Monday, 4 June 2012

Goodbye Darling Husband

On 17th May 2012 my wonderful, handsome, incredible, sexy, gorgeous Husband was pronounced dead following a number of weeks of illness in a German hospital. He was taken ill during a conference he was attending.

I haven't had a conversation with my Hubby since Thursday 19th April 2012, the morning of the day he fell ill.

I have so much to tell him......

I am now an Uncle to a beautiful Niece, the toilet's broken, the rambling rose fell off the side of the house in the night due to the heavy rain, I love him, I need him, I want him.

I miss his voice.
I miss his touch.
I miss the Love of My Life.

This blog will probably cease in the very near future. The hens will soon be living with our God Children in deepest, darkest Cornwall, the lucky buggers, which means Hens In The City will be no more.

For the foreseeable future, you can read more about me (and the dogs) here:

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Chilly February

Come on girls - there must be corn out there!
Mid February already, that time when most resolutions have already been broken however London has just had a real blast of winter cold. Gone are all those New Year dietary fads replaced by good old fashioned comfort food. The chickens resolution of producing no eggs seems still to be intact though! Tallulah has eventually given up her incubation period and returned with voracious appetite. Both Tallulah and Harriet are now crouching to be stroked (surely a sign of theoretical return to laying)so with such huge appetites one would expect the occasional egg but no though I guess they are using all reserves to keep warm at the moment some I can't be too complaining.

It's always laughable how quickly London generally comes to a complete closedown with 1 inch of snow on the ground. This time the Met forecast got it right, it snowed when they said it would. The Council salt gritted in time, the snow fell and oddly the world didn't end. Chickens were not impressed especially as we watched a fix sniffing around a snow covered garden and no access to the garden anyway as they refuse to walk on the snow - however the dogs loved it!
Treats eaten - now lets stand in line for a photo
And that was last week - the freeze did a world of good for the chickens - EGGS GALORE!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

And then it was 2012

So the start of a new year and a chance to reflect on the year that was and the year ahead and a definite sign of old age when you think "that was a really fast year!".

It may be the middle of winter however our special early flowering daff's never fail
After such a severe winter in 2010/11, so far we have hardly had a frost never mind the snow and freezing temperatures of last year. The mild weather has had some odd consequences with daffodils already in flower, hawthorn in early blossom and new leaves already showing. Tender plants from last summer are still growing (cannas, gingers and echiums all doing well) though I guess at some stage that we should get ready for some chill conditions.

Nigella and Ruby both managed to complete their moults though both of them looked truly dreadful for a while however both are looking lovely at the moment, shame then that egg production has dried up again. Harriet managed to finish her broodiness AND started laying again. All doing great then Tallulah decided it was her turn to go broody and as we know from experience, Harriet is never one to pass up the opportunity of sitting next to somebody in a nest box. So both silkies then decided to take up nest box residence! Serious broodiness was not on Harriet's mind however she stopped eggs and even though she only sat intermittently she then had another huge moult, white feathers all over the garden (looked as if a pillow had been murdered!).

"middle of winter, of course I'm going to moult" - as told by Ms Harriet

Talking of murder, and excuse repeating myself if I already have mention this but even in London we are not free from marauding herons. So a trip down the garden to let the chickens out one morning I noted that there were no goldfish to greet me when I walked past the pond. Okay the fish hardly leapt out of the water to shout hello but on seeing somebody walk past they generally swam up on the chance of food. This I fear could have been their demise as instead of hiding at the bottom of the pond on the arrival of the heron the poor goldfish actually swam to him for a cheeky fish pellet or two. Tragedy really as we lost 9 of our fish including the lovely Mr Swishy who was here when we moved in some 8 years ago. We now have a leaking pond so the liner needs replacing (thanks heron), and five very scared fish who live in the very bottom of the pond and we never get to see them!

Still, although I fear some form of winter will still materialise, the longest night has now passed and although we are slow to pick up on it Mother Nature is always a gear up on us so hopefully at least three chickens laying within the next few weeks. Already mistle thrushes are singing out and pairing up and the more correctly seasonal bulbs are pushing up through the winter earth ready to give us a wonderful show of flowers later this month and into the early spring.

