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Tuesday, 27 March 2012


You always know when spring has arrived over here . . . that's when you can start eating your meals outdoors.

The last Monday of every month is fish and chips night!  Which just happened to be yesterday.  We have a fish and chip van visit a nearby town which is run by an English couple.  And the fish and chips are really good.  So we organised with our new neighbours that we'd go and have a little picnic.  The weather at the moment is really nice and very warm, so we packed our picnic bags with all the necessaries, knife and fork, salt and pepper, vinegar and a bottle of wine, and off we went.

We collected the goodies and then drove to a secluded little picnic table we know of. Unfortunately, there are no photos of the fish and chips - we were too hungry.  But here are the leftovers :-

and, just for a change, I got on the photos as well :-

Look at that sky!

Well, there's always a payback isn't there?  After stuffing ourselves to death last night, we decided to have a bit of moderation today.  For lunch, we had sautéed tomatoes, with young garlic out of the garden (I think! - it actually tasted just like spring onions) and herbs, topped with buffalo mozzarella and grilled until sizzling.  That was served with a side salad, all of which came from the garden.

This afternoon, I was cutting grass, during which I spotted what we'd be having for our evening meal.  And that's another sign of spring - you always know it's arrived when the nettles start to grow.  Normally at this time of year I make lots of nettle soup, but the weather has been so fantastically warm we really didn't feel like soup, so I decided to make a risotto with some fresh herbs thrown in.  If you're interested, the recipe follows. It's a very good spring tonic after the winter, especially as it contains very high amounts of iron, and lots of different vitamins, and tastes good too!  Anyway, here it is :-


4.5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, finely diced
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
5 cups good stock (I used vegetable as I don't eat meat, but chicken would be good)
2/3 cup cooked, chopped nettles *
Handful fresh herbs (i.e. chives, rocket, marjoram - or whatever you have in the garden)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Half cup Parmesan, finely grated

* the nettles should be blanched in boiling salted water for one minute.  Then remove and dunk in iced water to stop the cooking process.  Squeeze out excess water and chop finely.

Bring stock to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and cook chopped onions until softened but not coloured.

Add rice to pan and stir, allowing butter to coat the grains, then cook gently for a minute, then add the wine.  Stir until liquid has almost disappeared.  Add a ladleful of the stock, stirring.  Add more stock as it is absorbed.

When rice is cooked, and stock almost all absorbed, add nettles and herbs and stir to heat through.  Turn heat down and allow risotto to rest for about a minute.

With a wooden spoon, beat in the remaining butter and the Parmesan, stirring well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


Monday, 26 March 2012

New Spinner Next Door!

In January we got some new neighbours, another English couple (there are now three of us in a row over a distance of about a mile - the locals are probably now feeling a bit threatened!).  They have a fair bit of land and want to have sheep (he's an ex-farmer) and possibly some other animals.  They already have hens, which is good for us as they always have too many for themselves so are willing to sell some.  I've been trying to talk them into getting some nice "spinnable" animals - alpacas would be brilliant, but they are rather expensive.  Anyway I think maybe I've finally got through to them as Tammy is now very interested in learning to spin.  She's even gone so far as to order some fleece, merino I think.  So I said I'd give her some lessons and get her started.  How exciting, having another (potential) spinner living practically next door!

I have a spare spinning wheel so she can come and use that while she discovers if spinning is really for her.  So yesterday I got it out, cleaned it, oiled it and then looked for some bobbins for her to use.  Now, if you're a spinner, you'll know that after a while, even though you have 10 or 12 bobbins, none of them are available.  They're either full of something you're going to finish later, or they all have bits and bobs of previous spins on them.  This means either winding them off, in which case you'll probably never do anything with them, or plying them with another bobbin.  As it turned out, most of these bobbins found a partner, i.e. I had two part bobbins of blue so they went together.  I had two bobbins of white and one of silk, so they were no problem.  Then I had about a third of a bobbin of green plus a bit more of purple.  There was nothing else for it, they had to be plied together, and actually I quite like how it turned out - it's the hank at the top of this photo :-

I would never have thought of putting green and purple together before, so it quite surprised me how well they go together.

Speaking of purple, Saturday I cut the grass (not that the grass is purple in these parts!). This year we had little patches of violets growing all around the garden and I just couldn't bring myself to decimate them with the lawn mower.  Instead, I cut off all of their heads with scissors and put them in a tub in the freezer - ice flowers.  According to my new dyeing book (Eco Colour by India Flint) if you freeze certain flowers, they release their colours more readily for dyeing.  So the freezer it was!

I'm looking forward to trying these and had thought of trying solar dyeing with them, although the book says you get better colours without heat.  Maybe I'd better stick to what she says rather than be disappointed.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Finally Finished . . . Or is it?

