orWine Tastings in the Comfort of you own villa or B&B while on holiday in Tuscany or Liguria

To book an informative and fun wine tasting whilst holidaying in Italy or arrange for a wild food walk in your area contact me on tuscanytipple at libero dot it or check out my Facebook page

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Wednesday, 28 October 2009

A walk to clear the head

Last night I had a bit of an argument with this new telephone company we've joined earlier in the year over a phone bill. This morning, to my great annoyance, it stopped working all together, i.e. no internet no phone connection. We weren't overdue or anything. Phoning their service line is free from a land line, but not from a mobile, apart from the fact, that we have bad reception in our house anyway and they put you through the usual routine for 10 minutes: "if you are an existing cutomer press one, if your granny wants a new phone line press twentytwoandahalf," etc, etc. So I just went off in a big huff this morning.
We had some business at the local commune in the valley, so we left home on foot to sort that out. Then I said to Susan, I could do with a beer for lunch now, fancy wondering over to our cheap shop on the other side of the river in Albiano. Arriving there I still felt I needed to let off steam, so I said let's explore the hills above Albiano and see what's up there.
Well I can tell you now, we've had a fantastic day! Climbing up the hill opposite our village we came across a signpost towards Stadano Bonaparte. I don't like walks where I return the same way we went, and I knew there's a bridge at Stadano back across the river. Incidentally, you may have guessed, the small village of Stadano Bonaparte is the ancestral home of Napoleon, however, you wouldn't know about it, it's all modern buildings now.
Here's a view towards it:
The best thing was though that the path was not well trodden and absolutely teeming with beautiful mushrooms. To my regret I can not identify many for definite, but one of the most impressive looking and most easily identifiable is the parasol. I put my phone next to this specimen to give you an idea of the size of the bugger!

By the time I had the camera ready the small family of fairies sheltering under it had already disappeared, they don't like having their picture taken. You just have to take my word for it. Oh hang on there was a big fairy peeping out from one...

This is one from above:

and another which hasn't opened yet:

They are great fried with a bit of bacon. The closed ones make good stuffed mushrooms with a sage and onion stuffing. We only picked 2 as we couldn't possibly eat more than that, but I've read in the meantime that they dry well, so we shall return to pick some more.

Soon we found out, why the path wasn't so well trodden, it had eroded away shortly before Stadano and ended in a sheer cliff above the river. So we did have to return the same way we went. Here are some more impressions from our walk:

holly oak

fern on a stone wall

an autumn view of the village of Caprigliola.

And when we returned home, the phone line was ok again, thank god.

Monday, 26 October 2009

of strawberry trees

"Hah!" I hear you people laugh, "now this country bumpkin is trying to tell us strawberries grow on trees! He's been on the funny mushrooms again!" Well no, not exactly, but this is my latest discovery on my search for free edibles gathered from the wild.

I had long noticed these evergreen trees with colourful strawberry like fruit growing on them, but assumed they were only good for the local bird population. In fact the fruit of the strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, also known as Irish Strawberry or Killarney strawberry due to the fact that they grow in the south west of Ireland too, is perfectly edible. Ok, it's not as tasty as a strawberry. In fact Pliny the Elder explains the Latin name unedo as meaning unum edo, I eat one, referring to the fact that you really aren't tempted to have another one once you've had one.

The fruit, known as Corbezzolo in Italian, doesn't taste bad raw, just slightly sweet, a bit bland and very pithy. In fact with it's tiny seeds it has a similar consitency to strawberries too. According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strawberry_Tree) only the Portuguese and the Italians utilize the fruit to make liqueurs and jams. This is what it looks like:

I had a recipe in my Ligurian preserve recipe book, which I thought was worth trying out for a jam. I have no idea what the nutritional value of the fruit is, but we collected just under a kilo to see what we could do.

Here's the recipe: to each kilo of strawberry tree fruit you need 400g sugar and a small glass of alchermes liqueur.

Slowly boil the fruit with a splash of water until soft. Press through a tomato mill and reheat together with the sugar and the liqueur. According to the book you are then to let it simmer for a couple of hours, but mine would have turned to caramel by then. 45 minutes was more than sufficient.

