Tag Archives: salt dough

Poppies and the end of the beginning

The poppy project is starting to take shape. Apart from that, it’s been a strange day – D minus 47, or minus 13 if you count days we will actually meet.

Fortunately the group is taking it well, with a few mutterings about farmers and plenty of discussion about what they are going to replace us with. It’s a little sad to be so easily replaced but that’s just how it is. In another way, I was thinking that it’s good that we have taken them to this point and they feel happy to embark on a new venture.  If this had happened a few years ago I’m sure we would have had more trouble about the change.

We’re not finished yet, as we’re still looking for somewhere to go, though we’re driven by optimism more than reality.

Dave, one of the founders, came to visit. He was working with Julia at the council when his contract came to an end and she decided she was fed up of constantly re-applying for her own job. The rest, as they say, is history. He’s been ill for a while, but is now on the way to recovery. That brightened the day, as the group always likes to see him. We’re going to get Men in Sheds to help repair his old electric wheelchair, which is currently refusing to go in the same direction as the joystick.

It seems like a small enough fault, but in the context of a man who likes to get out and about this represents the very narrow margin between sightseeing on a river bank and being featured in a high profile emergency rescue.

He’s challenged me to a wheelchair race when he gets it fixed, so watch this space.

Vicki brought the poppies in from the Barnstone Brownies, so the display is looking good. She’s really put a lot of effort into this, with making poppies and doing research – shame we won’t be able to build on it for next year. I’m thinking of burying the poppies after we’ve used them. It will be both an artistic statement, and an ancient military tactic: there is so much salt in them that the new tenants, with their promised landscaping, may find there is a permanent bald patch where little will grow.

We’ve also been doing a bit of packing, some Christmas planning, and rehearsing the Christmas entertainment. That might be better expressed as Christmas “entertainment” as a bit of Bollywood style belly dancing, a carol (yet to be decided) and a rendition of I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts is going to have an uncertain effect on the audience.

Finally, we have a picture of me wearing a hat from the lost property. According to Julia I look like the oldest of the Lost Boys. I’m not sure how to take that. If it’s a reference to Peter Pan it’s probably OK, but if it’s a reference to the film I’m not so keen.


The Oldest Lost Boy

The Goat Escape (again)

First things first – we arrived today with a list of things to do, and the first thing we saw was a massed escape of goats. They had clearly been peckish, and if there’s one thing a goat likes it’s some nice twigs. Things weren’t helped when a flat battery allowed them to climb over the so-called electric fence.

They have much more character than sheep. It’s just a shame that they express this character in making such determined bids for freedom.

It was a busy day yesterday – another 100 salt dough shapes ready for Flintham Show, an improved Wheatsheaf loaf, and an element of panic as we realise there is not enough time. That, of course, is not unusual: there never is enough time.

As you can see, the poppies are coming along nicely, though they do take a lot more salt dough. For one thing, they are bigger than many of the shapes we use, and for another, they need to be thicker to pick up the detail.

The thickness isn’t a problem when you are making biscuits, but when you have to glue them to a stalk it can be tricky, as experience shows they can overbalance or pull themselves of the stalks. I’ve invested in better glue this time!

We had a look in the mobile bread oven and found it was full of cobwebs and a small barbecue.  Yes, it was a surprise to me too.

One thing we haven’t done is test the oven or dry any wood. That’s because the farmer doesn’t believe in planning and hates using wood to check things are working. Farmers hate spending money, even if, as in this case, it does grow on trees.

When it all goes wrong tomorrow it will be my fault.

Do you know how many colloquial expressions there are for “goes wrong” in the English language? More to the point, do you know how many of them are suitable for use in polite conversation?


Cheese scones and butterflies

I won’t deny it, when I look at the title I can’t help thinking that butterflies in  a light tempura batter would make an interesting dish. It would also be likely to result in an outcry, and possibly a prosecution. All in all, I think I will give it a miss. They probably don’t taste that good anyway. I remember Number Two son describing chilli-coated scorpions (he doesn’t mess about when it comes to street food) when he came back from China – no meat, no taste – just chilli and crunch. I suspect butterflies, in the absence of a chitin shell to crunch, will just taste of batter. Here is some research on the edibility of butterflies.

