Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Did you know...

Did you know that mussels can live for 50 years?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Birthday weekend

Nick took me away to the country for a birthday weekend treat. I was all prepared for a nice quiet time, and we set off to Pitlochry on Friday afternoon. The hotel, Craigatin House, was lovely and Nick had booked us the suite, complete with champagne and chocolates.

After a walk around Pitlochry we went up to the Moulin Inn, and settled down for some gins and a game of cards. Halfway through a round of Cribbage I noticed a group of people who seemed to be standing in a row looking at me. I looked up and thought to myself 'Hmm, that girl looks just like Jane. And that bloke looks like Phil. Hang on - it IS jane. and just a cotton-picking second - it IS phil. And Chris and Liv!!! and TIM!!!!!!'

Well, would you credit it? All my friends standing in a row in the middle of a pub in Pitlochry! It took ages to sink in, and then I just leapt up and started hugging everyone. It was the best birthday surprise I think I have ever had!

Everyone was booked into the same hotel and some serious subterfuge had been going on for weeks. Even down to the carefully worded comments on this blog (see previous post) Oooo the devious lot! Far too good at lying I'll tell you!

We had a rowdy evening in the pub and then went back to the hotel for champagne and more catching up. As the drinking continued, the decibel level grew and finally at 1.30am we received a bang on the ceiling from the room below. Sniggering like naughty students we went off the bed.

The next day we took a hangover busting walk up to the Black Spout. There was some confusion about what exactly the black spout was, and whether it was called black spout or black sprout, but we walked up there anyway. It turns out to be an amazing waterfall which, with all the snow we've had recently, was thundering down the ravine.

Jane and Phil at Black Spout

We then carried on to the Edradour distillery for a tour. This is the smallest distillery in Scotland and they make all the whiskey by hand in the traditional way. We had a wee dram and set off back into Pitlochry. That night we had a fantastic meal at the Fern Cottage restaurant.
nick, Chris, tim and phil

On Sunday we had breakfast with Ronnie Corbet (no, really we did) and then Jane and Phil had to set off for Sheffield. The others came back in the car with us, stopping off at the Scottish National Poultry Show. I think that was quite possibly the best £2 I have ever spent. We were in a hall full of squawking and crowing chickens of every colour, shape and size you could imagine, and many shapes and sizes you couldn't imagine unless you saw them with your own eyes. We guffawed with laughter.

Then it was home for the afternoon in Linlithgow. A walk around the Loch, lunch in the deli and then a mammoth Wii session ensued. Tea in Bar Leo and to bed.

This morning the hens had obligingly provided exactly 5 eggs, so we all had one each for brekkie before our guests headed back home. I had wondered why Nick was so interested in cleaning the house before we went away on Friday!

Anyway, I want to sincerely thank Jane and Phil, Chris and Liv and Tim for coming all that way, and making my birthday such a special and memorable occasion, and thanks to Nick for organising it all and not giving the game away even slightly! You are the best friends anyone could ever wish to have x Oooo I feel all fuzzy...

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Tomorrow I hit a milestone. I will be 30.

Previously I rather scoffed at people bemoaning the passing years. What possible difference does turning 30 make, I thought. After all, you are only 1 day older than you were the day before.

Well, on the last day of my 20's I can offially confirm that I am feeling both sad and optomistic. If life begines at 40 then I can offically waste another 10 years before starting to get maudlin. However, here is my To Do list for the next decade:

Get a pension. (The sooner the better actually)
Regularly service the car.
Have 2 children.
Loose 2 stone
Go to Japan
Use a diary instead of trying to remember all my appointments.
Always have a supply of spare lightbulbs and stamps
Design my own house
Moisturise my skin on a regular basis, not just when it is falling off.
Be more energy efficient.
Go to the dentist every 6 months.
Be creative

and most of all - Enjoy life

After all, it's the only one I've got, and it's pretty good. Happy birthday me.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Quilt gallery

I said before Christmas I would post some images of the quilts I made for my family. So here you are:
This stripey one was made for Grace. It is about 1.8m x 1.2m. It was constructed using random strip piecing with lots of inserted horizontal strips. I really enjoyed 'composing' this piece, and took great pains in the position and colour grading of every single strip. It took me ages to collect all the fabric for this, and even longer to hang up all the strips and shuffle them about until they looked perfect. It has cotton/polyester wadding and a plain dark blue cotton backing.
This quilt was a more tradition pattern using the pinks and purples that Eleanor loves. She had brought me some curtain samples books which I used to make this quilt and gave them back to her! Again it was machine pieced and quilted. Here is a detail in which you can see the 3-dimensional-ness of the quilt:
This next one is my favourite so far and I made it for Nick's Mum, Margaretha. She is Norwegian and has a lovely cottage in the woods by a fjord in Norway. This quilt was based on the colours and atmosphere in that beautiful place. There are lots of silver birch trees, spruce trees, granite rocks and deep blue water. This quilt is a bit smaller, a lap quilt of about 1.3 x 1m.

