Archive for the ‘General Ramblings’ Category

After  two beautifully clear and boiling hot days, the temperature dropped by more than 10° and the day of our Pork and Lamb Farm Focus Dinner last Saturday dawned with grey skies and cold wind. Typical! The farm needs rain so we didn’t grumble but forged on with the necessary preparations – it was no mean feat accommodating and feeding the 20+ expected guests.

The veg shed, where we pack and prepare vegetables to go out on deliveries, has to double as the “dinning area”, but I smartened it up with big jugs of herbs picked from the kitchen garden, twinkly fairy lights, and straw bales for seats  (which were quite comfortable if I do say so myself!).

Table decorations

Table decorations

The butchery, which is more Lee’s domain, is always clean and scrubbed, but the cutting tables had to be rearranged so that everyone had an opportunity to see what was going on. The butchery knives underwent a health check to make sure they were super sharp, because a blunt knife is more dangerous than a sharp one!

The main idea behind Christmas farms monthly farm focus dinners is to have the opportunity to just get a little closer to how our food is produced. We started with a short farm walk to see our flock of organic sheep with their lambs at foot. Lee guided the group of  box scheme converts, and their friends and families around the main sheep field, answering questions and posing some for discussion. In this area of Northumberland, tupping (which is when the male sheep known as tups or rams go out with the female sheep, known as ewes) is normally at the beginning of November, so the ewes will start to lamb at the beginning of April.

The guided walk then took us into the main pig area of the farm. We currently have dry sows (sows that currently have no litter of young), weaned piglets,  and nearly “finished” pigs for pork. All these pigs are kept outside with arcs for shelters and wallows for hot days. Our pigs are very used to people and dogs, but it always pays to be a little wary of any livestock. especially when around their young.

Outside the pig area

Outside the pig area

We finished the tour and wandered back up to the farm buildings to look at the lamb and pork carcasses. Lee does all the butchery for the box scheme, preparing joints and other cuts to go out each week on deliveries (he’s also the box scheme delivery man!).

Butchery demonstration

Butchery demonstration

As Lee demonstrated and talked our group through the varying options to butcher the lamb and pork carcasses, lots of questions flew through the air. It’s so very positive for us as farmers and producers when people really are interested in how their food is produced and processed. We converted to organic production some 7 years ago because we were so passionate about how our food was produced. These farm focus dinners give us the opportunity to share a little of the knowledge and experiences we have gleamed over the years.

Following the butchery demonstration we snacked on pork escalopes and tandoori-style lamb, which I quickly cooked with cuts Lee produced during the butchery demonstration. The smells and sizzling sounds from the pan soon had all our taste buds ready for supper. It was quite a treat when we all eventually sat down together in our makeshift dining room come veg shed to enjoy a feast of pork, lamb, potatoes and salad. The last of this years rhubarb was served up as pud in a sticky rhubarb and ginger cake.

Crispy pork joint

Crispy pork joint

Fresh salad

Fresh salad

“Not a bad night was had by all”  I’d hope you’d say!

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The birds are tweeting outside and all things turn towards spring, and with the sun making a little bit more of an effort to poke out its face I can see just how dirty my windows are.

So I start to think of the need for a good spring clean, throw open the windows, freshen the air. Here are some simple recipes for homemade cleaning products, and yes they are all based around good old white distilled vinegar.

Did you know that vinegar kills germs? But because it’s safe to eat, poses little or no threat to our pets, family, or the environment. How great is that!

So here’s a opportunity to save some money on cleaning products and save the world! Well you’ve got to start somewhere. I just wonder how much we’d all save if we didn’t fill our lungs and shopping trolleys with various different branded cleaners…

Room Deodorizer

Mix together:

  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp white distilled vinegar
  • 1 cup water

Spray into the room to freshen and remove stale odour.

Floor Cleaner

Mix together:

  • 3 drops washing up liquid
  • 1/3 part white distilled vinegar
  • 1/3 part alcohol
  • 1/3 water

Use this sparingly as a spray and mop or wipe the floors clean.

