Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Not A Vegetarian? You Will Be After Watching This...

Animal Aid have produced a short, shocking video showing how animals are treated in the food chain. Something to think about before you tuck into a burger...

Link to the video here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Pasta With Sun Dried Tomatoes and Garlic

This delicious pasta dish is quick and simple to make – real ‘fast food’.

Serves: 2

14 sun dried tomatoes, snipped into pieces
6 oz dried pasta
3-4 tbsp olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, chopped

To serve
vegetarian parmesan-style cheese
black pepper, freshly ground

1. Pour boiling water over the sun dried tomatoes, and put them to one side while they re-hydrate.
2. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions, and place in a colander to drain.
3. In the empty pasta pan, heat the olive oil over a medium/high heat. Add the drained sun dried tomatoes and the garlic. Sauté until the garlic is starting to brown a little.
4. Add the drained pasta and turn gently in the hot oil to reheat and to coat with the oil, garlic and tomato pieces.
5. Serve on heated plates, with some vegetarian parmesan-style cheese and ground black pepper.

I normally serve this pasta with a mixed side salad topped with toasted nuts or seeds to add some more protein to the meal.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Henry on The Daily Puppy Website

Henry is 'Grown-Up Puppy of The Day' at
The Daily Puppy!

Our dear little dog has been picked to appear on this website.

If you like dogs, you will love this website: each day a different puppy and adult dog. It makes a great start to the day.

More about Henry in due course...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Mabel and Cleo: Keeping Chickens For The First Time

Why Bother?
We wanted to know exactly where our eggs came from and that the chickens were well cared for, free range and not killed as soon as they stopped laying.

Which Breed?
I did a bit of research about different chicken breeds on the Internet and came across Kintaline Farm’s article about Black Rock hens. They are a cross between superior quality Rhode Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks.

They are described as: -
· hardy – taking wind, rain, snow or heat in their stride
· disease resistant
· long-lived and good layers
· characterful, yet docile and simple to keep
· of attractive appearance, black feathered with a green shimmer and chestnut feathers at the neck

In fact, they sounded ideal for our elevated (and sometimes wet and windy) garden.

The Black Rocks are a hybrid exclusively bred and hatched by Mr Siddons of the Muirfield Hatchery in the East of Scotland. They are sold through a network of intermediaries and I was able to find someone who would deliver a single pair to our door. [Beware that some people offer similar looking chickens for sale as ‘Black Rocks’: it is best to check with Mr Siddons that they are genuine.]

Before ‘the girls’ arrived we spent a night poring over a ‘1,000 Baby Names’ book. Henrietta, Brunhilda, Gretel, Anna and Hilda were all considered and rejected. We plumped for Cleopatra and Clarissa.

We drew up plans for an arc, and then a run that would fit over our raised beds, and then we saw an advert for Eglus. The cheapest runs we had seen for sale had been over a hundred pounds delivered. Although the Eglus were more than double that, we loved the design of them and they are fox and badger proof. An Eglu seemed the ideal size for the two medium-sized chickens we wanted. We ordered one and it turned up at the end of June 2005. After half an hour or so struggling with the irritating little clips that hold the four run sections together, we had it up and ready for habitation.

The Eglu is cleaned and moved once a week and has been very easy to care for. We give the girls plenty of clean straw to snuggle down in to; they weren’t very keen on the shredded newspaper we tried to begin with.

The only weak points of the set up are the plastic screws that fix the run to the hutch, but the nice people at Omlet have sent me replacement ones free of charge on the two occasions that we’ve needed them. We hold the run down with tent pegs for extra security. In the winter we throw an old duvet and a waterproof cover over the hutch for added warmth and draft-proofing and we always have the shade over one side and the top of the run blocking any wind, rain or hot sun. We felt that the roosting bars inside were too narrow so replaced them with some wider ones.

I have to say that the hens rarely choose to go into the run and hutch during the day – just for egg laying and sleeping. If they want to shelter from the rain during the day, they go into the greenhouse or polytunnel. They can be enticed back into it quite easily with some food, however.

A delightful gentleman called Mr Eddie Lovett turned up a week later on a hot day in July with a truckload of hens. He opened the ‘Black Rock’ crate and fished out a beautiful, although slightly travel-worn bird, which he passed to me. I heard a flapping and commotion behind me and Rob later told me that a second chicken shot out of the crate so determinedly that there was no question of not picking her. We often wondered whether it was chance, or whether they were best friends and she couldn’t bear to be parted from her companion.

