Thursday, November 29, 2012

Don't Gnocch It Till You Try It

Anyone who knows me knows that I love potatoes, love with a passion that should be reserved for first born children and The Wife. I love them in any form and it has been bugging me that I can't make gnocchi. In fact I am keen to break out my pasta skills a bit more as I have an abundance of eggs at the moment, including the holy grail of pasta makers, duck eggs.

I have the long skinny forms of fresh pasta down pat and was keen to get into some shapes. As per usual, twitter gave me some great responses, including one awesome page on a heap of different fresh pastas from @manusmenucom. As I was scrolling through and wiping drool off the iPad, I noticed the gnocchi. The recipe looked simple enough. I was determined to give it a go.

Of course I didn't follow the recipe to the letter. I just used two potatoes, boiled and skinned and mashed with a fork. I stirred in a little fine flour and then the duck egg and kept adding flour until it achieved the correct consistency. I failed miserably in using the fork to make little scroll shaped gnocchi, so I stuck to the pillows.

I just made a really simple sauce of fried speck, onion, mushrooms, red wine and sugo simmered gently for a while. The gnocchi came out beautifully, soft and pillowy, the gnocchi of my dreams. On the weekend I will have a go at some shells, my love for potato is almost matched by that of fresh pasta and if they are all as successful as tonight I'll be a happy man.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Going a little fruity. #agtalks

Back in my great grandmothers day, everybody kept chooks or knew someone that did and grew a bit of veg and had at least one fruit tree in the back yard. It wasn't because they were tree hugging greenies or new age hipsters, it was just what you did. In the hard times it was probably the best way to ensure that everyone got fed.

I realise that those days are mostly gone, not everyone has the time or the energy to keep chooks or grow veg. Hell I love home grown veg and suck at keeping them alive. But fruit trees, once established, require minimum work. They give you great pleasure and have no food miles. Yet no government encourages anyone to grow them. With all the carbon and climate change talk does anyone realise how many miles a lemon or apple does to get to your door (especially if it is from overseas).

Is it because they think food is best left to farmers and Colesworth and not for people at home? I know I get great pride every time I drive past one of my old share houses and see the beautiful lime tree in the front yard. They might only use them for their corona on a Friday night but that's better than one from the states at $1.50 a pop.

My orchard is a few years away from being productive but I look forward to the day when I will supply all my fruit needs and some of my mates and neighbours as well.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Making Cheese- Halloumi and waiting too long to make it.

It's funny how you can lose confidence in something. The last batch of halloumi I made didn't work. At the cooking stage it just melted away. Halloumi isn't a brie level of investment of time, but its still dispiriting when you spend hours, from milking the cow to all the process of cheese making just to dump the end result.

I'd been making a heap of feta and not much else though, so I really felt I should do something else with the weekend milk. Dolores had got out and scoffed a heap of pollard as well as the bit of green grass around the house, so I got an awesome 8.5L of milk to work with. I followed the recipe to the letter and was rewarded with four good sized chunks of cheese.

It was so successful I repeated the dose today. When I cooked up a sample of Saturdays effort I mentally kicked myself for waiting to have another go. Fresh halloumi has the flavour, but is softer, creamier, like super halloumi. Time to add it to the list of cheeses I can make without checking the book.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Rain and Bones

I've always loved the rain. One of our share housing criteria back in the day was a tin roof so you could lie in bed and listen to the patter of the rain. (The other ones were a deck, gas cooktop and a wooden toilet seat) I've also always had an appreciation for water usage. I grew up on tank water, particularly at The Island where you had a very finite amount to use for each stay, so the lessons of water conservation are pretty ground in to my brain.

When we moved to Lantanaland, the water situation is even more real. Waste water and you end up with a bill for a truck to come up the hill. Then we got the cows and I got a little bit obsessive. I started to feel like the soil was part of my body and as it dried out and the grass dwindled I could feel the dryness in me. The last two months as I've been wandering around chasing the cows I can feel the hardness, the dryness of the soil coming up through my boots.

Last night as the first drops hit the roof in what I hoped would be a day of rain to come, the part of me inside that is Lantanaland relaxed a little. Today I can feel the soil slowly rehydrating, the grass waking up, the tank slowly filling. It feels good.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A bit has been happening at Lantanaland, eventually.

It's been bloody dry here at Lantanaland this spring. Anecdotally I think it's the driest since we moved here. The year we came here it was like this, not a hint of green in the verges and the house lawns brittle and crackling. Of course this means that means that cows find the grass on the other side of the fences much more attractive than no grass or hay. The star pickets loosen in the dry ground and fences develop weak points. We decided to have a week off to recharge the batteries and I'd get the two jobs done that really needed attention, fencing the rest of our boundary and doing two day pens for the chooks. It didn't work out exactly as planned.

The week before I ran into my fantastic neighbour at the produce store. I mentioned that I was going to be slashing a fence line and did he want me to go inside the gate so that his cows could still get through to the hill. He thought I was insane to do the clearing with the brush cutter and by pure chance had his excavator down that side of the hill on the Monday. On Sunday he came round for a beer and told me to go and see the bloke driving it and let him know where the fence should go. Once I heard him start up on the Monday morning I took Tally for a walk down the hill to have a chat.

He asked me to chop down a few branches that would get in the road of the cab so off I ran to get the chainsaw and by the time I'd cleared a path he had begun. I've never seen an excavator work up close clearing land and it is just amazing. Thinking of how much effort it would be for me to do with the brush cutter, watching it work was just mind blowing. In fifteen minutes he'd cleared the corner near the gate. Rather than just pushing up the fence line he was pushing back the lantana. By morning tea he was up at the house and had cleared all the lantana on the slope just in front of the retaining wall. Then he went and cleared a twenty meter zone around the high side of the dam. By the time he had finished I had maybe a fifth of all the lantana on the property scraped into big piles.

The first order of business was to get some grass seed down in case of rain. I went for a cow pea, rhodes grass and pigeon pea mix. I would like to sow native grasses but have not yet won the lottery. About six kilos gave a good coverage and now I just want about three days of nice gentle soaking rain to get things started.

The next big job was some day pens for the chooks. With the fertile eggs from Kath boosting my chook stocks I needed a bit more space for weekday exploration. The plan is two rotating pens. One to grow fodder and some veg, the other to be fertilized and destroyed. As many weeds and clippings as I can muster will go into the pens to make it a nice deep litter for them to scratch over. The centre piece of each side will be a fruit tree for shade and food. On the western side, a mulberry and a fig on the eastern side. The western side, the one still with grass in it, has asparagus and sweet potato under mesh. They'll hopefully get fertilized as the chooks sit on top and pick. On the eastern side I have planted out a whole heap of things. As chook fodder there is comfrey, lemongrass, arrowroot, turmeric and jerusalem artichoke. For food for us, cucumber, beans, grapes, raspberry and logan berry. I threw down some old radish seed as well and mulched well. Hopefully by the end of summer it will be chocked full of stuff for the chooks to feed off for a few months while I grow in the other side in winter.

I still haven't got the fence finished as Dolores had escaped to Jamie's again and I spent three days getting her back. But I now know the power of the excavator and will be saving for another half days work to clear another section once this one is nicely grassed. Who knows, maybe even one day we will have more grass than lantana?