What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Hen Friends

How lovely it is to visit an old friend and get acquainted with her very pretty hens who roam free around a large garden. Mr Rooster, a fine beastie, even keeps the family dog in check. On a fairly rare sunny day we enjoyed fresh scones in the garden and our feathered friends were there to peck up the crumbs when we finished. Back when we first met in the late 1990’s our chat would have been of small children, potty training and learning to read, now our own little chicks are grown up we talk of university, gap years, egg production and scaley leg mite and had a tour of the abundant vegetable garden.

Mr Rooster is the fine silvery grey bird just left of centre.
PS you can follow me on Instagram as Mrs Gillybirds.

Leave a comment »

Close encounters of the feathered kind


It’s been a lovely Easter. The weather has been perfect with leaves and blossoms bursting out by the hour. On Easter Monday we took a walk around Hillsborough Lake, a local beauty spot, known for it’s pretty forest and plentiful wild birds. Being the holidays families were there to feed the ducks, geese and swans as I remember doing there as a small child.
Naughty Lucas certainly enjoying finding any crumbs the birds left behind, and was very interested in checking out the majestic mute swans, of which there are many. When one swam by to give him a closer inspection however it was a different matter, he turned tail and ran away.
You’ve probably never eaten swan. Neither have I. Did you know that in the UK only the Queen is entitled to have swan for dinner? A quick google of swan recipes comes up with very little to tempt the modern palate however, describing the taste as moist, wet and muddy.
At there is a recipe should you happen to be in royal company and have nothing but swan in the fridge.
PERIOD: England, 14th century | SOURCE: Utilis Coquinario | CLASS: Authentic

DESCRIPTION: Roasted swan with Chaudon


11. For to dihyte a swan. Tak & vndo hym & wasch hym, & do on a spite & enarme hym fayre & roste hym wel; & dysmembre hym on þe beste manere & mak a fayre chyne, & þe sauce þerto schal be mad in þis manere, & it is clept:

12. Chaudon. Tak þe issu of þe swan & wasch it wel, & scoure þe guttes wel with salt, & seth þe issu al togedere til it be ynow, & þan tak it vp and wasch it wel & hew it smal, & tak bred & poudere of gyngere & of galyngale & grynde togedere & tempere it with þe broth, & coloure it with þe blood. And when it is ysothe & ygrounde & streyned, salte it, & boyle it wel togydere in a postnet & sesen it with a litel vynegre.

– Hieatt, Constance B. and Sharon Butler. Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury). New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.


For to prepare a swan. Take & undo him & wash him, & do on a spit & lard him fair & roast him well; & dismember him on the best manner & make a fair carving, & the sauce thereto shall be made in this manner, & it is called:

Chaudon. Take the issue of the swan & wash it well, & scour the guts well with salt, & boil the issue all together til it be enough, & then take it up and wash it well & hew it small, & take bread & powder of ginger & of galingale & grind together & temper it with the broth, & color it with the blood. And when it is boiled & ground & strained, salt it, & boil it well together in a small pot & season it with a little vinegar.



Leave a comment »

Chickens Galore Mug

Those of you who know me well, know that I am very particular about what mugs I will drink from. (Hello Mrs R and Miss CC, and the long suffering folks in church)
Mr Gillybirds has learnt through the years that certain mugs are only for use at particular times of the day, or for a specific drink. Up until now this has been a favourite for my post-school run long and quiet cup of tea.

It’s chunky, it’s as big as a bucket, and it tells the truth 🙂
A trip to one of those amazing countryside stores that sell everything from avocado dishes to tractor parts had a wonderful display of fine china mugs aimed for the rural shopper. And me. Anything with such well-observed drawings of the antics of hens belongs clearly to me. And so I bought it. And refrained from asking if I could buy the cute real life dog lying sleeping in a basket under the counter.

There are hens laying, hens fighting over a worm, nurturing their chicks, scratching, pecking, and a fine image of a hen’s fluffy tail end.
The green teapot is from Suki Tea, a local company which sells delicious loose leaf tea, their Belfast Brew and Whole Peppermint are particular favourites. I don’t get commission, but I should!
Suki Tea, the best local tea, available online

1 Comment »

Travelling for ten days with only one trainer…my fake statuses for 2013

So, today is the first day of 2014. Instead of some insightful meditation on the past and a hopeful reflection on the future as I take down the Christmas decorations and visit the bottle bank I am just going to post a bunch of screen shots assembled from the What Would I Say? app, which takes statuses from your Face Book history, mixes them up and creates new ones. This is hilarious and should come with a warning that it is an Internet Black Hole from which I may never emerge. You should go to there. But first, read these fake/yet strangely based in reality “statuses” from me. (I realise that I do try to avoid too much personal info on my Gillybirds blog, but this seemed to be too good an opportunity to visit life here at Gillybirds Manor as if through Alice’s Looking Glass – slightly twisted, but ringing true!)

