“There is a dusting of snow.” Our John said, as he brought me my coffee at 5.30 this morning. By 6 am I was out in the barn, feeding out. By 7.am I was standing in the yards, listening to the chomp of cows, feeling the calm, watching the light rise. Not a sun rise more of a gradual lightening of a heavy steel sky. A steaming of cold light.
There was just a dusting of snow frozen to the ground. The footsteps of the dogs and I, as we began our walk, were as loud as the world. The only sounds in the clear cold hush. Except for a bleating Mia. “Where’s mine? Where’s mine?”.
Just a dusting of snow. A tickle without a laugh. A nod from the corner of winters eye.
Just imagine your beautiful sparkling Christmas table is dressed. With all your lovely china and polished cutlery, little vases of flowers and the most perfect table cloth that you do not want to spill candle wax on. So, beside the sparkling wine glass and the beaded water glass, is a beautiful delicate tiny, little, tea cup and saucer and in the tea cup is a candle. A beeswax candle.
My Beautiful Daughter Sops asked me to share this with you.
To make a beeswax candle. Fill a pyrex jug with blocks of beeswax. We rendered the wax the other day here. Today we will use some of last years wax and some of this years wax! Amazing difference in colour. The first year the bees had a field of soya beans and the flower garden. The second year (darker wax) I had planted more lavenders and sowed a lot more clover. I wonder what it was that gave us this deep golden wax.
There now. A candle in a tiny tea cup. Ready for your Christmas table or your Birthday Tray or your desk, where mine is sitting now, scenting the room with its fragrance.
Greg and Katherine from Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide challenged me with this series of questions. Actually, and thank you very much, I found this exercise a wee bit difficult. But you guys have such a wry sense of humour! Today I had to think. And as we know thinking is hard!!
However here are my humble answers to their searching questions.
What or who inspired you to start a blog. Our little old fashioned farm is called the Kitchen’s Garden because I grow food for the kitchens. I started thekitchensgarden blog so that all my children and their dearly beloveds could pop in and see what I was doing any time they felt like it and might be inspired. I live far far away from my grown children and we are in contact frequently but this way I would feel closer to them. I never for a minute thought I would meet so many other blog people and that so many of you would be interested in the farmy as well. Pretty amazing. So from this simple idea a naughty blog monster has sprung!
And, I wanted everyone to see that you Can live a very simple life. That doing without has more to do with the WITH than with the OUT. (Does that make sense?) That dreams can come true. Though sometimes it is not the dream you thought you were dreaming.
John would tell you that he wants the blog to inspire us to take charge of our own lives. He wants people to know that they CAN save the barns, save the old houses, live on the land, grow your own food, be independent, be autonomous. It is not that hard. And it is not expensive if you take your time and use recycled materials. (You should see the heavy solid wooden door he came home with the other day, that he found on someone’s burn pile!!) But he would probably say all that using three words, plus a couple of grunts and much shaking out of the newspaper, as he is after all The Silent One.
Then, Tig the youngest son called from New Zealand and said ‘Why don’t you tell us what you are eating as well, and write the old Mama recipes, so we can look them up.’
Then third son’s lovely wife called from California and said ‘What temp do I cook the scalloped potatoes on’.
Then eldest son texted from Canada and said ‘How long do I cook this big roast for anyway?’
And Senior Son said on our email chat ‘keep it realtime, talk about the small stuff. ‘
Sops said ‘ Do you want me to top up your wine?’
And Our John turned the page on his newspaper and said, ‘Is the Oven still on for a reason?’.
And I thought. Hmm. And the Foodie Component to the thekitchensgarden was the result.
Foodie Inspiration. My readers and the blogs I read are masters at inspiration and Beautiful Daughter. She works in hospitality and is presently in London. She is a great researcher, reader and taster and is always calling me from somewhere in the world with a wonderful idea. Though for some reason she often calls when she is putting on her make up and about to run out the door, so our conversations are quite delightfully mad with family shorthand.
Who taught you to cook? Like most of us, my first introduction to cooking and feeding others, was with My Mother. She taught me the basics. She also experimented a lot in the kitchen which gave me the nerve to teach myself more, deal with failures and trust my palate. She encouraged me to write the work down by passing on the old recipe books to me.
