Monday, January 28, 2013

An action packed week

Meet Etta Jalapeno. She's our latest addition to Otway Fields. Her mum seemed to be pregnant FOREVER! We were starting to wonder if she was just fat! A couple of weeks ago when we slaughtered our steer, we had the opportunity to put the mum into the cattle pen. Our neighbour Graham had a good look at her then and proclaimed her to be pregnant. We just had to be patient. This was an important lesson in record keeping for us. We had a very vague idea of when we had Graham's bull over in our paddock last year. We didn't write down the date of his visit, and this left us guessing for weeks as to when we would see another little calf. So, at last.... here she is. Sara named her Etta, after Etta James' tune.. At Last. She was born on a 42 degree day. So I named her Etta Jalapeno. And no, we won't eat her. She'll go to the sale yard in a few months.
Just an hour or two old.
Etta is a wanderer. She gets into all sorts of funny spots. Frans found her on the other side of our fence on the road side shortly after she was born. He got her to our top paddock where she then crawled into a spot beyond the electric fence. She needed help to get out.
She then wobbled her way along the fence, sometimes getting a little too close! Such a silly little girl. 

She was still to have her first drink. Frans pointed her  her towards her mum and she eventually found the teats with the help of her mum who nudged her to the right spot. 
Finally mum and calf found their way to the centre of the paddock. It didn't take long for the rest of the calves to come and investigate their new half sister. 
A day later, and Etta is happy and content. And we have a new visitor for a few weeks. A bull. A BIG bull. The cows are getting frisky and this time we've recorded the dates of the bull visit! So if all goes well, in 9 months and 9 days from now, we should have another calf from the cow that birthed in September. 

 Project Kitchen!
One of our goals on the farm is to hold cooking classes, using our organic kitchen garden for inspiration. We also want to sell our preserves and pickles commercially. To do this we need to have our kitchen properly fitted to comply with commercial food preparation. Fortunately, the kitchen is fairly new and we did not have to do too much to change it. We needed a more powerful range hood and a small hands free wash basin. Frans being the handyman that he is has undertaken all the work himself. He decided that he would tackle both tasks simultaneously. So for the past week the kitchen has been a bomb site!
The new sink fits comfortably where our wine rack used to be. Inlets, outlets, connections.... everywhere! 
The small cupboard and old pull out range hood was removed from above the stove. Nothing is ever simple, and there were holes to be filled, drilled and the wall painted before the new range hood could be put into place.  
Yes, that is a vacuum cleaner on top of the stove. Frans is a tidy freak. I'm not complaining! Even with the careful covering of equipment, there was still a fine layer of plaster dust covering the kitchen.  
And it's done! Wall painted, range hood installed and cleaned of finger prints on the shiny new metal flue, and we're in business.

And this leaves the final part of the sink installation to be completed. Frans had to venture under the house to connect the outlet of the sink to the main outlet pipe. He procrastinated for hours and invented other jobs that needed doing in preference to going under the house. 
He finally mustered up the courage, packed all the tools he might need into an Aldi bag, prepared a light to see by and headed into the underbelly of the house!  
There was not much room to spare and he wiggled into the crawlspace. He lay there for a while with his feet poking out. I heard muttering and then "No. That's it. I can't do it." And back out he slid. He is not happy. He does not like to admit defeat. But in this instance, he just can't face the claustrophobic feeling that being under the house gives him.
So... plan B. Back upstairs he started stripping panels from a wall to connect the pipe from above the ground. But nothing is ever easy... (did I say that already?) There are beams in the way of where the pipe has to go. This requires a lot of drilling and mess! 
Plan C. Wait for Stephen. 
So we have waited till this weekend. Stephen (Sara's fiancee') has offered to go under the house and finish the job. Yay! I'm looking forward to later today when I can once again see the kitchen table! All the mess will be cleaned up and we can then get the final approval for the kitchen. 

 Project Poo!
When you live in the city or a town where you have town sewage, you don't have to think about flushing the loo. But if you live on a property with a septic tank, or a water treatment plant like we have, then waste is a constant topic of conversation. Our dishes and clothes require biodegradable products. We have to read labels carefully on cleaning products. Our waste system is one where everything is decomposed naturally. Some products like fat, milk and cream are not allowed into the system. They take too long to break down. I've had to get used to wiping out any greasy baking dishes first before washing them. Any milk that needs throwing out goes onto the compost, not down the sink. We have been careful with what we put down our drain. But sometimes, a problem arises and hands have to get dirty!