This was my first attempt at curved piecing. To do this accurately I cut through several layers of fabric at once to ensure that each piece has exactly the same curve, ensuring the resulting quilt lies totally flat at the end. I didn't want the quilting pattern to detract from the coloured blocks so the quilting lines follow the white grid strips, forming a simple pattern of rectangles on the reverse.
I also made a huge double bed sized quilt for my parents, but I forgot to take a photo before I gave it to them at Christmas.
I am also half way through another very contemporary quilt for our own bed, again with curved pieced blocks in creams, yellows, beiges and browns. Will keep you posted on my progress.

Egg debate

It seems a little debate has started: Eggs from home reared hens versus shop bought eggs. (See comments from last post)

Economics v welfare.

Chris makes the point that our hens would have to lay 700 eggs each to reach the shop bought price of 25p per egg.

First of all you have to ask - is 25p a fair price to pay for an egg? Producing an egg at 25p means an egg produced under intensive conditions. Even so called 'free range' eggs are produced in conditions that would make most people feel slight uncomfortable. The EU law states that for a hen to be free range there can be no more that 9 hens per sq. metre, and it must have access to the outside. Just imagine a sq. meter on the floor, and then squash 9 chickens into that space. Not looking so free range now?

(Don't get me wrong - free range is infinitely better than battery produced eggs, which cost about 15p each in my local spar shop. If you can't keep your own hens then PLEASE buy free range eggs. A battery hens spends her whole life in a cage the size of an A4 piece of paper, can never turn around, and overcomes boredom by pecking out the feathers of her neighbour.)


Our Leghorn and Cream Legbar are reputed to lay 300 eggs in the first year, then steadily declining over the next 5-6 years. It is therefore conceivable that Omelet and Scramble could lay 700 eggs each over their (very happy) lifetime. Margo is a Cuckoo Maran and they produce less eggs, probably about 260 in the first year.

Food miles.

Another current hot topic. The food metres on a Simons egg is 3.5m Oh so environmentally friendly.


25p an egg from a shop may seem like a bargain considering the convenience of it all, but what price would you lay for the MOST DELICIOUS egg ever to pass your lips? I would pay more, and evidently I do! However, once you have tasted had a poached egg, so fresh when collected it was still warm from the arse of your favourite hen, you will never look back, and that's a promise!

Useful by-products.

Before chicken keeping I bought large quantities of horse manure for my veg patch at quite a large expense. Now I have my own inexhaustible supply of free manure I'm hoping for some bumper veg this summer.


Many people keep pets for the fun of it, and having chickens is no exception. They are hilarious to watch, and having them ranging about is like having your own personal pantomime in the back garden.


Economically speaking, it will take years for our initial outlay to begin to look like a wise investment. We will be paying much more for our eggs than we would have if we bought them from Tescos.

BUT we know where they came from. We know what the hens have been eating. We know the chickens are healthy, with perfect glossy feathers and brights eyes, and are free from antibiotics and hormones. We know they have tons of space and interesting things to do in the day to prevent feather pecking and bullying. We know they are not overcrowded, stressed or over heated. We know that when they reach the end of their most productive time of life (their first year) they will not be slaughtered and burned, but will be able to live out their days in peace and quiet in our back garden. We know that by reducing the market in intensively farmed eggs we are saving more hens from a sad life.

Because of all these things I would happily pay.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

egg tally

So far we have had 4 eggs in total. 2 from Omelet and 2 from Scramble. I had Scramble's second egg for my breakfast this morning.

