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Mince (meat) Pie Update.

Hereford Heifer with tinsel

Couldn’t resist…

So the carols to the cows went down well. I think.

A few days ago a mutton shoulder handover took place in Tavistock. Thanks L &H for your Dartmoor reared contribution to the mince(meat) pie experiment, which you can read about the beginnings of here if you’re interested. For those that are already following this culinary foray it’s all about to happen…!

Vegetarians,  please look away now.

Mutton Shoulder

Cooked shoulder of mutton

Meat and fat separated

Meat and fat separated

I slow cooked the mutton, it was incredibly tender and extremely tasty, can’t think why we don’t eat more of it. Then I added some spices – cinnamon, mixed spice and a little chilli.

Adding the fruit mincemeat to the mutton

Adding the fruit mincemeat to the mutton

Mixed it all together

Mixed it all together

Rolled out the pastry

Rolled out the pastry

Assemble the pies

Assemble the pies

Put the tops on

Put the tops on

Placed them inthe oven

Placed them in the oven (jam tarts too)

Baked Mince Pies

Mince Pies on Plate

Ready to taste!

Ready to taste!

I will report back on the tasting sessions. I took a couple to the pub last night so they’re out there….

Hereford Heifer with tinsel

Thank you and Happy Christmas (again)!


Decking a Tudor Hall

I’m well into the decoration groove now, trying to ignore the swamp outside the door. Today a fountain of liquid mud squirted above my wellies onto my jeans while I was getting the hay for the cows. The poor things were so keen to get something dry in their systems that they started eating the barrow of straw I was dispensing to try and mop up the quagmire beneath their feet.

On the plus side I remembered a visit to the tudor house Cothele last year and I thought I’d just share some pictures of these lovely decorations which they do every christmas.  They use 20,000 dried flowers for the garland, which are all grown in the garden. I apologise for the slightly out of focus ones, it was an amazing light and I didn’t want to use flash.

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A Holly for the Solstice


It’s the time to bring in the holly!

Fellow blogger Linda gives a nice explanation of what solstice means in her latest post, among other lovely words and a song.

Holly in Hedge

The Holly is identified

This year it’s a bit lopsided and spindly, maybe because of the sunless summer. But never mind, the bare bit will go in the corner.

Holly has been symbolically important for centuries, though I have to admit our reasons for having it as a festive tree are tinged, along with a love of it, with the practical – it’s there, it’s beautiful…and we’ve got a saw.

Cutting Holly

Friend Pete does the business

Cutting Holly

Festive tree taking shape


‘As the indigenous pagan traditions mixed with those of the pagan Romans, gifts of holly were given during the five day festival of Saturnalia, which celebrated the birth of the sun-god and culminated when the sun moved into the zodiacal sign of Capricorn at the precise astronomical time of the Winter Solstice. The power of these pagan celebrations on or about the 22nd December and their effect on the people were well recognized by the Church, and so they closely aligned the birth of Christ, on 25th December, to the pagan date. In Christian legend holly sprang up from under Christ’s feet as he walked upon earth, and in certain parts of Europe holly is still called ‘Christ’s thorn, for it was believed that its thorny leaves and bright red berries symbolized Christ’s suffering and foretold the passion.’

‘One of the strongest legendary images we have of holly is that of the holly king. This image, featured in the medieval renaissance of the twelfth century, evolved from an ancient recognition of the spirit of vegetation, traditionally represented as a wild-looking man covered in branches and foliage: the legendary Wildman….The holly king was symbolised by a giant man covered in holly branches and leaves, who carried a holly bush as his club. He represents the tenacity of life, the green of Nature carried through the seasons and guarded by his spiky holly club, his light reflecting ‘mirrored’ leaves and his fiery-red berries…’

Holly King

These last two paragraphs are from Tree Wisdom – The definitive guidebook to the myth, folklore and healing power of Trees a book by Jacqueline Memory Paterson.   if they pay their tax of course 🙂

And Science on the Land has just linked to an interesting post about Christmas being nothing to do with jesus.

Anyway the cows seemed to get quite excited by the holly, I had to rescue it pretty sharpish.

Traditional English Hereford Heifers with Holly

Yum yum

Traditional English Hereford Heifers

Time for a distraction

Here it is waiting to go inside

Holly by the Door

In position

Festive Holly Tree

Festive Feet

Getting in the mood for decorating – yep, that’s mud…so much of it!

