Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fear of pastry


It's been a while since I've posted a recipe, so here is one for a tomato quiche-thingy of my own devising I rustled up in no time the other day when a friend came for lunch.
Tomato Quiche
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry, thawed
3 eggs
1/2 cup cream
some chopped parsley
salt, pepper
parmesan cheese
enough halved cherry tomatoes to cover the quiche
1. Rolled the thawed pastry sheets one on top of the other so they stick together, then put into quiche tin.
2. Blind bake at 200 degrees for 10 minutes with beans, then remove the beans and bake for about 10-15mins until the pastry is lightly golden.
3. Meanwhile beat the eggs and cream together, add the parsley, salt and pepper.
4.Pour into the pastry shell. Place the halved cherry tomatoes into the mixture, then cover the lot with grated parmesan.
5. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is browned.
It was delicious, too. But, it could have been better.
Which brings me to the title, alluding to my fear of pastry. Notice I used ready made pastry here..that's because every attempt I've ever made at pastry has been deflating, to say the least. I don't know what I do wrong - I try to keep a light hand, and everything cold and work quickly, but all my pastries are blah.
So my mini goal for the next few weeks is to get over the Fear of Pastry by making pastry regularly. I plan to get to know my enemy, and foil it by sheer attrition. We have a couple of weeks' school hols coming up, which means potentially more kitchen time (although not always). Whatever. I'm going to learn to make pastry. If you have any tips I'd be most interested to receive them.
I'll keep you posted.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Giveaway winner and a change of routine


First things first. For the last 10 days I have been running a giveaway on the blog. Ten commenters, numbered 1 to 10. Random number generated at random.org was 5 so the winner is ....Linda from Remote Treechanger. Congratulations Linda, I'll be in touch.

Last few days has been out of routine. On Friday, I left the family and drove myself to Canberra to see the Masterpieces from Paris exhibition at the National Gallery. It's been a very popular exhibition, with truly amazing paintings including Van Gogh's Starry Night which is so beautiful it brought me to tears. In the end, I bought a print from an artist I'd never heard of, Vilhelm Hammershoi. The work (above) is called Rest, and I stood in front of this painting for ages fascinated by it. A very different take on portraiture. It was an amazing exhibition, get to it if you can. Much cheaper than a trip to Paris!

After staying with some dear friends in Canberra on Friday night, I drove then to Sydney for a school reunion. I'd never done a reunion before. I'm glad I went. It was an emotional night, catching up with people from so long ago, cringing and laughing at the things you said and did as a teenager. I found everyone's stories of triumph and tragedy (and nearly everyone had a bit of both) fascinating. I came away feeling a bit drained, with a very sore jaw from talking and laughing so much. Most of all I came away with renewed thankfulness for the many, many blessings in my life.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ever get the feeling you're being watched?

Preparing to poo on the back verandah

Chicken with no name

Milton, at left, brown instead of white from dust bath, and Scruffy Chook, eyeing off the scrap bucket
I do. Regularly.

Every afternoon about two hours before sunset (whenever that happens to be), we let out chooks and ducks out for a free range. The theory is they get out and about for a dust bath and a fossick for insects, worms etc. etc. before taking themselves back to the coop as night falls.

In practice, what happens is the chooks go for a quick dust bath, then perch on my kitchen window ledge. They flap their wings to get rid of their excess dust, and inevitably, they poo on the ledge and on the verandah outside the kitchen door. All the while, they watch my every move as I cook dinner with their beady eyes, and peck at the window if they spy something they recognise as edible. Meanwhile, the rooster takes up his position at the back door and crows his head off, so I have to shut the back door or risk going deaf.

Much as I love the chooks, I have to admit this constant supervision gives me shivers up my spine at times! The good news is that with the coming end of daylight saving, the chickens' outing time will move forward and by the time I'm cooking dinner they'll all be tucked up on their roosts.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Yogurt success!

Thank you to all the readers who commented on my yogurt failure post. Using your combined experience, I tweaked my method and achieved yogurt success! Evidence above, home made yogurt with stewed (home grown) rhubarb for breakfast. And it's delicious!
So for any readers who haven't gone down the home made yogurt path, here's what I did:

1. Heated 1 litre of UHT milk to 80 degrees C. Let it cool to 45 degrees C.
2. Put about 1/2 cup yogurt with live culture into a 2 litre jug, along with about 2 tablespoons of powdered milk (because I like creamy yogurt).
3. Poured the cooled milk over the yogurt and gave it a good whisk.
4. Poured the mixture into a wide-mouth vacuum flask. Put on the lid and left it for 16 hours (but this is only because I did this overnight - it could well have taken a lot less time - I don't know).
5. Voila! Yogurt!