I am not one to make resolutions however last year I vowed to not buy ANY bloody food magazines. Yes I love cooking but I also have a huge amount of cook books and in truth if I have ever cooked more than 10 recipes from any individual book than I think that it would be a wonder. Plus there is a huge resource on the internet anyway so I did it. One year, no food magazines purchased - same that I spent the same money on buying gardening and French living magazines instead. Well at least the thought was there. 2012 and my resolution is to get back into the allotment. Not for any reason other than time and circumstance has that poor plot been neglected in the past couple of years really though it has produced far more than we should have got. Needless to say I hope to have some good updates this year.

As you can see I think that we might have a lot of work on at the allotment.
Personally it has been a somewhat full on year and not all for the positive as the saying goes "such is life". 2012 is going to be great so may I take this opportunity to wish you all a most prosperous, happy and successful year.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Autumnal scribbles

Cotoneaster laden with autumn berries
Summer theoretically arrived as a large moist patch over the UK and then promptly left. Autumn has been a heatwave and only now in mid November are the temperatures slowly heading to where they should be. It has been until the last week amazingly mild. Saying that I have just come in from walking the dogs and although no jacket was required gloves were and there was a distinct hint of chill in the air. Wonderful, I need some realistic seasonality.

There is an incredible amount of berries festooning all the bushes this year and the colour of the leaves has been truly one of the best years I can ever recall. However not quite cold enough yet to see any winter thrushes to take advantage of the bounteous berry harvest.

Summer has also not been best either with a continuing battle with my spondyloarthropathy/gouty arthritis and uveitis. Once one seems okay, another kicks off so some of the projects I had planned have been shelved and work at the allotment again has suffered.

Despite this the chickens have gone through the normal cycles of chickendom. We had a very odd period of almost eight weeks with no visible eggs. As the girls had the run of the garden during the summer and early autumn they had access to lay in a nestbox in the garden shed however nothing in the shed and nothing in their normal chicken house? I did think at one stage the eggs were being stolen by some wild creature as Tallulah (she of the thin eggshells) was most definitely laying somewhere. However a good clean out seemed to reveal the problem - the eggs were being broken in the nestboxes. The lump that Tallulah has underneath her has grown, she seems very happy as ever and apart from the lump and an occasional mucky bum she looks in wonderful condition (she is now familiar with the hosepipe and hair dryer for that quick chicken makeover) however I do think that whatever that lump is it does affect the way she produces eggs. The last couple of eggs that have been laid by Tallulah that haven't been already broken are so fragile that they normal break when you pick them up. So much for trying to aid her with added calcium in the diet. At the moment we will leave her but as soon as she looks the slightest bit uncomfortable then down to the vets I think.

Anyway Harriet to the rescue as she is now laying her regular 5 eggs a week. Nothing from the Sussex girls as both are going through a major moult at the moment.

Good to see Stella
In October we went and spent a week in Cheshire and took a visit to the lovely Sue and her Mum at Victoria's Poultry. As ever they were incredibly busy and doing a major overhaul of their waterfowl area. We even got to see Stella, the Buff Orpington we hatched took back to Sue. Needless to say we came away after a great morning with dreams of all the new chickens that we wanted! Max and Millie our naughty dogs came along and actually I was quite amazed at how well behaved they were.

So its now dark when I leave for work in the morning and dark in the evening when I get home. The winter run is now in its fourth? year so no more garden time for the chickens however they do have their luxury winter home. Super skylon, nestbox in the sky has been reinstated this year along with "The Terrace" a row of three outdoor nestboxes so that should stop any squabbles over laying space!

Harriet happy in Skylon
And finally - a bit of sad news. After eight years of happily keeping our goldfish in the pond we had a raid from a heron who has wiped out most of the fish - they are in shell shock at the moment and hiding at the bottom of the pond but but I think we have lost 10 out of 15 including Mr Swishy our original fish - 9 years was not a bad inning for him.

Okay folks - Christmas ahead, brace yourselves for 6 weeks of marketing hell and just to let you know I have already seen a Christmas tree and lights in the window of a house in our street and its not even "Stir Up Sunday" yet.

Happy Christmas (just teasing, hopefully a blog before then!)

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Weekend Chickens and the joys of a weather "app"

Forest Hill's noisiest chicken - Tallulah!
Sometimes I bloody dislike those chickens! Right I'm the first one not to have a lie-in but seriously, 7am on a Sunday morning and you are not going to be best popular with husband or neighbours when all the girls start screeching.