After tempting them with red worms from the compost heap, the girls soon became quite tame and would take them from our fingers. They were an odd pair, one with the promised black/green feathers, the other with brownish feathers. The former suited the name Cleopatra, but Clarissa just wasn’t right for the other. She seemed like a little bustling maidservant following her lady everywhere, so we called her Mabel. The girls were quite young at just 12 weeks and looked more like a crow and a young pheasant then a pair of hens.

Articles recommend keeping chickens shut in a run for a few days to make sure they realise that this is their new home. After that, we let them out into the garden to explore. The garden is about a third of an acre with some grass, shrubs, fruit trees and bushes, raised vegetable beds, lots of ‘wildlife’ (ie weedy and overgrown) areas and has a wall round it. We didn’t clip the chickens’ wings. Although Cleo jumped onto the wall sometimes when she was younger, she has never (to our knowledge) left the garden.

We used to hold a daily ‘Chicken Parade’, which consisted of us carrying a chicken a piece round the garden to get them used to being handled. They don’t much like being picked up and one or other of us would usually end up with a chicken on our head, precursored by a lot of flapping and struggling (on the chicken’s behalf). We ceased this practice, but still pick them up from time to time to check for parasites (none yet) and general good health.

Cleo has a useful crouching reflex (ready for mating with the cockerel), which means that she can be caught quite easily. Mabel decided to ‘pass’ on this useful trait and it would be easier to catch a pickled onion with a blunt fork. If we need to look at her close-up, we wait until the morning, when she can be calmly scooped out of the Eglu via the egg hatch.

Cleo started out being the brave, confident and vocal one and Mabel, with her occasional deep, rough cawing, followed her everywhere. Over time, Mabel has shown herself to be the forward and greedy one. She will even sit on my husband’s spade as he turns some turf over for them. (They call him ‘Worm Boy’.)

They are surprisingly territorial and will chase adult pheasants out of the garden, but they did allow a neighbour’s peacock to put on a show for them once. They were unimpressed however, especially after he fell into the pond. He left humiliated, with his beautiful tail trailing sadly behind him.

The chickens are both very inquisitive and must have acute hearing. Within a few minutes of starting any job in the garden, you will hear a distant ‘bar bar baarp’ noise getting louder and louder as they come over to investigate. They always supervise our gardening jobs, outdoor relaxation, and hutch cleaning duties. When we had the sorry task of digging a grave for our recently deceased dog, they lightened the mood a bit by coming and scratching the soil back into the hole as fast as we were shovelling it out.

Cleo was a bit too nosey (beaky) when I was painting our lounge window. She jumped onto the window ledge and stuck her head in at the open window getting a collar of white gloss paint for her trouble. Having used a cloth to wipe off as much as possible, we didn’t dare to use any sort of chemical on her feathers and she still has a few specks of it visible to this day.

The two chicks are rarely apart, but if they become separated during the day (after one has been laying an egg, for example), the other one will caterwaul as loudly as possible to let her colleague know where she is. The first time it happened, we rushed outside thinking that a fox had nabbed them.

We feed them on the organic layers’ pellets from Omlet, with some mixed grains and seeds (especially shelled sunflower seeds) for an afternoon treat.

They find their favourite food by scratching for worms, spiders and insects. The process involves a ‘forward and back and bow’ dance performance. They stand bolt upright to scratch a couple of times with their huge, scaly feet, then quickly take a step backwards and bow, cocking their heads to see if they have worried anything into the open. Any scurrying woodlouse or wriggling worm is quickly and accurately targeted before they return to Step One. Being vegetarian, we try not to think of the things that go into making our eggs – Mmmm! Worm eggs!
The plague of crane flies that we suffer every summer has been partly alleviated by chicken predation. You can hold Cleo and point her like a lethal weapon at a crane fly on the wall and within seconds it has been neatly folded like an umbrella and sucked down. (Mmmm! Crane fly eggs.)

They help themselves to growing greens of all types, from grass and weeds to lettuce, turnip tops, kale and other leafy greens such as mitzuna, sorrel, spinach and chard. They are not very keen on our leftover greens, probably because they are not as fresh, but also harder to pluck beakfuls from, even when tied in a bunch in the run as I have often seen recommended.