A food bloggers table you would like to eat at. (FIRST?) Rosemary’s table at Cooking in Sens, her food is so local (French), so simple, so beautiful, so healthy and absolutely, unapologetically beautiful. Plus I think she might have a wine cellar.
Here I need to add that there are so many glorious cooks out there who visit me on the blog, and who I chat with almost daily on the webs, who I long to visit with and cook with. You know who you are! Yes, you. I shall be naming names in a few weeks!
Best thing you have eaten in another country. I don’t know. I honestly do not know. I have eaten so much good food in different countries over the years. The first one that springs to mind though, is a tiny restaurant right on the waterfront in Amalfi, Italy. It was hidden away down the track to the marina. The boats had just come in and I ate fresh, fresh bright eyed fish. I cannot even tell you what the fish was but it was a whole fish, salted and cooked to perfection. Nothing fancy. I ate it outside, under an umbrella, with the gulls and a glass of something white and crisp for company. It was my day off so I was alone. I often went there alone. Actually I love to eat alone too. I had been staying in the town long enough for the waiters to know me, so they had begun to make my food choices for me. I was very spoilt.
Batter splattered food book. My own recipe book. None of the pages are actually attached now, and I use the cover as a kind of manilla file. There are recipes that have been touched with grubby fingers so often that the words have almost gone. Often the recipes were written in the hand of the cook, on the night we cooked together, so you can imagine.
I am coming for dinner, what is your signature dish. This really would depend on the season. We will go for late summer. Home grown grass-fed fillet steak, cut thick and grilled over home made mulberry wood charcoal, with handfuls of green rosemary occasionally thrown into the coals for scented smoke. Scalloped potatoes with freshly dug onions and potatoes and this mornings cream and fresh cheese, and a huge crisp wild green salad. Beets poached and caramalised in butter and balsamic. Best you come in the summer when the gardens are producing, who knows what we will be picking. We will eat outside on the verandah, surrounded in gardens, and shaded by trees, so you can bring your dogs!
Kitchen Gadget from Santa. Old Butter Churn. I really, really need a sturdy butter churn.
Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to know. I had to think for a long time about this one.
(big breath) I do not use recipe books. (oh, you are not surprised?) I have bought them on occassion and have even been given a few, but I never use them. They sit in the library up in the loft unconsulted. John has some Thai recipe books and he refers to them religously on his cooking nights. His food is delicious. Mine is kind of free form. Feeds develop organically in the kitchen, one thing leading to the other. Once when Sops the Beautiful Daughter was visiting, John came in from work. He looked in the fridge , then poked at the bowls on the bench, opened the oven door, peered in then closed it, sniffing his way around and said.. (wait for it) ‘What’s for dinner?’
‘Oh, something weird,’ I said as I served up bowls and platters of Greek salad, english roast beef, asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce (we were practicing a new no-fail Hollandaise Sauce that Sops had read about) and humous. ‘Everything she cooks is weird’ said Beautiful Daughter, gaily. ‘Nothing ever matches.’ As she laid little bowls of hot sour apple sauce onto the table.
‘Sit carefully on those chairs,’ I said to Sops as she sat at the table,’ they are old.’
‘Oh I know about you and rickety chairs’ she said, then turned to John” When the kids and I were growing up in New Zealand…..” I tuned out as she revealed to John, her mother’s then new husband, something else you did not know. How as children, they had grown up surrounded in their grandparents and great-grandparents precious antiques. I was a young solo mum with many children in a rented house. For one reason or another, I inherited a few of the family things after my mother died, so we used to use a lot of antiques in our daily life. The funny part of the story was that we could not afford to buy cheap every day stuff, so we used the really really good antique stuff. My Mother had saved these dishes and silverware, and glasses and things to use when we had visitors or on feast days. For Good!! So ironic.
The kids and I used silver salad servers with gold threaded through the ebony handles! And wore beanies inside because we could not afford to heat. We had an enormous solid silver spoon so big we called it spare plate and it was ideal for serving mashed spuds. We ate a lot of spuds – they were cheap. We had short showers to save on hot water and our soap dish was Wedgewood. Drinking milk out of crystal. Macaroni cheese served in beautiful old soup tureens with delicate handles. And the furniture was the same. Gorgeous. We all sat at an enormous solid oak table with ten tall carved rickety old chairs. I never again kept the good stuff in a cabinet. Actually I did not have a cabinet, who got the china cabinet? But we have wandered off the subject.
