Thursday, June 30, 2016

Portable dinners

We are at the start of a long process.
At the moment we are using more fossil fuels than we ever did when living in town. The car, the ride on mower, the quad bike, the chain saw - all use fuel and all are being well used at the moment. This is just for a time while we get everything back under control.
Our current lifestyle does mean due to some child activities we end up needing to stay in town longer during the day. To avoid even later evenings, we are getting good at creating portable dishes, that we can make the night before and then take with us.This also saves on buying takeaways all the time. In the summer we treated it like a picnic.
These are the dishes we have made, taken in the coolie bag and that can be eaten watching sport or waiting for activities to finish.
toasted sandwiches
pita pockets with salad, cold meat and hummus
curry puffs 
Picnic rolls - this was in summer, when we just took sliced tomatoes, sliced cheese, sliced cold meat and lettuce, and made them on the sidelines
Grilled and sliced toasties
soup and bread

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Dealing with Plums

The plums started ripening at Christmas in December, just as the loquats were finishing.
It is difficult to find the exact type of plums. I spent a lot of time googling plum types.
I found McGrath Nurseries page of plum types one of the most useful because it gives New Zealand based information. This page also helps to work out what a plum variety might be and then I would google the type of plum I thought I had for potential recipes.
We have something like 12 different types that ripen after one another.
Cherry plums can be seen as a useless plum but I found Sally Wises' blog and she has great recipes.
All summer we had the Sparkling plum drink on the go. The cherry plums were the best plum for this. We also messed around with her recipe a bit. We tried to reduce the sugar but if you reduce it too much then it will grow mould. Below is the adapted recipe we used but you can experiment with what works for you. It is the natural yeast on the plums that makes it ferment. Sally's recipe has cider vinegar in it but with a expect home brewer in the family, we stopped adding this. Partly because in beer the acetic acid flavour that is added by the vinegar is a flavour to be avoided in beer.

Sparkling Cherry Plum Juice

900g sugar
1kg clean but not washed cherry plums (or other plums). The plums should be unblemished.
1 lemon chopped
1 litre of boiling water
3.5l of water

Mix the sugar and the boiling water together in a large pot - big enough to hold all the ingredients (I used our big stock pot). Stir until all the sugar is dissolved.
Add the cherry plums and crush with a potato masher so they split.
Add the second measure of water and the chopped slices of lemon.
Cover with a clean teatowel and leave sitting on the bench for three to four days depending on your summer temperatures. Keep an eye on it after day 3 to see if little bubbles are appearing on the surface.
Once it has fermented a little, strain out the fruit and lemons using a sieve or lift them out with a slotted spoon and pour your light pink liquid into very clean plastic soft drink bottles. Put the lids on tight.
Leave sitting on the bench until the bottles are tight with the carbonation. You really want to make sure they are tight or it won't be fizzy enough. This can take another 3 days, depending on your summer temperatures. Once they are tight put them in the fridge ready to drink. This is a very refreshing drink on a hot summer's day.
This recipe makes 3 1.5l bottles of drink. We continuously had a stock pot of this fermenting on the bench so there was always more juice to refill the bottles.
Cherry plum tree in the overgrown orchard

With our many varieties of plum we made jam, we preserved some as pulp and as whole plums, and froze sweetened pulp. A large mouli makes life much easier when dealing with a lot of plums. You can quickly separate the stones and skins.

We also made a spiced plum chutney recipe, which is very nice. Unfortunately the internet has many spice plum chutney recipes, I think the one I made was this one. Note to self it is important to bookmark recipes so if they are a success we can make them again.
It is also important to label the jars. I didn't used to label my preserves because I knew what they were. Now we are preserving so many, I found it is important to date and label.
One other method I tried was this one of preserving whole fruit, supposedly so it tastes like fresh fruit. I tried this with some tasty doris type plums we had that were very good eating fresh. I opened a jar of these recently - 6 months later. At first tasting, these have definitely preserved, they have not gone off, but they certainly don't taste like fresh fruit. I don't think I will use this particular method again.

Using the yellow plums I tried this yellow plum salad but with the ingredients I had available. So I used a red capsicum and left out the beets. I had a tangy cheese so substituted that for the goat's cheese, that I didn't have on hand. The recipe I ended up making as below. It was very tasty and used up some plums.

