Preservation

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It’s that time of year when it is less about growing things and more about finding ways to make the harvest last into the colder months.

I’ve got about 40lt of milk in the freezer, which would be more than enough to keep me in cheese and yogurt until kidding starts again in July. But with two does still milking it looks like we will avoid an off-season and avoid buying milk through winter. I will be pretty pleased if that turns out to be the case.

I’ve put 1kg of zucchini and some red capsicum into sweet pickles, and sent my sister home today with enough zucchini to make her own batch.

The tomatoes from the greenhouse, along with some green capsicums, have gone into a great salsa.

I’ve ended up with half a dozen nice big pumpkins, these will keep us in pumpkin soup for the winter. I’ll probably roast some alongside some home-grown chicken in a few weeks. Pumpkins have a great shelf-life and there are so many different recipes that you can include them in.

My carrots developed a bug and I had to harvest them early. This was a bit sad, as they were growing straight and true and would have been an impressive harvest in a few weeks. They still made a great carrot soup. Some of this will be frozen for later use.

The secret ingredient for this soup is bacon. It adds a saltiness that balances the sweetness of the carrots. A generous amount of garlic gives it a good depth of flavour. Like most soups, it is really easy to make.

Carrot and bacon soup

Ingredients

1.5kg carrots

2 potatoes

2-3 stalks of celery

200g bacon

1 large onion

4 cloves garlic

2 cups water

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Method

Chop up onion and bacon. Fry lightly in olive oil. Add garlic.

Add chopped carrots, potato and celery.

Add water, salt and pepper. Boil lightly until all vegetables are soft.

Use a stick blender or similar to process the soup. You may like to add some more water if the soup is thicker than you like.

 

I’ve still got a few things that are yet to finish growing. My capsicums just keep yielding like champions in the greenhouse, and with a bit of luck I might get some actual fruit from the Amish Paste tomatoes that are in the garden. The apples will be ready to pick soon, and some of these I will for winter puddings. Most I will juice for an attempt at whole-juice cider. My second run of corn, planted after the first run got completely nuked by the hot weather, is still in progress too.

And of course it is the time to think about garden projects for next year. The new netted garden has a buried watering system and plenty of space to try a few different things that need protection from the birds. I want to allocate an area to citrus trees, transplant the ones I already have to a better spot and perhaps add another couple of varieties. I would love to get another greenhouse built too, which would greatly increase my capacity to grow tomatoes and allow me to preserve a meaningful amount as passata.

It is a lot of work, but I enjoy the challenge almost as much as the rewards. If my new kitchen and pantry become reality this year I will have a great place to work in and store produce in for the future.

 

 

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A Word From Our Sponsor…

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I’m going to hijack my own blog right now and try to make some kind of sense of the issue of body positivity.

I’m actually supposed to be doing housework, but I was reading a discussion about the no-makeup selfies that have been getting around social media and my hands started to twitch. So here we are.

To be honest, body image is linked with health and food to a degree, so I’m not going that far off track, really.

It is widely understood that not liking your own body or how you look is a side-effect of a society that objectifies women. Despite this, criticism of your own appearance is still the default, accepted normal state of being. Hating how you look is universally accepted. Tell someone that you like your body and people will look at you funny.

I don’t get it. I might have a lot of hang-ups that stem from the brainwashing of patriarchal society, but I am proud of my body. Not just for the fact that it continues to keep me alive and mostly pain-free despite all the misfortune it has endured.

I do not wish my boobs were bigger or smaller. I do not wish that my bum was smaller. I do not wish that my legs were longer or my stomach flatter. I do not wish my arms were less flabby. I do not wish that my skin was a different colour. I do not wish I was thinner. I work on my fitness purely for my health, and any improvement on my appearance is just a fortunate side effect.

I know that when strangers look at me they are not struck by a particular defect in my appearance. Unless I am wearing a bikini top and my scars are obvious. In which case I don’t care what they think. It is probably just ‘I wonder what happened to her’.

I hardly ever wear make-up, and when I do it is only the very basics. I did the rounds of Mary Kay and Nutrimetics parties with my mother when I was a teenager, and I never came away thinking ‘Wow, I should do my face like this every day, it looks great.’ Usually the colours were wrong. And generally the stuff made my skin feel horrible.

My first job was on a horse stud. Makeup was not really required. I just never got into the habit, even when I started working in customer service and administration. I dress neatly and appropriately. I have never been told that I should wear makeup and it certainly doesn’t affect my work.

Now, done well, smoky eyes can look great, and I admire a girl who can pull off a bright red lipstick without looking like a circus clown. But I will stick to a smudge of eyeliner, tinted lip gloss and sparkly fingernails on special occasions.

Here is the kicker. I openly admit that being fairly fit and slim makes it much easier for me to like my body. I have been overweight, and I hated how I looked. I also hated how I felt. But it was within my power to do something about that, so I did.

I have in the past been guilty of looking at other women and thinking ‘she shouldn’t be wearing those shorts’ or ‘look at all the junk food in her trolley, no wonder she is fat’. People judge others on appearance, because that is often the first tool we have in assessing a person. That doesn’t make it right. Or necessarily accurate.

