Saturday, 30 June 2012

Life on the Croft

It’s been a month of animal care.

Our sheep developed a fungus – a relative of ringworm. So I devised a lotion, made of 2.5% sulphur, 20% betadine gel (iodine) and 15% Clotrimazole (an anti fungal, normally for athlete’s foot) in Vaseline. 

Pep the Vet came up with the suggestion that we increase the alkalinity of their diet, mixing 1% sulphur into sodium bicarbonate (from Solvay, in Belgium) and adding the powder to their food trough. It all seems to be working.

A Belgian solution

Then I left Mimosa the donkey grazing in a field of alfalfa. Stupid – I meant to leave her for an hour but got distracted. As a result she filled up with food, and then filled up more with gas. She stopped eating and drinking, and then Pep found she had a heart murmur. So he poured 5 litres of liquid paraffin, 5 litres of probiotics and more water into her via a naso-gastric tube. 

The result was, er, explosive. 

But now she’s fine – fully recovered, and merrily kicking me each morning when I take her feed.

Tube that donkey

And it's been shearing time here at the Croft: 

Shearing Phoenix, 16 June 2012
Shearing wool for which there is no demand and which, like all the local shepherds, I've had to compost. But the sheep are happier.

Do Not Stand in the Hatched Area

I saw the sign on East Croydon station a couple of weeks ago, above an area painted in yellow criss-cross lines, next to a building site. “Do not stand on hatched area.”

I nearly stood on this hatched area:

Pyrrhocoris apterus, Fire bugs, emerging, 15 June 2012

English. A language designed to confuse. How can “hatch” refer to a pattern of parallel lines, an animal emerging from an egg (and, as a noun, to a small trapdoor, normally in a boat?)*

*Answer: because English is language soup. Hatch, as in egg, comes from Swedish häcka - that's our Viking forebears. Hatch, as in crossing lines, comes from the French hacher - that would be the Normans. And hatch, as in a small door, comes from Middle Low German  heck (it says here in my Oxford Dictionary) - so thanks to the Anglo-Saxons. 

"Don't stand on the hatched lines when you climb through the hatch to the hatchery." Easy, really.

Tweet, to eat

We named a chick. Here, then, is Twitter:

Tweet's sweet

There is some secret anthropological significance in giving an individual name to a living thing. I read once that in parts of West Africa a person is not considered dead until the last person who remembers her or his name dies. And so it is with animals. Give them a name and they become untouchable.

I saved little Twitter as an egg. He'd been abandoned by the bantam who was incubating him so I put the egg into my robotic incubator and he hatched a week later, strong and healthy. He's growing fast. One day, in about 6 months, he'll be ready for eating.

But could you eat your Tweet? Named, he'll now live forever.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

A flapjack for Julianne

Julianne asked for my recipe for flapjack. That’s “flapjack” in Scottish English, not in her native American.

150g    butter
100g    soft brown sugar – Fair Trade if you can get it
4 level tablespoons of liquid honey
350g    rolled oats
50g      whole almonds, roughly chopped
50g      Raisins
25g      pine nuts

This is really easy.  Warm the oven to 180ºC. Oil a baking tin, using baking paper to line the base if you want guaranteed non-stick.

Put butter, sugar and honey into a pan and warm so that everything melts together. Add the other stuff. Stir a bit. Squish down into baking tin. Place in oven for about 20 mins, until browning a bit.

Now – there is one trick to flapjack: remove the tin from the oven and while it’s still hot, run a knife around the edge of the tin to release the flapjack, and mark into squares or fingers or whatever. Then walk away. Let it cool right down. Now remove the flapjacks with a fish slice or similar wide flat implement. Get this wrong and you’ll end up either with a solid block of goo locked into your baking tin forever, or a pile of sweet porridge crumbs. You have been warned.

Wara Einab, or dolmades

Life is too short to stuff a mushroom, said Shirley Conran. But not too short to stuff a vine leaf, says Crofter.

Fast food, Crofter style

Here’s my recipe for cold dolmades. Actually, like all recipes, it’s a variation on another, in this case the recipe in my crumbling copy of A Book of Middle Eastern Food, by Claudia Roden (Penguin, London, 1968). I’ve abused her recipe a bit to speed it up, because life is not too short but time is precious…

250g    vine leaves
250g    Basmati rice
2          tomatoes, chopped
1          large onion, finely chopped
A big handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
One level teaspoon ground cinnamon
Half teaspoon turmeric
Salt, and a load of ground black pepper

Trim the stalks from the vine leaves. Wash, then drop for 30 seconds into boiling water.

Cook the rice till just done. Mix with the tomatoes, onion, mint, cinnamon, turmeric, salt and pepper (and anything else nice hanging around the kitchen – raisins, pine nuts…)

Take a vine leaf, put a spoonful of stuffing on the side of the leaf with the raised veins, fold in the leaf and roll to produce a thing like a… well, Ms Roden says cigar but that’s only because she’s never rolled a joint.

Put a vine leaf into the bottom of a good-sized pan. Add a layer of stuffed and rolled up dolmades. Then another vine leaf and another layer of dolmades. Make as many as you like.

Add to the pan:

15 cl    water
15 cl    olive oil
Juice of one lemon
4          garlic cloves

Bring slowly up to the boil and simmer for 30 mins.

Remove from the plan to plates. Allow to cool. Eat slowly, because life is not too short to stuff a vine leaf.

Monday, 4 June 2012

The earth works

The wet spring has turned into a fruitful early summer.

Chris and Emily work the veg

New Tubers

Bonsoir, cherry
I bottled our huge harvest of cherries - some bottled traditionally (in the picture) and some - the result of accidentally leaving them in sugar solution for, yes, 3 days - as wee cherry prunes in syrup. Totally irresistible.

I've seen a butterfly breathe

Thanks to Prof. Jim Marden (, who has been staying here with Dr Chris Wheat (, Dr Emily Hornet and Julianne Pekny, I have seen a butterfly breathe.

A bag of butterflies

The butterfly team are here to study the genetics of flight, and that means studying how much CO2 they exhale. So Jim and Julianne set up equipment in our back bedroom, while Emily and Chris collected butterflies, and we watched the machines showing the butterflies' breath. Quite magical.