Homespun, hay, and hungry hunters.

It’s getting colder and greyer at Hill Shadow. We still get blue skies, but colours are duller. The air is crisp. Morning frosts are a regular occurance now, and the report this morning said it was 3 degrees celcius.

I’d believe it.

I’ve been knitting lots of warm woolies! I’m about 3/4 through Ben’s woolley socks (he MIGHT get to wear the before the end of winter!). I discovered my friend Bec over at Peg and Jane spins the most amazing wool by hand (amazing skill!) so I’ve HAD to buy some and cast on a little cardi for Tara. Im in love with this wool! And knowing that it came from a small family farm in country Victoria, spun by Bec, and knitted by me, makes it all the more special.

And we bought a new little runabout car for Ben – FINALLY. We just couldnt do the too-ing and fro-ing in in the freezing pitch black early mornings and all hours of the night anymore! So this is Ben’s little work vehicle. And life has settle down CONSIDERABLY since!

It was great being a ‘one car family’ for all those years, but completely impractical now!

Last weekend we scored a few mouldy bales of hay from one of our agisters! Unsuitable as horse feed, but perfect for another bale garden! I’ve filled with layers of green clippings, cardboard, manure, straw, and compost, but so far I’ve just planted some peas and some bits and pieces from the garden. Not really sure what I’ll put in there yet.

And of course in true Hill Shadow Farm style, we’ve had some #accidentalfarming happening, with a butternut pumpkin popping up on its own in the garden and these… er… things.

There’s 2 of them. Pumpkins? Marrows?

Someone who has been loving all the wet weather is Katie!

MUDPIES!!! Perfect after-ballet activity!

And speaking of hay, we picked up this load for $4 a bale from an ad on Gumtree! BARGAIN! We got 20 bales, but I’m so getting another 20 when I can! What a steal!!! It’s so nice to have the barn full for winter. Its a comforting feeling; abundance.

Some of the old hay we were given went out to the chooks as a nice warm bed in their chookhouse. And Ben up-cycled this old coffee table into new nesting boxes for the girls – aren’t they brilliant!?

Unfortunately: Disaster. A few nights ago, we made a fatal communication error. I thought Ben had shut the chooks in for the night, he thought I had. We hadn’t. I woke in the night to frantic clucking and I knew. I bolted out in my pjs and gumboots and in my torchlight I saw the flashing eyes of 2 cunning foxes in the dark, licking their lips having helped themselves to our henhouse like theives in the night.

I felt so horribly guilty. We lost 5 girls through stupid forgetfulness, and we both felt absolutely horrible. I now have a very loud piercing alarm set to go off each evening to remind us to SHUT THE CHOOKS IN!!!



You know what IS good about winter though? Baking. Specifically, my husband’s baking.


Just LOOK at this apple pie!!! Tonight he’s making lemon meringue. God help my waistline! I shall have to chop wood for hours to work it all off!

The other thing I cant wait for about winter…

3 more weeks!

What do you look forward to about winter?

Keep warm
xxx

Advertisements

Autumnal anxieties.

Waking up for the school routine today was just a bit greyer. A bit darker. The butter was unspreadably hard on the bench top. Katie asked where her school jumper was.

Autumn is here.

And I was over reading Kate’s post today, and it made me crave my ultimate warm comfort food: Avocado, Vegemite and Tomato on toast.

Unfortunately our Grosse Lisse’s aren’t doing so great. There’s SO many on the vines, but the minute one of them starts to show a hint of colour: BLOSSOM END ROT.

Ive brought a few green ones inside to see if I can ripen them on the window sill. So disappointing.

Sticks and Dip

The cuc’s are going gangbusters! Growing fast than I can pick them! Katie has cucumber in her lunch everyday, and luckily, Tara’s favourite lunch is “Sticks and Dip”.

Taking the lead from my fellow thrifty homesteading bloggers, Ive attempted to preserve some, and make some lacto-fermented cucumber pickle. (I used the same method I used here.)

