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In which Tiny the hen is either a cockerel, or she’s playing a teeny vuvuzela

So yes, yes, I know… two chicken posts in one week potentially makes me a chicken bore.  But wait.  I have exciting news…

With the departure of Mr Nutty, things have been a bit quiet round English Towers way, and then, suddenly, there was a funny, squeaky little noise in the garden…

The Death Wish Child grabbed the video camera and…

Turns out little Tiny the hen could possibly be Tiny the cockerel.  Either that, or she’s cleverly concealed a teeny vuvuzela somewhere about her person.

‘You’ll meet me halfway, so?’

Poor Mr Nutty’s head situation isn’t getting any better.  I started to leave him out at night (he prefers to roost on the top of the hen house with his missus), figuring that death by fox or having your head eaten by your bitches are pretty similar on the ‘ouchy’ scale.

What did become clear while we were away was that he was getting a bit miserable.  Poppy’s Mum was worried as he’d stopped cockadoodledooing and seemed a bit listless.  I bet it bloody hurt.  When I could catch him, I was treating his head with antibiotic powder, but let’s face it, he was never going to mend whilst billetted with the mean girls so eventually I decided to pop an ad in an online ‘buy and sell’ marketplace.

My first phone call wasn’t promising.  He sounded about twelve, was shouting at the top of his voice and kept leaving yawning gaps in the conversation:

Shouty Fella ‘WELL…’

(A lot of  Irish people start a conversation with ‘well?’.  I’m never quite sure of the appropriate response.  For a long time I went with a very English ‘yes, I’m fine thank you’, but I don’t think it’s actually an enquiry into your health, so now I just say ‘well’ back and hope for the best).

Me: ‘Well…’

*MASSIVE SILENCE*

Me: ‘Hello?’

Shouty Fella: ‘I’M RINGING ABOUT THEM BIRDS. ARE THEY LAYIN’?’

Me: ‘Well one of them is’

Shouty Fella: ‘WHY?’

Me: ‘Well, the other one is a man’

*MINUTE OF SILENCE*

Shouty Fella: ‘ARE THEY RELATED?’

Me: I don’t think so – I bought them as a ‘breeding pair’.  Surely they wouldn’t want to do that sort of thing if they were related…’

Shouty Fella: ‘I’LL COME HAVE A LOOK AT THEM, SO?’

Me (pacing kitchen and explaining where I am in Cavan): ‘I said I’d deliver if you’re local’

Shouty Fella:’ I’M FROM  GALWAY’

Me: ‘Well that’s not exactly local, is it?’

*HUGE PAUSE*

Me (increasingly exasperated): ‘Hello?!’

Shouty Fella: ‘YES?”

What fresh hell is this?

Me: ‘I said IT’S NOT EXACTLY LOCAL!’

Shouty Fella: ‘YOU’LL MEET ME HALF WAY, SO?”

Me: Well, no, because you live in GALWAY. I was thinking more like if it was the next town…

Shouty Fella: ‘IT’S QUITE A WAY, SO?’

Me (losing will to live): ‘Cavan to Galway? Yes, yes it’s a very long way.’

*VERY LONG PAUSE*

Shouty Fella: ‘WHAT COLOUR ARE THEY?

Me (suddenly feeling the urge to match his volume): ‘The colour they are in the PICTURE on the WEBSITE.  In the same advert where it says I live in CAVAN’.

Shouty Fella: ‘YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO DROP THEM TO ME, SO?’

Me: ‘No, no I’m afraid I won’t.’

Shouty Fella: ‘DO YOU KNOW A COURIER THAT WOULD BRING THEM?’

Me (silently banging head against kitchen table): ‘No, no I don’t.  Maybe you could look into arranging it and ring me back if you get it sorted’.

Shouty Fella: ‘I’LL ASK MY FATHER’

Me: ‘Right, bye then’

*YAWNING SILENCE*

Shouty Fella: ‘BYE’

If he actually rings back, I’m going to kill myself.

Mr Nutty, the Mean Girls and the Croydon facelift

Poor Mr Nutty the cockerel.  He doesn’t have much luck.  Having been bullied by other cockerels in his last place of residence, I think he finally thought he was going to get the chance to live the live of Riley, presiding over his own set of ‘hoes’ (thank you, Twitter, for that little beauty).

Alas, it was not to be.  Whether the already patchy bald bit was too tempting, or whether the girls just really are mean, the head-pecking has started again.  Mr Nutty’s lush Las Vegas showgirl head-dress has been reduced to something more akin to an Elizabethan ruff, whilst the top of his head is now completely red and bald.

And it’s not that he’s a bad cockerel or anything.  Mr Nutty seems to be well-liked amongst his little flock.  He takes his protector duties very seriously and is often to be seen goose-stepping (chicken stepping?) round the garden, his little oddly-shaped harem in attendance.  He’s funniest in the veg patch, where he scrapes the ground away to uncover all manner of yumminess, then stands proudly back whilst  his ladies get the pick of the tasty morsels.  When I see it, I always imagine him going ‘g’wan girls, tuck in’.

Here he is with his rather odd-looking babes (sorry you can’t really see him here, I think he was scratching his bottom at the time).  You can also see Holly, far right, who has morphed from quite a cute little chick into some sort of prehistoric turkey/velociraptor hybrid, bless her:

I don’t think it’s spite, particularly, I just think when they’re all huddled up in the hen house together at night, those naughty girls just can’t resist a little peck at his newly emerging feathers.

Anyhoo, something had to give, and #2 had the bright idea of pulling up Mr Nutty’s remaining feathers into something akin to a pony tail, to protect his bald bit while his new feathers get a chance to grow.

Mr Nutty took some serious chasing, and when we finally grabbed him, an unseemly struggle ensued.  I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to hold a furious chicken while trying to tie his head feathers into a pony tail (no?  Thought not), but it’s not easy.  First I got it too tight, so his eyes were bulging, and the poor thing couldn’t blink (kind of like a chicken version of the Croydon facelift), then it was too loose and pinged off.  Next attempt was secure enough, and not too tight, but a bit wonky.  By this stage, Mr Nutty was very ‘pinged off’ himself, so we decided we’d leave him with the slightly off-centre hairdo.

I think he looks rather rakish.  What say you?

Random things I have learned this week about rural living

1. The joy of taking the laptop into the kitchen to work in a sunny spot can sometimes be hampered by extreme cockadoodledooing in the garden.

2. Cockadoodledooing is not conducive to any form of concentration.

3. Concentration can then be further hampered when a straying dog decides to attack a sheep in the field right outside your back garden.

4. Running out into the back garden in your pyjamas (the ones with the pink lollipops all over them) and shouting obscenities in a manic fashion whilst windmilling your arms will scare dogs away from attacking sheep.

5. The sight of a grown woman with mad, Russell Brand hair and lollipop pyjamas running towards them screeching like a banshee would probably scare anyone, to be fair.

6. Trying to walk over to the sheep to see if it’s alright will also scare the sheep away.

7. Phoning your friend in hysterics and jabbering incoherently about dogs and sheep and screeching in lollipop pyjamas and stuff in a ranty way is a very good test of friendship (thank you, Poppy’s Mum, you passed with flying colours).

Where was I? Oh yes….

