Sunday, August 26, 2012

Burning and planting

We love having visitors. Last Sunday, our friends Martyn and Eugenia came to stay for a few days. Frans and Martyn got to work in the yard and cleaned up more dead branches under the Cyprus Pines. It's a never ending job. Frans welcomed the extra pair of blokey hands. Some jobs are just easier with two pairs of strong arms! Branches were piled high in the cow paddock and a few of us put on our 'paddock shoes' and trudged through the mud to view the spectacle of the big bon fire. The wind was cold, so the girls left the men to admire their handy work. The following night another fire was lit. This time the fire pit in front of the old shed got a look in. Martyn was obviously a boy who liked to play with matches! He constantly shuffled pine needles around to get the flames burning at their best. The air once again was cold. By the time the flames died down it was time for dinner inside.

Frans and Eugenia enjoying a pre dinner drink.
I love this picture with the fairy lights, daffodils and darkening sky. And yes, it's cold!
I recently read a book called Plenty by Alisa Smith and J.B.McKinnon. This Canadian couple set out to eat produce from within 100 miles from their home for an entire year. It really got me more determined than ever to grow as much of our own food as possible. Our aim is to keep our food miles low and to buy local meat, dairy and produce wherever possible. The difficulty comes with staples such as flour, rice, tea, coffee, chocolate! I was lucky enough a couple of weeks ago to stumble onto some locally grown and ground flour, that also happens to be free from sprays and pesticides. This sits very well with me! I make our bread every couple of days. To date I've been buying our bread flour in large 10kg bags at the local co-op. It's economical and the bread tastes great. However, it does come from South Australia, and that's plenty of food miles. I will experiment with the local flour and if it performs well enough I will be able to add one more local food item to my minimum food miles list. We are lucky to live in an area where we have wineries, olive groves, berry farms and orchards. We have to make some exceptions to our rule or go without. Salt for instance. Can't really cook without it. Another South Australian import. Besides shopping locally for our food, it is also a bonus when we get to swap produce with friends and neighbours. Take the three huge pumpkins I photographed a few weeks ago. Nearby neighbours Paul and Wendy gave us these beauties. I gave them eggs in exchange. Lovely bright yolked eggs! Actually, our yolks are not unlike the colour of the pumpkin below! This past week, they stopped by again with a couple of punnets of freshly picked shiitake mushrooms that they grow in a huge big purpose built shed. I gave them eggs! I decided to make a Thai pumpkin, mushroom and prawn soup.
Cutting up pumpkin can be a challenge. I tried a variety of knives until I found one that did the job for me. 
I could not simply throw the peels and pips onto the compost or feed all the waste to the chooks, so I separated the pips, washed them and allowed them to dry overnight on a kitchen tea towel. The following day I tossed the pips in a little olive oil and salted them liberally with garlic salt. I placed the pips on some baking paper and put them into the oven to bake slowly. I was rewarded with tasty pumpkin pips, aka pepitas. They will be used to add crunch to our salads in the next few weeks. 
Thai style soup. I hunted through the vegetable garden and picked a sad piece of frost bitten lemon grass which miraculously still had the pungent lemony aroma and added the flavour I needed. I picked kaffir lime leaves, coriander and a baby leek. Last season's garlic is almost gone, but I managed to find a few firm cloves to add to the soup. It felt great to make a meal where only a few ingredients (the lite coconut milk, the prawns and the fish sauce) were bought. And the verdict.... Fantastic. The pumpkin was creamy and sweet. I chopped the excess up and froze the pieces in zip lock bags. Next time I want to cook pumpkin, I won't have to peel it! Now I just need to peel and chop up the last remaining LARGE pumpkin the same way. I can see quite a few roast pumpkin salads coming out of the kitchen this summer.
On Friday I went to town to do a few chores. It was cold and windy. The rain clouds were black over the southern skies. I got all my shopping done and headed home. I have been meaning to stop at a little nursery on the way home for ages and I decided I'd make a quick stop to see what they had. I was after some nut trees. I got out of the car, dashed into the nursery (wind blowing my hair like a tornado around my head) and started looking at the bare rooted trees. The manager came over to help me and I asked him what trees to plant. He was most helpful. I decided that I couldn't think straight with the rain hitting my face in stinging bullets and I promised the man I'd come back next week. But he was a good salesman and said that I would fit the trees into my little car without a problem, and he'd help me. Then I felt bad. What if he had had no customers for the day? So sucker that I was, I was soon on my way home with two new almond trees. He told me that I had to put them into the ground the same day or the next day as the trees were starting to bud. No problem.
Saturday morning, Frans and I headed out to the paddock that runs along the driveway. It is the paddock that sits highest on our little farm. But it is still wet. Very wet! Frans started to dig. We realised that our trees would drown, so we shovelled mulch into the holes and gave the trees a good surround of the free mulch the power company left for us.
We not only planted our two new almonds, but we also planted an olive in Memory of Armando. (previous post). The olive tree is almost as tall as Frans. I wonder how long before I'll get to bottle a jar of olives??

