Thursday, June 28, 2012

Winter Solstice 2012 (belated)

It may be a week late, but our daughters' primary school celebrated the Winter Solstice tonight due to being postponed after some nasty weather last week. I do love a good bonfire and any excuse to go to one - I'm there! 

The woodfired oven was hot and pumping out pizzas, there was storytelling, hot soups with bread and a good turnout of people for a blustery winters night.

tealight lanterns made by the students
Let the lighting of the bonfire commence - a ceremonial task reserved for the grade six students.
The 'sun' was made in a junior landcare session at school . 
Watch it burn, baby..
...and burn it did!

I do hope your solstice was a good one..I'm so looking forward to the longer days again!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Winter eats..and treats

With what feels like the darkest days of winter here at the moment it's sometimes hard to find comfort in those things the other seasons so generously offer. Sunlight is at a bare minimum, it's cold, washing needing to be hung inside just to get it dry, a soggy chook pen and a sloshy goat paddock, ash, ash and more ash from the fire place waiting to be emptied, and it's cold! (did I mention that?).

 What I wouldn't give for a t-shirt kind of day, a warm breeze sweet with the scent of spring blossom and cut grass, the kind of weather to potter around outside without freezing the fingers off *sigh*..

 So, the focus for comforts moves indoors. Yarny crafty goodness, freshly washed fleecy fibre drying by the fire, spinning, spinning and more spinning. And food. For sustenance of course...

I just can't seem to get enough of this custard tart. I'm amazed every time I make it how well the custard's so smooth and velvety but not in the least bit sloppy..a cut slice will sit nice and neatly on the plate. It's up there among my favourite sweet recipes! Using homegrown eggs is a real treat too!

Who doesn't love a freshly made donut? Especially when you're tween size and have just come home from being caught in the cold rain after school...again! 

Spanakopita. This is also becoming another favourite. It's so easy to whip together and using up the steady supply of silverbeet offerings from the garden make the meal seem so much tastier! The feta and parmesan that the pie is loaded with would have absolutely nothing to do with this, I'm sure!

Some jammy experiments..well, just for fun.

This winter, I'm right into the home cooked beans. This night it was our favourite Boston baked beans divided up into op-shopped ramekins then topped with cheese and baked until meltingly gooey after being inspired by Linda Woodrow's post.

Such an easy dinner with bread alongside and SO tasty! 

I'm loving having the eldest at home this week on an extra week of school holidays. To have her bake a batch of brownies for me to take to spinning group is an absolute treat! 

A sourdough starter bubbling away plus soups soups and more soups made with stocky goodness, these are the comforts from the kitchen making their way to our table at the moment. 

What's been making it to your table this season? 

Custard Tart (adapted from the Essential Dessert Cookbook)
Serves 8

1 pre cooked pastry flan (20cm/8" approx)
(The quantities I've been using: 1 1/2 cups plain flour, 1/4 cup custard powder, 125g butter, 1 1/2 tbs caster sugar and 1 egg yolk, with a drizzle of iced water as required).

4 free range eggs
1-2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to moderate 180c/350f. Bring the milk to a boil in a saucepan. While this is happening, mix the eggs, vanilla and sugar together in a bowl. Once the milk is at the boil, remove from heat and slowly pour over the egg mixture, whisking all the while. Strain through a sieve into a jug with a good pouring spout.

Place the pre-cooked pastry flan in the oven and pull out the shelf slightly. Pour the strained egg mixture carefully into the pastry shell and sprinkle with the ground nutmeg. Slowly slide the oven shelf and tray back into position, close the door and bake for 30-40 minutes or until just set (mixture won't wobble when shaken gently).

Allow to cool before slicing.

(Any leftover pastry/egg mixture can be formed into mini tarts in muffin trays. Just roll out the dough, place in the tins and pop in the freezer for around 10-20 minutes, add the custard mix and bake for around 10-15 minutes - no need to blind bake. With the pastry being cold, it won't shrink and lose it's shape too much in the oven. The finished tarts are even sturdy enough for the lunchboxes!)

