working drawbridge.  I am now a confirmed drawbridge stalker. I am gobsmacked by the engineering and sheer weight of the components and how they all link into each other. Plus as the traffic roars across, the bridge jiggles something terrible which lends a certain amount of excitement.  (Not to mention wild camera shake.) This photo here is really only a context shot, so scroll past this one at speed.

The bridge goes over the Des Plaines River.

The colour of this bridge is really government.  Utilitarian.  Quite Intense.

Just plain, hardworking.  Look at all the grease on these um…. what do you call those things that guide the cogs?  Or are they the cogs? Someone will know and maybe drop the info into a comment box for us.

And here is the pier where our Riverboat and my darling little Tug (see yesterdays page) are moored.  Marooned at a mooring.   You can see the wall I walked along yesterday with my camera. If you follow that long straight wall right to the center of the shot you will see where the boats are hiding.  Pretty hidden, aye.

It is possible that this river feeds into another river that feeds into the Mississippi. Which means that my little Tug could take me right across America maybe even to New Orleans.  If only I could find a way to liberate Little Tug from its chains! ( What is that children’s book about the little Tug boat that ended up out at sea.  Nope that memory is too distant for me.)

I am going to find a way back in, you know. The locks on the gates were old but there must be someone who knows something –  so I can get the key and have a proper look and maybe get all the way out onto this pier.  I desperately want to know the story.  There is a story here.   I will keep you posted.

This morning we awoke to a gentle warm rain. How I love that sound. All the weeds will be easy to pull  under the grapes today so once the bread is rising and  I have  started the tomatoes  cooking  – off out I go!

I am very tempted to write  ‘Toot Toot’  now, but I won’t. Too weird.

c

The Riverboat and The Tug

Yes, yes I know that an abandoned river boat and a tug have nothing to do with sustainable little farms. However I could slide these shots in if we put them in under the banner of preservation or .. um.. recycling!. We had to drive up to Chicago today and on the way back we wandered a little on  Route 66 and it took us along the river. I saw a bridge I wanted to investigate and then another one (I will show you those shots tomorrow) and as I walked to the bridge I peered through an overgrown padlocked gate  and I saw this. Hhmm I thought to myself. As you do. 

I walked along the road a bit trying to get shots over the top of a 12 or 15 foot concrete wall  and Look ..

and then this.. 

Well. So with the help of Our John and a pallet and some other junk that he found and turned into a ladder, then the infamous leg up – I managed to climb over the No Tresspassing sign. And the You Have Been Warned sign, No Go Area sign,  the One Way Street sign and the We Shoot Stray Dogs sign, way up onto this enormous, very high but wide concrete wall. I have to add here that of course I was wearing a vintage 1940’s dress, but I had just kicked the silly heels off in the grass. Over this wall was a wonderland of junk.  I LOVE JUNK!  This place was heaving with piles of  stuff.  Abandoned. Like someone walked away to get their lunch 10 years ago and just never came back.

I could see no way across this strip of water so I had to be content with my concrete wall. I walked down further, trying to get a better shot of this amazing decaying riverboat but now of course I was TOO CLOSE!  But then I found this.  Well here was a treasure indeed. An old Tug. Such a beautiful little dinky toy of a boat, just big enough for me.

This completely darling little rust bucket. Isn’t it gorgeous. I would be queen of the tug boats!

Everything paled into insignificance when I saw that little boat. I want that little boat. I want this one.  “I found a little boat, it is just right. Can I take it home?” I called back to John waiting on dry land for me. Our John said No.  No? NO!  No boats.

Meanie.

So I stomped all the way back along my wall, climbed back down  in a pretend  huff refusing his helpful hand and ended up with the skirt of my dress flying up over my head, and landing with an Alice of Wonderland thump on the grass. That was OK.  Teensy bit unglamorous. At least I had let John hold the camera.  So we laughed at me for a bit which is always fun and off home to the animals and the gardens.

This afternoon we are sowing more lettuce seed, and spinach in big pots close to the house where they get a bit of shade in the afternoon. It is still hot. Summer is still here. But we need greens for the Fall.

c

ps. and yes I can see that hair on the sensor.  I didn’t think you would mind. Out with the huff and puff tomorrow.