Yellow plum salad

4-6 yellow plums, quartered and stones removed
red capsium cut into strips
two tomatoes quartered
tangy cheese like goat's cheese or feta or whatever you have available

Dressing ingredients:
2.5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs white wine vinegar
1 tspn fresh thyme
1 tspn dijon mustard
1/4 tsp pepper
several grinds of black pepper

Combine the salad ingredients - feel free to adjust amounts to what you have available and to your taste. Combine dressing ingredients and mix well together before tipping over your salad.
We ate a lot of the plums fresh and it was the plums that started the practice of having stewed fruit in the fridge to go on breakfast cereal. The plums were still going when the nashis and peaches started ripening.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dealing with an overgrown garden

Next growing season we are going to have a proper big vegetable garden to have more vegetables and a more continuos supply. We want to start towards being self sufficient in vegetables like we are for fruit.
In the summer I laid one trial bed in the overgrown garden area using cardboard over the grass and then a thick layer of wood chip mulch. My plan was by next season the cardboard would have broken down and the mulch would be weed free and ready to plant my new vegetable crops. This first bed I didn't know that the cardboard needed to be really wet, I learnt this later.
Alongside the first bed we put our three loaned chickens in a large run and they did a fantastic job of changing the grass and weeds into a cleared area over six months.
Garden when the chickens were first added

Garden area after a few months of the chickens clearing it. 

Once they had cleared most of the area but a few larger plants, we shifted them and laid another two beds. I used the wet cardboard (after removing all tape and plastic) and then mulch. We had a lot of mulch from the trees we had cut down on our arrival but we have gone through it pretty quickly putting it on the gardens to keep the weeds away.
I used string to lay out the beds. I made the three beds the same width so when I make bird covers etc, they will fit all the beds. The paths in between, I made wide enough for the wheelbarrow and to crouch down in, without hitting the other bed.
The mulch goes across all beds and the paths as one big layer so weeds don't grow up in the margin between the path and beds.
There is one more bed, which already has the rhubarb growing in it. This one has not been mulched and at the end of the rhubarb is an asparagus bed. I will have to wait for spring to see exactly where the asparagus bed is planted or if it is not producing anymore.
A few weeks a go I planted one of the beds with leaks, garlic, shallots and spring onions. I covered it with the protective netting to keep out the blackbirds. Despite that something still seems to manage to dig up the garlic but it is good to see, the garlic is already creating roots.
Last week I made a plan based on these three beds being four metres long. I ended up using an Excel workbook with each worksheet being a different bed, with what will be planted, if a seedling or a seed, when it will be harvested and what will be planted next in the bed.
Once I had my three beds planned, I had one more worksheet that is by month and what needs to be bought to be grown from seed, or transplanted etc. each month. This plan covers a full year.
The garden is organised.
Now back to the summer fruits. Plums followed the loquats.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Garden planting

Before we moved I had planted up a number of seeds ready to transplant when we got to the property
But there was a bit of a problem. When we moved, there was no garden. It was all overgrown. In fact I had less garden than my container garden.
I decided to use the sandpit by the house because I didn't want the children playing in it as I was suspicious cats had used it for a toilet. Using wood we had ripped out of the kitchen, I made one square at a time and filled it with compost that I found. This made it manageable to build a new garden, rather than attempting to clear the overgrown old garden. It is not a very big garden, about 1.5m square.
But I surrounded it in chicken wire netting, that I found in the over grown grass, to keep the roaming chickens out.
I transplanted my seedlings shortly after we moved. This meant they were planted in early December rather than October or November. They loved the compost and they all started growing well until I came home and found most of the plants dug up and some of them missing. I replanted the ones I could but I wasn't sure what was causing the problem.
It was blackbirds and they did it again.
I bought netting to cover the little garden but I did lose many of my seedlings. Fortunately I had always thought of this first season as experimental. First lesson - blackbirds are worse in the country than town.
We did successfully harvest quite a few tomatoes, zucchini and also a couple of capsicum from the one capsicum plant that survived the black birds. The zephyr zucchini were yellow and green. They looked great and had a great nutty flavour. The mortgage lifter tomatoes were more successful than the Brandywine blends. The Brandywine was a nice tomato but not as densely flavourful as a cherokee tomato variety I have had previously. Maybe because it was a blend, but I no longer adhere to the rhetoric about the Brandywine being the best tasting tomato in the world. Next season I will use mortgage lifters again but I will likely try a cherokee variety of tomato or Isle of Capri.
I also planted some climbing peas at the end of summer. These were very successful, providing peas into the autumn and early winter. Next season, I will plant many more and I am aiming for two plantings one in spring and then when they die done as it gets too hot, another in the later summer. Fresh peas off the plant are so delicious.
We also had a watermelon plant that grew from a seed in the compost. It had one very good watermelon, so we saved some seeds. Next summer we will plant it deliberately and much earlier.
The issue with this new small garden, is the same issue I had previously. In a small garden, it is not possible to have vegetables growing continuously. The old vegetable plants have to be removed to make way for the new ones. I think this is the biggest advantage of having more space in the future. I will have many beds and while some are still producing the others will be being replanted.
This does take planning.
Towards the end of summer I was wondering if I should be doing any seed preparation but my plants were still producing so I didn't want to rip them out yet. Once they finished I replaced them with broad beans and beetroot. But now we are waiting for them to grow enough to produce.
Next growing season will be in the much bigger garden. To make sure it will be ready, the chickens are at work.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ripening fruit on the lifestyle block - Loquats