Box of Christmas Decorations

Ah, the first sight of old favourites..

Et voila!

Festive Holly Tree

Knitted Reindeer

x x A very Merry Solstice and Christmas to all! x x

The Object of Life – Moo Cow – She Came, She Saw, She Stayed

Toy Cow

Moo Cow has travelled with our family for at least five decades, a witness to everything, patiently putting up with the touch of many hands, both tiny and large (maybe she could teach Belita, Lucy and Mary-Rose a thing or two…). I’m not sure how she’s finally ended up in my eldest sister’s house but I’m borrowing her for this post. She seems to feel at home.

Toy Cow

I cast my mind back. I’m eight or nine years old, sitting under the branches of an old stone pine in our garden. I dig my fingers into the ground, through the first crispy layer of needles, through into the damp peaty leafmould below. I bring it up in fragrant handfuls, inhaling deeply. And then the most amazing thing happens. Those tiny earthy granules are so real to me, almost like they’re charged with a never ending thread of connections, popping like tiny bubbles deep down into centuries. I feel an intense union with life, with its tragedies and potential. Maybe it is a reaction to the crazy instability of our family situation at this time, but whatever it is it exerts a potent force on me.

Under a Pine Tree

The physical objects of our lives can do the same thing. As soon as I look at Moo Cow and roll her wooden wheels and hear her funny moo, I am transported somewhere else, my four year old cheek pressed against the scratchy carpet on our upstairs landing because I like to look at the sisal weave close up. Beyond this, across the plain, still within my field of vision, there is Moo Cow, hanging about at the foot of the bookcase, and behind her the spines of the stories which we have heard again and again – The Tomten, Where the Wild Things Are and The Happy Lion.


Her wooden are wheels sturdy and solid, her tightly coiled tail is jaunty, and her compact body is familiar to my hand as…what? This is where I get stuck. Do I actually remember playing with her or am I just imagining it?

Now I see her in her present state, I’m not really sure I can recall a time when her yellow plastic horns were intact or her paper hide fresh from the Fisher Price factory. But because I know what she must have looked like, due to others’ recollections and the tell tale scraps of information still sticking to her sides, before one of us filled in the gaps with some creative paint work, I can conjure her up, nearly new, complete with her perky horns and glossy black and white skin. But isn’t that the way that memory works? We remember certain things and not others, we unconsciously blank stuff out and make other stuff up. I once thought it was linear and fixed but that was before the complexities of living had exerted a kind of alchemy on the events of the past. It seems to me that when we revisit places again and again, memories seem to change and merge, and are sometimes as clear as – well, mud.

Toy Cow Reflection

I ask my three siblings what they remember about Moo Cow and it sets off a train of reminiscing, leading among other things to our memories of listening and singing along to Pete Seeger and his album God Bless The Grass, introduced to us by our dad. In a way, his dying seems to have, for me anyway, fattened out the past and made it more present. It feels good to remember.

God Bless the Grass Album Cover    This is a really nice version of the title song.

The cyber conversation went something like this…

Well I liked the yellow plastic cog mechanism and the little yellow horns. Also the cow was always there, and generally stood in when we needed to populate a game. And was free of the obsessive attachment I had to my dolls. It was an old friend even when less battered than now!

 She was always there, with her springy tail and strangulated moo; I can remember investigating how the moo was activated – all linked up to the head oscillation as the wheels turned – and working out why she didn’t always vocalise on shiny floors (another reason to lament the absence of fitted carpets that so blighted our early lives)

That moo was really unconvincing wasn’t it :)Haha remember that grid pattern on our knees as we relaxed in the sitting room listening to Pete Seeger.

 That would be “God bless the grass” – I still know all the songs; even quite a lot of the words…. it’s available as a MP3 download…. and, according to a recent passenger of mine, the old greenie himself is still belting it out.

 You could never get comfy on that stuff!

 You didn’t by any chance saw the horns off whilst fiddling about – they have disappeared….