8. Opening the patio door and shouting ‘WILL YOU SHUT UP!’ has absolutely no effect on the aforementioned cockerel or the amount/volume of his cockadoodledooing (but does give your nearest neighbour a good laugh).

9. Bursting into tears when trying to recount the dog/sheep incident to your children is a very good test of the teen/parent bond. Being patted on the head and told you’re a ‘bit of a knobber’ is A Good Thing.

10. This rural/self sufficiency lark is not as easy as I thought.

Mr and Mrs Nutty: Big Bird’s illegitimate offspring

Sunday saw us travelling north – practically into Northern Ireland, in fact, to pick up two chickens that the Death Wish Child had set his heart on. Admittedly I’ve done weirder things, but meeting up with the seller on a country road – surreptitiously passing a squawking bag between us and then stealthily exchanging cash did make me feel strangely guilty.

‘Wow!’, said the Death Wish Child breathlessly as we drove away, ‘that was just like a drug deal!’.

He really wants to breed chickens, but I’ve always been slightly reticent about having a cockerel.  I know they can be pretty annoying.

Anyhoo, Mr and Mrs Nutty have arrived – looking like the bastard child of Big Bird and Animal from the Muppets:

… and also despite their ridiculous behaviour (the run around like loons, and yesterday, in a triumphantly comic moment, actually ran smack bang into each other), they’re settling well.

Mr Nutty is rather proud of his new flock (I think he was bullied at his previous home as he’s rather bald on top), and settled himself happily atop the hen house last night to guard over his new ladies, only to be a bit cross when I nabbed him and stuffed him into the coop with the others (well, there are foxes round here).

Next up on the wish list, is a new chicken house. And while not quite convinced by the ‘nogg’ (you heard it here first: http://www.nogg.co/):

…there’s a lovely man locally who makes gorgeous chicken coops:

…and then we’ll keep the small ark for a little nutty lovenest (or a ‘naughty ark’ as DWC suggested). We travelled happily home talking of naughty chickens (‘go to your coop!’) and dreaming of little nutty chicken babies. How cute would they be?

New chicken babies!

It’s been a very weird few days here at English Towers.

I’ll start with the good news.  We got new chickens!  We drove to the other side of Bailieboro and met with a lovely man called Percy, who had possibly the biggest bird obsession (feathered, natch) that I’ve ever witnessed.

Percy lives in a house pretty similar to ours –  a newish built house set in about an acre of land.  His acre, though, is completely covered in sheds, bird houses and coops of all shapes and sizes.  Wandering through the birds with his lovely girlfriend (whose name I missed at least three times and was so embarrassed I didn’t like to ask again), we passed a beautiful pair of peacocks and a huge pair of breeding turkeys, proudly puffing up their feathers and warning us that this was their patch.

Percy specialises in all sorts of weird varieties – I’ll never be able to remember the names, but there were some kind of ‘Polish‘ ones with mad headdresses, and others with furry feet, hugely long tails, and even brightly coloured ones that hardly looked like chickens at all.

We settled on three babies who will grow with us, and hopefully be tame enough to succumb to the odd cuddle (what? we like cuddles).  All three are Wyandottes, but there is a certain amount of colour mixing, so they’re not ‘pedigrees’ or anything.  We think Tiny, (top), the smallest of the bunch, and Lucy (below) are possibly the ‘blue-laced’ varieties, as their undersides are a beautiful shade of blue/grey, and their feathers are red, tipped with blue:

But the third one, Holly, looks more like more a turkey than anything else (hence her name):

The sad news is that after a good six weeks of trying, poor Millie was not getting any closer to enjoying life here.   The obsessive pacing and total terror of being outside made life for her (and us) pretty hard, and after a nasty incident where she bit #1 in the face (he’s okay – more shocked than anything, but to hear a snarl and find your son with blood pouring from his nose was a bit of a shocker), I had to contact the rescue and say I couldn’t keep her.

Poor Millie.  Happily, the couple that found her are going to give her a home (they don’t have children, but do have other dogs – maybe she’ll be better with company).  We all feel a bit of a failure, but as my lovely friend Liz pointed out, ‘sometimes dogs are just too damaged’.  I hope that she’ll settle and live out her life in peace, but have to accept that it won’t be with us.

Food trends for 2011: what foodies predict for the New Year

And so to 2011.

There are, of course, all manner of predictions being thrown around for the New Year.  Food-wise, there’s an awful lot being talked about ‘conspicuous thrift’.  I also saw someone on twitter declare ‘cupcakes are dead! Long live the pie’.  I thought I’d ask a few of my foodie friends what they thought we’d see in 2011.

Here’s what they thought:

Tom Aikens, Chef Proprietor of Tom Aikens Restaurant, Chelsea:

I think that people are still wanting more down to earth simple food that is more accessible and easy on the eye as well as the wallet ….

Catherine Phipps, food journalist, Guardian Word of Mouth:

The combination of rising wheat prices and interest in South American food will equal increased interest in different types of potatoes for our carb of choice.  I also predict intelligent marrying of locavorism & fusion along the Momofuku line: local ingredients given a twist.  Finally, everyone will start replacing their wooden spoons with spons! www.thesponco.com.

Journalist and food blogger Aoife from myadventuresinveg.blogspot.com:

I think 2011 will see people move even more towards veggie food. I think that more people will start experimenting with vegan (and vegetarian) meals – even if they don’t totally adapt their diet or lifestyle, they might dip their toe into the veg pool. With famous folk like Biz Stone (who founded Twitter), Olivia Wilde, and Ellen Degeneres spreading the veg word there could be a rise in people seeking out information on vegetarianism and veganism. Hopefully for most it would be more than just a ‘trend’ though. For me, it’s not about a ‘them and us’ situation with people who are veggie and who aren’t, so my ideal would be that people have more access to vegan food when eating out – I predict that more restaurants will cotton onto the growing popularity of vegan food and people like myself won’t have to drive waiters (and our friends) crazy asking for things without goat’s cheese! In other trends, I foresee American health food trends like agave syrup, chia seeds, green smoothies, brown rice syrup and nutritional yeast moving to the mainstream in Ireland and Europe.

Foodie and blogger The Glutton at gluttonyforbeginners.wordpress.com:

I fancy trying out more Middle Eastern food this year – I think it is time I dusted down Claudia Roden’s Arabesque.  I suppose one thing I see more of is online speciality food ordering and I hope to do a bit more of that in 2011. Obviously a lot of people now do their food shopping online but I think more are moving towards buying certain things, like meat and veg, from specialist online providers rather than do an entire shop with one big supermarket. It reminds me of the way my mum used to shop years ago when I was a kid – going to each individual shop like the bakers, greengrocer, butcher etc but I will do it online rather than take a trip down the high street.

Food blogger likemamusedtobake:

I predict cake: lots and lots of yummy cake!

Food blogger Gráinne at upliftingfood.com:

I predict many gyms membership numbers going up from people reading the Irish Foodie blogs and eating all around them ;)

Food geek/blogger, Jules who runs a business teaching children about the wonders of food and blogs at thebutcherthebaker.wordpress.com:

I think that due to the current financial climate the trend for comfort food is going to conutinue with a big resurgence in both sweet & savory pies (hurrah!) also cakes like carrot cake and banana bread are going to get prettier and take on cupcakes, it’s about time a cake that doesn’t require tonnes of sickly sweet icing takes off. In the summer the trend for edible flowers is going to grow and become more mainstream with edible flowers being more readily avaliable in shops.

