Monday, February 27

Too early for spring

What a difference a couple of days make. Whilst it’s hardly spring and the yard’s daffs have yet to burst into bloom, the air is thick with gnats. Caterpillars litter the ground, and flies and wasps creep into the room through an open window – the pool of stagnant water that passes for a wildlife pond is heavy with frogspawn. Despatching the mower for its annual service is probably tempting fate, but then I did collect a new pair of prescription sun-specs from the optician this morning.

Saturday, February 25

Boorish thought

Shopping at the local hardware shop yesterday I found myself standing next to actor Roger Lloyd Pack, aka Trigger – he of Fools and Horses fame. It was so tempting to ask his advice on broom handles.

Wednesday, February 22

Comfort food

A howling gale swept in from the Atlantic opening yet another fissure in the homestead’s walls. I’ll let you know the damage once I have emptied the room of furniture and lifted the floor. Given the conditions outside there was little we could do but adjourn to the kitchen and cook. I say we, Mrs G. tends to be the one that handles anything involving skinning or plucking and drawing. In this particular case it was rabbit: very much a local dish, and netted for a change (no shot). The little sucker was duly stuffed (parsley, lemon and thyme), sown up and dressed with pancetta, before being roasted and served on a bed of sautéed cabbage, accompanied by a Chilean merlot. Despite the frequent ups and downs we rarely go hungry, or cold: our latest batch of wood (ash) is burning like a Wednesbury furnace – it’s a tropical 24º in the snug.

Monday, February 20

Morning visitors

Back at the barn the most visibly elusive of birds was the jay. I say visibly as you can hardly ignore presence of a schreachag choille – the screamer of the woods. Here they appear less reticent about public appearances and along with the mistle thrush are regular visitors to the yard. Our principal absentees are great spotted woodpeckers who have been supplanted by their green cousins; though now I come to think about it, I haven’t seen much in the way of sparrows or dunnocks. Blackbirds predominate, crows and buzzards...and along the track, skylarks and redwings. Above all else, however, it is still the pheasant (and the guns) that rule the roost.

Sunday, February 19

To the races...

What a beautiful day: more so just now, looking out from indoors (with the benefit of a log fire). Back to subzero temperatures this evening. The yard is host to a colony of Blue Birds: Grey Thrushes to Mrs G., Fieldfares to you and me. They can’t believe their luck: abundant worms and insects along with the last of the berries. From my observation of local wildlife nothing out there goes hungry.

Likewise this morning at the Totnes Good Food Sunday, with venison, hare, woodcock and partridge on sale. Lots of artisan baking, cakes and pastries; locally smoked meats and fresh fish; a variety of fast-food stalls, including South American barbeque (mit chimichurri sauce) and Caribbean goat curry (today’s lunch).

Lunch continued in the beer tent at the local track, with a programme of Steeplechase races featuring the Westcountry Champion Chase. Two e/w places were our lot for the afternoon (both courtesy of Mrs G.). It might not be Cheltenham but it’s a good day out.

Wednesday, February 15

Lung soup

Italians turn back the culinary clock, reports the Guardian. Italians facing a long, hard winter with less cash to spend in the supermarket owing to the economic crisis are being encouraged to rediscover the cheap, traditional recipes of their ancestors. Soups made with old bread and even pig's lungs are unlikely to appear on the menu of Michelin-starred Italian restaurants in London, New York or even Rome, but they are being touted as the nation's real cooking, made at a fraction of the price of many modern dishes.

I recall ‘lights’ were still a principal feature of many a butcher’s windows back in the ’70s. Over the years, however, as our relative affluence improved, so our culinary tastes. Then gradually – and popularised in part by television cooks (and Michelin-starred Italian restaurants) – some of the old cuts returned to fashion. It would be difficult, for instance, to ignore that most ubiquitous of gastro pub favourites: belly draft, aka pork belly. That said...I suspect times will need to become a lot tougher for lung soup to return to general use.

Tuesday, February 14

Romantic meals

Valentine’s Day is as good an excuse as any for a bout of duelling pans: Mrs G. kicked off this morning with a brunch of poached eggs on rye, crispy bacon and black pudding. And whilst my less than original response was a lasagne, for supper, as with most of my efforts, each example tends towards the proverbial lucky dip. You never know what you are getting – what it contains – until said dish arrives on the table. As the Boss has been outside working all day, wielding her hoe and raking the grounds, anything relatively edible will likely serve; always provided, however, supper’s preceded by a couple of large drinks.

Saturday, February 11

Almost a meat-free week

If you include the tinned sardines, fish has (so far) accounted for four of this week’s meals. The lemon soles from Brixham quay retain the plaudits, though today’s lunch of southwest-sourced scallops (at a cafe on the moor) was not without merit. Tonight’s supper of cod & chorizo fish cakes (courtesy Bovey Tracey farmers’ market) just about sets the seal ... Next week we return to beef. There must be the best part of a cow languishing in our freezer. From the tentative driving on this morning’s roads I assume that, despite the weather, we have a fair number of visitors taking advantage of the half-term break. Whilst here at the homestead we’ve only just managed to nudge above 0º, vacationers appear to be fleeing much colder conditions. Their hacking and coughing is of biblical proportions.

Sunday, February 5

Fresh air and sustenance

There were lots of walkers out on the moor this morning, many representative of our younger generation pursuing their DofE ambitions. Back home it is good news on the climate front, the chill having been downgraded to a mere four-layer threat. Our concrete-like ground has already returned to its normal sodden consistency and the moles have resumed their tunnelling. Whilst we’ve lost our ponies to superior grazing at lower altitudes, the air is thick with insects, and in amongst the snowdrops and slugs the resident robins, blackbirds and thrushes are joined by an assortment of tits and a green woodpecker (along with the neighbourhood cats). Roe deer saunter past my window, only to be halted in their tracks by the sight of a large dog fox enthusiastically disembowelling a dead sheep in the neighbour’s paddock (before you know it we’ll be into the barbeque season). For now it’s a braised oxtail and large portions of root vegetables, together with the last of my stock of Titanic’s chestnut beer.

Friday, February 3

I’m back, briefly

Whilst my absence can be partly attributed to broadband difficulties, it is primarily due to more pressing distractions. Most recently the distraction has been – yes you’ve guessed – the weather. When I dared poke my nose outside the door this morning the thermometer registered -7º. Following a day of blazing sunshine the temperature rose to -2º. And the southwest is supposed to be having the best of it! In truth there’s little wind at present and that makes all the difference. However, whilst our climate doesn’t compare with that of Eastern Europe, still less the northern extremities of England, the Mediterranean it ain’t. As a consequence unforeseen problems eat up my day: i.e. defrosting the padlock on the shed in order I can get my hands on some firewood. Sans firewood life becomes extremely uncomfortable. Almost as uncomfortable as when the power line was recently severed, terminating both our electricity and water supply ... Thanks in part to the demanding conditions I walked to town for one or two basics. It is not a jaunt I would recommend, the challenge being less the 8 miles involved than the near 1,000ft climb on the return leg. Bits of me are beginning to fall off.