Soon it’ll be time to plant seedlings in our winter foam planters for our next bale garden. Which we haven’t got the bales for yet. And to finish our dog fence. Which we haven’t got the wire for yet. And stack our season’s firewood. Which we haven’t got the chainsaw fixed, or started collecting yet. Or cleaned the chimney.

Ive been losing a fair bit of sleep lately.

Winter Foamy Seedling System!

Time’s just flying by. Proof of this: Katie our big school girl is 5 in a few weeks!!! I’ve knitted her these cute slippers from Ravelry. Purple by request!

Cookie knows how to stay warm.

Our plans for Autumn:

More Ex-batts – we’re down to 11 girls, so we’ll be adopting 10-15 more.

Hay stockpile – for the bale garden AND to last Will the winter! We currently have about 15 bales, but I’d feel much better with a stockpile of 30 or 40 more in our barn.

Finish the dog-proof fence – to enclose a new four-legged addition to the family we’ll adopt soon… saty tuned…

Firewood stockpile and service the chimney -it’s not working so great. we’ve been getting a fair bit of smoke in the house and it doesn’t draw very well.

Blackberry Jam – The blackberries are finished, and I have a freezer full of berries ready for pies and jams! I found a Slowcooker Jam recipe (Is there ANYTHING they cant do?!) – I HAVE to try it!

Cast on some beanies and winter woolies for us! –  Winter is coming! Time to get knitting!

…It’s not such a big To Do list, right?

Plus we have to workout what we need to plant now, build a new bale garden, sort out our finanaces, plan and hold Katie’s 5th birthday party, mow the lawn, prune the fruit trees…

*BREATHES HEAVILY INTO PAPER BAG*

At least I’ll be less of a One Woman Farm in the next few weeks: Ben had his last scheduled chemo session today! HURRAH! Hopefully this means he’s on the road to recovery. we’re very grateful that his prognosis is so positive, and we’re fairly certain he won’t need too much more treatment after this. Others are not so lucky, and cant be that certain of a positive outcome. For them there’s no end in sight to the chemo/radiation nightmare. My heart goes out to all those people. I’ve reminded myself of that often over the past few weeks, and it’s how I’ve stayed grateful and positive (even on the days I hit rock bottom. And there were a few of those too.)

Livestrong. Be grateful. Winter is coming, but so too is Spring.

Big love xx

Pills, poison, patience, and pallid poultry.

Chemo days

This week was totally consumed with chemotherapy. Ben had to go everyday at 9am, sit in a hospital chair, while his body was effectively fed poison, again, and again, and again. He’s been amazing: sleeping lots, woozy and weak, but every minute he feels well enough, he’s helping out or playing with the girls.

He gets nausea – there’s a pill for that.
He gets dizzy – there’s a pill for that.
He gets insomnia – there’s a pill for that.
And he’s been chronically constipated (sorry Ben!) – and you guessed it….

I feel so bloody helpless. All I can really do is make him food/drink, let him sleep, check he’s remembered whatever pill he’s due for, and exit the kids whenever possible so he can have some peace! Phew. It’s tiring and emotionally pretty hard. And this is only after week one.

Eep.

On the Friday I booked both the kids into care, and went with him to keep him company for the few hours in the ward. I watched the nurses come and go: Efficient, professional, and endlessly paitient. I listened to the 93-year-old platelet-recipient in the next chair (“and he says to me ‘what are you in here for?’ And I say, ‘I think Im pregnant’. And then he looks at my paperwork and says ‘*insert medical term here*: I’ve never heard of that!’ And I said, ‘Well it’s probably never heard of you either!’…).  And I crocheted 2 tealight lanterns to sell at some local markets on a friends’ stall.
And I won a free knitting pattern over at Foxs Lane! Woohoo! Another project! I’m thinking a beanie for a certain husband who might need a head warmer/sun-protector soon…
Some people do chemo for YEARS. Thankgod for us, it should only be 9 weeks. HOPEFULLY.

But the garden, it doth provide. It’s all wild and going to seed now. But we still pick cherry toms, basil – loads of that!, lettuce, leeks, spring onion, spinach, corn, oregano, and parsley. Soon, we will hopefully pick our first Grosse Lisse tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, carrots, rocket, and more beetroot.