Food blogger Cathy from homemademummy.net:

I predict 2011 will mean More but Less. More time and attention paid to creating fantastic food, but splashing out less often.  That way we can still have fabulous treats but keep an eye on tightening budgets.

Helen, food writer and foodie gift expert at The Foodie Gift Hunter:

I’m going to go with hopefully a more successful punt this year on Finnish food having a moment, based on Turku being one of the European Capitals of Culture. Also the fact that a generation may have had the Moomins cookbook for Xmas which is an intro to Finnish food.

Food blogger and restaurant reviewer Elizabeth at Elizabeth on Food:

Burgers, burgers and more burgers. It’s been burger madness in London in 2010. Bar Boulud, Corrigans, Hawksmoor. It will be a matter of time before other restaurants (even Michelin starred ones) and countries will follow this trend. I’ve written a post on this subject a few months ago called: The hamburger, fast becoming slow food. http://elizabethonfood.typepad.com/elizabeth-on-food/2010/08/the-hamburger-fast-becoming-slow-food.html

Irish Blog Award winning food blogger The Daily Spud:

Naturally I predict that, together with a general trend towards more traditional dinners, potatoes will be the must-have accessory for the discerning diner in 2011 (and yes, I would say that, wouldn’t I!)

Photographer and food/parenting blogger Cara from frecklesfamily.com:

I predict meatballs are this years must have!

Food blogger Louise from usingmainlyspoons.wordpress.com

Wholewheat flour as a trendy new ingredient – see Kim Boyce’s book from last year, and Alice Medrich’s new cookies book as examples of baking that highlights wholewheat and different flours as having their own flavours. Plus, has the advantage of being cheap to experiment with.

Whoopie pies and macarons were clearly very 2010. Maybe 2011 will be year of the traybake, seeing an increase in sales of Australian Women’s Weekly publications?

Chocolate is going to get expensive, so maybe there will be more attention paid to where the beans are from, to help justify the higher prices that are going to have to be charged. Cadburys et al with Venezuelan varieties perhaps.

Donal Skehan, cookbook author, TV cook and food blogger at donalskehan.com:

Lots of very exciting predictions and things to be excited about in 2011!

Firstly the follow up to Nigel Slater’s amazing Kitchen Diaries will be out later this year which is most likely to be the highlight of my cookbook collection in 2011.

Of course the release of my AMAZING new book “Kitchen Hero: Bringing Cooking Back Home!” will be out in April alongside its 13 part series on RTE. The book and series will have lots of very tasty and easy dishes for everyone to try.

Last year there was a huge surge of interest in growing veggies at home, so I think this will increase again this year, growing your own is definitely on the rise.

Keeping chickens! I’m hoping to keep some chickens this year, when I finally convince my girlfriend, but it is something that is becoming more and more popular.

Lunchboxes: people aren’t spending what they used to on coffee and a sambo, so I think people will start looking back towards the kitchen and making their own lunchboxes.  So expect lots of lunchbox envy in 2011!

Amy Lane, writer, cakeshop owner and food blogger at amylane.wordpress.com

I think there will be a big upsurge in home baking this year, with another series of the Great British Bake Off providing yet more inspiration. I predict that the regular cupcake will go mini in 2011, with the bite-size version becoming more popular. I also think people will become more experimental, trying out some baking that is a little trickier in particular macaroons and artisan breads.

Nick Coffer, radio presenter, food blogger (and vlogger!) at mydaddycooks.com and cookbook author:

I think one of the big trends in food blogging for 2011 will be… more food blogging! Setting up a food blog is such a quick, cheap and easy process – you can be up and running and publishing posts literally within minutes – that I think that food blogs will become ever more numerous. Which is great news for readers because it gives us the opportunity to enjoy content from brilliant foodies and great writers who would not have had a similar forum to express themselves on, even barely a few years ago. My advice to new food bloggers is to find a unique angle. I know that is easier said than done but standing out from the crowd is key to building a following. And blog because you want to. The most successful bloggers launched their blogs as labours of love rather than as a means to earn income or become writers. I launched my own blog to stay sane at a time when I was a stay-at-home dad, struggling to find new creative ideas after my business was hit in the recession in 2009. I had no idea that it would take off as it did and I think that a key part of this was the fact that it was launched as a piece of fun rather than with a master-plan. The best blogs are the most natural as this is what will engage your readers most. I am fortunate because blogging has opened up a new career for me (the “My Daddy Cooks” book is published via Hodder & Stoughton in May 2011 and I present a weekly food show on BBC Three Counties Radio) but the most important thing remains to produce interesting and vibrant content which people will want to read. If you do that, people will follow you and your blogs!

And for me?  I think the biggest food trend will be a continuation along the path of responsibility: respect for the animals that provide our food (high welfare, free range) and support of local food producers (I love Catherine’s ‘locavorism’ term, above).

I’ll be continuing to embrace good food, cooked with local, sustainable ingredients, where at all possible (until they invent local lemons, I’ll still be buying those pesky flown-in ones).  The only cookery book you will need, to support you on this most responsible of journeys is the beefy and quite amazing Food from Plenty by Diana Henry – helping you make the most of your ingredients, be they a saved-for free-range shoulder of pork, or a glut of windfall apples.

Oh, and this week I’ll be replenishing my chicken family too – watch this space!

Animal insults, rescue doggies, chicken slaughter and pigs.

We miss Bert.  Yes, yes, I know he’s happy in his new home, and yes, he could be a growly old git and a sofa hogger, but still.  The Ninja Cat of Death is much loved, don’t get me wrong, but with her penchant for climbing onto the back of the sofa and then attacking the back of one’s head with absolutely no warning, plus being blessed with the ability to explode, puffer-fish like, into a mass of needles when stroked in the wrong way, she is generally treated with the contempt she fully deserves.

I give you, for example, this little exchange from yesterday:

#1 to Ninja Cat of Death (in sing-song voice): ‘You’re such a cute kitty, yes you are.  Shame you’re evil, you are, you’re evil.’

Ninja Cat: *blink* *purr*

#1: ‘And we’re going to burn you, yes we are, we’re going to burn you, yes, ‘cos you’re evil.’

And I’m not completely blameless in this.  Yesterday, busy with the dinner and annoyed at her winding herself around my feet, I might possibly have told her to ‘f*ck off, you furry tosser’.

I did also once hear Hubby talking to her in the kitchen: ‘go away. Nobody likes you, you piece of sh*t’.

And yesterday, I heard: ‘get off my clean trousers you bloody animal.  Shame there’s no fireworks here or I’d sent you up on a bloody rocket’.

But we love her really.  Honest.

But I digress.  It’s the dog thing.  I work from home, see, and after waving de brevren off on the 8am bus to Cavan it’s just me, my computer and the unsociable cat.  All day.  I need a buddy.  Plus I need to get my fat bottom out of this chair and down the boat road much more often.

So yesterday, with help from my lovely friend Liz, who has been coaching me in the ways of the rescue dog, I registered with a rescue charity.  I had to fill in a long, complicated form with all sorts of random measurements like the height of my hedges, the length of my garden, the state of my front gate (ah, haven’t actually got one), and how often I shaved my legs, flossed and hoovered the lounge (okay I made a few of those up).

