August 24th, 2011

It’s nearly autumn!

…and autumn means work…lots of work. But it’s kinda exciting fun work. I went to my parents place today to eat nommy tapas and fix my mum’s computer. After lunch we walked down the edge of the field and picked these:
blackberries

Then we walked back along the road and up through the garden and picked these! This is one type of pear, one eating apple, and one cooking apple, and there are loooads left on the trees. There’s also another pear tree and another eating apple tree with a lot of fruit on which will be ready within the next week or two.
apples

Yay for free food. I’m going to go to the woods in a week or so and hopefully get loads more blackberries, and get as many apples as I can get hold of, and then make lots of juice and cider, I’m going to try making apple and blackberry cider.

The mead is going very well, it’s bubbling super fast. Gren was so impressed with it he made a video, so I’ll upload and link that sometime. For the moment, here’s a picture.
mead

And here’s some pickled beetroot I made the other day. I don’t really like beetroot THAT much, it makes a nice addition to a salad, but it’s not one of those things I can eat with every meal, so I don’t bother growing it. I bought a bunch at the farm shop a few days ago, so I decided I’d eat some, and then pickle the rest…this jar will probably last me until beetroot time next year!
beetroot

I have lots of cooking and garden-related plans for the rest of the week, the most exciting being that I want to make these…nom nom! So I’ll make some yoghurt this evening, leave it in the airing cupboard overnight, strain it tomorrow, and hopefully be able to make cheesecakes tomorrow night. Or I might spend all day in bed and do it the next day, cos I have been pretty busy lately and I’m due a day of doing nothing to recover.

August 22nd, 2011

Lavender mead recipe

On sorting out my brewing kit in preparation for cider making, I discovered I had 9lbs of honey…enough for 3 gallons of mead. I went through a phase of buying it whenever it was really cheap, then forgetting about it. So I decided a couple of days ago I was going to make mead. At the front of my house are 5 lavender bushes I planted last year, and they are doing really well, and smell lovely when you walk past, and I’d been trying to think what I could do with the lavender other than dry it and hide it among my yarn, when I realised I could add it to the mead.

I have no idea whether this will taste nice, or whether it’ll be really gross, but this is what I did:

My supplies. This is what I thought I would need when I started getting everything ready: 3lbs honey, a big handful of lavender, sodium metabisulphite, yeast nutrient, high alcohol wine yeast, a demijohn and airlock, citric acid, and a teabag. I actually also needed a funnel, some muslin, a mug, a glass bowl, a large pot, and several spoons.
supplies

First I washed and sterilised the demijohn, airlock, bung, and funnel, using 1 teaspoon sodium metabisulphite in a pint of water.

Then I stripped the flowers from the lavender and put them in a glass bowl and covered in boiling water, and put the teabag in a mug with boiling water.
brew

Next I put all the honey in the pan. NOM NOM NOM.
honey

I filled the empty jars with warm water and shook them to get all the remaining honey off, then tipped this water into the pan, and added a little more.
addwater

Then I turned up the heat and stirred until all the honey was dissolved, and waited until it got hot enough that a layer of scummy goo started forming on the top.
heat

I removed as much of the scum as I could and discarded it, kept heating, and repeated this until I’d had enough.
mmmm, scum.
scum

I strained the lavender water though some muslin. If you try this at home, DO NOT TASTE IT. I know it smells nice and you’re curious, but seriously, I promise, it tastes fucking gross. It tasted bad enough that I thought maybe it would be better if I just made normal mead and stopped being silly. In the end I decided to compromise and only use half a cup of the super strong lavender water. I figure if it’s not strong enough when I come to rack it off, I can always add more then.

I transferred nearly all the hot honey water to the demijohn and added the half cup of lavender water, a couple of tablespoons of the very strong tea, and a teaspoon of citric acid. I kept back a little of the honey water in a mug. I added a lot of cold water to the demijohn, hoping it would be enough to bring the temperature down to about body temperature, but it wasn’t, so I will have to leave it before adding the yeast.