One evening we noticed that Mabel had a cricket ball sized ‘growth’ on one side of her chest. We started to panic until we read that it was just a wad of food in her crop and we recalled her stuffing down great sheets of chard leaves earlier in the day. We waited until the morning and it had completely disappeared.

We were amazed this summer, after a long spell of hot, dry, wormless weather, to find the girls wading in the shallow area of our tiny frog pond catching tadpoles. Once they had learnt to do it, they were in there every day, no doubt decimating our frog population, while keeping cool at the same time. (Mmmm! Tadpole eggs!) They are not averse to catching adult frogs either. On several occasions I have seen one of them with a limp amphibian in its beak being hotly pursued by the other, trying to snatch this tasty prize. You can really see their reptilian ancestry at times like that. (Mmmm! No, don’t even think about it.)

As long as the food is unsalted, the chickens enjoy cooked pasta and rice and various other leftovers such as cooked veg or pulses. If they hear one of us in the kitchen, they will stand outside the open window and squawk until they receive a suitable offering. They have us very well trained.

They drink a lot and need fresh drinking water daily in their run and they help themselves from anywhere else they can find it as well: they seem particularly keen on harvesting the fresh rain drops suspended from any surface, such as the garden furniture.

As they are free range, the girls get all the grit they need for their diet from the garden. If hens are caged, however, they need a separate supply of clean grit to help themselves to.

Dust Bath/Sunbathing
This hyperactive pair rarely spend much time at any one activity, and as I look out of the window of my office/workroom, I see them lap the house many times a day. One of their favourite pastimes is sunbathing. In warm, dry weather, they can often be found lying in a sunny spot, on one side with a wing and leg outstretched.

A favourite perch is our bench, which is in a sunny, sheltered spot behind the greenhouse. I would never recommend keeping chickens in a completely shady, damp corner of the garden, as they love the sun – although they do need some good shade when it’s very hot.

Another daily activity is having a dust bath. They search out the dusty, weed-free soil under the evergreen shrubs, or the empty beds in the polytunnel during the autumn and winter. They peck to loosen an area of soil before doing shoulder rolls and flapping the dust all over them. They almost seem to be hypnotised during this process and it is impossible to lure or tempt them back to their run. Everything has to stop for the dust bath. They sit there and relax, covered in dust, like ladies having a spa treatment, before standing up and flapping clouds of dust everywhere.

Shift System
When we first got the chicks, we had two dogs (now sadly, just one) and operate a shift system. Henry gets a couple of hours first thing in the morning, while the girls are confined to their run with only their dull layers’ pellets to eat. Then the dog gets his walk elsewhere and the chickens are let out into the garden. They go in again for a couple of hours at four o’clock so that Henry can have his afternoon ball chasing session. If it’s the summer they may get another spell out of the run before it gets dark, when they automatically turn in for the night. At other times, Henry goes out on the lead if he wants or needs to. (Good job we both work from home…)

Dogs and Chickens
The reason that we don’t let Henry out with the chickens is that we had an ‘unfortunate incident’. I had read on a couple of websites that hens will give troublesome dogs or cats a ‘peck on the nose’ and send them on their way, and that they should get on fine. Knowing Tess’ (our Staffordshire Bull Terrier’s) murderous feelings towards small furry or feathered creatures, we never risked her being off the lead with them. But we thought that Henry (only half Staffordshire) might learn to live with them.

We spent six months introducing them to each other, with Henry safely on the lead until we thought they knew each other well enough. We held our breath the first time he was allowed off the lead, but all seemed well. They would muddle about together and he mostly ignored them. We became quite casual about it after a month or so, and didn’t supervise at all times, until one day when we heard a terrible squawking coming from the hutch. Henry had bearded Mabel in her lair as she was sitting laying an egg. He had a firm grasp of her thigh and it was a scary minute as we pried them apart. He was left with a mouthful of feathers. Mabel retreated under a bush and went into shock. We checked her leg and as there was no broken skin or bones, thought it best to just leave her to recover. But after quickly reading up about shock in humans, I thought better of it and we took her into the warmth and safety of the greenhouse: allowing ‘the patient’ to get cold can be fatal, apparently.