Corn! BIG success in a bed that nothing else could survive in because we couldn’t keep the slugs away! But the corn was too tough!

What to plant next, what to plant next… 😉

We were so proud of our spotty apricots (BEST JAM EVER. SERIOUSLY!), our “Accidental we-thought-they-were-ornamental-but-they’re-not-actually-they’re-just-undersized Plum Jam” and our poor bent apple tree’s 4 little green apples (I juiced em before the birds ate ’em!) . But our figs are so disappointing. They’re HUGE! We had high hopes! But inside they’re dry and completely tasteless. And before they get a chance to go really black, they get eaten (but not by us.). It’s not looking good. I dont know whether it’s because they dont get a chance to go fully ripe, or because the whole massive tree (well over 12 ft!) appears to be thriving from between 2 concrete slabs in an old garden bed and is deprived of water/nutrients/space..? However, every chance it gets, it send out new shoots, and it is massive and loaded with fruit, so I figure it cant be fareing too badly! Truly, you wouldn’t believe the mutant base of this tree and where it’s growing from. Isn’t nature’s resilience amazing?!

Tomatoes and basil: perfect bedfellows x (and that garden bed literally used to be A BED. Recycling, doncha know!?)

And can we recommend SWEET BITE as a cherry tomato variety?!?! Holy crud, these guys PRODUCED! For such a compect little bush (I’m talking balcony-pot-plant size!) they are LOADED with fruit, and the girls snack off those 2 little bushes every day! Highly recommended!

Discovery! We lay our glass panels (used for mini ‘glasshouses’ over our foam-boxed seedlings) on the weed patches in the direct summer sun! Who needs weedkiller & chemicals? Just leave it a few days, then move it somewhere else! The weeds cant handle the heat, and go brown and die! #AccidentalFarming

And our poor chookies appear to have… um… colds?! I’ve noticed a few looking listless, and they appear to have ‘snotty’ beaks and bubbly eyes… OMG – what?! You guys cant be sick too?! So Im frantically googling and I’ve added some garlic granules to their drinking water. and I swear I saw some lice on one of them… (There’s probably a pill for that.)

So tonight I’m listening to the wild wind, contemplating a shower and the washing up, googling chook antibiotics, wondering WHY THE HELL Katie isn’t going to sleep, drinking tea, savouring a belly full of cauliflower crust pizza (TRY IT), feeling grateful to live in a country that offers subsidised childcare in difficult circumstances, and trying to breathe deeply and evenly.

One day at a time.

-xx-

Christmas Concerts, Chemotherapy, Crayons and Cookbooks.

Things are winding up for the year, but it doesn’t mean we’re any less busy! Infact we’re flying around to christmas carols, end of year functions, concerts, and presentations! Phew! We had a busy one when both Kate’s ballet concert AND hip hop end of year concert were on on the same weekend!

Which was tonnes of fun and SO SO cute. Ben even came third in the Dad’s Dance-off competition! (That was at the hip hop concert. Would’ve been a very different competition at the ballet concert.)

Thie girls have decorated and helped me wrap presents. Kate made all of her friends presents this year, and we made handmade gifts for the family. Our decorating in the house is fairly minimal, as we’ll spend christmas day and boxing day with our families up in NSW. Cookie the dog will come with us for the trip, but Will and the chooks will stay behind to man the fort! They’re being fed by a friend while we’re gone. Ugh, I HATE not seeing my horse on christmas day. He is very much a part of my family and I hate that I cant give him his bag of carrots and cuddles on the day. Oh well, its only a few days.

At least he finally seems to have acclimatised to Melbourne, and is looking really well! Finally! He had us a bit worried there for a while!

It’s been fairly hot and muggy – which the garden loves! – but which sends us inside most afternoons to escape the heat! The girls have taken to drawing and colouring of late. Its cute to see them getting along so well together. And though Tara still doesn’t say much, she always lets us know in no uncertain terms what she wants. The girls are so different that way!: Katie was an very sweet, easy going, even tempered baby. Tara is a firey, spirited kid. She wants to do it on her own! She wants THAT one, no not that one, THAT one. She wants her pink hair clip, to wear these shoes, and what you’re eating! She makes me laugh – she definitely knows her own mind already!