We had a service person out last week and he made an 'uh uh' comment. This did not sound good. There was a problem with the holding tank. The water was not as clean as it should have been. The quickest way of fixing the problem was to empty out the whole plant, clean out any crappy bits (yes, it's a bad punn..) and then refill it again with dam water. The service guy left Frans his pump and instructions on how to do the job, wished him luck and left. Frans asked me to figure out a way that he could scoop the poop. I came up with this solution. It is my very own Pooper Scooper. I think I might market it! 
Ami's Pooper Scooper. Shade cloth with a piece of wire turned around the outside. Then held onto a long pole with another piece of wire and some gaffa  tape. A giant strainer. It worked a treat! 
It was then down to business. Frans scooped and I sprayed the 'net' clean.
I was surprised that this job wasn't as smelly as I would have thought it would be. But oh, the flies!!

And on a much prettier note, remember the little nest of birds I showed you last week? Well, the little birds flew the nest yesterday. We found two of them on the ground, flopping about. I tried to pick one up and put it back into the nest thinking it had fallen out, but it just summersaulted back onto the ground. The baby squawked loudly and the mother echo'd it's cries with loud screeches of her own. We left them and let nature take it's course.  
Finally... Sara and Stephen arrived yesterday for a couple of days. They have a new puppy. Her name is Tilly. She's a cross border collie/staffie. She's three months old and a bundle of energy. Nala has enjoyed playing with the new pup. After all the running and chasing, both dogs flopped and slept for ages! 

 And we wish everyone a Happy Australia Day for the 26th!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Getting organised!

My ideal work space would be one of those pretty garden sheds you see on dreamy garden blogs. However, reality is that I need a bit of space to make a mess. And it makes more sense to do it in an open shed. My first 'table' is the one pictured below. It was made using two large plastic barrels with a piece of wood on the top. Frans used the barrels to store chicken feed in. So he would need to move the board to get to the feed quite often. A pain. Another problem was that the table was rather narrow. I was sharing it with egg boxes, feed sacks and my garden tools. 
Then Christmas came, and Frans wanted to know what I would like. I think he was expecting 'perfume, a book, theatre tickets...' or something along those lines. Instead I asked him to make me a new table for my shed area. And he did! I am more than chuffed with my big work top. No more narrow table. I have room to move.
If you know Frans, you will know that he does not throw any wood away. Ever! These sturdy posts came all the way from Melbourne when we moved here. They were left overs from our renovation there. Another thing about Frans... he makes things to last. This is one sturdy baby! The top is an old door. Another reno left over. This is upcycling at it's best! 
While we were sorting out my space, Frans laid down some pallets (yes the free ones he picked up at Officworks in Geelong a few weeks ago) and now all my pots and other gardening things are off the ground. The only problem about this new arrangement is that we disturbed a favourite egg laying hiding place, and Mrs Chook was most inquisitive climbing all over the garden stuff trying to work out if she could still make use of the spot.
 Here's Mrs Chook. Very proud of herself. And here she is below, exploring the new set up.
Under our carport I have a set of old metal selves that I store empty egg boxes, some gardening tools and other bits and pieces. We also have lots of swallows the like to nest in the rafters. They are a constant irritation. They poop on the cars and make a general mess. Frans is constantly removing the makings of nests as they appear. This one however, went unnoticed until I spotted a little black bird sitting in it. Every time I walked past the shelf she'd fly out. We checked and she'd laid a few eggs. So we left her in peace. 
A couple of days ago we heard little chirps coming from the top shelf. 
And there they were. Three brand new little birds. This is one that was making a very big racket! It won't be long and they'll be gone from the nest. Nature is amazing.

Before I finish this post I want to share something special with you. My friend Janelle, who lives in Brisbane, gave me the the most wonderful Christmas gift. Her Mum, Mrs Keating, was a dear lady and passed away a while ago. Janelle gave Sara and I each a large pack of hand embroidered table cloths and an apron that Mrs Keating had embroidered herself. I feel privileged to be the custodian of these beautiful pieces of embroidered linen. The apron is too pretty to ever use in the kitchen. I am known for messing. A lot. So I wore it at our last market stall in Birregurra. I had many lovely comments about the apron. Thank you Janelle!
Yeah yeah..... I should have ironed it.... I'll do it for the next market. Promise!