It was warm, but not hot (I think it was autumn – in summer it would have been baking hot) in the greenhouse. We brought the hutch part of the Eglu in, along with Cleo and their food and drink. Over the next hours and days, we monitored Mabel’s condition closely. She was very subdued for a few days, hardly seeming to eat or drink, only waking up when one of us, or Cleo disturbed her. We bought her undyed maggots from the local fishing shop and these seemed to rally her, and within a week she was back to her old self. And that is why we operate the ‘shift system’. The moral of this story is don’t believe everything you read on the internet – you know your (and we should have known our) pet’s proclivities best, so trust your instincts.

Destructive Tendencies
We had quite a nice raised vegetable garden until we got the chickens… You would not believe the amount of scratching, potato unearthing, transplant uprooting and salad-leaf-eating that two medium-sized hens can carry out. Next year, we will be fencing off the vegetable plot.

They also produce a great number and volume of droppings – great for the compost heap – not so great on the patio or doorstep.

The main reason we bought the chicks was for the lovely, fresh, free-range eggs. After several months and no eggs, we thought that something was up. Chickens can lay from around 18 weeks of age. One day, I noticed that some droppings had what looked like an egg yolk with them. I went back to the books and realised that this was a shell-less egg and that we needed to give them some calcium. I had wrongly assumed that this was part of the layers’ pellets. We bought a bag of oyster shell grit from the local pet shop, added it to the pellets and within days I found our first egg. It was so perfect that I could hardly bear to eat it, but I took a few photos and then fried it up. It tasted fantastic – so different to the shop bought eggs in yolk colour (much yellower) and consistency (much firmer yolk and white).

After that, the chickens didn’t look back and we were getting one or two eggs a day right through the autumn and winter.

During the hot days of summer, they took to laying the eggs in the strawberry bed, or an old half-barrel planted with flowers, or in a nettle patch rather than in the Eglu. It became a game, with them finding a new hiding place and us having to play ‘hunt the clutch’.

Egg production ceased completely a few weeks ago and I noticed that Mabel was getting a bit scruffy looking. Very unusual, since their plumage is normally immaculate (except for Cleo’s bottom, which she can’t reach for preening as she is so big. We give her an occasional trim to keep things hygienic.) They were just going into their first moult.

They are about 18 months old, if my calculations are correct, and seem to have chosen the wettest and coldest part of the year to lose their feathers. It happens in stages with a bald neck one day and no fluffy bottom the next. Actually, it can take 2 – 3 months to replace the whole plumage. They were both miserable and lifeless for the first week or so and didn’t seem to eat as much as usual. Our neighbour reassured us that pheasants are exactly the same when they are moulting. They are now getting back to their usual mischievous and demanding selves, I’m glad to say. And we are looking forward to egg production resuming.

I wish that I could fit a pedometer to Cleo and Mabel, as they must cover miles each day in their circuits of the garden. It’s not only the distance they cover that is surprising, but the variety of environments they choose at different times, depending on the weather and their current activity.

Our ex-neighbours’ assorted fowl (chickens, bantams, guinea fowl, peacocks, geese) would range even further without walls to deter them, and could often be seen several fields away from their home base.

The obvious question is, what sort of a life can any barn or battery farm raised chicken have? Until you keep chickens, you don’t realise what individual characters they are and what varied and active lives they lead.

Predators and Other Dangers
The main danger for our chickens (apart from Henry) are foxes, which I have seen running just the other side of our wall, even during daylight hours. I think that the presence of a dog and humans within the garden walls encourages them to stay outside, but it is an ever-present worry.

Our neighbours lost some birds to foxes, and some to speeding traffic on the small, unlisted road that runs by the houses. Other poultry keepers living near a small river had theirs killed by a mink. Another neighbour’s mother had her beautiful pet hens of nine years killed by a border collie that got into her garden. The lady in our local pet shop had a whole flock of prized, purebred chickens stolen from her garden. The horror stories seem endless!
The weasels, stoats and domestic cat that we have seen in the garden have not (so far) tried their luck.

We always make sure that our two are shut in the run before it’s dark and Rob ‘marks’ our boundaries in the traditional manner, as that is said to deter foxes.

Chickens make wonderful, entertaining pets and don’t take too much of your time each day (unless you want them to): letting out, feeding and watering at dawn (and checking for eggs), and shutting away at dusk. The accommodation/run needs cleaning once a week, and you need to make arrangements with a willing stand-in if you are away. Apart from the cost of the house and run, their food is cheap to buy and you get regular fresh, tasty eggs. We are even thinking about getting two more little friends to add to our brood in the spring. Four chickens can’t be any more trouble than two, can they?

