Saturday, 12 September 2015

Feels like Autumn

It has been very quiet at Ration The Future for 2 months! Sorry to my regular readers. I would love to be disciplined enough to commit to a weekly blog, but that isn't how my life is right now. I have worked long hours on a large project all summer - it feels like I have skipped straight to Autumn. The mornings are cold, evenings are shorter and the bounty of courgettes, cucumbers and beans is tailing off now.

Produce from my garden, including chickpeas.

This week I went to the car boot sale with my eldest daughter, who has just returned from finishing Uni. She was delighted to find several nearly new tops, a dress and a skirt all with labels from her favorite shops. Her little sister liked the dress too and has commandeered it!

In addition we bought some unopened gift sets with body lotions and shower gels, some from the body shop, which were all small travel size bottles, so very handy.

I only bought 2 items for me, but I love them both. One was an egg run, that I had seen for £17 in the Organic Gardening Catalogue and had decided it was too expensive for me to buy when a cardboard egg box does the trick for nothing. But when I spotted it at the car boot and the lady only wanted £1....well it seemed like fate.

I have always kept my eggs in the fridge, but as my fridge is in need of replacing and I am hoping to downsize it, to save money and energy, it is time to keep the eggs out. And don't you love my multi-coloured eggs too? I buy them from a friend each week and love that they are green and white as well as brown :-)

Then I spotted a purse. Not just any purse, but a Ness purse and it was brand new, complete with label for £24.95. Aren't the materials gorgeous? It was mine for just £2.50, so how could I pass that up?

When my husband and I visited the Isle of Skye for his birthday many years ago, I found a lovely little Ness shop and bought myself a purse. You may think that the lovely tartan material might not be as hard wearing as leather, but it lasted me 5 years! I like that the company is based in Scotland, aims to source materials from the UK where it can, and centers its designs on traditional Scottish tartan. Buying local twice over, so no consumer guilt about this purchase. I haven't decided whether to keep it, as it is a larger design than I normally go for, but it would make a lovely gift if not.

As well as all the goodies already mentioned, I bought some books and toys for my cousin's children. We spent a total of £15 and made it home with no packaging, not even a carrier bag! Ethical shopping is bliss :-)

But as Jo at All the blue day has pointed out, a 'one in, one out' policy is required, as buying is only one side of the story.

We had already had a big clearout of clothes. I gave some to friends, sold some at the car boot sale, donated some to charity and took less sale-able clothes to the '£5 a bag' shop. I felt like I had cleared out so much stuff.......but then my daughter arrived home from Uni with all her cooking utensils, clothes and furnishings and we had to have an even bigger sort out to make some space. this time it was the shoe drawers, coat rack, teddies, craft stuff and kitchen equipment that was under the spotlight.

It is a great idea to have a clear out and get rid of all the items that are not used regularly, but on the other hand there is an element of being prepared that seems to oppose this idea. For instance I have a stock of old woollen blankets. Some of them get used when we go camping, but most haven't been touched for years. Yet a few years before we moved to Loughborough there was a cold snowy winter where they had a powercut, and many homes had no alternative heating source. So in the interest of preparedness, the blankets are staying.

It is funny how many things about living lightly on the planet clash. Such as being frugal and supporting local organic producers. Or being prepared for the climate change future we face and living a minimalist lifestyle. Or even just storing all your home-grown produce and trying to reduce disposable plastic bags and containers. How else can I store my fresh lettuce or frozen blackberries? It is all a choice between what means the most to you.

Lovely homegrown veg stored for PLASTIC!!!!
Well, we have 4 bags for selling at the carboot sale and a couple of boxes of kitchen equipment to donate to refugees. I am just loving how organised and clutter free the house is starting to feel, lets see if I can keep it up :-)

Monday, 6 July 2015

Keeping cool

It has been a hot week in the UK (at least by our standards) and for most of Europe it seems. I have been out doing energy surveys every day, and despite sweltering and having aching feet from all the walking, I love to see how buildings perform under peak conditions.