I am going to leave you there. I have received a few more awards and things just lately, which is so sweet, so I shall pass on to you some names of new-to-me blogs to celebrate, after Christmas, when everyone has more time. And at that time I shall challenge a few of you to answer these questions as well!
Now back to work!
The water in the swimming pool is freezing. I know this has nothing to do with anything but I like the image! Yesterday was a little warmer so it was a good day to get back to basics, go on the walkabout and bring you all up to date on the complete lack of events on the farmy. The fields are empty. This is John on our little tractor reclaiming another three acres from the high fructose corn syrup corn field, this will go into good grass, clover and alfalfa. Some we will make into hay with the old/new haybaler. The world is taking on that early winter sepia look, which will slowly morph into the late winter sepia look.
Most of you know that we are all about the simple life. Growing our own food. Raising our own animals for meat, milk and manure. Living a simple frugal farming life out here on the prairies. It is a lot easier than you think. Using then reusing everything that comes onto the property. Very little is wasted or thrown away. In the long run we should be able to feed all the animals, and ourselves, with what we grow. Daisy’s milk is a very important part of all this. So shopping off the property will be brought down to the absolute minimum.
This is called sustainable. We are also aiming for self sufficient. But as you all know I prefer the words ‘old fashioned’. I really do not like labels at all! There are too many rules when you accept a label and I hate stupid rules.
We heat the house with a wood-stove that we also use for cooking. If it is really cold we just wear an extra item of clothing or three.
Here is Daisy the naughtiest cow on the prairies. She is an Ayrshire and very tall even for that breed. She is pregnant and her calf is due in late May. A cows gestation period is nine months and one week. Then (all going well) she will be the milk cow. She is getting fatter so she has not jumped any fences lately. John and I are buying each other a milking machine for Christmas.
All the manure and dirty straw from the barn is hauled out and spread on the fields and gardens to fertilise them and build them up. Yesterday being a warm day, I mucked out earlier, and laid fresh straw in Daisy’s quarters. So naturally she came outside and had a sleep in the filthy corner of the field on all the manure. Such a cow. Sigh.
Behind Daisy is Queenie, my little Hereford Heifer. She will be the mother of my beef herd one day. She is about eight months old but I think she is a midget. Herefords are low to the ground but sweet good Queenie is frankly the shortest cow I have ever seen. I have sheep bigger than her. She is so tiny and so good natured.
You will remember that Houdini hatched sixteen chickens not long ago at the wrong end of the season, well there are not many left now. We had hawks out here for a bit. I know there is a hawk if the guineas make a big row. They literally stand below the hawk, who will be perched on a fence post, or in a tree and they scream at it. But they were too late to save the chickens. That and an early week of terrible cold and we only have a few left. You will remember that Houdini will not stay in the coop so she and the rest of her flock are free range and sleep in the rafters of the barn. But the farm life has life and death, it is part of the cycle.
The laying chickens are in their own coop quietly moulting. I shall not show you, as they look quite quite dreadful with their feathers dropping out. In anticipation of the Big Freeze their big door is closed now, and their little coop doors have been opened to the run and they come out into the fields in the afternoons to mooch about.
Here is Mama the policeman. She is the boss sheep. She is probably pregnant (hard to tell with a sheep until she is closer to her date). She has been hanging out with Hairy McLairy the ram for a few months now. Sheep are pregnant for five months so I think we can look for lambs sometime from February on. Last time she had four lambs (quads) which was a bit of a surprise. I am rather hoping she will not do this again. But whatever she does I will make sure you hear all about it, when it happens.
There. Today I shall muck out the calves quarters. I only do this on days that are above freezing. You see (ahem) the manure freezes solid when it is really cold. Then it is not an easy procedure. Plus I get terribly cold when I work out there for too long and it hurts when you get that cold. So today is poopy scooping day! The chickens get more straw today as well, they need a good deep litter in the winter.
You all have a great day. Bring your gumboots if you are dropping in, it is murky!