Today I learned that my application had been successful.  Next, apparently, is the home visit.  Uh oh.  Note to self: make sure kids don’t call cat a tosser while home check in progress.

In other animal-related news, Mr Lovely informs me that his turkeys and broiler chickens are doing well.  He’s also promised that I will be allowed to ‘lurk’ during the slaughter and preparation of said broilers (curiosity, not bloodlust, you understand).  Yay.

Oh, and in other other animal-related news.  I’m thinking of getting pigs.  I shan’t be doing any home slaughtering though.  Bleurgh.

The Friday Photo: what next?

So one of the downsides of moving back was that I had to give up my chickens.  Happily lovely Madge and Bluebelle went to a farm where they’ll be well looked after and *gasp* meet a cockerel for the first time (brace yourself, girls).

So now we’re happily settled back at English Towers what’s it to be?  I thought maybe quails, but then a friend said they’re ‘horrible little bastards’, and then I thought maybe I’ll just settle for normal chooks again.  Or maybe I’ll get chooks AND a puppy (that’d please the Cat of Death)…

Pigs?  Goats?  Trouble is, I’d be no good as a smallholder as I’d never be able to despatch anything.  What about you? What would you have if space (and time) allowed?

I’m so proud…

Yes, okay, so one was laid on the lawn.

And yes, yes, they’ve both been pecked and have holes in… (I bet there was a ‘WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!’ moment, don’t you?)

And yes, they’re a bit misshapen and rather dodgy in overall appearance…

But my babies laid an egg – each! – and on the same day!

I’m so proud.

Wisteria and chickens

Wow it’s been beautiful, hasn’t it?  We’re really starting to feel at home in this house now (well I am, the kids were settled pretty much straight away).  Here at English Towers II our little garden is actually a bit of a revelation, what with the gorgeous Wisteria that’s emerging, draping itself over the wrought iron arch that leads to the vegetable patch and the greenhouse:

As you can see, I’m still working on that vegetable patch, hence the weeds, but I’ve planted some peas:

…and a little herb border:

…and underneath all those weeds and nettles, I was delighted to find old strawberry plants and raspberries already there, both of which are happily flowering.  This, it seems, is the benefit of inheriting a garden off an older person – it may be slightly overgrown, but there are treasures just waiting to be discovered:

…like this beautiful old lilac tree which leans, like the Wisteria over the ancient brick garage:

What’s the old saying? You plant Magnolia for your children and Wisteria for your grandchildren?  I have no idea how old this beauty is, but walking under its blooms to potter in the little greenhouse has become one of my nightly pleasures.  And then, after plenty of swearing, I put together the chicken ark (the more eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that at this stage I had forgotten to slide the little door into place and had to take the whole bloody thing apart again):

and yesterday we picked up our chickens, a beautiful, lavender coloured Bluebelle and a white Sussex Star (and look at the Wisteria now, just a couple of days after the first shot):

My only concern is that they haven’t been introduced to the Ninja Cat of Death yet, but seeing as she’s still quite small, I’m hoping they’ll keep her in her place.  Still, as with all things in my life, it has the potential to go horribly wrong.  I’ll keep you informed…

Five little things for 2010

Ah, the bollocks pie. Delicious AND entertaining...

Happy New Year!  We spent a happy evening with my lovely friend Jules, her hubby and her two little rugrats.  We drank wine, giggled, played scrabble, watched Bob the Builder and ate beef stew and dumplings followed by chocolate brownies topped with splodges of double cream, butterscotch angel delight and chocolate sprinkles.  Heaven.

I’ve no resolutions for this year.  I’ve probably got a bit of extra flesh on the ol’ spare tyre, but I won’t be dieting.  Why?  Well for one thing I have absolutely no willpower, and for another, I love baking (and eating the results), and for anotherer (what?  that’s so a word), my Hubby still thinks I’m sexy.  Well, he doesn’t actually vomit when he looks at me.  So it’s not going to happen.  Uh uh.  No way.

What I will do, though, is ask you to join me in doing five little things.  These five things won’t make us better people, nor will they save the planet.  No, these five little things will plant a little smile on your face.  And what’s more important than that?

1.  Buy free range chicken and eggs.  Okay, so they might cost a little more, but do what I do and buy them slightly less. Having owned and loved a little gaggle of my very own chickens and got to know their quirky characters and intelligent natures, I can categorically tell you that a battery/barn/intensively reared hen has lead a miserable life.  And we can’t live with that on our conscience, can we?

2.  Cook something that you’ve never cooked before.  Go on, be a devil. I’m going to try my hand at marmalade this year.  It might be a disaster as I am possibly the most cack handed person in Hertfordshire, if not the world, but hey, it’ll be a new skill.  Oh and send me a photo.  You know I love that.

3.  Buy stuff that’s in season but don’t be precious about it.  Let’s face it, we all eat pineapples and bananas and drink tea and coffee.  Air miles are always going to be part of the equation, and with the advent of Fair Trade we can salve our consciences at the same time.  No, I mean buying fresh English (or Irish – wherever you happen to live) produce where you have the choice and cooking it with love.  Hubby arrived home on Christmas Eve with three proper ‘trees’ of sprouts.  The children actually didn’t realise that sprouts grew like that.

4.  Love yourself.  No, I’m not going all new-agey and ‘knit your own yoghurt’, I just mean give yourself a break.  How many times have you looked in the mirror and hated what you saw?  Criticised yourself in some way?  Brushed off a compliment (‘what, this old face?  Oh I’ve had it years….’?  In 2010, look in the mirror and give yourself a big, sexy wink.  Remember, how do you expect anyone else to love you if you can’t even do it yourself?  And let’s face it, you’re gorgeous.  Smile.  Sing.  Be a bit bonkers.  Have a dance.  Talk bollocks on Twitter (I’m @EnglishMum) – whatever makes you happy.

5.  And finally, une petite challenge.  This came from a silly Twitter conversation with my friends Jen and the presents queen.  This competition is open to all comers and will last the entire year.  It’s the grand ‘mental cookbook’ competition.  Whoever finds (and actually owns) the maddest cookery book wins the prize (don’t worry, I’ll make it a good’un).  If you reckon you’ve got a contender, drop me a line.  I’ll be updating you with the action throughout the year.  Obviously my Merry Kitschmas book doesn’t count.  Ebay cruising will never be the same again.  Bring it on, then.

Anyone got anything to add?  Come on now, don’t be shy…

To Ireland, with love.

English Towers in the snow (c) Englishmum.com

So that’s it, then.  Packing has commenced, the chickens have been collected in a trailer and carted off to their new home,  and in a very short time we shall land back on terra firma in the good old Kingdom of United.

I have mixed feelings, frankly.  When we first moved to Dublin I was miserable.  I missed my friends, my family, the familiarity of having lived in a place your whole life; bumping into people you know in Tesco (frankly, being able to even go to Tesco without an hour’s round trip).  It was rotten.  The children hated their new school (#1 was the only native English speaker in his class), everything was alien, everything shut for lunch, or on a Monday, or on a Wednesday or had to be requested in writing, and I lasted about 6 weeks before I fled home, leaving poor Hubby blinking in a bewildered fashion in a big empty Irish house.