Have a wonderful week.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

From Paddock to Plate

When we moved to the country, our one big goal was to feed ourselves. This meant growing our own vegetables and fruit. Having a few acres also allowed us to run a few cattle with the express purpose of 
1. Keeping the grass down and 
2. Providing our own meat. 
So we immediately started digging garden beds and planting seeds. We took advice from our neighbour on the best cattle to buy for our purposes and off we went to the sale yard and bought two cows with two calves. Those calves were the two baby white ones I've shown in older posts. We never named them as we knew the day would come when one of them would end up in our freezer. Well, a year later, that day arrived. 
So last week, early one morning as the sun was just peeking over the trees, we herded our cows into the cattle pen at our front gate. We were only going to slaughter one, but it is less stressful for the animals if you keep them together. 
We were going to slaughter the white male steer. He'd been the rambunctious one of the two calves since we got them. Frans would never turn his back on him when he was in the paddock. And Nala knew never to get too close. On more than one occasion the steer has charged towards her, to either investigate what she is or to just show his superiority! 
The cattle spent the morning in the pen together. Late in the afternoon our butcher arrived with his coolroom and gear.
He dispatched the animal quickly, with no stress to it. We were impressed with the care he took to make the animal calm and distracted before he pulled the trigger. It sounds cruel to some, but we respect our animals and wish to give them a good life, and death. I recently read that if you're going to eat it, you should be prepared to kill it. That may be a bit extreme for most, but it makes me appreciate the effort involved to getting a bit of mince in a pot for a spag bol. Our butcher worked quickly through the hot sticky afternoon. It took him just over two hours to skin, gut and quarter the beast. It was then loaded into his mobile cool room which he left on our property for a week. The meat has to hang for a while. The longer you hang it, the more tender it will be. 
Anyone driving past our gate at 6pm last Monday would have seen the carcass dangling from the ends of Graham's tractor. A tractor with a fork lift is an essential piece of machinery in the process. Without it, there would be the need for lots of ropes and pulleys! The live weight of the steer was around 520kgs. The carcass weight was 260kgs. The skin and intestines accounted for the difference in weight. In a commercial slaughter house, nothing goes to waste. The skins get sent to tanners for shoes and handbags. The bones get ground for gardening applications such as blood and bone. The intestines get cleaned and sent to China where they get processed and sent back to Australia or any other country for that matter for sausage making. Most sausages are made using synthetic skins these days, but there is still a demand for natural skins. Believe it or not, intestines get used to make tennis racket strings too!
Once the butcher had finished with the steer, he then processed 5 lambs. A hot, long afternoon for him. Once again, his gentle and respectful approach to the grizzly task of ending an animals life was evident. 

A week later, it was time to deal with all the meat. Frans hosed out his big shed and we got the freezer space organised. In fact, we'd bought a second freezer about a month ago in preparation for the steer. However, it soon got filled with berries! Our raspberries have been prolific and so they were taking up the space of the meat to come. Fortunately, Stephen's (Sara's fiancee') parents had a spare little freezer they were using to store olive oil in. As you do! Stephen drove down from Melbourne on the morning of the processing with the rescue freezer. 
Once the butcher and his assistant were set up, it was all systems go. For the next 6 and half hours, they cut, chopped, minced, brined and made sausages, while we packed and labelled. 
It was a group effort. All hands on deck. Our friends John and Norma came to help.
 Cutting and mincing...
Osso Bucco! Wonderful!  
Frans meticulously weighing the mince. I wanted 500g in a pack. 

Now 'this' is a sausage machine! It took only a few minutes to make around 12kgs of sausages. I want one!
After the beef, it was on to the lambs. They were our neighbours' animals. So it was their turn to pack and label. I kept the workers fed with scones and jam, followed by ham sandwiches for lunch. The beers came at the end of the day!
We now have a freezer full of home grown, grass fed beef. Nothing can be better.
And just when we thought we were done, we had to make up the boerewors and biltong we'd kept some meat aside for. First up was the wors. Boerewors is a South African sausage. The main ingredient is coriander. It is usually a combination of beef and pork. The sausage is not linked, but left instead as a long curl that fits snugly into a pan or onto a barbeque. I dry roasted the coriander on the stove in a caste iron pan, stirring constantly. The pungent aroma hung in the house for a day at least! 
Then the scorched seeds were pounded. At this point we decided it was easier to use the coffee grinder. So we hunted high and low for it only to remember that I'd given it to Sara some time ago! So it was back to grinding and hammering....
The spices, salt, pepper, coriander and cloves were all massaged into the pork and beef mixture. 
I had a sudden bright idea... There was a LOT of meat. We would soon tire if all this boerewors. So I rolled a few bags of meat balls, hamburger patties and mini meat balls for soup. They are all spiced and ready to cook. Call me a genius!
We will have plenty of sausage for many a barbecue over the coming year! If you come and visit us, the chances are you'll be getting some of this!
After the boerewors, it was time to make biltong. This is beef jerky. South African style. Once again the dominating flavour is coriander. So the same process ensued. Scorching and pounding the coriander seeds. Mixing spices together and then salting the meat slices and spraying with vinegar. Frans loves this job. He really gets into it. It's about the only 'cooking' he does. 
The meat is left to marinade for half a day or so, then it's dipped in hot water and hung to dry. 
We always rush around at this point looking for the 'right' paper clips! Frans in his usual 'make a plan' attitude, has hung the biltong and droe' wors (dried sausage) on the washing rack over the bath. A fan will blow on this meat for a few days until all risk of mould is gone. It will then be left to dry naturally for a few more days. A piece of meat that is turned into biltong will shrink to about 25% of it's original weight. No wonder the stuff is so expensive to buy.
And then there's the time factor. If you think something will take an hour, make it two. We finished eventually, late on Sunday evening. It seemed fitting to try some of our new wors. So I quickly cooked up a traditional South African tomato and onion gravy with some polenta. I didn't have any maize meal or I would have used it. We ate the boerewors with the polenta, gravy and an egg, just like I used to do with my grandparents when I was a kid. Some tastes take you right back to your childhood. And this was one of them. A happy memory.
It may not be the nicest 'plating' you've ever seen, but it was delicious!

