Friday, May 25, 2012


Last week our neighbour went away for a few days and we tended to his animals. He has a number of large netted pens where he keeps chickens, doves, ducks and turkeys. Every morning Frans would let out the ducks and turkeys to wander around the farm. The ducks took straight to the dam. There they would stay till almost dark, swimming amongst the reeds. In the late afternoon, we would both go and put the birds to bed and feed them. Let me tell you, herding turkeys and ducks is not an easy task. Bobby the collie did his bit to help. He has  however got a gummy front right paw and from time to time he puts on a show of doing a three legged sheep chase! Oh yes, we had to put the lambing ewes into a pen as well. This was to protect them from the rotten fox that is still prowling the area. As an aside.. the week before Graham lost two new baby lambs to a fox. Rotten things they are! Anyway, the feeding took a while. Different grains/pellets for each lot of birds. We did learn that it was pointless trying to get the ducks out of the dam until they were ready to go into their enclosure.

I never knew... Turkeys roost in trees! They are big birds. And the noise they make when they fly up into the branches is quite amazing. I wondered if the branches would hold their weight!

And chooks like to roost in the trees too.

And then I had a nice surprise. Graham came home on Saturday. On Sunday evening there was a knock on the door. Graham handed me this tray covered with a tea towel.

What was it? A turkey, no less! I've got it resting in the fridge for a few days and then I'm going to give it the Heston Blumenthal treatment. Soak it in a brine overnight, then cook it VERY slowly. I'm thinking of stuffing it with breadcrumbs, proscuitto, onions, sage and prunes.

This is a huge bird! It's going to be Sunday lunch when Sara and Stephen come home

Last week I opened the door to the greenhouse to let the chooks and ducks do their bit by cleaning it up and fertilizing the beds at the same time. I have to admit that the greenhouse was my one big faliure of our first Summer here. I planted things that grew like monsters. Lessons were learnt. I won't plant cucumbers or zucchini here again! I'll stick with soft leavy vegetables like rocket, English spinach and herbs.

The chooks hussled around this new territory and scratched away and ate everything at their level. All I need to do now is pull down the dry climbing tomato tendrils that are growing up the wire frames. Frans created a new compost area for me just outside the greenhouse door. This is perfect. I don't have to wheel the burrow backwards and forwards to the big compost heap on the other side of the yard. I'm lazy. Ok? Actually, I'm trying not to waste time. That's my story anyway! As you can see from the pic below, there's not much left of the leafy stuff in the greenhouse. Good girls!

This week we also took down the netting from the fruit trees that we had netted individually. Some of the netting needed cutting away from the branches as the branches had grown through the net. We eventually got it all off. A ladder was called for and the delicate operation was concluded without too much fuss.

While we were wielding scissors and pulling away at the netting, a huge flock of cocatoos screeched overhead. These birds are magnificent. Looking up, all you see is a cloud of yellow under wing feathers!

The apple trees in the back yard orchard area also had the nets removed. The chooks are confined to the backyard. (Mostly...unless one or two escape and decide that the front yard looks more attractive). Where the nets had been held down by long poles, little insects had gathered. This where the chooks began their feast! Every day around midday we let the chickens and ducks out of their coop to wander around the back yard. Since removing the netting, as soon as the gate is opened, they all bolt straight to the apple trees and start their scratching dance!

Ever watchful... Nala keeps an eye on the chickens. Frans collected the last few apples from this tree. They are golden yellow, crunchy and sweet. I have no idea what the variety is, except that it is a superb eating apple!

Frans with one of his favourite chooks. She always comes to him for a pet.

One of my garden jobs this week was to pull out the corn. There were still a few ears on the stalks. I picked them all and pulled the stalks out of the ground. In between the stalks were potatoes too, so I got a double crop. My half a basket of corn when peeled made a huge pile of leaves! I wonder what happens to all this stuff commercially?? Does this waste get used somehow? I must Google it!
Anyway, I decided to cut the kernels from the cobs and freeze them. Aparently the nutritional value in the corn changes very quickly once you pick it. So it's best to eat it straight away or freeze it. From all the mess, I ended up with a bag of corn, about a kilogram.

And to end this week's post, I have to share this little treat with you. Our friends Martyn and Eugenia came to stay last weekend. Martyn helped Frans repair our dam wall. He's an engineering guru. Good thing the men did that little chore as it has started raining over the past few days. Our dam is FULL. And the dam wall has held! Ah, back to the treat.... Martyn brought a bottle of red to share with Frans. Well, I got to share it too. It was a Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1986. How decadant! And yes, it was devine. It was properly decanted and allowed to breath for a while. We sipped and savoured this drop ever so slowly. Thanks M&E for sharing your treasure with us!

