My Easter Weekend 2014, Vol. II

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I spent the bulk of Easter Sunday and Monday on my own, with Matt working 12 hour day shifts and my kids still away. My Easter indulgence consisted of a couple of squares of Lindt 85% cocoa chocolate.

Sunday was taken up almost entirely by sleeping in (aka going back to bed after getting up to do the milking), the sourdough bake and dealing with the apples.

One pleasant side-effect of doing the sourdough bake when I am home alone on a weekend is that I get to make pancakes with the excess starter. Sourdough pancakes with banana, walnut and maple syrup for breakfast. Nom nom nom.

As for the apples… I stripped the Golden Delicious tree last weekend since I needed 1kg for the chutney I made with the beautiful big red tomatoes I was given by the boys’ grandparents. For my first go at chutney I was pretty pleased with the result. It is a great combination of sweet and savoury, and it went really well with the sausage rolls I made from Silkie meat and sweet potato.

Sunday dinner - sourdough bread, Silkie and sweet potato sausage rolls, mixed greens and chutney.

Sunday dinner – sourdough bread, Silkie and sweet potato sausage rolls, mixed greens and chutney.

 

I only have three apple trees, and I heard a lot of reports from other backyard producers that due to the extreme heat this summer the crops had been poor. I netted my trees this season to keep the birds off them, and I must admit that my success was mixed. The Jonathan tree, usually my best producer, gave a good number of apples, but they were tiny. I pruned it savagely over winter, and probably should have thinned the fruit early on.

The Golden Delicious tree has never looked totally happy. I was a bit soft in my approach to pruning this one, as it is still recovering from being pruned almost to death by a goat a few years ago. I got some nice apples of a good size, but as usual not a huge yield.

I am not completely sure what variety my third tree is, but I think it might be a Fuji. It usually gives a small number of sweet but small apples. This year it really proved its worth.

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My third apple tree, full of fruit.

My third apple tree, full of fruit.

Not only were the apples a good size, there were plenty of them. I got a box in total from the Jonathan and Gold Del. From this tree I filled a second box and had to go back for the washing basket to bring the rest in.

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I put about 20 apples into preserving jars for winter puddings (hooray for my $22 peeler/slicer/corer), filled two of my fruit stand baskets with the pick of the crop and set to work juicing the rest for cider.

I was given a juicer by a friend who was moving house several years ago. Sure, it makes great juice, but it is a pain to clean. It is a tough and efficient machine in other ways, and it whizzed through all those apples like a champ. I ended up with 12.5litres of juice and a big bucket of pulp. The poultry greatly appreciated the pulp.

I had to warm the juice slightly to dissolve the sugar, which helped get it to brewing temperature. I added the yeast sachet that I got from The Home Brew Shop in Ballarat. Then I parked the whole thing on the heat pad in the small bathroom. Two days later it is fermenting very happily at 24 degrees.

I have never made cider from actual apples before. Until now I have used canned apple juice concentrate, so this batch will be very interesting. Hopefully as long as I manage to keep it warm enough for long enough after bottling it will have the dryness and champagne-like fizz that I enjoy so much.

So that was Sunday.

Monday… well, I had big plans for Monday, but I didn’t really do anything. At least it felt like I did nothing. I had intended to get all the goats’ feet trimmed, mow the lawn and whippersnip the edges, clear out the greenhouse and clean the chook pens. The windy weather put me right off being outside. I did get the greenhouse cleared out and did a load of washing. I created a blog post. Then I considered the possibility of actually taking a bit of a break…

I’m not quite ready for that yet. Once I stopped moving forward I slipped into a guilt spiral. All those things I ‘should’ have done instead rolled around and around in my mind. I ended up curled up in bed with the doona over my head. Yay me.

Nothing that I didn’t do was especially pressing. But when I make a To Do list you can bet your tail that I will damn well do all the things on it. And I won’t be happy until I do. I especially won’t feel that I deserve to sit down until EVERYTHING is done.

For those who bear witness to all the things I do, all the things I achieve, I rarely reveal the flip side. I put enormous pressure on myself to do all these things. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy what I do. Sometimes, though, I find completing the task to be more rewarding than performing the task. That is, I am not happy while doing, only when done. Which is not a recipe for happiness.

I am working on being more present, on seeing life as more than a list of tasks on a whiteboard that I have to cross off. A night of cooking is one of my favourite things, especially with the addition of music, someone to talk to and something nice to eat and drink. But some days the To Do list is all that keeps me going and I am almost afraid to stop. It keeps my brain on the straight and narrow and while I am busy, while I am doing things, it has no right to judge me.