It's nice to have a success like this, and makes me appreciate the blogging community all the more. It's great to be able to tap into the experience that's out there..

Meanwhile, tomatoes continue to roll in unabated. Today I am experimenting with oven dried tomatoes. I have a trayful of halved tomatoes that are drying at 100 degrees C for 12 hours with nothing added, and in the other oven I have another trayful that are drying at 150C for 3 hours, along with garlic, oil and salt. It will be interesting to see what differences there are.

Don't forget the giveaway of two AMAZING issues of Backyard Farmer. Make a comment before Sunday when the winner will be drawn...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tomatoes a-go-go


Whew! Who would have thought it? After the amazing cucumber vine - the vine that keeps on giving, at least 100 cucumbers I reckon - I am on the receiving end of kilos and kilos of tomatoes. The photo above is but a fraction of the plenty. Aren't they gorgeous?
The only downside (if you can call it a downside) is the imperative to do something with all those tomatoes, like now! I've never been in the position where I've had to preserve so many tomatoes so this is somewhat of a steep learning curve for me.
As I write 6 kilos of tomatoes are bubbling away, with onion, vinegar, salt and sugar to make a homemade tomato sauce. Still three hours to go there!
I have plans to freeze some tomatoes, oven dry some and if possible make an Italian-style passata. Everything is experimental, I'm just trying to suss out what works best for me if I am ever in the fortunate position to deal with so many tomatoes again. (I've been gardening long enough to know this season may well be a flash in the pan. Gardening is an amazing humbler).
Meanwhile, I've taken on board all the helpful suggestions regarding yogurt making and just now am waiting for the milk temperature to fall between 40 and 45 degrees so I can add the yogurt culture. Thank you to everyone who took to trouble to comment on that post.

Meanwhile, again, don't forget my super amazing giveaway - TWO Backyard Farmers books. Just leave a comment about what you think makes a good blog (not necessarily what makes this blog good - although if you feel so inclined I ain't going to argue).

Hope everyone's weekends are going well

Friday, March 19, 2010

Isn't that the point?

Straying off life on the land for today, but something has got up my nose and I need to vent!
Yesterday some Very Important Committee (I forget the name) released a Very Important Report, which predicted that costs of electricity would rise substantially over the next three years should the Federal Government ever get its Carbon Tax Scheme passed as law. For example, the VIR predicted that electricity from my provider (Energy Australia) would rise be 60%. Quite a lot, by any measure.
The kerfuffle that ensued was predictable. It's outrageous, moaned the opposition. Cheap electricity is our birthright, surely. We'll compensate people, they promised.
Excuse me, but aren't we missing something here? Why bring in a Carbon Tax in the first place? That's right - to create a price signal that will force people who would not otherwise do it to change their consumption habits. And we need consumption habits to change to arrest climate change. If you compensate people, surely you are subverting what you are setting out to do. The whole thing becomes a pointless exercise.
There, I feel better now!

Don't forget the giveaway - two highly informative volumes of Backyard Farmer, featuring articles on establishing a vineyard and making your own wine written by me! Plus more ultra interesting articles. Just tell me what you think makes a good blog - What makes you return to a blog for more? You have until next Sunday to post a comment.....

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Giveaway!


Excitement here yesterday. The postman delivered the latest volume of Backyard Farmer, which features an article on winemaking written by me! I'd truly forgotten about the article, so it's nice when something like that lands in your letterbox out of the blue.
That got me thinking that this blog is well overdue for a giveaway. I've also passed some milestones (Two years of intermittent blogging, 100 posts) unremarked lately too.
So - the prize is a copy each of Volume 4 and 5 of Backyard Farmer (RRP $19.95 each!). Heaps of fabulous reading!
What you have to do is leave a comment answering the question:

What do you think makes a good blog?