Well, at long last, here is Sarah's sweater all finished :-

As you can see, there are various shades in there (the fleece from 4 camels was all mixed together in the bag and, although I tried to match the same colours, I obviously haven't managed it).  Personally, I don't think it detracts from the whole sweater, and it's nice to think that all the camels have contributed.  But maybe the next one I'll just use one animal (i.e. Talullah the llama, or Brewster the alpaca).

The sleeves look a bit short, but I have tried it on and they should be just the right length. It's probably because the sweater actually turned into a sweater dress - I got carried away knitting the main body!

Anyway, I hope she likes it - it's pretty scary knitting something for a friend, especially when she hasn't had chance to try it on during the project.  Fingers crossed!

So, it's been a longer project than it should have been, but it's finally done . . . although, that neck looks a bit baggy round the edge, maybe I'll just take that bit out and knit the edge a bit tighter!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A Little Visitor

This post was supposed to be all about Sarah's sweater, which is now finished, at last. Tonight, I asked Eric to take photos of me wearing it to put on the blog.  Big mistake!! Brown is my worst colour anyway, but the photos just didn't do the sweater justice.  So then I "posed" it on one of the leather sofas, but the sofa being brown and the sweater being brown, it didn't really work.  I then draped it over the bed and took some more photos - waste of time, the light just wasn't right.  So, sorry Sarah, you'll just have to wait until tomorrow, when hopefully the sun will shine, to see photos!

In the meantime, I'm still painting in the greenhouse, and I'm not posting photos until it's finished, so there! But look who came to help today :-

This little vole was on the main steps into the old swimming pool which leads to the greenhouse.  On the left of the photo is the remains of a few acorns it had dined on.  This little mite sat there about 12 inches away from the camera and posed.  I was even able to stroke it and it didn't run away.  Anyway, I thought it looked hungry, so I shelled a few hazelnuts and almonds and delivered the goodies.  It immediately pounced on them and guzzled to its hearts content.

So, now the only problem is keeping it away from my cat .  . . I'm probably just feeding it up so Jak gets a better meal in the long run!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I've been very lazy with the old blog this week - too busy with the new greenhouse (ex-swimming pool).  I spent four days last week stripping off the old paint from the inside walls, then had to scrub the lot with soap and water, then rinse down.  I've started repainting, but it'll probably take a while.

Meantime, Thursday night Eric's band had a gig in Carcassonne, which is about two hours east of here.  The deal included a free room for the night, but as I didn't fancy sharing with the rest of the band we decided to take the camper van.  The pub was right in the centre of Carcassonne and it turned out to be a real nightmare driving through the narrow streets in a camper, especially when there were cars parked at the side of the road and we had to mount the (very narrow) pavement to get through.  Then when we got there we couldn't park to unload so ended up driving out again and getting one of the other band members to come and collect both us and the gear.

The Celt is an Irish pub and was having a week of celebrations for St Paddy's night.  It's a really nice place which made us all feel we'd just walked into a pub in the UK.  I've not posted any photos of the band as they all start to look the same, especially as Steve was wearing the same shirt as last time!!  They played until just after 1 a.m. and after we'd packed away all the gear, Eric decided it would be a nice idea to walk back to the camper . . . only 15 minutes away (ha ha!).  When we got outside there was a light drizzle, and after walking for about 10 minutes we realised the directions given to us by the bar staff weren't exactly accurate.  We eventually found someone to ask and they put us on the right road.  Or so we thought!

By this time we could see the mediaeval city up on the hill, and knew we'd parked the camper in one of the car parks outside the old city walls.  Well, what do you know, we only walked the wrong way around it, i.e. we walked three quarters of the way round the outside of the walls when we could have gone the other way and just walked around a quarter of it.  And if you've ever walked around Carcassonne old city at 2:30 in the morning, you'll realise just how spooky it was!  Anyway we finally found the camper just before 3 a.m. after walking for over an hour!  And we were soaked.

(If you ever find yourself driving past Carcassone on the autoroute, keep an eye out for the old city - it's an absolutely magnificent sight from the road and one I'd love to have a photograph of.  One day!)

Next morning we'd arranged with Steve that he would bring the gear back for us in his car - luckily - as we'd just found that our battery was flat and we weren't going anywhere in a hurry.  Aren't jump leads a wonderful invention?

We had been planning to go down to Spain and spend a night there, but with the battery being a bit unpredictable we came home instead.  Bliss!  I got to spend the whole afternoon spinning.  I finished spinning a merino/silk mix for a secret project, then spun another ball of camel wool for Sarah's sweater (which I still haven't finished).  Then this morning I dyed up the secret wool and plied and washed the camel wool.  I need to get all my projects finished so that I can spend some time with my new 1 kg bag of baby alpaca which arrived on Thursday - lovely, lovely, soft-as-clouds white alpaca.  I don't think I'll need to card it, just spin straight from the locks.  But I can't start yet, got to finish Sarah's sweater and the secret project, otherwise they'll never get done.

By the way, when we tried the camper this morning, it started first time!!  Sods law, or what?

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Happy Birthday . . .