As far as the liqueur is concerned, it's a traditional Italian red herbal liqueur. It went out of fashion, when people discovered that the red colour was made from crushed insects. Modern commercial versions of the drink use some chemical food dye instead, and people prefer that. Isn't it odd that people rather take in some artificial colourant than a flavourless natural dye, just because it's made from some creepy crawly... As far as the actual flavour components of alchermes is concerned, they are cinnamon bark, cloves, vanilla, coriander seeds and nutmeg. You can make your own version, by steeping those in alcohol for a couple of days, then filter and add sugar and water to get to about 30% alcohol and leave for another month or so. If you want the traditional red colour, you can add maybe some beetroot juice.

On our wild food gathering trip we also picked some more juniper berries

as well as more chestnuts, pine kernels and even a few mushrooms. The latter I haven't positively identified yet, so might not get eaten.
Finally here a picture of our chilli loving kitten Rooney. She has curled herself up inside a flowerpot with a chilli plant.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

just a quick follow up on the last post

This lovely rainbow taken from outside our front door yesterday, marked the end of the brief rains and heralded in some warm sunny weather again. Time to go out wild food gathering again.

Here is yet another of my high tec gadgets, purchased last weekend at the St. Happy Fair, a chestnut cutter. A simple device cutting the small slit into the skin of the chestnut before roasting or boiling them. Yesterday we laboriously peeled (mostly Susan, as my arm started hurting again soon) 1 kg of chestnuts to preserve them under Whisky (see my post from last year at this time for the recipe).

And here just a quick photo taken today of the broad beans planted a month or so ago.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

of St. Happy and rainy days

The weather all over Italy had been getting quite unpleasant in the last couple of weeks except for with us. The North, the Alps and subalpine regions have been having their first snow already, as did higher regions of the Abruzzo, well south from us. Sicily, Calabria and Puglia in the very south have had severe flooding. The weather maps kept showing a large curved area of bad weather, just leaving us out.

We are protected to the North by 2 mountain ranges, the Alps and the Appenines from bad weather coming from there. To the East the massive Apuanan Alps shield us from anything coming that way. Only when the dreaded Scirocco wind blows from the South-West do we ever get rain. So whilst the rest of the country was sheltering indoors we spent a sunny afternoon on Sunday at the Fiera di San Felice, the 'St. Happy Fair'.

It's an annual event here in Santo Stefano and is basically just a huge sprawling market selling anything from the latest imported plastic toys from China, to all manner of kitchen ware, clothes, tractors and other agricultural eqipument, garlic, olive oil, cheese, useful and useless craft articles, umbrellas, hats, live and dead chickens, goldfish, pet and eating rabbits, donkeys (alive and stuffed), you name it.

We go there every year, partially as a social event, you meet everyone you know, partially to buy a couple of things we've been meaning to buy for a while, and partially to simply stuff our faces. I don't know what San Felice was famous for, but looking at the number of stands dedicated to this one particular thing, he's clearly the patron saint of porchetta, Tuscan roast pork.

Other food stuffs were available too, such as these delicious foccacette, small bread rolls baked for just a matter of seconds in this wood stove and stuffed with cold meat or cheese of your choice.

At the beginning of the week all weather forecasters seemed to be in agreement that we wouldn't be spared the bad weather for much longer. So Monday we went out to the land to plant the second terrace of broad beans, my absolute favourite vegetable. The first lot we planted 3 weeks ago together with some peas is already doing well. Now that we will have 2 terraces of this wonderful spring veg, the first cropper of the season, I think I shall hold a broad bean sagra next year. Note down the first weekend in June and you are all welcome!
The rain did arrive then yesterday and big time last night. We barely managed to sleep last night with a big electric and wind storm. As usual our house was struck by lightning about 3am, but I had luckily already unplugged the computer after having had a close shave with only my monitor and an old modem melting through earlier in the year. Also the new phone line didn't get cut off, like the old one did every time we had a storm. The electricity was only off for a few minutes.
So being confined inddors today we decided to give our store room a bit of a tidy up, firstly because we could hardly get in any more and secondly in case some stray bra would turn up(see last post). Here is a before picture:

