Easter 2016… and an Update on my Resolutions.

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Easter is always a big weekend on the farm and in the kitchen, and this year was no exception.

It began on Thursday evening, when I retrieved the frame of the Christmas turkey from the freezer and set it to boil down into stock. I also got the first cheese of the weekend, an 8lt Gouda, made and in the press.

Friday was a whirlwind of pumpkin soup, halloumi, zucchini muffins, iced tea, chocolate ice cream and a chicken pie for dinner. The halloumi was kind of a flop, I’m pretty sure it didn’t turn out how it was supposed to,  but it tasted pretty good. The soup, made with a home-grown pumpkin that had split and needed to be used up and stock made from the frame from the Christmas turkey, was really tasty. The rest of the family kindly did the afternoon milking and feeding, allowing me to have the pie made by about 8.30pm. It was a long day.

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This was after three runs of the dishwasher…

Saturday had been earmarked as the day to butcher the excess ducklings. After two weeks in small pens for fattening, the eight birds were left for 12 hours with only fresh water. We went out to buy a machete with which to do the beheading, and after visiting about four different stores we finally got one from Ray’s Outdoors.

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Muscovy drakes in their fattening pen.

The longer blade made for a more accurate cut, and each bird was neatly dispatched with one hit. We did the first two, plucked them, then the second two, starting with the big Muscovy drakes. Then the Pekin drake. Then two excess Muscovy hens.

This left two Pekin hens. By this stage I had hit my limit, and I opted to let the last two Pekin hens run free. I’m sure I’ll be cursing that decision come July when I’m drowning in duck eggs, but six birds in one day was more than enough killing for me.

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Ducks hung on the washing line for plucking.

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I can only handle so much blood on my boots in one day.

Due to the age of the birds, most had lots of pin feathers, making it impossible for me to pluck them cleanly. We ended up with two nice clean roasting birds and I decided to skin and fillet the other four. I took as much skin as I could and rendered the fat from it.

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I wish that I had duck feet…

I had been told that Muscovy hens are not worth killing because they are too small. The birds I was able to keep whole for roasting were a Muscovy drake and a Muscovy hen. They dressed out at 1550g and 1300g, with the female being smaller but still a decent size. From the other four birds I got over 2kg total in breast and thigh fillets. It took ages, I was on my feet for hours, but now I have a freezer loaded with duck meat.

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All cleaned and ready for the freezer.

Sunday was another big day, with a trip to Tatura to visit family. I drove one half of the six-hour round trip while my sister drove the other. It was a very nice afternoon with good food and wine and lots of dog stories.

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Off the visit the cousins, equipped with the three most important food groups – cider, goat cheese and sweet chilli sauce.

Sunday night I made the sourdough, which meant no cheesemaking as the sourdough can contaminate the cheese and ruin it. The milk was piling up. I baked the sourdough on Monday morning then lounged around for a bit. I took a gamble and made chevre on Monday night, which worked out pretty well and used up four litres.

So that was Easter. A bit less dramatic than previous years, but it got the fridge and freezer filled with bread and meat and cheese.

As for my goals for the new year… it is now April and I have exercised about five times. I have managed to get back into yoga over the past couple of weeks after avoiding it for six months, so that is something. I know I need to exercise more, and I will. When I find something that is not uncomfortable and doesn’t injure me.

Reducing food packaging has been a challenge too, but somehow I have managed to stay fairly dedicated to it. I have had to give up some things, like corn chips, that are simply unavailable in recyclable or biodegradable packaging. I have discovered Mountain Bread, which I can cut and bake into crunchy thin crackers, perfect for serving with cheese. This comes in a recyclable packet. I have found a brand of oats that is not only Australian grown, but comes in cardboard with no plastic inner.

Recyclable plastic food containers have become one of my favourite things. They can be washed in the dishwasher, frozen, re-used and when they start to crack and break down they go in the recycling. I use them for everything. I’ve been taking my own bags to to supermarket and fruit shop. I buy meat wrapped in a thin bag and paper, rather than on a plastic tray. Everything we buy is compared and considered and where a recyclable or degradable packet is available we take that option. Otherwise we replace that product with something else that will do the job, or go without. We haven’t been able to eliminate packaging waste, but we have certainly reduced it.

What I found particularly interesting is that when I bought my new laptop it came in 100% recyclable packaging. I thought, if they can package a laptop in recyclable packaging, why can’t they package corn chips in something similar? Or frozen berries? It is as though food companies just don’t care.

