25 June 2016

Elderflower Season and the Taste of Summer

Summer really is here now. Okay, so it's mild British summer, but it has started! Over the past few weeks, I have encountered several tutorials on how to make your own elderflower, how to fry battered flowers, how to make this and that using elderflower... All I could think of was there aren't any elderflower bushes around!

But then... As I was walking home from town with my shopping bags, I smelled the sweetest smell there is. It took me about 15 seconds to locate the bush (which could not be seen but could be smelled) and in spite of the fact that it was right near the road, I decided that a little cup of fully leaded town centre finest will not kill me. I went home with three massive blossoms, stuck them upside down into a tiny jar with a lot of sugar and lemon juice and here it is!

A couple of days later I enjoyed two glasses of delicious homemade elderflower cordial.

My recipe for elderflower cordial (it's SO easy!):

  • A lot of washed flowers (just to remove the insects and the biggest dirt)
  • A lot of sugar (I use regular white caster sugar)
  • A lot of lemon juice (some people add citric acid but I find it works fine without it as well)

  • Leave stand for about a day, then remove the flowers and sieve the liquid to remove lemon pips and any fallen off flowers.
  • Fill bottles and store in fridge. When drinking, dilute with water to taste.

Cheers! (May contain traces of aphids)

Since I first wrote this, I have located another bush of elderflower near our place and made more cordial. Most of the flowers are gone now, but there are many berries developing, promising another interesting foraging opportunities for later in the year.

05 June 2016

Isle of Wight Adventure

It was shortly before October half term that we got an offer to stay in a little seaside apartment on the Isle of Wight owned by one of our family members. We eagerly accepter and, hoping for good weather, we embarked on our first Isle of Wight adventure. We took a ferry from Portsmouth to Ryde and from there took a three-mile walk along the beach with our backpacks, stopping for a warming cup of tea at Dell CafĂ© near Appley Tower as it was really really cold.

It remained cold, windy and overcast for most of our stay but I felt that it only reinforced the small seaside town atmosphere that Seaview has. Having grown up in a landlocked country and dreaming of the sea, I still find it absolutely fascinating that there are places like this, where people just casually lean their boats against the fence.. 

However, we were also lucky. On the day that we have planned another 2.3 miles long walk to St Helen's (this time without the backpacks), the weather has cleared and in spite of it being October, it felt like summer. We walked along and explored the Priory Bay, which is surrounded by Priory Woods owned by National Trust.

From the shade of the forest the water looked beautifully dark blue, with mysterious shades of trees dipping into the waves.

At St Helen's we had a look at the Old St Helen's Church on the Duver and had lunch at the seafront at Baywatch on the Beach where I tried a crab for the first time.

My evenings were filed with beachcombing back in Seaview, getting really cold but enjoying the solitude and the wonderful views. As the sun set, the blue gave way to reddish and orange and at low tide the coast looked like some kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland. I could have walked in the wet sand and peek into rock pools until it was too dark to see, when I would have to pace back to the cottage and get in half frozen but insanely happy, with a soaked canvas bag full of cuttlefish bones and shells.

One of the most interesting beach finds has been this piece of crab exoskeleton that I found in St Helen's. Completely dry, bleached by the sun, with one leg still attached. It was so thin and fragile and breakable that I left it there for someone else to find and take home.

What I took, however, were quite large quantities of cuttlefish bones, as my snails just love the ones I brought from Devon in summer. They were hiding in all sorts of places and on an almost shell-less beach, hunting for cuttlefish bones was my main form of entertainment.

It was also entertaining for my fiancé as he saw me get soaked by an unexpectedly big wave about two seconds after I took this picture.

Sea life aside, one of the most amazing creatures we saw was the red squirrel. They seemed to be quite abundant on the island. Every time I see one, I cannot believe how tiny they are compared to the North American grey squirrels that jump around our garden. No wonder they didn't stand a chance in competition against them.

I love these holidays where we just relax; walk, talk, cook, eat and read books. They bring a bit of calm into our busy lives. I hope we can return to the island soon for some more adventures.

03 June 2016

Our Day at Surrey County Show

Bank holiday Monday has been the day when Stoke Park in Guildford hosted the Surrey County Show. The only one I have been to so far was Devon County Show back in 2005 and I was totally thrilled, so I was really excited to go to a similar event in a different county.

The venue itself was quite well organised and full of tents, shops, rings and arenas. One of the first ones I wandered into was the pygmy goat tent. Being there really reminded me of working with goats at the petting zoo. The smell of hay and straw, the intelligent looks of the goats as they quietly munch on their hay and the overall calm atmosphere really made me feel like being on a farm. 

Apart from the cheese that was on site for tasting, there were also angora goats from "New Forest Mohair", fleece of which is dyed spun into lovely yarns. I adored their cute little display of all stages of the yarn making process and of course the real goat and her cute kid. There were several weaving stands at the show as well and many lady weavers were very nice and talkative. For example, the Women's Institute weavers have explained the difference between 1 ply and 2 ply wool and how they are made.

My next trip was to the poultry tent. I do like the idea of having a little flock of hens one day, just like my family had at our cottage when I was little, so seeing all the varied breeds of chickens just really got me daydreaming.

Even more thrilling was the egg competition! I actually got to see some real judging - a thing that I have only seen on TV until now. The variety of eggs was stunning: white, brown, blue, green and sort of a cappuccino-coloured. All were carefully examined by judges in white cloaks, then cracked and examined again until they were sure which one deserves the prize the most. I would really like to know the judging criteria for eggs.

Overall, in spite of the cold, wind and constant threat of rain it was a very successful day. There was hog roast, cups of hot tea and coffee that warmed us up and many show events that kept us busy until it was time to go home.

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