Sunday, June 28, 2009

Coffee

A healthy coffee bush

Continuing today what has turned out to be a series of posts in vice self-sufficiency. Previously, we had wine and liqueur. Today the subject is coffee.
When we moved here 6 years ago, Action Man happened to meet a man through his work who had a small coffee plantation in our area. Although we didn’t have plans to do so, we decided to plant ten coffee bushes just to see what happened.
Well, it wasn’t an overwhelming success. Of the ten we have planted, despite lots of love and tenderness (ie. mulch, compost and water), three survived. I’m not sure the wind in the area (we are close to the coast) did them a great lot of good. Que sera sera.
Coffee bushes are slow developing. It took four years until we were able to harvest any beans. Over the last two years, we have harvested a small amount of beans, enough for 8 or so pots of coffee. Per year. Sadly, no where near self sufficiency around here.
Coffee bean close-up

This year looks to be the best year yet. Our bushes have loads of beans on them, much more than 8 pots of coffee worth, so our fingers are crossed. We have at least another 5 months to go until I expect the beans to change to a deep red colour which indicates they are ready for picking.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Limoncello

Lemon tree, with an orange and mandarin in the background


When we moved here, the only productive plant on the whole property was one lemon tree. One.
It’s not a big tree, but it’s incredibly productive. This year the tree is laden with enormous lemons that I have to make sure are kept separate from the grapefruit we pick, because it’s very easy to mistake a lemon for a grapefruit, and vice versa.
What to do with all these lemons?
Well, when life gives you lemons, make limoncello.
Limoncello is a lemon-flavoured liqueur that is yummy straight or on ice as a digestive. It’s also nice on ice-cream. I make it with grappa, an alcohol made from the wine pressings, but you could use vodka. Here’s how you do it:

Limoncello

8 lemons, fully ripe with bright yellow skin
1 litre grappa
400g sugar

Peel the lemons, leaving behind any white pith. Place it in a sterilised jar with the grappa, and leave it at least two months, even more if you can.
Then place the sugar in a saucepan with 2 cups water and over a high heat dissolve. Once it reaches boiling point, lower the heat to medium and let the sugar and water bubble away until it becomes thick and syrupy. Let the sugar syrup cool completely and add to the jar. Leave it for another couple of months. Strain into sterilised bottles and drink.

While we’re in the orchard, here are some of the other trees. All these trees were planted in spring 2003, so they are six years old.

These mandarins still have a way to go until they are ready. This tree has been developing slowly. This is the best crop we've had so far.



Blood oranges. Hmmm, pretty small. Maybe we should knock some off next year, so they can grow to a bigger size?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The winemaker's notes





Yesterday we were at the local produce market, when AM steered me to the wine tasting stall.
“Taste this” he said, handing me a tasting glass of chambourcin from a local commercial winery. So I did.
“What does that remind you of?”
“Your wine”, I replied.
“That’s what I thought”.
Yes, after the debacle of last year’s wine, this year AM is one very satisfied winemaker. The 2009 wine is a beauty.
This weekend, AM has been “racking” wine in between bouts of activity on the chicken tractor. This process gives us an opportunity to taste the wine, and it is definitely tasting well, although I think it needs about another 6 months until it is fully ready for quaffing.

You can see AM’s winery operations here. Most of the equipment is second-hand, but still expensive enough to wonder whether making your own wine is a money-saving proposition. Five years in, it probably is not. When the cost of setting up the vineyard and the winery is amortised over a longer period, say ten years, it may be.
Then again, the point of making our own wine was never about saving money as such. It floats our boat, and we have chosen to afford the equipment. It’s how we choose to spend our time, and to our mind worth the expense. That’s what budgeting is all about, isn’t it? Making sure that you spend your money in the way that maximises your satisfaction (or utility) level. (Stop me now before I go all economist on you.)

The next task on the list is winter pruning of the grapevines. That’s my big contribution to the wine making cause (apart from being chief taster and critic). Last year I pruned all 100 vines myself. Each row took about 2 hours, and there are 8 rows so it’s a 16 hour, or 2 day job. I’ll post a grapevine pruning how-to when I start this year’s session

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sew what's been happening?


Since I brought my sewing machine back from the repairman, I haven’t done a tonne of sewing due to work commitments, but I’ve managed to slip upstairs to the machine on occasion. I love to get up there in my loft, put some music on and fiddle around. I may not produce much, but I enjoy the process.

This is a denim skirt I made from Burda World of Fashion 01-2009 Pattern 105. I’m really pleased with this skirt. It fits great, feels great and I like the quirky pleats and deep hem (a bit hard to see here). I did away with the exposed zip on the tummy (I do not need to draw attention to this part of my anatomy after two children) and cut the front on the fold, putting the zipper in the back. I struck this pose after my daughter who took the photo said to me "look like a model Mum".

For the last few weeks I have been working my way through the Build a Pants Muslin course offered through www.patternreview.com again. This has been more challenging, especially as I have only had limited time to work on them and my pants on my body seem to need a lot of alterations (twelve and counting..) , but I am slogging on because perfectly fitting pants are my holy grail. Perfectly fitting pants - how good would that be? If I can crack this, I can crack anything.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A chicken tractor


We've had poultry for nearly six years, ever since we moved into this place (six years this Saturday). We've housed them in an enclosure the previous owners of this house had used for their dogs. The enclosure has fitted the bill well, but we have really wanted a chicken tractor, so the chickens can do what they are meant to do all around the backyard. Research showed some ready made chicken tractors for about $500 each. Action Man reckoned he could do this for a fraction of the price.

Well, it's never too late to get around to things, right? This week Action Man got busy on the internet, and located some plans for our own chicken tractor. It has been a long weekend here and he got busy in his shed. Not quite finished yet, but getting there, a brand new house for the girls and boy.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Yabbies


Years ago, Action Man was contemplating a career change, and did a course in Aquaculture, with the idea of starting a fish farm.
Fortunately, the main thing the course taught him was not to become a fish farmer. Personally, I was relieved. When I heard that fish farming is on par with dairy farming for time commitment, I admit any enthusiasm I had for the idea went straight out the window.
When we moved into this place 6 years ago this week, one of the first things Action Man did was stock the small dam with yabbies.
We bought them at a yabby farm north of Newcastle. We spent that night at my parent’s place, with the yabbies safe in buckets in the kitchen, or so we thought. Next morning was spent rounding up the yabbies from every nook and cranny of the house. Talk about fun.
The yabbies went into the dam, and have basically been left to their own devices. Every so often we put out the nets to see what is in there. A great activity when our children have friends around to play.
Here is the haul from our dam yesterday. The yabbies seem to be thriving. Lots of little yabbies, and a couple of nice sized ones as shown in the photo. They all went back into the dam. Occasionally we do cook a few, but the meat-to-body ratio is so small it scarcely seems worth the effort.