One friend pointed out that it is hardly fair that consumers have to make sacrifices, buy more expensive options and put in a conscious effort to reduce packaging waste while big food companies and supermarkets go gaily about their production and sale of packets that can only end up in landfill. The amount of fresh food that now comes pre-packaged in plastic is criminal. Things like bananas – organic bananas no less – presented for sale wrapped and on a tray. Grapes pre-portioned into throwaway bags. All sorts of fruits and vegetables on trays and in packets.

Where previously I was determined to buy Australian made or grown products, I found myself having to weigh up between food miles and throwaway packaging. I found bulk rice in a cloth bag, but it had come all the way from Sri Lanka. I opted for Australian-grown rice in a large plastic bag instead, choosing one large packet over several smaller ones as the lesser of the evils. And considering the popularity of bacon, I discovered that there is no way of purchasing Australian grown free-range bacon from Woolworths that didn’t boil down to a big fat throwaway packet wrapped around a relatively small amount of meat.

Growing food at home, buying in bulk and getting as much else as you can from small local outlets seem to be the best ways to keep packaging waste down. We bake a lot, store food in re-usable containers at home and rely heavily on home-made food. It is healthier all-round. And I will continue to work to reduce our reliance on plastic and the amount of rubbish we produce.

 

Value Adding

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I had horses for years. I bred them and raised them and trained them. Sometimes I even sold them. Sometimes I even got something like what they were worth.

They say with horses that the only way to make a small fortune is to start with a large fortune. I’m going to have to agree with that. While I saved a lot of money by having my own property, trimming their hooves by myself and occasionally breaking one in, the fact was that I spent a substantial amount of money on them and didn’t get very much back.

When people ask me how much my goats cost to keep, they are often shocked at my response. It’s not just feed, things like disease testing and other vet bills really add up. While worming and vaccination are a lot cheaper with a smaller animal, and I can whip through and trim everyone’s feet in a couple of hours, I go through three bags of grain a week in summer and a lot more when the does are milking heavily and their kids are small.

Showing is another area where I think the goats are much better value. I can enter half a dozen goats in a dozen classes at most shows for what it would cost to enter one horse in one dressage test. And I can fit half a dozen goats in the horse float.

The main thing that tips the scales in the direction of the goats, is that you get something back from them. Not just milk, but offspring who are worth something.

Even when I had my own stallion and could basically produce purebred ponies out of thin air, the amount I sold them for was never as much as it cost to raise them. And selling them could be a drama in itself.

Twin doe kids are worth more at a year old and cost a lot less to raise than a foal. And castrating the boys costs a matter of cents, rather than hundreds of dollars.

I worked out recently that each week my goats provide about $80 worth of dairy products for the house. At the moment I only have two in milk, and my feed bill is about $40 a week.

A kilogram of hard cheese, the same again of soft cheese, perhaps a mozzarella or ricotta. A litre of yogurt. And then there is the daily kefir for two people and the milk that is used on cereal, in drinks and in cooking.

Even if we were to replace all that with regular home-brand cow milk supermarket substitutes, it would still cost more than the weekly feed bill.

Sure, if I didn’t have goats I wouldn’t buy some of those things. I would still buy ‘good’ full-fat yogurt with as little added sugar as possible. I would still buy mozzarella for pizza or lasagne.

But we wouldn’t have the benefits of raw goat milk kefir. I wouldn’t have chevre to spread on my toast instead of sugar-filled jam. Our life and our health would not be as good.

And that is the real value-add of ‘pet’ dairy goats. The stuff you can’t buy. The goat cuddles and adorable newborn kids. The occasional broad sash on a home-bred goat at a show. Knowing that your milk has traveled about 30 metres from the goat to the house and only been in the one container from source to consumption. Making yogurt with a taste and texture exactly how you like it, and with no added sugar.

You can’t replicate this. Not without a milker or two of your own. People who drink well-traveled, processed, reconstituted white stuff from the supermarket and dyed yellow slices of plastic ‘cheddar’ will never understand what they are missing out on.

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Selling the Drama

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Congratulations to anyone who spotted the 90s alternative music reference in the title. If you did, you should go and listen the Throwing Copper, it is still a good album.

Anyway, lately my life has been full of drama. Depending upon your source, drama is either a situation representing some form of conflict or an overly emotional response to an event that should have an easy solution. I’ll let you make up your own mind.

