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Is Every Day a Cake Day? Let’s Cowgirl Up to the Bounty of Parsnips

Well, I don’t know, but today was definitely a cake day. Howling wind and lashing rain outside, dark inside and a fire lit in the stove.

Fire in woodburning stove

Some of you may know that I’m fond of a culinary experiment.

By the way, as a final update on the mince pies with real meat (an ancient tradition which I wanted to resurrect), the general verdict was good, though there seemed to be confusion about when would be the best time to eat them. They didn’t seem quite right at traditional tea time and my sister C reacted slightly uneasily to one from the second batch saying erm, they’re very muttony and put hers aside. But my aunt and cousin had two each and seemed impressed. Let’s face it you wouldn’t have two pies if you were just being polite would you? I thought they were ok, but in the end, as B remarked, sometimes there’s a good reason for a tradition dying out. You can guess at his fan status…

Not long ago I was fretting about the amount of root vegetables and brassicas which come in our seasonal veg box and fellow blogger Fran over at Serendipity Farm suggested using parsnips in a cake. I had already conducted one experiment (not bad, also Fran inspired, a kind of Bakewell Tart with mixed spice, interesting) before I read her recommendation that chocolate cake is the ideal vehicle to absorb them.

So, after duly finishing (and sharing, I’m not mean with the baking experiments you know) the said parsnippy bakewell spicy slice thing, I decided to have a go at a chocolate one. I made it up so I should probably write it down so I can improve the result next time (note the ‘should’ here – highly unlikely)  But it was pretty delicious, though a tad TOO moist at the beginning and took AGES to cook in a slowish oven.

I even gained a blog follower in the middle of baking as our neighbour dropped round to pick up a cheque for the hay turning and baling he did in the summer (that’s the slow pace of life), thanks D, if you want a slice to try you better get on that bicycle and pedal fast! If anyone else is inspired I’d really recommend leaving the cake for a day before eating. It kind of settles down into itself, and all the flavours amalgamate.

Parsnips on Wooden Table

Part of the Parsnip Bounty

Parsnips on Wooden Board


Grated Parsnips in a bowl

and grated…

Creamed butter and sugar

I creamed some butter and sugar (white and dark)

Cake Mixture

The egg bit was far too frantic for photographing – can’t wait to get a new mixer! – so here is the flour and cocoa powder and parsnips being folded in

Cake Mix in Tin

All mixed and put in a tray lined with foil – see all the parsnips?

Chocolate Cake

Out of the oven, I kept having to look and check, the middle took ages to cook. It looks very dark but it’s not burnt at all

Chocolate Ganache

And LOOK, I made a chocolate ganache – having been heavily influenced by The Great British Bake Off!

Chocolate Cake on Plate

Iced and cut and set on some china

So, thanks Fran, the Chocolate Parsnip Cake is absolutely delicious and another experiment over. Any more ideas anyone?


Full Moon Winter

The moon last night

And I saw these the other day…

Snowdrops coming into flower January 25th 2013

Snowdrops coming into flower January 25th 2013


The Ghosts Of the Farm


Convalescing in bed a few days ago after a nasty cold I heard some unexplained noises in the kitchen downstairs. It’s a very old house and there are often creaks and groans, as if the weight of the past is sighing through the thick stone walls. We spent so long restoring it we had plenty of time to think about the people who lived and farmed here before, imagining them treading the slabs and floorboards through the centuries. We know that at one time the two rooms downstairs, now separated by a nineteenth century panelling hallway, were just used as one room and this is where the families would have cooked and lived.

Clome oven in fireplace

Clome oven in the fireplace, used for cooking and baking.

So, we get used to living with ghosts.

 I wonder if that’s Mr. Creeper, I thought, feeling comforted, as always, by the knowledge that the farms’ most recent resident, prior to our occupation, is possibly still with us. What a good name for a ghost, I hear you say. One friend swears she has seen him, a figure by the bottom of the stairs, not unfriendly.

