Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rolling on towards Christmas

If you happen to drive down our road on a cool, still morning, you'll most likely see something like this... A group of walkers and a dog. The eldest walker, Granny Pat, is waaaayyy up front. The dawdler is me. If you have to go for a walk, then there couldn't be anywhere nicer to do it. Summer is coming, and with it the flies. Walking now without a fly net is not an option anymore. 
There are some vegetables that I just don't like growing. Brassicas fall into this category. I find them finicky and temperamental. So I kept my planting to a few plants only; cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli. We had success with the broccoli. They grew into beautiful tight green heads, but what an investment in veggie bed real estate they require! After the head of the broccoli is cut off, you're left with this useless stalk with big green leaves. The chooks didn't mind the leaves... much. Then there were the caulies. Fail. Brownish looking heads appeared, all pock marked with insect activity. Gave them the heave ho. They bypassed the chooks and went straight to the compost pile. Then there was the cabbage. And oh my.... what a successful crop we had! The only problem was that we had to pick them all at once. It was then that the great cabbage cook off of 2013 began! 
Each cabbage weighed an average of around 2kgs. After the outer leaves were cleaned up and the odd slug removed, the nice looking leaves were blanched in boiling, salted water.
Some of the heads were shredded for coleslaw. 
Back to the blanched leaves... We stuffed them. Two ways. The first variation had rice, mint, feta, herbs and an egg to bind all the ingredients together. The rolls were gently poached in a little chicken stock in the pan. 
The second option we stuffed with rice, minced beef, herbs and baked them in an Italian style tomato sauce.
The final cabbage selection on the menu for dinner that night was a very simple one. Bacon fried lightly, then cabbage chunks stacked on top of the bacon. A few dabs of butter dotted on the top and the lid placed on and the stove top turned down low. The steam wilted the cabbage and the bacon flavours carried through the leaves. 
The final verdict at the dinner table was that this one, this pale insipid looking dish was the most delicious. My favourite was the rice, mint and feta stuffed rolls. Or was it the other lot? We've been asked by many who knew about the cabbage night if it was windy at our place the following day. Happy to say.. NO. Only a light breeze or two.
But let us not forget the sauerkraut..... Who's idea was it again? I had a lovely pottery crock that was begging to be used for something like this. So we followed the instructions from my preserving book. It all looked quite good. I then popped the big urn in the pantry cupboard where it needed to remain at a constant temperature as it started to ferment and do what sauerkraut has to do. I was starting to get complaints from fellow family members when they opened the cupboard. 'what smells in here'? Finally I dragged out the pot and left it on the kitchen bench. After a couple more days and more complaints, I decided to investigate what was happening. First the water filled zip lock bag came off the saucer holding all the 'stuff' down. Then came the saucer and the muslin. Looked ok. I bent down and took a deep breath, came up and started heaving. Words fail me. It was revolting. Another vegetable that bypassed the chooks and went directly to the compost pile! Epic fail. 
Fortunately not too many flops come out of our kitchen. We've been in Christmas baking mode for a couple of weeks. A few pre Christmas markets have allowed us to experiment and make some fun goodies to eat. We've turned out shortbread, fudge, coconut ice and Christmas cakes!

Market day at Birregurra. Pretty cakes all lined up along with the sweet treats!
Who fancies a mince pie then? Jayne's pies jumped off the table!
It was a great market. The day was lovely. The music excellent and chatting to our local friends and customers was a nice way to spend the morning. We'll be back again in January, sans the Christmas fare. But wait.. there will be more! Our berries are ripening and the picking has begun in earnest.

Sometimes we have ideas to change something on the farm, but we don't have the time or something else gets in the way. Netting the raspberry patch completely with a proper door was one of these jobs on our 'to do' list. Along came Andre', Frans' brother. He got stuck into the enclosure and in a few days we had a fantastic area where no birds could get trapped and we were guaranteed of getting all the berries. Thank you Andre'!
Picking these berries has become a twice a day ritual. 
A full colander holds about a kilo of berries. It's easy to spend an hour in the morning and the evening picking a load like this. 
In between berry picking, digging up garden beds to get rid of the weeds (I should have mulched them earlier!), it's good to stop and enjoy what the garden has to offer. The cornflowers are starting to bloom. And the blue is truly 'cornflower blue'! 
See those red geraniums? I brought a cutting with me from our house in Melbourne. A lovely old gentleman lived around the corner from our house. He's lived in Ashwood for over 60 years. These geraniums have been grown continuously from plants he has had in his yard over the years. Before we left Melbourne, he pressed a few scraggly cuttings into my hand and said to take them with me to our new home. Well,they are thriving. When I look at them I always think of Jeff and Leslie. 