We have had a lot of small tortoiseshells in the last few weeks – up to eighteen on the red buddleia, which seems to be the new bush of choice. Despite dead-heading the blue one is fading. That’s good to see after not seeing one small tortoiseshell for months in the middle of summer.

As I dried a cloth out on the decking a Speckled Wood dropped by for a drink. I had no camera, of course.

I ended the week with a splurge of 200 salt dough shapes – all farm animals for Flintham Show next week, but lost a considerable amount of time when the Farmer’s Sister turned up to set up the cafe.  Not sure why feeding people bacon cobs takes precedence over educating the nation (though colouring salt dough shapes isn’t going to develop many Nobel Laureates, I confess) but that’s how it is. She won, the nation lost. Blood, they say, is thicker than water, and if this happens again we may get a chance to test that observation.

We also carried on with the cheese scone experiment, and finally seem to have nailed the flavouring in the Stilton and date variety, which is good news as there is a limit to the number of scones you can test. In my case it’s a higher limit than you may think, but there’s still a limit.

On Pies and Prejudice (also known as “the other blog” I’m already running into a problem with pie reviews – I just don’t want to eat another pie. Or Scotch Egg. It isn’t a problem at the moment because I have a couple of reviews already written, but in a week or two I’d better have recovered my appetite or I’m going to start wishing I had used another title.



The Care Farm Experience


It’s been a lazy day today. I’ve tried to be enthusiastic but I didn’t get back from Leeds until 1am this morning and when I tried to go to sleep all I could see was motorway traffic on the back of my eyelids. It was around 3am before I got to sleep, then I woke up at 5…

It wasn’t the best of starts.

At least I know I have done my duty as a father (the one that involves passing cash across and acting as a taxi driver, rather than the bit where you impart moral education and the Laws of Rugby).To make things worse I didn’t write a list of jobs to do, which always leads to wasted time.

It was a strange day for butterflies. We had the usual suspects (whites and small tortoiseshells) but managed a Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Comma. We haven’t seen a Comma or Red Admiral for months.

Julia has been industrious, trying out crafts for Flintham Ploughing Match. She has decided, after a somewhat fraught session, that straw weaving won’t make the cut – it just takes too much time and concentration. We will just take some corn dollies and information sheets.

We have had to revert to using paper art straws because modern wheat straw just isn’t long enough. In 1815 the Brigade of Guards concealed themselves in a field of wheat before leaping out to rout the advancing French. If they’d tried that in 2015 it would not have been so much of a surprise.


I’ve finished the McDonald’s Breakfast post on Pies and Prejudice, got the recipes together for the scone post I’m planning and sorted the cutters ready for making the saltdough poppies (part of the Big Autumn Project).

Finally we had home made blackberry jam and, after washing the outside of the jars (which seemed to have got very sticky in the filling process), divided last week’s jam between the group. It was a microwavable recipe – very quick and easy. It produces a slightly soft jam that tastes very fruity.

We spread it on some crackers left over from butter making. Everyone seemed to like it, including a few late summer wasps that were cruising around up to no good.

Currently we are waiting for the taxi. It’s twenty five minutes late already and we’ve been told it will be at least another 20 minutes. The original car, it seems, has broken down and they have been having trouble with the phones, because they always lose reception out here (though strangely enough, I don’t.)

They have several breakdowns every year and never seem to have phones that work.

I detect a slightly unlikely excuse.

I also detect the sort of service you get when the council puts a service out to the lowest bidder.



Keets and curly sandwiches…

Having had quite a lot of sandwiches left over from yesterday’s high tea, I didn’t need to make too much effort for lunch. In fact all I had to do was peel back the cling film. They had started to dry out a little and curl at the edges, bit let’s face it, having eaten in a number of typical English cafes in the 60s and 70s, and enjoyed the legendary hospitality of British Rail, I’m no stranger to dry, dodgy sandwiches.

We have saved today’s eggs from the Polish bantams and will start to hatch them in a week or so – you can generally keep them a week without a problem.The main problem is making sure we get good quality eggs and making sure they don’t get put in with the eggs for sale. You know how it is round here…

It will probably take that long to strip down the machine and get it ready to use as I don’t think it was actually washed after being hauled out of the back of the barn.

We started the day with egg collection and brought the keets in to the centre so everyone could get a good look. After that it was salt dough (we need around 750 of them in the next couple of months) and musical accompaniment selected by Emma (I believe it was some popular modern female singer called Jess Glynne). I have, of course, never heard of her. As a middle-aged man I am freeing up large amounts of brain space by refusing to learn the names of modern singers, or listen to their music.