William Creeper was a tenant farmer who moved here in 1922 as a boy of seven. In those days the farmyard was a rocky slope, a continuation of the bedrock on which the cottage stands. We have tried to recreate this unevenness by breaking up most of the slab of concrete which covered it, allowing the wildness back in, including digging a huge hole, the pond, which fluctuates in level with the water table – it has never dried out, so that gives you an idea of all the spring lines that run down the hill. In fact we didn’t realise how wet the place was until our first autumn when it rained solidly for month and water started gushing around the sides of the house and out of the front, veritable rivers UNDERNEATH the house. Digging out the soil from the back of the house and installing a drainage pipe solved most of the problem but the pond, by accident, was what really solved it in the end. Anyway, the concrete was far more practical and I completely understand why it must have been a joy to a farmer, but we’re in it for different reasons.

The Pond

The Pond


See what happens with no concrete!

Mr. William Creeper used to have a herd of Ruby Reds (North Devons) which shrank to around to nine or ten cows as he got older and the land of the farm was gradually sold off, ending up eventually as the ten acres it is now. There are people in the village who knew him well and we have heard many stories about him. I like to think that I’m following in his footsteps with my small herd which I’m planning will eventually reach a similar number to his.

Herd of North Devon

Herd of North Devons

Right from the beginning his presence was felt very keenly. The house hadn’t been touched for years, possibly since 1922, and had no running water, rotten floors upstairs and a gaping hole in the roof of the lean to extension on the back, sending rain and wind howling into what is now the kitchen. He lived solely in the other downstairs room, while the rest of the cottage fell into disuse and ruin around him. There was an earth dunny in a little lean to on the side of the piggery.

The dunny

The dunny

There were dark stories about the owners, relatives of his, who refused to do any work on the property because they wanted to sell, hoping to force him out, the sitting tenant, by making it so uninhabitable he would have to leave. Of course this is entirely possible, but we don’t know for sure. Whatever the reason for the gradual delapidation, he stayed put.

He was eighty eight when he suddenly got ill and became very distressed at having to leave his beloved farm. However, according to the story, once in hospital he was incredibly impressed by the warmth and particularly by the bath and didn’t want to leave. Perhaps a revelation to a man who had washed every day in the farmyard in all weathers at the one and only cold tap, which was only installed in the 1980’s, before that it was the well. He died there just a couple of months later.

He was, by all accounts, rather stubbornly eccentric and loved his cows more than any thing or person. He never married, his cows were apparently the only company he required and they used to come up the front steps and into the house, as the front door was always open, whatever the month. He had abandoned cleaning long ago and when we arrived there was a tell tale area of dirt and grease beneath the door latch to his room, where he’d placed his hand so many times to open the door. We became fond of his traceries and I felt a sadness when about eight years later I finally got round to stripping the old paint off the doors, including his patch of ingrained life.

When we arrived, he had only recently left so there were lots of artefacts of his life around the place, which made him very real. He was a small man and his standard issue hospital style walking stick was propped up in a barn. We still have that. We also have the branding iron which is what farmers used in the old days before the more humane ear tags were deployed for identifying cattle. It is only the C for Creeper which remains, the W we never found, so there is a space where it should be. It is hanging by the front door, a constant reminder.

Old Branding iron by door

Branding Iron www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comBetter still, we have the prizes which he won for his cattle at the now defunct local Five Lanes and Camelford shows, which he proudly fixed to the joists in the shippen. I love to look at those.

Cattle prize 1952

Cattle Prize 1965

It doesn’t seem important whether he is a real ghost or not. It is his presence which haunts us, and there is one thing at least I do know for sure – we will never forget William Creeper and his cows.

Cornish Snow

Cornish Snow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comA good deal of Upcountry (the word used here in Cornwall to indicate the rest of the UK) is now buried in some fine snow and there is talk of sledging and schools closing. Here in Cornwall meanwhile, stroked by warm westerlies from the Atlantic, we were dribbled with a kind of icy porridge, slightly slushy and now nearly all gone. Nevertheless it was still pretty.

Fence in snow

Winter Scene Cornwall

Barn Roof Winter

Gorse Flowers on Snow

Gorse flowers arranged on snow

snow on Woodpile

Snow on woodpile

Hazel shoots winter landscape

Hazel shoots in hedge

Snow on Slates

Foxglove stem

Foxglove stem

Seedhead and Snow

I did wonder if the cows had seen snow before because they were a little nonplussed by the whole thing, staring at it a bit resentfully from time to time as they ate their hay in the shed, as if to say you’ve robbed us of our grazing rights.