This may sound a bit odd but opening the lid of the nest box and finding an egg gives me utter, utter joy. A simple, uncomplicated pleasure. My message to anyone with a back garden - get 2 or 3 hens. The start up cost can be minimal if you are prepared to build your own coop, the ongoing food cost is about 3p per bird per day, and they take about 10 mins a week to clean out. It's a small price to pay for pure delight and a steady supply of healthy free range eggs.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

first egg tasting

We couldn't resist the lure of boiled eggs with buttery soldiers. After 3 minutes in the pan we put the little gems into our egg cups. They disappeared into the bottom. We packed out the egg cups with kitchen roll, and ta daaaaa - our first eggs were ready to eat!

The yolks were the most fantastic colour - almost too yellow to be real. The yolks were enormous compared to the white and the flavour.......mmmmm. As Scramble is Nick's favourite hen he had the white egg and I had Omelet's blue offering.

This morning there was another blue egg in the nest and then at about 10.30 I have a message from Nick (working from home) that another white egg had appeared. He has started his spread sheet and linked this to a coloured coded graph. Boys love their charts don't they!

Admit it - your mouth is watering.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


A small miracle has occurred. We have waited and waited for our hens to lay us an egg and then this morning......
I heard Nick frantically yelling to me to come outside, and there in the nest was the most perfect white egg. I rushed to get the camera and, as I was rearranging the straw, I found the blue one too! One egg from Scramble and one from Omelet.

Lots of praise was given to the layers, and Margo got plenty of encouragement to join her sisters in womanhood. Ooooh I felt like a proud mother - in fact I've almost got tears in my eyes just thinking about them.

I brought the eggs inside and washed them. They are quite a bit smaller than normal eggs, but as the hens get older the eggs will bet bigger. Nick and I are now trying to decide how we are going to cook the eggs tonight. We fancy boiling them for that pure unadulterated egg experience, but we also want to keep the shells, so we might blow the egg out and scramble it. It would be a rather small portion though.

As our three hens all lay different coloured eggs it will be easy to tell who is laying what. Nick is keen on starting a productivity spreadsheet to determine who is earning their keep. I am slightly concerned at what his actions might be to the poor hen who lags behind.
All his talk of spreadsheets got me wondering how much these 2 eggs cost us, so here is a little spreadsheet of my own:
£180 Chicken house
£150 Materials to build run
£30 wood chips in run
£20 food - pellets and corn (sacks will last a year)
£10 bedding - straw and wood shavings
£25 water and food dispenser
£10 chicken vitamins and louse stuff
£20 3 rare breed Chickens (bargain)
£445 Total
Therefore our 2 eggs cost a whopping £222.50 each. They had better be delicious! I will report back tomorrow with the tasting results.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Darts magic

My god - did you see the darts last night?

What a great sport that is. Match-fit athletes, every one of them. (Except Andy 'The Viking' Fordham who was hospitalised during the tournament because he got so fat he couldn't breathe properly)
The final was a thrilling match against the world number 1 and a retired Grandpa from Durham who qualified after practising darts in his kitchen in between hoovering and making the tea for his grand children. He was the the bottom seed and got to the final against odds of 150 to 1. He so nearly won as well. I enjoyed it immensely, and even Nick (who laughs at my love of the darts) was cheering along towards the end.

lollipop trouble

I got in trouble this morning. My name was written in the book. By the lollipop man.

Ron the lollipop man reigns supreme in the mornings in Linlithgow. He help the bairns (and everyone else) across the road with a smile and the unfailing comment 'on y'go hen'. Rain or shine he is there, with his large badge collection on his yellow hat, and he always cheers me up.

Anyway, this morning, I was a bit late and attempted to nip across the road without waiting for him to help me with his lollipop. He wrote me in his book for not following the green-cross code. I was frankly ashamed of my behaviour and promised to do better tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

and while I'm at it...

I may as well tell you my other favourite egg based recipe, and although it's not very healthy it is yummy and simple.

Rachel's French toast.

On a dinner plate break an egg and mix it up a bit with a fork.
Add a slosh of milk and a grating of pepper. Mix a bit more.
Dunk in two slices of white bread until coated and all the eggy mixture has been soaked up.
In a frying pan gently heat up a good slug of olive oil. Some people like to use butter but I like olive oil. It's probably not correct but I don't care.
Fry very slowly on both sides until it's golden brown and starting to go crispy.
Serve with a dollop of tomato ketchup, or bacon and maple syrup.

We had alot of french toast in New York. It wasn't the same as mine - they use much thicker bread and don't cook it as much so it's softer. I like both types.

When I was young French toast was a special breakfast treat Mum made us before exams to keep our brains going. I attribute my academic success wholly to this wonder food.