Still, we made it back.  And with a new school for the boys, a new dog (the wonderful and much missed Becks), a new friend in Jenny and a new blog to take up my time (EnglishMuminIreland.blogs.ie – where it all began), I started to settle in.  The Irish are a wonderful breed: open, friendly, always up for a laugh, never too busy to help…  With Hubby’s new job we found ourselves here in Cavan and from the moment we walked over the threshold of English Towers, we felt at home.  With the lovely C next door already terminally ill when we arrived, a sad by-product of being able to help in small ways like minding children or fetching medicine from the chemist was that we (selfishly) felt needed and wanted very quickly.  We made friends with The Lovelies, the Galway Cs and Poppy’s Mum and her family (if you’re new here, check out ‘All about me’ at the top of the screen for more info), all via D, who was unceasingly generous with both his time and his friends, and have felt happily and contendedly as though we were home for the past two years.  D now has a new, lovely lady in his life.  The children are delighted and so are we.  We wish them all the love and happiness that they so deserve.

But things change.  The Recession came and bit us on the bum and it’s time to move on again.  I’ll miss the beautiful countryside, the wonderful people and the laid back lifestyle, but the hustle and bustle of town life is calling me back too.  Living in this huge house with the dog and the chickens and the lovely garden has been a massive adventure for us all.  The children have made lifelong friends, received a fantastic education and enjoyed some amazing life experiences.  They have benefitted immeasurably from their time here, as have the Hubby and I.  We’ve been lucky enough to share this fantastic place with our friends and family when they came over for our wedding blessing and have even been welcomed into the new community of the church by the kind and gentle Revd Craig – something I never would have imagined in a million years.  I know we’ll return so much more open to new experiences, and with a fresh appreciation for all the people and places that we’ve missed over the last four years.

Onwards and upwards, then.  Pass the bubble wrap.  Goodbye Emerald Isle.  It’s been a blast.

Hay bale (c) Englishmum.com

Chickenmum.com

So we’ve been away for a few days.  And after disgracing himself by chewing on the house last time we went away, Bert was banished to the kennels (still no luck on the new home front) and Little C from next door was given chicken sitting duties in exchange for a small financial reward.

On our return, Little C looked a little worried: ‘I think I lost one’, he said.  Apparently the poor little sod had been hunting high and low in the torrential rain for Minnie the Moocher, sending the rest of his family out into the field to search for her, but all had returned empty handed. 

‘Meh’, I said, knowing her penchant for roosting in ridiculous places,  ‘she’ll be around somewhere’.  Well, dearest reader, we scoured and hunted, searched and… lots of other words that mean ‘to look for’, but she was nowhere to be seen.  I was beginning to worry, I mean, she’s usually in the kitchen hoovering up the crumbs:

Minnie (c) Englishmum.com

… or sitting on the office windowsill giving me a good telling off when I’m late feeding them, and this was unusual.

I did wonder whether she’d been birdnapped by the particularly evil-looking gang of pheasants that are currently inhabiting the field, but no, I spotted them out of #2’s window (sorry about the photo, but they were a long way away), and no Minnie:

Pheasants (c) Englishmum.com

And then #2 rushed, breathless, to the back door: ‘Ive found her!’.  Long story short, she’d taken up residence underneath the beech hedge (you can see it in the bottom of the pic above – plenty of places to hide), but – strangely – she wasn’t at all pleased to see him.  In fact, she burbled at him in a rather aggressive manner and looked all squashed flat and peculiar.  We decided to investigate.  And this is what we found:

Minnie's eggs (c) Englishmum.com

Poor Minnie is broody.  I feel so sorry for her.  She’d made herself a little nest, and was happily sitting on a large amount of eggs: 17 in fact, although the white ones aren’t even hers, they’re Chilli’s (don’t know how she managed that).

I had to explain to #2 that of course they won’t ever hatch because we don’t have a cockerel to fertilise them, but that Minnie doesn’t understand that and thinks she’s keeping a future generation warm under her feathery bum.

‘Aw, poor Minnie’, said #2 as we took the reluctant Mama back to the coop and picked up all the eggs, ”I almost wish we could get her a boyfriend so she could have some real babies’.

Five minutes later, though, she’d escaped the coop and was back in her little nest, presumably hard at work producing the next 17.  So the question is: who’s going to have the ‘birds and the bees’ chat with her?  Hands up, now…

Minnie the moocher

 Minnie (c) Englishmum.com

Y’know, when we started this whole chicken thing, waaaaay back when the wondrous Hugh was starting his Chicken Out campaign, lots of people said to us how they have their own little personalities and you get quite attached to them.  At the time we just laughed and thought ‘yeh, right, isn’t it funny how people always want to give dumb animals a personality’.  But, dearest reader, it’s really true.  Take Minnie the crap Rhode Island Red (they’re supposed to be dark red, but she’s a kind of pale ginger), for example.  Her perpetual escapology drove me mental at first.  Whatever kind of fencing I put up, however much I clipped her wings (they were practically stumps at one stage) I couldn’t keep her contained, but now I’m actually quite happy that she just wanders around.  I love looking out of the window when I’m at the kitchen sink and seeing her bimbling round the garden with her best mate Chilli the Black Rock:

Minnie and Chilli (c) Englishmum.com

She’s also completely and utterly in love with Hubby, which we all find absolutely hysterical.  I think it started when she first followed him as he mowed the lawn and uncovered all sorts of tasty goodies.  Now, within two seconds of the garage door clanging, you’ll see Hubby pushing the lawn mower round the garden, followed by a hopelessly infatuated Minnie in hot pursuit, doing that ridiculously comical ‘Lee Evans’ fast walk that chickens do so well.  He had to take a strimmer to the garden heart today, and ended up having to put her inside the coop lest he gave her an unintentional haircut (see, he loves her really – he only swears at her when he thinks anybody’s listening):

(c) Englishmum.com

I’m pretty convinced that she actually sees herself as a human, following me back into the kitchen after I’ve hung out the washing, and pootling happily around, pecking at crumbs on the floor whilst keeping up a perpetual little burble of contented clucking. 

'Erm hello, you appear to have accidentally locked me out!...'

This evening she spent the entire time perched on the handlebar of #2’s bike.  Eventually it got so dark that we had to gently lift her off and pop her into the coop.

Maybe some stabilisers would help...?

Tomorrow I’ll have a chat with her and remind her she’s a chicken.  After we’ve had our Cheerios together, obviously.

Flares, dead ducks, coop extensions Disney monsters and aliens

(c) Englishmum.com

So since we bought the two new pullets at the Mullagh Fair, Hubby’s new project, the Great English Towers Chicken Coop Extension, is going quite well.  There’s been plenty of drilling and hammering (and swearing), but the finished item will double the size of their roosting/nesting space and hopefully stop Minnie, who was once the lowest in the pecking order and has now morphed into some sort of evil chicken bully, from pecking the new babies to death before they grow old enough to actually lay anything.  As soon as Hubby can get ‘this f*cking bit to fit into that b*stard bloody thing there’, then the chooks will have plenty more room to manoevre.

Panini, the new little speckly one, who Mr Lovely thinks might be a Rhode Island Red after all, seems to escape pretty much unpecked, but poor Elvis, the slightly camp-looking Minorcan with the enormous flares (hence the gender dismorphic name) sadly gets the brunt of everyone’s aggression, rushing madly around cheeping and trying to avoid getting brain damage from continually being pecked on the head.

