In order to do something different each week of the year, I have a list of challenges to undertake...

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Week 30 - Re-arrange the Wine Rack

When I started making wine, I used to put the bottles in any old spare corner in the garage. In hindsight, that wasn't that sensible - with the car taking up most of the room, the floor space for wine bottles is limited; and I think we can all see the dangers of me bumbling around in the dark recesses of a garage strewn with bottles.

So I put up a shelf and a wine rack and devised a simple system of putting the bottles which had been made longest at the bottom, the newer bottles added at the top.

When I'd drunk the entire bottom row, I moved everything down one, like a giant game of Tetris. The system meant that I could just grab the bottle lowest on the rack and not have to fiddle around pulling bottles out to find the next in line to be drunk.

This worked really well as long as I keep all my wines for the same amount of time (a year) before drinking. A problem arises, though, when some wines can be drunk before 12 months (tea bag wines in - say - three months) and some need longer (parsnip wine benefits from 2 years in the bottle) - so the little sticky dot I put on the top of each cork so I can see at a glance what it is, and the 'month made' don't actually reflect when I can drink the stuff.

So this week's Challenge has been to get all the bottles out of the rack, replace the sticky dot with one that gives the month to be drunk not the month made, then put them all back in the rack in order of drinking date.

It's a little thing, but it's so much easier to just be able to grab the lowest bottle on the rack and know it's ready to go, rather than squeezing past the car and having to take the torch out to read the labels until I find one that's had it's 'maturing' time.

So that's my week 30 Challenge done - cheers!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Week 29 - Make a Batch of Jam or Jelly

I'm not very good at making jams and jellies - it's the setting point bit. I guess that it's one of those 'practice makes perfect' things, but I don't practice very much as I'm not very good at it - a catch 22 situation. 

Instead, if I have lots of fruit that needs making into something, it generally gets turned into wine. I'm quite good at that.

But as a consequence of spending all day yesterday fighting the bed containing a 6' high currant hedge with a pair of loppers in order to turn it back into a bed containing four bushes, I ended up with an awful lot of redcurrants and blackcurrants. There's certainly enough for wine and redcurrant jelly.

The recipe I have is rather vague (it's one of those that says 'simmer until cooked', and 'until you reach the setting point' as opposed to proper times. I mean, am I looking for the setting point after 3 minutes or 2 hours??) so I looked online and found that the sainted Delia has a super simple recipe.

You cook the currants for about 10 minutes, squashing them with the potato masher to get the juice out; add the same weight in warmed sugar, stirring till dissolved; then a rolling boil for 8 minutes; strain the lot through a muslin square and put into sterlised jam jars.


A slight downside to the method is that the jelly starts to set as soon as it is being strained, so you can't hang around waiting before you put it in the jars. I am also rather skeptical about how solid it is going to get - I suspect that it might charitably be referred to as 'soft set', but I'll see in the morning once it has totally cooled.

No matter how the set is, one jar will be entered into the Hill Annual Show in a couple of weeks - and even if it doesn't do well, I've no doubt that it will taste superb!

So that's my week 29 Challenge - done!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Week 28 - Make a Scarecrow

For the last couple of years at the Hill there has been a 'dress your shed' competition, which didn't take off with a huge bang. Notable exceptions were Chris from down the bottom who turned her shed into a beach hut, and cheery Brian and Pauline, who's shed always looks smashing anyway.

The only thing that I was likely to transform my rickety toolshed into was a pile of kindling if I slammed the door a bit hard.

But this year, some inspired person came up with. the idea of a Scarecrow competition - what an excellent plan! Low cost, not too technically difficult, and anyone can knock something together.

Now I've never been particulary 'crafty' in a Blue Peter kind of way, but I have not let that deter me, and over the past couple of weeks, Granddad George the Scarecrow has come to life.

I stuffed an old pillowcase with scrunched up newspaper, put a stick through for his arms. I dressed him in a pair of trousers which didn't survive the cut from my wardrobe clearout a couple of weeks ago; and an old sweatshirt donated by the Next-doors.

His head is an old cotton shopper bag, sown into a round and stuffed with newspaper. He's wearing my gardening gloves and wellies - and a flat cap which I found in the drawer, but I can't remember where it came from.

I gave his face a lot of thought (this (above) looking a lot like that episode of Dr Who where Maureen Lipman steals peoples faces, but Domino cat not seeming to mind).

Wool hair, marker pen eyebrows and mouth, cane topper nose, and a bit of Avon's finest blusher, and he's ready to rock.

Challenge completed - I wonder if I'll win!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Week 27 - Join in with the Work Party

A couple of times a year we have a Work Party at the Hill allotments where I am the proud tenant of half plot 16a, whereby all plotholders are invited to help out with the general maintenance of the site. This is met with heartfelt groans by all, of course.

The Work Party taking place at this time of year is because our site competes for the Thorpe Memorial Trophy which the City of Birmingham awards to the best allotment site in Birmingham. It would be remiss of me not to mention at this point that we have won this competition twice in the past three years.

Judging takes place from tomorrow onwards, so it's a general pitch in - primarily by the hardworking committee, frankly; and some other plotholders too - in order to bring the site up to snuff. It's not the individual plots that are judged, but the site as a whole, so the access road, car park and communal areas all need to be neat and tidy.

Actually, there was not a bad turn out, and many hands do, indeed, make light work, and at the end of a busy couple of hours in the sunshine we had the car park hedges trimmed, the roadway weeded, accumulations of leaves swept up, and neat and tidy planted up troughs by the club house.

A good job (and my week's Challenge) done!