We still have room in this paddock to add more trees. I'm keen to try a few more nut varieties. I've also got two avocado trees that I grew from seed sitting in the greenhouse. I wonder if they'll do any good here....
His and hers..
The first magnolia buds
Frans and I cut the netting that we threw over one of our veggie patches. The broad beans are starting to tower! The netting was to keep the bower birds out of the bed. I'm leaving the netting over the cabbages, beetroot, garlic, parsnips and turnips. The carrots are no longer under the netting as you can see. There is a row just in front of the broad beans. Hopefully the bower birds won't notice them! They snap off the leaves and burrow into the roots. Sneaky birds!
And finally, this weekend I've been fiddling with beads and crochet. The Birregurra Festival is on in October. We'll have a stall again. I've got a long list of things I'd like to sell. So the next few weeks will see me working in the garden when it's not raining or working inside if it is! 

Have a happy week!


Saturday, August 25, 2012

R.I.P Armando Paris

It was with sadness that we learned yesterday of the passing away of Stephen's Uncle Armando. He will be missed by his family both in Italy and Australia. He died in his home town of Bussi.
We took this photo of Armando last January in Bussi. He was standing outside the barber shop where he worked as a young man. He carved his name into the wall behind him in 1953.
Armando loved to show off his little town and was a gracious host. His taste for fancy liqueurs was legendary. He loved life!
Today we planted an olive tree to remember him by. It will be Armando's Olive.
Our condolences go to the Paris and Gianguilio families.
Frans, Ami & Sara.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lazy Saturday Recipes

We have had a very wet week. The ground outside is sodden. Being Saturday, I like to fiddle around in the kitchen. We've been invited to dinner at some neighbours tonight and I'm taking dessert. I'm also taking along a batch of biscotti for coffee afterwards.
I have this Italian cookbook. I bought it at an op shop for $4. Best $4 I have spent in a while! It's a Murdoch publication. You can probably get it on Abe Books. Worth it if you can get hold of one. The recipes are easy to follow and tasty. I used this book a lot last summer as it was great to get ideas of what to do with all the ripening vegetables. Zucchini flowers were a wonderful treat, as was the aubergine parmigiana. I'll be delving into this recipe book many times again this coming summer!

(recipe from the book above)
380g plain flour
160g castor sugar
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g blanched almonds
(makes about 40 slices)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Sieve the flour into a large bowl or food processor, add the sugar, eggs, baking powder, vanilla and a pinch of salt and mix or process until you have a smooth dough. Transfer to a floured surface and knead in the almonds.

Divide the dough into two pieces and roll into two logs about 20cm long. Flatten the logs slightly. Put on baking trays and bake for about 25 minutes until the dough is golden in colour. Take the logs out of the oven and leave to cool slightly while you turn the oven down to 170 degrees.