Friday, June 22, 2012


I've been spending some time updating my ravelry page and decided to include a few links here for reference.

With the weather we've been having this week it's the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and catch up on those crafty projects that have been calling...

 Nana cushions, raveled here

 Tappan Zee cardian, raveled here

 Fingerless gloves and hat (child size), raveled here

 The Chinchilla Tunic, raveled here

 Handspun mittens, raveled here

 Horseshoe lace scarf, raveled here

 Fingerless gloves/mitts and scallop neck warmer, raveled here

Knitted dishcloths, raveled here

 Crochet elephant, raveled here

I hope you're enjoying your Friday!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A stocky affair

With the colder weather rightly upon us, I've taken to making stock on a weekly basis. For years I was never one to do this, thinking that it was too fiddly, too time consuming and basically just a whole lot easier to buy it and be done with it.

However, if you've never tasted homemade stock, you are in for a real treat! It is so much nicer than the store bought variety and I have stumbled across a way of making stock that involves the least amount of effort! Let me share my tasty stock making ways with you...

To begin with, ingredients are collected over the course of a week. We go through a LOT of veggie peelings here and instead of tossing them straight into the compost and chook containers, I've been storing them in a container in the freezer specifically for a stock making session before they end up in there respective places.

So what goes in to stock?

Whatever you like...well mostly!

To our freezer container I add:

  • chicken bones from leftover roasts
  • veal bones from osso bucco
  • onion peelings, brown skin and all
  • celery tops and bottoms
  • carrot tops and peelings
  • tomato cores/ends
  • leek tops
As you can see, they are all scrappy waste offerings from the kitchen. I don't go out of my way to ensure we have stock making ingredients 'to hand', rather just save whatever I think is useful and freeze it. Once the container is bursting to the brim with the saved offerings from the week, I add them all to the slow cooker...usually jamming them in in their frozen state as inevitably I've saved too much...(!)

Yep, you can see they're straight from the freezer, the celery tops are limp and the carrot tops and onions have icicles covering them!

To the frozen scraps, I then add:

  • the odd garlic clove that is sprouting
  • parsley stems and leaves
  • a few bay leaves
  • several peppercorns

The whole lot is then covered with lukewarm water and turned on the low setting. I have been leaving it on overnight (at least 12 hours), to gently simmer away and do it's thing and in the morning wake up to a beautifully rich pot of golden stock..

The bulging pot is strained of the boney, vegetable debris and then poured through a sieve lined with muslin to catch any impurities lurking in the bottom of the pot. If you are after a super clear stock, it can then be clarified which involves whisking egg whites and eggshells into the liquid and straining again, however I don't bother with this step. Muslin does it for me ;)

In our modest size slow cooker I find that it produces 2-2.5 litres of stock without any problems. Now if my larger slow cooker hadn't died, this could be substantially increased, although I'm finding this quantity is just right to last us through the week until the next lot of stock is made.

To store the stock, I freeze it in 750ml containers and pull out one when making a soup, curry, casserole or pie..whatever. As the stock has simmered for such a lengthy time, it is incredibly flavoursome and really adds body to the finished dish! As a result, I am using less than what I previously did with the bought variety.

However, being chicken/vegetable flavoured, it never overpowers the I would suspect could be the case with beef bones (if using a lot) and definitely lamb bones (which I never use). Potato peelings don't make it into our stock pot either. This stock can go in anything to add flavour, while still allowing the character of the dish to shine through. If we were a vegetarian household I would still make stock, just omit the bones. Homemade tastes great! 

Chickeny, vegetabl-ly goodness...mmmm, yum! This surely has to be good for you! Plus, there is no packaging clogging up our bin and being made from a waste ingredient, like the pectin, it's free!

