Wednesday 30 October 2013

The Times they are a-Changing

Shallots become pickled onions
We were commenting only the other day on how much more the weather affects us in this life compared to our time working in Kent. Be it rain, hail, wind or stultifying heat out there, I 'saw' it only briefly on the run to work, sprinting from house door to car door, or multi-story car park space to the pedestrian 'bridge' into the depot. There after I was in an air conditioned office or one of the massive cold stores set to 1.5 degrees C. Just occasionally I'd feel the weather again when I had to visit network equipment outside this (roof voids, porta cabins or what have you) but really our only experience was to look up through an office window and comment "Would you look at that rain?" Clocks changing were even more so, largely an irrelevance.

Cassis under construction. Tastes good already!
Not so here. Here the weather  and the day length have a huge influence on what we are able to do and achieve. With the shortening day length I had got to the point where wake up time (which was around 08:15) had me doing my feed and release rounds before bringing Liz up her cup of tea. The sheep (and Cody) were getting a bit of supper at 5 pm after which I could chop wood and light a fire in a leisurely manner with a whole hour to spare before I needed to shepherd the geese home, give the dogs their half hour romp in the orchard. I'd then have a bit of a sit down till supper and either just before that or afterwards, start locking up chickens.

Now that we are on GMT, I wake at 07:15 so I have a chance to sneak back under the covers after releasing the birds and doing sheep breakfasts for a quick doze before proper getting up time, just like in summer. In the evening everything is now squashed together in a flurry of activity; feed sheep, light fire, shepherd geese, exercise dogs and lock up poultry all in one rush, after which there is now a gap till suppertime which is generally between 7 pm and 7:30.

Towsers back feet and legs get a trim.
It is also at about this time of year, I would clip the dogs for the last time, leaving them then to go shaggy through the cold winter months. This year we have an enthusiastic helper in this task our friend Charlotte from down the road, she of the miniature horses. Charlotte is now at college studying to be a Vet's Assistant and a part of this course is about grooming dogs, partly to give the students this useful skill should they choose to go that route, but also as a really good way of getting them used to handing other people's dogs.

Showing Charlotte how we are going to do ears.
We are, of course happy to oblige and our three Westies have taken to Charlotte anyway, so it seemed like a good solution to getting her lots of practise. Charlotte grew up with horses and loved the clipping and grooming side of showing them, so she is already familiar with the clippers and scissors; it was only the shape of a Westie which would be new to her. She got Towser as her first dog and I demo'd what I do on Deefer, so that Charlotte could reproduce this on Towser. I sketched out any detailed cuts and shaping on paper, so that she'd know what I was trying to achieve. I am in no way a professional quality groomer or highly skilled, but what I do works for me and, as I said to her, if she gets the practise in on my three, she can always fine tune it in her classes at college where the tutor is a regular dog-show breeder.

Poppy gets it in the neck!
In the event we had a great time, enjoying our clipping in parallel and passing the clippers back and forth as we swapped for scissors. She did a really good, impressive job on Towser, easily as accurate and tidy as I do and kept him calm and unfussed throughout. He seemed to love the gentle attention and looked quite soppily happy for the whole time. After we'd done Towser and Deefer in parallel, we stopped for tea and cake before Charlotte then clipped Poppy while I just sat back and watched, no need to intervene or supervise at all. All three dogs now look very neat and tidy and we are all 3 happy with the results.

Towser gets used to the idea.
In other news we have been getting on with our preserving and storing type tasks. The pea pod wine (made in early August) has fallen quite bright under its airlock, so I have racked that off into another demi-john and put it under a standard cork. We'll probably give that the full 6 months before we try it. We decided to make pickled onions with the shallots. They had been sitting in a paper bag because we were sure we'd find a Madhur Jaffrey recipe which might need them, but they are small and fiddly, so it is always easier to grab a 'proper' onion. Yesterday Rolo the cat, exploring the kitchen managed to get his head stuck through the (paper strap) handle of the bag and tipped the whole lot onto the floor, reminding us that we had not, in fact, used any yet! Pickled onions seemed like a good solution.

The cassis has also come ready for having its fruit strained out of it and the sugar added. Finally we managed to find a bargain bag (€1) of rather time expired chilli peppers and Liz decided to dry them for storage. They prove to be an extremely lively and hot version of pepper. I used the knife after Liz had finished preparing them, to cut my cheese for a lunchtime sandwich. I had given it a cursory wipe, but still got enough peppery 'zing' off the blade to pep up the cheese out of all proportion to its normal flavour. The chopping board had been washed, cleaned and put away by the time I went to make breakfast toast the next day, but managed to give a similar zing to the undersides of slices of buttered toast. That jar might need a 'Use with Extreme Care' warning label.

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