The UK has a relatively mild climate. Being surrounded by sea and benefiting from the warm Gulf Stream, means that our winters and summers are not as extreme as for mainland Europe. This is reflected in the design of our buildings. For instance French buildings traditionally have shutters. These aren't purely decorative, but have a functional purpose, to prevent solar gain. When the sun shines in through the window, it heats the building up like a greenhouse. The shutters on the outside of the house are more effective than blinds, because they stop the sun's rays before they get inside.

Typical French shuttered windows
Closing the shutters at night and then waking up to throw them open to the daylight is one of the delicious moments of staying in a French house. If you have tried this you will notice that just opening the shutters a slit will still bathe the room in daylight, and often keep most of the hot sun out. The strategy is to use the shutters in the daytime to prevent the suns ray from heating up the house. In addition the shutters can often be closed at night, but with the glass windows inside left open, so that the cooler night air can cool the building down and help to slow down the process of warming during the day.

Traditionally English townhouses were close together, providing a shady walkway
British buildings don't have shutters as a feature, because we don't get a lot of hot days and love it when we do. But it is not pleasant to work or live in a hot building, so here are some strategies that may help to keep buildings cooler and more comfortable.
Aptly named 'Thrift House' with the curtains drawn
1. Shut your blinds and curtains during the day to keep out the suns rays. This is especially important for South and West facing windows. If you are worried what your neighbours may think of your curtains being closed all day, then try using net curtains, as they are effective at blocking the sun too. By standing in front of a sunny window with the sun's rays on you, you can feel the difference when the curtains are shut. It won't stop the house warming up, but at least it will be less of a greenhouse. Canopies, overhanging roofs or trees can all be used externally to shade the building in summer too.

Glass greenhouses in central London ;-)
2. Keep windows closed if the air inside your home feels cooler than the air outside. It is an automatic reflex when you feel hot to open the windows, but if it is the hottest part of the day you could just be bringing in hot air from outside and making things more uncomfortable. Stand in the doorway and check first, because then you can feel whether the air outside is actually cooler or not.

3. Open your windows at night (if you can without inviting burglars) or early in the morning for an hour or two, to help flush out the warm air and allow the building fabric to cool down again. The bricks, concrete, tiles, fixtures and fittings all retain heat. so often you will find that when the air outside has cooled, the building still feels warm on the inside. You can use the cooler morning air to purge the heat, so that you start the day with a cool building. I throw open the windows at 6:30am, before everyone else is up, and once the stone tiles on my kitchen floor feel cold again, I shut my windows against the rising temperature outside. This helps the house to stay cooler for longer.

The majority of dwellings in the UK are constructed with brick, stone or concrete and these materials are all good for holding heat or coolth. Lightweight timber constructions tend to heat up a lot quicker and cool down faster too, so you may find that point 3 doesn't help much. You can try incorporating some more heavyweight materials in a lightweight house, by adding stone tiles to floors.

4. Every appliance that is switched on, from a light to a mobile phone charger, will be kicking out waste heat, into your lovely cool building, so make sure that everything possible is switched off. Fridges and freezers may be keeping the food cool, but in doing so they kick out a lot of heat from the coils at the back, which is adding to the heat in your house. The higher the air temperature the harder they have to work and the more heat is emitted, so try not to open them unnecessarily. You could also try using timers to run dishwashers or breadmakers in the early hours of the morning when it is cooler (unless you have PV panels and want to make use of the solar energy).

Landline phone that only works when it is plugged in
Incidentally, you are also kicking out waste heat energy that is created when you breath or move. Only an average 100W if you are resting but that increases to 250W if you are dancing around. Save the workout or physical housework for the mornings or late evening, when the temperature has dropped, to avoid overheating yourself and your house.

