Monday 2 November 2015

Big Block of Cheese Day

The eponymous Big Block of Cheese
Fans of the US TV political drama 'West Wing' (one of our favourites) will recall the episode(s) in my title as they were funny and often bizarre. They referred to a day in the White House year when the staff resurrected an old tradition of inviting any madcap pressure group to come and be heard by the Administration and the staff would set up a huge block of cheese in the foyer for the visitors to cut bits off if they were hungry. Last time Liz was over in the UK, our good friend Mazy advised her to buy from local deli and farm shop 'Macknades', a house-brick sized block of a gorgeous vintage cheddar - 1.36 kg at about £13 (UK). I mention this because, Mazy, it has taken us this long to get through it. Not enough lunatics with outlandish pressure group requests, we guess. Thank you very very much.

Fruit scones
Not all good news this time, I am afraid. Hot on the heels of our 'loss' of the cat Pirate, came a call from Sue and Rob to say that the lovely ram, 'Rambo', whom we borrowed to service our three ewes. had died in the night. They'd had no warning and he appeared perfectly healthy on Saturday except for one 'symptom' which they think with hindsight, might have been significant - the lad standing still in the middle of the feild in the rain, when he is usually first in the queue for shelter under the trees. With Rambo dead in the morning Rob could see a little dark blood around the boy's anus and in the poo but we are at a loss. I have contacted our vet to see what she thinks and she is asking whether we vaccinate (e.g. with Heptavac P). I must admit we haven't, though we have wormed and fluke-drenched, so it is obviously something we should think about.

Pirate's grave site and memorial rock (grey lump
bottom right) under the beeches. 
Then there was another good friend, near neighbour and fellow (beginner) bee keeper, T McC. Poor T had that thing happen to him that all beginner beekeepers (incuding ourselves of course) are worried about - that you'll have a dramatic reaction to a bee sting. T was snugging down his bees a week or so ago and got stung, not for the first time but suddenly had "sweating, redness, itching, light headed, flashing lights and a slight constricting of the throat.  Had to lie down on the ground outside. Lucky it was sunny". He had to phone the ambulance and felt a bit silly by the time they arrived as he had recovered except for the big bump on the back of his head (the sting site) tingling.

Beekeepers know that they can react differently to stings and the intensity can also change with time/stings; You can have no problem for a while and then suddenly react, or you can 'get over' your sensitivity and have no more bad reactions after that. Poor T is now going through the tests with his doctor to see where he is, whether he'd be safe to carry on or whether (God forbid) bee keeping is not for him and he'd have to give up the hobby. On the bright side all his hives are snugged down now so he won't have to go near them till Spring. The doctor has a few months to do the tests and come to a decision.

Hallowe'en fare, Champ with pork chops. Our own spuds, kale,
pork and onions, of course.
On happier topics, Hallowe'en went really well for us. We had set up the 'Jack o'Lantern' on the gate pier and made a long "chain" of candles in jamjars all up the new fence, one on each post. We also hung our two posh gift lanterns on trees, so that the drive up to the house was nicely inviting and we were publically 'up for it' to any random passing groups of witches, ghosties and vampires. We had the obligatory big bowl of sweeties and we sat back to enjoy our own Hallowe'en fare, of 'champ' with pork chops.

The turkeys try out the pumpkin seeds. Bit of a mixed reaction
but they did all disappear eventually.
You never know round here, how many kiddies will come. We are out in the sticks and there are no children in walking distance, so they come carted round likely places by Mums in huge people-carriers and farm cars. Well, we had none till quarter to 8 which was nice because it meant we could eat our own supper in peace, but then a veritable army showed up and annihilated the sweeties in short order. The bowl now contains a lonely refresher bar and half a dozen tubes of tiny Parma Violets which we'll never eat, so we need to find a post-Hallowe'en victim for those.

Traditional unmolested Irish Stew after Theodora Fitzgibbon 
I am partially Liz-less at the moment (she's shuttling between Silverwoods and house/Dad sitting for part of each week and back up here for work the other part so I am King of the Kitchen temporarily and continuing to expand my range. Today that meant that my favourite Irish Recipe book, Theodora Fitzgibbon's "A Taste or Ireland (in food and in pictures)" (pub Pan 1968) was dusted off and cracked open. Irish Stew! I had a chunk of our own delicious lamb, our spuds, onions, parsley and thyme. Theodora tells me that "the pure flavour is spoiled if carrots, turnips or pearl barley are added, or if it is too liquid. A good Irish stew should be thick and creamy, not swimming in juice like soup". Well, I'm happy to report that it was delicious, but I do not know where the 'thick and creamy' comes from. There were no thickening ingredients on the list and my gravy was definitely 'wet'. Perhaps she uses a different kind of spud which breaks down better and solidifies the gravy for you.

Sheep hurdles assembled into a pen.
I have also been out spending the hard earned loot (I did clear this with the Chancellor of the Exchequer first), investing in some sheep bits, namely hurdles and dagging shears. The hurdles assemble into a 6 by 4 foot pen for containing sheep while you work on them, but I bought them for their handiness singly as temporary gates. I have posted before of the plan to install some new runs of fence to give the sheep a new bit to graze and tidy, but I need to leave 'holes' through which to push the trailer when moving pigs or just to move geese about. Rather than invest in 4 permanent gates, this was a cheaper (and more flexible) solution.

Dagging shears. 
While at the farm supplies 'co-op' I spotted a rather nifty pair of old-style (springy scissors) "dagging shears". One of our ewes (Myfanwy) came with full length tail (some mix up at her own birth) so she is prone to great chains of 'klingons' adhering to the underneath of her tail and around the bum, where the output cannot fall freely to the ground. These will sort that out and be good for any other small trim ups for example where I have missed bits on the shearing.

Definitely getting a bit TOO cheeky now!
Finally, I leave you with a brilliant local expression I picked up recently. This where the old boy involved had come into the building with me but nipped off for a quick wee while I made the tea for us. "Ah, you're as good as a bad woman" he said. Made me smile, anyway.

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