A week ago I was feeling pretty low, so I decided to deactivate my Facebook page. I was sick of every status or comment I put up sounding like a complaint. I felt like I was fishing for sympathy, and nobody owes me sympathy. Everyone is dealing with their own crap. So I got out of there and took my complaining with me.

But let me tell you a little bit about the past couple of weeks. They have not been easy. Actually, the last month or so has been kind of a trial.

First there were the events surrounding the decision to sell the property and find somewhere else. In amongst all this was Matt’s surgery and subsequent long and painful recovery. At the same time I had three does kid, leading to many sleepless nights in the freezing barn and some rather tense moments pulling stuck kids. Then there was the huge task of getting the place cleaned up for sale, the hole in the roof fixed, the driveway made drivable and a whole lot of stuff going to the tip.

In the end, the driveway took 25 tonnes of gravel, which was dumped in 5 tonne lots and had to be moved by shovel and wheelbarrow. It was an enormous task, which mostly fell to Matt. His efforts were superhuman.

So finally the house was on the market. This led to the inevitable inspection appointments, the need to keep the place tidy and keep the dogs out of the way, the rounds of looking at properties for sale. Yes, selling up is stressful.

Then the house we really wanted sold, as did our second choice. If this place sells after today’s open house we will have nowhere to go. We are relying on the perfect property to pop up in the next month or so, with little more than the hope that the universe will provide it for us.

So that was all the house crap, that’s no big deal, people sell and buy every day. On top of that I have had a house full of sick people, starting with Rohan. He ended up having a week off school carrying a bucket around, although he didn’t actually vomit at any point. He has been dubbed ‘patient zero’, after managing to infect his brother, his auntie and his unofficial step-father. Callum was so sick that he didn’t feel like kicking the footy, but he managed to get to the Geelong-Hawthorn match as well as a birthday party last weekend with the help of dissolvable Children’s Panadol. Sarah and Matt have been sick for the best part of a week, and all I can do is hope that my ‘flu shot will keep me safe.

So things were already on the difficult side when, on Rohan’s birthday just before we were heading out for dinner, I found a gravely injured pony in my front paddock. This led to an emergency after-hours vet visit, two ponies being put down, and not surprisingly us being late to dinner.

The next morning I found my favourite Muscovy duck very badly injured but not having had the sense to die of her injuries. This was probably the most unsettling of a series of unpleasant events. Her injuries were horrific, beyond what I am willing to put into words, and on finding her still alive my only thought was to find a way to end her suffering. Matt to the rescue once again, dragged out of bed after a 12-hour night shift to dispatch my poor duck. The smell and sight stayed with for far too long.

My resilience ebbed badly after this, and I took myself off all social media. I was intensely disappointed at my inability to soldier on, and I had many cruel and unnecessary things to say to myself about the matter. Rock bottom hovered way too close for comfort, and things began to stack up. Two dead ponies, a dead billy goat and a dead duck made the planned butchering of our two sheep seem much more sinister. Sick goat kids and sick human kids felt like an epidemic. The stress of having the house for sale and looking for a new one kept me from sleeping.

Yet somehow this week things turned around. Nothing has really changed other than my way of looking at things and the understanding that I don’t have to let it all get to me. So on Friday when in the midst of trying to get the house and yard ready for Saturday’s open for inspection as well as getting one child off to the football and the other to his father’s house, I found myself dealing with a labouring goat and the realisation that my mobile phone had been cut off, somehow I coped. I called the phone provider and made a quick payment, after complaining that I got no warning of my service being blocked and explaining that I had in fact paid my partner’s bill instead of my own. I left Rohan watching the labouring goat, who kindly had healthy and very robust twins without any assistance. I got everyone to where they needed to go (once again with some help from Matt), and spent the evening making cheese and getting the house clean.

Do I create this drama? I don’t really see how I can. It certainly makes me appreciate the quiet times when I can sit down with nachos and a cider and watch old episodes of Greys Anatomy, or just hang out in the farmyard with my goats for half an hour. And I need to remember to set aside this time for myself, to recharge and relax, so that when it feels like one blow after another I can stand up and absorb it, knowing that eventually, based on sheer weight of numbers, something will go my way.

Making Words From Nothing

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I’ve really dropped the ball in here lately, my writing hands have just gone on strike and I haven’t felt compelled to put anything down in print for a couple of weeks. But it’s that thing about how the more you use something the easier it is, so I’m going to start typing and see what comes out.

