Know your yarn. 

The beauty of being a small business is knowing EXACTLY where your materials come from. And that it REALLY is ethical and compassionate.

Sure, you can buy commercial, mass-produced fibre. But you’ll have no idea if it’s from factory farmed animals, has been chemically treated, or made using unethical trade/labour. But it’ll probably be cheap.

I like to know EVERYTHING about my yarn, so you can too. ❤️👍🏼 The fibres are meticulously hand-selected from small local farmers. (Some are right here at Hill Shadow!) My dyes are sourced from a small business based in outer Melbourne VIC, who supplies ethical, organic and fair trade products. All labour (washing, combing, spinning, dyeing) is done by ME. By hand. At my hearth, in the Yarra Ranges, VIC.

So, I’d like to introduce you to one of my business’ cashmere suppliers.

Everybody: George. George, this is everybody.

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Living your life can be an act of rebellion.

Here’s my big lesson this week: Living life for yourself can be a HUGE act of rebellion.

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In modern day society, hubby and I don’t live a conventional life. We don’t have a huge mortgage. He works, I stay home with the girls, and work my home businesses. We don’t have credit cards – we try to spend only the money we actually have.

Sure, I could go back to full time teaching now. We could buy a new car on credit, take out a mortgage to buy a new McMansion in the suburbs and “have it all’. I could eat dairy and meat. That would make a lot of people around us much more comfortable.

But I value what I do for my family by being at home much more than society could pay me for working full time. My girls wont remember a shiny new marble benchtop, or a new car. But they will remember walking home from school hand-in-hand with Mummy, and having hot pikelets for afternoon tea, and climbing their swingset until its time to run over and hug dad as he pulls into the driveway.

And-every-day

My husband loves his job. I love mine. We do ok. We’re ok with not having a lot of stuff, because we have SO SO MUCH to be grateful for.

But this week, I’ve been challenged: Do I have the courage to be what I am, and to do what I do, even if it makes some of the people I love uncomfortable?

I read this article by Julia over at SacredFamiliar and it resonated with me a lot.

I spent ALOT of my teens and 20s doing what I thought was ‘best’. I had the voices of my parents in the back of my head at all times, and I always did what I thought would make them happiest. I never made a decision without mentally consulting everyone I knew to check if they’d be ok with it.

But actually, it’s not my responsibility to make everyone else comfortable and happy.

What if I had the courage to live my truth? With no apologies. And no explanations.

What if I called myself a witch.

What if I said, “I choose not to work fulltime.”

What if I said, “I don’t want a big new house.”

What if I said, “I actually don’t support the dairy farmers’.

These statements are all potential time-bombs. They all have the potential to be misunderstood. To be criticized. To make people – including the people I love – VERY uncomfortable.

But here they are. In writing, for all to see. My truth. Here’s me having the courage to speak it. Here’s me being FUCKING BRAVE. My act of rebellion.

Here’s me living my life for ME, not for what others will think.

Because – hand on heart – “This is what’s important.”


 

 

Fatigue, food forests, foraging and fabulous flowers.

It’s been a hard week. A very very hard week.

But I think we’re finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Ben did his last full week of chemo, which means we only have two Thursday ‘short days’ to go. It was heartbreaking for me having to drive him there each day, like a lamb to the slaughter. It’s absolutely floored him. He’s lucky to get out of bed each day. And I’ve been doing the equivalent of a single mum and a ‘one woman farm’. I’m exhausted, and the cracks in my armor are beginning to show.

Luckily we’ve had our parents here for the worst weeks, and our new friends have been so helpful! Still, I can’t WAIT until he starts to feel better again.   

Cookie: Constant companion.


And summer is finally coming to an end. We’re going to have to start doing those Winter preparation jobs, like stock piling firewood and hay, and cleaning the fireplace.

The veggies are starting to go to seed with the end of the season, but the garden is still bountiful. Right now there is still tonnes of basil, plus green capsicums, parsley, lebanese cucumbers, rocket and quite a bounty of Gross Lisse tomatoes, still pale green.

We sadly lost another of the older hens last week. Not to a fox this time, but to some sort of respiratory virus-thing that all the others got and got over. But little old Snuggles just couldn’t seem to shake it, and got weaker and more lethargic. She was one of the original hens that were here when we moved in, so god knows how old she was!