Wood / Panel Cleaner

Mix together:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
  • 2 cups warm water

Use with a soft cloth.

Other Suggestions

  • To polish and clean your kitchen sink, spray with neat white distilled vinegar and scrub with a little baking soda and rinse.
  • If washing bedding or clothes in a machine, add a little white distilled vinegar to the drawer together with the powder. The vinegar will deodorize and freshen the cloths, and also helps to remove grease stains (sorry, but I’m thinking of baby sick here!).
  • To remove mildew and mould, wipe with a little neat white distilled vinegar on a sponge.
  • Use neat on door handles etc., to kill germs (due to its acidity).
  • For a sparkly toilet, leave 2 cups of white distilled vinegar in the bowl overnight, scrub in the morning, and flush. The vinegar will remove limescale, soap scum, germs, and also deoderize.

Well just a few uses to get you going. A lot of these come from a little  notebook my Gran used to use. They’re very old-fashioned, but work just as well now as they did back then. Give them a go, and get the kids helping too!

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The weather is really all over the place. We have had heavy rain storms (with the rain running down the road) followed by blistering sun; all on the same day. We’ve put up with quite a dry spell, the driest for over 100 years, but not being one to complain, it can stop raining now!

There is a lot of failed germination in the field due to the drought, and really the rain is too late for these crops.

Good news, the kitchen garden is growing very well and is providing us with lots of lovely fresh vegetables and some fantastic fresh garlic in the boxes this week.

Fresh Garlic

The best way to use your fresh garlic is straight away. If, however, you want to save it for use later I would recommend peeling and putting in a clean jar and topping up with olive oil. (The oil can be used after the garlic has finished, it has a lovely flavour.) You can peel and finely chop the garlic and store in a clean jar with white wine vinegar with a splash of olive oil on the top to keep out the air, just like the lazy garlic you can buy in the shops. It also saves a lot of time when cooking later.

Store both these methods in the fridge.

Chard, Beet Tops, or Spinach

These greens are one of my favourite fresh summer vegetables, and can be prepared in a number of ways:

  • They are lovely and tasty just washed and lightly steamed with a little butter, sea salt, and a pinch of nutmeg.
  • Wash and rip up and serve as a robust green salad with mustard dressing.
  • Wash and steam, stir into a rich cheese sauce and wrap in savoury pancakes.
  • Wash, steam, and chop to add to the egg mixture in a quiche
  • Or simply stir fry in a splash of oil and some lovely fresh chopped garlic

If you need to freeze your fresh garden greens, pack them tightly in a plastic bag and freeze. They are not the same once frozen, but cook well and can be used for all the cooked recipes.


What a beauty. These squash are so fantastic to look at, I feel compelled to cut off the top like a hat and gouge out the insides. Make a savoury stuffing for the squash bowl. Stuff the cavity and replace its hat, brush with olive oil. Place the squash on a greased baking tray and roast in a hot oven until tender and hot all the way through.


Mix together:

  • Diced squash minus the seeds;
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped onion;
  • 1 clove of chopped garlic;
  • ½ cup of cooked rice or bread crumbs;
  • A pinch of mixed herbs;
  • 1 chopped tomato;
  • Salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

You can mess about with the stuffing and add some cold shredded cooked meat or some curry spices, perhaps a teaspoon of pesto, or some grated cheese.

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The rain we have been so desperate for has come at last, but it would be the day I am helping Lee to pack the organic vegetable boxes for delivery tomorrow.

I have come in with wet feet after discovering, too late, a hole in my work boots. I am very attached to my steel toe cap boots and generally can make them last for up to 2 years per pair. It doesn’t seem long but the wear and work they get  means they do work very hard for their living.

It was a lovely damp misty morning  on the farm and all the vegetables I have been picking and pulling were glossy with rain. The earth smells so warm and rich after heavy rain. Whilst packing the boxes I have been planning what we will be eating this week .