Happy weekend everyone!

Friday, May 18, 2012

End of Summer Vegies... Eventually!

But first... Happy Mothers Day to all our Mums for last Sunday! We hope you had a lovely day. Sara invited us to Melbourne to have lunch with her and Stephen. They were cooking up a feast for myself, Doris (Stephen's Mum) and Nonna (Stephen's grandmother). Of course the men were invited too. Frans and I decided to leave the car at home and take the train from Colac to the city. We got up early 'ish' and boarded the country Vline train at about 8.30am. We settled down to enjoy our two hour trip. Farm scenes flashed past the train window. Sheep, logging yards, cars with frustrated drivers, more sheep.... Our trip was short lived when an announcement was made that the train would be terminating at Geelong as there was a power faliure in Melbourne. Just our luck! So we stood around in the cold drizzle waiting for a coach to take us the rest of the way. Of course coaches were in short supply as it was Sunday morning, and who would think they would be needed?! We eventually got to Sara and Stephen's place. It was well worth the trip. They cooked a wonderful tapas style lunch. What was most impressive was the quality and volume of food they churned out of their tiny Victorian kitchen. Well done! The trip home was hassle free. We managed to stay on the train for the entire trip this time. We didn't see much from the windows this time as it was dark by the time we chugged out of Southern Cross Station. So out came the sudoku and iPhone. We got home around 9.30pm to a happy dog waiting for us.
I picked these beautiful Crystanthemums from our garden. It makes sense now why we know them as 'Mothers Day' flowers. They started blooming as if to order the week before.

And so we come to the end of our veggies for the Summer. We had a successful first season. Lots of lessons learnt. I will do some things differently next spring. I'll plant the tomatoes MUCH earlier in the greenhouse. That will hopefully ensure we get a bigger crop of ripe tomatoes, rather than the 20 odd kgs of green ones! I'll plant more leafy stuff in the greenhouse too. Rocket, spinach and lettuce type stuff. Definitely no zucchinis! They grew like monsters!

I picked my first pumpkin last week. And what a doozie it was! It was a 'zucca' variety. I bought the seeds from the Italian shop in Melbourne. I'd say it grew well! This baby has a few buddies still lying in the pumpkin patch waiting to ripen further. I've got some lovely yellow skinned butternut squash ripening on the vines too. Pumpkin soup here we come!
This Italian pumpkin was enormous! I wish I'd weighed it. It must have been close to 3kgs.

 Here are some of the green tomatoes harvested before we pulled out the plants to make way for the next crop. Our friend Janelle was here from Brisbane and she helped pick these.

Around 20kgs of green tomatoes in these three baskets

So in preparation, jars had to be cleaned and sterilised. What a job! I wish companies would use easy dissolving glue when they stick their labels onto their jars. Don't they know about recycling! I usually clean the labels off by soaking the jars in hot soapy water for a while then using the scrub bud to remove the stubborn 'bits'. If I still have gunk to remove I resort to cotton wool and eucalyptus oil. Then I give the jars a run through the dishwasher to make sure they're squeaky clean. While the jam, chutney or whatever it is I'm making is bubbling away on the stove, I then put the jars on a tray and into the oven for about 10 minutes at 150 deg.

The three baskets of tomatoes gave me a real challenge. What was I going to do with all of them?! My friend Norma gave me an old Presbyterian Womens cookbook. There were some interesting recipes and hints in this little book. So my green tomato cooking marathon resulted in the following:
Green tomato salsa
Green tomato chutney
Green tomato pickles in vinegar
Green tomato pickles in olive oil (Italian style)
Green tomato jam with ginger

These tomatoes were for the pickles. Sliced and salted.

Thirty odd jars of green tomato preserves!

The chooks benefited from the tomato glut. They got to peck at the 'ends'

I hope everyone who comes to our place likes green tomatoes. And if they don't, they'd better be polite and say 'ooohhh... lovely!' They're going to be on the menu for quite some time!

Have a happy weekend!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sara's Birthday weekend

It's not every day you have a birthday. And then it's not every day you turn a quarter of a centuary! This past weekend we celebrated Sara's first quarter. Our celebrations were especially sweet as she has come such a long way since her terrible accident just a few short months ago. She is still doing rehab twice a week and has gone back to work for a few hours a day three days a week. Soon she will have driving lessons to get her driving 'feet' back. She's not allowed to drive until she passes all the tests that the TAC requires. Every week she gets stronger.