I took the mug with the small amount of honey water in and topped that up with cold until it was body temp, then added half the sachet of yeast and a teaspoon of yeast nutrient.

yeastcup

This is going to sit on the cabinet until the demijohn has cooled enough, then I’ll add it to the mix, top up with water if necessary, and stick the airlock in. And wait.

cool

And for future reference, here is a handy ingredients list:

3lbs honey (one runny, 2 set)
1/2 mug very strong lavender infusion
2 tablespoons strong tea
1 teaspoon citric acid
half sachet high alcohol wine yeast
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient

August 18th, 2011

vampy battles an inanimate object: part 5256

I very rarely lock my car. I have a reasonably old, reasonably crappy car, which is nice to drive, and reliable, but it’s not something anyone in their right mind would want to steal, and it’s often full of straw and random junk, so doesn’t really look like a great target. Plus I rarely go to areas with much crime…the worst that happens around here is that one time there was some graffiti on the village noticeboard.

So car locking is reserved for occasions when I leave the car with something of value in it. Yesterday I went to my dad’s house to see if he had a couple of bits I needed for the cider press, and came away with various other things, including a huge box of dvd’s. I figured these could perhaps be stealable, so when I went to the shop on the way home, I locked the car.

I couldn’t open it again. The driver door was locked, and locked tight. Fortunately the other doors worked fine, so I could at least get in and drive home.

I got home and stuck some wd40 into the lock, and left it alone until today. Gren said he had a look at it this morning and couldn’t figure out what was wrong, so I went out to investigate. It appeared that the lock mechanism wasn’t fully disengaging, so you could turn the key or pull the knob, and it would half unlock, but wouldn’t fully click into place. Ok, simple, get inside the door and stick a screwdriver or something in to pop it back into place.

Except nothing is ever simple. It is impossible to remove the door panel while the door is closed. I tried, thinking i might be able to pull it away just enough that I could get inside to fix it. That wasn’t happening. I took it to the garage, and the guy said ‘well once we get the door open we can do blah blah blah’, so I asked how he intended to get the door open. ‘Well, we’ll have to try and remove the panel or pull it out a small way’. Yeaaaah, I wasn’t going to pay an as yet unknown amount of money for someone to spend an hour attempting and failing to do something I’d spent an hour attempting and failing to do. So I told him given that my car is probably worth less than £500, I don’t want to waste money on that, so I’d just take it home and cut a hole in the door panel, and then if i couldn’t fix it I’d bring it back.

So, I came home, removed the other door panel and looked to see how the lock mechanism worked and whether i had enough space to access it. Looked reasonably simple, so I cut a hole in the door panel with a stanley knife. At this point Gren came out and insisted on interfering, so I went inside for a bit, and when i came out he started saying ‘it’s not the lock it’s that bit that doesn’t pull on that bit and it’s all corroded and something something, we just need to put WD40 on it and leave it’. And then got annoyed with me because I actually wanted to look at my own car and try to figure it out myself, seeing as he’d come and tried to take over when I’d only been able to see it for 2 seconds. After about 5 minutes of trying to mansplain to me, he finally went indoors and left me to it. A couple of minutes after that I pulled out the spring that had corroded and broken in half, then figured out what the fuck he’d been trying to tell me was the problem. But it kinda wasn’t. Well, it was, but because of the broken spring, the thing he said needed to be done couldn’t be done, I had to implement a complicated 2 stage process whereby I made up for the broken spring by holding the naughty lock bit in place with my hand, then pushed a screwdriver in to push one bit of metal out of the way….and then the door opened…woohoooo! After taking the panel off for a closer look, I’m pretty sure that if i replace the spring, it’ll be completely back to normal, but as it is, the missing spring means that if the key is turned to lock the door, everything falls out of place and you need to hold it all in the right place to get the handle to work.