I will make a small salad with the lettuce, some of the onion, some grated carrot, some thin  slivers of the turnip, and some thin slivers of the lovely beetroot.

With the beetroot tops I will make a gratin. Simply steam the tops like spinach and pour over a rich cheese sauce. Sprinkle with a little grated cheese and bake in the oven.

Stir fry the cabbage with a little garlic and serve with cold meat and boiled new potatoes.

Par boil the new potatoes and store in the fridge until needed. Once par boiled you can quickly roast or skewer and BBQ or sauté.

I always make a vegetable soup with what’s left of the veg box every week, and freeze it. Most weeks it comes out of the freezer again and we eat it as a late supper with crusty bread,  garlic croutons, or cheese on toast. Something hot, tasty, and easy to eat when you come in late and tired.

The chard is one of our favourite summer vegetables and I will often just steam it and add a quick grating of nutmeg and some salt and pepper to serve. Treat it in a similar way to spinach, so you can eat it raw in a salad if you prefer. Chard also make a lovely sag aloo (potato and spinach curry).

Some of the beetroot can go into a moist and lovely chocolate and beetroot cake . This cake freezes very well. There are lots of recipes for chocolate beetroot cake but a quick and easy one is a simple chocolate sponge recipe (100g of flour/cocoa) with a fresh peeled and grated beetroot added. Bake as a normal sponge cake. I always add a tablespoon of milk to a chocolate sponge recipe to slacken the mixture. There are, however, some lovely rich recipes which contain real organic chocolate instead of cocoa powder which are worth making for a special treat.

 One of my favourite ways with beetroot is to roast it in wedges. Par boil the beets with their skin on. Rub off the skin (wear rubber gloves because the juice stains), cut into wedges, and splash with a little oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast in a hot oven until tender and caramelized.

If I can rescue the broad beans before the kids eat them all raw I will pod them and give them a gentle boil. They are nice crushed up and eaten on thick buttered toast with lots of black pepper – no need to share them!

We hope you all enjoy your organic vegetable boxes, wherever you buy them from.

You can look and see what we are up to on the farm on www.gandsorganics.com – check out the link to the farm blog.

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I feel compelled, no, driven, to make bread. No ordinary bread, but a living breathing thing. After an amazing bread-making day with Mathew Rawlings of the Great Northumberland Bread Co I have become obsessed. I am in possession of a sour dough starter. Quite simply flour and water and a life of its own.

I’m lovingly tending it, feeding it, and watching it as I would a newborn. Waiting, just waiting, until the magical time when it’s ready to turn my strong flour into wholesome bread, no yeast required. Delicious sour dough loaves.

Once the starter has come to life and you feed it and grow it you can use portions of it to add to strong flour and make your own homemade loaves. It is possible to keep your starter alive and working its magic for many years.

Today is day one of the starters life with our family. It is now that I realize just how cold our house really is. Not many cultures grow in sub-zero temperatures and warmth is certainly required to grow and multiply my pet. Many recipes to follow.

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I’m often teased about my list making – you are either a list maker or you are not. I’m an olympic list maker and when, after a bout of micky-taking, I stop making lists I am somewhat out of sorts, i.e. general household tasks and work just don’t get completed, and sometimes not done at all.

So yesterday I was exceptionally pleased with myself after making a rather comprehensive list in the morning. I dispatched George off on his school trip and arrived in work before 9 o’clock. I had rather a busy day serving customers (OK a lot of them are friends), and still made 3 cakes, 2 batches of date scones, and a tray of flapjacks.

Once home from work, Billy and I completed his maths homework. I hoovered and dusted whilst nodding in agreement (maths has really changed since I was at middle school). I made casualty chicken curry (long story involving a fox) and rhubarb crumble for supper. Nic, our neighbour, who’d called in the shop earlier complaining about cash flow (which I think we are all feeling at the moment) came round with her hair dye. The outcome of our financial  discussion resulted in us both agreeing we didn’t have anything left in the household budget to have a fancy salon cut and colour.