Field under Snow

They have got much hungrier in the last few days which I guess is due to the cold and also the lack of good grass in their field. Next week I will be moving them to the Triangle Field which still has some growth left from after the hay cut. It doesn’t have a shelter so I’m wondering if I should bring them back on a daily basis – though perhaps they’d let me know if they wanted to go back to their shed and line up at the gate mooing.

Decisions decisions. I’ll report back.

Managed to snap the woodpecker

Managed to snap the woodpecker

Rhythm and Ritual, Feeding Cows & Birds & Humans made this

It’s been almost a fortnight since the pastry was all rolled out, the decorations put back in their box and the festival holly crackled its last breath in the fire. Eager footsteps to the postbox have been replaced with a slow trudge in anticipation of the tax return demand, bank statements and catalogues for work wear.

While of immense significance to us, our celebratory feasts and festivals have absolutely no impact on the cycle of daily life for the cows. For them, the sun rises and sets in what I imagine is part of a reliably certain chain of events which mark their time. And usually at roughly the same point on this light changing scale, someone will come and give them some hay. So they come to know the routine and are found waiting and lingering near the hay shed just before sundown.

And the ritual of feeding them has brought a steady rhythm to my days too. Usually I look forward to it but sometimes I might think I’m in a hurry, my schedule is tight, or I’ve got too much to do or the mud is too sticky or it’s raining too hard. Then I have to dredge deep to find some enthusiasm for the chore.

Muddy Lane Cornwall

I walk up the road towards the cow field which is on the opposite side of our lane, head down, hood up, hands in pockets, waterproofs rustling, eyes squinting. I open the gate. I hear the snap of the clip on the chain and see the curve of the iron hook which keeps the gate in place. By now resistance to the chore is receding of its own accord.

This is what I do.

I feed the cows.

Gate Hook Cornwall

The smell of summer is tightly packed into the slender dry stalks as I shake the hay free from its pink stringed prison, grassily sweet as I release the stiff segments. I can almost feel the buzz and heaviness of those brief days of heat back in August, the rows of cut grass, deep and still moist underneath, the sweat underneath my straw hat as I turn it with a pitchfork at the edges of the field where the tractor has missed.

But reflections quickly fade as the cows come running, jostling around in excitement before settling down to a steady munching. For me this is the best time and I stand around talking to them, all other concerns temporarily suspended. Both Lucy and Mary-Rose are easy to approach now and don’t mind a stroke, though Lucy is by far the most tolerant and dare I say it, may even like my attentions. Belita is still incredibly nervous though yesterday she didn’t run away entirely as I reached out to her shoulder, preferring instead an irritated shrug and a mistrustful glare.

Traditional Herefords eating hay

By the time I leave them I always feel calmer and wonder what my hurry or hungry intentions were all about. It takes me out of myself and lands me in the present moment, and reminds me that it is the rituals of everyday life which are the balm and rhythm of the soul.

Something else to be savoured is watching the birds on the feeders and round about. To date we’ve seen Long Tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Nuthatch, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Jackdaw, Wren, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Sparrows, Bullfinch and Starlings. I also found a dead Goldcrest in the barn during the cold snap, it was extremely small.

My favourite is the Nuthatch with its neat compact body of grey and pink and its upside down wanderings along the peanut feeder. Most of my pictures have been rubbish so I’m borrowing one.



Bird Feeding Station

The Feeding Station – a lot more birds normally!

Every day at sundown while the cows are being fed, the starlings fly down the valley in large groups and sometimes settle in the trees nearby on a temporary stop before they make their way to the huge roost on Bodmin Moor. This spectacle is worth a post in itself so I will get up there soon.

Starlings in Winter trees

Starlings in Flight


And then there’s the regular appearance of the vegetable box.

Which doesn’t fill me with quite as much joy as the other things. I try, I really do. But after all, just what are you going to do with a whole lot more carrots, cauliflower and parsnips – those seasonal wonders of rooty and brassical loveliness?

My Year of Cows 2012

Well, as you know, I’ve got a soft spot for cows…

Traditional Hereford Cow & Calf

Traditional Hereford Cow & Calf

But when you get really interested in something you start seeing the object of your desire everywhere.

Galloways on Dartmoor

Galloways on Dartmoor

So this is my collection of 2012, roughly in chronological order, though there’s a few I took a few years ago when I started looking.