So, this essentially means that I’m never locking my car again. And also that my door panel is now held together with duct tape. But my door opens and closes properly, and I didn’t have to pay a penny!

And it also means that my ‘wooo my cider press is finished’ post that I was planning for today will not appear today, as it isn’t finished cos i wasted way too long messing around with the car and now it’s raining and I need a nap. Though it is in the garage out of the rain, so I could go work on it later. Tomorrow is more likely. I’ve varnished it and put sealant around the bottom of the base, but I need to make a frame and some sheets of muslin for building the piles of apple cakes, and need to attach some metal to the top crossbeam to protect the wood from the jack. I did give up on the idea of using the old car jack though, cos it was slooooow to lift and not especially easy, so I bought a hydraulic jack on ebay instead. I figure for £13.50 it’ll make the cider making process considerably easier, and I can also put it in my car to make the wheel changing process considerably easier, should I ever get a flat.

August 15th, 2011

Fucking websites

And THIS is why I never do anything with my website. I got a new hard drive a few weeks ago for my birthday, and found some old graphics I made for earlier incarnations of this site (fun fact, I was messing around looking on nominet the other day, and I’ve had this domain almost 10 years), which reminded me I meant to make a banner for this blog and change the colours around and stuff. So I figured I’d just steal some of my old graphics and it would be a 10 minute job.

WHY DO I NEVER LEARN!?!?!

I went into the admin page and thought ‘oooh, I guess I could change the theme too, lets have a look at this one…’ and I clicked. I forgot clicking set it as my theme. And I dunno what my old one was called so I messed around changing themes, and didn’t like any of them, so I downloaded and uploaded a couple of new ones. The first one made my entire website grey, and the second made everything white, even the admin pages. So I deleted them, and it worked again, so I pondered, and thought maybe my WP install was a bit old and decided to upgrade it. Except I have such an old version I can’t click an ‘upgrade for idiots’ button, and have to manually install. I read the documentation and all the WARNING!!!!WARNING!!!!! notices and decided I should maybe back up my database first. Cue a long hunt for my server login info so I could get into that side of things. And then another frustrated hunt to remember the login info to get into the phpmyadmin. Eventually I had a backup, and ftp’d all the files to my machine too, so I have it allll backed up.

Then I read some more of the documentation and it said I needed a newer version of php than I had, so I went back to the control panel and did that. Fortunately my host does all that shit for you so you just click a button. Though now I have messages saying “Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/vampy/vampy.co.uk/wp/wp-settings.php on line 235” and similar all over the back end of my site. And maybe the front end too, I’m too depressed to check. Ok, I checked, and yes, it was all over the live site too. AND it was full of bold, which I decided to remove from the line I copied/pasted here, because it kinda makes my eyes hurt and made me felt like my blog was shouting at me for being incompetent, and I don’t like that.

I am hoping that the new version of WP will magically make this go away.

So, this whine is basically to say FUCK YOU WEBSITE, FUCK YOU RIGHT IN THE EYE, and also to say, if my website looks like shit, I’m clearly still working through the problems. In fact, I’ve probably been working solidly for days without sleep or food.

UPDATE: Oh yes, I fixed you, you evil thing. It is 1am and I’ve not had dinner and the graphic is kinda pixellated and I need to redo it and I’m not sure I like the layout and I’ve lost my ravelry widget and whatever other crap I had on there before. BUT IT WORKS. And it looks better than it did before, though I am not sure if the text panel is too narrow and involves too much scrolling, or if I just think that because I have a huge widescreen monitor and because it’s 1am and I’m hungry and I want it to be perfect but it never will be.

UPDATE PART 2: I changed my mind about the new theme, it really was too narrow, but I found the old theme I was using, put that back, and added some (slightly different) new graphics. Which is all I intended to do in the first place dammit. Still, the new backend is considerably more user-friendly than the old, so I guess I can’t complain too much. I was on a roll, so I also decided to assign categories to all my blog posts which were category-less before, so anyone who actually wants to look back and see my ranting nicely sorted by subject will now have an easier time; and probably really needs to find something better to do with their life.