Text and Photographs © J K Walton 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Butternut Squash Risotto Recipe

I love the bright yellow-orange flesh of the butternut squash, and roasting is my favourite way of preparing it. Each chunk has an intense sweetness and density.

Serves: 2

1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks about 1.5 cm across
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 pinch of chilli powder (optional)
1 pinch of salt

8-10 sundried tomatoes, snipped with scissors into pieces about 1 cm square
½ pint of boiling water

1 tbsp sunflower or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
4 oz Arborio rice
Splash of white wine (optional)
1 pint hot, well-flavoured vegetable stock (unsalted)
Small sprig of sage leaves, chopped
14 oz tin of chopped plum tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Handful toasted pine nuts
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Grated Parmesan-style vegetarian cheese

1. Toss the butternut squash chunks to coat with the peanut oil, chilli powder and salt. Tip onto a baking tray and roast in a preheated oven at 180°C for three quarters of an hour, or until tender and beginning to brown in places.

2. Pour boiling water over the chopped sundried tomatoes to reconstitute for about 15 minutes, then drain.

3. In a saucepan, heat the sunflower or olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic until soft. Add the rice and stir to coat with oil for a minute. Add a generous splash of white wine and stir until absorbed by the rice.

4. Add the chopped sage. Add a ladleful of hot vegetable stock and cook and stir the mixture until the stock has been absorbed by the rice. Add more stock, and continue cooking and stirring. Repeat until the rice is starting to cook on the outside, but with an al dente centre. You will need to bite a few grains to check.

5. Stir in the tinned tomatoes and the sundried tomatoes. Cook, stirring over a fairly high heat to evaporate some of the liquid, for about ten minutes.

6. Add the roasted butternut squash and stir to combine. Taste to see if you need salt: the sundried tomatoes and squash will add a certain amount of saltiness already. Add ground pepper.

7. Serve on heated plates, sprinkled with some chopped parsley and the toasted pine nuts. Provide some grated parmesan and ground black pepper at the table.

*Parmesan contains rennet, so vegetarians will need to look out for a vegetarian version. I use Twining Grange’s vegetarian alternative.
*This recipe would work well with courgettes, aubergine, sweet peppers or a mixture of roasted veg.
*Serve with a green salad or steamed veg such as broccoli, green beans or peas.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I've Finished My First Rag Rug!

I started this rug last year after seeing the colourful autumn leaves blowing about in the wind.

After a quick sketch on paper, I transferred the design to some hessian with a large felt pen.

I bought four woollen blankets from charity shops and dyed them with various acid all in one dyes from Omega Dyes.

I dyed them in a large saucepan (used only for that purpose) and didn't agitate the fabric too much, so that I ended up with a blotchy effect on the fabric, with some darker and some lighter areas.

The hessian was fixed into a frame, and I used a shuttle hook from Debbie Siniska to do the hooking. I later learned that you should pull out one thread from each edge of the hessian to check that you have a perfectly straight edge to work from. My rug started becoming quite twisted because I hadn't done this and I had to go back and pull bits out of one edge and re-hook the other edge straight.

I rested the frame on a couple of trestles to do the work, although I see that most people work standing up when using this tool. The hooking is carried out from the reverse, so there is a lot of turning the frame to trim fabric ends and check that the design is going as planned. I tried to do no more than an hour at a time to make sure that I didn't strain my back or hands.

The strips of blanket were too thick for the shuttle hook to begin with: the thicker blanket needed to be just over 1/4", the thinner blanket strips nearer to 1/2" for them to run smoothly, otherwise the strip rucks up and gets caught under the point of the tool, and it is hard going on your hands and wrists. One tip is to try a few strips with your tool before you cut hundreds the wrong width...

As I neared the end, I could see that I was going to run out of the background fabric so I cut the design short by about a foot in length. Note to self - make sure you have plenty of fabric dyed ready beforehand - any extra could be used in another project or for repairs.

When I was finished, I cut out the rug with a two inch border of hessian. I folded over a one inch hem then folded the whole to the back and stitched in place by hand using a curved needle and strong button thread. I had checked with two professional rug makers about whether to add a backing or not, and whether to use latex to back the rug. Their advice was 'no' to both: apparently latex may damage the fabrics over the long term and a backing fabric can trap grit which then acts like sandpaper rubbing away at the fabric strips and causing damage over time.

