Monday, 19 December 2016

200th blog post

Finding this message on the freezer door was a lovely surprise earlier this week, I decided that the best way to reply was to bake some mince pies.

I think Mr J enjoyed my response to his message.

It's a delight to find that I've had enough to write about to fill the 199 blog posts before this one. Our first year or so on the smallholding has been a busy one and despite a few hiccoughs along the way, it's been an incredibly exciting and fulfilling time.

I've been engrossed in a couple of projects this week, one I will write about when it's completed and the other has been to prepare some of the birds for Christmas. We are giving three ducks as gifts, one each to my sister, our neighbours and a friend who has been very helpful throughout the year.

Having not processed a duck before I felt a little daunted by the task. We had selected which ducks were staying with us for breeding next year (two of the last five ducklings hatched, one of the first hatched and Mrs Warne), this means that there five birds for the table.  I started with one of the youngest drakes and was pleased with how calmly and peacefully the process of dispatch was completed. Plucking it was also straightforward, but I was a little stumped by the cleaning process. I am now comfortable with how to clean a chicken and although neither quick nor perfect, I am reasonably competent, but a duck is a slightly different shape and it took me a while to work out what I needed to do.

As they say 'practice makes perfect' and I am sure that with each one I will become more familiar with the process and hopefully, over time, less squeamish. This is how it looked when it was almost ready for the oven, I spent a little time with some tweezers removing a few more of the feathers. It weighed 4lbs 6ozs which I thought was a pretty good weight. Once it was cooked, we ate our first home raised duck dinner. 

It was absolutely delicious. All that rich duck fat didn't go to waste, I used some of it to cook roast potatoes and the next evening roasted parsnips in it. So far we have had two meals from the duck and there is enough meat left on it for at least one more meal. My plan is to remove all of the meat and freeze it, so that I can make a poultry pie at a later date.

Sadly, I think it is time to dispatch Frederick, he has become almost too heavy for his legs and has started limping, well not limping exactly, but he's definitely struggling and finding it hard to put his full weight on one leg. The ducks are Aylesburys and are heavy birds and he is commercial Aylesbury, bred to become large and for the table. He's about sixteen months old, is the father of a couple of offspring (one of which we are keeping for our breeding flock) and has found it increasingly difficult to do his job of treading the girls and today I have noticed that one of his offspring now seems to have taken over the role as alpha male.
 A few weeks ago I shared a photograph of a pile of logs covered in frost and twinkling in the late autumn sunshine. Yesterday I noticed that this log had become a deep chestnut colour in the damp of the foggy days that have been with us for well over a week now. I love the way the two sets of rings (from where the tree branched) are so clear and also the way the ivy that grew around the tree is a completely different colour.

The cats seems to have settled in quite well, as I type Monty is curled up on the sofa with me, lying across my feet, keeping them warm. Tabitha is asleep on the chair that she has adopted as hers and occasionally I've noticed that she falls asleep mid-wash. They are still very nervous, they run and hide at bumps or noises in the house, but I am sure with time they will become more secure in their new home and ignore noises around them. They have only been here for a week and so we haven't let them outside the house to explore the garden yet. I think we will wait until after the grandchildren have been to visit next week (as I don't want them running off and not be able to find their way home) and then I will go out with them for the first couple of times as they get to know their wider surroundings.
 This evening we had a roast chicken for supper, Mr J has a very active job and so has enormous meals (and he's still not putting on weight!) and then, after supper, I cooked some fudge. My father used to make fudge when we were children and as we grew up and left home, he still made a batch of fudge for each of us every Christmas. 

Since he passed away in 2006 I have continued that tradition and made some fudge for my family and for my sister's family. My brothers both live on the other side of the Atlantic, so sadly they don't get any. If I remember I will make some for my younger brother when he visits us in the spring.
One of my favourite things about making fudge is that I get to have the sticky, gooey fudge balls that are made from what's left in the pan after I've poured the fudge mixture into a tray to set. 

I've also made some brandy butter and also some bread sauce for my sister. Mum used to make them for us each year, but now I make them for her. She is perfectly capable of making them herself, but I like being able to give her something for her Christmas lunch table. She often makes a smoked trout pate for me, from trout caught by my brother-in-law that they have smoked at home. We don't exchange gifts as such, so it is nice to be able to give her a little something.

The rest of this week will be taken up with the other project that we're tackling and some more preparation for Christmas. We will be having our usual very low key Christmas day, Mr J is working up to and including Christmas Eve and will no doubt be tired the next day, the animals will still need attending to and I'm also getting very tired. My daughter and grandchildren will be visiting on the 27th, so we will have a celebratory meal then. But tonight, I am happy to be celebrating that I have reached the milestone of 200 blog posts.
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