Unfortunately we are severely restricted for space. I found this really interesting blog of a couple of smallholders in North Idaho, http://subsistencepatternfoodgarden.blogspot.com/, thank you Silke for the tip. They talk about their root cellar and pepper room. For a start I wish I could grow enough root crops to justify a root cellar. Everything goes in here, not only conserved and dried food, but also tools, our wardrobe, jackets, shoes and everything else that clutters up your day-to-day life.
I know I'm a messy pup, but we try and recycle as much as possible, and with recycling I don't mean carrying rubbish to the appropriate recycling container, but actually re-using things. I wear clothes until they fall off me and even then I am reluctant to throw them out, using them as cleaning cloths, cutting off the buttons for future use or cut out bits of textile as patches for the bits that still hold together.
However, with Susan having been given so many clothes recently and our space restrictions, we just had to throw a load out now. I must make it clearer to well meaning friends and family that, if they insist on buying us something, they should buy us something useful like a grain mill or gardening tools, rather than more clothes. They don't have charity shops here either to unload our superflous rags, not that they would take most of what we've been through.
Here is an after the tidy up photo. I know it's in the other direction, but it shows you that I at least managed get in far enough to take the reverse photo. Does anyone have use for an old but perfectly functioning Yamaha keyboard?

Here is part of our collection of jarred things from this year.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, no lost bras were uncovered...and as I look out of the window, the sun is just peeping out again :-D

Friday, 16 October 2009

Well, ahem, thank you

Well, I don't know what to say. I'm quite speechless. Or to put it in Barrack Obama's words: "Wow!". I received an award!

It was given to me by Mrs Ayak, an English woman living on some hilltop village a bit like ours in Turkey. She talks about her adventures on her blog: http://ayak-turkishdelight.blogspot.com/. It doesn't sound like your usual ex-pat hang out where she lives.

Well, I'm not sure what the etiquette is with these award thingies. Although this blog has been going for some 2 years now, I have only recently, with a bit of extra time on my hands due to the enforced injury break, started looking at some blogs by other people and mingled a bit. It seems you are supposed to stick it on the side of your blog, must work out how to do that, and then pass it on to someone else.

I've been rehearsing my acceptance speech all day in my head, but I think I'll just keep it short and sweet:

Cheers Mrs Ayak and everyone else who follows my blog! I'll have a think about passing it on and keep you posted. In the meantime you are all invited for Prosecco and nibbles this evening.

Unfortunately these news were a bit overshadowed by something very sad for me today. I'm generally a very positive, optimistic kind of person; easy to get on with; not easily thrown by events. I keep my sense of humour if I have to live on a Euro for a fortnight or when things just don't work the way I hoped. But there is one thing that makes me very sad: the loss of a friend.

I rarely put really personal things in my blog, especially if they concern other people. This particular person, I shall call her Y, is not likely to read this, but some people who know us and her may recognise her. She has been a good friend to us ever since we arrived in Italy. She has been almost embarrassingly generous towards us, showering us with unrequested gifts, helping us financially when we were in the doldrums, taking us for meals when we had nothing. Any protests she would put down with a "that's what friends are for."

She has long lived on her own and she doesn't have much in the way of family either, so sometimes I had the sneeking feeling that in her loneliness she was trying to 'buy' our affection. But we got on well, we saw each other often, I liked her sense of humour.

Last week we were invited to her house for dinner. She had sorted through a whole pile of clothes she didn't fit into any more and got Susan to try them on. They fitted her perfectly, so Y gave them to Susan. We had a pleasant evening together and went home late as usual.

A few days later Y rang us up and she said she was near us, could she pop up, she had something else for Susan. I said of course and she arrived with a brand new woolen coat and another cast off pair of trousers. Then she asked if Susan during our last visit, had accidentally taken a silk bra of hers, which may have been lying on the bed with the other clothes. I don't pay any attention to clothes, but Susan said she didn't think so. The two of them then went upstairs to have a look if they had ended up in Susan's underwear drawer. They hadn't. We promised, we'd have another look, as Susan's memory is not always the best.