Some modest declarations –
think I may never reappear. Hello Creativity!
And yet more modest
selling my beautiful unique hand crafted cards (this sounds like a genuine post)
delighted that my hair is so Azebijan
it’s so classy

Healthy Recipe suggestions-
You’ll laugh, you’ll scoff, but yummy chicken
number 4 hour making Katsura curry
tasted fab, must try the Yemen.
just call me with mushy peas. Lush!
we were having a consolatory Curly Wurly for breakfast
It is no wonder that Fitches got heartburn again

I appear to have developed a passion for endurance Zumba
yesterday I was the sister of doing a fairly decent cup of Zumba
second hour of Zumba mates
my goodness.
number four of my Zumba first though
….sounds exhausting!

And for poetic reflections
forgive me, I will get the utter joy of all the snow

apparently a cuddle from the sky today

And some surprisingly accurate observations on my lifestyle
sunshine, kettles crisps and craft day booked for a speedy recovery
sounds like my kind of medicine alright.
not easily entertained by Sebastian Faulkes.
anyone else thinking about the wine at the bottom of the truck
it was a mug of tea.
crash helmet and dad were there.
Oops. Sounds serious.
get in with some piercings
looking out for the persistent tapping of tea.
Yes again.
Sparkly shoes swapped for something decent.
Sad. 😦
selling my son Peter.
Obviously a bad day.
too early with family.
Another bad day.
have a duvet day.
Always good advice.
smells like a rhino
.. That must have been an all time low.

And my diary was packed with entertainment –
well that’s that, at short notice we arranged a performance of Handel’s Messiah
with the exception of an enormous spider almost a performance at the Royal Albert Hall of patė.
Sounds entertaining!
it was a pretty rockin’ evening at church.
Nothing new there!
Katie may have dislocated her heated rollers so we ate it
downhill from the very beginning but sadly no Grey’s Anatomy available.
Sigh. No Dr McDreamy…

A difficult holiday-
travelling for ten days with one trainer. Nice to be back.

And some very interesting Christmas activities
Turkey and friends also without missing the craic of us
Merry Christmas and Happy Feet and no wee Danish pastry and made me long climb home
bad news rain is the Christmas music for sick children
note to catch plane to watch Father Christmas, Elf and the Snowman

Tips for today’s technology
free wifi at the facilities by candle light
remember oven gloves when your car and my iPhone still dead

References to dogs and hens
hens have no idea what a rotten day
good news. Rain coat walking dog on a wee belly today
you can talk and see how many chickens….vague

And finally….
has discovered the joy of finding it
we were the original Cheeky Girls you know</em
it’s so classy
pics will follow. So the Fitch
please ignore blog post. How long list and checking it..
Too true. Thank you for reading
Happy New Year!

Leave a comment »

Festive Treats

Way back at the beginning of November our Christmas cake was made and carefully wrapped and hidden away. This week it reappeared and I had some fun decorating it with the traditional family pets -two dogs and three hens, doesn’t everyone? All my mummy skills of playing with playdoh over the years have paid off don’t you think?
Even Gillyboy number four who is very partial to a bit of fondant icing can’t bring himself to eat them.–Bake-Christmas-cake.html
The cake, our second year using Paul Hollywood’s recipe, is fabulous! As well as unusual dried fruits such as pineapple and prunes, I add crystallised ginger and dried mango. Most recipes recommend that you feed the cake with brandy over the weeks between baking and eating, but I find this is so moist it doesn’t require any further assistance in its fruity deliciousness.
I know fruit cake isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but here at Gillybirds Manor we love it!
It has been lovely to cut and share with family members after various carol services.
And today I get the fun of decorating my very own birthday cake for tomorrow.

1 Comment »

A Cake Fit For Angels

Who would have thought baking could make such exciting television? The Great British Bake Off. 13 bakers. In a marquee. Ingredients. Challenges. Creativity. Mistakes. The smell if burning. The taste of Despair. Its unmissable.
A few weeks ago the technical challenge was to make an Angel Food Cake. Considering myself a bit of a Domestic Goddess (no modesty then!) I had never heard of this cake and immediately googled it. Basically an egg white foam with a little flour and baked in a special ring tin. How hard can it be?