(c) Englishmum.com

Talking of Mr Lovely, we went up to see their brand new ducks this morning only to find one dead.  Poor Middle Lovely had only just put in a pond for them (he’s the teeniest, but most enthusiastic smallholder – it’s pigs next, apparently) and the one remaining duck was waddling about, quacking despondently.  I know it’s part and parcel of this smallholding business, but I still felt quite sad.  I tried not to cry in front of Mr Lovely though (I’m such a girl), as he and Hubby would never have let me forget it, the gits.

In other news, two more lubly pressies have arrived from the wonderful chaps at Disney (‘good grief’, said Hubby, ‘are you sure you’re not sleeping with anyone at Disney?’).  First up was a new Blu-ray version of Monsters Inc.  This caused muchas excitement as we’re all big fans, and last night a popcorn and Malteser-fest ensued whilst it got its inaugural viewing.  I know I’m scathing about the Hubster’s big ugly monster telly that I’m not allowed to touch – not even to dust – not that I actually ever do dust anything, but still… anyhoo, you really could see every little strand of fur on Sully’s back with the combo of HD TV and Blu-ray disc.  (Ooh, listen to me, I’m all technofabulous!)

My other pressie was a new Wii game called Toy Story Mania.  Now me and the other Disney 7 girlies had a bloody ball on this ride at Walt Disney World.  It changed even the mildest-mannered Dulwich Divorcee into a sharp-shooting, evil killer (‘die, m*therf*ckers, die!’).  Happily, shoot ‘em up games are my lot’s absolute fave, and this one’s eye candy into the bargain (I love those little alien thingies – they’re soooo cute!).   By the way, my #1 son just looked at this picture and said ‘Mum!  You can’t put that on the blog, it says ‘great knob’!!’  Er no, that’s a J, darling.

(c) Englishmum.com

Oh, and while Hubby’s been building and the kids have been happily killing aliens, I’ve been doing a bit of experimentation in the kitchen.  Watch this space for a nice fruity teabread, coming soon!

All the fun of the fair and National Organic Week 2009

So after wondering whether this weekend would be a let-down after last weekend’s shenanigans, it turned out to be enormous fun.  The sun shone, #2 had his mate D to stay, and we had a nice evening with D’s Ma, otherwise known as Poppy’s Mum ( my friend and gardening guru, originally from Cork and now from just down the road), her Hubby P and their other two lads.  A nice evening was had by all.

Oh and just to explain the name, here’s her baby, Poppy the Peppy Puppy in all her glory.  Isn’t she just adorable?:

(c) Englishmum.com

On Sunday, Poppy’s Mum came to pick up D and mentioned that she was heading to the local Fair at Mullagh.  When she mentioned there would be chickens, #2 was desperate to go, so we tagged along.  I thought these two little stallholders (or should that be smallholders?) were absolutely adorable:

(c) Englishmum.com

It was a curious mix, to be honest, from market stalls selling air guns (‘Mum….?’  ‘NO!’), to others selling ducks…

(c) Englishmum.com

… chickens…

(c) Englishmum.com

and even pigs and puppies.  There was some really lovely Irish produce too.  I picked up some of this fabulous Lavender Marmalade from a very nice lady called Ciara from Slievebloom Farmhouse Foods

(c) Englishmum.com

…and #2 demolished a couple of these:

(c) Englishmum.com

Of course, you always get the odd idiot, like the pillock selling two little spaniel puppies out of a crate.  I harangued him about leaving them in the heat with no water, and of course was completely ignored.  I noticed that two little girls reappeared two minutes later with a bottle of water and he looked on, detached, as they gave the poor little things a drink.  Generally, though, it was well run and the animals were well looked after.  It was strange to see people heading back to their car with cakes, bags of home-made honeycomb and, erm… chickens!

We bagged a couple of new pullets, a rather pretty Minorcan, with blue black feathers and pretty little ruffled feet(right), and a kind of speckly little version of Minnie, our Rhode Island Red.  Not sure of the breed but they’re both very cute:

(c) Englishmum.com

Oh, and all this talk of Irish food brings me neatly on to my next subject.  The lovely lads and lasses at Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, have asked me to tell you all about National Organic Week here in Ireland.  There are tons of events and tastings going on right across Ireland (although none in Cavan…tsk, tsk) where you can go and experience a little bit of Ireland’s amazing organic produce. 

Highlights for me would be the Organic Food Market, from 12 noon on 17th September at the Dublin Food Co-op, Newmarket, Dublin 8, or maybe an Organic Farm Open Day & Cookery Demonstration with Clodagh McKenna on 16th September at the Nano Nagle Centre, Ballygriffin, Mallow, Co. Cork.  If you’re in Galway, the new Eyre Square Outdoor Food Market has its grand opening on 17th September (grand opening ceremony at 1pm) where there’ll be food demonstrations, sampling (yay!) and live entertainment.

Anyhoo, there’s a full list of events here and if you’re lucky enough to live in Ireland, try to head along to a couple.  Meanwhile, I’ll be outside tending my ever-expanding chicken empire.  Toodles.

In which Evil Stealth Chicken has her wings clipped

I keel you

So chicken news, then.  It’s all going very well, actually.  Stig the cockerel went back to the chicken breeder.  We were going to keep him, but he kept practice-bonking poor Minnie and she was getting quite flustered by it all (not to mention the questions this brought up at the dinner table: ‘does Minnie like it when Stig keeps doing that, Mummy?’).  I’ve been promised another girl at some point, but the two we’ve got seem quite happy.  Yesterday was sunny and warm and I spent a happy afternoon digging up the last of the spuds while my small feathery helper carefully inspected each freshly turned spadeful for any tasty morsels, and provided a bit of gentle clucking for some light background music.  Minnie, the little Rhode Island Red is the friendliest chicken ever.  Pop outside to hang out some washing and she bustles over, clucking and cooing, ready to take any tasty titbit gently from your fingers (she’s particularly partial to a marrowfat pea, incidentally).

Beautiful, enormous Chilli on the other hand has been re-labelled Evil Stealth Chicken.  I do tend to let them out if I’m in the garden, but otherwise they’re confined to their quite generous fenced enclosure, which we move around the garden to give them fresh grass.  But oh no, that’s not good enough for ESC.  As soon as they’re out of the coop in the morning, she flaps over the fence and skulks away shiftily to the far corners of the garden, where she lurks, only stopping briefly to peck viciously at poor Minnie should she dare wander too close.  She also keeps buggering off over the hedge to D’s garden and I’ve had several ‘oy!  your bloody chicken’s in my garden again’ shouts over the fence.  He doesn’t really mind, but still, it’s not cricket.

I turned, then, to Irish Times journalist, author, self-sufficiency expert and all-round chicken guru, Michael Kelly, for advice:

“Wing clipping is the most common method of controlling the flight of home-farm chickens”, says Michael, ” it involves using a sharp pair of scissors to cut off the first ten flight feathers on one wing.  This causes a bird to lack the balance needed for flight and in theory discourages them from trying – it is also temporary because it lasts only until new feathers grow during the next molt (may be a few months in young birds or up to a year for older ones).”

But does it hurt?  And is it mean to curtail their freedom in this way?