I've been contemplating this myself lately and would love to hear what you think.
The winner will be drawn randomly on Sunday March 28.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Babysitting grapes


Action Man was away overnight for work, so I was given the duty of babysitting his grapes. A big responsibility. This entails punching down the skins back into the must periodically, and testing the pH and sugar content using little tools that bring out your inner scientist. Its actually a lot of fun.
If the sugar content (brix) reached 10 I was supposed to innoculate the must, but that hasn't happened, so AM will deal with that when it happens.
A while ago I promised a whole wine making tutorial. Hmmm, yes, well, I'm working on it!
This year's grape harvest was a disappointment. We had a huge amount of rain in early February - too much water exactly when we didn't want it. Once the rain stopped and the sun came out, the grapes split and were useless for winemaking. No matter. We took off the nets and the birds had a party!
This year's wine will come mainly from bought grapes. At this time of year, truckloads of wine grapes make the trip up from the Riverina to sell to the local home winemakers (mainly Italians, naturally), and we bought some too. That's what you see above fermenting away.
Thank you to Belinda, Marita and Guy for your comments re my dud yogurt. I've definitely taken your collective advice on board and will make Yogurt Part 2 soon. Let you know how I go!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dud yogurt


I've been wanting to make yogurt for ages, and after extensive recipe research on the internet and in various recipe boooks, finally got around to it yesterday. It was a complete dud. I'm not sure where I went wrong. Here is what I did:
  • Heated 1 litre of UHT full cream milk to 80 degrees C.
  • Transferred milk to a bowl to cool to 45 degrees C.
  • Put half cup of yogurt with live culture into a small jug.
  • Whisked in a couple of tablespoons of milk until smooth.
  • Added this to warm milk.
  • Put a lid on the bowl, wrapped it up in a doubled up blanket, left on a sunny bench in kitchen for 10 hours.
  • Transferred undisturbed to fridge overnight.
Milk consistency of pouring cream. Not solid at all. Sigh.
What to do now? Fresh milk? More yogurt? Different yogurt? Add milk powder? More blankets? Kitchen not warm enough (it's the warmest spot in the house)? Anyone have any ideas? I'd really like to crack this one.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Restored!


Someone or something was listening. After running out of puff with the horribly humid weather, all of a sudden it has changed,and there is an autumn nip in the air. Hey, presto! I have my energy back! Hooray! I love autumn!
Today I've made some granola and some laundry liquid, using this recipe from Down to Earth. I've been using this recipe for nearly a year now, and it's been working really well. Each batch of 10 litres or so lasts me about 3 months (I do about 6-8 loads a week) and costs around $2.00. A great bargain!
Best of all, it's been a lovely day for getting out in the garden, so I've planted the seedlings I should have planted the other day: leeks, various lettuces, cavolo nero, celery and Florence fennel.
I planted these out in sections of the garden that have been vacant for a few months. We shovelled on a chook poo/lawn clipping mix onto the soil surface and just let it "cook" . Today, the soil was moist and friable and teeming with worms. Into each planting hole I also added about a handful of worm castings and compost. Then it was on with the mulch hay, and a drink of seaweed concentrate. Then I fed the existing vegies - tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, lettuce, rhubarb, capsicum, eggplant - with worm casting tea.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Over summer

Well it's been a few days since I last posted, and I've just re-read this post from just over a week ago and laughed. Who was this woman? Where did she go? Because one week later this is what I achieved on Sunday:
1) sorted washing and did a bit of ironing while watching ABC's The Insiders, my one must-see- if-at-all possible programme.
2) sloped off into town to the monthly market to buy seedlings and lovely fresh Batlow apples.
3) exhausted from morning's activities, couch sitting and dozing - not even doing much reading - for most of afternoon.
4) Ignored seedlings that should really go in like, today...
4) Considered some low energy activities eg. sewing or knitting, but too tired to concentrate. Dozed some more.
5) roused myself from couch, still exhausted, and went out into garden with Action Man. Pointed out rogue weeds (eg. nine foot tall privet that was growing in a hibiscus) while Action Man did the work. Nonetheless, managed to fall heavily on tailbone in process. Ouch. Need to lie down for the rest of the day.

