Life in the Countryside

Colour co-ordinating the outside

It sounds like the most ridiculous thing doesn’t it? Trying to colour coordinate the outside buildings/furniture. But that’s what we’ve been doing this week. We have a number of wooden bits outside that need painting with some kind of treatment to make sure that they last well. And, well, it just made sense to try and ensure they all matched. So we have three picnic benches which J had rescued from being thrown out last year and, even though they are in quite poor condition, with a lick of paint they should look quite presentable. We had started painting them a grey colour last year but it hasn’t really weathered that well so we’ve gone for a better quality paint/sealant in a colour called ‘white ash’. It has needed a few coats but should look good once finished.

We also have C’s playhouse in the small cottage garden which was painted a cream but we’ve gone for the same as the benches as the cream had a bit of a yellow look in comparison. We’ve also given a first coat to the log store with the same paint and we’ve started on the cabin too. Although I think it will take a while until that’s all completed as we’re going to try and rope in someone slightly better at painting than us to do all the cutting in around the windows. So for now these photos are just a sneak preview. 

Life in the Countryside

Hail in June

This week the weather has been totally rubbish. Now I normally wouldn’t mind rubbish weather in the week I go back to work. Especially if it saves me doing the watering. However, there have been really harsh winds and torrential downpours which aren’t great for my seedlings. And the other afternoon we had a brief spell of hail, pictured below. Thankfully it didn’t last too long but I’m not sure how well my crops are going to fair after such a drowning! Only time will tell I guess. 

Life in the Countryside

The cabin

So, I enjoy crafting. I have a sewing machine and am a fairly competent seamstress. I also knit and crochet. I would like (or rather need) to have somewhere to keep my machine set up and to store my many materials and tools. Whilst it would be lovely to build an extra spare bedroom for this, it would cost an absolute fortune to extend upstairs in our house and would be quite awkward to do. So the idea behind having a craft cabin was born. 

One of the jobs of our builder the past few weeks has been to prepare an area for the cabin ready for a concrete slab for the base, the base was poured early this week and on Thursday the construction of the cabin began. First the outer walls are assembled along with the roof and doors and windows, then the first fix of electrics next week, before the final inner layer of walls and then the final fix of electrical sockets to the walls. At least that’s what I think is happening. If I’m honest, although the craft cabin is entirely a place for me, I have very much left the design of it to J. I put forward my demands – maximum space possible, insulated enough to be able to work in it through the winter, a pent roof (purely because I like the look), a single door and windows from waist height only rather than full length (to maximise the potential wall space for storage and a desk). So armed with this information he did lots and lots of research and looked at a couple of big name companies. There were some problems with the offerings from the big companies; firstly they didn’t seem to be that flexible in what they offered, and secondly they were ludicrously expensive without a decent enough guarantee of being long lasting. Let me be clear they did say it would last 10-20 years depending on the company, but when questioned by J about a guarantee they seemed to be only for 2 years and said that over the lifetime of the building you would have to replace boards etc. For the prices they were trying to charge that wasn’t good enough for us. 

In the end a friend recommended a solution for us in the form of a local company who would custom build to our specifications for a fraction of the cost of the big companies. They were so much more flexible and offered as quick a turn around from ordering to delivery as the big names despite being custom designed and built. I’ll go into more details of the design once it has all been constructed but for now here are a couple of sneaky preview pictures.

Life in the Countryside

BBQ time

So on Bank Holiday Monday we held a barbecue for some of our NCT (National Childbirth Trust, basically antenatal class) friends. In total there were seven adults, five toddlers and two babies. We had a couple of last minute replies to our invite so our numbers had doubled in the last 24 hours, which was after we had already planned the menu and had the food shop delivered. Thankfully we were able to adapt what we had planned and with a few last minute buys we had a decent enough menu (I think). Today’s menu included: burgers and buns, sausages, new potatoes in herb butter, sweet potato and feta salad, garlic mushrooms, corn on the cob, jacket potatoes, chicken, pepper and red onion kebabs and halloumi, chorizo and cherry tomato kebabs. We then had Eton mess for desert and had some bananas and chocolate buttons ready to go on the grill (but we’d had to move inside before we got the chance to do them due to the weather). We have a Weber BBQ which we purchased a couple of years ago and it is a proper beast. It has three burners and is gas fired and conveniently all of the parts which would come into contact with fat etc are removable and dishwasher safe (my favourite feature). 

In the UK a barbecue is almost an essential part of a bank holiday weekend. I thought I would have a little look at the food we cooked and what went well and what could be improved (can you tell I’m a teacher?!?) We had cheated somewhat by pre-cooking the jacket potatoes in the oven, so they were just wrapped in foil and kept warm on a shelf above the grill. The jackets had been a late addition anyway when we thought we may not have enough new potatoes. The new potatoes were boiled inside and then simple drained and swirled with butter ready to serve. We also had a favourite of ours on the warming shelf – garlic mushrooms. You basically take some portobello mushrooms and put a generous teaspoonful of garlic butter in the centre then wrap in foil to almost form a kind of parcel with the join at the top to provide a natural handle. Whilst they do taste wonderful they tend to go a bit watery so I may have to look at doing something different with them next time. For the first time this weekend we tried doing corn on the cob. We’d purchased what the supermarket call ‘cobettes’ which are just half a while cob of corn. I’m not really a fan of sweet corn myself but I know that J and C both love it, so I fancied giving it a try for them. Having read loads of recipes and suggestions online I went for a slight adaptation of one of the simplest. I sprayed the cobs with fry light and then wrapped them in foil so they looked like a cracker. They then joined the mushrooms and the jacket potatoes on the shelf above the griddle. 