She wanted a farm birthday. Beds were made, shopping for food was done and party preparations were put into full swing. In her honor, the leaves of the vine along the house clung onto their branches to create a stunning display. Well, that's what I'm saying anyway, as it's a few days later now and most of the leaves are on the ground forming a red carpet of their own.

As I sit here and write the notes for today's blog, I'm tapping away at my computer, stopping every now and then to look out of the window.  It's a cool morning. There are king parrots and rainbow lorrikeets doing their busy thing in the crab apple trees just in front of me. I said to Frans, 'oh, look the mist is drifting past the window'. He said: "no Dear, it's the smoke from the fire". Duh. The fire has been going for the past week. The weather has turned cold. Frans is still on his wood gathering mission. Burning a fire is a labour intestive excersize! The wood has to be gathered. And Frans is doing the gathering! The wood we burn is from trees that have fallen down in storms and from old age. We are going to be planting our own stand of trees specifically for wood burning.

It's a birthday. So that means I get to string the bunting along the driveway fence again. Sara and I sewed about 50 meters of bunting for Frans' 50th. It's great to give it another 'airing' before it falls apart completely! The sun and rain and wind does a fine job of fading and shredding the cotton fabric.

Since Sara was little, her birthday dinner has been a South African Potjie. It's a firm family favourite. It's a 'special event' meal and we bring out the pot for all sorts of celebrtions. It's a meal that works best in winter, as it's essentially a hearty stew. Frans built a fire pit alongside the old shed so that we could enjoy the view as we cooked. As long as it doesn't rain, then I'm sure we'll be enjoying the fires over winter. Marshmellows, red wine.... you get the picture.

But back to the Potjie... for those who don't know what is inside that black cast iron pot, here's our favourite recipe:

1. Slaughter a sheep. Preferably one from the paddock next door so you know where it comes from!
2. Prepare the meat. Get your friend Janelle to carefully remove all the unwanted fat (yes, organically grown sheep are lovely and fat! They get to feast on lovely green pastures) and cut up approximately 3kgs of shoulder and leg.
3. Peel vegies. Potatoes, onions and beans. Lots of them. That pot has to be FULL!
4. Light the fire early in the afternoon so that the coals are just right. Hang about the fire. Chat. Sip bubbles.
5. Heat the pot and brown the meat. Then carefully layer the vegies on top of the meat. First the potatoes, then the beans, then the onions.
6. Cook slowly. Around 4 hours, or 4 drinks.
7. Pour over the secret marinade. Sprinkle a few generous handfulls of cheese on top. Simmer for a few more minutes until there is a lovely thick gravy at the bottom of the pot.
8. Serve with delicious polenta (the Italian way) made by Doris.

Enjoying the fire: Stephen, his Dad, Crochie, Sara and Johnny

As the afternoon gets cooler, chairs move closer to the fire...

It was Sara's actual birthday the day before the potjie. So we had cake when she and Stephen arrived from Melbourne. I made a version of carrot cake, with pineapple and sweet potato. Rustic looking don't you say?!

Sara lit her birth candle on her birthday. The inscription on the candle is one that Frans' Dad painted on every child and grandchilds' candle. Unfortunately Papa passed away just before Sara was born, so Frans' brother Hans took over the Dutch tradition of painting the family birth candles. The inscription reads :"I am what I am for others". Sara has burned her candle often. Looks like she'll need a backup!


Farm birds!
Galah's and a Bower bird near the shed.

Frans has spent weeks clearing beneath the old cyprus pine trees. He has created a perfect spot for storing more firewood. In the past week or so he has started making new stacks. What a beautiful sight!

Sara's friend Katie and her boyfriend (Katie's that is) Johnny came for the weekend too. Before going home to the city, the youngsters did some harvesting of their own in the vegie garden. Johnny is a chef in Melbourne, and Stephen loves to cook. Got to love a man in the kitchen!

Sara, Stephen, Katie and Johnny.

And look! My garlic is sprouting! I've ordered more to plant in June. This is the early stuff. I'm super excited and pleased!

And today I'm going to leave you with a pic of Nala, the farm dog! She's become used to the chooks and ducks. Sort of...
She's becoming stiffer in her old age. Getting up in the morning is a struggle. She spends most of the day asleep in front of the fire. It's a dog's life!