5. If you get to the point where it is too hot inside and you need to get a breeze going to help cool you down, then remember to get a crossflow of air. This means trying to open windows or rooflights on at least 2 faces of the building, with an open flow between them. Heat tends to rise, so it will gather at high points. Opening a rooflight or upstairs window will allow the hottest air to escape, whilst opening a window on a lower level will draw in cooler air to replace it. I have seen lots of hot offices this week where the office windows are open, but the office door is kept shut for privacy. This means that the air cannot flow across the building, so the occupants don't benefit from getting a breeze from their windows.

6. Putting a fan near your window can help to draw in fresh air from outside, but if the air outside is hot already then it makes more sense to aim the fan at you. A fan blows air across your body, encouraging the heat to transfer from your hot skin to the marginally cooler air. Hence it makes you feel cooler.

Trees for company
7. Have you ever noticed that the air around trees feels cooler? This is because they act like an evaporative cooler. Their roots suck moisture from the soil and when the sun shines on the leaves the water evaporates. This process uses heat energy from the surrounding air and works faster on a hotter day, leaving cooler air around the trees. Planting trees and shrubs near windows and in courtyards can help to keep the air around the building cooler (as well as providing some shading). A fountain works in a similar manner and was why they were popular in Roman courtyards.

Stone house surrounded by trees for shade and cooling
8. Insulation in lofts and walls helps to protect buildings from the heat, as they are another layer that the heat needs to pass through. Insulation helps to make the building feel more comfortable in the summer and winter, with the added benefit of leading to reduced energy bills.

9. Hot air rises, so if you are having trouble sleeping in your bedroom upstairs, then camp out on the ground floor or even in the basement if you have one. This will help you stay cool and get a good nights rest.

10. I heard on the radio today (for the first time) an advertisement for air-conditioning for homes and it made me groan. Air-conditioning is expensive and uses a lot of electricity to provide you with artificial cooling, so please try some of the cheap and easy methods to stay cool first. If you are a 'battery-farmed' office worker, in a large open plan office with only a couple of square metres of space, then the chances are that you will have cooling provided, and on a hot day it will be working flat out. If you can, take this opportunity to request to work from home. The less bodies in the office and computers in use, the less heat is being produced. This will save energy, reduce the load on the air-conditioning and help everyone to stay cooler.

Remember to always switch air-conditioning off in an empty room and to keep windows shut whilst it is in use, otherwise your expensive chilled air will be escaping. How many of you have walked past an open shop door and felt the rush of cooled air coming from within?

You may already do all of these things, but hopefully someone may find the odd tip helpful. Hope you have a lovely sunny summer where you are, with a nice cool house to retreat into when it gets too hot :-)

Monday, 22 June 2015

Allotment progress

This is how the allotment has developed this year.

The plan had been to carry on with Charles Dowding's No Dig method, where you add a layer of compost or manure on the soil and let the worms do the work of digging it in for you. In my usual fashion I didn't get round to ordering another delivery of cow manure in the Autumn, and given how long the last batch took to breakdown I decided not to get any this spring. This has worked out for the best, as many of the other plot-holders believe the manure is contaminated with pesticides. The hormonal weedkiller used on grassland apparently goes through the cows without causing harm, but contaminates the manure. It may be that the manure I had last year was contaminated, which could explain a lot, but I really hope not. I am trying to grow healthy organic produce, so a hidden dose of chemicals is the last thing I want.

Instead, I have collected some horse manure from my friend Suella, who cares too much about the environment and her horse, than to cover her grazing land with chemicals. It is a peaceful setting, with some friendly conversation, so filling sacks and trugs with manure isn't a job that I mind doing. When I get back to the allotment though, the manure never seems to be enough.

I have had plenty of lovely compost for my garden from the double compost bin I made last year. I want to construct a compost bin made from pallets at the allotment, but I only managed to scrounge 3 pallets before my big car broke down and I need to find some smaller ones to fit in my smaller car. meanwhile the weeds are taking over!

I also have a 'dalek' compost bin, but it is full of ants. At the Composting Workshop held at the Transition Community Allotment a fortnight ago, I found out that this means that my mix is too dry and can be remedied by adding more greens. It was a very useful workshop even though I couldn't stay for it all. My plot has lots of comfrey now, some a gift from Suella last year, and some I found on the new half when I was clearing all the weeds.