Once the fruit starts ripening it is a very busy time.
The loquats were first. They were ripening as we arrived in late November.
I had never tried a loquat before. It is a flavour cross between an apricot and a pineapple. It has a low flesh to stone ratio.
We have quite a number of trees. The precise number is too many. There will be some chopping down done as we move into winter.
Loquat tree
If you also find yourself with loquats, these are the loquat recipes we have loved.
Firstly loquat liqueur. This uses the large seeds. I believe it is an Italian thing.
My Aunty passed on this recipe to me.  The almond flavour that results is quite surprising. It tastes like Christmas - like the marzipan on the cake.
Loquat Liqueur
200g loquat seeds
400ml vodka (higher alcohol content the better)
3 pieces of lemon peel (or as much as you prefer or have)
vanilla bean
300g sugar
300ml water
Remove 200g of loquat seeds from their flesh. (This is a large bowl of fruit to get the required number of seeds.)
Leave the seeds in the sun for two weeks to dry. (If you are going away for Christmas, it is ideal to lie out your seeds before you leave and then they are ready when you return.)
Remove the papery shells from around the seeds.
Place the seeds in a bottle with the vodka, the lemon peel and the vanilla bean. Keep covered in a warm place for a month. Shaking every so often as you remember.
Once the month is up. Make a sugar syrup by boiling the sugar and water together. Let it cool. Once it is cool, filter your alcohol to remove the seeds, lemon peel and vanilla bean and add the sugar syrup to the alcohol.
Keep to season for at least two months before drinking.
Loquat liqueur with home dried fruit, home grown nuts
and  quince paste (see quince blog post)

Loquats make an interesting tasting jam, using the flesh (not the seeds). We just used the same recipe as you would for apricot jam and adjusted the sugar to taste.
They also make a very a good crumble if stewed up.
This loquat chutney recipe is also a winner. I adjusted the amounts to match how many loquats I was prepared to prep. Mine took much longer than she says in the recipe to get to chutney thickness. The best test is to drag the wooden spoon through the mixture and when it leaves a trail so you can see the bottom of the pot before it closes over, it is done. We have just started eating this chutney now. So it had 7 months to meld the tastes together.
When preserving you realise the true genius of chutneys. They use a whole lot of fruit and it condenses down into a very small space. My big bowl of loquats became 2 jars of about 500ml of chutney.
Preserving, while quite fulfilling, takes time. My aim is to be preserving efficient. I want to use up my supplies from one season before the fruit kicks off again in the next season. I have created a spreadsheet and I am recording how many jars and of what, I am preserving so that I can map our usage and see how many are required in the future.
We purchased two boxes (35 in each) of these 500ml jars and lids to use for preserving, as well as our motley collection of other sizes. We went with 500ml because previously we have bought the 400g fruit cans from the supermarket and these seem to suit most recipes and our family size quite well. I didn't want to end up having too many half empty preserving jars cluttering the fridge. As the loquats fell off the trees or were all eaten by the birds, the cherry plums started ripening....