August 15th, 2011

How to make a cider press

If you’re looking for an actual tutorial on how to make a cider press, this probably isn’t a good place to start. If however you want to read my ranting, then hi! welcome!

I first made cider a couple of years ago…used my garden shredder, a borrowed press, a big fermenting vessel, and lots of demijohns. I ended up with some lovely cider, and lots of vinegar (not that I’m complaining, it’s come in very useful). So this time it will be demijohn only, cos I can’t get an airlock for the huge vessel, and I am sure that is what caused the vinegarification. Well, that and forgetting to check on the fermentation regularly and then tighten up the lid when it was done. And also probably by not making enough juice and leaving a huge headspace in the vessel. It was stupidly heavy and got in the way in the kitchen anyway, demijohns are easier, and we can try different apple blends in each.

Sadly, the person who I borrowed the press from remembered that I had it, and asked for it back. We were toying of other juice pressing methods involving colanders and heavy weights, lots of wastage and lots of mess. In the end I decided to suck it up and just make my own. I decided against one with a bucket, mostly because that involves way too much precision cutting and screwing and finding suitable bits of metal. I also decided to use an old car jack rather than the huge monster screw, cos the screws are £25+, and you need the other bits of hardware to go with it too. For this press I think I spent £8 or so on timber, £7-something on coach bolts, of which I used 8 from a bag of 50, and £2.36 on silicone sealant (I have no idea why that is the only thing i remembered the exact price of).

I bought 2 lengths of 3×2 timber. Well, it would be 3×2 in the olden days, but it was actually 75mmx47mmx2400mm. I decided to get it from B&Q rather than the local (well, not so local, but cheap) wood yard, cos B&Q have a cutting service proudly announced on their website and in their shop. I took my lengths of wood to the cutting guy, and he told me ‘oh, no, we don’t cut lengths of timber, I can only cut board’, and showed me his awesome board cutting machine. Now, they sell about 20 different power saws that would do the job adequately, but apparently are unable to set one up in the shop to help me. Bastards. I mean, I know their ‘yay we are awesome we cut your timber!!!’ sign does have ‘terms and conditions apply’ in teeny tiny lettering on their website and in their shop, but I never once considered it might translate as ‘well, actually, we don’t cut your timber’. I did consider trying to kill the cutting man with my eyes, but then figured it wasn’t actually his fault, and he was a very nice man, so I saved my energy and went to pay, and had a battle with the self service checkout because I REALLY didn’t want to have to move these ridiculously long bits of wood into the bagging area to prove I wasn’t trying to steal them, or whatever the fuck their stupid reasoning behind that function is.

I maneuvered the ridiculous lengths of wood into my car, and they only needed to poke out the window a couple of inches, so it wasn’t too traumatic, and went to screwfix to embarrass myself. I was all organised with the catalogue number of the coach bolts I wanted ready, and it all went well until the cute guy at the counter asked if I wanted anything else. In my sulk at b&q i said ‘well I’d kinda like an electric mitre saw, but i don’t really neeeed one, and i can’t afford it, and i can borrow one anyway if i want to drive for 10 minutes’. So we talked about saws a bit, then he asked if i wanted anything else, and I said no, paid, and he went to get my bolts. Just as he walked away to the storeroom I was like ‘oh no wait I do want something else!!!’. I forgot I wanted silicone sealant both for the press and to fix the chicken’s water trough. So I am sure I was a very annoying customer.

Armed with my wood and bolts and silicone, I went home and called my dad to see if I could borrow his saw and the squeezy gun thing you use with the silicone. He said yes, AND said he’d bring them over and help….score!

So while I was waiting I laid out my stuff.

