Saturday, July 25, 2015

Life In The Sloe Lane...

This week we have six sloe trees arriving to be planted in Badger’s Wood. We have waited patiently for several years to get our hands on some of these. There is only one nursery in NZ which grafts them, and for the last few years there has been a waiting list which outstripped supply due to a poor rate of the grafts taking. However, this year we were top of the list and have secured enough to grow our own little Blackthorn spinney within the woods.

Sloes (Prunus spinosa) are a member of the plum family, which grow wild in many places throughout Europe (and supposedly, according to Wikipedia, many places in New Zealand, although with years of searching we have not been able to find them growing in any of the hedgerows!).

Their common name of Blackthorn derives from the dark bark of the tree, which has large spikey spurs protruding from it. In the spring it blossoms with creamy white flowers which develop into a small highly astringent dark purple berry, known as a sloe. It is similar I guess to a Damson. 

The fruit is used for preserves and for fillings (once combined with an unhealthy amount of sugar to make it palatable); and also for making sloe gin, which is a liqueur made by steeping the sloes in large jars heaped with sugar and then topped with plain gin and left for 6 months.

Traditionally the fruits are picking after the first frost of autumn. The frost allows the fruits to start to bletch a little (although these days one could pick them any time and put them in the freezer to achieve this). I like the tradition of picking them after the first frost, it seems so much more in-tuned with the passing of the seasons and leaves one something to look forward to. 

Once picked, the fruits are then pricked several times piercing the skin. It is traditional to do this with one of the thorns from the bush itself. Once pricked one puts them in a wide necked jar or demijohn and for each pint of sloes (570 mls) one adds 4 Oz (110g) of sugar. The jar is then filled up with gin and left in a cool dark place for a minimum of 3 months, but much better 6 months (as when made sufficiently slowly the liqueur starts to take on a slightly almond-like taste as well, from the berry pips). 

Above photo from London Eats Blog

The sugar is vital not just to humour the bitterness of the berries, but to help draw the flavour out of them into the gin. Turn the jars every day for the first week, and then every week for the remaining time. The gin will take on a lovely deep crimson hue. At the end of this time carefully decant the gin into display bottles and label. Be careful not to discard the sloes as these will now make a nice filling for a pie, perhaps mixed with strewed apple to make them go further, or for creating sloe truffles!

 Sloe Truffles
To make sloe truffles put the left over fruit into a pan and gently simmer until there is minimal liquid left in the mixture and the fruit has softened well. Rub the sloes through a sieve to separate the pulp from the stones. Weigh the pulp, and then add the same weight again in sugar (would make a great treat for the festive season due to both timing of completing the gin and in not caring about what one's waistline does for that month). Simmer again until all the sugar has fully dissolved (one does not want a crystalline filling). Scrape into a jar and leave to set. At this point you can also use this sloe mixture on biscuits with cheese, like quince paste).  To make truffles blend the mixture with an equal amount of dark chocolate (or milk if you prefer), roll into little balls. Allow to set and then dust with cocoa powder and enjoy.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Gala Opening and Royal Fireworks...

We are having fun planning the gala opening for this November. How precipitous given that we are a way off finishing yet!

Dress: Cravat Noir.
Guest list: Hand picked family and friends.
Donations at the door for our selected charity.
Invitations ready to be sent to the engravers.
Champagne in the cellar.
Canapes and Caterer chosen.
Floral arrangements planned.
Music chosen, and String Quartet arranged to play the rejouissance from Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks at 10pm for a firework display. 

The pyrotechnics will be launched from the upstairs terrace whilst the guests enjoy them from the cocktail lawn below. Hopefully the evening will be more successful than the actual Royal fireworks display in 1749, arrange by George II to celebrate the end of the Austrian Wars of Succession. It rained for the entire time, and the stage, erected in Green Park for the display and musicians, caught fire!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

London Pride...

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 London Bombings.

I remember that day, for although I was in NZ, Peter was in London, and daily took one of the affected lines to work at The London (The Royal London Hospital). That day was awful - all the phone networks went down, no way to know whether he was OK. Nothing to do but to sit and await word...

Eventually many hours later he managed to get through to me to say that he was OK, but that many of the casualties were being taken to The London and he was busy there providing support to victims and their families. He was way-laid that morning getting on the trains, by a group of nuns who wanted to talk with him (Deo Gratias).

We were lucky, our lives only tangentially touched, but these cowardly acts robbed 52 families of their innocent loved ones, injured a further 700 people, and struck at the heart of a nation. This, however, only served to strengthen the resolve of a community to support each other. Forever, the indomitable spirit lived on. Never surrender, never give them the satisfaction, - keep calm and carry on. 

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth visited The London the following day and later in a speech declared "Those who perpetrate these brutal acts against innocent people should know that they will not change our way of life" The attacks were also denounced by Muslim clerics such as the Grand Mufti of SA: "Killing and terrorizing innocent people and the destruction of property are not condoned by Islam".

How sad that these forms of violence continue. When will people learn?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Progress Report July...

Dear readers, those who have been following the blog for a long time will be aware that by now we should have shifted in and be open for B&B all going to plan. However, like almost all of the episodes of "Grand Designs" that I have seen, things seldom go to plan. Over the past 9 months we have run into so many problems with delivery of materials and other small things that the project virtually came to a stand-still a few months ago. We are still waiting for one shipment of marble to arrive - a Greek crisis of our own. We have no idea what effect the financial turmoil in Greece will have on us being able to get the shipment out of the country. Here's hoping it won't be affected too much.

