500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

South Bohemian Stuffing Loaf

May15

When I tell people in the Czech Republic that we don’t use stinging nettles as a vegetable in the UK – I’m met with incomprehension – “don’t nettles grow in Britain” was one response.  When cooked correctly it’s almost indistinguishable from spinach in appearance, with a nice flavour, a natural organic – those stings protect it from most bugs, so pesticides are unnecessary, and zero food miles if there is any patch of unused ground close to home!  However, most people in the UK  have in mind an image of the deodorant eschewing as typical consumers of nettles. The nettle marketing board has a way yet to go.

You use the top couple of inches of the plant as a vegetable, so when you’re weeding next time, put this part of the plant aside for dinner, rather than on the compost heap.

Of course, you need to wear protective gloves while picking,  and wash them thoroughly as they grow close to the ground.  The best method for cooking I’ve found so far is to put them in a covered pan on a high heat in as much water as sticks to the leaves after washing. Within about 5 minutes (heating from cold)  they will have wilted down – take them off the heat as soon as they look like cooked spinach – you don’t want to destroy nutrients by cooking longer.  Use them in place of spinach in any recipe.

Sekanice is a local Easter recipe here which, according to my students, requires between 30-50% nettles. In my version of the recipe I substitute smoked tofu for bacon and soya for boiled pork – much to the chagrin of my Czech students. I have tested the recipe on non-hippie meat lovers, it didn’t last long despite the perceived weirdness of the ingredients.  Traditionally Sekanice is made for the Easter weekend. You can eat it hot, straight from the oven, and then cold, cut into slices over the next few days.

Sekanice uses nettles as the green because in the old days before we had vegetables flown in from Kenya, it was the first vegetable to come up after the snow.  The word Sekanice means sort of “Cut thing” – because you can harvest baby nettles using a scythe, and then you can cut the Sekanice into slices when it comes out of the oven.

Vegetarian Sekanice (pronounced Set can it say)

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 block of smoked tofu, chopped into small squares
  • 1 pack of soya chunks – soaked for an hour in vegetable stock, then fried in a generous amount of  butter or olive oil
  • sage
  • a handful of chopped chives
  • 3 bread rolls torn into chunks
  • 2-3 large handfuls of stinging nettles

Method

Prepare the soya – once it holds the same amount of fat and salt as boiled pork, it loses it’s holier than thou taste.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees c. & grease a large ceramic  baking dish (if you use oil to grease with, it’s really easy by the way).

Separate the egg yolks from the whites and mix the yolks with the bread chunks.  Whip the egg whites into a frenzy (in Czech, they say whip it into snow – when the egg whites are fluffy and form peaks).

Chop the tofu, bread & chives. Combine all the ingredients apart from the egg whites, mixing well. You will need to add quite a lot of salt and pepper as tofu and soya are not salted when you purchase them, like pork and bacon are.  Finally, fold in the egg whites and turn the mixture into the baking dish. Cook for 40 minutes or until the top has gone a nice baked brown.

Cherry Jam – the vital ingredient.

June1

During a recent wet weekend I decided to make jam. I sat with a friend at the kitchen table and we spent the morning hooking pits out of cherries with  hairpins (the wide sort). These jobs are always so much better in company. I used sugar with added pectin, and put in the zest of a couple of lemons for good measure. Miraculously, it set and I was able to give jars away to friends and neighbours in town.

The end of May is a little early for cherries in this area, so my neighbours were impressed to see jam already…  the magic, extra flavoursome twist to our jam was that the cherries had been steeped in vodka for 11 months! It worked out well. Last year we didn’t have water at Novy Mlyn, so making jam would have been a nightmare, instead I packed the cherries into large jars and topped them up with vodka. I was really surprised that the process actually added a good flavour to the jam.

This year I am going to try to sun dry the cherries. I plan to make square frames out of willow switches & the net curtains (which I removed from every window in the house (washed, of course)). I also plan to sun dry some apples because we didn’t use the crop last year and I have rather enjoyed dried apple made by my students.