Not an alarm call, just that really annoying noisy clucking cum half strangled squawk that got me out of bed to both see what the matter was and stop the wretched din. And the problem causing this poultry furore? That would be Harriet using the nestbox that Tallulah wanted to be in. For goodness sake you would have thought that Tallulah could have at least used the nestbox next door but no, she stood there screeching at the top of her voice, Nigella joining in just because she could and Harriet answering them back. Letting them into the garden solved the problem however after all that din we only got one egg. 
As I said, bloody chickens.

By odd coincidence I took some video of the girls feeding off a corn cob stuck on a skewer and dangling from a wire. A bend in the skewer has been a new addition as it twirls the corn around and keeps the girls amused for considerably longer than previous. It's alway good to do at this time of year as corn is so cheap however I do realize it's not doing anything for the girls egg laying abilities and girths. Oddly looking back it was almost a year to the day since I last videoed them doing this very thing.

Chasing the corn

RainAlarm failed to tell me about this
Much can be said of the Great British summer, for I remember it well and sadly finished in June. The past week has been the normal cycle of rain, sunshine, heavy rain, glimpse of sun, very heavy rain, vague daylight, monsoon. 
In a moment of apparent or indeed abject stupidity I downloaded an app for the iPod called RainAlarm - what a wonderful waste of time.
Firstly due to the constantly inclement weather it doesn't stop pinging and telling me that there is precipitation 4.3km away, 4.2km, away, etc. Of course what it's not telling me is that I am soaked to the skin while cleaning the chickens out and it doesn't seem to realise that the heavens have actually opened up over me! Why no monsoon warning for SE23?

Still, we can but cherish the moments of sunshine and warmth and rejoice in the fact that at least all the slugs and snails that are reproducing rampantly in these moist climes are providing a veritable feast for the girls. Lets hope it provides the edible stimulus for laying more eggs!
Harriet - all she wanted to do was lay the egg.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Three years of chickens and Hens in the City

Goodness me - how time flies when you are having fun/keeping chickens.

It's now three years since Harriet arrived in our lives, closely followed by Ruby which means that its also three years since I started this blog - heavens, that's longer that a Katie Price marriage!
The one and only Ms Harriet Princess Ping Pong McEllis
In some ways it really doesn't seem that long ago since we got the chicken run shortly followed by the Silkies, Harriet and Lottie, the first occupants however they were followed the very next day by the Sussex bantams Ruby, Cybil and Margot. I recall with great trepidation the first time that we let them out into the garden.

A rare photo of Ruby NOT moulting
I have no idea why we ever thought we had to worry. After three years we have gone through the process of hatching and loss, arrivals and departures. The garden has developed into an area of plants that can generally withstand the girls once they are established though the lawn does need areas re-turfing each year. 

The girls do an excellent job at demolishing slugs and snails though this year they did wipe out the lettuce faster than the aforesaid molluscs! 

There is no doubt that the greatest joys of the chickens are the eggs. Glorious in taste, there is absolutely no comparison to shop bought eggs to the eggy joys the girls produce. Although they are bantams and therefor bantam eggs we have found that the yolks (as well as being the most amazingly bright orangey yellow)are larger that those of a normal sized egg which could well account for the fantastic flavour. It really doesn't take long to get the hang of working out recipes with bantam eggs instead of the normal "recipes are based on large eggs" scenario. I wonder if the slug and snail diet makes the eggs tastier?  
Tallulah - her of the saggy bum 
Nigella - beware dogs and actually everything!

Poor Lottie passed away at a fairly early age. Cybil and Margot departed for a new life in rural Bedfordshire due to the fact that noisy early morning bloody chickens in the city do not go down well with the neighbours (and no, rural Bedfordshire is not a synonym for "in the oven")

So onwards to the next two lovelies that arrived. One is a partridge colour Silkie (I think she's a partridge colour? Do correct me if I'm wrong)called Tallulah. To say she was shabby when she arrived is an understatement however she moulted out into a lovely bird. She does have something of a dropped undercarriage and all the old poultry keeping books suggest that she should be straight into the pot however she's a happy hen and not a bad layer though she does turn out some very thinly shelled eggs. And of course Nigella the Destroyer. A silver Sussex (as was Cybil whom we had to move on) Nigella is full of attitude. On the positive side she takes no nonsense from the dogs and will quite happily chase Max. Unfortunately Max thinks that Nigella is playing so he takes his ball over to her so she can throw it! I have to say that I do love the Sussex bantam as a breed.