Today Susan found another bra, which fitted the description and we said we'd meet her today to return it to her, she seemed quite upset about the loss of the garment. When we met up with her she said it wasn't the right one and now openly accused Susan of stealing the bra out of her drawer. Now Susan may have some psychological problems as a result of a brain injury sustained in a car accident 30 years ago, but kleptomania is not one of them. I assured her that I would guarantee her that she definitely did not deliberately steal this bra. If anything she may have accidentally picked it up with the other clothes, but we've had a major tidy up of our bedroom this afternoon, and it hasn't turned up.

Y said she couldn't have it that if she had people to visit that she would have to lock away valuables. Susan of course, and me feel badly insulted and we left under a black cloud. Me on the other hand, can't call somebody a friend who accuses me or Susan of stealing. I'm not too sure how to handle this situation. I'm thinking of sending her a handwritten letter, telling her that she must have made a mistake. But if she insists on her accusations, we could no longer be friends. I'd thank her for her friendship and her generosity, it would make me very sad to do so, but I would have to end it. I'll wait for a few days, in case she suddenly rings having found her bra.

I don't have that many good friends, so I don't like loosing any...

Thursday, 15 October 2009

of juniper, pine kernels and castles

Although we don't have any pressing commitments most of the time we do try to stick to some sort of a routine every day, just to give our lives some structure. In the morning we wake up around 8ish. Sorry let me rephrase that: in the morning we get woken up by the cats around 8ish (if we are lucky).

Incidentally, if you've been wondering what's happened to our cats in the meantime, at the last count there were still 5 of them. We have refused any further applications for assylum and have turned back boats filled with cat refugees at sea to return back to Cat Land. Our original cat, Dot is only occasionally visiting now, there's far too much happening in the refugee camp for her liking. She's still cross that we've hung on to her daughter, who was supposed to have left home months ago! The daughter, Mickey, is most attached to us and is home most nights. I go out of the door last thing at night to call her in, and she comes running around some corner. Tigger, who arrived a few months ago as a skinny rake is gaining weight and looking well now. We're going to have to have her neutered next, she seems ready to send her kittens into the world. Luckily we have a friend who will do that for us, as we couldn't possibly afford it ourselves. Of her two kittens, Rooney (named because she has huge ears, just like the footballer) is the more friendly. She purrs happily and loudly if you only as much as look at her. Her brother or sister, we're still not sure yet, we aptly named Senna, because she is as fast as the Formula 1 driver. Apart from running away fast as soon as you move she counts eating as one of her hobbies. Despite the obvious energy consumption of running away a lot she/he seems to develop a double chin already!

Anyway, I digress. We start the day (after feeding the cats...) with a good breakfast, which is usually Susan's job to make: Juice, from our newly aquired juicer, muesli, wholemeal bread with homemade jam and coffee. If the cats get me up particularly early, Mickey will sit on my head purring, I will do the first part of the breakfast.

Next I will sit down on the computer to see if anyone's been sending me any messages or if there've been any other exciting news, while Susan clears up the kitchen from the night before. Unless there is then anything pressing to do, I'm quite happy to lounge about like that and read the on-line newspaper or so, but Susan tends to get ants in her pants roundabout then and says she needs to go out for a walk to wake up properly.

Today she went on a quite a short roundwalk, the weather was still beautiful and clear, and came back asking me what now? I've gone quite Italian when it comes to going for walks. I don't actually mind going for a walk, but I like it to have some purpose: going from A to B, i.e. to the shops, even if they are an hour or so away, discovering something new or, most importantly, foraging for wild food.

So off we went armed with a couple of bags and jars down the Via Francigena. Our village lies right on the pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome as walked by Archbishop Segeric the Serious in 995 ad or so. Following this path we headded down the hill towards the nearby city of Sarzana.

Halfway down, I never cease to be surprised, as you leave some woods, on a rocky basalt outcrop, to come across the extensive castle ruins of the Castello della Brina.