Belted Galloway

Belted Galloway on Dartmoor


Belted Galloways on Dartmoor

Belted Galloways on Dartmoor


Galloways on Dartmoor

Galloways on Dartmoor

Burgundian Charolais

Burgundian Charolais

Highland Cattle on Bodmin Moor

Highland Cattle on Bodmin Moor

Traditional Hereford Cow & Calf

Traditional Hereford Cow & Calf

North Devon Cow

North Devon Cow

Cattle on Bodmin Moor

Cattle on Bodmin Moor


Highland Cow

Highland Cow


Aberdeen Angus Bull (I think)

Aberdeen Angus Bull (I think)

Cattle on Bodmin Moor

Cattle on Bodmin Moor


Cowon Bodmin Moor


Cow in BodminMoor

Cow on Bodmin Moor

Cattle on Bodmin

Cattle on Bodmin Moor


Spanish Cows

Spanish Cows

Friesian Steer

Friesian Steer

Young steers feeding

Young steers feeding

Cow Fur

Cow Fur

Traditional Hereford Bull

And we mustn’t forget Herald, our bull

Young Hereford X Steer

And his children…not sure what the mother was…

Traditional Hereford Heifers

And saving the best til last…Belita, Mary-Rose & Lucy

Blogging, the Blogging World and the Cowgirl Blog List No. 1

Anyone for a Follow?

Anyone for a Follow?

I’m probably the zillionth person to say this…but…

When I first started this blog I had a vague aim to practise writing, do something creative with my spare time and give a purpose to my obsessive visual documentation. I hoped that with a bit of luck some people might find the story of the cows and my general musings interesting – a willing audience, hurrah! Thanks must go to my lovely friends and family who loyally followed me in the first place which gave me lots of encouragement. Thanks x x

Of course, as I found out pretty quickly, and I think most bloggers would probably agree, blogging is so much more than this. I have found myself swept up into the friendly bosom of a parallel universe – the Blogging World – a huge community of pen and camera wielders much like myself, tip tapping away on computer devices all over the globe. Another unexpected and interesting result of all this interacting is that my blog seems to have developed a life of its own.

In Blogging World I have met like minded and not so like minded folk, where we might share a laugh, exchange opinions and chit chat about anything from the joys of butter and farming ethics to the beauty of nature and the state of the world and culture. A bit like a giant pub, but with pictures.

There are cultural differences in blogging styles and one of the things I’ve noticed is that we Brits seldom show our faces – this is not surprising to me (that would be giving too much away wouldn’t it?) but I wonder what the franker and more upfront bloggers make of chatting with a bunch of legs, spiders, masked faces, flowers or symbols. And for us Brits it can be tortuous process selecting an image to represent ‘me’, so why do we put ourselves through it? Probably because Blogging World is in essence an unreserved place so we have to maintain our cultural identity somehow!

Anyway, in the spirit of the WordPress award system, today I’d like to spread some blog love. The actual award thing I’m a bit allergic to; probably some unresolved issues with authority there, or maybe it’s just the reserved thing again.

There are so many good blogs out there but here are fifteen to be going on with.


Taking a break from lawyering in London and relocating to the French Alps with her husbandand two very young children, the writer of this blog wittily chronicles the trials and tribulations of her ‘new life in the middle of nowhere

Asked how she likes her eggs she replied ‘in a cake’ – a woman after my own heart 🙂


Honest, poignant, funny, fierce; this writer really has a way with words. She speaks from the heart about lots of different subjects from Downton Abbey to Freedom of Choice isn’t Always Freedom, and relates the personal with the political in a really engaging and witty way.

If anyone relates to being in the wrong job or being over-stressed or tired you should read her post Thank you Panic Attack.

Plus she takes great photographs too.

live laugh RV

This happy light hearted blog is perfect for the armchair traveller, which I am these days. I always wanted to do a road trip across the United States, it even got to the discussion stage with a friend at one point. Now, I have fun watching this road trip unfold, taking in all the wonderful sights along the way.

Currently in Arizona, a-maz-ing!


I recently stumbled upon this beautiful blog, the record of an urbanite trying out small scale farming in Ontario, Canada and looking for a simpler life. The photographs are great, capturing a real sense of the place and the nature around. More walks please I say!

We’ll see just how simple that simpler life really is…’ they remark wryly in their About bit, which I thought was funny.