Do you make stock? What makes it into your pot? 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The week at a glance..

a familiar sighting!

A quilt show,
with sightings of a few familiar Oma creations.
Goats in yellow coats, getting used to the whole putting on and taking off shamozle.
Emptying bobbins by making time for a much needed plying session.
Cleaning up after an ancient, confused cat, poor thing. And again, and again.. and so on it goes..
Side stepping around blanket cubbies that have been constructed with every blanket we own (and even a sheet or two!).
Lending a hand at our daughters' primary school as the oven was fired up to bake some pizzas...
Coming home inspired after veggie group on Friday and planting out my blueberries and a handful of lavenders grown from cuttings..
Fluffy chook cuddles and worrying fox sightings,...
Netball Saturday, dinner at Oma's and some oat and honey muffins for the lunchboxes,
This was my week at a glance.

How were things in your week?   

Monday, June 11, 2012

(a nice little) long weekend..

A long weekend here for us this week. It was wonderful not to have to do the netball rush and standing in the cold rain x 3, having a bit more time instead to tackle a few jobs that have been on the to-do list for far too long. For example...a box of apples that really should've been bottled a few weeks ago but just never happened..

Pie apple - a mixture of Granny Smiths and Pink Ladies in light syrup
A little bit of dehydrating..
As I came to the apples in the bottom of the box, I decided to hang a row up in our kitchen to dry. I had forgotten how much we enjoyed munching on dried apples in the past!

A little pectin stock making..
Leftover apple peelings/cores can be simmered in the slow cooker before making their way to the compost bin or chook pen in order to extract all of their pectiny goodness. The gel set is so much nicer with homemade pectin stock than bought pectin, it takes jam making to another level. Plus, being a waste product,  it's free!

A little crochet..

to turn into little elephants..
Our spinning group has put out a challenge: to make a soft toy to be given to a needy child at Christmas. I've borrowed the cutest animal toy book from the library (Super Cute Crochet - Nicki Trench).  The two projects I've started so far have turned out much smaller than I expected, but I agree, they are very cute!

A little frost..
which sure was chilly!

A little custard tart..
It seems only sensible to use up excess eggs in a tasty way! We've been getting about 8 eggs a day this past week by looking after a neighbour's chooks in addition to our own, so custard tart it had to be.

A little wearing of the new cardi..
I'm so happy to have finished the Tappan Zee cardigan I've been working on. It's super, super cosy and the fit is very comfortable. I probably should have made a tension swatch to begin with, but hey, what can I say except that I like to live dangerously?!

Little cat cuddles with shy cats are the best!

I hope your weekend was enjoyable. Did you get up to anything interesting? 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Green Gym

I have a friend who refers to her backyard and beyond as 'The Green Gym'.

Ever since I first heard this term, I've been a convert. By seeing our own immediate outdoor space from a different angle, I've been given a different perspective on how I go about my work outside, growing food for my family. I frequently see harassed looking mothers racing around first thing in the morning, clad in skin hugging synthetics and barking at their kids to "get in the car" so they can get to the conventional gym in time for their 40 minute workout. I sometimes wonder to myself, would they be happier and just as fit if they spent an hour or so working in The Green Gym a few times a week instead? 

Never having been able to bring myself to join a 'regular' gym, I am not one to compare. Obviously they work for a vast number of people or there simply would not be so many of them around.

However please, indulge my daydream and hear me out on the benefits of a different kind of gym..

