Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Trou Normand

Mussels fresh from Howth Harbour that morning.
Let's hear it for the 'Trou Normand', the 'Norman Hole', that deliberate gap between courses in the huge meals of Normandy which give you and your appetite a chance to recover. We discovered this excellent idea while on holiday years ago in our first 2CV doing a run round the WW2 Normandy Landings sites. You over indulge on courses 1,2,3,4 etc and then to avoid you actually bursting, you can retreat from the meal table for a sit in the easy chairs before saying 'Once more unto the breach' to tackle courses 5,6,7 and so on. We don't often eat as much as that but yesterday was an exception; we seem to be guilty of having over catered.

Three by 400 g sirloins.
This was to be our celebration meal with Sparks after 2 years living in the house. Sparks had volunteered to bring the starter, some fresh mussels from Howth Harbour collected that morning and brought down in his in-car electric chiller box. What we didn't account for was that he took a look at the 1 kg net and decided we might need 2. Liz had already been out shopping for steak and had done a similar thing with Lidl's 400 g Sirloins; shall I get 2 or three? Sparks had also been a bit later arriving than intended, so that we had had the lunch (home made bread and home made paté) only 5 hours earlier.

"Flump's Almost Flourless Chocolate Cake" to be
eaten with ice cream and ginger syrup.
The mussels were eaten with a lovely white-wine based sauce with tomatoes, celery, courgette, red onion and thyme. The steaks came with our own chestnut mushrooms from the poly-tunnel, plus oven chips and corn on the cob. None of us actually managed to complete the steak, so we have rather luxurious left overs today Next was the Trou Normand, then a house favourite known as "Flump's Almost Flourless Chocolate Cake" (Flump being the nickname of a chum of Liz's) which was lubricated on its way with ice cream and ginger syrup. We were done. We adjourned to the real fire in the Living Room for a good old sit down, chin-wag, reminisce, remembering all the buildering adventures and happening since and from way back. I don't think you can beat good food, nice wine and excellent company. We have sent Sparks on his way this morning well rested and after a light breakfast of bagel, scrambled eggs and bacon, though he was woken at 06:00 by one of the roosters kicking off. They do that.

Meanwhile, back on the 'farm', Goldie the Rabbit has now kindled, giving birth to her kittens overnight Monday. All we see for now are the puffs of plucked out belly fur on the grass of the run, which clue you in to take a peek into the 'bedroom' and there, sure enough is a bigger nest of the fur in among the hay. If you are lucky you may see the fur move as a result of tiny wriggling within and you will know that there is at least one naked pink blind baby in the nest. You must not touch yet or poke an exploratory finger in, as there is a risk that the mother rabbit, upset by the smell would kill and eat the babies. You must wait a week or preferably two by which time the bunnies are furred and probably visible having trampled enough of the fur nest down that there is no longer a furry 'roof'. During this time the Mum will pretty much leave the babies to it and spend 99% of her time out in the grassy run. She only nips in now again to suckle the youngsters and then quickly comes back out again.

Horse Chestnut from a 'conker' gathered
from by Cambria's Gravesend Moorings in 2012
We have now completed the 'Bee School' with our 6th training session on Monday, basically a session of Exam Revision which also included a visit by the Two Marys who came with a van load of hive bits, smokers, bee-keeper suits and honey frame parts for the members to buy. Liz had prepared for this a complete list of all the questions asked in both the 'Head Office' (Gormanston*) and the 'Provincial' rounds of exams over the last 3 years, so we were able to chug through those and nail down any subjects where any student was uncertain. Although bee keeping can be a complicated craft, ours are only the Preliminary (=Beginners') level exams, so we hope that we can cope with these basics on the day.
*The only difference between these two papers is in the questions which ask what plants the bees are currently foraging "in your area".

Sunniest seat in the house.
The exam is made up of the 25 questions 'written' paper, but also a practical session out at the apiary where the examiner will ask you to name parts of the hive. open the hive, lift out a frame, identify the various types of cells in the 'honey-comb', find the Queen and so on. We hope we will do OK and both receive our certificates. We are, anyway, both really looking forward to finally getting our bees in June (we hope) so we can do it all for real.

Sweet Chestnut from a Christmas 'nut'.
Other than that we are just enjoying the unseasonable burst of weather hot enough to weed in wearing shirtsleeves and to walk the dogs without coat or hat. All the squishy mud and the puddles are history now. The horses kick up dust as they run to the gate to meet us, instead of slithering about in the slop. I can wear crocks again instead of the wellies. We can kneel on the grass to peer into the pond without getting sopping wet knees. Surely summer can not be far away.

Cherry blossom.

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