This afternoon we planted a variety of stuff out and set some late seeds. Also swore at the slugs who ate their way through the lettuces in one of the planters.

Let’s see, what else? Well, we found Edie running round with a lead on, and had to find the farmer to check we weren’t missing a dog-walker. It’s apparently part of her training programme to be left to “stay” as the farmer walks away. But she didn’t. I think this part of the training might need a bit more work.

I seem to have spent a fair amount of time making an ID badge for one of the group. (That means it took me longer than I was expecting and longer than I would like Julia to know.) Shame it relates to another group. Same goes for the rubber bands she’s been cadging off me all afternoon – seems she can’t garden but she can sort plant labels for another project and use my bands to bundle them up. I’m all for cooperation but I’m definitely having second thoughts about this. 😉

Alasdair and I have just filled the bird feeders again. The peanut feeder at the front had been knocked off again and the elastic band had slipped so most of the peanuts were gone.

I’m beginning to wonder if the jackdaws have an answer for everything.

Nearly got a good picture of a mint moth – they are flying when nothing else seems to be about – but can’t quite master the macro capability of the new camera.

Quick nature note from yesterday – Julia spotted goldfinches eating seeds from the bergenias (Elephant Ears). I always think of them as being dull plants for municipal planting (they were actually donated by a local park). However they are tough as old boots (which we need for our wind-blasted clay soil) and if they feed goldfinches I’m not going to hear a word against them.

That’s about it for the day – just some paperwork and a phone call to do. And a cup of tea.

Open Farm Sunday (2)

It’s moving into evening now and things (including me ) are slowing down.

Even now I can’t believe how smoothly the day went, though this is probably just setting me up for a horrible surprise next year.

One child bumped his head during the course of  a trailer ride.

We lost a number of our salt dough flowers. You could consider it theft or you could consider it a compliment.

Somebody asked for their money back because they didn’t like the pizza (and it wasn’t me cooking this time!)

There were several complaints at queues for food.

As far as I know, that’s the lot.

I feel it’s a little ungrateful to complain about queuing for food.

The kitchen team gave their time for nothing and several of them also gave a couple of days to preparing food. Considering our limited facilities I think they did a brilliant job, and so did many of the people who provided feedback. People also liked the education/activity area and despite my record of upsetting parents and teachers I survived the day unblemished.

We have a list of things needing improvement, even if none of the visitors spotted them – number one being more paint on the bread-shaped shed, which looks a bit anaemic. However, when you consider that Men in Sheds did the bulk of the work in one afternoon, and still found time to make the finger posts and various other things, it worked quite well.

We used over 300 salt dough shapes and 120 spoons for scarecrows, so guess what I’m making on Wednesday?

Tomorrow? Day off. 😉

NEWS FLASH: all three eggs we put in the incubator have now hatched. All chicks now doing well despite my misgivings about one of them.




Open Farm minus 4, and counting

It’s beginning to feel like we’re running out of time, and levels of suppressed panic are rising.

There’s a logical explanation for this phenomenon, of course; we are actually running out of time, and we are really starting to panic.

It doesn’t actually help when Julia keeps inventing new jobs. She’s had me making ginger bread men out of salt dough this morning. She wants them for the TV on Friday. The yellow ones (for which I used yellow food dye and the normal cutter) represent normally-sized people. The blue ones, which I cut by hand, are bigger and represent the obese children in the latest study).

The yellow ones look quite good. The blue ones have turned grey as they have dried out. Next time I colour salt dough I will try paint, but in the meantime I will pretend that I meant them to turn grey.

Later I opened up the new £5 glue gun and stuck the salt dough flower shapes to the bamboo skewers. The result was surprisingly flower-like, though they are a bit top-heavy, even the thinner ones. With a touch of colour and a solid anchorage I’m sure they will form an adequate flower bed for our bread-themed centre piece at the weekend.

We have a new (athletic) scarecrow, progress on the pigsaw, and a group of new spoon scarecrows.

Outside we have a group of complaining goats (it’s a bit too windy for them), the new pigs are refusing to come out of the ark and the chickens are standing behind any shelter they can find. Open Farm Sunday Forecast – sun, 19 degrees Centigrade and a stiff breeze. Two out of three ain’t bad.