Now I have rather a lot of cherry vodka around the place – I wonder if there is a magic solution to that particular glut.

Spinning surprises

May24

When I was small my mum bought a spinning wheel which was sent in a box from New Zealand. We learned how to card wool (to straighten out the fibres so it can be spun) and used all sorts of things to dye the wool after we’d spun it… we saved our onion skins for months, and experimented with spice. The result of all this was somewhat uninspiring turmeric scented browns when our friends wore Cerise pink and electric blue.

The spinning wheel is now on it’s way to Novy Mlyn – and is in need of a bit of repair. I was telling our neighbour about it (I say ‘telling’ and mean performing – I have at my disposal simple words and acting out – rather than the word for spinning wheel in Czech – kolovratek).  His reaction was way more interest than I expected (another strangeness from the strange English couple in the village) & he explained that he’d actually had to throw wool away in the past as nobody wanted it. He has sheep for flavour, not for wool, so the strands aren’t very long, but I am very happy to try it out – if it’s unsuitable for producing yarn, I will certainly be able to use it for felt – and I can experiment with different natural dyes as well.

While I’m working on the house I’m also thinking about activity holidays at Novy Mlyn… as well as knitting we now have the potential to take part in the whole process… a knitting holiday could involve meeting the sheep whose wool we will spin, dye and knit.  Now… I wonder if I can persuade our neighbour to adopt some Alpaca.

Sun Bathing

May23

For May, it’s surprisingly warm. We spent today working outside as much as possible. But on a really hot day, water is essential. Our swimming pond is still  at the stage of pre-construction, so we have to find other means to ends…

The drainage from the house has stopped, and so we’re back to using the outhouse while we get the necessary permit to fit a new water treatment system (envi pur is a company originating from our local town).  The problem is that, if our 18 months waiting for a permit for our well is anything to go by, it could be a very long time before we have the right paperwork. I have contacted Envi Pur to see if they have a turnkey solution – ie they handle all that as well as fitting the system – however I’ve had no response to my email written in halting (or perhaps failing) Czech.

Our neighbour said that there has never been a water treatment system at the house (though we did wonder if he’d simply diverted it – as he did with the water supply). It’s horrible that even the bath and sink cannot be used in the bathroom for the time being – the water drains straight out of the top of a pipe by the back porch. JD, our builder, thinks that this could have been deliberately blocked – just to inconvenience us.

JD gave us a cast iron bath a few months ago when he was refurbishing the bathroom in his cottage. He has a place on a hill about 7 miles away – with fantastic views. JD is the hoarder I aspire to be… nothing is ever wasted. He decided that what we needed was a free standing cast iron bath. What could I do but agree. Though it was in a bit of a state, like everything in my life it was nothing that a bit of elbow grease and Hammerite couldn’t right.

Due to the dire drainage situation we decided to set the bath up in the garden. Today we positioned it in the middle of the lawn where it would get the sun all day, filled it with water, covered it with clear plastic sheet and waited.

After a day of pottering, rather than hard graft, with a bit of flopping about in the sun thrown in for good measure, just as the heat was getting unbearable, I was able to sink into our luxuruiously long & deep bath, containing water warmed by the sun. We had a good old splash about (we being Misha -2.3- and I) and after lay in the hammock strung between the apple trees to dry off. Absolutely the best bathtime ever.

House move stress

May23

We are leaving Tábor today to go back to the UK to move out. We are meeting the man with the van at Luton airport tonight, then driving it to Birmingham.

I have sold as many large things as I can on Ebay, and these will be collected at various times over the next 7 days. I think we have done the right thing. I hope that people are pleased with their bargains. I hope that my flatmates don’t mind too much that things will be slowly disappearing over the next few days… a freezer one day, the washing machine the next. Read the rest of this entry »

Well paperchase

May21

On Friday I (with a great sense of achievement and the help of very kindly Czech officials who spoke some English) managed to get a copy of the official documents which say that the property is ours.  Buying a house in a foreign country is certainly an adventure. You’re at most ever 73 percent sure you have understood correctly – and what you are sure about is very expensive (fluent English lawyers are quite a luxury!).