The chooks have been laying 6 eggs a day, and Lennon seems to have finally recovered his mojo! And his crow!

Mrs Fox seems to have settled down a bit now – I think her babies may have left the den. She’s less ravenous for food, and we’ve not seen her or her young ones for a few weeks. Which makes me really happy as I’ve been able to let the chooks free range again for a good part of each day.

Tara adores the chooks, and they have absolutely no fear of her. She loves to collect the eggs and feed them bread scraps. Although you have to be sure she doesn’t mix the 2 jobs up: Today she collected the eggs in her bucket, then promptly sat down took and egg out and threw it to the chooks. Whoops. I managed to save the other 5 and swap them for actual chook food before she tossed any more!

Its such a privildge to live here and have this life, and I feel lucky everyday with the freedom and space the girls have, and that we can grow this food and these animals. I cant imagine life in an inner-city apartment. It would certinly be very very different.

However we’re not that isolated that we’re cut-off from city amenities, which is lucky, as Ben recently received the bad news that he has had Testicular Cancer and will need to undergo some chemo therapy in the new year following the surgery he just had. It was certainly a shock, I was so sure he was going to be cleared, it took me a while to get a grip on myself. We have had such a tough and life-changing 12 months: Why was this happening to us?! Now?! When we have 2 young kids, no family around us, and just before christmas!? It wasnt fair! We’re good people! ben is young and strong. We’ve been through so much already!? Why why why?!

I still dont know. All I know is that cancer happens to lots of very good people, and that we are strong, and we will get through this thing too. We have to. we will take it one step at a time, and do what we need to do. And we will ask for help. And we will breathe, and hug the girls, and cry, and be angry, and just keep plodding along. that’s all we can do.

Of course I did what I usually do. I went to the library.

Oh the library. Place of safety, and wonder, and information, and the smell of musty, papery, printy booky loveliness. As the only child of a single mum who worked very very long hours when I was groing up, I spent alot of time in my local library. It was my second home. My safe place. I knew all the librarians by name, and they all knew me. I had a favourite spot. I knew the opening hours off by heart. And I still feel an overwhelming sense of ‘home’ the minute I walk into a library. Im quite claustrophobic by nature, but I love sitting between narrow shelves with books towereing on all sides of me. A Book Igloo.

I’ve borrowed a few titles in preparation. Food-related, of course. Because that’s my other defense mechanism: cooking. Cooking and Reading. Yeah – that’s exactly what you want in an alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse. The enemy will be bearing down, and I’ll be quoting Jane Austin and whipping up a souffle. Brilliant.

I’ve borrowed Belle Gibson’s The Whole Pantry – she’s a woman living with inoperable brain cancer, who is treating herself wholistically and using alternative means. I’ve borrowed The Cancer Fighting Kitchen – I gotta try this broth! And Pete Evan’s Healthy Every Day – which is a bit intimidating, I have to say. Ceviche? Okra? Yuzu? Gremolata? Whut?! Slow down, Pete! Slow down!

But first: Christmas. All that can wait til after christmas.

I’ve made my Nanny Dorothy’s famous christmas pudding – an annual tradition – and it’s ready for custard and cream! Here’s the recipe, passed down through 4 generations of women in my family, and the pudding making-torch will be passed to Katie when she’s older.

Make it. And eat it warm, with custrad, surrounded by your loved ones. And dont forget to tip your face skyward and tell Dorothy how yummy it is. Give her a thumbs up: She’d like that.