Every year archeologists of Pisa university dig up a bit more of it. They are still not sure when the place was actually built. Written records go back to the 10th Century, but they have found items going back to Roman and even Etruscan times. It was destroyed in the 15th century, when it was a castle of the Bishop of nearby Luni. The attackers really bore a bit of a grudge, because they raised the place to the ground and toppled the round tower.

The rocky sub-soils on this hill provide a home for quite a unique flora, such as box, laurel, sloe, Aleppo pines and juniper. So today we were chiefly after juniper berries. In small quantities they are good used in pickles and cabbage dishes. However I'm after making a type of gin, juniper being the main ingredient of course (from Dutch Genever = juniper - short gin). Lacking a still it'll be more of a gin liqueur or 'gineprino' as they call it in Italy.

As we walked on we also found a whole handful of pine kernels, at least €10 worth I reckon. They are quite a pain to gather and even worse to then afterwards shell, but at €3 for some 30 grams or so, it's worth it. We still have a bit of basil growing on the land, so I can make an authentic pesto.

As we walked back I couldn't stop sniffing my fingers, which smelled gorgeously aromatic of juniper and pine resin. (that was until I had an itchy bottom and added a bit of an earthy note...)
In the end we walked all the way to Sarzana (1 3/4 hours if you don't gather anything), because we needed a couple of things from the shop. By the time we got back it was time to think of dinner, which is my job.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

This was to be my final post on the blasted subject of my wooden arm, but alas... My experience with the Italian health system up to this point has been very good really. I have never before had an operation in any country before, so maybe it's just the way it is done.

The last time I went in for these tests, I thought this was it. They gave me a whole pile of paper about possible risks, both of the anasthetic and and operation in general. There were pages of stuff about not drinking any alcohol the day before, not eating 12 hours before and not drinking (even water) up to 8 hours before. And they gave me an appointment with the amnesty... amnesi.. anneath... the person who makes your arm go numb for noon today (punctually). Ok fair enough, they didn't mention the op as such, but what else do you do at an anaesthi... anseetha... you know what I mean. They'll hardly give you an injection a week before the op, it'll wear off sure!

Well I turned up, with Susan in tow in case I wouldn't be able to drive myself home with a limp arm. The a... the lady was very friendly, asked a few questions, like what was my normal blood pressure. I said I had no idea. So she measured it and told me it was perfect. She listened to my heart and chest and found I was still alive. Finally she made me sign yet another form (god knows what all I have been signing there? I'll expect delivery of the series of encyclopaedias any day now!) and told me she'd put the injection into the top of my arm, near the axle (achsle? my spelling is gone today...).

With that she dismissed me. I looked at her slightly incredulously (this post has a lot of long words doesn't it?) and asked if she hadn't forgotten anything, like giving me that threatened injection. "Oh no," she says, "we'll give you that before the operation." - "And that's not today?" - "No, we'll ring you." - "Ahh, any idea when?" - "oh any time in the next week / ten days."

Right, so what do you do with a day you had been expecting to spend on an operating table? Well eat for a start, I've been keeping to all that fasting they told me to do! But the weather was also glorious today. Just a couple of days ago the view from our terrace looked like this.

We went to work on the land anyway, because the weather forecast was for no rain and it looked as if it might clear up. Of course we had a right downpour and I planted some onions, Cavolo Nero (Tuscan 'black cabbage', it's a bit like curly kale) and white cabbages in the mud.

The next day and today the view turned out like this though. Although not apparent on the photo, behind that bit of sea on the very left we had one of those few days in a year when we could see Corsica (some 100 miles, 150 km away).

So with weather like this we went out chestnut picking again. They looked a lot better than the last lot we had. Whilst out this nosey donkey came to investigate what we were up to and hollered a belching Eeeeeeeeeeeh Haaawww at us.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Of gadgets

I've never been much of a gadget person. I don't need the latest technological advances at my fingertip or the newest kitchen aid, just because it looks stylish. Why have a camera inside a telephone, when a camera does the job of a camera already? I don't even know how to operate a microwave oven and I'm completely lost when a technical discussion starts involving terms like dongle or HTML or such like.