Cut each log into .5mm slices on the diagonal. Lay these slices on your baking tray and bake for 15 minutes until they start to brown and are dry to the touch. Store in an airtight container. These biscotti will keep for weeks.

I like to keep the biscotti jar full. If I don't make my own biscotti, then we're usually lucky enough to have Stephen's Nonna send us the real deal from Melbourne. She makes a mean amaretti too!

And here is the dessert I'm taking to tonight's dinner. It's a recipe I pulled out of the Saturday paper oh, about 3 years ago. It's by Karen Martini. I have made this tart so many times. It is impressive to serve and tastes wonderful. I tweeked this one slightly and left out the plain flour and instead added more almond meal to make it gluten free. It works well. It may be gluten free, but it is definitely not fat free! Ahh... everything in moderation right?!

Pear, Chocolate, Almond and burnt butter tart
By Karen Martini
This tart presents beautifully. It’s also easy to make, as there is no fiddly pastry involved.
4 beurre bosc pears peeled, quartered and cored
230g butter
3 tblsp brown sugar
1 fresh vanilla bean split and seeds scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
½ tsp almond essence
5 egg whites
Pinch salt
340g icing sugar plus extra for sprinkling
110g plain flour
140g ground almonds
120g tiny chocolate drops or chopped chocolate
2 tbsps flaked almonds
Crème fraiche to serve
In a frying pan over low heat, place pears, 50g butter and brown sugar. Cook for 20 mins or until pears are slightly soft and golden. Remove and allow to cool slightly.
Preheat oven to 160 deg fan forced (180 deg conventional)
In a small pot over medium heat, place 180g butter and vanilla seeds (or extract) and cook for 4 – 5 mins until dark nut brown. Tip mixture into a bowl and allow to cool to room temp.  Remove vanilla pod pieces.
In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites with salt and 170g icing sugar until soft peaks form, then fold in remaining 170g icing sugar, flour and ground almonds. Fold in vanilla butter and almond essence.
Line the base of a loose base 24cm fluted tin with baking paper and grease with baking spray. Pour half the mixture into tin, then top with half the pears and half the chocolate. Repeat to make 2 layers. Scatter flaked almonds on top. Bake for 45 mins until puffed but not too coloured. Allow to cool. Dust with extra icing sugar. Serve with crème fraiche on the side. (Or cream)
Greenhouse surprise!
I went into the greenhouse this morning to water a few seedlings. I've not planted up the summer crops in there yet. Maybe next week! Anyway, I decided to closely inspect a clump of green folliage. Low and behold.... a great little crop of parsnips! I'd forgotten I'd planted them last season. Bonus. I know just what I'm going to do with them. Neil Perry's recipe for Spicy marjoram and thyme marinated lamb cutlet with parsnip purree' was in last week's Saturday paper. Gee, I love the Saturday papers... if only for the recipes! They're usually easy and very tasty.
 I was pretty pleased with my little parsnip harvest. There are still a dozen or so roots hunkering down in the greenhouse. I will be adding them to a hearty vegetable soup next week. Just look at the size of these babies!

Pickled eggs
You know how I bang on about our wonderful chickens? Well, they are great. These girls are so good that they have not stopped laying through winter, which is what our text books tell us should happen. Instead we're collecting an average of 10 eggs a day. And with only two of us living in this house, there are only so many eggs we can consume! So we barter, sell and give away quite a few. By the way, we think our eggs are pretty special. They have the brightest, almost flurescent yolks I've ever seen. The going rate for free range eggs at most farm gates is $4. Pretty cheap really. If you buy our eggs you know you're getting a quality product. The hens have been allowed to range freely and graze on worms and grubs all day, not to mention the silverbeet and garden treats I feed them. They only get clean organic grain. But I digress...
What do I do with all the excess eggs? Well this week I've had a go at pickling them. They were once very popular as bar food. Somehow I can't imagine holding a beer or a glass of wine in one hand and holding a boiled egg in the other! I have taken it on good advice from my clever friend Melinda from MindiLindi Makes Things that her Mum used to feed them pickled balsamic eggs, salad and fresh bread. To me this sounds pretty good, so I have gone with her reccommendation and tried a balsamic egg version as well as a beetroot one.

