Archives for the month of: January, 2014
Before - green tiles, dodgy lino, unsafe shower.

Before – green tiles, dodgy lino, unsafe shower.

Major milestone today – we have finally finished one room. It’s the smallest room in the house but it did have to be gutted and started from scratch so it’s unbridled excitement in the Moodie household. I refer, of course, to the downstairs shower room – a project begun back in October when the old unsafe shower and fittings were ripped out and the walls plasterboarded and tiled.

A blank canvas...sort of

A blank canvas…sort of

wpid-IMAG0241.jpg

It’s a bit tricky redoing a bathroom in an old house, treading a line between twee repro items, clinical and slightly jarring contemporary fittings and expensive and awkward to install salvaged items. We wanted to have our cake and eat it with the convenience of a simple walk-in shower (complete with recycled plastic shower tray), traditional style loo and sink, and stone and slate tiles to add texture and reflect the outside landscape. We also had a limited choice of showers due to the off-grid water supply and the need for an electric shower. Our new bathroom fittings are all from Victoria Plumb, with the exception of the heated towel rail which is from Geyser. The slate floor tiles are from Cosmo Ceramics and cost us less than fifty quid and the wall tiles by Al Murad.

shower after

Stage two was to get the lighting and extractor fan fitted and the walls and ceiling plastered which was done before Christmas. Leaving a couple of weeks to let the plaster dry out properly, we then painted. We started with a miscoat of watered down white emulsion, followed by another coat of full-strength white emulsion. Then came the top coat. Walls are in Farrow and Ball’s Ammonite estate eggshell and the ceiling and door woodwork in a brilliant white eggshell we had leftover from old DIY jobs.

This week brought the finishing touches – attaching a mirror made from an old wardrobe door mirror left in the back hall when we moved in which I customized with driftwood (how-to post later) and shelves made using old cistern brackets from the upstairs bathroom which I stripped and cleaned but left with distressed paintwork. The shelf was made from pieces of wood salvaged from other projects in the house which we sanded and treated with linseed oil.

shelf and mirror

We love it and I now have a room to hide in when the endless DIY gets too much!

Advertisements
Bottles before

Bottles before

Making a lot of produce means we need to reuse jars and bottles whenever possible, the only problem is stubborn sticky labels that just won’t budge. I thought of investing in a gunk remover but they are expensive and made from goodness knows what. So I decided to make my own.

Mixing

Mixing

I combined equal quantities of bicarbonate of soda and coconut oil (2 tsps. of each) and mixed them to form a gritty paste. I then spread the paste on the labels and left it to work. Five minutes later I scrubbed the bottles in warm, soapy water and bob’s your uncle – no more sticky mess.

I jarred up the remainder in one of the now-gleaming bottles for use another time. Extra bonus – it left my hand super soft and clean.

goop

011
Sunshine and showers today but in one of the lulls I took the chance to take more pictures of our gorgeous snow drops.

bank drifts

013

016

It’s a real luxury to have so many of these dainty beauties you can give in to the urge to pick some. Not known for lasting long as a cut flower, they have the most subtle fresh scent, so I placed a tiny glassful by the sink to admire them.

018

earths_crust

Had a great time on Sunday on an artisan bread baking course at the fabulous Earth’s Crust Bakery in Laurieston. Only a 20-minute drive from home, I think I may have written in a previous post about their delicious and highly-addictive spelt Galloway loaf. The course was a gift from my sisters-in-law Ally and Alex.

There were four other eager bakers on the course which took place in Tom’s converted garage-cum-bakehouse. The conversion work was carried out partly by Phil, the owner of the Hebridean sheep currently residing in our field. In fact, before heading off to the course we had first to check and feed the sheep as Jo and Phil were away.

We started the day by making a sourdough dough and being taught kneading techniques. Top tip – knead less, don’t add flour and let the dough rest more to get it doing the work for you. While the dough rested we prepared a focaccia dough Tom had made earlier. The technique for this is similar to that used for making puff pastry, repeatedly folding the dough in thirds before adding olive oil. The focaccia, once cooked, became part of our lunch, along with several breads and Paulina’s rich tomato and bean soup.

But before lunch there was tea, coffee and delicious Dundee cake and a lesson in shaping a tinned loaf (a seeded style of bread) for proving. Fortified by lunch, we then had a go at making the seeded loaf dough and turned out and slashed the tops of sourdough loaves which had proved in traditional bannetons. We used a lame for slashing the top of the loaf – I was a bit heavy handed with mine but the bread seemed to take it. Then our loaves were baked in a very hot oven, liberally sprayed with water from a mister to stop the crust forming too quickly.

I left with lots of tips and tricks, a sourdough starter, two delicious loaves and a banneton of my own plus more baking enthusiasm and the exciting news that there will be a farmers’ market starting in Kirkcudbright in March and Earth’s Crust will be having a stall. I think I’ll have to start making space in the freezer…

037

Now the house is in a slightly more ordered state and spring is creeping around the corner, our thoughts are turning more to the land. Having planted the orchard at the weekend, Matt today registered it with the new National Orchard Inventory and has also been inspired to book a place on a grafting course taking place locally in March. We’re hoping to take cuttings of the established but struggling apple trees in the garden and be shown how to graft them to create new trees to plant.

We’ve also been in touch with The Woodland Trust to get their help to create a woodland in the field. We’ve had a phone conversation and provided them with a site map and an outline of what we hope to achieve. The next step will probably be a site visit to discuss our options. If it goes well we’ll come up with a planting plan and the Trust will provide all the trees, stakes and protectors we need, shouldering 60% of the cost – we just have to plant them.

