Friday, 30 August 2013

Fur and Feathers!

I know I promised these photos a bit sooner but my camera battery died so I couldn't post them until I was home (I forgot to take the charger with me!). Sorry!

I'm very pleased to introduce you to some very special cats though.

This is Rosie, she's an 18 year old tabby. Ash described her as 'an old soul' and I think he's right. She's got the bearing of a great queen or a pharaoh's cat. Even if she drools a bit when she's being made a fuss of =P, it's hard not to drool when your 126 in cat years!

Hidden behind her in that picture is George. You can see him better here:

He's a great big ginger tom cat. He's getting old too, although he's younger than Rosie (I think he's 15). He loves snuggling up and is very affectionate but has an annoying habit of extending his claws just enough to be uncomfortable when he's perched on your lap! He's also very heavy to carry!

This is his twin brother Fred (yes they are named after the Weasley twins =]). He's a bit more taciturn and reticent than his brother, but if you sit quietly he'll come and rub his nose against your hand and purr like a steam-train. Unfortunately he has a nervous habit of pulling out his fur =[, it makes it easier to tell him and George apart but he must get cold in winter. I brought him some cat treats for 'healthy coats' to help it grow back and he went completely nuts over them so I hope they help!

So that's the furry companions, time to meet the feathered ones. We'd better take them some food...

They have hen food to eat all the time (mostly corn) but they like fresh vegetables too so here are the off-cuts of courgette and spinach from an omelette I had for lunch and a couple of tomatoes which were going a bit soft; they were home-grown but I didn't pick them in time and they fell off the vine and went squish on the greenhouse floor!

They are very eager to see us aren't they, I think they might be hungry!

It's very hard to take photos of hens, they move so fast!

They live in this brilliant fox-proof compound. The chicken wire on the sides goes under the ground too and the slabs around the outside stop foxes from digging their way in! There are 2 hen houses to choose from; 6 like to sleep in the big one and 2 in the 'upstairs apartment'!

They lay their eggs in the houses too, sometimes in funny places, I'm not sure how they managed to lay these against the wall...

Oh no, don't even think about it....Please don't go out there...Come away from that door!

They like to escape! On the last morning the wind blew the door and they all got out. I was nearly late for work because it took a long time to round them up. I sent my boss a text to say 'I might be a tiny bit late, the chickens have revolted!' I really felt like I was in Chicken Run! Besides, there won't be many times in my life when I'll have an excuse like that for missing the bus...

They were definitely plotting, very shifty if you ask me!

I'm going to miss the hens and the cats most of all. It was a very lovely week though =]

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Cooking With Hens

Don't worry I'm not cooking the hens, I'm still a vegetarian =]

I'm looking after my friend's mum's house this week with 3 cats and a whole load of chickens! I seem to have earned a reputation as the go-to house-sitter around here =P

I've got lots of fresh food from the greenhouse and their allotment to eat and fresh eggs every day, it's going to be awesome.

It's also a perfect way to kickstart my Bat Fit!

Last night I cooked spaghetti with courgette sauce and spinach balls, I tried to follow this recipe, but I left out the chili because I can't handle it =P (I know, I know, I am a source of shame to both my Trinidadian and Bangladeshi family members, but it burns my mouth so badly). I divided the amounts by 4 to get one portion.

First I prepared the spinach, the leaf parts for me and the tough stalks for the hens (they love fresh veg).

Pureed the garlic (home-grown; it was drying in the greenhouse =]).

I crumbled some slightly stale bread into breadcrumbs (the hens will be eating the rest of the stale bread =P) and grated the cheese. Then I cracked an egg and beat it. As you can see there is no shortage of fresh eggs here, these are from one day!

I blanched, drained and chopped the spinach then mixed all of the ingredients for the spinach balls together. I meant to only pour in half of the egg (to match the proportion of the other ingredients) but my hand slipped and about 3/4 ended up in the bowl so the mixture was a bit runny! I had to drain off some of the egg and give each ball a good squeeze to keep them together, how slimy!