So here are my first two batches of pickled eggs. If they prove to be successful, you can be sure I'll be serving them to you if you visit us over summer! They have to 'pickle' for a while in the fridge before we can try them out.

I used two dozen eggs to make the pickles with. Shells. Lots of them. Usually I crush them and sprinkle them around my seedlings in the garden. The snails do not like crawling over the sharp edges of the shell. But this time I baked them in the oven to dry them out. Then I crushed them using a mortar and pestle. I'm going to feed the bits back to the chickens. They eat the shells which gives them a calcium boost and this helps their eggs be stronger. A bit canabalistic arn't they! 

And you know how I was counting our ducks before they hatched? Well I can't help myself hoping that the only little duck we hatched will be a female so we can get a steady supply of duck eggs. Else...  I'm afraid this little duck is going to be Chinese Duck with soupy rice, ginger and spring onion dressing!

This pic was taken this morning. Frans attended to his morning farm chores then brought the little duck to me so I could see how it's grown in three weeks. Little wing feathers are developing. Any day soon it will grow to proportionally match those huge webbed feet!

Have a happy Saturday evening!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Gearing up for Spring

Have I told you that it rains a lot in the Otways? Well it does. A lot! We've had 104mm's of rain in June, 84.5mm's in July and 47.5mm's so far in August.
All our water tanks (120 000 litres in total) are FULL! We will not be running out of water any time soon.
Water has pooled in the trench beside the driveway 

The crab apple trees are starting to sprout blossoms

The cows are stomping in drenched paddocks. They don't seem to mind the wet. However, the three black girls are all pregnant and when they leave the boggy area at the bottom paddock they seem to stagger up the hill. The extra weight they're carrying makes traversing up the hill on the wet and sodden ground difficult. Poor things. We think that one of them is due in September. We will need to start watching them closely. Heaven alone knows what we're going to do once the action starts! Hopefully nature will take it's course and all will go smoothly.

August is proving to be a very busy month. There are so many chores to be undertaken in the yard. If only we had more sunny days than rainy ones!
Today was just perfect. The morning mist finally lifted around 10am and the sun shone brightly for the next few hours. I got stuck into mulching, planting flower seedlings, weeding and pruning the never ending rose bushes! Our tree lady Deb also came today. She pruned all our fruit trees. She's a whiz. In four hours she expertly removed all the unwanted growth, something that would take me a lot longer and I'd probably stuff up the tree! Frans and I are left to pick up the pieces. Literally. There are offcuts all over the yard. Deb's as well as mine! The next sunny day will be a mulching day for Frans and I. We have a date with our mulcher!

While I was outside, I was treated to the squawks of these three parrots. 

I'm slowly working my way around the garden. These two large garden beds are the next to get a makeover. There are rose bushes that are desperately crying out for a good haircut, not to mention straggly bushes that I can't identify. My plan of attack is to prune the roses, cut back what I recognise and pull out the rest. Then I'm going to mulch the entire bed with the chipped mulch we got from the power company blokes a couple of months ago. Then I'll fill in gaps with plants I like. Well, that's the plan anyway!