I have nothing against new gadgets as a matter of principal, but I just hate something clattering up my kitchen, which gets used only once a year or so. So far in the kitchen my gadets tended to mostly like this:

In addition we have a simple food processor, our fantastic hand driven tomato mill to make all those gallons of tomato sauce every year and a set of reasonably sharp knifes apart from the usual set of pots and pans and bowls.

But NOW, with some of Susan's birthday money, we got ourselves a new machine and , frankly I don't know how we ever managed without it: a wholefruit juicer. It's brilliant! With our gluts of various fruits and vegetables, this is a great way of using them up without any waste. It just juices anything in seconds, apples, pears, carrots, tomatoes, you name it. Whereas you wouldn't normally eat 4 apples in a row, if you juice them, you get a generous glass of real apple juice, with all the goodness in it.

We have just got a whole box of apples and pears from Graham and Anna, the people we have recently helped with their grape harvest. The apples are a local variety called Rotelle and are absolutely delicious: sharp and juicy and packed with flavour. The pears are huge and sweet. So now we make a pear and apple juice every morning. And when we work on our land, I now always gather a few extra ingredients to make an energy reviving, delicious and healthy juice.

Here is one I prepared today:

Can you tell all the ingredients: apples, carrots, tomatoes, a small cucumber, a few small yellow peppers, purslane (remember that super weed that I introduced you to recently http://pathtoselfsufficiency.blogspot.com/search?q=purslane), a slice of lemon, a sprig of mint and a sprig of lemon verbena.

All that goes whole as it is (washed first of course) into the juicer:

Turn it on and press it down:

and drink with a bit of ice:

It's like a liquid salad, tastes great and did you see what all goes in it! I reckon everyone should have one and I promise I'm not on commission with the manufacturer.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Of Pinocchio, tomatoes & chestnuts

Right, before I bore you all to death on the story of my arm, It's now coming out Wednesday, the bit of bamboo that is. I had to sign more forms and undergo various tests. I don't know I reckon they fuss too much, all it needs is a sharp knife and a pair of tweezers. I'd do it myself, if I wasn't right handed and the bit of bamboo is imbedded in my right arm. My Dad quipped that I'm turning into Pinocchio, being only half boy, half wood.

Anyway, the weather has been a bit mixed, with a good sprinkling of badly needed rain and cooler temperatues. Our tomatoes are still producing, although not all of them are ripening completely.

I was going to make a green tomato chutney, but as I still have red tomatoes too, and I just saw a recipe on the Guardian web-site by Nigel Slater of a red and green tomato chutney(http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/oct/04/nigel-slater-green-tomato-recipes), I made some of that. It turned out rather delicious!

Today then marked the beginning of a bit of an Indian summer. After I had already packed the shorts into the bottom drawer, we woke up to this beautiful autumn sunshine. The sun reflected so nicely of the sage leaves on our window sill that I just had to take a photo of it.

With this lovely weather, and one of my favourite seasons having started, the chestnut season, we decided to make our annual pilgrimmage to the Sagra della Castagna at Barbarasco. We had already roasted some of our own chestnuts earlier in the week. We simply had to try out the new fire grill that our friend John made us from the leftovers of some railings for their terrace in Calice al Cornoviglio. John is a bit of a dab hand when it comes to welding and our old grill had completely disintegrated.
Well John, if you are reading this, it held up beautifully, albeit bending slightly out of shape, by lifting one leg slightly. Maybe it thinks it's a dog... Unfortunately those first chestnuts were a bit dissapointing...