It is not my place, nor the place of anyone else, to impose my ideals on how a person looks. The world is full of people who like to criticise others, no matter what they do and what they look like. All you can do is what is right for you, what makes you feel good, for reasons you only have to justify to yourself. You will never please the rest of the world.

In a society where overweight is the new normal, fit people are ridiculed and even shamed, called freaks and even bad parents. Somehow it has become more acceptable to be overweight than to be fit. If someone seeks to improve their health, their appearance and their self image by eating well and exercising they should be congratulated.

If someone seeks to accept their body, whether old or young, fat or thin, moon-tanned, scarred, knobbly-kneed, freckled or whatever, they should also be congratulated, not chastised.

You don’t have to apologise for how you look. You have some power over your physical appearance, but some things just can’t be changed. These are the things you need to accept and maybe even grow to like if you want to escape the trap of What Others Think and be free to live your life your own way.

It is not easy. I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers. I am that strange woman who likes how I look. That doesn’t make me ‘up myself’ or whatever the kids are calling it these days. But it does give me the power to not care what you think about my body, and feel good while I am busy not caring.

I will say this – don’t listen to the media. It creates unrealistic ideals to shame us into buying things we don’t need. I wonder if not watching commercial TV for over two years or reading any publications targeted at women has contributed to my capacity for body acceptance. I don’t see those ads that tell me to buy the cream that will make me look ten years younger. I don’t know what the must-have fashion accessories are. I am not constantly told what I should look like.

Anyway, enough procrastinating, I must get to and clean my house. I hate to think what people would think if they saw the place like this…

Stone By Stone

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Increasingly, I am encountering people who are interested in taking the leap into self-sufficient living.

With only myself to look after, I reckon I could go close. But with a family to consider it is not so easy. So I do what I can with the time I have.

Whenever someone asks me how to start with growing vegetables, I always have the same answer. Start with a few different vegies that you like to eat, start with just a small patch of each, see how it goes and revise for the next year. If your peas and carrots go great guns in the first season, try a few staggered plantings the following year. Maybe add tomatoes and broccoli next time.

This approach extends into general food production. Start with a few commercial layers for eggs. Maybe expand into a self-sustaining heritage breed or try ducks as well.

I started with one little milking doe and now I have a herd of 14 purebred goats. I started just drinking the milk and now I make four kinds of cheese, butter, cream, ice-cream, kefir, soap and yogurt.

I have kept a few meat sheep, and tomorrow I am going to learn about small-scale beef production. With less horses here now, there is a lot of grazing going to waste. A few little cows could turn that into the variety of meat that we consume the most of.

I started out playing around with a second-hand breadmaker, now I make enough sourdough for the family and we no longer buy bread.

I started out making strawberry jam and now I have a fridge full of jars of salsa, jam, chilli sauce and sweet pickles.

I started out with a bucket turned into a fermenter and a failed seven litre batch of cider, now we make a great cider, non-alcoholic berry soda and a couple of different beers.

I started out with a tiny vegie patch and a bumper crop of broccoli, now I grow loads of fruit and vegetables throughout the year.

You can grow it as much or as little as you like. I have added stone fruit and citrus to my apple and pear trees. I have a greenhouse to extend the season of my summer crops.

You  might be content with a few herbs in a window box, or a couple of containers with lettuce and strawberries. Or you might add more and more little projects until your life is completely transformed.

The scale you adopt is completely up to you. If you try something and it doesn’t work, either try again or try something different. I went through several varieties of standard, dual-purpose chickens before settling on the Rhode Island Reds. I have tried to grow blueberries a few times, in different situations, with no success. Time to admit defeat on those, I think. By contrast, my strawberries are doing much better in their new location.

Follow your heart and your gut. Enjoy what you do and learn from it. Read and ask questions, because that will get you there quicker than pure trial and error.

There will be times when you will be unsuccessful, but keep going. It doesn’t take long to change your whole approach to food and the environment and the possibilities available.

Everybody Loves Cheesecake

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First off, my sourdough from last week…

sourdough 1

This is the dough the night before.

sourdough 2

And this is the bread after baking.

I’m preparing sourdough again tonight, and it is quite a physical task. The first stage of kneading is hard work, with each batch of dough weighing nearly 2kg. But I think I might be getting the hang of it.

I made ricotta earlier with some excess milk. There is so much milk at the moment. I bring in 4.5 litres most days. I have no room left in the freezer for any more milk. Meredith is in kid again and starting to drop off her production, but my plan is to milk Sienna through. If this works I will have plenty of milk right through until next kidding season. And a doe with a milk production award. She is up to 850 litres for the season, the first tier of production awards begins at 900 litres. My goal for her is 1050 litres, which will qualify her for type and production awards at shows.

Ricotta is one of the easiest cheeses to make, as it is quick and does not require cultures or rennet. You just have to acidify the milk and heat it. You can use lemon juice, vinegar or citric acid powder. Once the milk gets to 85-90 degrees the curds separate from the whey. I get around 750g of ricotta from 4 litres of milk. The more you drain it, the less it weighs. If you drain it too much it will be hard to work with and you’ll have to add milk to get it to behave like shop-bought ricotta, which can be quite thin and watery.