More tales from urbanites trying their hand at living the good life and proper self sufficiency, this time on four acres in Tasmania, Australia. I can now live vicariously through other peoples efforts with vegetables, you never know some of it might eventually rub off on me. The sheer positive exuberance and generosity of spirit and a great sense of humour makes the Serendipity Farm blog irresistible to me. Plus amazing phrases like ‘the twin machetes of adventure and change‘ are wielded about.

And they make lovely spoons. I missed out in their spoon lotto but I’m hoping to win won one day.


Permaculture Magazines covergirl and freelance journalist, an intrepid globe trotter WOOFing her way around the world (that’s Working On Organic Farms), Rebecca chronicles her adventures and misadventures on farms and smallholdings. One of her last placements was at a Hare Krishna temple in Utah, USA where she was stunned to find out they were more interested in Krishna than composting and recycling. Funny, thoughtful and quirky with fantastic photographs, I always look forward to reading the next instalment.

digging history

I love the way this blogger displays his metal detecting finds, like they are treasure. Having lived near the Fylde Coast and the river Ribble and its estuary for many years, the writer knows and cares for this landscape and its wildlife intimately, from all different angles – the surface, underneath the surface and its history. Fascinating.

the task at hand

What can I say? A writer who is in search of just the right word and she just about gets it right 100% of the time I should say. Beautiful, elegant prose delivered in small essays on all manner of subjects, from social issues to religious festivals and North American culture. In fact one of her posts was about essay writing itself which is what motivated me to start following.

That, and that she quoted writer Flannery O’Connor saying that ‘reading my own work is akin to eating a horse blanket…’ which tickled me.

She includes poetry and music in her posts and I always learn something even though I’m not always in agreement. She is truly engaged with her many readers and answers every comment with thoughtfulness and care. How she manages to do all this while running a yacht varnishing business at the same time is beyond me – another good reason to chuck out the TV!

lorna’s tearoom delights

Teashops. An obsession of mine too, why didn’t I think of this idea?!

Lorna has a mission to go to all the teashops in Scotland and report back to her readers. Cue fab pictures of buns and china. But it wouldn’t be doing this blog justice to leave it at that. She’s an engaging and warm writer and reading her posts are always a pleasure, you feel like you’re there with her.

Charming, Delightful.

I also really want to know what she does when she works on the oil rigs.


Just another (gr)egghead trying to get it in focus’ says Lemony

Typically modest from this amazing photographer of spiders, plants, her neighbours garden among other things, like experimenting with the representation of her recent illness pneumonia.

Creative and inspired.

science on the land

Everything you ever want to know about news in British agriculture/conservation in short up-to-date snippets packed with facts. She leans towards the sustainable in outlook but reports on everything.

She also reblogs interesting related posts from other bloggers.

I particularly enjoy her ‘Vegetable of the Month’ and ‘Tree of the Month’ posts

tricia tierney’s blog

Brave and honest, this writer is not afraid of tackling the big subjects of loss and pain, having been both part of a country’s tragedy and suffering a personal one.

I read the first excerpt from her memoir of her time in Sarajevo and subsequent events and wanted to read more.

that’s how the light gets in

Gerry, the erudite and eloquent Liverpudlian blogs ceaselessly on all things cultural – books, films, exhibitions, documentaries, radio programmes, history – a one stop shop for all my cultural needs.

He is also in love with landscape and takes you on guided walks around the Liverpool area. With stunning descriptions and beautiful photography.

Long reads, get yourself a cup of coffee!

debbie yare

Artist and photographer Debbie wanders her northern landscapes. I just can’t get enough of those images of Morecambe Bay.

Beautiful, wild, haunting.

frames of reference

Although this is the official blog of the Rowley Art Gallery, London and here you will find links to all sorts of beautiful art and artists, Hamer also blogs brilliantly on the walks he takes and the places he visits with top class photography and evocative description.

One of his recent posts was from Toledo, Spain where he got slightly obsessed with walls – ‘once I started photographing them I couldn’t stop’ he said. But I love a good wall too, so that’s ok.

Some of the artists that the gallery represents also guest blog so it’s interesting to see their work too.

I am saving up.


So, that’s the end of my first list. I hope you have fun discovering some new blogs in 2013.

Happy New Year!

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