Following the BBC Good Food recipe for Angel Food Cake with lemon and passion fruit curd I set out to make a shopping list. As you can see, rather a lot of lemons are required. Eight. (You can tell from my scribbled shopping list that the editor could have done a better job of listing the ingredients.)
And eggs. Ten! (that’s four days laying for us) The yolks make the curd and the whites make the cake.The Gillybirds have had a great week of laying thankfully.

An Angel Food Cake Tin is a specialist piece of baking equipment so I improvised with a 10 inch round tin and filled a soup tin (empty) with baking beans to create a ring mould in the centre. No greasing of the tin surface- to cool you must sit the cake upside down so it needs to adhere to the cake tin sides (yet be loose enough to let go once cooled). Quite a challenge.

It was such a beautiful autumn day the inverted cake cooled in the garden (out of the reach of greedy dogs) while I chilled outside too.

Thankfully it came away very cleanly from the cake tin.

I made the delicious lemon curd yesterday and topped the cream covered cake with it. Spoon licking highly recommended at this stage. Mmmmm

20130928-224635.jpgMary Berry Angel Food Cake Recipe



Even the Canary Had a Ticket

It may come as a surprise to learn that when Titanic sank beneath the cold North Atlantic waters on April 15, 1912, a pack of dogs were seen racing up and down the slanted deck.
As the luxury liner set off from Southampton to New York, along with passengers and crew there were at least 6 dogs, Jenny the Ship’s cat and her week old kittens, many rats, 4 roosters and hens, 30 cockerels and a yellow canary. Each animal required its own ticket, Elizabeth Ramel Nye paid 25 cents for the voyage as far as Cherbourg with her pet yellow canary.
The dogs were meant to be kept in kennels on F deck, and were given daily exercise on the appropriately named poop deck by a steward or bell boy. The first class passengers however appeared to have kept their dogs with them in their cabins, while the crew turned a blind eye to this behaviour. An impromptu dog show had been planned for the morning of April 15th, but by then most of the dogs and their owners had perished.

Among the dog passengers recorded were – a King Charles Spaniel and an elderly Airedale Terrier, owned by William Carter, Chow-Chow, a chow chow owned by Harry Anderson, a champion French Bulldog called Gamin de Pycombe, owned by Robert W. Daniel, who had bought him in England for the very high price of £150 (£12,575 in 2012 prices), Kitty, another Airedale Terrier, owned by millionaire John Jacob Astor, a Pomeranian owned by Margaret Bechstein Hays, which she kept (probably surreptitiously) in her cabin, a dog owned by Elizabeth Rothschild, also kept in her cabin, a Pekingese called Sun Yat Sen, owned by Henry Sleeper Harper and his wife Myra, Frou-Frou, a Toy dog owned by Helen Bishop. The dog was allowed to stay in her cabin as the stewards considered it “too pretty” to put among the bigger dogs in the kennels. There may have been other dogs on board, but their names, like those of their owners, perished with them.
As the ship was sinking, three dogs were put into lifeboats along with their owners. Mrs Hayes Pomeranian, Mrs Harper’s Pekingese and Elizabeth Rothschild’s dog all survived the sinking.
Helen Bishop who herself survived told of how Frou-Frou tried to stop her leaving her cabin to go to the life boat by sinking his teeth into her dress and tearing a seam. “The loss of my little dog hurt me very much” she recalled, “I will never forget how he dragged on my clothes. I will never forget how he so wanted to accompany me”.
It is thought that as the ship was going down someone let the dogs out of their kennels, which would account for the sighting of dogs running along the decks, probably as afraid and bewildered as the many passengers and crew still on board. Yet as the ship sank, so many of the third class passengers were still locked behind gates, installed to prevent the feared transmission of the lower classes germs to the other passengers.
A few days after the sinking a recovery ship found the body of a woman still clutching a large shaggy dog. Robert W Daniel’s expensive pedigree bulldog was last seen swimming away from the stricken vessel. Mr Daniels received $750 compensation for the loss of his dog, William Carter $300 for his two dogs.
Ella Holmes White of New York was bringing the 4 hens and roosters back to American to strengthen her poultry stock. A first class passenger, Mrs White and her maid were in Lifeboat 8 as the ship sank, taking her hens with it. She received $201.87 in compensation.
Another irony here- surviving passengers did not receive a refund for their journey, nor did families of victims, only the wealthy who sued the White Star Line Shipping Company for compensation. In fact, relatives of crew members who died were actually charged money- the White Star Line wanted them to pay for parts of the uniforms that were ruined when people died wearing them.
Poultry livestock would have been brought onboard by immigrant passengers in Steerage, for whom their favourite egg-laying hens would be the only luxury they could take to the New World. The temperature of the icy Atlantic was -2°C, and any living thing in the water soon drowned or died of hypothermia or cardiac arrest.
As you can imagine a ship this size carried a considerable amount of food including 40,000 eggs ready to be cooked for breakfast or made into fancy desserts. Along the debris field at the bottom of the ocean a frying pan rusts away.
Today the youngest Gillyboy and I had an outing to the Titanic Exhibiton in our own city. Thankfully unlike so many people, dogs and hens, we survived our experience.