This is what they looked like after cooking:

Then I made the sauce with grated courgette (the ends of the courgette go to the hens as well), garlic and Parmesan. I also cooked spaghetti as I had no rigatoni.

And the finished dish with extra cheese (naughty me), voila!

It tasted pretty good, but I think next time I'll put in some extra herbs or spices to make up for removing the chili =]. Not the healthiest recipe in the world thanks to all the frying but still full of fresh ingredients and a carefully controlled portion, so not a bad start!

I'll post some pictures of the cats and the adorable hens tomorrow when I have the day off work =]

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Home to Wales

I'm sorry once again for the delay in posting. I have a lot on my mind at the moment. I'm struggling with anxiety about my PhD; unable to work for fear that nothing I write will ever be good enough (my lack of improvement on the theory side of things in the last year is really getting to me). I'm worried that with the job market the way it is in academia, my PhD is fairly pointless, and that even if I can get a job in academia it may not be what I really want (I'm not sure that all of the networking, politicking, constant struggle for grants is for me, and although I love my research I'm not sure I'll still love it when I'm working a 70 hour week with teaching and admin). I'm having some counselling for the anxiety and then I may take a leave of absence whilst I work out what I really want to do.

Anyway, I'm sure none of you want to hear about my personal struggles and angst. You'd much rather see the photos I took when I went home to Wales right?

I went back to the village where my grandmother was born, where my mum spent her childhood holidays, a place I have only seen a few times in my life, and yet it feels like home; more than this sprawling city in many ways. As soon as I cross the border; follow the road which climbs up the Brecon Beacons and see the valleys spread out before me, my heart starts to sing. 'This is where you soul belongs' it says to me, 'This land is in your blood', 'You are made from the coal seams in the earth, the grass upon the hills and the wide open skies', and I want to rejoice.

It is a home-coming tinged with sadness though; the villages which nestle at the bottom of these valleys were built here for one reason only; the coal that lies beneath them. The mines have been closed for half a century or more and these ones bustling communities have a half forgotten air. Their rural beauty is marred by the slow decay of time and poverty. The people here have always been poor, but they were self-suficient and hard-working, now most of those left are old or must commute to Cardiff daily to find work. The few young people left here do not remember the mining past or respect it's history.

Now I only return to the village for funerals; as my nana's brothers and sisters who remained here dwindle. This visit was for the last such funeral, my grandmother is now the only sibling left of 13. I worry that I'll never see this place again, never have cause to visit, and walk down the streets where old ladies smile at my cheekbones and know what family I'm from.

Some things do not change. The views are still breath-taking; the valley sides are steep, the hills sparsely wooded with scars of land-slips showing dark against the green, a reminder of the fragility of the balance between man and mountain.

The sheep are still here and the wild mountain ponies; this is their land too and they thrive despite the hard slopes and uncertain weather.

Wildlife has returned as people have migrated; much of the slope above the village is a nature reserve now, with pools of clear water reflecting the hills, until the reflections are broken by the wings of a myriad of waterfowl.

Above the village, fenced off from the attentions of the sheep and horses, there are 2 graveyards where monuments to mine officials and others of local importance rise out of the long grass covered in lichen; the air here is clean now, no longer choked with coal-dust and smoke. Be wary; there are many hollows where the finally resting places of ordinary folk are marked only by wild flowers. Before you reach the main cemetery, there is a small, lonely group of memorials. This is the cholera graveyard; victims of the outbreak were buried here together, away from the rest of the villagers. Cholera was greatly feared and thought to be spread through 'bad air', deeming this precaution necessary.

The village cemetery is larger, with modern stones as well as old ones, their black granite gleaming in the sun. Some of my family are here; although not Auntie Iris I came to say goodbye to; her ashes are drifting on the breeze above the mountains, laughing in her soft warm voice, smelling of hugs and welsh cakes.

I make a promise myself; to return next year, to stay longer, sit upon the hills, sink my toes into the long grass and breathe in the sweet air of the valleys.