Monday, 24 August 2015

Flying Ants

In all the years I lived in Scotland I never once saw a flying ant.  So now, when they appear in the grass and  between the paving stones of our English garden, I am fascinated by them.  Expect them on dry, warm days.  The story goes that they won't appear if there's any risk of rain. These little orange fellas start running around first.  When I saw them I took it as a sign I could safely hang out some washing.  Turns out we have stupid ants who forgot to check with the Met Office.  It rained.
Then when you look hard enough you can see the entrance to their burrows.
And before you know it they're everywhere...
I'm still trying to work out what the orange ants do.  They seem to make sure it's all clear before the winged ants come up and then they seem to clear away any winged ants which have a wing missing.  Since nature is pragmatic I presume these failed ants are taken back to the burrow and used as a food source.
The able bodied winged ants who are not mopped up (anticide?) head for the tallest thing and climb up it.  They're looking for the highest launch pad they can find.  
Loads of 'em!
My research (wikipedia) tells me these winged ants consist of virgin males and females who spread their wings to get as far away as possible from the parent nest and give them a greater chance of mating with other ants from other nests.  Once they have mated on the wing, the males genitals explode and they die.  I'm not making it up.  I read it on the internet.  It must be true.
Imagine, you're a young ant-about-town off on your first date.  It's all going well, you've escaped the nest, avoided being chewed up by the ground crew, got up a blade of grass and made your maiden flight.  Up there in the clear air you've met a nice lady ant.  She's given you the wink. Turns out you both like the same things - grass, Wings, Adam and the Ants.  Some soft lighting, some Barry White on spotifly (sorry) and you're making sweet, sweet ant magic.  You lean back but just as you're about to blow smoke rings, BOOF!  Genitals blown to bits.  No "it's not you, it's me", no "I just think I need to focus on my career right now".  You're history.  Literally.
I feel sorry for the male ants.  The females take the next generation to establish a new nest.  Job done.  Many comments on flying ant forums (yes really) are written by people panicking about the number of flying ants which have appeared in their gardens and homes.  They wonder if bleach will get rid of them.  Relax.  They'll be on their way soon and for some, their fate is worse than a blast of bleach.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Village Day 2015!

We have a Village Horticultural day each year.  And every year we say we'll enter something for the show and see if we can win a prize and every year we either forget or go on holiday.  This year however, we were ready and as a family team entered 26 classes in the crafts and cookery sections.  But before I tell you how that went, here's a flavour of what trundles along the end of our lane on the way to the showground at the other end of the village...
 The village brass band.
 A ginger bread house.
 Ooompa loompa's from Willy Wonka (which we suspect was put together by the local biscuit factory).
 The local toddlers group on an under the sea themed float.
 Commemorating VE Day 1945.  The lady leaning forward is haggling with a black marketeer for some stockings.  If they kept that banter up all along the high street they did well (it's a long high street) and the float was fabulous!
 And here's a very small section of the tractor parade.  We're surprised every year at just how many tractors turn out, there must be about 50 and we're only a small village of 1800 souls!  We're beginning to wonder if our second car should be a tractor.
 The children play their part too on all types of transport.  The little pirate looked a bit grumpy despite having the best make-up of the day.
For most of the summer, I'd been completing a quilt starting 3 years ago and abandoned.  I prefer to complete one project before I move onto another and I'd made myself a firm rule that I was not allowed to start ANYTHING new until I'd got this quilt sorted.  When we had warm weekend weather I sewed outside.
When it was raining I took my time indoors trying to match the stripes on the binding.  Note to self - never do a striped binding again.
 It very nearly worked...
The fabric was clearly on the wonk.
And - ta dah!  Finally, here's the finished quilt.  I ended up really enjoying the free motion quilting on this with all the wavy swirls depicting the water round the British Isles.  And if you look at it from the reverse (which I forgot to photograph!) the quilting creates a union jack again.  You'll just have to take my word for it.
So how did the quilt do in the competition?  A second prize place which I was very pleased with.  There was fierce competition and the quilt which won was properly beautiful with perfectly matching points, lovely hand quilting and clever fabric contracts. Next year I'm aiming for first!  Unless we forget or go on holiday.
 Other classes did well too, the monsters pulled one of 5 Highly Commended's.
 As did a fimo bracelet
 My best class was in the greetings cards section.
And finally - my first 1st placement.  Hooray!!
Man child No1, won third in the sketching section despite having to enter the adult classes and a photo I took of a market in Budapest gained another Highly Commended.  I must confess to failing spectacularly in the cooking section.  Nothing for the chutneys, pickles, sloe vodka (quite happy to keep quaffing that though) or blackberry liqueur.  But it gives me an excuse to make more this autumn and we're getting close to foraging season.  
It was a good day!  And to top the weekend off in style Himself and I had both our Mother's (mine from Scotland and his more locally) visit us the day after our competitive success and all mama's like afternoon tea don't they?
We made our own Afternoon Tea menu, cut the crusts of the sandwiches and ate cake!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