Finally, if you stand by the nestbox outside the centre you can just hear the chirping of newly-hatched blue tits. Watching them puts things in perspective. I think I’ve been working hard, but the blue tit parents haven’t stopped all day.






Pride and publicity

Well, Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall, as they say in Proverbs 16:18. And so it came to pass that the BBC decided not to proceed with the filming, and failed to tell us until we rang. There is a fair amount of wailing and rending of garments going on locally at the moment as many spinsters of the parish (and a few married ladies) were looking forward to seeing Matt Baker.

Which all goes to show that it is unwise to count your chickens before they hatch.

The publicity would have been nice, but all is not lost as we have a journalist from Notts TV coming to film. It’s a slightly smaller crew than the BBC (in fact it’s one man with a camera) but it’s TV all the same.

However, talking of cynical media tricks, isn’t that a cute, but out of context goat in the featured image? It’s worth a dozen extra views.

Only a short post for now as I am busy with more salt dough. With only a week to go I need a 300 shapes for kids to paint and 100 tiles for our art installation. See, the media is rubbing off on me, I’d never have said “art installation” last month. I’ve handled so much salt in the last week I swear my fingers are beginning to mummify.


They look like alpacas but they are meant to be lambs

If archaeologists ever dig me up all they will find is my finger tips and three gold teeth. It’s not much to leave to posterity

On the other hand, what has posterity ever done for me?



Guides, Guides, Guides…

Finally, the third part of today’s triple post.

We have a group of 20 Guides out in a field with Julia and the rain has just started again. From where I’m sitting (dry, smiling and complacent) it seems like a heavy downpour. I must rise from my padded typist’s chair and have a look in a minute. At least it’s not hail, as we had earlier in the day. It flattened my newly transplanted salads and once again made me question the wisdom of growing my own produce.

Programme for the evening visit is animals, salt dough and the making of vegetable soup. In the end we were able to discuss composting and keyhole gardens too.

I blotted my copybook in the first ten minutes by telling one of them that the pigs are currently all in the freezer, and that we don’t keep horses because you can’t eat them. I do like tormenting teenagers, but there is also a serious purpose to this as they have to realise that farming isn’t a hobby, our animals aren’t pets, and that vegetarianism is an option.

(You may have spotted my deliberate error regarding horses. Sorry about that. You can, of course, eat them.)

It all seemed to go well, and most of them will be coming back for a Saturday session in a month or so. They turned the compost energetically, painted a range of salt dough shapes for Open Farm Sunday and their parents bought all the available eggs.

All in all, a good result.

And no, I don’t know why the image of the salt dough shapes has turned itself round. I am bemused.


Sun, cynicism and salt-dough

Actually, there’s been no sun but I needed a third “s” word for the alliteration.

However, there has been plenty of cynicism and I’m up to my ears in salt-dough.

The cynicism has been rising as arrangements for filming have advanced. Both the BBC and Notts TV want to come and do pieces on us and, rather like a 70’s sitcom, there has been a noticeable change in some people. I’m waiting for the first one to crack and say: “All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up.” It can’t be long now…

Watch this space for more news on our flirtation with fame and the media.

I managed to fit in plywood between the cynicism and the salt-dough. We have a plan to build a loaf of bread six feet long and four feet high. We also have a pile of second-hand plywood four feet high. It’s mainly odd sizes and none of it is a convenient. I did start planning how we could use it but it became clear that the patchwork effect and the amount of framing needed was going to make it impractical. So it’s back to Plan A.

While I was in the barn counting plywood I noticed the House Martins are gathering mud for their nests. I’ve just been back with the camera but somebody is now working in the yard and has scared them all off. Will have to see what I can do later.

On the salt-dough front things are getting better. We have a group of around 20 Guides coming on Monday night so I need to produce around 40 shapes for decoration – one for them to keep and one for us to display on Open Farm Sunday.

After my stiff dough and thick tiles of last week, I have been doing some thinking. With my first attempt I converted the 2:1:1 ratio of flour, salt and water into weights. Today I used cups and produced a much more workable dough. It just goes to show it doesn’t always pay to get technical. I have four trays of animal shapes drying, and they are half the thickness of my original trial pieces so things are looking up. By 6 pm they should all be ready for use.