I have two recipes that use the ricotta, one is spinach and ricotta cannelloni, the other is a basic cheesecake. The problem with the cheesecake is that any week that I make it I am pretty much guaranteed to eat way too much of it. I am a big cheesecake fan, especially baked cheesecake, but these days I find most of them way too sweet. This recipe has only a small amount of sugar, but the base is just made of biscuits and butter. It is very easy and so far has also proved very popular, even for those who are not into goat milk. I make it as a slice and cut it into squares.

Ricotta Cheesecake

Ingredients:

Base:

1 packet of sweet biscuits (about 250g)

60g butter, melted

Filling:

1 batch of ricotta made from 4lt whole milk, or approx 600g

2 eggs

1 tbsp plain flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Crush or process the biscuits, add melted butter, mix well. Press into your cheesecake tin or slice tray. Refrigerate.

Mix the ricotta with the egg yolks, mix in flour, sugar and vanilla. Beat the egg whites until stiff and then stir into the ricotta mixture.

Pour the filling over the crust. Bake in a preheated oven at 180* for about 40 minutes. Cool, then refrigerate for at least a few hours before serving.

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

cannelloni

My other job for ricotta is this great vegetarian dish. I could go more home-made with it, but I consider this to be a quick dinner for those nights when the kids are away. I usually make the ricotta and sometimes I use home-grown silverbeet instead of frozen spinach. It is a good-value, quick and healthy dinner.

Ingredients:

Fresh pasta sheets – I use four, cut in half

1 jar of tomato-based pasta sauce or passata

grated cheese

Filling:

1 batch or 500-600g of ricotta

1/3 cup grated parmesan (real parmesan, not that nasty ‘smelly socks’ stuff)

1 egg, lightly beaten

200g frozen spinach or cooked fresh silverbeet

Preheat oven to 150*

Tip half of the pasta sauce or passata into the bottom of a rectangular, oven-proof dish (I use a lasagne dish).

Defrost the spinach or cook the silverbeet

Mix the ricotta, spinach, parmesan, egg and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Spoon onto pasta sheets and roll into tubes. Lay these in the dish, on top of the sauce/passata.

Top with the rest of the sauce/passata and grated cheese. I like to top mine with some chopped small tomatoes.

Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes. After this time, remove the foil and bake until the cheese is melted and golden. Make sure the filling is heated through.

Serve with crusty bread and green salad.

My Fermented Friends

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In previous posts I have talked about kefir and its miraculous health benefits. Recently my happy living kitchen pet has made some new chums.

From a ginger beer starter, I made an exceptionally awesome blueberry soda. The recipe is here. This is brewed using a traditional fermentation technique and gives a naturally fizzy drink without alcohol. It really was very refreshing and tasted great.

The ginger beer I attempted, however, did not go so well. It tasted good, but lacked fizz. I will try it again once I find some good instructions or advice.

The other fermented friend who has moved in is the sourdough starter. I did a great sourdough workshop through Highland Heritage last weekend, and I have been completely converted. The whole family loves home-made sourdough, and it will probably be our main source of bread from now on. Where I used to make a couple of loaves a week of yeast bread with the breadmaker, I plan to do a weekly bake of 6-8 loaves of sourdough. The breadmaker will no doubt still get a run, for our much-loved fruit loaf and ‘not cross buns’.

The main attraction of the sourdough is how simple it is to make. It contains only flour, water and salt. The breadmaker recipes call for things like bread improver, gluten flour, oil, sugar and powdered milk, making it quite a close relative of supermarket bread. Sourdough is a much more natural product, and the starter bubbles quietly in the fridge through the week, ready to do its stuff on baking day.

I’ll be baking on Saturday morning after mixing the dough tomorrow night. Then I should have some photos to add.

There are a lot of options to explore with fermentation and living cultures. I have really only just scratched the surface. These are ancient methods of processing foods, and the health benefits are only know beginning to be understood.

Old Dog, New Schtick

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Don’t panic, it’s the same old Cheese and Chickens you have grown to love… mostly.

Since so much of what I do is in the pursuit of good food, I have decided to focus this blog on exactly that. Food from its conception, hatching or sprouting right up until it is cooked and served.

People comment that what I do is the result of some kind of virtue, and don’t get me wrong I love being told how ‘good’ I am for making food from scratch. But I do it because I enjoy it, and for those who don’t enjoy it or simply don’t have time… well, that’s what food retailers are for.

I do get asked how I find the time and the simple answer is that I knock off work at 2pm and I don’t watch a lot of TV. To be more honest, though, the truth is that I make time because I find it rewarding and fun. There is also the added bonus that nobody can begrudge me these pleasures because they benefit my family’s health as well as my own.

Some of the things I do really don’t take a lot of time. Some really do.

There will be how-tos and recipes, some background production info and project summaries. And the briefest of nods to the cuisinier sans vetements, whose enthusiasm I share when it comes to informing my audience about where good food comes from. Even if I have more clothes and less qualifications.