“Clipping their wings doesn’t hurt the bird at all and it isn’t noticeable when they are walking around since the primary flying feathers are hidden underneath when the wings are folded…  If you feel bad about clipping wings (and you will), give yourself a stern talking to – the reason you keep hens in the first place if you are a home farmer, is so that they will provide eggs.  If you can’t find the eggs because they are laying in a ditch or in the neighbour’s garden then you are wasting your time.  Also, it’s your responsibility to keep your flock safe – if they are able to leave the garden at will, you are putting them at harms way. “

Okay, so I was sold.  The next problem, of course, was getting it done:

Here’s how to do it – you will need an attractive assistant to help you (to hold the hen and keep it calm). “

Check: one small child grabbed from in front of the XBox360

“Once you have spent three hours running around after your hen to catch it, spread one of the wings out to display all the feathers.”

Check: It only took us an hour an a half of Benny Hill-type running, swearing, clucking and flapping, and we finally managed to nab her in the bushes (ooer).  Next?

“The feathers you want to cut are the primary flight feathers which are the longest ones towards the front of the wing.  You can leave the first one (the one closest to the scissors in the pic) if you want as it is visible when they tuck their wing in to the body).  Cut the other nine at the level shown in the pic – for most chickens this means cutting about 6cm, to bring them in line with the rest of the wing.  Keep apologising to the hen in the process for the inconvenience you are causing.  Voila – your work is done.  You will need to carry this out again in about a years time after they have moulted. “

Diagram courtesy of MichaelKelly.ie

The result: one extremely cross chicken (check out the chicken death glare in the pic at the top) who seems to have had her stealth escape attempts thwarted.   Watch this space. 

Clipped wing

Oh, and one more thing.  Apparently some people think that clipping means a hen is less likely to be able to escape a fox.

” Believe me”, says Michael, “a hen wouldn’t escape a fox if it had ten sets of wings and a jetpack…..”

Oh right.  Mind you, I wouldn’t fancy even a foxes chances against Chilli.  She’s evil. 

Chilli chicken not enjoying a hug

Some say he isn’t machine washable: all we know is, he’s The Stig

The Stig

So happily, some semblance of peace has been restored this weekend in the garden here at English Towers.  I have to take most of the credit for this (well, me and several small children) as, finally, the coop has a run.  Oh yes, don’t say I’m not handy with a hammer… well, a couple of electric fence poles (not live, natch), some chicken wire and a few cable ties anyway (one upside of living in a rural farming community – the Co-Op has everything you can possibly imagine and incredibly cheap too – 10m of chicken wire for €8 for instance).  Laydees and gennlespoons, I give you… the run:

Chicken run

And yes, alright, before anyone’s sarcastic (Moon), I appreciate it’s not exactly chicken Central park, but it’s relatively sturdy, easily moveable (when they wreck that bit of lawn, it’s onwards and upwards) and fine for a little tootling, rootling, pecking and clucking before one retires to the coop to lay fabulous eggs (not Stig, natch) and bed down for the night, securely double-locked away from nosey foxes (or should that be  foxy noses).

Happily, now they’ve all got a bit of room, the girls have decided that they do quite like The Stig after all and have decided he can stay.  Now they’ve stopped pecking him, he’s stopped bleeding everywhere and everyone seems a lot calmer.  Bless him, we’ve worked out he’s actually about eleven weeks old – I can’t send him back, I haven’t the heart.  Plus, he makes lovely little chirrupy tweeting noises at me when I’m hanging out the washing, and picks all the peas and sweetcorn out of our leftover veggie rice in the most adorable manner.  Plus, as I was debating with my cousin Bugs over in Canada, when he grows up, he might turn out to be a very fun way to annoy D next door, should the mood take me.  Cockadoodledoo!

Minnie and Chilli, for their part, are making like veritable egg machines and churning out their golden-yolked wonders at a rate of one each a day, although Patrick, the nice man that we got them from, said that due to the trauma of being moved this could stop at any time for any number of weeks.  Dread the thought.  We’d stop being able to have lovely scrambled eggs with home-grown spring onions, little red spikes of chilli and a sprinkle of parsley out of the garden for breakfast:

Breakfast eggs

Get me eh?  I’m practically a farmer.  Ooarr.

The Friday photo: clucking chickens, fresh bread, golden yolks…

This is not just any egg...

I suppose I’m a bit odd (well if you’re a regular reader you’ll know that already) in that most of the best moments in my life seem inextricably linked to food.  My very happy childhood full of roast dinners, Christmas Snowballs, rice pudding and jammy dodgers, warm strawberries straight off my Grandad’s garden and plums off the tree (‘oy gerrof them you kids!’).  Then it was puréed baby food (#2 liked banana and courgette – he won’t believe it now), making cupcakes with the boys as toddlers, a pea and prawn risotto when Hubby and I got a rare New Year’s Eve together while Grandma babysat… holiday food… Christmas food… family food… every lovely memory seems to be accompanied by the warm scent of baking, the zing of lemon or the fizz of champagne bubbles up the nose.

The other day was no different.  We met fellow blogger Maxi Cane and his other half, the adorable Jelly Monster to arrange collection of Maxi’s Ma’s unwanted chicken coop, which he’d kindly agreed to give us.  A friend was picking it up, but I needed to meet them anyways, just to say hi and to make payment in the form of chocolate brownies, carrots and spring onions, all freshly picked.  Now if you know Maxi’s blog you’ll know he’s a bit naughty, but in real life he was sweet and funny, and the lovely Jelly – wow.  You know those people who are just so sexy they practically crackle with it?  She’s curvy and gorgeous with the prettiest face – not a single man walked past without sneaking a look, I swear.

Anyhoo, so we got the coop and later on, David, our garden chappy, dropped off its occupants (in a sack!  Only in Ireland).  The first disappointment (well, the second – the first was the sack) was that the coop was condemned as unsatisfactory – no separate nesting box, no perch and too small, so much to Hubby’s disgust, we had to go out and buy a new one.

€180 lighter (it’s a hell of a pad, it’s got an upstairs with removable poo trays, a perch, a separate nestbox…you name it), but very excited nontheless, we got to check out our new arrivals:

Minnie Dean

We got a bossy little ginger madam who was quickly adopted by #2 and given the name Minnie Dean (named after a serial killer - don’t ask) and a taller, darker red one – adopted by #1 and called Chilli – bit feisty this one – she gave #1 the slip as she was being transferred and sparked a ridiculous 15 minute family chicken chase round the garden (cue the Benny Hill music) where we all hurled ourselves at her, unsuccessfully, shouted at each other, got zapped by the electric fence (#1) and basically made fools of ourselves until she was rugby tackled by Hubby and taken, squawking loudly in protest, to join the others.  Here’s Chilli (top) and Minnie in their new pad (that hangy thing is an apple, by the way):

Chilli and Minnie Dean

And as a freebie, we got a cute little black and white cockerel, who got nicknamed The Stig.

Stig

Trouble is, Minnie and Chilli don’t like Stig and keep attacking him, so there’s a possibility that if they don’t settle, Stig will have to go back.  The chicken man is coming over later to check on stuff. 

Anyhoo, they’re obviously settling in well, because the next morning we got – an egg!  And then this morning another one!  Well, there was nothing for it, this called for fresh brown bread and a perfectly fried egg.  And so, our first ever chickens will be inextricably linked in my mind to the smell of freshly baked brown bread dipped in a golden, runny yolk:

Fried egg

I am a happy, happy chicken owner and no mistake.