Why this sudden attack of the blahs? I have no idea - I'm not sick, I had a busy week but no ridiculously busy, I'm eating well.
I'm blaming the weather. It's been a long, hot summer here and the humidity has been horrendous. It's just leaching all the get-up-and-go out of me.
Roll on, autumn. You can't get here to soon.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ouch


Nearly twelve years ago, I gave birth to my beautiful son. At birth he weighed 4880g or 10lbs12oz. So I have deep sympathy for the chicken who gave birth to that egg on the right. The "normal" weighs 64grams (I think 2oz, I'm completely metric). The gargantuan egg on the left weigh 120grams (4oz). I don't know which chicken who was responsible for this feat. They all look pretty normal today (I, on the other hand, took ages to recover, physically and mentally!)
Thank you Linda, at Remote Treechanger, for a Sunshine Award. Hey Linda, I love your new look too!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cornucopia


I spend a fair bit of time obsessing over the things that go wrong in the garden: not enough rain, too much rain, mildews and fungi, pests in various guises. The truth is, though, that on balance we reap a whole lot more than lose. The above cornucopia was picked up after a quick trawl through the garden yesterday. And there is more to pick up there. And our vegie garden is only operating at about 50% capacity this year, because I've been suffering from a bout of tennis elbow which makes it difficult to dig.

Not only that but I've got three rockmelon vines that I didn't even plant going full pelt, and the tomato bush that lives in my front steps (yes, in the steps) has yielded a couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes every day for the last few weeks.

To me, gardening is a paradox. It needs regular attention to get the best results, but sometimes this is not enough. Meanwhile, mother nature does her own thing in another part of the garden and does quite well without you, thank you very much. It does my head in..but in a good way!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Life choices

This is the photo I tried to post yesterday!

In my last post I wrote about having read Po Bronson's "What Should I Do With My Life?" The book profiles about 70 people who've dealt with this question in terms of what sort of work has meaning for them. Fascinating reading, so it's not so surprising that this question has been on my mind over the last few days.

As my profile says, I am a mother of two and a sometime teacher. The second role came about because of the first role. In another life I was a business chick with a briefcase, a PA and an expense account, in a skyscraper. Becoming a mother changed my values and perspective entirely. I decided that motherhood would be my focus, and that everything else, work included, would need to accommodate it. I gave up my job, at the same time as Action Man was offered a job outside the city. In time, I retrained as a teacher, with the goal of becoming a "sometime" teacher. By "sometime" I mean casual, relief or supply teaching. That means I work some days, and some days I don't. The bulk of my work comes in Term 2,3 and 4 of every year. It's now Term 1, and I don't expect, or get, much work. For the rest of the year I bounce between day-to-day stuff and short term blocks where I work 5 days a week for a period of weeks at a time. (You will note a drop off in blogging at these times!)

I won't pretend that my choices have always been plain sailing. At first I lived with a lot of regret with what I had "lost"and played a lot of "what if" scenarios in my head. Also, there isn't a lot of understanding out there for people who make the choices I did, so at times I questioned what I was doing. It took a while, but over time I came to understand that I made the right choice for me. I can only live according to my values, not the values of anyone else. Once I took that on board, everything clicked into place.

I do whinge about the unpredicability of casual teaching at times, but on balance it's a choice I have made, and one that I am comfortable with . It allows me the time and space to be a mother of two to the standard that I am happy with, and it also allows me time to do the stuff about which I blog here. I find my family works best - we are all happier and more relaxed - when I am flexible, and I feel I am living up to my own values in the best way I can when I have the option to say "no" to work.

I am often under pressure from school principals to take on more work. Many people ask me "When are you going to apply to go permanent?" The assumption is that I am not a "real" teacher, that casual work is not "real" work, and that I am just mucking around, wasting time.

I would argue that I am making a contribution to a school community which would really struggle if not for people like me who are willing to tolerate the uncertainties of their work life. And as for "real" teaching, speaking for myself I go into every class with the goal of connecting with the kids and hopefully teaching something that day. I am satisfied that I am not wasting time or mucking around.

Will it be ever thus? I don't know. Action Man and I have discussed the possibility of swapping roles when AM is over life in Corporate Australia. If AM wants to do this at some point, I think I'd be happy to step up to full time work, knowing that the kids would always have one parent around. This is something I value as very important.

Please don't take any of this as implied criticism of anyone who has made different choices. I believe we have to listen to our own hearts and sort out our life according to our own values. If your values result in different choices, and you are truly happy with those choices, well done to you. I would never dream of criticising anyone's life choices simply because I am not in their shoes.