Do they all have names? Well, no. But often they name themselves, and we certainly recognise individuals! Aside from Lennon the Rooster, there’s Hoppy (was lame, now better), Shiny (Kate’s favourite), Patchy (is patchy), Scruffy (is scruffy), Trouble (with a capital ‘T’) and Walkabout (who is always on her own at the far ends of the farm pecking at something and reluctant to come in for dinner).

We’re getting about six eggs a day.

And just LOOK AT KATE’S SUNFLOWERS! Magnificent! Planted herself before christmas and lovingly watered and tended by the Hill Shadow Ferals and all our other insect friends.

I can honestly say that we’ve discovered chaos is key in the garden! (Ours anyway!). Ours is an ecosystem. The weeds are welcome!: They shade the seedlings, hide the produce, feed the compost, hold the soil together, feed the birds, conserve the water. Insects are welcome!: the bees tend the flowers, the good bugs control the bad bugs. And we plant everything everywhere in every available space: “Wanna feed, Pests? – You’re gonna have to find it first…!” It is a veritable food forest!

I also recommend what I’ve termed “accidental farming”. Just seeing what comes up. We’ve had a tonne of seeds just sprout from our compost or shoot-off from parent plants. Just leave it be – you never know! Some of those have been our greatest producers! Survival of the fittest! (And if it turns out to be a weed, you can always pull it out later!) An example of this was our potatoes: We just decided to leave it be and see… and ‘presto’! Accidental Harvest!

Also anything you can forage is GOOD. FREE FOOD = #winning! Just be sure any plants you pick arent sprayed, get permission if you need it, and they are DEFINITELY what you think they are (ie mushrooms – mistakes can be fatal!) We have been harvesting LOADS of blackberries from our thicket (we asked our landlord not to spray them!) and found a rogue patch of mint growing in our gully, which we took a few shoots of and have now established in two big pots by our front door.

One day, Old Man. I will get you out for a ride again one day! x

Now, I best go. Tara’s putting stickers on my arms, Kate wants a snack, and there is a suspicious smell coming from Tara’s nappy…

And Im gonna cook some bicuits for Kate’s lunchbox, cast-on some knitted slippers, and feed the chooks. A farm girl’s work is never done! 🙂

xx

Summer, saurkraut, sand and survival.

41 degrees celcius yesterday – and we survived! Thanks to all our preventive mulching and watering, the garden seems to have held up, and the chooks spent their day in under the bushes in the gardens and being very sensible.

Thankfully, the girls were still up on the South Coast of NSW with my parents having a ball at the beach, and blissfully cool.

We spent the christmas break up there enjoying family time in the sand and saltwater. Katie’s cousin Harry even taught her to fish. In her crown and tutu: Of course!

But now it’s back to the farm, and my parents have kept the girls for a week extra holiday to allow Ben and I sometime to arm ourselves against the next few weeks, where Ben will be undergoing his chemotherapy. My aim was to get the house clean (I can do this better when I dont have 2 little mud princesses here undoing my good work as fast as I can get it done!), get some meals prepped, my freezer and pantry full, and my paperwork in order. Plus go out for dinner, ride my horse, and sleep in a few times!

We accidentally grew 2 potatoes! Woohoo! #accidentalfarming #accidentalharvest

The garden had absolutley EXPLODED in the week we were away! I came come to a bucket full of peas (all now shelled and in the freezer!) and a nice little stash of apricots, which have a ‘rust’ on them unfortunatley, but still taste AMAZING and made a HUGE jar of apricot jam! Recipe here if you wanna try it: Super easy! Used it for plum jam and apricot – works great for both!)

And I planted some wheatgrass. Wheat grass juice: We’ll be doing it lots. Here’s a handy youtube how-to. And I was inspired to do it via this. Plus it’s a really yummy green juice shot/add in for your juices. (Note: You really need a slow juicer or a mastication juicer to do wheatgrass. Normal centrifugal juicers dont work on wheatgrass. Not sure why, but I’ve tried, and they don’t! I got my hurom-style juicer from Target for $60 and it’s worked a treat! One day though, I’d love one of these babies…!)

So I bought my peat ($2 from Bunnings – bargain.) and soaked it in 4.5L of water in a bucket.

I soaked my organic wheat overnight in a jar on a windowsill til it started to germinate.