This is a picture of some wood. I think the jack decided to sneak into the photo too. I don’t exactly know WHY I have two jacks, given that I only have one car, but having a spare is useful, because I know if I used the car one I’d forget to put it back, and then I’d get a flat the next day and then I’d be one of those annoying women who calls the RAC out because she is too incompetent to change a wheel by herself.
wood

I got out lots of tools.
tools

Then my assistant arrived, woohoo!
assistant

We cut each length of timber into 4 60cm lengths. Well, we cut them into 4 equal bits, because of course it didn’t actually measure what it was supposed to, but I wanted to do this the easiest way possible, so as long as they were equal, I didn’t care. If you want to make an exact copy of my cider press, make sure your pieces are 597.354mm long.
sawnwood

Then we needed to drill some holes for the bolts. The plan was to mark the first 4 sets of two holes, drill them, then use those holes to mark up for the second set, then repeat for the 3rd set. I wouldn’t even want to attempt this with a hand drill, as I’m pretty sure I’m incapable of drilling in a straight line, so we went to the garage to use the pillar drill. Then I realised i had no fucking clue where the chuck key was. The two drills I use most have keyless chucks, so it’s not something that I think about on a regular basis. After looking in all my toolboxes, shelves and drawers, I still had no idea where the chuck key was, but I decided my superhuman strength would be enough to hold the bit in place, seeing as the wood would be eeeasy to drill. And it was, and suprisingly my plan of marking and everything all worked out, and all the holes lined up and it was awesome. I did need to hit it with a rubber mallet a few times, but that was ok, and just added to the fun.

This is what we returned from the garage with.
frame

At that point I decided a well fed workforce is a happy workforce, so we stopped for sandwiches and beer, kindly made by my mum in a break from her quality control (making sure the holes went all the way through) and HR (making sure dad and I didn’t argue or mess around too much) duties.
lunch

Then I drilled some holes in the legs and screwed them on. I didn’t bother with bolts for this bit cos it would have been a pain in the ass fitting them around the other bolts, and would have probably weakened the wood with all those holes anyway. Plus the legs aren’t under much force, they just stop it falling over.
framelegs

At some point here I moved my camera to stop it getting dust in, so I forgot to take more pics for a while, but what we did was:

Located an offcut of kitchen worktop in my garage. It has been there for 12 years, but I KNEW it would come in useful at some point! Cut this so it rests on the bottom crossbeam and on the legs for extra support. Cut some bits of other wood (1×2″ maybe? I dunno, whatever, that came out of my stash in the garage too), and screwed them together into a square frame with a hole drilled into the front as low as i could get it without splitting the wood. Then we glued this frame onto the bit of worktop, and shoved a bit of syphon tubing into the hole.

And that brings us to the almost-finished product.
finished

Now all it needs is a coat of varnish on the bare wood parts, and some sealer around the worktop/rim join. Then I need to grab a couple of bits of waste wood/worktop to use between the jack and the frame/apples to get even pressure, and it’ll all be in working order!

August 7th, 2011

Meet Horatio the Hunchback Zombie Mouse.

Around, oh, I dunno, 8 years ago, I saw a taxidermy squirrel with wings online, and I wanted it SO BAD. But funnily enough, no-one I knew wanted to give me $300 to spend on such a hideous monstrosity, no matter how cute I thought it was. So I decided I wanted to make my own. Then I thought ‘ew guts ew ew ew’ and forgot all about it. Last year sometime my dad’s cat killed a mole, and because I have a friend who loves moles, I decided I wanted to learn taxidermy and stuff it for her, so I have had a dead mole in my freezer for a year. I did look for taxidermy courses I could go on, figuring I’d eventually get over my ‘ew guts’ reaction, but the only one i could find was £400 plus accommodation, so that wasn’t going to happen. Then, last week, I found a squirrel in a rocking chair on ebay and it was just so awesome and grotesque and cute and hilarious. And I REALLY FUCKING WANTED IT. But it was something stupid like £580. So I didn’t buy it. But I did ask google if I could learn taxidermy from the comfort of my own home with no expenditure. And it turns out, I could!