Dorothy’s Famous Chrissy Pud

500g mixed dried fruit (whatever you like! I like sultanas, blueberries, cherries and currants.)
6 oz plain flour (Yeah it’s ounces. it’s an old recipe k?! Try finging a converter online. There’s an app for that…)
1/2 t mixed spice
1/2 t nutmeg
2 oz breadcrumbs
4 oz butter (do yourself a favour use butter, not marg!)
1 grated carrot (see?! Veggies! Healthy!)
3 oz brown sugar
3 eggs (please choose free range x )
dash vanilla
1 t lemon juice
1 t Parisian Essence (Yes that’s a thing. It’s in the supermarket. Near the vanilla essences and food colouring and stuff…)
Brandy to flavour. (Or rum essence in a pinch)

Soak fruit in brandy (or essence) overnight in a sealed container, shaking occasionally. In a large bowl, sift flour and spices. Add butter and belend well. Add crumbs, fruit mix, carrot and brown suagr. Mix then add beaten eggs and essences. (If the mix is too thick, you can moisten it with a little milk.)
Place in a well-greased pudding tin, placing alfoil across the top then the lid to ensure a good seal.Place pudding dish into a large boiler pot. Fill pot with boiling water, so water leverl is just under the lid of the pudding dish. (Place a marble or two in the water – if it’s beginning to boil dry, the marble will ‘ting-ting-ting’ on the side of the pot and warn you!) Constantly top up water as needed. place lid on and boil 5 hours.

Well, I hope you have a wonderful chrissy/holiday with your loved ones.
How will you spend it?

Drive safely, be happy, give generously, laugh muchly.
xx

Plums, poultry, preserving and pom poms.

Hill Shadow Inventory:
Rooster – 1
Chickens – 14
Horse – 1
Dog – 1
Fox – ?
Humans – 4
Daily eggs – 3 or 4
Sleeps til christmas – 24

Unfortunatley the closest we’ve gotten Tara to Santa is waving to this reindeer at the mall.

…well, it’s a start.

And our garden produced this amazing beetroot which was ready before all the rest – isn’t it beautiful?!

It’s getting warmer and warmer! The girls are in dresses, sandals and shorts.

UGH! STOP PRESS!
Chickens – 13

Can you believe that?! Just as I was typing that last bit, Mrs Fox took another one, right from our front door step!!! There’s feathers everywhere!

The scene of the crime.

At first I did a quick head count and I was horrified that she took Katie’s favourite chook, Shiny. But luckily, Shiny has a favourite hiding spot on her own round back under the fig tree, and a quick check found her to be there as usual, oblivious to what had just happened round front.

Shiny: lives to dig figs another day!

Phew! I have no idea how I would’ve broken that to Katie this afternoon!

Lennon is recovering beautifully from his ordeal and has actually begun to crow again in the last few days. Unfortunately I think it may take him a while to regain his former glory. His crow sounded a mix between an old fashioned car horn (“A-HOO-GA!”) and a set of deflating bagpipes.

Kate and I made sure we made encouraging comments. (“Gee Lennon, that sounds… er… well that’s really… um… yeah good try, Mate!”)

Christmas activities are ramping up: Concerts, parties, and Katie’s kinder graduation (Where did THAT time go?!) are all in the next few weeks.

One of the events I did check in at was the open day of our local Steiner School. Although I dont wholly agree with the Steiner/Waldorf approach to education, there is so much I love about it: The avoidance of commercialism, the focus on nature, the peacefulness, the importance of creativity.

Feeling totally inspired when I got home, Katie and I made a 2-storey fairy house in the yard, and Kate spent ages furnishing it with feathers, leaves and flowers.

In the afternoon, while Tara had her sleep, Kate and I listened to Tchaikovksy’s Swan Lake Suite (My favourite!) and made pom-poms.

Look! We have apples!!!

THREE APPLES!!!

Yeah ok: not real great for a whole tree. But the poor tree is on its side, totally eclipsed and deprived of water and sun by the 2 massive cypress’ next to it. So it’s a wonder it’s managed to survive at all, let alone bear fruit.

I was hoping to have some apricots or figs to make jam from for christmas presents this year, but alas – no dice. Still green and under-ripe. BUT! I just happened to taste a bit of the ‘ornamental’ plum in the front yard, and knock-me-down – it’s edible!!! They’re just little plums! And it seems the birds have been fooled too – they haven’t noticed them! So I’ve picked a bunch and spent this morning having my first attempt at jam-making!