...which cannot be said about the chestnuts we had today: chestnut lassagne, chestnut pancakes and roast chestnuts, followed by chestnut and chocolate biscuits. To the foreigner, when you talk about lasagne, they tend to think of the dish Italians call lasagne al forno, layers of pasta sheets, meat and tomato sauce and bechamel sauce. To an Italian, the actual sheets of pasta are the lasagne, or lasagna in singular. The chestnut variety is made with chestnut flour and either simply served topped with olive oil and pecorino cheese or a meat sauce, never seeing an oven in the process.
Similarly the pancakes are made with chestnut flour, two of them are used to make a sandwich with a filling of either fresh ricotta or stracchino. In this dish the inherent sweetness of the chestnuts really comes through.
The older generation in Italy are said to not want to eat another chestnut in their life having lived on nothing else through the war years. Our friend Carlo tells us his story of remembering the war years as a 9 year old boy constantly turning the handle of an old coffee mill to grind down chestnuts into flour. Bread made exclusively from chestnut flour does not rise and is therefore a good test for your teeth.
The slightly bizarre thing at the sagra was the fact that it is set in a public park planted with hundreds of chestnut trees, so the ground was littered with them. Yet on a stand selling various chestnut related specialities, you could also buy fresh chestnuts for €3.50 per kg.

I don't know if the actually sold any...

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Back to work!

First of all to all those who have been worrying about my arm being amputated, it's still attached, complete with bit of bamboo inside! I don't know what they were thinking. Maybe they thought they only had to pull out a wee splinter or something! The conversation with the surgeon went something like this:
"Well what have we got here then?"
"A bit of bamboo inside my arm."
"Are you sure?"
"Yep, pretty sure."
"But how did it get in there?"
"Entered from the other side, when I hit a bamboo stick supporting some tomatoes."
"But that's impossible! How deep did it go in?"
"Dunno, but evidently deep enough. I pulled 1 1/2 cm of if back out and your A&E department couldn't find anything else at the time."
"How long has it been in there?"
"Oh about 6 weeks."

At that stage the assistant puts in: "Shall I put 'urgent' on the form?"

So he had evidently not sharpened his skalpels yet, also he wanted to know how big the actual thing is. So after filling in various forms and signing my life away to the responsibility of those medicals, I now have to return, stick in me arm and all, on the 8th, to have it all scanned and than have it removed in the hopefully not too distant future.

This is my arm now. Note the wee blob just to the right of the scar (old war wound still giving me the gipes occasionally), it's not an insect bite!

Sorry about that, hope I didn't upset you all too much. Here's a nicer picture for you to look at

Anyway, I can't hang around waiting for those doctors to fix my arm, there's work to be done, and I'm already behind, because of this episode. Today it was time to lift the rest of the spuds. It wasn't a good year for potatoes, with the dry summer again. But it'll keep us going for a wee bit.

We also sowed out our some broad beans and peas for spring harvesting on the terrace where we had just dug up the potatoes. Having been delayed we have also bought some ready plants, leeks and broccoli, to plant out. We had to prepare the beds for them too, so it's been a pretty busy day, and the arm was quite sore by the end.

Yesterday I made some elderberry chutney. I know it's not exactly elderberry time any more, at least not around here, but as matter of routine, whenever I pick elderberries I stick them straight into the freezer, because they are so much easier to strip off their stalks when frozen. But it also means I can use them as and when I feel like it and have a spare half hour or two.

I've already made elderberry jam and liqueur, now I've made a chutney with the rest. Would you like to know the recipe? Well here it goes. Too late if you said 'no'.

for pickling spice:
  • 2 Cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp juniper berries
  • 1 tsp mace
  • 1 tsp dill seeds
  • 4 dried bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried ginger
  • 1 tsp whole coriander seeds

for the chutney:

  • 2 kg elderberries
  • 500g onions, chopped
  • 200g raisins, chopped
  • 1 l white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 3 tsp of above pickling spice tied into a muslin bag
  • 1/2 tsp chilli
  • 1 tsp mustard powder


  1. Simmer onions in half the vinegar until soft.
  2. Strip elderberries off the stalks & add to the onions together with the raisins, salt, ginger, chilli, mustard & pickling spice.
  3. Simmer until the mixture has softened. Add the sugar, stir well & boil until the chutney is thick.
  4. Remove the pickling spice, leave to cool and pot into clean jars.
  5. Serve with meats such as venison, turkey or rabbit or spicy mature cheeses.

Put the rest of the pickling spice into a jar and use for you next chutney or pickle. I shall use mine for some green tomato chutney as soon as I have gathered enough jars together again.