I followed Mrs Thrifts recipe and made my first Comfrey Tea to feed my tomato plants. It really stinks, and if you get it on your hands you will need to wash them repeatedly to get rid of the smell. Every time I turned my back the dog was drinking it! Maybe she knows it is full of nutirents.

We have been eating lettuces and spinach for weeks, and it is so nice not to need to buy any from the supermarket. The spring onions are ready too, but I need to find a way to stop them going limp in the fridge. Any ideas?

I bought lots of seed potatoes from the Transition Loughborough Potato Day earlier in the year, and they are looking healthy despite the dog charging through them.

The grapevine that I pruned very hard has survived. The blackcurrant bush also seems to have relished the hard prune and is covered in berries. Plus the little gooseberry bush hidden under all the weeds has a handful of fruit nearly ripe.

I have built a couple of frames for netting, which have now been transferred from protecting the garlic and onions to covering the young brassicas. The garlic, gifted by another plot-holder, has been the first casualty this year, as it has white rot. Most of the other plot-holders seem to have suffered the same fate, but luckily my onions still seem healthy......for now.

I have peas growing in my garden at home where I have never needed to net them from the pesky pigeons. Yet at the allotment I risked leaving them unprotected and of course they have been gobbled. Enough have survived for me to have eaten my first peas today.

My kind neighbour has given me some chickpeas to grow this year. To play things safe I sowed them in 2 separate locations at the allotment and in my garden. The garden ones are doing the best. I can't wait for the soft little pods to grow, though if this cool weather continues I ma not get any.

I am not sure whether I mentioned that I planted some fruit trees, which were a gift from my parents. After lots of reading I decided on a Nashi pear and a sweet eating apple, along with some blueberry bushes and new raspberry canes.

The fruit trees both seem to be doing well and had lots of blossom and baby fruit, most of which I have removed. I surrounded them with bark to try to keep the weeds back, but really there is no chance of keeping them down..

The weeds seem to grow at double the speed that my plants grow so it is a constant battle to keep each area under control once I have cleared it. Plus the areas that I haven't yet managed to clear are now going to seed. I have put out a request on freecycle for chippings as bark is too expensive to cover large areas, but had no response yet. Old carpet is my best weed control for now, until I get on top of things (Will that ever happen?)

Anyway, most of my seedlings, that covered every windowsill for weeks, are planted out now. Just waiting for some more netting to be delivered so the last of the brassicas can go out protected from pigeons and butterflys. Then I can just sit back and wait for them to grow :-) Well..........apart from the watering, weeding, pinching out shoots, feeding, hoeing, tying and harvesting!

Happy growing!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Frantic spring

So I haven't posted anything interesting for a while, because life has just been exhausting and full of breakdowns (but luckily I wasn't one of them!).

It started with my old faithful car breaking down. It was over 20 years old, with over 200,000 miles on the clock, but we had had it for 12 years and it was the most brilliant car. It didn't look much, but a car that can fit 5 people, dog, camping gear and 3 full size bikes inside it with room to spare is really worth its weight in gold........except when it is broken and will cost it's weight in gold to repair. So we bid it a sad farewell :-(

It was swiftly followed by my printer, computer, collapsing shelves in the garage and now the perpetually leaking fridge. In the midst of that the dog had fleas, my son completed his bronze Duke of Edinburgh training expedition and final expedition, my youngest daughter had guide camp and was away for a school trip, and my niece and nephew cashed in their Christmas vouchers for me to take them on a camping trip (an awfully tight squeeze without my old faithful car) and a day at Alton Towers (a week before the terrible crash).

I wasted spent 2 weeks second hand car shopping with darling husband, which really is no fun when you have a very constrained budget, and no car will live up to the one you have just lost, so I was no help at all. Then I had 3 days with no computer, followed by 2 weeks with an irritating temporary fix which meant that I couldn't bear to use it. No work, no blogging, no news. I did a lot of digging at the allotment to release my frustration instead. Now the computer is up and running again but there are a few I couldn't seem to add any pictures to my posts! Sigh!