Apparently we all need down time. What I have to do is realise that I deserve it.

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The Search for Something Better

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A side-effect of making your own food and drink is that supermarket stuff becomes less and less appealing. When you make your own you can tweak the recipe to your precise tastes. Another big part of this is that real food tends to have a lot more taste than the processed varieties that many people are accustomed to.

These days lots of people will tell you that they started eating free-range eggs for ethical reasons and find that they now prefer them as a superior product with their perky whites and bright yolks. Others are swapping out their Wonder White bread for a nice Helgas or experimenting with the more exotic varieties available from an actual bakery. Sourdough is winning friends and influencing people.

There are many things that I have been making for a while that I no longer consider that there is a suitable bought substitute for. I have never really liked the taste of regular cow milk, but now that I drink raw goat milk I find I can barely even stand the smell of supermarket milk. Don’t get me to sniff the carton in the work fridge to tell you if it has gone off, because to me it smelled bad the day it was purchased.

I stopped buying the regular sweetened processed yogurts years ago. For a while I stuck to locally made brands and then hid in the corner with the pot-set Jalna, made from real milk and sweetened with fruit juice. About a year and a half ago I bought some yogurt culture and started making my own. Lightly sweetened and gently flavoured, I perfected the mix. Now not even my old favourite, Jalna’s full-fat vanilla, can get past my nose.

When it comes to cider, though, my palate has really developed. I cut my drinking teeth on Strongbow Sweet, and when cider made its grand comeback a few years ago I tried a few of the sweeter varieties. Then I started brewing my own. My summer cider is a dry, crisp, beautifully finished example of the genre. It leaves a slight draughty aftertaste but is far from bitter. In winter it is not easy to get it as well-finished due to the cooler weather. In winter I can quite happily drink Bulmers. But by the end of summer, as the batch ages and my taste buds acclimatise, only my Sticky Fingers home-brew will do.

I’ve done the mixed half-dozen, I’ll try whatever is on tap when I go out, and sometimes I find something good. When I do, my comment is usually ‘this tastes like mine’. I have people sing the praises of Rekorderlig (too sweet), Magners (smells like wee), and the other high-end imported ciders. But in the absence of a bottle of my best, I find there are a lot of good local dry ciders that are well worth a try. And don’t say ‘pear’ or ‘berry flavoured’. Those are for people who don’t really like cider but are too proud to drink Cruisers now that they are past a certain age.

Eating out can be hit and miss too when you realise that you may have become a food snob. As someone who cooks, I can tell you that there are few greater pleasures than going out to eat and actually being impressed by the food. I can also tell you that there are plenty of places that serve food seemingly without any real idea of what it actually tastes like. Over-dressed salads are an epidemic. Extravagant pizzas with several flavour themes fighting for supremacy in the one bite are also popular. Less sophisticated eateries seem to err on the side of making sure your taste buds are busy, rather than letting the basic ingredients make their own impression.

One of the best meals I ever had was at Dyers Steak Stable in Ballarat recently. It was a special-occasion dinner, and we made the most of it, with three courses plus a very good bottle of bubbly.

I openly admit that I am not the steak-eater of the partnership. This limited my menu choices somewhat. We chose an entree to share featuring smoked salmon, and then I asked what the fish of the day was. Atlantic salmon. I ordered the duckling.

When the main courses arrived I was a little surprised and very pleased to see very simple food. Alongside the meat was one roasted potato, half a grilled tomato and half a dozen long green beans. That was it. The potato and tomato were lightly seasoned with herbs. The meat itself was clearly the main event.

As a duck breeder I was well able to appreciate the well-conditioned cuts of what was most likely a young male Muscovy. I am a big fan of duck meat, and the bird on my plate was clearly a very good size for his age. The meat itself was pale, tasty and tender, the skin perfectly crisp and the delicately sweet sauce complemented it perfectly. I hope that one day I can cook a duck that echoes this high standard.

The steak, I am reliably informed, was also cooked to perfection, and despite its size was comfortably consumed.

In too many restaurants these days the meals are huge and I almost never order dessert. But on this occasion I put my hand up for the champagne poached pear. This was another triumph, with the strong but balanced blend of spices in the sauce really catching my attention. It might be one of the pricier places to eat in Ballarat, but I will definitely eat at Dyers again.

Just quickly, if you are after a less extravagant experience I can also recommend The Unicorn Hotel on Sturt St. I love their all-day breakfast; the eggs are always perfectly poached and the sourdough bread is an ideal base for their current twist on Benedict or Florentine. The home-made dips, sauces and chutneys are reliably awesome. The music and the decor create a great atmosphere that completes the experience.