Little kitchen helper fairy.

It’s a sticky red mess in my kitchen, but i’ll let you know how it goes! Here’s the recipe I used.

And lastly I made this raw vegan caramel slice this week.

Oh. My. Word.

Do your self a favour – download the Raw Desserts App from Ascension Kitchen and make a batch.

You’re welcome.

Have you finished your christmas shopping?
Are you making any handmade gifts this year?
Do you Waldorf? Steiner? Montessori? Homeschool? Unschool? None? All?

Go count your chickens.
xx

Chickens, christmas, and cans of catfood.

That fox. She has me paranoid. At every cluck of a chook now, I bolt outside like

It’s totally nuts. Plus our chickens seem to have totally gone off the lay. 15 chickens only producing 2 eggs a day. Hum.

The chicken forum I follow on facebook suggested upping their protein as they will be trying to recover their feathers after life in the battery farm. And you know what they suggested?

Cat food.

(Yeah, I know.)

But we’ll try anything, so bring on a the tinned Whiskas and we’ll see what happens I guess!

As things head toward christmas, Im really thinking about what Im going to give for gifts this year. I LOVE giving presents! It’s one of my FAVOURITE things. BUT, I hate commercialism and giving “stuff”. There is a practical side of me that hates the frivolity and waste. I hate wrapping paper, I hate birthday cards, I hate useless plastic gimmicky crap. So this year I am trying to give what I love receiving: handmade and useful gifts.

I’ll go into more detail post-christmas (just incase anyone on my gift-giving list happens upon this blog! *spoilers!*)

But I do love how busy the end of the year gets. I love the end of year festivities: concerts, parties, catch-ups… FUN!

OOH! And DECORATING! A new house to decorate! We dont even have a tree! Where do we start?!

Get thinking! Only 5 weeks to go! 5 WEEKS!

Longer post next time, I promise 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

Bees, Battery hens, and Baking Bread.

We did it! We started our sour dough culture! Here’s a picture of it on day 2.

The idea is to use naturally occurring yeasts in the air, keep them cultivated in a ‘starter’, and take from it to bake your loaves. In that way, this is our first fully-fledged “Hill Shadow Loaf” with yeasts from the air of Mt Dandenong!

Ben did it. And I was AMAZED how light and fluffy it was!

 

Not at all like any dense, large-holed, peasant-bread-style sour dough I’d ever had before..!? Then he finally admitted that he added packet yeast. He CHICKENED OUT! Bahahaha. So as I type this, the first REAL Hill Shadow Sour Dough Loaf is proofing on the window sill! NO ADDED YEAST. Just spelt flour, wheat flour, water, a little salt, and our homemade starter.

If you want to give it a go too, here’s where we got our information.

The next exciting thing that happened this week is that the fabled “Hill Shadow Ferals” proved themselves to be real! We were told there was a perennial swarm of bees that returned each year to the barn wall, un-deterred by sprays or people, although the previous tennant was unsure if they were bees or wasps. Oh-oh.

Then this week!:

They are indeed bees!!! Too big to be natives, but i know NEXT TO NOTHING about bees. But I want to know! What an amazing natural resource we might have stumbled upon! Now I just have to work out what to do next…

We were also inspired by the kitchen garden at Heide Museum of Modern Art. And we put in some tom thumb tomatoes, oregano, and capsicum seedlings. Hopefully they wont go the way of the beans: Only one of them is unscathed by slugs.

 

And finally, we picked up our 12 new Isa Brown hens, rescued from a battery farm by Crystals Barnyard.

Poor girls are in pretty good feather condition, considering. It was heart warming to watch them on their first free-range day: They couldn’t believe they were free. Some were reluctant to leave the henhouse. Others luxuriated in the dust and afternoon sun.

It’s lovely to know that this will be their life from now on.

Right, now Im off to pick Katie up from Kinder, put my sour dough in the oven, and decide what to do with thses GORGEOUS strawberries I got from the produce market this morning…

Have a go at starting a sour dough from yeast at your place! (You dont need a farm!)
xx