Yet, thankfully, here I am on the other side of a frantic spring. Summer is here, the first strawberries are ripe and I have cleared all my windowsills of seedlings (I am not saying that they are all planted yet though). And despite being at the allotment until 10pm for 2 nights this week, and having 2 parents evenings to attend things seem just that little bit calmer..........for now :-)

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Pigeon Dilemma

I'm back! Well it seems like I haven't posted much in ages as there just hasn't been a spare minute. Bear's challenge has gone out of the window for another month, although there was some closure on the pigeon front.....

I had the opportunity to go for a walk in Bramcote Park in Nottingham, which is quite lovely despite the background hum of traffic. I chatted with friendly dog walkers, spotted a few familiar wild foods and was just generally enjoying the evening, when there was a 'plop'. I was walking through some trees and something small had fallen out of one of the trees. I turned round to investigate and found a dead pigeon on the ground with a bundle of soft fluffy feathers beside it. The bundle of fluff was a baby pigeon still clearly alive, but with a cracked beak and it must have literally dropped out of the tree just as I walked past.

Dilemma. The parent bird had clearly been killed by a cat or fox ( I am thinking cat, because it wasn't eaten whereas a fox would have had it for dinner). The young pigeon's feathers were not mature enough to fly and it would no doubt die without a parent bird, even if the damaged beak recovered. Why did it plop down next to me?

I could see the nest in the tree and it was too high up for me to reach, but with my heart thumping I grabbed the scared little bird and tried to balance it on a lower branch in the hope it would climb back. Plop!

Now I stood for several minutes thinking this through. There was absolutely no way I could save this bird or any hope it would survive. I have saved baby blue tits before, but they had fully fledged wings that had got wet in a shower, so lifting them into a hawthorn bush until their wings dried out meant they had a good chance of surviving. This pigeon had none. Plus they are classified as a pest (for good reason) so you are not supposed to rescue them.

Could I kill it? It was clearly going to die anyway, so a quick bash with a stick would save it from suffering. I still couldn't do it and just walked away. Let nature take its course and no doubt something will come and eat it.....just not me.

And so the great pigeon question has been answered - roadkill I can just about handle. Killing is something I am still not ready for. It does seem rather pathetic, but I am being honest with myself, which would be fine if I was a vegetarian, and wasn't expecting other people to kill animals for me to eat.

I have watched some of 'The Island with Bear Grylls' series 2, where a group of women and a group of men were left to survive on separate desert islands. It was interesting to see the women struggling with the dilemma of killing their adopted pet piglets (episode 6), which they aptly named Sage and Onion. In a situation where you are starving hungry your survival instinct clearly kicks in and they describe not thinking of them as animals anymore, just food. If you think you have the strength for this then you can apply for the next series here.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

I vote for change

Tomorrow is election day in the UK. It is funny how quickly it is here and my complete lack of anticipation this time. What is there to be excited about? Will May the 8th be any different from May 6th?

I started watching The Trews - the news if it were true. I admit that I used to find it extremely uncomfortable to watch Russell Brand, but on his own for 10 minutes he seems a lot calmer and he has been saying the kind of things that I want to hear. I even watched his new film with Michael Winterbottom The Emperors New Clothes that came out recently. It was really hard to track down a cinema to watch it in, so in the end we paid Amazon and watched it at home. (It is all about not supporting big corporations who don't pay tax like....Amazon!)

Honestly, it is brilliant and well worth watching. Like Russell says, there is nothing in the film that you don't already know, but he puts it across in a way that is powerful, easy to understand and with humour, especially when he drives around in his 'Shop a Banker' van. (In this meaning 'shop' a banker means to grass them up and turn them in to the police, and mimics the government's campaign after the London riots when they used 'Shop a Looter' vans to try to catch people who had stolen a pair of trainers, rather than bankers who cost the country millions.)