Off thread a bit but thinking about Pete Seeger reminded me that (just found out) ‘Midnight in Moscow’ by Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen was in the charts in 1962 This has put to rest a humiliating episode at my primary school, when we had to paint a picture about our favourite pop song. I didn’t actually know what a pop song was…Anyway I did a very dramatic picture of ‘Midnight in Moscow’ – mainly BLACK paint, whilst all the other pictures were of flowers and bees and mainly pastels. The whole class gawped at it with incomprehension and the teacher seemed rather concerned. DAMN IT – if only I had known the facts I could have wiped the silly expressions from their faces and saved myself an uncomfortable hour of feeling as if I were from another universe. Having spaghetti bolognaise for supper was bad enough!

Ha ha your painting was too cool for school!

While the particulars of this conversation may only be really poignant to its participants I hope it shows how a beloved object from the past can transport us – besides, I’ll use any opportunity to get a bit of cow chat in…

And how fitting it was that today, when me and my sister of the painting were shopping in our local town, Kenny Ball’s Midnight in Moscow should waft down the aisles of the shop we were in. There was jigging about amongst the muesli and the steel cut oatmeal I can tell you.

1279733415_kenny-ball-and-his-jazzmen-midnight-in-moscow A gravelly croony Russian version of the traditional song with words

In a culture which is so fearsomely forward looking, it is sometimes easy to forget in the mayhem of everyday life that it is these shared histories we have with family and friends which are most important; it is what connects and shapes us and can help us remember a person who has gone and give solace in the difficult times. So much of life is spent forging ahead that we barely draw breath to consider and reflect, to pause and look behind, or even just to value the present moment.

A buddhist might say that this is the endless dance we enact to escape the reality of death, the only one thing that is absolutely certain in a human life. I can’t argue with the fact that becoming aware of one’s own and others’ mortality can stop us in our tracks. And perhaps it’s part of a general middle age rite of passage too. As with most things, reasons and motivations are complicated. How nice it is then, that at this point I have the simplicity of Moo Cow to help me pause and remember. I’m so thankful that one of us decided to keep her, when at the time I probably would have been one to disavow the need for a shared history as I veered off a bit blindly but resolutely down my own path.

Moo Cow helps with the bulb planting

Moo Cow helps with the bulb planting

We are so often exhorted to get rid of stuff, by the culture at large or by ourselves, to clear out, to live minimal lives without clutter, and encourage ourselves to view our stuff as the detritus of life which in an ideal world would miraculously evaporate without us having to make any heart rending decisions. We dream of empty spaces, order and a life lived out in perfect balance. We have fetishised the unobtainable – and believe that then we will finally be on top of things But, as Alain de Botton puts it: we seldom succeed in laying claim to lasting equilibrium, traversing our lives like stubbornly listing ships on choppy seas (The Architecture of Happiness).

While I also haphazardly aspire to a little more tidiness and order (retraining still in progress), I’m also voting for the positive rehabilitation of the culture of saving stuff, the personal archaeology of time, special earthly objects to help reignite the threads of memory and illuminate some of those never returning moments.

The Ark

Midweek Bulletin – The Cows First Frosty Morn

Well, they have probably had a frosty morn somewhere else…but we don’t talk about that place (where they were a bit rough with my girls).

The rest of the country has already experienced the frost but down here in the milder south west it’s our first proper one. Hurrah, a break from rain.

I love the ice crystals’ transformative power, the thick fur of a cows mane.

Traditional English Hereford Heifers in Frost

Cow Fur

Frost on Chestnut

Frosty Scene Cornwall

Cow Fur

Frost on Chestnut

Traditional English Hereford Heifers

The Advent of Winter – Stuff on the Farm

Over the last few months I’ve been recording some of the stuff which has been going on outside. It’s a time of change and senescence, of storing and stowing.

Blackbird on Ivy

Jackdaw in Dovecot

Mr or Mrs Jackdaw checking out next years nesting accomodation

Wild Carrot in Winter

Wild Carrot

Crows in Ash Tree

Dogrose Hips

Willow and Wild Carrot

Dogrose Hips Sycamore Pollard

The cows are getting their winter coats and eating plenty of hay.

Traditional English Hereford Heifers

Traditional English Hereford Heifers

The light is low and gentle.

WinterTree Shadows

Sycamore in Winter Light

Light Shaft in Barn

Winter Sunset

It’s sometimes easy to get over attached to the indoors in winter, driving wind and rain causing mine and many a bottom to become welded to an armchair as a result. Having spent a good part of life doing an outdoor job I know that the only way to get-over-it is to get-out-in-it.