Read the rest of this entry »

A larch roof for Novy Mlyn?

May16

I have just finished a lesson with a student who is a wood expert. He has a firm selling timber & so we were discussing wood as he needs to learn wood related vocabulary. I was quizzing him about the house he is building. I love random things like this. Last week we were discussing the Czech economy amongst other things & he told me that in Moravia there is unemployment of 20%, whereas in South Bohemia it is 4.6%.  I asked him about using wood as a roofing material as I had seen what appeared to be wooden tiles on a church close by, I thought this was strange as I’ve never seen such a thing in the UK & was sceptical about whether it could be waterproof & long lasting. As it turns out…

He is using larch wood tiles on the roof of his 500 year old house. They are guaranteed for 70 years, and as they are hand cut larch, they do not need to be treated with insecticides & preservatives. This sounds to me like a brilliantly eco friendly roofing method. It is labour intensive, however the trees grow in a part of the Czech Republic where jobs are needed. I discussed this with M & we have decided to investigate using this material on our roof at Novy Mlyn. I wasn’t happy with the roofing materials which have so far been suggested – a plasticky slate (for some of the reasons discussed in my last post – how do we know how this material will perform in five decades of sunshine? Larch roofs have been used for centuries, it is solid technology) . I don’t want to be shipping genuine slate from China either – the embedded energy costs are too high just to make your house look pretty. I would be very happy to see if a larch roof would work with Novy Mlyn, and promote the craft to the UK.

I told you that teaching English was a really interesting job!

Traditional methods of restoring historical buildings

May16

I’ve started researching into damp – and come across an interesting German site:

“Did your audacious restoration…of your historic building change to a disaster? Have you lost all your money and hope?”

It’s been machine translated into English, so the language is a little strange… but clearly passionate. The gist of the site is this: if buildings are to stand for hundreds of years, it is best to use methods that have been tested for hundreds of years. Many new building technologies are now on the market which may have been tested for a year or two, but then go on to fail within years or decades – and additionally, many ‘solutions’ are being sold by cowboys.

So, an interesting (though a little ranty) page about mould: http://www.konrad-fischer-info.de/7mold.htm

Some advice about ‘the fraud of rising damp in old buildings’: http://www.konrad-fischer-info.de/2auffen.htm

ARGH!  Read the rest of this entry »

Damp bricks

May16

I’ve made an unfortunate discovery at Novy Mlyn. On the north side of the house there is a hole in the plaster & the bricks underneath are crumbly. Will bricks with the consistency of cheese hold up my house? And what do I do about it? Is it possible to dry them out some how. They are damp now when there has been very little rain over the last 3 months. Better do some research.

We went out to the house on Monday night & stayed over – just like we were planning to (for the last two years!). Yet again I am covered in paint – even after a long bath which did at least remove the dirt. Interestingly, the most effective way of removing oil based paint from skin appears to be baby wipes. Goodness knows what chemicals they have in them … far easier than soap, water & scrubbing. Anyway, 3 fence panels later Mike arrived back from work – and was clearly horrified with how dirty I was – he said I looked like a coal miner/chimney sweep/street urchin.  Least I have the evidence that I did a thorough job. Read the rest of this entry »

The next car problem

May14

At 8am Saturday morning we discovered yet another problem with our car from AAA Auto. This time, another simple problem, the alarm which reminds you that the lights are on is intermittent. We’re not in the habit of using headlights in the day – as is the law here – so we’d left the lights on overnight, hence a flat battery. It was the first day that M would be able to work on the house – so we’d had an early night and got up at the crack of dawn (for us, Czechs normally start work a good 2 or 3 hours earlier than we do!). As a result, I would say M was a tad frustrated. It was lucky everyone was up already & our neighbours don’t understand Saxon English. Read the rest of this entry »

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