We finished this flurry of administrative activity by finally registering as WWOOF hosts. This brilliant charity brings together those working land in an organic and sustainable way with those who fancy trying it out or sharing their skills while travelling. The basic premise is that we provide bed and board in exchange for a few hours’ labour a day working alongside us. This will be pretty essential for planting the woodland and there are all sorts of jobs we could do with a helping hand on – fixing some of the stone walls, gleaning and chopping wood, preparing the vegetable patch…

129

I returned from my New Year trip home with a bag of goodies inherited from my nana. These included her old Kenwood handheld mixer and several recipe books. Amongst them was this one, filled with recipes faithfully transcribed in her neat, tiny cursive script along with scraps of paper and cuttings, including one of her favourite recipes in my own handwriting as, in the early stages of dementia, she misplaced her old notebooks and could no longer rely on her baking muscle memory to conjure up cakes on a whim. Thankfully I had a copy of the parkin recipe to copy down and send to her.

132

A lot of the recipes reflect her personal tastes – she had a sweet tooth and a rationing-induced fondness for pineapple and coconut – but they also serve as a mini biography, snippets of life in grammes and ounces. Some of the recipes are singled out as “cheap” or for using up leftovers. There’s a lot of lard and dripping specified which modern tastes and pockets would substitute for butter and several recipes for serious stodge – bacon and sausage roly poly anyone? There are names of old friends and neighbour’s – Alice’s Christmas Cake, Mrs Robinson’s scones and Gareth’s biscuits (I’m guessing a particular favourite of my brother’s).

Several recipes appear more than once in different variations and some I can’t wait to try again. There’s a wonderful fruit slice she used to make with mint from their tiny, neat back garden in Wrose. There’s a Yorkshire Sweet Cake and a Yorkshire curd tart recipe, there’s even a page of Scottish recipes which I’ve no doubt she purloined from her friend Sheila in Spean Bridge. Time to put the new kitchen to work!

A Bloody Ploughman

A Bloody Ploughman

Most of the weekend has been dry and sunny, so in between painting the shower room we wanted to accomplish some outside jobs. Top of the list was planting the apple trees we received as a housewarming gift. Carefully selected for our climate, and sent to us as bare root stock, we’d had them soaking in a bucket in a sheltered spot until we had chance to plant them but first of all we had to choose the right spot.

The ideal location for an orchard is a south-west facing slope (for the sun) but out of the prevailing wind. As our prevailing wind, like most of the country, is south-westerly we had to slightly reconsider the site – north facing slopes are too shaded, eastern too prone to frost and the many dells and valleys on our land too prone to flooding. We also wanted a spot that was relatively accessible (our one sheltered southerly slope is very steep and would be difficult to harvest on and maintain).

We finally settled on a westerly slope, currently covered in bracken, old hawthorn and gorse branches and brambles next to the garden wall. Although quite steep there were signs of old paths here and the westerly position means the trees should get a reasonable amount of sun but they are also sheltered by another slope from the worst of the wind.

Our final consideration was avoiding the telephone and power lines that cross the field – the site we’ve chosen is close to these but large enough to avoid them.

And here are the five trees planted. The bracken has actually done us a favour, creating a really great, rich hummus to plant the trees in and breaking up some of the stones in the soil. it only took a couple of hours to plant the five trees (even with Kester on Matt’s back).

Apple varieties, from left to right - Bloody Ploughman, Galloway Pippin, Sunset, Tower of Glamis and Katy.

Apple varieties, from left to right – Bloody Ploughman, Galloway Pippin, Sunset, Tower of Glamis and Katy.

When new bracken growth appears in spring we’ll strim it off and keep doing so two or three times in the year. Theoretically this will leave the rhizomes exposed next winter and frost and snow will do the rest of the work for us in killing it off. We’ll edge the paths between the trees with some of the old branches we’ve gleaned as not all will be suitable for burning.

111

Our neighbour, Janet, had told us on Hogmanay that our garden and the copse in the field are strewn with spring bulbs – snowdrops and bluebells in particular. Although we first saw Plunton House last spring, it was shortly after the worst snowfall in the area’s recent history and few bulbs had survived the onslaught of spring snowdrifts.

116

So, on Saturday we got our first glimpse of this naturalised bounty. Where there was a pond a few weeks ago there are now masses of tiny white flowers growing on the slope. The more we looked, the more clumps we found – on the worn bare ground under the swing we tied to the old apple tree, on the grass verge, clustered for shelter around the base of rhododendrons. We’re trying to keep a note of where clumps look choked or threatened (like under the swing!) so we can move them to safer locations once they have finished flowering. We’ve also discovered early daffodils waiting their turn to blossom in the sun. Hard to believe on a cold and frosty day like today but Spring really is around the corner.

Before A Fall

We took a midwinter stroll at Mossyard Bay last week while aunties and grandparents were visiting. Unfortunately Arthur decided the best start to the New Year would be to fling himself in the Solway Firth so within ten minutes of getting there we had to change him out of the fetching woolly jumper and salopettes outfit featured above and into a hoody and t-shirt taken from Grandpa’s suitcase.

after

Mossyard is gorgeous though with great sweeps of sand, three islands to explore and a brilliant landscape labyrinth.

P1010538

P1010539

P1010550

The dingly dell after the storm

The dingly dell after the storm

The bad weather over the festive season created a new garden feature for us – a floodwater pond in the area of the garden we call the dingly dell. This also happens to be where I planted most of the bulbs for spring plants in the autumn. The water feature lasted a few days so fingers crossed the bulbs have survived the ordeal!