Business as Usual





<a School holidays are over. Our days of living to no one else's timetable but our own have come to an end. And here at Gillybirds Manor birthday season has passed too.
The Girls have been laying very well, enjoying the wonderfully dry weather, their feathers have grown back, they look great. Very much business as usual.
Just as well as I have had so many birthday cakes to bake over the past couple of months. Summer is birthday season. In our house alone there has been a 20th, an 11th and a 19th, together with Auntie K who turned 40. Each cake takes 4 eggs, from my faithful Nigella recipe. Sometimes I make a simple vanilla sponge, other times I add cocoa.
The decor depends on the recipient. And how classy they want it to be, or how chocolatey. Or how Pokemon-esque.
Also this summer Miss A turned up with 36 bananas urgently needing to be used up, so the freezer is stacked with plenty of banana bread to keep us going for a while.
One of these days my mother will be making noises about getting all the dried fruit organised for Christmas cake. Only 4 months to go! Those Girls better keep on laying.

Colonel Saunders is very glad she isn’t a turkey!

1 Comment »

A Little Ice Bow Wow


Continuing our musical interlude in Italy we are now in beautiful Rome, the Eternal City. Italian taxi drivers certainly drive you as if wishing to take you to your eternal destination as quickly as possible!
The weather here is extremely hot and we have been cooling off with lots of delicious gelato at every opportunity. One thing I have noticed is how integrated dogs are into every daily experience, sitting at the table in a restaurant, being pushed around in dog buggies or carried in handbags, in baskets on bicycles. If you don’t want to bring your dog into the shop, outside most shops there is dog parking too.


Close to where we are staying is a beautiful park- Park Borghese- which had a huge area with lots of space for Roman dogs to roam around and plenty of trees for relief.

After some retail therapy (sorry for all the dog related puns) a light lunch in the local trattoria, a run around the park, the Roman doggie enjoys a bowl of dog ice cream- Icebau. Available at most ice cream shops the makers advise us it is low calorie, rich in fibre, gluten free, lactose free and available in three delicious flavours- rice, vanilla and yoghurt. You can also buy the mix to make fresh at home for your dog to enjoy and to cool off with. After traipsing round the Coliseum and Forum I seriously considered having a bowl myself. When in Rome….


Leave a comment »

Grandma gave us Dinosaur Toes for lunch

Here is a photo of a happy piece of Portuguese bread for my vegetarian blog readers. Sorry to tell you despite looking so jolly he was spread with butter and eaten. Now go read something else…
For my omnivorous readers, let me tell you about our trip to the Loule market and what Grandma made us for lunch.

These weird crustaceans are delicacies from the rocky coastline of the Western Algarve and which can be sold for up to £100 per kilo. We bought them in the local fish market for a fraction of the price, grandma boiled them in a pot for a few minutes, filling the kitchen with the fresh salty smell of the sea, and then we pulled them apart and ate them. Delicious!
These are percebes, or for those of you not fluent in Portuguese, goose neck barnacles. To eat them you pull off the end bit and gently pull out the tube of flesh, running the risk of being showered in pinkish salty water if you are too enthusiastic. Even Gillyboy number 4 tried a couple.
Charlie Skelton a writer for the Guardian newspaper describes them thus –
The goose barnacle has to be one of the most beautiful foods on the planet. The bright enamelled head with its ruby lips sits atop a snakeskin sleeve which pulls away to reveal a glossy, lucent finger of flesh, marbled and grey at the neck, bright orange at the tip. They’re the punks of the crustacean family. They thrive in violent waters, in their leathery jackets and studded collars, their heads a shock of colour.
They taste just like fresh sea water, soft in texture, a wonderful rosy pink in colour on the inside, once you get past the prehistoric aggressive outside.
No wonder kids call them dinosaur toes.
And they weren’t the scariest thing we saw for sale on the fish counter either!


1 Comment »