I did say we're doing a lot of pulling out of plants this week didn't I? Here the broad beans are catching their last rays of sun before getting picked. 
I'm letting the Florence Fennel climb right to the sky! I'm no longer interested in the bulbs, rather the seeds. Fennel salad is a firm favourite in our house. More salad green seeds have been sown. Evening meals are a constant feast with salads made from all the different leaves picked from the garden. We're not averse to throwing in a few nasturtium flowers, dill sprigs, raw broad beans and a smattering of raw, sweet peas. Only the simplest dressing is required; a little lemon juice and olive oil or a little aged balsamic vinegar.
The broad bean haul of the day!
A few hours of shelling and we have a little over 5kgs of shelled broad beans. What are we going to do with them you may ask? Soup. Delicious broad bean soup. And we've frozen a lot. When we need them we'll dump them in some boiling water for a few minutes, then pop the soft dark green fleshy bits out of the tougher outer shell. These will be served with lamb chops or smashed as a topping for bruchette. 
It's been a while since I gave you a cabin update. Will all the wedding excitement and start of Summer preparations on the farm, the cabin renovations have been on hold. But this week the work has begun again! Yay! 

Frans and Andre' have plastered the internal walls and the girls helped lift the ceiling sheets into place. It took five adults to do this task, two ladders, two dogs and about an hour of discussion to decide which way was best. In the end it came down to the two boys lifting the sheets with a little help from this girl, and the other two girls, well, one girl and an eighty year old granny, moving ladders and holding things in place. It all worked like a dream. We are just miffed that we didn't film it for uTube. Our efforts could have entertained a few millions!

There are some tasks that are much easier to do if you call in the experts. So the plumbers have come to fix our pipes. Frans' buddy Wayne from the Camera Club and his son Reece (great name for a plumber!) have started plumbing in the internal pipes, putting up the spouting and gutters and preparing for the very big and messy job of digging a big hole for the septic tank.
Looking at the picture above, you can see a 'little' burn off conducted by the DSE yesterday. The seat of that fire is 3kms from us. We're happy to see them burn now before the heat of summer.
As soon as all the outside work is complete on the cabin, we'll start the landscaping around it. 

We pulled a little test bed out of the ground this week. These bulbs are an early variety called Glenlarge. I have to say it's not my favourite variety. It has a tendency to split. But no garlic needs to be wasted. These little cloves will be used in stocks and our wonderful Worchestershire sauce.
Cleaning up the stalks before they get bundled is best done outside, in the shade.

Jayne learned how to plait a hank of garlic. I'm not the world's best teacher. My plaits tend to verge on 'rustic'. 
Strong fingers and hands are required to manipulate the stalks into the plaits.
Ta Da! This little plait will hang for a week or so and then the 'beard' bits will be trimmed off and it will look oh so pretty!
The sunflowers are starting to bloom. I plant them for Frans, the bees and because they look lovely. When they are past their prime, they get dried and the chooks enjoy the seeds.
Bees.... Doing their thing. Wonderful.

And finally.... this is what we have to look forward this week. A stinking day is coming up. I feel a little panic when I see these high temps. I know my lettuce plants, parsley, coriander and half a dozen other veggies are going to bolt! Not much I can do about it, except cut them down short if possible and keep the water up. 
It is only a week to go before we sit down to Christmas Eve dinner. The menu is half planned. We wait for the final touches when we wander through the garden on the morning of the dinner.

Hope you all have a wonderful week preparing for Christmas. 
Remember to enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bikes, cakes, bees and dogs