It is pouring with rain here and has been for hours. It has rained so much in the last week or so that I have turned on the hoses to drain water from the tanks in the goat areas down and away from their places of shelter. And I think the tanks are still filling faster than I can discharge the water.

The does are very comfortable in the big shed with all the hay they can eat and an indoor water source. The kidding pens have been cleaned out, and just need some straw put down in order to be ready. The two spotty does, Meredith and Juno, are due any time now, but not looking terribly imminent. Kidding is stressful and exciting.

The bucks are not having such an easy time, as their makeshift shelter is smaller and has a dirt floor. I have put down a thick layer of straw and given them a big tub of hay, so at least they an eat and lie down without getting wet.

The chooks have stayed in the big chook house today, it is even too wet outside for them. The ducks and geese, however, are having a grand time.

My cheese fridge lay down and died a few weeks ago, and a part had to be ordered from overseas. I am still waiting for the repairer to come back and fix it. I want to make more cheese!

Yoga has become my exercise of choice, with Hot Yoga slightly edging out the regular Hatha. The heated environment is a great comfort when it is five degrees outside, and the extra stretch afforded by warm muscles is also a bonus. But I think what really attracts me is that slightly altered state that comes from working quite hard in the heat. It takes the mind/body benefits of yoga to a higher level.

I am becoming stronger and more flexible, even three weeks in. I can now do poses that were actually not possible when I first started. I can maintain a full plank for more than two seconds.

My sugarlessness is going well, although pretty much everyone thinks it is a silly idea (there is sugar in everything, do you eat fruit? there is sugar in that, everything in moderation I say), I find it beneficial for me and that is all that matters.

I am slowly adjusting my attitude to fat in my diet, and while I still wouldn’t eat a packet of chips, there are some high-fat foods that I am starting to eat more of and at the same time I am fitting back into my size 8 jeans that I haven’t been able to wear for ages. Something is working.

I had my hair cut by an actual hairdresser and she was very complimentary about the general condition of it. That is six months without shampoo, and going strong. I will need to colour it again at some point, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. The protein hair masque that my sister made is pretty well magic, and fixes that straw-like feeling when my hair gets too dry.

I am yet to go back to the razor, and you would think that if anything would reveal hairy underarms as being a source of unbearably bad hygiene it would be hot yoga, but your argument is invalid because deodorant. I am no more or less smelly than I was when I did shave, so ner to all the people who think hairy armpits on women are ‘gross’. If you don’t like it, don’t grow yours.

I did read an interesting comment about how because women are taught to remove their body hair from the day it starts to become noticeable, many of us have no idea what we even look like with such hair. And I was like, bloody hell, I’m 36 years old and I have no idea how long my underarm hair will even grow if I let it. What a sobering thought about the expectations that society imposes upon us. We don’t even get to see what our body hair looks like before removing it, we just remove it because of imposed standards of beauty and justify it by saying it is our choice.

Maybe it is just a phase I’m going through, but I spent many years not feeling like I wasn’t really allowed to be myself, so now I am trying on different things to find out what it is I really want to do when it comes to my own body. I definitely do not want to alienate anyone who does shave or wax, because there are a lot more of you than there are of me.

There are a lot of things I do or don’t do that are different choices to those that most people make, but they don’t change the sort of person I am. If you saw me in the street and didn’t know me you would never guess that I don’t eat sugar and I don’t watch TV and I wash my hair in home-made goat milk soap and I don’t wash my clothes in detergent and I don’t shave or wax the parts that most women do. You would never know if I didn’t tell you.

I live in a fairly isolated little bubble. The only time I really link with a peer group of sorts is during goat showing season. And my goat friends all understand the pros and cons of an alternative lifestyle. It doesn’t matter what makes us different – what matters is what we have in common, what links us. As I begin to interact a bit more with the local Permaculture group I am starting to feel a little less fringe and a little more like part of something bigger. I hope to extend this link over time.

So now all I have left to do is decide what dinners to make over the next few days. And do a bit of baking and make some yogurt. And do a couple of loads of washing. See, I am just like everyone else.

Camembert Necessities

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I have finally done it. Kind of.

I have produced what seems to be an edible cheese made in the style of Camembert, from goat milk.

As a gung-ho amateur cheesemaker, I set about making my favourite cheese, that being Brie. Brie and Camembert are pretty much the same thing these days, although they were once distinguished by the district of France that produced them and the particular climate in that area. Basically, they are a mould-ripened cheese, with a gooey centre.

