Saturday, February 18, 2012

At this time of year, it seems that everything that can give fruit is doing just that. We have 3 or 4 different apple trees that are heavy with fruit. A couple of the trees have not fruited. The same goes for the pear tree. Nothing on it this year. The Nashi pear tree has a respectable amount of fruit. The peach trees did not produce anything, however one of the nectarine trees did it's bit for our taste buds. The sweetness and smell of the nectarines took me right back to my childhood, where fruit was fruit and you ate it from the tree. In a way I'm not too concerned that some of the trees did not bear fruit this year. We're still new at this farm stuff and I've learned that by wanting to live off the land demands a special type of commitment. That commitment requires you to drop everything that you're doing or had planned to do and deal with the harvest when it's ready. Now!
My preserving learning curve has been fun. I've been using this book for lots of good information.

A couple of weeks ago I went to Melbourne for a few days to be with Sara. We took a drive down to Devon Meadows to see a friend and pick up a drying unit and a bottling unit that she was no longer using. Thanks Helen! When I got home I headed straight for the zucchini patch and picked a few of the big runaway squashes. I sliced them and sprinkled them with rosemary salt and set them to dry. The result was not unpleasant. The 'chips' are a little chewy, but rather tasty. A very healthy alternative to crisps.

There is a lot of shrinkage in drying. The large slices of zucchini shrank to less than half their original size

The Fowlers Vacola unit was next in line to be tried out. The previous owner had left around 30 jars in the shed for me. I needed lids and all the bits and pieces that went with them. So my trusty source Ebay came to the rescue. Within a week I had all my equipment gathered and I started preparing plums. No, we don't have a plum tree, but our neighbour does. We picked a huge bag one hot afternoon. I've kept some of the plums to turn into plum sauce, and the rest of the fruit has gone into jars. These plums are lovely eaten with muesli and yoghurt. I also used a jar in a French clafoutis. Delish.

And this week, coming down the pipeline are these lovely babies. Apples. Lots of them! How many ways can I preserve them I wonder?

This basket is getting fuller every day. Frans collects the fallen apples. We'll need a few more baskets when we start picking!


A couple of weeks ago we spent an hour or so at the Heritage Festival, held at the local show grounds in Colac. It was well set up. There were all sorts of old fashioned displays and demonstrations. There were some displays that are still relevant today. Sheep shearing, wool classing, spinning (I had a little lesson and have decided that this winter I'll give it a go), cart pulling and the list goes on.

I was most impressed by this young girl sewing on the hand crank. Her mum was baking gingerbread cookies on a wood stove. This kitchen would have been top of the range in the early part of last century.

I won't complain about having to do the washing again!

Lovely old wagons

And finally, a little donkey love between mum and her foal.
Have a happy weekend!

Monday, February 6, 2012


My brother Lionel and his family live in Brisbane, so we don't get to see them too often. They came down to the farm for the Australia Day weekend. It was a treat for us as we got to know my little great niece (yes, we're getting old!) Leilani. She's 14 months old now and is a delight. My lovely niece Genevieve is a wonderful young mum.
Gen and Leilani on the grass at Lawn

Sara. Doing well and looking great!

Sister in law Adele and her little grand daughter. Leilani is an independant little girl. She'd rather walk!

And here's a peek inside the old cabin. We have plans to renovate/upgrade/demolish/rebuild this little dwelling. It sits at the edge of our property and looks over the Otways. The location is perfect. In the mean time until we have fixed it up, we use it for our overflow accommodation requirements when we have a full house. It is comfortable and dry. We can't guarantee you won't have a headache in the morning from the loud paint job in the main bedroom though.
Stuffed zucchini with zucchini flowers

Well, our zucchini glut continues. I have mastered a dozen different methods of preparing these green and yellow tubes. Some days a zucchini can grow from being 5cm long in the morning to 20cm long in the afternoon! So imagine my surprise some mornings when I’m confronted by a zucchini monster!
Here is a Stephanie Alexander recipe from her Kitchen Garden Companion that is currently a favourite in our house:

The stuffing is sufficient to fill two large zucchini. Once you have cooked the zucchini, cut and serve them in thick slices as part of an antipasti platter or a side dish to chicken or meat.
Note my groovy new compost and chook bins. I picked them up at Ikea a few weeks ago.

2 x 14cm zucchini or 1 x 20 – 22 cm zucchini
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon for drizzling
½ onion, finely chopped
6 male zucchini flowers (if you have them) chopped
1 free range egg
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs, plus extra for scattering
25g parmesan, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 180 deg
Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté the onions till soft and golden. Tip into a large bowl.

Cut zucchini in half lengthwise. With a sharp spoon gauge a channel in the flesh so that all the seeds and some flesh are removed, then chop removed flesh and add to bowl with onion. Brush a baking dish with a little extra olive oil and place zucchini halves inside, and then set aside.
Add chopped flowers (if using), egg, thyme, parsley, garlic, breadcrumbs and parmesan to onion/zucchini mixture and mix together. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Fill hollowed-out zucchini with stuffing. Scatter over extra breadcrumbs and drizzle with a little more olive oil.

Bake for around an hour or till the tops are golden. Leave to cool a little before cutting into thick slices.
This dish keeps well for a few days. It is best served just warm.