Have a happy week!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Happy Birthday "Farmer Frans"

How quickly a year goes by. This time last year we had a big 50th birthday celebration for Frans on the farm. The party went on for a couple of weeks. This year, sadly, we celebrated only on the day. But what a lovely day it was!
Sara came home for the weekend and we prepared a feast for Sunday lunch.

The table is set

Many years ago a friend in Sydney, Maggie Gilbert, treated us to her famous Cajun Prawns. Her best tip was to eat the prawns on newspaper. It makes cleanup a whole lot easier, and lends a feeling of being at the beach to the meal! You can dress up the table too if you want. Candles and sparkling glassware look wonderful contrasted against the casual newsprint. The best drinks to serve with the spicy prawns are a cold beer or a chilled riesling. As you can see from the photos below, there were not too many leftovers!


 Dessert was a French inspired Tart Tatin. I used nectarines as that's what I had on hand. Traditionally, apples or pears are used. I learned this particular recipe from one that Gordon Ramsay does.  I love the use of the extra spices; cardamon, anise, cinnamon. Click the link for the recipe. We served ours with ice cream, but it is equally delicious with thick clotted cream.

Tart Tatin - Nectarines

What's in the garden?

I was wandering around the vegetable garden last week and was mentally listing all the chores I need to do. There are vegetables that need to be pulled out that I have left to go to seed. Once I've collected the seeds, the plants can go onto the compost heap. But before the seeds are ready, I want to show you the beautiful flowers that some of the vegetables produce. Some are nice enough to cut and place in a vase!

First up..... drum roll... 
Isn't this just a beautiful flower? It looks very similar to the mauve pom pom that pops out of the chive bush. Family? Yep.

Next we have can you guess???
It's a ..... Carrot!
 I didn't know they grew this big either or that they had such beautiful flowers. Very similar to Queen Anne's lace. 

This is one of my favourite herbs. Dill. I love the little yellow cosmic explosions on each flower head. I often throw the flowers of vegetables and herbs into my salads. They add colour, texture and a big flavoursome bang! 

I'm so excited. It's squash season! And here we have a fabulous Zucchini flower. The male flowers can be stuffed with all sorts of interesting things. My favourite stuffing is ricotta, garlic and herbs. They're then lightly fried and served as a starter or a light lunch with some delicious home made bread and a glass of chilled white wine. Zucchini are on our menu almost all Summer. We eat them stuffed, raw in salads and pickled. Such a humble veggie with such a wide repertoire. Plant some this Summer. You'll love them! 

And here we have Frans in the raspberry patch. This is where you'll find him every second day. We have picked and picked raspberries! The freezer is groaning with the weight of them! I will be making all sorts of interesting preserves with the berries in the next couple of months. Stay tuned... lots of info to come! 

Back to the flowers... These are raspberry flowers. Pretty little things aren't they? 

Ok, not the flowers, but the fruit. Blackberries. We have a few of the thornless variety alongside the raspberries. We do however have lots of the thorned, weedy kind growing along our fence line. I always wondered why blackberries grew along the side of the country roads. I think I figured it out. It's the birds. They eat the fruit. They then sit on the power lines and do what birds do. The seeds get scattered far and wide. Then farmers have to get rid of the black berries along their fence lines. Why? If a plant or anything for that matter touches the electric wires, then the fence is rendered useless. This is no good for farmers who have sheep and cows and want them to stay INSIDE their properties. So back to the berries... they really are delicious. Just not the ones with thorns that grow along the fence line! These ones are not quite ready yet. They need to be black! Duh.

Another berry... A blue one. I love these! We have one lonely bush that is in our netted area where the birds don't get to demolish the bush. I'm planning to add a few more to this area this coming winter.  

And here is everyone's favourite.... the humble strawberry! These little flowers develop into the loveliest red fruits, packed with taste! Nothing like the bland supermarket punnets. The season is short however, and daily picking is required. My strawberry conserve this year has been a hit. You open the jar,  and smell the strawberry patch and Summer all in one sniff. 

Till next time... keep the water up to your garden. The summer is hot!