Author Archives: Becky A

About Becky A

I'm working towards a greener, more sustainable, self-sufficient life on the edge of the peak district.

Tonsillitis = Time to write.

I have tonsillitis, which is no fun at all.  I’m just hanging on hoping no-one else gets it (quarantining myself and washing my hands until they are raw) because I feel instinctively that recovering from Tonsillitis whilst nursing a sick house of 2 children and Josh would be so much worse.

I’ve also been behaving like a proper grown up and putting myself on bedrest – rather than dosing up and carrying on, in the hopes that this will make the whole nasty business shorter.

I’ve caught up completely with the Great British Pottery Throw Down (one of the judges frequently cries in the judging stage and there is something beautiful about watching a man moved to tears by a lovely pot); I’ve watched Fannie’s Last Supper (where America’s Test Kitchen reproduce a 12 course menu from 1896) and I’ve finally finished reading the Soulemama blog – or at least I’m up to date on her entire 11 year archive.

So it is either write a blog post of my own or attempt gargling with asprin for this sore throat and I HATE gargling.

A delightful mish mash of news will now follow:

Firstly – I think I mentioned we had a baby girl last May, called Athena.  But I’ll pop up a couple of photos anyway.  Because cute kids are cute.

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This will probably be my favourite photo of the two of them for a long time to come.

img_0666This next one is super blurry but it captures the Baby Surprise Jacket with the amazing Gardening buttons and a rare hat shot. This is the Tubey Hat by Woolly Wormhead.  An emergency knit (oh! the hardship) when I realised that all of the handknit hats I’d made for either child were too small for Athena.  That girl has a big head, “full of brains” as my parents used to say.

We make her wrap up warm most days and come and watch us work in the garden or watch the pigs.  She is happy with either.

 

 

Next up is Pigs!

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We’ve finally got pigs back on the land after a long hiatus and we are overjoyed to see them snuffling around and ripping out the brambles in places we don’t want them.  Pigs are the most effective land clearing method I know, not only eating down the weeds but the roots of the weeds and upturning brambles and all sorts in a bid to eat all the things.  At the moment we’ve got them ploughing and clearing a strip of land we are hoping to replant with more fruit trees.

Over Christmas there was a lot of gift making – more than we have ever done before and this time Raffi was old enough to properly join in.

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These are marzipan shapes and peppermint creams dipped in white and dark chocolates.  I’m pleased to say that there were plenty left over for giving despite a large number of them going missing and needing constant ‘taste testing’.

We continue to make most of our food from scratch including bread products, jam etc.  I even threw together a simple rosemary flavoured cheese the other day when I realised 4 pints of milk were about to go off. But this year is hopefully the year we get more serious about growing a significant amount of the veg we eat in the Summer and Autumn (and beyond!)

We commissioned some incredibly talented local friends to hand build this new porch for us from sustainable local wood (the old porch was held up by one nail and a lot of willpower and both were running out of time).

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And it kickstarted a whole courtyard project. So this area is now de-weeded and covered in beautiful pot plants, has a table for eating Summer breakfasts (and lunch) and will be added to and decorated as the years tick by.

Lastly the chickens.  It has been a very hard Winter on Flappy, Bocky, Thunder and Colonel Sanders.  On 6th December there was a nationwide quarantine for Avian Flu which meant we had to get the chickens indoors.  We cleaned out an old outhouse and got them inside and that is where they have stayed ever since.  Luckily it had a lightsource otherwise it would have been dark and grim indeed.  Unsurprisingly it affected their egg production and everyone’s mood as all our hearts sank when we went to check on them in their temporary quarters. Cleaning out the chickens changed suddenly from a 25 min job outside in the fresh air to a stinking 1 to 1.5 hour stint brushing and scrubbing with a facemask on. Not the rural idyll we had in mind for our free range girls.

But as of 28th February the rules are relaxed, our outside coop has a fresh layer of wood shavings (apparently the resin is anti-viral), food and water are tucked away from the wild birds and the troop couldn’t be happier.  And neither could we… apart from the tonsillitis that is.

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Mending – a Radical Act of Value

Another Vlog post is up.

Josh (having listened to my rants on long journey’s far too often!) suggested that I talk about some of our values and philosophy behind our choices.

So I did…

 

Chicken Update – 7 weeks later!

We are about 7 weeks into our chickens and it is going really well.  I think eggs are more expensive (with all the additional costs of keeping chickens) but I’ll do a proper reckoning when we have a better estimate on how quickly we go through bedding.  But we are enjoying having them so much and our compost production system is now getting to levels which might meet as much as 1/3 of our needs.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a gardener with a veg plot is in want of more compost.

So here is episode 6 of Tales from Westwick all about chickens.

Damson Gin and Blackberries Video

I’ve been producing a couple more vlog entries on you tube.  Currently they are more diary-like entries with a few tips thrown in but I’m hoping to do some more structured How To’s as time goes on.

 
Here is episode two where we are picking blackberries and starting our Damson Gin for the year.

Please subscribe to our channel if you like the videos and tell us what you think in the comments.