Paddock to plate

One of my wishes in embarking on this new life in the country is to appreciate where our food is grown and nurtured. We had decided early on that we would keep chooks for eggs and meat. However, the meat part was probably more of an idealistic dream. The egg part is easy. We have been collecting eggs (varying degrees of production) since early September. However, we’ve not ventured to act on our second goal yet. So enter the ducks. As I have written before, we had three ducklings that Sara and Stephen in their kindness brought to us when we first arrived on the farm! We fed them and cleaned their box till they were ready to go into their own cage outdoors. We had hoped that we would have two females and a drake. But…. There were three drakes. From a production point of view they were not much good to us. They couldn’t give us any eggs.

So our neighbour Graham suggested a swap. We gave him one of our Pekin drakes and he gave us three of his Muscovy females. It was a pretty good swap as far as we were concerned. We put the new girls with the two remaining drakes and left them to it. A few days after the newcomers joined the males we noticed that the girls spent most of their time on top of their cage where the boys couldn’t reach them. (the girls could fly and the drakes couldn’t as we’d clipped their wings). Every time they needed to get down for water or food the drakes would attack them with gusto. It was horrible. The poor girls were getting battered from all sides. We separated the ducks from the drakes and put them with the chickens in the chicken pen. There a new pecking order had to be established too, but the ducks could at least fend for themselves a little better.

This left us with a dilemma. What to do with the drakes. We decided that we would have to do away with one. The drakes were too old to roast so I chose a Chinese recipe and created a soupy type of dish. My brother Lionel, Frans and Stephen had the unpleasant task of despatching the drake. A big pot of water was put on to boil while the bird was sent to duck heaven. After allowing the bird to bleed for a while, it was dunked in hot water and then plucked. There was only one way to do this. Get comfortable on some cane chairs in the wood pile shed with a glass of wine. The feathers flew everywhere. Finally the bird was cleaned and gutted. The liver was the only offal we saved. I created a divine duck liver and mushroom pate’ with brandy and sage a few days later. The bird was left to rest for 24 hours before it was skinned (didn’t need the fat) and cut into portions. Note: Stray duck feathers are sharp and can cut your finger!

I cooked the duck according to the recipe I had used once before very successfully on a chicken and hoped for the best. I had no idea if the meat would be tender or tough as the bird was a good 5 months old. The result was sensational There is something decidedly special about caring for your food and then eating it. . Would I do it again? Well yes.

Chinese Chicken with soupy rice, ginger and spring onion dressing (I used our own home grown organic duck)
Serves 4
400g (2cups) jasmine rice, rinse well
Chicken in broth
1 chicken (1.5kg) or chicken pieces
500ml Shaoxing wine (you get this at Asian shops. It’s about $2 for a big bottle)

20g (4cm) piece ginger1 piece dried orange peel (or I just slice some skin from a fresh orange)
1 cinnamon quill
2 star anise
20g sugar
Sauce to serve on top
4 long red chillies, finely chopped (seeds included if you like it firey)

¼ cup thinly sliced spring onion finely sliced, plus extra to serve
½ cup chopped coriander
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons Vietnamese dipping sauce

1cm piece ginger shredded

(taste test. Add a little more soy sauce or fish sauce if it’s not salty enough)
1.   Put chicken in big pot. Add broth ingredients. Top up with water till chicken is covered. Bring to boil.
2.   Cook for around 45 mins or until chicken is cooked. Season with extra soy if needed.
3.   Remove the chicken from the broth and shred the meat from the bones. Return the meat to the broth.
4.   Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the ‘sauce’
5.   Cook the rice. (750ml water. Boil. Then simmer and reduce heat. Cook covered till rice is tender and fluffy. 10 – 12 mins. Remove from heat. Cover with a tea towel and allow to stand.
6.   To serve, put rice into bowls. Add chicken and stock. Then drizzle with the chilli/sauce dressing.
7.   Scatter with thin slices of spring onion.

Paving progress

Paving progress….

One cannot expect DIY projects to flow smoothly or quickly. There is always a tricky situation to resolve or a change of plan to take into account. Before we embarked on the great paving spectacular, we had a smallish garden bed sitting in front of the kitchen windows. It was bushy and overgrown. We did not have an area close to the house where we could set a long lunch table and while away a sunny afternoon or a balmy evening. So I suggested to Frans that we pave the garden bed. It won’t take much I said. We could do it in a week. Such optimism….

With the craziness of Frans’ birthday celebrations behind us, our friends Michelle and Michael came to stay for a week and got stuck into the garden. Frans and Michael ripped out bushes and started defining the area. At this point there was definite ‘scope creep’. The area kept getting bigger! Once M&M and left us, it was down to Frans to keep going.

We had days of bad weather where it was just not possible to work outside. The temperatures hovered in the high 30’s some days and some days it rained. Slowly, little by little Frans got the preparations done. Many trailer loads of crushed rock, river sand and cement were ferried from the building supplier in town. A ‘whacker’ machine was hired to compact the base. Then it was crunch time. Lionel (my gorgeous younger brother) arrived from Brisbane with his lovely family last weekend. He provided a few solutions to a number of tricky issues that Frans was facing. The boys got to work. Lionel left and the next stage was ready. The outside brick border had to be laid. Our friend John who lives just through the forest came to Frans’ aid with the supply of a concrete mixer. This made life a whole lot easier!

Some of the many stages of this 'small' project

Frans and John

The outside edge is now complete. Practise makes perfect. The fourth edge is an exercise in perfection. Frans is fastidious to the point of driving us lesser more impatient mortals a little spare. But we cannot fault the finished product. We’re now ready for the middle bit. That will hopefully be completed this week. We are looking forward to a ‘christening’ of the paving area next weekend. Weather permitting!