So still very happy with our "girls" and we are forever indebted to our lovely neighbours who are always more than happy to chicken sit when we are away. It was also lovely to meet Alan and Sarah in the park the other day, more fellow chicken keepers in our road. Hopefully at some stage I might get to upload some pics of their girls.

Despite the oddness of the weather and blight attacking lots of people outdoor tomatoes we are doing good, harvesting lots of fruit and veg. Tomatoes and outdoor ridge cucumbers are doing well, just planted out kale, calvo nero and celeriac at the allotment for winter crops and also just had our first chilli of the year - yup it was a right hot little bugger even though it was still green. Courgettes haven't overwhelmed us yet - you can always tell when there are too many as its straight to the glut crop recipe pages! We also have some really good squash coming on for later in the year. Just trying to fit in a last crop of Florence fennel as the first lot got too hot and bolted but think I'm too late.

So three years just went that'er way. Thank you for reading and your comments and all of those of you who contact me via facebook about the chickens (and don't forget the read the latest Max and Millie
Ruby after being severely "app'd" by my hubbie

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Celebrations - any excuse for a glass of fizz

A bit of a celebratory blog this time for a couple of reasons. Firstly it's now two years since my lovely husband and I got "married". It seriously doesn't seem to be that long ago and it's been a wonderful two years.
Me and my man
Secondly its a year since Millicent Hermione Oprah McEllis arrived into our lives. From the frightened little smelly black dog she has now grown into a very beautiful young lady with a huge appetite, wiggly bum and the most lovely demeanour as long as she can't see another dog!

Being licked to death by a very happy Millie
The joy of chickens - how I love to see them wandering around the garden, scratching through the lawn, trashing the dahlias, getting into the pots and rooting everything out, eating lettuce so loving grown. How I would love to see them all in a nice chicken casserole!

Seriously for a moment, the garden has passed the point of being established for the summer. All the delicate young shoots are now healthy plants and strong enough to usually survive an onslaught of the chickens so as they pass through the borders chomping snails and bugs as they go all is normally well. This year Miss Harriet has had the devil in her. Every pot is fair game and despite my continued optimism that the damage is never that bad the sight of a white silkie surrounded by the devastation of what was a collection of lovingly grown plants. Silkies can thank their lucky stars that their blue skin stops me from throwing them in the roasting pan.

Naughty chickens - Harriet, Ruby and Nigella waiting for a treat
Saying that, egg production, while not going to make us millionaires, is doing okay with a couple of eggs each day which is more than enough for our needs.

For some reason a couple of the chickens (Miss Harriet and Nigella shall remain nameless) seem to get mucky bottoms. Why this should be I can offer no answer, especially as Ruby has never ever had a problem. It just means that once a month there is a rather undignified bum washing ceremony however the girls do look especially lovely after the event and they always get a treat to counteract the indignity.
Thanks to all who baked and commented on the plum clafouti recipe. I’m glad that you enjoyed it. Saying that I am still loving this huge harvest of blackberries and can hardly stop myself picking more every time we go out to walk the dogs. Our dear friends Tim and Katt came over for Sunday lunch with their lovely son, Finn so decided to cook another clafouti recipe I found which was even more delicious. Here it is

Blackberry and raspberry almond clafouti

Heat the oven to 190c/gas 5. Lightly butter a 23cm flan dish or tin (again not loose bottomed or it all dribbles out)

To make the batter mix together 50gm ground almonds, 2 tbsp plain flour, 100gm golden caster sugar 2 bantam eggs and 3 bantam egg yolks. Beat this up with 250ml of double cream.

Scatter 400gm mixed blackberries and raspberries in the buttered dish

Pour over the batter

Bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes until well risen and golden.

Best served warm as opposed to really hot, and with lots of cream

So the end of another week, here's hoping that summer returns soon, I need some sunshine! As ever, don't for get to also check out Max and Millie's blog - link in the sidebar.