Armed with an instruction book, a few successful attempts at basic cheddar, and my kick-ass new cheese fridge, I set to work. First time round my poor cheese was kept too cold for the mould to grow properly, and it took nearly three weeks, rather than the prescribed ten days, for the mould to cover the whole cheese. Further aging led to a nasty case of slip skin, where the outer casing of the cheese hides a nasty, slimy liquefaction. This is not edible. Camembert attempt #1 went in the bin.

Online advice suggested that the cheese was kept too cold and too wet. I tried again. Now, this is not a quick cheese like chevre or cheddar. Camembert requires a full afternoon of work, with hourly turning of the cheese baskets and later daily attention as it serves its time in the cheese fridge. Failures were not cheap.

The second time around I pressed the cheese a little to remove some excess whey. I set the fridge a little higher for the mould to grow happily. And, as if by magic, somewhere between days nine and ten a lovely coating of white fuzz appeared.

 The one that didn't work.


The one that didn’t work.

You can see already here the bulging sides, evidence of slip skin brewing again. When I cut this cheese open it had a layer of ooze, the consistency of unthickened cream. The solid cheese in the middle tasted pretty good, but on the whole the cheese was another disaster. It went in the bin as well.

I consulted the ladies from Cheeselinks while I was at the Ballarat Rural Lifestyle Expo. They had some ideas, but the main culprit seemed to be that I was letting the Camembert mature for too long in the cheese fridge. If I put it in the cold fridge a bit earlier, it would mature more slowly and more evenly.

Then the Ballarat Permaculture Guild announced a cheesemaking workshop featuring… Camembert! I signed up, and I was very excited to get some first-hand advice in making cheese. I learned a lot, and came home with my own little cow milk Camembert to tend until it was ready to eat.

My cow milk Camembert

My cow milk Camembert

That Camembert may be the best cheese I have ever eaten. It was perfect. Salty, buttery, nutty and mushroomy, but also mild and milky. My confidence bolstered, I put aside a day to have another crack at making it with my goat milk.

Thanks to the high butterfat in Sienna’s milk now that she is eleven months into her lactation, I got oodles of curd and two very chubby cheeses. But I stuck to the plan, and at day ten in the cheese cave they looked like they should have. I wrapped them and put them in the cold fridge.

I read in the interim that sometimes the mould used for Camembert does not agree with goat milk, and this can be the cause of slip skin. Because of this I decided I was better off checking my cheese early. So on day 14, I cut one open.

No evidence of slip skin. Clearly not quite as mature as it should be, but starting to develop that creamy texture around the edges.

Goat milk Camembert

Goat milk Camembert

You can see that the texture is not right, it is a bit crumbly, but this is changing from the outside in. Even a few days later this cheese has improved in texture and taste. To begin with it was very sharp and strong, almost like a blue. It tasted like a sophisticated cheese, but almost completely devoid of Camembert characteristics. Tonight it seems to be softening, again in taste as well as texture, and a smoothness is starting to show through. Hopefully it just needs a little more time. I still have the other round, unopened, in the fridge.

I am pretty pleased to finally have an edible product, and now it should just take a bit of fine tuning to get the timing right. What will be my next cheese challenge? I have managed to make a mozzarella that my pro-pizza but anti-goat cheese 10yo actually enjoyed. I really need to revisit feta now that I have the secret ingredient lipase to add to it.

I think next I will try Gouda, a washed-curd hard cheese that can be aged for several months. So stay tuned for my next cheese adventure.

 

Ballarat Rural Lifestyle Expo

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This is a bit of a pre-emptive strike for those who may come to visit the Dairy Goat Society of Australia’s stand at the Ballarat Rural Lifestyle Expo.

As a Ballarat local, and probably the DGSA member most closely located to the Expo venue at the Showgrounds, I consider it my duty to attend this event and provide information on dairy goats in general, with an emphasis on the Anglo Nubian breed.

Our publicity officer and Victorian branch president will also be attending, and these two ladies put in a lot of work all over the state when it comes to promoting dairy goats.

Unfortunately due to health regulations I can’t offer to the public any samples of the goat milk edibles I produce, but I am happy to talk about all the yum things that are possible with goat milk. I will be doing two milking demonstrations at 10am and 2pm with my pair of 3yo half sisters Meredith and Sienna. There will also be goat milk soap available for sale.

So come and say hello, or if you are reading this after meeting me at the Expo, welcome to the world of The Barefoot Cook. There are a range of recipes and informative posts on here about keeping goats and using milk.

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.