Thus today found me togged up and trowel wielding as I finally decided to plant the tulip bulbs in the tubs in the front yard. Luckily tulips are quite forgiving of procrastinating ways, people have been known to plant them in January. Gasp.

I go into the barn where I left the bulbs and all I find is a couple of empty nets. Storing and stowing. Storing and stowing. Hmm. I get on the phone and order some more.

Bulb Nets

Luckily, there is one bag which has escaped the mouse/squirrel/rat assault so I get down to business. What is it about about preparing soil for planting? I don’t know, I just love it…I did mention to fellow blogger Fran about my cruel ways with ditching plants and I thought of her as I gaily tossed last summers pelargoniums into the death bucket (wrong colour – another procrastinating moment – leaving it so late they only had deep pink ones left at the shop. Sigh. It’s the Cornish air).

Belfast Sink with Plants

Clearing out summer pelargoniums

This is a cunning trick which keeps the squirrels off your bulbs (if they haven’t already stolen them that is). After planting you tread the ground firmly, then get some dead leaves and scatter them over the area. This really foxes them – they look for disturbed ground and signs of digging. This method always worked for me in the city, though pots can be more vulnerable than the ground, depending on squirrel numbers and ingenuity.

Belfast Sink as Plant Container   www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comSink

Tulips in, treading down and leaf method deployed.

Back in September when it first started to get cold I posted about wood including how much we were going to need over the winter.

Firewood Basket

Empty Wood Pile

The woodpile three months on

The wind has damaged a barn, lifting old slates right off. This scaffolding tower was found dumped on the streets of London years ago and came in very handy with renovations.

Dislodged Slate on Barn

Scaffolding tower by side of barn

Baler Twine in Wood

I’m trying to think of things to do with baling twine. Any ideas?

An Off Ranch Ramble – I Can See the Sea

For this off ranch ramble I turn to the north and head for the sea. I hope you enjoy.

Walking Boots

The days are short now and when we arrive at this river valley which runs into sea on the north coast we don’t have much time before the sun sets. As we drive down the steep lane the sea and an old mill house come into view. I don’t know how long it’s been since this was a working mill but you probably couldn’t ask for a better spot for a peaceful holiday. Nestling in the hill it has a terrace which overlooks the valley and river.

House by the Sea

It’s cold and we wrap up in hats, scarves and gloves and set off inland into the woodland in search of the famous wriggly oak tree. We had a Cornish Pasty on our journey here so we’re well set up for the tramp. The Wildlife Trusts manage these woods and pastures and you can find out about lots more places to see ancient trees on the Ancient Tree Forum here.

On the way we go through the mill house garden – our friends who are staying here are not yet back from their outing along the Camel Trail. I like the spiral of wild flowers the owners have created on the grass, in fact I think they have done a good job with helping this place blend in with the wider landscape while still having a few flat areas for lolling on. They have made some interesting surfaces with the local materials too. All helped along by the Avant Gardener I think.

Wildflower Spiral

Coastal Garden Cornwall

Oak Plank Bridge

Pebble Spiral

We go down a wide grassy ride and pass some little black sheep on the hillside, probably part of the management programme for helping out the rare Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly. Opposite, the valley side is cloaked with scrubby wind blown oaks, their leafless limbs making a soft tangle of greys and browns in the low winter sun. We enter the woods on a small winding path which sticks close to the riverside.

Black Hill Sheep

Scrubby Oaks Cornwall

Woodland Path

I glimpse the wriggly oak.

Wriggly Oak

We hang out for a while amongst its branches.

Wriggly Oak

Then we turn back and head down towards the beach, joining up with the South West Coast Path.

Towards the Sea

On the way we pass the house and a bit further on there is an area of low grass, swept into ripples by the wind.

House in Valley

Ripply Grass

We step down onto the beach, crunching onto the dark grey pebbles, hearing the tumbling water of the river meeting the sea. The light is fading and there is a bitter coolness in the air, bouncing off  the slick black rocks near to shore and buffeting the crests of the waves.

Winter Beach Cornwall

Winter Beach Cornwall

Winter Beach Cornwall

Winter Beach Cornwall

We talk about people we know and do beachy things…

Winter Beach Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comWinter Beach Cornwall

Winter Beach Cornwall

Winter Beach Cornwall

Winter Beach Cornwall

Later, we go inside with the others and sit by the fire, drink tea and eat chocolate biscuits.


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