Tuesday 27 December 2016

Show Some Decent Restraint

Santa did us proud this year.
There it was then. Christmas has come and gone. I am not about to bore you with a blow by blow account of all the food, drink, presents and all that; I will just give you a few details and comments and post up a few nice Seasonal pics. Over all it was a very good one in which we thoroughly enjoyed a very relaxing few days with Mum-in-Law (Steak Lady) here to stay for 4 nights.

She will, I am sure, not mind me saying that we thoroughly enjoy her company and she is one of those ideal kind of guests who seem to get along superbly with our style of hospitality. She needs no entertaining or keeping busy and completely relaxes. She loves all the food we serve to her and has all the drink she needs. She sleeps well and we are like a pampering spa-bath to her sense of well-being. She comes out with expressions like "I feel so much younger" or "I woke up so happy" and "It's like a 5-star hotel" or like Lourdes.

An Eve pint
She arrived on the Friday, so was here for the whole of the Eve, the Day, St Stephen's Day (Boxing Day to you Brits) and part of today. She came with us on an Eve visit to Carolyn and co (where-at the new house has that open-to-the-rafters kitchen and there is room for a 12 foot tree!), went to 'Midnight' Mass (9:30 pm) with Liz and came out to Sue and Rob's with us today when we nipped over to return the fox trap and the ram, Silas. We packed her off this afternoon with a wicker basket full of cold meat and left overs, a sack of ash-logs and a tray of 30 eggs (from Sue). A very successful visit. If we ever need to get into B+B ing we feel we could cope.

Regular readers will know that the main meal on the day was to be roast beef, a change from normal imposed by Brer Fox. That was not the only change away from our "normal" traditions. Normally we have a mad wrap-ripping fest as soon as we awake, up on the bed which leaves very few presents for downstairs. Steak Lady was likely to prefer a bit of a lie-in so we decided that we would just do the whole thing later. We would wait for everyone to wake up naturally, have a nice leisurely scrambled egg and salmon breakfast and only then do presents. In practise that took us round till gone 11 am by which time I needed to walk the dogs, so I sneaked that in too. We finished up at around midday.

In my family, such patience would be known as "showing decent restraint" and although across all the meals we ate enough to be as fat as fools, we also found ourselves (rather to our surprise) being restrained in the drink too. Maybe we are growing up at last. We had bought a rake of booze and more arrived from Santa but we would sit and sip happily at a Gluhwein, a wine, a whiskey, a beer or a G+T according to taste. Nobody got unduly 'squiffy' and there were no hang-overs. All in all a great success.

St Stephen's Day ham. Fans of the supermarket version may
think it not bright pink enough but that would just be because
they do not know that the pink is an artificial effect of using
dubious chemicals like nitrites in the cure.
Food and drink might go off at a tangent over the few days but the smallholding and stock 'show' must go on. Today we needed to head over to Sue and Rob's with the fox trap and the young ram we have been using to service our ewes.

Silas says his goodbyes to the ewes. 
The ram, Silas, is a tiny, 2016 ram lamb who we employed more for the practise than in any expectation of high lambing success. We are not 100% sure he managed to mount anyone but whether he did or no, he needs taking off the ewes now. The gestation period for ewes is 5 months, which brings us now to the end of May and I will need to be shearing the ewes to prevent fly-strike. You should not put pregnant ewes through anything as stressful as shearing, so we dare not risk Silas doing any 11th hour 'jobs'.

Silas walked out for loading into the trailer
behind me. 
On the fox front we are becoming a bit convinced now that we shot THE fox and solved the short-term problem. We have not seen hide nor hair of a fox since very early December despite our 24/7 fox watch and my frequent torch-beam hunts for eye-reflections after dark. I am not being complacent yet and I get the horrors at the thought of having to confess to you guys that we relaxed, left the chickens out unprotected and came back to another blanket of torn feathers all over the grass. However we did think that the fox-trap was no longer useful (for now) and Sue asked for it back, so that got loaded into the trailer alongside Silas.

A memorable trifle - the 'fruit' was a compote
of cranberry, apricot, date and raisins cooked
in orange juice with cinnamon and cloves.
The custard was of duck egg yolks. 
While we were on getting rid of surplus 'males'  it also became apparent that Mr Fox had left us out of balance in the chicken dept. with regard to the rooster/hen ratio. Ideally this should be around 7 hens to one roo'. That way he can cope with getting round them all each day to keep the eggs fertile, but each hen gets only a manageable share of his 'lurve'. We had 4 new Marans roosters coming of age and had lost a good few hens to the fox. We were starting to witness distressing 'gang-rape' scenes and some hens were getting threadbare and very unwilling to come out of the coop of a morning lest they got jumped by the roo's, sometimes 2 or 3 at once.

Hard to beat, bacon and cabbage. The cabbage gets cooked
in the liquor from the ham-boil which, in this recipe includes
ginger beer!
Time to 'off' some roo's. This is the least pleasant part of poultry keeping but you have to be able to do it. It is not fair on the hens to leave that situation to run. In fact it is not too difficult but we had Mum-in-Law up and I did not want to do any of these dark deeds with her present. I decided to crate the roosters for the day and sort them once Mum had been packed off.

The '365' show goes on too.
They roost high in the rafters of the barn (roosters seem to claim the highest, safest perches) and chickens cannot move about in the dark, so the wise poultry-man knows to catch them at night with a small torch. In this case I merely had to reach up and lift them by the legs, lowering them down into the crate without a fuss. Then I could move them easily to sort them once Mum had gone. They are now 'late' and will get plucked and dressed tomorrow. It may be my imagination but an air of calm and serenity seems to have descended on the rest of the birds. They now only have our old #1 Lieutenant Colonel Buff Orp rooster and one Cuckoo Marans boy. I will let you know how we get on.

Finally you might recall that St Stephen's Day here is the day for a rather bizarre but nice old tradition  of 'Wren Boys' when gangs of youths would work their way round the village carrying a caged wren and threatening to kill it unless the householders gave them gifts of money or food treats. They would wear straw 'mummers' costumes to disguise themselves. One old boy locally says he can remember when there were plenty but that they used to visit the "singing pubs" rather than houses. The tradition has almost died out now but we got one group last year and we were hoping for more this year.

Well, we got some. They were rather tiny and young, they were driven round by Mum, they arrived wearing Christmas jumpers and Santa masks and singing 'Jingle Bells'. Ah well. They tried - Mum said it was their first outing but that she remembers doing it as a kid herself. We gave them a good supply of chocolate biscuits and euros to encourage them.

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