After a few days of use and watching the dog surfing about on the rug over the wooden floor boards, I decided to add some rug grip tape from Lakeland. I tried hoovering the rug with the upright vacuum cleaner, but this pulled up a few stray ends, so I've decided to stick to the hand tool in future, and I've got my eye on a proper carpet beater listed on Ebay.

Now to get started on the next one...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Nut Roast Recipe

I have been a vegetarian for 27 years and this is one of the first recipes that I tried. It is adapted from the first cookery book that I bought, Doreen Keighley’s ‘Vegetarian Cook Book’ (ISBN: 0722512031). Although it is a bit of a cliché, I’ve found that both vegetarians and non-vegetarians enjoy it.

Mixed Nut Roast

Serves: 4

1 tbsp sunflower oil
3 medium onions, chopped
8 oz mixed raw nuts, ground
4 oz breadcrumbs
1 dsp yeast extract or 1 tsp vegetable bouillon powder
1 tbsp fresh herbs, chopped or 1 tsp dried herbs
1 free range egg or vegan egg substitute

Sauté the onions in the oil until soft.
Remove from the heat and stir in all of the other ingredients until well combined.
Put into an oiled loaf tin and press down to firm the mixture.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for half an hour.

* Vary the type of nuts you use (peanut, hazelnut, walnut, cashew, brazil, chestnut etc) and include about an ounce of seeds (pine kernels, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame etc,) if liked.
* Try adding one of the following:- a grated courgette, a grated carrot, finely chopped celery (cook with the onions), a tablespoon of tomato pureé, or a handful of cranberries.
* Vary the herbs you use to suit the nuts and other flavourings (generally, I use one or more of the following:- parsley, chives, chervil, sage, thyme or a small amount of rosemary. Basil and oregano go well with tomato flavouring.)
* Serve the nut roast with onion gravy, roast potatoes and a mixture of seasonal vegetables. Leftovers can be eaten hot or cold with salad or in sandwiches.
* This makes quite a crumbly mixture – if you want to turn the nut roast out of the tin onto a serving plate, you should line the tin with baking parchment so that it comes out easily.
* If you make double the quantity, divided between two tins, you can freeze one portion, uncooked. When you need it, just defrost overnight in the fridge, then cook as usual.

This article is part of the EtsyVeg Blog Hop. More details here:-

Friday, November 10, 2006

Visit to Lindisfarne, The Holy Isle

When we go on a trip somewhere, we usually avoid the visitors’ centres and tend to wander around the towns, villages and countryside, enjoying the atmosphere, scenery, wildlife and buildings. Another highlight is, of course, the ‘eating out’.


Starting out from Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, we decided to take the shorter route across country, rather then heading for Newcastle and up the A1.

We stopped off in Hawick and enjoyed one of our favourite dog walks (with Henry) around the lovely park next to the river. The trees were beautiful at this time of year and the sun was shining.

Even Henry (normally a fractious and intolerant individual when it comes to other canines) managed to greet another dog without incident. Although the newcomer does look surprised by Henry’s rather inept social skills.

We arrived at the causeway to Lindisfarne and (having noted the tide times carefully) crossed by car.

Having reached Holy Isle, we couldn’t resist stopping almost immediately to walk along the margins of the fields and mud flats around the shore. There were some wading birds and gulls in evidence and I read that North Atlantic Grey Seals and Common Seals can sometimes be seen. A woman and two small boys were enjoying a picnic on the beach – hard to believe in November!

Henry got another walk during which we all managed at some point to fall down the deep and unexpected channels in the grassy margin.
We parked up in the visitors’ car park in Marygate (the village that you arrive in at the end of the causeway) and were gratified to be informed by another visitor that the ‘Pay and Display’ ticket machine was out of order: £2 saved!


As Rob (my husband) and I are both vegetarians, this can often be a slightly depressing affair. Our lunch on Lindisfarne at The Ship Inn provided the not unusual choice of pasta, vegetable curry and mushroom stroganoff. A portion of the plate was taken up with ‘salad garnish’ of lettuce, tomato and cucumber. I had the mushroom stroganoff, which was quite tasty, consisting of button mushrooms in a creamy, well-flavoured sauce, served with pilau rice and dusted liberally with paprika. Rob had the Thai vegetable curry and rice, served with the extraneous salad garnish, but also a poppadom and small pots of mango chutney and raita. The extras were a nice touch, but let down by the insipid curry. Although the service was efficient, neither of us enjoyed the experience. Only the main bar area was open at this time of year; the proper dining area being curtained off. The small round tables provided, had stools rather than chairs, and, in the busy bar area, we felt uncomfortable and unable to relax. We didn’t stay for dessert. Our two main courses with one coke and half a pint of cider cost around £19.