And I put down a thin layer of damp peat, a thin layer of wheat, and another thin layer of damp peat over the top and put it in my mudroom on the window ledge. I’ll let you know how it goes…

I also decided to stock my freezer with food and easy crock-pot/slowcooker meals for hassle-free dinners on chemo days. I spent a whole day chopping veg from my produce market, but now have a freezer full of ziplock bags that I can dump into my slowcooker in the morning, add water, and come home to dinner done at night! things like Pumpkin soup, minestrone, lentil bolognese, veggie noodle souple (just add chicken if you like!), and mexi-beans. Plus I bought 2 BBQ chooks and broke them down into stirfry/soup pieces and put them in freezer bags for meals. And I froze some bananas and blueberries for smoothies. The freezer is *STOCKED*.

On the super-hot day, I decided to try making Belle’s saurkraut from The Whole Pantry book. (Have you read it? Its beautiful. Santa bought it for me for christmas!)

Let me tell you – it is YUMMY. I had to stop myself from eating it all then and there! But it needs a few days to ferment so we can get some good bacteria going in there!

…Hurry up saurkraut!

Ben shaved his hair short the other day in preparation, and seeing him like that really brought it crashing down around my ears for a few moments, to be honest. It’s gonna be a big few weeks and sometimes I really feeling the fear of the unknown creeping in. At those times I just breathe and repeate a few mantras:

1. Just keep going. Be in the moment. Do what you need to do. Get it done.
2. Ask for help.
3. This too will pass.
4. Breathe, slow down, be here.

Happy New Year to you and yours. Thankyou for stopping by my blog. It’s nice to know we’re not alone x

Lumps, loaves, loss and lacto bacilli.

They said it would have its ups and downs. Boy, ‘they’ weren’t kidding! It has been a week of epic proportions, but finally, I am seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
You’ll probably remember from my last post, that on Monday, my poor little dog Henry was hit by a car and killed. Following that devastating day, it was confirmed that my hubby Ben did indeed have a mass on his testicle, and that he would need further tests to see if the cancer cells had spread. 
Cancer.
That threw us all into a state of ‘survival mode’. CT scans followed blood tests, and surgery was booked for the coming Thursday, pending results. Chemotherapy was mentioned. 
So what did we decide to do?
We threw a party.

Well, a bonfire really. And a BBQ dinner for all the people we’ve met in Melbourne so far. What a great way to remind yourself in times like these that you’re really not alone. We laughed. We toasted giant marshmallows. The kids played hide and seek in the dark with torches, and burnt sticks, and skinned their knees. We ate Ben’s homemade flat bread cooked on the BBQ with way too much garlic in the dip. The girls were tired, sweaty, and dirty. Hair all wild and sticky with marshmallow. It was a great night.

One of the Hill Shadow Farm ‘ferals’ hard at work on the apple blossoms.

The garden has been loving this rain! And we planted more veg and noticed more fruit.

Oh look! A guava!
Oh look – are they plums? Do you reckon they’re edible?

We are now contemplating how the heck we’re going to keep the birds off the fig, the apple, the plum, the apricot, and the guava. Looks like we might be spending a fortune on netting… eep.

And to add insult to injury, the loss of our beautiful canine ‘chicken guardian’ has given Mrs Fox a total free run at our free range chookies. She took 3 this week. So we’re down to 13 including Lennon the Rooster, and reduced to dropping everything and bolting outside at the slightest cluck. Our other dog Cookie is completely hopeless. She just lives to sunbake and dust bathe. She cares not for the safety of poultry.

So when all was chaos, I turned to the one bit of affirmative action that the Cancerian in me defaults to.

I cooked.

I could not control the outcome of the blood tests. I could not control cars or hungry mother foxes with pups, or birds, or irrational angry agisters, or sleepless toddlers, or the internal workings of my car when it went ‘BOOM!’ and decided to no longer operate on gas THIS WEEK OF ALL WEEKS.

But I could stuff my husband so full of nutrients and vitamins that bloody cancer wouldn’t know what had hit it. Everytime Ben turned around, I was handing him lemon water to drink. Or fish oil tablets. Or an intensly green, odd-smelling juice. Or a purply-red one. Or a fermented drink. Or tea.

“HEAL DAMN YOU!!! HEAL!!!”

Some of this – ahem, well, probably all of it – was completely pointless and based on unfounded nutritional theory. But it made me feel better. I was doing SOMETHING. I was fighting, dammit!

Funny how people react in a crisis.