Meat-wise we kept it fairly simple. We did burgers and buns (with sliced cheese to go in them of course) and sausages (without buns as we always seem to get a massive wastage of bread products after barbecues). Then we had two types of kebabs; chicken breast, red onion and red pepper which J had been initially keen to do in the oven to avoid the whole risk of undercooked chicken but he actually managed to keep them fairly moist, and halloumi, chorizo and red pepper. The latter is a new addition to our repertoire and I mainly did because I love halloumi and knew it would taste great grilled. A quick google search came up with this combination suggestion and I have to say they were a bit hit with both adults and toddlers alike. The recipe I found had suggested a nice dressing to accompany them but I stayed clear of dressings today because of fussy eaters. We also had my go to salad – feta and sweet potato. Basically a centre of salad leaves (unfortunately not from the garden yet but watch this space) with one chopped yellow pepper, sun dried tomatoes, cubed feta and oven cooked sweet potato cubes topping this. It works really well with a dressing like a Caesar dressing or something similarly creamy. 

So the big successes were the kebabs (both types) and actually the meat in general. The Eton mess went down well as did the new potatoes and the corn on the cob. The failures were the mushrooms, which ended up a bit watery and the jacket potatoes weren’t touched much (although they froze really well afterwards for future dinners). I feel like some kind of coleslaw would have been a nice addition to bring a more creamy edge and maybe some dipping sauces in substitute of marinades? It was a pity that it rained and the group had to be moved indoors as we obviously didn’t get to cook the bananas but they can be done in the oven and still similar results. I still feel like our barbecue cuisine is fairly limited and would like to expand our menu to include some more unusual food. Though what these could be I have no idea. 

Life in the Countryside

Septic tank

So one of the joys of living in the countryside is that whilst we are connected to mains water we are not connected to mains sewage. So that means we have a septic tank sunken in the garden. It also has a soak away which basically means that solid waste stays in the bottom and liquid waste can soak away into the ground and provide nutrients to the soil. Pretty gross when you think about and one friend who I told about it actually wrinkled up her nose when I told her. So in theory you end up having the solid waste removed and the liquid waste is recycled. The septic tank was emptied was just before we moved in and then we had it emptied again just last week as we noticed it was rather full. We’ve had a really wet winter here and so I think the soak away has struggled to drain the liquid away fast enough.

One major advantage of a septic tank is that you don’t have to pay for mains sewage on your water bill, which for us has left us with a tiny monthly bill. Instead you only pay when you have your tank emptied. Which I guess depends on how much water you use. I do like my baths and with a toddler we tend to use the washing machine and dishwasher with great regularity. Whilst we were having the work done over the past few weeks we have had the cover to the tank replaced as it was broken and the last thing you want to have is an open septic tank in the garden. 

When we were having one of the trenches dug up this past week our builder encountered a tree root which had cracked the pipe leading into the tank and was starting to infiltrate it. We had a crab apple tree just inside the entrance to the property which we cut down in the autumn that appears to be the culprit. The plus side is we’ve at least discovered this problem and our fabulous builder was able to remove the section of cracked pipe and replace it. I dread to think of what could have happened if the pipe burst! 

Life in the Countryside · Professionals

The drive


Winter in the cottage was not an easy or pleasant time as I’ve already mentioned before. And one of the main problems was the drive. Because of the rain and the work we had done in the field back in the middle of winter, it basically turned into a massive muddy puddle. Which might be alright for Peppa Pig (can you tell I have a toddler) but is not fun if you want to not have said toddler constantly covered in mud, or if you ever want to wear anything other than wellies. We even had a couple of moments of nearly getting a car stuck on the drive which was less than ideal. The picture below was from when the work was being done and shows just how bad it got.

Not exactly what you expect a drive to look like is it? Certainly a long way from how the drive looked when we first moved in, in the height of summer (picture below). 

 

So, as part of the outside works currently being carried out we have arranged for a gravel drive to be laid. And yesterday on my way home from work I received the exciting call from J to say that I might have to park on the street as 40 tonnes of gravel had just been delivered to our drive. Now I’m not going to spoil it with pictures of the partially completed drive but here is a teaser of some gravel. Give it a couple of weeks and I should have finished pictures of the drive once its been edged properly. 

Life in the Countryside

Eggs

So it’s now been nearly a month that we’ve had the chickens and we only seem to have two out of the six girls producing eggs. They both reliably produce an egg every day (well six days out of seven at least) but we’re still waiting for that magic first coloured egg. We knew that Henry was younger and so would probably be six weeks behind the others in terms of starting to lay, but I would have thought that some of the others should have started by now. I don’t know if there’s something we’re doing wrong or something they don’t like or just that they are still a bit young but it’s really starting to bug me. Collecting the eggs is one of C and my favourite daily chores and I have to say that everyday I hold my breath in anticipation of a coloured egg. They all now seems fairly similar in terms of their size and plumage so what else could it be?