Afternoon Tea

There are a number of shops including gift and craft shops, two pubs, several cafés, and plenty of self-catering and B&B accommodation on the Island. There was also a centre offering mead tastings and (no doubt) mead buyings, but we didn’t indulge. After just a few minutes wandering around the pretty village,

we spotted Café Bean Goose and it looked so nice that we couldn’t resist going in for a cake and hot chocolate. We sat at a lone table in the same room as the ‘cake table’.

I noticed that the proprietor had sensibly added a convex mirror at the entrance to the room so that no unauthorised cake gobbling could take place. The cakes were delicious and were surely home made. I had a beautifully light chocolate sponge cake with chocolate butter icing; Rob opted for the mincemeat tart decorated with splodges of thick, white icing. The two waitresses were friendly, and although obviously busy, spared the time to chat. We sorely wished that we had come across this place before jumping into the first pub that came in sight. The lunch menu included the intriguing ‘mock crab’, which, if memory serves, was a cheese and tomato tart made with a local cheese. We left feeling relaxed and contented.

Priory, Harbour and Castle

On the edge of Marygate is Lindisfarne Priory, the ruins of a Benedictine Priory built in the late 11th century.

We headed down to the harbour with its picturesque upturned boats, recycled into fishermen’s huts,

and distant views of the castle on its volcanic mound.

We had thought about stopping off at IKEA in Gateshead on the way home, but couldn’t face the thought of the traffic after visiting such a beautiful, quiet island, and instead headed back across country and arrived home just as the sun was setting.
If you want to find out more about Lindisfarne, the following link is recommended:- http://www.lindisfarne.org.uk

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rag Rug Class With Rachel Phillimore

I am brimming with enthusiasm after a weekend spent learning the rag rugging techniques of 'prodding' or 'progging' and 'hooking'. The course took place in Featherstone Village Hall in Northumberland and was run by Rachel Phillimore. You can see some of her beautiful rugs and wallhangings at the following link:- http://www.racheltextiles.co.uk/index.htm

The event began with a talk from Maureen Morano about the history of rag rug making, from its humble beginnings as a craft of poverty, with the need to reuse precious pieces of fabric, to its more recent resurgence with the renewed interest in recycling. Maureen had brought along examples of some early rugs, with their typical dark borders, with 'hit and miss' inside, sometimes surrounding a circle or diamond of a more colourful fabric. One of the women attending the course had found a similar, very large rug, wrapped around her cold water tank in the loft! Maureen had some other rugs which had been more finely worked, using a hooked technique and showing a scrolled design or 'brickwork' pattern of different coloured fabrics.

After a pleasant lunch in the nearby pub, we got down to having a go ourselves. Some students had decided to try a simple pattern, like a row of knitting, or a heart shape within a border, others opted for a rose or a tree, a view of earth from space, and, in my case, a simple landscape of hills, water and sky. My aim was to try and make as many different looking areas as possible using the two techniques of 'hooking' and 'progging'. Hooking involves drawing a series of loops from a thin strip of fabric through the hessian background to the surface. When progging, you poke the two ends of a long thin rectangle of fabric through two different holes, from the back to the front of the hessian, producing a shaggy effect. All sorts of textures can be produced, depending on how long you make your loops, whether you shear them, which fabrics you use, how tightly packed they are and so on.

On the second day, we continued to experimented with a variety of fabrics, from fine silks to thick, textured tweeds and produced an astonishing range of textures. Everyone was delighted with their efforts and we were amazed at the variety of designs and effects that we had produced: no two alike!

Many of the participants bought tools, frames and hessian to continue their new hobby at home. I returned to my already half-finished hooked rug at home, with some good advice on how to straighten up the rather lop-sided edges, and how to finish it off properly.

We all look forward to the 'catch-up session' in January 2007.

I recommend the following website called Rugmaker's Homestead, which has a wealth of information about making many different types of rag rugs:- http://www.sandpoint.net/~rafter4/index.html


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