Why take up membership at The Green Gym? 
  1. It's FREE! No membership fees are required!
  2. Zero travel involved, if you happen to be working out in your own backyard.
  3. No one can see those lumps and bumps wobble and shake as you groove to the beat of your own rhythm, unless you want them too, that is. Working near the fence-line is fine if this is your thing, or be like Costa, and head out onto the verge. Skin hugging synthetics are completely optional. 
  4. You have more than the results on your body to show for it when you're done - harvesting food to replace calories lost? Sounds like a plan! (The body results are great too..toned torso, thighs and buttocks? Yes please! Put me down for another visit.  Muscular arms? Oh, yeah..)
  5. Stuff gets DONE! If you've just started food gardening, you may have noticed the 'to do' list for outside seems to constantly increase in size (a bizarre phenomenon, I know). By working out regularly in the green gym, stuff slowly but surely gets checked off that ever expanding list.
  6. Spouses or partners are welcome too, (for no additional fee!)..tandem workouts? I'm there. Plus there may just be a load of firewood chopped and stacked for you when your're done. ;)
  7. The green gym builds community. This past weekend we had an epic 5 hour working bee with our neighbour to remove some of his invading branches from our backyard and veggie garden. Apart from being able to see a funny blue thing high above again, it was a great way to catch up on his news and vice-versa. A cold beer and some nibbles at the end of the day didn't go astray, either. (Cold beers after such lengthy workouts are absolutely fine, in fact, sometimes even a necessity). 
  8. A little workout each day, or every other day will see you with a vegetable garden brimming with produce, you'll be saving yourself a trip to the supermarket in addition to the conventional gym, plus those membership fees. Did I mention those? 
  9. Eating all of that organically grown produce will fuel your next workout and just think of the food miles you'll be saving. Eat your heart out, supermarket chains!
  10. Do you really need a #10 to add to the list? Alright then.. let's see. Working out in the green gym and bringing home the produce will set a fine example for your life partner, growing young ones and/or extended family/friends/community. The kitchen table groaning under the meals made with said harvests will be like no other you've ever experienced. It really will bring the family together. Like glue.
#10a) There are sometimes even fuzzy creatures to boost your enthusiasm as you work. The promise of a prickly, whiskery nuzzle is often enough to send you forth once more, with renewed vigour for another round of weeding, stacking, pulling, planting, digging...whatever! 

So tell me, do you workout in a Green Gym? Do you have a 'training partner'? How often do you manage to get there? What's your favourite 'exercise'? ...and the big one - Would you consider swapping over from a conventional gym? 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Here, now.

Hello! I hope you're having a good Tuesday.

It's frrreeeezing here today and I've been stoking the fire like a mad woman. I figure if it's going to be this cold it may as well snow and give us all some joy, as there is no way I'm going outside to work in this weather!

So, it's a little update on our here and now, while I listen to the blustery wind and steady drizzle that just won't go away...

Those mittens were finally finished! They are very quirky in places and ahhh, have unique thumbs to finish them off. I guess this is what happens when one refused to follow a pattern! Not to worry though, she still loves them and they fit, which is the most important thing, right?

Over the weekend, the new silkies got a lovely dose of attention. I've set up a little playpen for them in the orchard that they can scratch and peck in until such time that I am motivated enough to organise a proper mobile tractor for them..

We just love it how after a few short moment in the dewy grass, their fashionable pom-pom hair-do's are saturated and all mohawky! Particularly Schwarzy, above! Hilarious!

Although I had to cringe when Snowflake, below, took her first 'dust' bath the other day, if you can call flapping around in damp dirt a dust bath. Those beautiful white feathers were sadly no more!

I've just put on a big pot of homemade baked beans (Boston style), in the slow cooker after being inspired by Linda at Greenhaven. I've used borlotti beans which I soaked overnight and simmered this morning (cannellini are what was called for in my book but this is what I had handy), then added worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, chopped bacon, tomato paste and a jar of peeled tomatoes. Oh and some chopped onions, too!  I hope they're tasty, we'll have them on some homemade bread/toast for dinner - it's kids' activities tonight so something easy is needed..

And the recall, from The Jumper?

I've been having a most wonderful time seeing it transform into a Tappan Zee cardi. I'm even enjoying seeing how the dyeing imperfections add to the character of the garment! I can't wait to wear it, it feels so cosy just sitting on my lap as it grows.

Hoping your day is keeping you warm and happy!