And that nasty little word "budget" reared its ugly head again. However, thanks to the help of family, we think that we are now moving forwards (first gear at the moment, but have been promised we will be in 5th gear in a couple of weeks). It has also required cutbacks on the project, which will now see the chapel built at a later stage. This is a bit of a blow, but as most couples have expressed the wish to have a garden wedding anyway, it shouldn't have a huge impact upon the operation.

Above: A view from the folly over the newly re-lined and re-filled lake. The white sand bags will be able to be removed this week. The grass sown around the edges has already germinated (luckily before too many winter frosts struck) so by spring it should be verdant all the way to the water's edge. 

In the background stands the manor, colonnade, and carriage house. Perhaps not noticeable from this distance is the detail work which has gone on over the past few months. The architraves around the windows, the window sills, the frieze band, dentils, and the columns have all been or are being placed at present. It is these details that elevates the manor from a masonry box to a neoclassical house.

Above: The view of the front portico. The steel girders that were previously there have now been encased in masonry columns, which are waiting for the Scamozzi capitals to be fitted. The pink timber is supporting the molds for the mid-floor frieze band, the detail of which runs around the edge of the balcony above the portico, and can be seen in profile if you look at the end of the molds. This month the round window will be fitted in the centre of the triangular pediment, and the dentils will be fitted around the inside of the pediment so the whole gable will resemble something more like this...

Once all the details have been fitted then the sandstone render will go on the walls (coloured plaster mixed with real sandstone to give a solid sandstone effect). Then the balusters will be fitted to the upstairs balconies and by then the carpets will be able to be installed upstairs and we should be able to shift in.

Above: The west front of the colonnade. Once the capitals and capping are fitted and they are rendered it should look amazing. 

Below: The reverse (east) side of the colonnade. You can see the free-standing columns, which will be joined together above by a masonry band and capping. Beams will run between these columns and the colonnade wall to create a pergola type walkway. We have bought some lovely wisteria to plant at the base of each column, which in time will grow up the columns and across the beams.

Above and below: Closer views of the manor where you can see the architraves around the windows, the dentils and frieze just below the roof-line, and the mid-floor frieze band.

Above: Close-up of mid-floor frieze band.

Below: The mid-floor frieze band of Sydney Hospital (which I photographed recently). I took notice of the part where it had fallen away, revealing how it was originally affixed with pins and mortar into holes in the rough out-crop of stone.

Above and Below: The Loggia, now completed with its columns. Just waiting for the capitals on the columns, the plaster on the walls, the carriage lights, and the marble on the terrace. We ended up stripping 8 columns out of the loggia and manor on this facade as it looked too busy. By the time there is seating etc in situ it will look quite busy enough. There are 20 columns to go on to the upstairs wall on this facade (a pair on either side of each of the French windows). They will be square columns (pilasters) with smaller capitals.

Above: View from Loggia towards the lake and folly.

Below: Closer view of lake and folly with bridge in foreground.

Below: View of folly from bluebell walk. Peter and Dirk have finished the roof, which looks amazing. They are just waiting for the crane to be onsite again to hoist it up onto the walls. Then they will coat the outside in coloured plaster to match the manor.

Now to some inside views...

Above: Interim view of the curved wall in the Brideshead suite. Below: Finished view (we changed the wainscoting to create 2 panels, not one. A unit will go against this wall, centred on the large rectangular wainscot panel, with flatscreen on top, and espresso machine etc below. Then in front of that will be a pair of chairs and a coffee table.

Below: A view of the headboard wall of the Brideshead suite, with painted wainscoting. The walls look slightly green in this photo, but they are the same colour as the walls above (cream).

Above: A view of the headboard wall of the Master Suite.

Below: A view down the left of this wall towards the dressing room.

Below: A view of the west wall of the Master Suite.
Above: A view of the bath in the master ensuite, with the marble top waiting to be fitted (below).

Below: Wainscoting in the master WC.

The rest of the rooms should be finished by August - fully papered or painted, with the carpets arriving either this month or next. All the lighting is on site ready to be fitted, as are the plumbing fittings.

Below: The kitchen benchtops on temporary supports to give us an idea of what the kitchen will look like when completed. It is being made off-site at the moment, and should be ready to be fitted in August.
Above: The bench on the north side of the kitchen underneath the large panoramic window which looks out over the end of the terrace to the bell lawn. The gap in the middle is where the double sink will go. With the window open on a summer's day or evening it could double as a servery with waitstaff coming there to collect canapes for garden events.

Below: The view of the east side of kitchen. The gap is where the ovens and hobs will go, with cupboards and range hood above.

Below: Plans for this elevation.

So, we are hopeful of a Spring opening (October), and with our first booking taken for December we have some safety time for any more unforeseen setbacks. It certainly has been a journey so far, and Peter and I will both be so glad when we shift in and enjoy the fruits of 7 years of hard work. 

The rest of the project has gone well. The gardens are looking good (although wintry), the lake saga has been rectified, the last lot of planting and transplanting of trees is booked for 2 week's time, and the animals on the farm are doing well...

Above: The Herefords and Suffolks enjoying fresh hedge trimmings (Casuarina).

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