Family moments – Grace’s 10th birthday plus veg plot and seed updates

Grace, our daughter, will be 10 this week.  As her birthday falls on a Tuesday we offered to throw a birthday party for her on Sunday.  She invited a couple of her friends and family joined us to celebrate.
Having your birthday right after Christmas means usually you have everything you want, however there’s always something you can buy a 10 year old girl isn’t there?  She will open her gifts from us on the actual day.  She received some lovely gifts that were very thoughtful from friends and family.
So with a collection of people coming over, all with different tastes and likes, I set about thinking what I could offer food wise that was a) delicious and b) not going to break the bank.  Also I was bearing in mind that anything that wasn’t used, would be used for packed lunches the coming week.
I decided to put the following together:
Roast pork and stuffing sandwiches.
Roasties and gravy.
Pulled pork, flat bread and salad
Veg soup with wholemeal bread
Chicken korma with rice, naan, mango chutney and mint yoghurt.

I didn’t photo the hot food but it was in the 3 slow cookers on the bench behind me.

I also had on display my good friends platter that she made for the day as she’s starting a new business and wanted honest feedback on the products.  They have a Facebook page if you would care to take a look and support small UK businesses.  Their signature dipping oil was delicious so I made a bread to use as to dip.  I highly recommend it!

I made a cake for Grace:
She had a lovely time and looked very grown up.
Finally but by no means least, I have a recipe for Louise’s chocolate brownies which I am making tonight for Grace’s after school surprise tomorrow and may have to sample a few myself 🙂
What I have learnt from this weekend is that I love putting on a spread for people and making my family happy.  I’ve also learnt that no matter how well you plan, things won’t always go to plan.  No matter how well I know how to make this and that, I still need it all written down to the letter.  I got in a bit of a fluster when I realised I hadn’t put the slow cooker pork on the day before ready to heat up separately on the Sunday.  I still managed to get it done thanks to Caroline’s husband!  Otherwise, most things went ok, though I think I would like to work out what I can cook in advance, so that next time I can do more the day before.
In the veg garden this weekend:
I’ve decided to tackle one thing at a time and see it through from start to finish.  Sounds obvious but sometimes I have so many things to do that I flit between them and don’t feel like I have completed anything!  If I’m going to supply my family with all year round food, then I need to be organised and on the ball. 
Therefore after riding out on Saturday and getting the animals seen to, I set about in the veg plot.  It was a delightful day and when I looked up I saw blue sky and thought to myself, this is what it’s all about. 
I decided to work on the bed which has fruit in it.  We have 3 currants, 3 rhubarbs, 2 (3?) gooseberries, strawberries and some unruly but highly productive raspberries in here.  Now I’d like to train the raspberries to just grow along their intended path which you can see marked out with rope.  They don’t, they try to take over everyone elses patch.  The strawberries don’t like being contained either.
Firstly I put wood ash around the currant bushes. 
Then I used my new (Christmas gift) rotavator to turn over everywhere else as this is the bed I’d put the paper on to last year to suppress all of the weeds.  I know they will come back this year so I needed to prevent that.
I had invested in some membrane for another project but dashed off to get it.  I’d had an idea.
I covered the soil with more rotted muck (it really was in a sorry state when we moved in).
Then I used the membrane to cover the 2m width where the currant bushes are, leaving just enough space at the side for the rhubarb – perfect.
I’m really pleased with the end result.  In fact, I’m considering building up the edges and covering it with bark as the membrane can stay down.  I’m not sure about this yet.  It doesn’t matter too much for this year as long as the weeds don’t come through. 
Along with the blue skies we have snowdrops coming through.
This wheelbarrow was left by the previous owner and when the hens were out they liked to take dust baths in it, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the bulbs had survived!
Seeds update
The Brandywine tomatoes that I re-sowed (31st Jan) after the first lot were too leggy (expected) popped up yesterday so a week to germinate.  They’re on the South windowsill now, I made sure I caught these in time.
I’m going to replant some of the other leggy ones, which I did last year successfully and hope for the same result.
I sowed Mint, Basil and Chives on Saturday (4th Jan) along with 3 broad beans (Jubille Hysor).
I’ve also got Spring onions sown and the leeks are starting to show.
The peas that I planted in the drain pipes?  Remember them, well their indoor counterpart are coming through already.  Impatient little things 🙂
None of my peppers or chillis are through but I’ll wait – the aubergines too over 2 weeks, so there’s time. 
Next up is early carrots and more broad beans – can you believe I ran out? If anyone would like to seed swap some – I’d be happy to take a packet off you and send something over 🙂

December birthday and raspberry vodka

Sounds like a good combination right 🙂

It was my birthday yesterday and also my long day at work, however it was great fun.  I heard from people I’ve not spoken to for a while, saw my family, was lucky to receive gifts and got to taste my raspberry vodka which we started off in summer.  Oh man, it was lovely.  I’ve been having a few drinks through December to celebrate and feel festive with friends when they visit etc and now I have this, we’re taking a bottle next door with us to celebrate Christmas Day Night with our lovely neighbours.  It’ll be the perfect end to the day when I get to chill after a hectic day no doubt.