Wednesday’s stuff, but no nonsense

My Mickey Ears

Congrats to fellow Irish blogger, K8 the GR8 and new hubby TAT on their big day – pop over to K8’s blog and have a look at the kids in their wedding outfits.  Adorable.

Stuff to see and do:

Check out Disney 7 member Linda’s fabulous new blog, havealovelytime.com   All about travelling with kids, there’s hotel reviews and day trips and a certain guest blogger might even have an Irish hotel review on there soon *cough*

The kids’ vitamin company, Haliborange, has launched a great new website.  There’s tons of arty and cooking stuff to do over half term (remember, National Family Week is 25-31st May).  I loved the video ‘cook-along’ with celebrity chef, Lesley Waters.  And for your budding High School Musical stars there’s going to be tutorials from performing arts guru, Sylvia Young!  Log on to: www.shinyschool.com .

The All Ireland Food & Drinks Skills Conference is on in Cromleach Lodge, Sligo on Wednesday 20th May 2009, organised by Taste4Success – a day long event on facing challenges and opportunities, promoting products and where to cut costs and differentiate in the Food & Drinks business.  If you would like more information click on www.taste4success.ie.

Disney stuff:

After your very own pair of Mickey ears?  Don’t miss the My Mickey ears auction - celebrity ears up for grabs – organised by Disney and benefiting Great Ormond Street Hospital.   Daisy Lowe’s ones are seriously cute.

Disney scoop: TOY STORY 3 is coming!!!!  And it’s in 3D!!!

Recommended:

Thanks to Fairy Non Bio Gel for sending me stuff to test (I’ve had their website running in the background and found the sound of bubbles popping strangely addictive).  It came top in my smell test, with Bold 2 in 1 Pomegranate and Orange Blossom a passable runner up, although sometimes I find the tablets don’t dissolve.  I’m well on the way to using it up and have to stop myself from sniffing my children as they walk past – they smell gooooood.  Oh and I’m loving all that squeezing gel into the lid too – muchos fun.

Other stuff I’m loving:

I’m still after a couple of these:

 chickens

and one of these (thanks to lovely commenter, Hockeysticks, for the reminder.  Thanks also to the very patient Diane at Crann Dair Chicken Rescue for her answers to my exhaustive questioning.  In the UK, contact the Battery Hen Welfare Trust.

Elave Hand Wash for my seriously dry, itchy and very gnarly old hands (no wonder I suffered from ‘claw hand’ in all the Disney shots.

Benefit’s Hoola: fab bronzer without the ‘I’ve been tangoed’ effect, and their ‘fake’ foundation Some Kinda Gorgeous – a cream-to-powder type thingy.  The lady at the airport put it on me with a brush and I’ve never looked so polished (I usually look like Aunt Sally off Worzel Gummidge).

Coming soon:

Step by step vanilla muffins, news of a brand new cookbook, Lego Duplo sets to giveaway and more stuff from our trip to Disney (altogether now… oooooooh!) x

EDIT: Ooh and just had to add: has anyone seen Peaches Geldof modelling the new ‘Miss Ultimo‘ range?  I’m loving the underwear, but check out the serious tattoo action on that girl – she has more body art than the clientele of half Britain’s greasy spoon cafés!

No battery required: well done, Sainsbury’s

Hugh (photo from Channel4.com)

Of all the things I really miss about home, it’s being close to a really nice, big supermarket: being able to choose from tons of lovely stuff rather than having to  make do with whatever the smaller shops can squeeze onto their limited shelves.  And although our closest was Tesco, there was a really nice Sainsbury’s not too far away (do you know what, I can’t even remember the name of the town, and I’ve only been gone two years.  It’ll come to me, I’m sure).  I really like Sainsbury’s (and no, it’s not just the Jamie Oliver connection), I like the stuff they sell and their values too (I love Waitrose, too, but seriously – who can afford to shop there?).  And true to form, their latest press release is a sign that they’re way ahead of the competition.

From the 5th February, Sainsbury’s have announced that it will sell only eggs from uncaged birds.  I think, to be fair, that M&S or maybe Waitrose were the first to do this, but still, Sainsbury’s is the first of the big four to ban battery eggs and hopefully it will force the other big hitters to do the same.  Compassion in World Farming have called the  move ‘breathtaking‘ and praised Sainsbury’s ‘genuine commitment to continuously improving life for all farm animals in their supply chain‘.

Still on the subject of welfare, there’s some cracking TV coming up over the next few weeks.  I’m gutted I missed Jay Rayner’s ‘True Cost of Cheap Food’, but Channel 4’s ‘Great British Food Fight’ continues with the return of the chicken’s champion, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, as he continues to badger the hell out of poor Tesco (26 January, 9pm), and Jamie moves from chickens to pigs in Jamie Saves Our Bacon (29th January 9pm).  Bring it on, I say.

Chicken Out!!

Hugh: Chickening out?

Not sure that I’ve mentioned this, but I’ve been badgering Hubby for a while now about chickens. I want some. Okay, I know I’m not exactly Farmer bloody Giles (don’t think pink Hunters count here) or Hugh Fearnley Whatsisface, but can’t a girl have just a couple of chickens in her life? It’s not much to ask. My big brother, a (sometimes) serious, important, often besuited managing directory sort of chap has chickens in his garden, and they’re entertaining and surprisingly intelligent little fellas, so why not? After all, we live in the country and as long as we sort out the initial problems (Bert springs to mind – we don’t want any midnight expeditions ending in feathery hiccups now, do we), I think we’d make perfect chicken owners.

Talking of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, me Mam emailed me a link to his delightful ‘Chicken Out’ website. I like Hugh, he has values and he’s not afraid to eat the odd placenta, making him an innovator in my book. This latest campaign (apparently there’s a TV programme too: ‘Hugh’s Chicken Run’, but we don’t get Channel 4) is aimed at one of my particular pet hates, the flaccid £2.00 (or €3.99, whatever) supermarket chicken.

I know we’re very lucky here in Ireland to have decent butchers that not only sell good free range chickens but can also tell me where they’ve been brought up and how, but our supermarket chickens are a disgrace as well. Most ‘value’ chickens lead a miserable, often painful life in horrendously overcrowded conditions and, honestly, when you look at the value chickens huddled under plastic in our supermarkets and selling for a ridiculously cheap price it’s just plain sad. As Hugh so rightly says, ‘is that all the life an animal, born and raised to feed us, is worth?’? Let’s face it, the supermarkets make enough money from us. Isn’t it time we put our money where our mouth is and demand that they pack in these ridiculous price wars and pay decent farmers, decent money for decently reared chicken?

I love my family, and as you know I take pride in producing good food for our table. I’m perfectly aware that money doesn’t grow on trees and that free-range chicken costs more. But frankly I’d rather have an excellent free-range chicken once a week, than three meals made from cheap crappy chicken intensively bred to go from egg to slaughter in under 40 days.

So here’s the thing. I don’t often ask much of you, but I’ll ask you this. Log on to the website, add your voice to the throng, and next time you’re shopping, ask your supermarket manager, nay, badger your supermarket manager, about the quality of the chicken he sells. Now if I can just convince Hubby about those chickens….