So one of the things I made was a batch of Lacto-fermented radish pickles that I made from a bag of radishes I bought on the ‘reduced’ table of my local produce market. LOVE MY PRODUCE MARKET. (But LOVE their ‘reduced’ table even more!)

I’d never done this before, but I love me a good pickle – German background coming out there. Thanks Oma and Opa! x -and I hear that good gut health and an alkaline enviromment in the body can hinder cancer cell growth (you see how crazy it got?!). So yeah: pickle. Bring it on!

I got this super easy recipe from an article by Asphyxia in Grass Roots Magazine no. 211.
Basically you chop up your veg (cabbage, radish, cucmber, beans, carrot, whatevs!) into bite-sized pieces (but if you’re like me, you’ll whip out your spiraliser and happily spiral away for hours. Love that thing!). You use a big clean, dry jar, and you pack your veg in tightly adding 1 tablespoon of salt per 600g of veg. Then you top it up until the veg is covered with clean cold water. It helps to add a little culture to encourage things along, but you dont have to. I tipped in about a teaspoonful of Yakult (Lacto bacilli! Yeah!) but you can use some whey off the top of your yoghurt, or a bit of the juice from a previous batch of pickle.

That’s it! Let the little critters work their magic! Asphyxia says to weigh the veg down with something to ensure theyre submerged to stop mould, but mine were so full, I just gave them a shake or 2 each day. After 5 days I had a quick sample – and it tasted great! Just like saurkraut! So I popped them in the fridge, and we’ve been eating them with salads and with dinner. So easy. And such a pretty colour! Looks great in the jar!

The other thing I whipped up – *wink* – was a sour dough. Oh but I haven’t got time for kneading and rising and knocking back and blah blah blah…. *Aint Nobody Got Time Fo Dat!*

So I’ve come up with a little cheat. You wanna know how I do it?

“shh, c’mere” *Looks furtively around and leans in*

I use my slow cooker.

Yeah i know its not really ‘baking’ or whatevs. Do you care? I dont care! Do you? Nuh, neither do I.

Right. So here’s how you do it. Keep it under your hat. You’ll be the most popular person at parties. And  no one will know our dirty secret, ok?

Right, so you’ve got your starter. (You dont?! Oh ok – go back here and start one.)
So if you’ve done your ‘sponge’ last night, good on you. If you didn’t – doesnt matter too much. I did my first slow cooker loaf just using a scoop of starter and it was fine. but it does work better if you’ve made a sponge.

So. To your sponge add 3 cups flour (I used rye and wholemeal spelt, but you use whatever you like) 1/2 tsp salt, and about 1/2 c warm water. Knead this into a dough. Now I dont know how long you do this for. I’ve heard its all “when-you-get-a-window-in-the-dough” or “10 minutes no more or less” or “When you can stretch it and tie it into a half winsdor knot” – I have no idea. I just knead mine for a bit, until it’s kinda firm but elastic, and not gluing itself to my fingers annoyingly.

Now comes the hard bit.

Whack it in your slow cooker.

You might want to spray the inside with a bit of oil so it doesn’t stick, but you basically are going to let the LOW setting on your slow cooker do the rising bit for you. Genius. Takes about 1 hour, but I just look at it every now and then, and when I think “oh yeah. It’s definitley much bigger” – that’s the point to turn it up to HIGH. It may expand and conform to the inside of your cooker bowl. Lady, if you’re looking for a perfect, french artisian sourdough loaf: This ain’t your recipe. But if you dont mind a loaf that is a little football-shaped, then proceed.

If, after a few hours – like I said, not an exact science – the top of the loaf is dry and you can knock on it – it’s done! And you can tip that sucker out (WITH OVEN MITTS!) and eat it right now if you like! But if you want a golden brown crust to impress your friends, you might want to just pop it in a 200 deg c oven for 15 min or so. And then your house smells like baking bread. And everyone marvels at your domestic prowess.

“WOW – BREAD FROM SCRATCH?! Where DO you get the time?!”
“Oh this old thing?! It was nothing…!” *wink wink*

Yeah it’s a bit of an odd shape. But sliced up with butter and honey and the kids will eat it so fast they wont even notice!

So today I am plodding along. We got the news that Ben’s cancer cells haven’t spread (PRAISE BE!) and I’m planning what books I’ll read and what knitting I’ll take while I’m waiting at the hospital on Thursday. 13 chickens and counting. And we’re having pizza for dinner. (Hey: Nobody’s perfect!)