So in true Tracy style, I was given a greenhouse heater and 2 huge propagators and a thermometer for min/max and current temperatures from Steven, along with some long socks, a bottle of Baileys and other items.  How lucky am I?

I also got a personalised notebook which I just love, that I am going to use to record all of next years info around eggs, veg seeds sown, grown and harvested (weights etc, thanks Dawn!).  My lovely parents got me a new coat to do my smallholding jobs in Winter, for which this weather is far too warm to wear it yet, so I am wanting a bit more winter weather please.  I got a Bake Off apron and £60 cash which has been spent on something for the smallholding that I will do another post on.
Hugely exciting too – the farmer has confirmed the litter of piglets which we’re getting ours from is due 2nd Feb so we will take them once they are ready.  In between now and then, I need to learn all about caring for them (already done a lot) and Steven is going to get their shelter/ark sorted.
Later in the year we are hoping to get goats too but that pending what Mother goat delivers in the Spring.  More on that once it’s firmed up.
Ooh and Christmas is still firmly underway, home made cards have been made and the kids put SO much effort in to them.  They were gratefully received which I was super happy about.  We didn’t manage to do all the cards as homemade, I didn’t realise how long they will take.  That’s ok though.
Did you know, apparently, Boxing Day is the time to sow onion seeds traditionally.  Don’t ask me who’s traditions or in what country, but that’s what I was told! 
Plans for the weekend?  I’m going to put some winter lettuce in my propagators this weekend.  We also need to get the Christmas meat sorted – a goose and duck from the smallholding will be dispatched this weekend.  They have had a wonderful life and this is what they were raised for.  We know what they have eaten and have been with them from cradle to grave.  Next year I am hoping for all home raised and grown produce as the main Christmas lunch.  There are a million and one other things on the list, which I’ll post as I get round to them,  In the mean time I leave you with how my work place was decorated for me! 
Where I work – a lovely lady always makes us feel special.

The big Christmas reveal (big if you are aged 9 and 6!) and a couple of pests

What was behind the door at 7pm last night? 
A quick excited hug before tentatively opening the door.  Expectant faces all round.

Someone had lit the Christmas (bay) tree lights…who was that?  It wasn’t you and it wasn’t me?
Oh, it’s so exciting.  What’s this?  A parcel in brown paper and tied with string.  It says Special Delivery.

Back in the warmth to look inside.
The excitement couldn’t be contained.
It was Neville the Elf!  He’s brought Nancy along with him, his Elf mate.
They even brought a gift to remember the first Christmas on the smallholding.  It’s a hessian bag with names on it.  One for Grace and one for Jack.
Time to sit back and relax, taking in the magic of Christmas.

Day 2 star:

 In smallholding news…..
 We have pests.  Rats and moles. 
The rats need to go.  Easier said than done, especially living next to water. 
The mole hills are going to be added to the vegetable beds.  As long as they stay at the orchard, we’re ok.  If they move to the field, that will cause problems.  Hooves and holes mean a vets bill when they get stuck in the mid gallop. 

A weekend away

So it’s Monday!
Steven and I spent Saturday lunch time until Sunday lunch time away from the smallholding.  This is the first time in ages that we’ve been away without the kids and from home.  We went to a murder mystery event with a group of friends and stopped over at the hotel.  We had a lovely time (though the murder mystery theme was rubbish) and came home feeling very relaxed, so it was worth it.

A friend who has her horse with us looked after all of the horses and my parents kindly stayed at mine to look after the kids and the smallholding animals.  Everything was all fine when we got home and we even managed to get some Christmas tree lights up on the big outside tree on Sunday.

We settled down late on Sunday night to find we were being watched with a face at the window.  Ste said it made him jump out of his skin!  As you will notice, there is a tree in this photo too, also decorated for Christmas.

We love celebrating through December, especially as it is our first one in the farmhouse.  So from December 1st, there will be a flurry of posts showing you what’s happening that day for us.  Not everyone celebrates Christmas, especially not as early as this, but we do :).  I’m not getting in to politics or frugal arguments.  It is what it is and I hope it makes you smile.