One of the vans showing pictures of suspects

Well I was coming round to Russell's idea, that "things can change" and his stance on voting was not to vote for anyone because they are all the same and none of them stand for real change. For instance the labour party didn't regulate the banks or prosecute any bankers before they lost the last election and the conservative and liberal democrat coalition hasn't acted to rectify this since. They all support the bankers, they all listen to big corporations and put their interests above working people and they are all for austerity measures.

I think Russell has lost sight of this recently and has been charmed by Ed Miliband into advocating voting for his party if you are not in Scotland or Brighton! The Ed Miliband interview looked like Russell was hypnotised, but for the rest of us it was just Ed Miliband saying the same non-committal political spiel that he used in the TV debates.

I haven't followed much of the politics, but I watched the TV debate with 7 candidates, and although we don't usually vote for the same parties, both hubby and I agreed that we would both vote SNP (Scottish National Party) if we could, which of course we can't.... unless we move to Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon had a clear strong message that was anti-austerity, abolishing tuition fees and the bedroom tax - the kind of policies I would really want and expect to see labour supporting. Plus she came across as a strong determined women. There would be no more childish name-calling and bullying in parliament if she was in charge, which I detest from our current prime minister.

I will NEVER vote for conservative, not because of David Cameron or any of their policies, but because I remember growing up during Margaret Thatcher's government. Neither will I ever vote for labour after Tony Blair took us to war with Iraq based on lies. People seem to have forgotten that the labour party didn't regulate the banks and continued privatisation with underhand PFI schemes. They didn't build more council houses, strengthen the unions, or re-nationalise anything. They are not the same party that Clement Attlee led after the war. They are just slightly more left than the conservatives. (As the Green party political broadcast points out)

I read the Liberal Democrats manifesto last time round and it sounded good, so they got my vote. However Nick Clegg completely sold out to the conservatives just to be in a coalition government. There is no point being part of a coalition government if you are not going to stand up for the policies that matter to you. The real joke is that Nick Clegg still thinks that they did. Yes - they have been added to my never-forget-not-to-vote-for-them list!

I am fairly certain that they will be part of a new government though, because they have shown how weak they are. If I was going to try to make a coalition with another party, I would choose one that will go along with everything I say, and the Liberal Democrats have proved they fit this role perfectly!

Thinking about coalitions made me wonder whether Russell was onto something in suggesting voting for labour. For English voters we can't vote for the SNP, but if we want to see them as part of a coalition then really the most likely scenario would be if labour won marginally more seats than the conservatives, though not a full majority. Is there any possibility of SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green party forming a coalition? Wouldn't that be amazing?

I think Russell was wrong to throw his weight behind labour. He apparently had 10 million followers and if he had supported the Green party or Left Unity that could have made a difference and that could have brought these parties onto the playing field, ready for a Syriza style victory at the following election. Even supporting the "don't vote because they are all a bunch of liars" stance is better than suggesting more of the same. So much for wanting a revolution.

I want a revolution. For the first time I have a local green candidate that I can vote for, called Mark Sissons, who has written a book that sounds rather interesting. I am voting for the green party, because they are anti-austerity, anti-trident and support environmental policies that may yet mean that the planet is still inhabitable for future generations. I am voting Green for what they stand for and my vote still counts even if the Green party don't win the seat, because my vote is about being true to my feelings and views. I vote for change.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Tastier Than Bear's 6: Meat on the Menu

A lot has been happening the last few weeks, and I have a so much to blog about, yet very little time. I left you all on a cliff-hanger over 2 weeks ago with my quest to kill a pigeon, so it seems only fair that I start with an update on my foraging antics.

Well................I still haven't killed a pigeon, though I bought Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 'The River Cottage Cookbook' (at the carboot sale for 50p) which follows his early antics at River Cottage. He has a whole chapter on Hedgerow, including wild meats, and is informative on preparing pigeon, rabbit, squirrel and ......snails (Hugh and Bear would get on a treat!). So having read more on the subject, I am feeling much more prepared for the pigeon-caught-in-a-net day to arrive.