The perfect poached egg

Chris has requested my tips on how to cook the perfect poached egg and I am happy to oblige.

In my opinion I am quite good at poaching eggs, and when done nicely, it is the purest egg experience you can get. There are numerous ways to do it but this is what I normally do and I never have any failures.

Boil up a pan of water.
Do not add salt. (eggs whites react weirdly to salt)
When briskly boiling get a spoon and stir the water round and round until you have created a fast spinning vortex.
Quickly break your egg into the middle of the whirl.
The water will swirl around, gather up the white and wrap it around the yolk. (If you are quick you can get 2 eggs in while the vortex is still spinning, but the second egg won’t be as perfectly formed as the first.)
Now, watch the pan carefully and as soon as the water comes back to a gentle boil turn off the heat. (If you start to boil it furiously again the egg might break.)
At this stage you might think it hasn’t worked because there will be lots of gross eggy froth on the surface of the water, but worry not my friends, the real gem is lurking beneath.
Now, put your bread in the toaster.
When the toast is done and buttered, the egg will be ready. That’s how I time it, and the yolk is always perfectly done. (Disclaimer, due to the natural variation in toaster speed I cannot be held responsible if your egg and toast are not ready simultaneously.)
Lift out the egg with a slotted spoon. Leave behind all the eggy froth.

Note: It is important to have a large enough spoon to remove the egg from the pan or again it will break. If the spoon is not slotted you must attempt to drain off all the water unless you like soggy toast.

As previously mentioned Nick bought me 2 egg poaching thingys for Christmas. These are basically egg sized metal half spheres with a metal hanger. You put the egg in the sphere and hang it on the side of the pan. The sphere ensures the egg stays in one piece.

We tried the poachers out over Christmas with mixed results. Unfortunately our posh cast iron saucepans don’t readily accept the little hangers, and it took a few gos to realise that the eggs cooked much better when you emerge the whole thing instead of trying to keep the top of the water level with the top of the poaching sphere. The other drawback was that the egg stuck to the metal (not non-stick) so I broke a couple of yolks trying to coax them out.

If you really struggle making poached eggs using my ‘vortex then off the heat’ method I would recommend these gadgets, but I have to admit they were a bit unnecessarily fiddly and were a bugger to clean out afterwards.

Happy Holidays

No, don't worry, I'm not about to give you a blow by blow account of my Christmas hols. However, here are the highlights...

Work Xmas party:
Meal at local restaurant. Started off nicely then degenerated into a debauched conversation with the bosses wife about dental dams. Frankly I was horrified to learn they teach about these to 10 year olds in schools. I'm not going to go into it here but any Google search will fill you in on the details.

Family Christmas:
We had my parents, little sister and Mother-in-law for 3 days over Xmas. It was lovely and very relaxed with far too much food. Santa was very generous, bringing me lots of egg based products, including a stylish egg timer, an egg poaching device and a gadget that perforates bread into perfect soldiers.

New Year in New York.
Needless to say we had an amazing time and squeezed in an enormous amount of activities. We saw a show (Avenue Q), went up the empire state building, looked at dinosaurs in the natural history museum, went round the Guggenheim, the Museum of modern art, went ice skating in the park, saw the new Rocky film, went to a gig, did a boat ride round Manhattan, ate in lots of nice restaurants and diners, did tons of shopping, walking, and architecture appreciation. Then we came home and slept for a day. It was marvellous.

Classic quotes overheard in New York:

Whilst in midtown Manhattan. (The perfect logical grid with consecutively numbered streets and avenues. Honestly, it's impossible to get lost.)

Woman: (looking at a map) This map is wrong! The street numbers are going in the wrong direction.

Whilst on the 'Circle line' boat trip that circumnavigates Manhattan.

girl: 'look Mom, there's the Empire State building again.'
Mom: 'No it's not, we passed that an hour ago'
Girl: 'Well it looks like it to me'
Other daughter: It is Mom. We have gone round the island and now we are on the other side.'
Mom: Have we?
Daughter: 'That's why it's called the circle line. We are going in a circle.
Mom: 'Are we? I don't get it.'

Whilst in The Natural History Museum:

Woman: Hey! (looking at a time line showing the history of the dinosaurs in relation to human occupation of the earth) see here... (explaining to her husband) These numbers here show how many millions of years ago the dinosaurs were alive. Or is it thousands of years?... oh well, it doesn't make any difference...
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