Ami's Garden List for August

Plant 10 new trees along front fence (trees are sitting in the greenhouse waiting for me..)
Spray fruit trees again. Last week it rained the day after I sprayed, washing all the good stuff off!
Finish pruning roses (I thought I was over half way but I miscounted... damn)
Mulch garden bed along driveway
Prepare veggie beds (all 7 of them) for planting (drop a load of compost onto each bed. First go to town with the trailer to pick it up)
Clear the greenhouse of last season's dead tomato plants
Add new compost to greenhouse beds
Cut back any tree/bush or green thing that needs cutting back before spring
Plant seeds in punnets: tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum and set them in the greenhouse to sprout
Take cuttings of lavender & rosemary to be potted up for sale at the Birregurra market this year
Plant summer veggie seeds in vacant spots in the veggie beds
Spread mulch under strawberry plants (the patch is big!)
Weed under netting area. Never ending job. I need to add more mulch to this area I think.
Turn compost pile over
Prune ornamental grape vines
Mulch all cuttings

Phew! I think that's it for now. I'm slowly working my way through the list. It's a great feeling of accomplishment to put a tick next to a list item!

Yes, these are my orange shoes. Every time I go into the orchard area where the chooks range freely during the day, they come running to me. I usually have a bucket of kitchen scraps for them. They certainly know who gives them the treats! They're laying an average of 10 to 12 eggs a day. I'm about to experiment with pickled eggs. We have plently! I need a sign on the gate soon: Free Range Eggs for Sale $4 a doz. 
Anyone with a good recipe for lemon butter? That uses up lots of eggs too!

And a little duckling update...
Little duck follows it's mum everywhere. We kept the two separated from the chickens and the other two ducks for a couple of weeks. Last Friday Frans let the little duck out of the pen for the first time. It's coping really well in the big wide world! It follows it's mum all around the yard and copies what she does. The initial introduction to the other two ducks was a little tentative. The drake (Mr Harold) was keen to peck and have a go at little black duck. But the mum stood her ground and won't let any of them too close. Unfortunately we have now disposed of the remaining egss that didn't hatch. Perhaps the cold winter was just not conducive to hatching eggs! We may have more success during summer if duck number two decides to become broody.  

A winter project that is now complete is a quilt I made for my dear friend Lynnie. She recently celebrated a big birthday, and she deserves something really special. Trying to capture the quilt was not easy as the wind was a tad blowy.

Ah, that's better. 

And finally, the first blooms on the camelia bush beside the wood shed have errupted. The colour is glorious!

Have a happy week everyone!

Friday, August 3, 2012

New life

Ta Da!! We have action in the duck department. At last, a little duckling has hatched. Isn't it cute? I wonder if those feathers stay black? Mother duck looks quite pleased with herself.

 Still a bunch of eggs under the mother.

And then.... another one! This little duck is really interesting with it's little black helmet.

This little duck hatched a couple of days ago. But sadly, I went into the chook house just an hour or so ago and it's drowned in the water bowl. Lesson... don't leave a water bowl beside new ducklings. They can't get out!
 So we're back to one duckling. We're not sure if we're going to get any more. Our neighbour Graham checked the eggs a few days ago and said we'd probably only get two. He listned to them. Don't ask me what he was listening for, but it seems he's right. We will have to remove the rest of the eggs from the mother in a few more days. The incubation period is now way past the deadline.

In the meantime, little duckling number 1 is keeping warm under mum.

I forgot to post a pic of our fabulous new rooster, Spike! We got him a few weeks ago. Social media is amazing tool. We had our friend Richard stay with us for the weekend. While he was here he was checking his Facebook page and a friend of his was looking for a home for his rooster. So lucky for us, Richard got in contact with his mate and the following weekend Sara and Stephen picked him up from his suburban home in Melbourne and brought him to the farm. Spike is now king of the roost.

Houston, we have a problem! Frans was not a happy chap. Can you tell? The bottom corner of one of our paddocks was really soggy. At first he put it down to the constant rain we've been getting over the past month or so. But on closer investigation, it appeared we had a leak in the pipe that feeds our dam water to our house garden. So he started digging. And digging! Gumboots are such a wonderful invention are they not?!