Tales from Westwick Episode 1

I’m experimenting with the form and trying out a few you tube videos – little diaries of what we are up to.

 

 

I’d love to know what you think so please check it out and if you feel like it then like and subscribe.

This is episode 1 and episode 2 is going up shortly!

Show Notes:

Book I mention…The Radical Homemaker by Shannon Hayes
Dinosaur jumper pattern – by Linda’s Knitwear Designs
Yarn – Cascade 220
Baby Surprise Jacket by Elizabeth Zimmerman
Yarn (I got the company name wrong in the video, sorry!): Awesome Aran in the Suffragette colour way

Violet Cream Cake – Recipe

I’ve had the idea for this cake for a very long time.
Violet Creams are my Mum’s favourite chocolates.  They have a violet flavoured, fondant, soft centre and have a dark chocolate coating.  They usually come in a box with rose creams and are delicious – they are also very old fashioned, hard to find and expensive.
I have made my own for Mum in the past and one day I must post that recipe too.
But this is about a cake…
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For her last birthday I finally got round to inventing this cake and I figure the internet is the best place to keep it.
First make a chocolate cake.  Although dark chocolate is used in the traditional violet cream I didn’t want that much flavour overpowering the cake.  I went with a very moist chocolate cake which uses cocoa powder and was adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Fudge Cake in her Nigella Bites Book.
The cake is then sandwiched together and topped with a decadent purple, violet flavoured, cream cheese frosting and decorated with violet sugar sprinkles and chopped dark chocolate pralines.
This is not an everyday cake, this is a cake for serious celebrations.
Ingredients
For the cake:
400g plain flour
250g caster sugar
100g dark muscovado sugar
50g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
140 ml of plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
175g melted butter
125ml flavourless oil (e.g. groundnut)
300ml chilled water
For the icing:
5-20 drops violet flavouring/essence
Purple food colouring
50g butter (at room temp)
300g sifted icing sugar
125g cream cheese (fridge cold)
1 tablespoon of violet flavoured sugar sprinkles
1 tablespoon of chopped dark chocolate pralines
To make the cake.
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4
Grease and line two 20cm round sandwich tins.
Mix the dry cake ingredients (flour, sugars, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt) in a large bowl. In a measuring jug mix the eggs, yoghurt and vanilla. In another bowl beat together the melted butter, oil and chilled water. Add the oil mixture to the dry ingredients and start to beat them together, then add the egg mixture and beat until all is blended. Pour the batter into the 2 cake tins in equal amounts.
Bake both tins for 50-55 mins (I use a skewer to test if the cake is ready – put the skewer into the cake and if it comes out clean then the cake is properly cooked.)
Put the cakes (still in their tins) on a cooling rack for 15 mins.  Then turn the cakes out of the tins onto the rack to cool completely.
Make the icing…
[Note: How strong the violet flavour is will be down to your personal preferences.  The flavouring can quickly overpower the icing so add a little at a time and test it as you go.  Please note that after standing overnight the violet flavour will develop and taste more strongly – so go slow on the flavouring!]
Beat the icing sugar and the butter together until well incorporated.  Then add the cream cheese, the purple food dye (according to packet instructions) and 5 drops of the violet flavouring. Beat until incorporated, test the flavour and then add 5 more drops.  Keep tasting and testing until you like the flavour.
Once the cake is cooled assemble like this:
Spread 1/2 the frosting on top of the first cake layer.  Put the second cake layer on top and put the rest of the frosting on top of the second layer. Sprinkle the violet sprinkles and chopped chocolate on top.
Open your mouth very wide and fall face forward on to the cake.

Continuing my Flurry of Crafting

So my energy levels have continued to stabilise – I’m still not able to bend over but luckily knitting and the projects in The Creative Family don’t really require it. It does mean I’m mostly bloggin’ crafting stuff since I don’t have the energy for gardening or other projects.

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Rainy Day Square

I read the whole of Amanda’s book as soon as it arrived. I am pacing myself but the lure of her wool felt projects was too strong. Whilst I was online popping 100% wool felt into my shopping basket for the Wild Things Birthday Crown Project, I decided that the project for a Wool Felt Block would be a perfect welcome present for the Baby.  (In addition to the 3 cardigans, the hat, the carefully chosen and painfully orange plushie fish from her big brother etc.)

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A Carrot – something I can reliably draw and it always looks right.

But sewing these felt squares is so tactile and so fun and I think 100% wool felt is my new craft crush.  I can  really appreciate the Waldorf philosophy of giving children good quality, natural crafting materials and toys.  Whilst R probably has more plastic than I’m comfortable with there is a solidity to his wooden toys which I think he enjoys and I certainly do.

It isn’t quite as portable as knitting but easy to knock a square out at 6.30am when my hips hurt too much to sleep and my brain is too tired to work on writing projects. And it uses up my stash of embroidery threads – so really it is a good thing.

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Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy

Plus there is something compelling about getting artistic in such a minimalist space.

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I can even use up my button stash!

Stay tuned for the last two and the final product!

p.s. you do not want to know how long it took me to get the photos the right way round for this post. One day I’ll get a decent camera… one day.