. . . as in "Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me" etc.

I've awarded myself the day off today so I can spend some time carding and spinning in the sunshine (glorious day today).

I got some lovely presents (and there are more on the way) :-

My sister sent me a voucher from Wingham Wool Work, which will be spent soon on some lovely fibre (not sure what to get yet - I've started browsing though).  And Eric bought me these two books :-

This one only arrived at lunchtime so I haven't had chance to read much of it yet - just looked at the pictures.  It looks a very interesting book and I'm looking forward to trying some of the projects.  The second one :-

arrived two days ago, and I was allowed to open that one early.  I already have two books by Lexi Boeger, so when this one was published it went straight onto my Amazon wish list.

My third present hasn't arrived yet, Eric has also bought me 1kg of white baby alpaca. Can't wait for that to come, it should be super soft and fluffy - I'm planning the dyes already!

So, the afternoon is ticking away.  I'd better get on with it.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A Walk in the Woods

Had a lovely walk through some woods the other day (Eric was rehearsing with his band at the drummer's house, and the forest is right next to their garden).  There's not much greenery at this time of the year as it's mostly oaks, but it was a glorious day and very pleasant in there.

Home is where your roots are!

A little mouse scurried under here as I approached, closely followed by a small lizard which had been sunning itself.

There was lots of this stuff around, and naturally I took a carrier bag with me, but I only took bits from the dead wood lying on the ground.

I got some more lichens, here's a little sample :-

Plus some bracken - I picked some new green leaves (no photo of those, they're in the dyepot), and some old, brown bracken from last year.  Apparently you can get two different colours from these.

These bracket fungi look interesting - don't know if they'll release any dye, but they'll be going into the dyepot sometime soon.

Last find was a little present for Jak :-

He loves feathers!  Unfortunately, some poor bird had come to a sticky end as there were feathers everywhere.

Last but not least, this is the merino dyed with the fungi I found in the garden, after carding :-

This is turning out just as I hoped, mainly pale apricot but with splodges of orange.  Looking forward to spinning it, but there's still a lot of fleece to card first.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Sarah's Sweater

Just a quick note, I couldn't live with that lighter coloured stripe on the right hand side of the neck so yesterday I pulled it back and reknit it minus the offending piece.  Looks better now.

Last night I started to hand-card the merino I dyed with the unidentified fungi I found growing on some logs.  It's ended up a sort of pale apricot colour overall, but the tips are a lovely orangey colour.  As I want to try and keep the orange separate, which carding would have obliterated by blending the two together, I'm painstakingly separating each lock of wool and pulling it through the carders.  It's going to take a while, but I'm really pleased with how it's turning out.

Went for a walk in the forest yesterday and gathered more (potential!) dyestuffs.  At this moment I have fresh new bracken on the stove cooking merrily away - that's definitely going to be yellow. I also picked some of the dead brown bracken from last year to see what colour I would get from that.  Plus more green lichen, and also some interesting looking bracket fungus.

Photos later - got to shower and go out.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Update, Update, Update

That's three projects I have to report on.

Firstly, Sarah's sweater now has the neck finished.  I was a bit doubtful about this at first, because I used a ball of wool that I knew was a shade darker than the rest, but when I showed it to our neighbour, she couldn't tell the difference.  There are variations in colour all over the sweater, not from ball to ball, but there are variations in each ball.  I think it adds to the charm!  (Hopefully Sarah will too - they're her camels  who caused the colour differences after all!)

Anyway, here it is so far :-

Just the sleeves to go now.  I have one ball of wool left, so will probably need about two more.

Second project :-

Yesterday I mordanted some merino fleece and dyed it in the unknown fungi mix that I made the other day.  It came out a sort of muted yellow with orangey tips.  Quite nice, but nothing spectacular.  I pulled off a small piece and put it in a cup of vinegar to see if that altered the colour at all.  If anything it made the colours a little more yellow.  So then I tried another sample in a mix of ammonia and water and the difference was startling.  It immediately brightened and intensified the colour, especially the orangey tips.  This is it, what do you think?

Close up :-

This is still damp, but I don't think the colours will change much in drying.  I'm quite excited to see how this cards up and spins.

OK, third project.  This is actually an old project which I thought was dead and gone, failed miserably!  Well, not really as it did give some hope for having another go this year.

Remember the cotton I was trying to grow and ran out of sunshine and warm weather before it had matured?  I didn't take the plants out, I just left them as they were, covered with glass cloches.  Yesterday, I noticed that two of the seed heads had opened a little bit - one only just.  I picked them both and took the more open one to bits.  We have cotton, and we have seeds!!

The seed head on the right hadn't quite made it.  Those are the seeds in the middle on the piece of paper.

The cotton is extremely soft and very fine.  I think I would have a larger amount if the cotton bolls had been able to carry on growing and then mature in the sun, but I'm actually pretty proud of this!

Seeds will be sown in the greenhouse (which is almost finished) within the next week.