But all was not lost on the meat front. Driving along a country lane I spotted some road kill. It was a cock pheasant and looked in very good condition, considering it had been hit by a car. I quickly jumped out and having some compost sacks in the boot, I stuffed the pheasant inside one and drove off full of excitement. This was it - true foraging with my first road kill dinner!

I was heading to collect horse manure from Suella, who is always very generous at sharing her horses' produce and there was quite a gathering. So I consulted with the wise Suella, Janet and Martha on my road kill and the first question was 'Is it still warm?' Why did that not occur to me? I had managed to bag the carcass without touching it, so I tentatively reached inside and yes it was warm, so very fresh. It was a bit smelly, but as they pointed out 'All living creatures are smelly'. Here it is.

Note to self: Don't stuff it in a bag next time, lay it flat! Nice how David Cameron is thoughtfully positioned to be consulting with my dead pheasant ;-)

Hugh doesn't mention pheasant, so I checked out some simple techniques on YouTube for removing feathers and gutting, but they all had shot birds whereas mine was already a bit damaged with guts spilling out. I was quickly losing my nerve, as a pre-packaged chicken doesn't come with the same smell, feathers, feet and undigested corn falling out. So I just dived in and cut out the breasts and quickly discarded the rest. I know it was such a waste, but I was overcome with squeamishness. Bear just rips off the head, feet and wings and skewers it for the fire, but I am not up to that yet (if ever).

I calmed down once faced with just the 2 pieces of breast and chopped them up for a stir-fry. I then dashed out to the woods (not shops) for some accompaniments - more wild garlic, hogweed shoots and stinging nettles.

I decided to break the rules and use some olive oil for frying as it is much easier than to keep adding dribbles of water. The hogweed shoots are absolutely delicious fried and were the best tasting part of the meal still. I may have forgotten to mention that I ate them last week on a bed of dandelion leaf salad, and they are so much more delicious fried than steamed.

The pheasant wasn't gamey (probably because it was too fresh), but rather plain and overcooked. I had thought to cook the breasts whole, so that I could leave them pink in the middle, but this was road kill and overcooked seemed a far safer option, if somewhat less appetising.

So I have eaten foraged meat and I survived ;-) There may be more meat menus to follow, if I can catch one of those darn pigeons.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Tastier than Bear's 5: Not quite pigeon

Well, Bears challenge has gone out of the window last month. Partly because it has been a busy month at the allotment and partly because I have set my sights higher for the next meal. The last meal had basically composed of a salad, and really I wanted to find some more nutritious food for the next meal. So I decided to target 2 new foods.

The first is pignuts. Not only do these involve a bit more pre-meditation than just pulling a few leaves while I am out walking, because I need tools for digging up the root and permission to dig, but I am having trouble identifying them without digging up the root. There are loads of plants with similar leaves in my woods, but they may also be something nasty like Hemlock, which is somewhat similar. So I need to take a mat and some plant identification books and sit and investigate, which needs the luxury of time and weather.

The second is pigeons. Yes I am carnivore and though I am not keen on eating bitter wiggly worms like Bear Grylls, I am game for some pigeon. A google search for pigeon brings up some really mouth-watering recipes. The wood pigeons we get in the garden have been grazing on locally grown vegetables, bird seed and other delights from the fields nearby, whereas city birds scavenge on rubbish so may not be a good idea. The problem of course is how to catch one and kill it. Road kill is definitely an appealing option, as I am used to dealing with dead carcasses, rather doing any slaughtering myself, but I have not been in luck.