I am often gifted with dead mice/voles/shrews/birds courtesy of my cats, and because Gren has a pet snake, we always have a few in the freezer too. There were no cat killings over the last couple of days, so I got a freezer mouse instead, and set to work.

I made the body a bit too big, so he’s a little overstuffed. And I cut the leg bones off too far down so it was hard to attach the wire. And I accidentally pulled his tail off. And the fur started coming off his belly before i even had the pelt off. So he is a freakish looking hunchback tail-less zombie mouse. But it kinda worked. And I wasn’t tooooo grossed out pulling the skin off; I managed to avoid puncturing the peritoneum, so there were no guts. It did smell a bit, actually kinda like rabbit, so I’ll probably never eat rabbit again, but that’s no great loss, cos it stinks while it’s cooking and has too many damn bones in.

I named him Horatio.

horatio2

horatio1

Horatio is kind of a small mouse, so I think I will invest in some larger mice or baby rats next time we go to the snake food shop. Or maybe the cats will bring me a vole or something soon. Either way, although he is freaky and scary looking, I am reasonably happy with the fact I actually managed to do it.

August 3rd, 2011

I know I’m fucking awesome, but I can’t change the weather.

I’m sorry littlecat, I know it’s really hot outside and you really want to play but instead you have to lounge around doing nothing, but I promise there is nothing i can do. Howling and looking mournfully at me before flopping down in a huff will not make any difference, I promise. And I can assure you I hate this crazy heat just as much as you. In fact, probably more than you, because I can’t even open my bedroom windows fully at night because you think it’s fun to climb out.

I forgive you though, cos you are super cute.

littlecat

So, yeah, it’s hot and I hate it. My body hates me anyway for thinking that hooping on and off all last sunday afternoon was a good idea, so I spent a week pretty much constantly in bed recovering from that. And now I’m feeling kinda better, it’s way too hot to do anything. At least my garden is happy with the sun though. I have a gazillion beans and courgettes, and the tomatoes are juuuust starting to ripen…in fact, this pic was a couple of days old, the ripe tomato in the pic was eaten today, and it was lovely. In another couple of weeks I will be overrun with tomatoes.

courgettes
beans
raspberries
tomatoes
blueberries

Sadly the blueberries are no more. To start with I thought that some birds must have somehow avoided Snargle and eaten them, but then I realised the day they disappeared was the day that Rocky escaped. Fucking chicken. She kept jumping on the food storage box then over the fence, so I moved the box. Then she managed to fly from the box over the fence. So I clipped her wings. Then nothing for a week or so, so I thought it was all good. Until yesterday, when I looked out the front window and she was staring at me from the patio. I have no idea how she managed to get out, but it was very irritating, especially as she was desparate to get back in, but hadn’t realised there are plenty of things on this side of the fence to climb on and get back over. I think I might have to grab her again and cut the feathers back even further, or maybe do the other wing too. Or perhaps shoot her in the head. Fucking chicken.

I guess one thing about the hot weather is that it makes me want to eat healthy food. I just don’t fancy eating junk or heavy fatty food. So today I went to the shop and bought a buttload of fruit and veg. Nom nom nom! I’ve spent most of the time feeling hungry, nauseated, or both, so I figured if I get lots of quick and easy food I might actually manage to eat something and hopefully not feel ill afterwards. And I looooove salads and fruit.

fooooood

Oh, and I finally got round to getting gren to take some pics of stuff I’d knitted recently. My favourites are this vest and hoodie. Unfortunately the sun was too bright and the hoodie pic is rather bleached out, but trust me, it is awesomesauce, sooo comfortable, and has pretty cables on. In case anyone cares, the vest is a slightly modified razor cami, and the hoodie is my own design, there are instructions on my rav project page.

greyhoodie2
vest2

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