Good neighbours

When we first moved, we made a decision to work on the street frontage. The neighbours had put up with ugly overgrown broom and gorse hanging over onto the grass roadside verge. The grass had only been cut where the council cut it for fire safety. The rest of the grass was long and scaggly. It was an eyesore.
We wanted to have good relationships with our neighbours so we set to work with scrub cutter and a pruning saw.
The good news was even before we had made much of a difference in improving the street frontage our neighbours were already offering assistance and useful advice.
Nothing beats the value of good neighbours. We share homebrewed craft beer, they share their years of farming and local knowledge.
They are always willing to help, even with the palm that took out the fence.
The palm was dying and behind the fence on the street frontage. Its brown dead fronds were heading towards the power lines. It was time for chainsaw action.
Big palms are very unpleasant. They have sharp spines that pierce your gumboot or your skin. The spines break off and are impossible to remove the small pieces they leave behind, irritating and inflaming the skin. Dealing with the palm did leave swollen arms for a few days and almost a trip to the doctor but the inflammation subsided.
Although dropping the palm was thought about quite carefully. It was early days in chainsaw education and it didn't quite go as planned. The fat palm drunk hit the fence and the section of fence was lying on the ground underneath the weighty palm trunk. Now the street frontage looked even worse.
Time to call the neighbours.
She laughed and said it was no bother, "We're always getting ourselves into these scrapes."
The four wheel drive soon had it off the fence. A couple of waratahs (y posts or those metal fence posts you see with the holes in them) and cable ties later, from the outside the fence looked the same as pre palm flattening.
We did lose the hammer. It was finally located after the palm trunk was removed, again with the neighbour's help. There was the hammer lying underneath.
While we have much to do on our property, I have never regretted prioritising the street frontage over other perhaps more useful self sustainable work. The building of relationships is worth the effort.
There really is nothing like good neighbours. There is nothing like standing in the middle of a flooded road with them either.

Chainsaws and lifestyle blocks

We did buy a chainsaw. It wasn't the best one. The advice is for all tools for the block buy the best you can - especially the chainsaw as you will use it a lot. I think this is the right advice.
We had been going through our money quite quickly on many things and I couldn't bring myself to spend a fortune on a chainsaw. Yes we will probably buy another better one in the future when the purchases are less frequent. We did spend $500 so acquired not a super cheap model. There there was the $130 chaps to protect one's legs while using the chainsaw. If an ex-forester's wife recommended the chaps I was fully on board. We already had the face and ear protection equipment from the rotary slasher.
What substantially improved the chainsaw was breaking the chain after a few months use and replacing it with a Stihl one. The Stihl shop could sell it off the reel to the required length.
Using a chainsaw is not as simple as just slicing it through the wood. The ex-forester provided some useful lessons, tips and also some demonstrations on how to keep the chain sharp.
Nothing teaches better than getting your chainsaw stuck in a tree. The theory seems obvious about slicing so the branch falls open away from the chainsaw but sometimes putting the theory correctly into practice doesn't work out and the branch starts to close in and the chainsaw is jammed.
One incident took two of us to remove the chainsaw. One lifting the branch, the other holding the chainsaw so it didn't drop and carefully sliding it out as it came loose.
Then there was the large palm that was easy to cut through but took out the fence.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Seasons on the lifestyle block

No writing in 6 months. Since we took the property it has been busy. But I had a plan. We took over the property at the beginning of summer.
Summer and autumn are busy times on a lifestyle property. Everything is growing, ripening and requires processing. So time is at a premium.
Summer is the time for outside work. In winter the growth quietens down, the days are shorter and the weather is not so good for being outside.
Winter is the time for writing. 
Joel Salatin in the book I have read, but no doubt the others as well, talks about the importance of seasons. I think John Seymour in "The Fat of the Land" also discussed the seasons. Part of our reason for doing this was getting back in sync with nature. We are beings of nature and we have spent many thousands of years working with these seasons. It means there are still times for holidays and it means the work varies. It is not the same every day, there is a cycle to go through during the year.
I am intrigued that many of our older traditions fit with these seasons. Matariki, the Maori new year, is at a time of entering the coldest period of the year. It is a fun event of coming together as whanau, remembering those that have gone before and looking forward to the new year. It is the shortest days, it is time to plan for the coming year of growth.
If you look at the older church traditions such as the Anglican church, these also follow the rhythm of life for the majority of the people of their time. It makes no sense to us in the southern hemisphere but the northern hemisphere, where the traditions started, you can see how the church weaved in the narrative to the daily life of its followers.
There is the Christmas celebration in the middle of winter when it is cold and miserable. Coming up to Easter and the start of spring we have Lent, a time of fasting. This fits in with the time of least food, the last of the winter stores is running out and the spring new season's food has not come in yet. Instead of being a trial it is turned into a ‘thing’, a conscious activity. A time to reflect on the run up to Easter. Easter is at the start of spring. The church’s message of new life fits in well with the new life all around. Then the church calendar has about six months of ordinary time. In the northern hemisphere, this would have been the busy time of growing, harvesting and preserving so less time for thinking and church activities. 

We are living a little in each camp, enjoying the seasons of the land while still being part of the every day is the same office work world. Now about that chainsaw buying.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.