At last the pipe was fixed. This did involve a trip to town to buy the correct connection to do the job. Fortunately Frans is pretty handy with a spanner and could fix this problem himself. I wouldn't like to think what it would cost if we had to call out a plumber from town!

Around the vegetable garden
I'm itching to start sewing my spring seeds, but according to my trusty ground temperature doodad, the ground is 13 degrees. Just a little too cool for most veggies. In the meantime, I have planted peas (they don't mind the cold) and another run of broad beans. I've also scattered radiccio, organic salad mix, cos, radish and carrot seeds. According to the packets, these can all be planted throughout winter. Let's hope they're right!

Taking a walk around the veggie garden yesterday I did a little stock take of what I have growing or almost ready for picking. The raised garden bed on the far left has an abundance of spinach and silverbeet. I'm feeding these leaves to the chooks every few days. They just love it! It makes those egg yolks fluro yellow! The large garden bed in the centre of the photo below contains a very healthy bush of rhubarb. I don't mind it, but Frans is not a big fan. However, my friend Norma makes a rhubarb cake that is quite delicious and Frans will eat it. I think I'll get the recipe and try it myself. Most of the rhubarb gets given away. I've been picking stalks all last summer and autumn, and it's just getting bigger! Time to divide it soon.  Towards the front of the bed on the right are three healthy celery bushes. I've planted another lot to the left. You can just see the little seedlings. Yes, I bought seedlings. I find that sometimes it's more economical than seeds. The open patch of dirt with the lemon grass stalks on top of it is where I've just planted my new asparagus plants. I'm an impatient kind of person, so I'm not sure how I'm going to excersize enough patience for the next two years while they grow. Hopefully when the plants start producing spears, they will give us enough for our summer pastas and salads.

 In another garden bed I still have some rainbow chard and other leafy stuff (no idea what it is...) that I'm feeding to the chickens. We have leeks, carrots and beetroot that we're picking now.

The chooks enjoying their spinach and silverbeet.
The grassy looking things in the corner of this bed are spring onions. I bought a punnet of seedlings. Once they get going, they'll last a good season. I often substitute spring onions for onions as the taste of the home grown stuff is just so much tastier than store bought. Nala keeps me company wherever I go. She loves to be in a photo!

Broad beans. I love them. And I've got a whole lot growing. I've planted them in clumps in a few different spots around the garden. For some reason, this particular clump is showing signs of black leaf. I suspect that it's from the frost we had a week or so ago. Any other ideas? I guess I should Google it!  In another couple of weeks we'll be starting our broad bean harvest. My favourite meal is a really simple one. Fresh bread, proscuitto, broad beans popped from their shells at the table, dipped in olive oil and salt. Served with a crisp white wine. What can be more sublime!

Here's a shot of the bottom part of our farm. The cattle egrets are congregating around the very full dam. 

And here are a flock of Galahs. They love to eat insects and grubs in the grass.

Every now and then, we get treated to a spectacular sky. This was Tuesday afternoon's delight! The afternoon light and sun on the Otways was just beautiful.

Dark clouds on Wednesday afternoon. The sky looked heavy with rain, but it bypassed us.

Last week I took off with my friend Norma and we drove up to Bawley Point in NSW to spend a few days with a group of fellow quilters. We sewed, knitted and chatted in front of a roaring wood fire all weekend. It was most satisfying. I came home having learned how to knit a sock. Yes, only one. I'm onto the second one now. I'll show you when they're both done!
On our way home we stopped at Holbrook for a night. After breakfast we just had to explore this great second hand book shop. I came away with a couple of classic cook books for Sara to add to her kitchen library. Norma bought a couple book stacks for not much money at all. A worth while stop! 

I would have loved to have brought one of these home with me, but sadly it would not have fitted in my car! I may have to twist Frans' arm to build one when he has nothing to do.... 

This week I'm going to leave you with a couple of really cool photos that Frans has taken. 

Have a happy weekend!