Saturday, 27 March 2010

Talk Radio Europe

If you have access to Talk Radio Europe, then please listen on Monday 28 March at around 12.45pm when i will be chatting about my book, the Self Sufficiency Bible. If not, then here is the link to listen online or listen again

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Wartime recipe, Len Goodman and hedging

I really must get my act together and start blogging more than once a week because there's just so much happening!

First, a very kind friend found an old hand written recipe/household book her Mother wrote around the War period and rationing and gave it to me. It's falling apart, stained and faded, and quite simply one of the most beautiful old books i have ever handled. It gives such an insight into how people lived and what they ate and how they looked after their homes. The recipes for cakes ask for egg powder (!), and there's little tips such as homemade metal polish and even china cement - presumably if they dropped a cup or a bowl they couldn't just toss it away and instead found ways of mending it. But one page just grabbed me, and it's simply titled, Grandma's War Cake. This is the recipe copied verbatim:

2 cups Brown Sugar

2 cups hot water

1/4 lard or dripping

1lb of fruit

1 teaspoon salt

1 cinnamon or 1 and half allspice

Boil together for 5 minutes. When cold add 3 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon carb. soda dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water. Bake in two loaves for 45 minutes in slow oven.

I haven't tried making it yet, so if anyone else does, could you let me know how you get on as I just love the idea of it! Alternatively as soon as i can i''l make it myself and blog about it here.

* * *

What next... Ah, my dad's old mate Len Goodman sent me an email

What a lovely guy he is. Dad and Len were best mates for donkey's years, all well before Len became famous with the TV show Strictly. Dad used to tell stories about the two of them, and i wrote a funny article about them for my newspaper column, and it seems someone sent Len a clipping and he emailed me to say he found it 'interesting', ha-ha! Len's a star, in every sense of the world!

* * *

The book is going great guns, and i'm being booked up for radio, magazine and newspaper interviews, all of which i will of course blog right here. Amongst all of this i'm supposed to be hedging, and will do my best to post on that soon.

Monday, 15 March 2010

My first magazine restaurant review!

This week i did my first paid restaurant review for a magazine, and went along to the Blue Ball Inn on Exmoor. It was a strange mix of work and pleasure, probably more work than I'd perhaps anticipated, sitting there frantically scribbling notes on a pad while a succession of people; the owners, the chef, staff, customers, all came over to talk to me and give me their story and ideas about the place. The food was great, I had a real homemade steak pie with fresh vegetables that had never been anywhere near a freezer, let alone a can, and sipped a couple of glasses of nice, easy to drink white wine. I guess the hardest part of the evening happened a bit later on when i sat down and had to condense all the information into just 600 words - not an easy task. However, i would highly recommend it, and if you're planning a trip west, it's well worth considering and can be found at
Alternatively, of course, you can read my full review in Devon Life Magazine, the link to which i will put up just as soon as it's published.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Busy, creative week

Okay, busy blog for a busy, creative week. First, i have cured my first sheepskin rug! I keep Greyfaced Dartmoor sheep because they are hardy (it gets so cold here) and easy to deal with. I sheer them myself and had wanted to get the wool spun and ask someone who can knit well to knit jumpers each for Debbie and I, but the staple is too long and the spinners won't touch it. So second best is to use the skin by curing it into a rug, something that's surprisingly easy to do. It took a little over a week and involved just three processes. Initially i heavily salted the skin for three days, then i got an old bath and made a solution of 9 gallons of water, 9 pint glasses full of salt, and 18oz of Oxalic acid (dirt cheep on the Internet - it's actually a wood preserver), and sunk the skin for a further three days. Then i rinsed it, brought it up to the house and washed and washed it over and over again in the bath until the water ran clean. There you have it, a home tanned sheepskin rug!
You see the log burner with the sheepskin rug in front of it? Well that's our only source of heating in the home, and for 10 months of the year it's burning from dawn until late into the night, and that takes a lot of wood! As you know, wood needs time to season and dry-out before you can burn it, so I've been frantically coppicing trees so they can lay for a month or so before logging into small sections and stored in a barn for next winter. I only have until the middle of March to get the trees down, or there's going to be some very chilly evenings coming up! I'm nearly there now.

Finally the publishers have sent me a handful of pre-release copies of my book. Fantastic feeling to actually hold one in my hand, a real iconic moment in my life. Sadly (for me) the next day i sent them all out to magazines and newspapers and important people for reviews. But that moment of opening the box and picking up a book with my name on the cover will live with me and keep me warm and smiling for the rest of my life. The Self Sufficiency Bible will be on general release from 1st April, and will be on the shelves of Waterstones, WHSmiths, Tesco's and loads of places online including Amazon.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Video of piglets just a few hours old

From the sad end of one pig's life yesterday, to the wonderful begining of another's today. Mother Nature in full, tidy, swing...

Monday, 1 March 2010

Thinking of Kylie

Okay, in less time than it takes for a TV commercial break, there’s what’s happened… The publishers have employed a PR firm to take over the promotion of the book (I checked out their website and they seem razor sharp). Two pregnant sows, Pippa and Maddy have been moved into their maternity units (two nice warm stables with lots of straw). I’ve started curing a whole sheepskin, the largest project like this that I have undertaken, and when it’s done I plan on making Debbie and I a pair of moccasin slippers each from it. Finally I have got one of my own, having begged and borrowed a sowing machine from my Mother-in-law (she had one spare), so I can start making stuff – quilted blankets, fleece rugs for the horses, throws for the sofa, basic curtains for the bedroom, and some simple clothes. But saddest of all, I went down last night to feed the animals, and found Kylie dead.
Kylie was my first pig - that's her in the picture. She was about as close as a farm animal could get to a pet. She was my friend. I found her in her pig ark, just laying quietly. There was no sign of stress, or pain, or panic. No straw bunched up around her. It just looked like she went to sleep, and never woke up. I guess, if you’ve got to go… and all that. That’s not how I feel, but you know what I mean.

I did start logging in the week. Just a couple of hours chopping trees down ready to lay for next year’s firewood. It’s probably a man thing, but there’s something incredibly satisfying about chopping down a tree. I’ve got ten acres of woods, so I’m not taking them all by any stretch of the imagination, just setting myself an area that needs coppicing and chopping the trees down within that. Most of it will go for firewood, but I have half an idea to make a table out of some of it. I really like the idea of doing the whole thing myself, from chopping down the tree right the way through to the finished, polished table. Nothing big, just something like a coffee table. I’ll sketch out a couple of ideas and see how it looks.
Stinging nettles should be up this month, and stinging nettle soup will be back on the menu again! It’s incredibly good for you, and a few hundred years ago it would have been a staple in this country, but the appeal does seem to have died out somewhat – probably the thought of putting a spoonful of nettles into your mouth that did it, but honestly, the cooking process takes out any sense of the sting, and it’s just like spinach, only with more of an iron taste. As soon as they’re up, I’ll blog about making the first bowl of the year and put it up along with photographs and the recipe.
I do love this time of year. Late winter, early spring is about the most creative in the self sufficient year. It’s not that there’s so much to do, it feels much more like there so much you can do. It’s a time of potential, and ideas, when anything seems possible. Whatever we need, whatever we want to make our life pleasant and comfortable, surrounded by things that are unique and handmade at home, things that make us smile, we make. It’s nice – life is good.
And life is sad. Rest in peace Kylie. I love you and I miss you.