Mr Twit used Hugtight Sticky Glue, pasted on the branches of a tree to trap birds for his bird pie. I must admit that it does seem a simple idea, not requiring any skill in the catching, but it is also indiscriminate. We really get some of the fattest pigeons in our garden, so a couple of years back, son and hubby decided to rig a trap. It involved my washing basket, propped on a stick. There was a rope tied to the stick and the other end was held by my son, who was sat in a camouflaged hide a few metres away. It was very entertaining, and as you might imagine totally unsuccessful! The pigeons were far too wily to walk under the basket. It was also somewhat of a relief because I didn't really think that either of them would be happy with killing their victim, and I did not want to be the one to do it.

So my mind had moved from traps to weapons. Eldest son has offered to shoot them with his bow and arrow, but having such a small garden with a public path along the side, I am scared of stray arrows causing harm. Maybe I could learn to master a slingshot, although I am the most appalling aim, and slow to boot. Look at these fancy ones which you can buy with seedball ammunition! At worst I would scare the pigeons off my vegetables, and if I got lucky, dinner would hopefully be dead from the impact.

But what if the pigeon was just injured and I had to catch it and kill it? There was only one thing for it. I needed help from an expert. The allotment is full of such experts. The netting designed to protect tender plants from the voracious appetite of greedy pigeons, is not always pigeon proof. A couple of times last spring I saw pigeons that had found a hole to get in, then couldn't escape .......the perfect pigeon traps! I have enlisted the help of an allotment friend and the next time a pigeon is trapped she will guide me to catch it and kill it. She seems quite an expert despite being a vegetarian, and has already dispelled my image of breaking it's neck, as apparently it is too easy to pull the head off - yuk! Bashing it over the head is her preferred technique. You really are going to have to stay tuned for a few more weeks to see whether I have the nerve to pull this one off.

There were several foraging successes this month though, although not a completely foraged meal. The wild garlic leaves are out everywhere now, so I felt no guilt in picking a bag full of leaves and making a batch of wild garlic pesto, following the recipe in the River Cottage Handbook No. 7: Hedgerow by John Wright which is shown below.

50g Wild garlic leaves
30g Pignuts/ cobnuts/ pine nuts, lightly toasted in a pan (I doubled this amount)
30g Parmesan cheese grated
80ml Olive oil plus extra to cover
Salt and pepper to taste

Put in a food processor and blitz, slowly adding the oil. Transfer to a jar and make sure the pesto is covered with olive oil. Keep in fridge for several weeks.

Having not found any pignuts, I roasted some of my remaining cobnut stash, but the resulting pesto was like extremely strong raw garlic. I threw in an equal amount of pine nuts, which balanced out the flavour enough so that I could taste it without burning my mouth. A small spoonful added to pasta sauce is great! Or even as a substitute for garlic butter in garlic bread or very sparingly in a salad dressing.

I also picked a bag full of nettle tops. I think I suffer with mild arthritis in the joints in my hands and have found that nettle stings seem to help. I run my hands through the nettles until they are stung all over, then quickly rub some chewed up plantain over my hands to stop the stinging. The stings still tingle for up to 24 hours, but after that scrubbing the bathroom or weeding the garden doesn't make my joints ache.

The nettle tops were so bright and fresh looking. I made them into nettle soup using another River Cottage recipe. It tasted good, though was not thick enough for my liking, so I will add more potato or some swede next time.

Half a carrier bag of stinging nettle tops
50g butter
1 large onion peeled and chopped
I litre vegetable or chicken stock
1 large potato, peeled and cubed (or maybe 2 if you like a thicker soup)
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. crème fraiche
A few drops of extra virgin olive oil
A few drops of Tabasco

Melt the butter and cook the onion until soft. Add stock, nettles, potatoes and carrots. Simmer for about 15 mins until potato is soft. puree with a stick blender and season to taste. Spoon into bowls with a teaspoon of crème fresh and drizzle of olive oil and tabasco.

I also picked some hogweed shoots and had them steamed with some chicken risotto. They do resemble asparagus in the texture, though not quite as delicious. Certainly very edible and something I will pick again.

I am still learning new plants all the time and keeping my eyes peeled for any delicious morsels, but growing vegetables is more productive and has to take priority for me over spring, whilst there is so much to be done.