We cut and coloured her hair, and do you know it’s not quite as hard as you might think! In fact I got quite carried away with myself and rooted out some old curling tongs I must have once thought I may use, and set too curling and styling the newly coloured hair, and with quite satisfying results. I must say at this point I’m pleased I have boys – hardly any need to brush their hair. So last night I sat down glass in hand, basking in the glorious knowledge of list plus some completed, with pen and paper to write tomorrows list!

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This easter holiday I have not lived by my own rules. Result, a very  tired and grumpy me.

I really like to be very well prepared, and for one major reason, it is so much easier. I like to have meals made ready in my beloved freezer, the house reasonably tidy (and for those who know me that is a semi-organised chaos, two children , a beautiful partner, and three dogs). My bitch, Treacle, is due to have puppies in the middle of this month, so some lovely puppy pics will come in due course. So like I say, tidy house is almost an impossibility, but cupboards tidied out, the washing up to date, and the freezer groaning with prepared-ahead meals is how I like to start a holiday week or fortnight.

Well I have completely failed! I have chased my tail all week, throwing meals onto the table at the last-minute. Washing piling up and the dogs looking at me rushing about and muttering to myself. There is only one way to deal with the situation – get a grip on the domestic land-slide.  In my defence, George has been unwell with a sick bug, which is very unlike him, but we have had some sleepless nights.

So “clean out the kitchen cupboards” is my battle cry. I set about the task late into the night (late for me is past 9pm). With that job completed, I felt a strange sense of order descend (some therapist would make much of this, but for me it is strangely calming).

The next day, before work, I pegged out three loads of washing on the line (What would I do if I was in my grandmothers situation and had to wash by hand? There would only be one solution, a complete breakdown and a jacket that fastened at the back).

The house now seems to breathe a sigh of relief that I am back at the helm.  A little vinegar in the fabric conditioner slot in the washing machine (no fabric conditioner needed) freshens up the washing, softening the fabric and banishing any odours. Vinegar is good for removing stains, just pour on the stain and pop in the washing machine,. Don’t let the vinegar dry out on the garment, and wash as normal. After George’s bug the vinegar has been working its magic all over the house.

I quickly throw a thick spicy soup together for supper made with lots of root vegetables and stir-fried garlic-y greens piled in on the top of each bowl. As we all sit down at the table and I watch them all tuck in, everything is at peace in my world. Oh, I nearly forgot pudding, a quick jam sponge in the microwave.

Jam Pudding

  • Jam in the bottom of the microwaveable dish. The dish need to be quite large to accommodate the sponge rising.
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 125g sugar
  • 2 large organic eggs
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Combine all the ingredients, except the jam, and put the mixture on top of the jam in the microwaveable dish. Cook on high for 4 minutes, and then test the sponge to see if it is cooked. You may need to put it back in for another minute. Serve with ice cream, custard, or cream.

Happy Easter.

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The end of the school holiday week is nearly here, and I am just about running out of steam. Or on my knees to be completely truthful. What a week!

The children and I have been busy, busy, busy.

Everything you can think of:

  • We built a castle out of cardboard boxes, with lots of masking tape – I couldn’t find the sellotape quite quickly enough.
  • We made potato stampers for printing, remember those?
  • Painted pictures in multiple colours.
  • Walked along the coast to see ruined castles.
  • Built a tent out of sheets in the bedroom
  • Stuffed ourselves on pancakes
  • And read chapters of the current bedtime book, to mention but a few.

I will leave out the squabbling…

“Help me, you been helping him”

“His pancake is bigger than mine”

“He’s had more than me”

“Blah blah blah”

There are sometimes when I can see why people have TV. If just for a few minutes with the children zoned out in front of the box, a cup of tea in my hands, rocking myself backwards and forwards. 