For our American friends, Happy Thanksgiving... that was last week! We decided to have our own Thanksgiving Dinner. We wrote 'thank you' notes for each person at the table. Our meal started off with Buffalo Chicken wings and blue cheese sauce. Our main meal consisted of home grown turkey (from next door), mash potato, caramelised sweet potato, beans with blue cheese and walnuts and a delicious fennel gratin. Our friend Norma made the vegetable dishes. They were wonderful. Then to top it all off, our American friend Jo made the desserts. Not one, but two fabulous pies. What else would we enjoy but pecan pie and pumpkin pie?! A lovely evening spent with lovely friends and family.
The Great Victorian Bike Ride came to town last week.... well, more specifically, it came to Gellibrand and then went on to Birregurra. I've been part of a small group of artists who have started up a small local art gallery in Gellibrand,  "The Gellibrand River Gallery". (you can find and 'like' us on Facebook!) We knew that the little village would be inundated with bike riders and their support staff. So we started preparing the gallery... adding more stock and making arrangements to greet 7000 odd cyclists and their travelling buddies. We set up our Otway Fields tables outside and offered our locally grown and bottled preserves and jams for sale. I made a fist full of bike related jewellery and we were set to go!
The fast riders started arriving early, around 9.30am, and the stragglers kept coming in all day. The carnival atmosphere started to kick off. It was such fun, chatting to riders from all over the state, and from further away. They were good natured and pumped to have made it over the very steep hills that lead into Gellibrand from Port Campbell. The weather could have been a little more amenable, as it was cold and drizzly for most of the day. The riders didn't care. They were happy with hot coffee, lollies, fudge and Anzac biscuits! 
Jayne made a batch of wonderful of Christmas cakes. As she was putting them out on the table, the locals were snapping them up as fast as they could! They were a hit! So guess what Jayne is doing this week.... Yup... making more cakes! And yes, she's taking orders... $12 per cake, and you get a delicious Christmas cake, sprinkled with brandy, decorated with nuts and fruit or straight white icing (my favourite!)
Coconut Ice, Fudge and Gellibrand fridge magnets by Jan Verouden were ever so popular. 
And then there was the cordial... Straight Lime, or Lime Lemongrass & Ginger. These are so good. Sip one of these and you'll think you're in an exotic place far away... We've road tested them and they pass muster. We enjoyed ours with a splash of vodka. Well, it was after 5pm.... 
Let me tell you about the Anzac Biscuits... They are delicious. Frans will vouch for that. A while back I made around 600 biscuits for a CWA event. I needed to put them in specific jars. Well, it took me 100 biscuits to get them right size. I kept making them too big to fit through the hole in the jar! What became of the 100 'wrong' ones you may ask?? Frans worked his way through them in about a week! Then he was perplexed as to why he had put on 3kgs! I wonder.....??? 
The fellow below was one of the first riders to come into Gellibrand. Andre' had a good chat with him. He was gregarious and friendly. AND.. he was from New Zealand! He had a funny accent and Jayne and I thought he was awesome as he called us 'Wee Lassies'.... Nothing 'wee' about us at all... :-) 
You have never seen a spectacle such as this.... the organisation was incredible. This was just a small snatch of 'tent city'. Thousands of tents, portable showers and toilets... Oh.. that reminds me of a story we heard. On the morning of the riders'  departure from Gellibrand, the truck moving the toilets from their moorings heard a scream for help.... there was a poor bugger still sitting on the Dunny as the cubicle was being towed away! Not a good way to start the day I would think. 
Tent City! One day a farm paddock, the next a sea of tents! I'm not sure if this is my idea of fun!

And then there's stuff happening on the farm...
Frans has been checking the hives once a week to see how the honey production is coming along. We had no honey at all last year. The summer was too hot and there was no rain. The bees spent all their time carrying water into the hive and keeping the hive cool. We are hopeful that we'll be able to rob the hives in a few weeks and collect enough honey to keep us sweet for till next year! 
We have two different sized hives. One has large frames, and two have small half sized frames. The theory is that the small frames will fill with combs and honey quicker. Makes sense.. but these still have a way to go. 
This is what we want to see on all the frames! Lots of bees working on the frame. 

Our garden is looking lovely. The poppies have bloomed, roses are our in all their splendour  and the weeds are doing exceptionally well! It is a constant task .... weeding....weeding.....and more weeding! 
The strawberry patch has started yielding fruit by the tub full. In between I've let a patch of self seeded sweet peas take up residence for a while. The bees love the flowers, and working among the vegetables is extra special when the waft of sweet peas drifts my way. 
The peas are climbing up their stakes... Stir fries and salads are extra tasty when these little babies are thrown into the mix.
The roses and foxgloves have given us a beautiful show. This is the view from our kitchen table. Not too shabby... For those who are wondering what's happening with the cabin... we've been getting the garden in order. We've cleaned up in dry branches etc in preparation for the fire season. Frans says next week he's getting back into it...  
See the large leafy plants in this pic? It's Comfrey. Every now and then I'll chop it down, fill a 10 litre bucket full of leaves. Press down so they're well packed in. Pour water over the leaves, pop a lid on the bucket and forget about it for about  3 weeks. The leaves break down and the smell is disgusting. It's a bit like a fresh cow pat! Once it's all gooey and broken down, the liquid is strained off and poured into old milk bottles or whatever containers I have handy. I then dilute this mixture 1/10 in a watering can and pour it around my veggies. They love it. A good natural fertiliser!
The grass is lovely and green in our paddocks at the moment. The cows are loving it. Our two new babies are doing very well. By January the fields will no longer be green. The rain will ease up and the heat will turn the grass a golden yellow.

I'll leave you with a pic of Tilly the wonder dog! She's Stephen and Sara's puppy. We've had her on the farm for about 5 weeks. She has kept us entertained with her boundless energy. She will chase her plastic bone all day long if she could! If you ignore her, she'll place the bone at your feet. She's even dropped the bone just inside the back door when we've been inside. We miss her terribly as she's gone home to Melbourne. I've given up trying to grow herbs in this garden bed outside the back door. The dogs love to lie here. 

Have a great week!