What do you do in a crisis?
Are you having the week from hell too?
Know where I can get some cheap orchard netting?

Be kind, stay calm, and get your brothers/husbands/boyfriends/dads to check for lumps. Seriously.
xx

Father’s Day, Farmers Markets, and Baking Fails.

I’ve grabbed a quick 10 min with a cup of coffee to post this! Tara’s napping, and I’ve still gotta wash up and get firewood, and bring in the bins and put the washing out, and empty the compost and go for a run, and… and…
 
…hmm.
 
A farm girl’s work is never done!
 
 
So there’ll be no curling up in my favourite sunny reading spot for me today. Well, yet.
 
But Lenin and the girls love our sunny front door step. So much so, that they are reluctant to move, and I often have to swipe them aside/kick them outta the way/trip over them coming out the front door! Originally, he was named ‘Lenin’ after ‘The Good Life’ tv series’ rooster. But that rooster was named after a tyrannical dictator. And there’s just nothing tyrannical about our Lenin. He is the most laid-back, peaceful, lovely bird I’ve ever met! So, I think maybe ‘Lennon’ is a more appropriate name for him, no? And he does like beetles… 😉
 
 
Hay.
 
It’s been all about hay, here. We agist several horses – including Will my older ex-galloper gentleman – but in bushy, scrubby paddocks. So feed has to be brought in most of the time for our four-legged clients. Unfortunately it does this to my arms unless I cover them up while lugging it round.
 
 
 
And I sneeze, and I itch and I wheeze…. Luckily Katie doesn’t because I quite often find her like this in our hayshed.
 



 

The weekend hay delivery, aka Kate’s Stage Coach.
 


AND I made my first Hill Shadow Lemon Meringue Pie on Sunday, for father’s day afternoon tea (We love you Ben/Daddy!)

The curd was TO DIE FOR! (that’ll be those Hill Shadow Farm lemons and fresh Hill Shadow free range eggs! 😉 Of course!)

 
But unfortunately even though it came together beautifully and tasted heavenly, something funny happened to the egg whites and I ended up with quite a bit of liquid white after I baked it and put it in the fridge. Perhaps I shouldn’t have put it in the fridge?!
 
And finally here’s a pic of Tara at the Lilydale Farmers Market – she loved those ducklings! We came home with some yummy local pink lady apples, and some seedlings: Spearmint, Chamomile, Parsley, Coriander and Basil. We’ve planted those into a space in our new garden beds – next are the veggies! Katie bought a lemon soap and an orange ice block with her pocket money. Who knows? Next time we may be there as stallholders?
 
How did you enjoy the gorgeous weather this weekend?
Ever had a baking disaster?
What do you love at your farmers market?
 
Ooh?! Is that the baby…?
Go and get outside!
xx


The beginning.

So I’ve started this blog. For lots of reasons.

Firstly, our family has relocated interstate away from our family and friends, with our 2 girls, 2 mongrel dogs, old ex-racehorse and pet rat. At first we moved into this crappy old red-brick box (Nothing against red bricks or boxes per say…) sight unseen, because we didn’t know the area, didn’t know anyone here, and I was 38 weeks pregnant with my 2nd baby so we couldn’t fly down to hunt for real estate. So we basically just took anything that would let us have pets, and near a train station.

And “anything”‘s exactly what we got.

Not wanting to sound ungrateful or anything, but every time I have to clean this house, with its multi-coloured “every shade of off-white” walls, its “we-got-a-great-deal-on-a-bulk-lot-of-mixed-tiles!” bathroom, and its “Bluetack-should-hold-that-right-on!” appliances, I feel severely ripped off. Also when they take $1700 a month off us for the privilege.

But it’s temporary! We’ve got a little something in the works… a house. A small but cosy house surrounded by trees in the shadow of a mountain. A house with potential. A house which will be rented, but which will allow us to have the farm/homestead lifestyle we’ve dreamed of, but will probably never afford to own outright.

I want to document our new life for my girls. I want to connect with something – anything – because moving to a new area and knowing no one is isolating, especially with a 3 week old baby (she’s 10months now!). I want to connect with the earth. I want to put down roots. To create. To grow things. To slow down. I want nature, and homegrown foods, and community. But I know it’ll probably come with its share of chaos, tears, and hilarity.

Well, It’ll all be here.