We made a decision a few years ago to get rid of the TV, and most of the time I wouldn’t go back… just sometimes. We do have a movie night every now and again, and it’s a lovely treat to curl up together on the sofa, fire on, and watch a good film together. You do have to draw straws to pick the film, or have a choice rotor, nothing’s perfect! 

  • Domestic goddess-wise this week is not so good.
  • Number of hours spent hoovering = nil
  • Number of times cleaning toilets = I’ve lost count!
  • Washing machine has broken down, two months out of warranty (Zanussi), so trudging to friends and Mother’s with bags of laundry, innumerable!
  • Chocolate eaten = I don’t want to talk about it, OK!

However Lee and I did spend a lovely evening with friends, at home, Turkey-tasting. We have decided to raise some heritage breeds of turkey this year on the farm, so a tasting supper was called for and very tasty it was too!

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I always remember playing charades as a child and now I do it with my kids.

We keep a little box on the dresser in the living room (the one with the ugly but efficient fire, only warm room in the house). The box contains squares of card with films, books and TV programs written on them. Anything from Sleeping Beauty to Blue Peter, try acting that one out!

When the cards get a little dog-eared you can through them out. The kids remember the titles and love to cheat. You always know, it’s the innocent look they give you when one child re-enacts an Umpa Lumpa and the other looks into the middle distance.

” Could it possibly be Charlie and the chocolate factory”

So out with the offending card, as you referee the “he’s cheating, it’s not fair” scuffle.

I make the cards in the build up to the holidays using old stored card from various boxes I have saved in my recycling pile. Cut out the cards all the same size and write the programs on them, it’s that simple. The kids can join in adding their favourites and it doesn’t matter if you have a few repeats.

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Holidays are coming

This half term rather creeps up on you. So soon, it seems after a long, and this time, prolonged Christmas break.

It takes some serious planning to organise kids off school and work into some sort of workable regime. The first place for me to start is the weeks menu, easy cook ahead family meals that can be stretched if you get unexpected guests. I cook family favourites that I know everybody eats.

Meat balls are one of them. They freeze really well and can be dragged out and served with root vegetable mash, pasta or crunch winter salad and crusty bread.


You will need:

  • 500 gms of minced organic beef. ( lamb, chicken or pork are good alternatives)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and very finely diced
  • 1 large organic carrot. scrubbed and grated
  • 1 small organic leek, washed and finely diced.
  • 1 egg beaten.
  • 1 small hand full of bread crumbs or oat meal.
  • Pinch of mixed herbs.

In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together well. Season with a pinch of sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Now mould into small balls or little patties.

At this point you can refrigerate, covered, for use the next day or cook and use straight away. I normally cook now, because my mince will have been frozen and I want to freeze the meat ball for use later. You can’t refreeze unless you have changed its state, ie cooked meat can be frozen if it was frozen when fresh, is any body following this?
lets move on.

Grill, fry or poach the meat balls. My usual method is to poach. Simmering in seasoned water or stock (chicken or vegetable) in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Just enough liquid to cover the meat balls.

Poach gently for 10 minutes or untill the meat is cook right through. This will depend on the size of the meat balls. Normally biggest is best, but not with meat balls it would seem!

Fish out the meat balls, leaving the stock in the pan. The meat balls can be cooled and frozen. Don’t forget to label.

To make the liquid into a lovely rich sauce for the meat balls or as a pasta or pizza topping add:

  • 1 tin of organic tomatoes or 4 or 5 tomatoes out of the freezer.
  • 1 diced organic onion
  • 1 grated organic carrot
  • 1 dessert spoon of tomato purée

Simmer on the top of the stove until all the vegetables are tender. Taste and season if necessary.

Using a blender blitz the sauce until smooth. If you like your sauce a little thicker, return to the stove and simmer until you have the required consistency.

Bottle and store in the fridge for up to 1 week or container up and “guess what” label and freeze.

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