A Sunny Walk Near Bath

We rarely have a Sunday to ourselves but this week we did and we had sunny weather. Himself got out the walking map of the Cotswolds way and we found a section to visit. And we only got a little bit lost. This is a view of the city of Bath looking at it from the east. Bath is unusual because the whole of the city, not just bits of architecture in it, is a Unesco World Heritage site. The picture below shows the shape of the city - it's all contained within the bowl of the surrounding hills. It contains the only natural hot water spring in the UK (that won't impress many of my overseas readers who have their own hot springs on nearly every street corner - I'm looking at you Germany!) and Bath is blessed with Roman remains and Georgian architecture. The city we see now was mostly constructed between 1720 and 1800.
Cultural lesson over, here's some pretty pictures of our lush English countryside.
The thistles are coming out. One of the early signs that summer is drawing to a close and we're drifting lazily towards autumn.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Macarons - Berrylicious

After our week away in Padstow, we had the luxury of a few days pottering at home before returning to work. Macaron time!! The thing I love about macarons is that although they are fiddly little blighters to get right, once you have a good batch you can freeze them. The ugly ones get eaten by us :) I had a peaceful morning to myself, listening to the radio, jigging round the kitchen and whipping up a batch of these beauties.
The recipe came (as always) from the fabby "Mad About Macarons" book by Jill Colonna and the shells are filled with her tutti fruiti filling. I used half strawberries and half blackberries and they are very, very delicious. By the time I got round to transferring them from fridge to freezer - half had been eaten. Ooops.
I used a tiny quantity of powdered red food colouring and it gave just the right pinky hue above. The powdered colourings are pricey but I've found them more reliable in terms of colour and stability of bake. (Did I mention these are tricky?!) I have had to play around with my cooker settings and now find 18 mins at 140 degrees fan is perfect each time but that's just MY oven. I really recommend testing a piped macaron on each corner of a baking tray in your oven before you commit the whole batch. It's a good idea to sacrifice a practice batch to test at various (ascending) temperatures. Start low and work up in 10 degree intervals. After they've been in for 10 mins check them every 2 minutes to see if they're properly baked and lift easily from the parchment. You might hit lucky early in your experiments. I think I had about 6 attempts before I got the right temperature and bake time. But once you've got it - you never need to do the experiment again! Until you get a new cooker...
Kitchen play time is lovely but I was missing the sunshine and warmth outside, (we were warmer than Barcelona the weather forecasters told us) so I sat outside with a coffee, a macaron and a piece of sewing I'm getting ready to enter into our local village show. I only need to finish a short piece of binding on a small quilt which has taken me 2 years to complete. I started it, fell out of love with it, hid it away, rediscovered it, did some crazy free motion quilting on it and now I love it again! I'll show you when it's finished :)

Saturday, 8 August 2015

A few days in Padstow

Himself has his birthday right in the middle of the August holiday season. Each year he insists we go to the beach for some surfing. It helps us stay young apparently. As does drinking the local beer. I'm happy with any excuse to get the tent out and we've found some really gorgeous camp sites right by the sea. You can step outside your tent in the morning straight onto the South West Coast Path.
Which is what we did.
This area gives so many photo opportunities but none of the pics really capture the the place. You have to imagine the rolling sound of the ocean and the rushing of the water onto the beach accompanied all the time by a crazy, whistling wind which buffets you from every direction.
The beaches are pretty good for surfing and if one bay is quiet, try walking round the next curve of land to where the sea comes at you from a different direction. Chances are, it will provided some waves.
Considering this was high holiday season in Cornwall, there was plenty of room for everyone.
Here's another bay. Pretty isn't it?
Each Wednesday evening at about 6pm, the local RNLI practise launching their rescue boat from the building on stilts in the middle of the picture below. We'd seen it in previous years and weren't around this time to see it again but if you get the chance it's worth watching and appreciating the work of these volunteers. We've seen a couple of sea rescues and been grateful firstly that it wasn't us and secondly that if we ever did need it, there is a service there at all.
Since Himself is going to have yet another birthday next August, we've booked up early and will return to this lovely part of the world. See you next year, Padstow.