Here is my Birthday Wish and my Christmas wish. In fact my Everything Wish.
Teach a child how to cook.
One child, one meal.
This Christmas it is possible that you may have some children to spend time with. Maybe you are even growing some children yourself! Maybe you are related to a few. You might have a couple living upstairs. Get permission from his mama or her papa and give that child cooking lessons. Because the lack of knowledge of basic cooking skills in many homes now is making me want to launch a crusade. But I won’t. Crusades can be destructive and I don’t have a horse. Instead lets start a grass roots movement. Lets quietly teach our kids how to cook real food.
Teach him to cook one meal from start to finish. Not a cake, or cookies. Teach him how to make a real dinner. Just the main course. With a protein taking up a small corner of the plate and vegetables and a tiny carbohydrate taking up the rest. Practise that meal. The first meal I learnt to cook by myself was bangers and mash. Sausages, mashed potatoes and frozen peas. Simple. NO, I had to practise. Timing was the hardest bit.
Make a plan. Draw up a shopping list. Show her how to shop for good food and freshness, teach him how to read labels and look for used-by dates. Then bring it into the kitchen and turn it into dinner.
There are many children growing up who do not know how to wash potatoes, cut up the brocolli, glaze the carrots, make a simple stew or curry and serve it all hot. There are even many grown-ups who do not know how to make a real hearty pie, or a pizza base or gravy or boiled eggs or scalloped potatoes. Or how to cook rice. Or boil an egg. Make a quick nutritious soup. It is terrifying to me. Less and less information is trickling down.
I believe the right to cook is as paramount as the right to eat. In fact you would think they would go together. I am really shocked at the number of people who cannot cook fresh food. This is a universal problem. They buy frozen food and heat it up, eat it in front of the tele on a paper plate and call it dinner. Food in a sanitised wrapper is just not right! We are all losing an essential ingredient of our cultures. Food. The kitchen. Cooking together. Talking.
But you and I know how to cook and we should share this knowledge. Start with one simple course. Made from scratch. Teach him how to make a sauce for a simple Pasta. An omellette. Chilli. Help her make Fried Rice. Or Tortillas. Nachos. Or teach him how to make a big tasty salad and an oil and vinegar dressing. Or a basic curry. Roast chicken stuffed with lemons served with roast potatoes and peas. Spaghetti. Stay simple. But make a meal. Then practice that one meal.
And serve it. Teach him about warm plates, and draining potatoes of their boiling water. Carving the meat. Tasting. Butter in the peas. Keeping everything hot. Setting a table. Knives and forks. Plating. Eating with your eyes. Smelling the scented steam. Teach her about the timing of getting it all on the table simultaneously – Hot.
Teach them about waiting for the cook to sit down before starting to eat. And saying, God Bless the Cook and Thank you, before all tucking in. Teach them about eating together each night and talking. Talking! Teach them how to eat with a knife and a fork. Please teach them how to eat with a knife and fork!
Teach a Child How to Cook.
Keep good food alive! A busy kitchen is such a lovely happy place to be.
This is my wish. This is my challenge to myself. I have a couple of kids in mind. They live down the road in a country house and both parents are working very hard to support them. So I shall offer to have the kids one day after school a week, during the winter, and we will cook and eat. After we have worked in the barn, the barn is my carrot, they love being in the barn. They love Daisy.
I am sure it comes as no surprise to you that my Plum Duff has no plums in it. Plum Duff is a steamed pudding. King George called it Plum Duff , demanded it at Christmas in 17 something and was called the Pudding King from then on. On the old sailing ships it was called Plum Duff. It was made with raisins and dough and boiled. My father spent some time at sea as a young man, I think that is why our Christmas Pudding was always greeted with shouts of The Plum Duff! For Christmas they fancied it up of course and called it Christmas Pudding.
This was one of the traditional Christmas puddings in our home in New Zealand. Which is really pretty wild, considering that Christmas is in the middle of summer and we lived at the beach. Mum would serve it steaming with hot custard to pour over the top, and hokey pokey icecream beside it. The cold of the ice cream and the hot of the pudding is a wonderful memory.
I was looking at Pease Puddings Christmas cake when I began making the Plum Duff and she has introduced dried tropical fuits to her cake. She did this because she is living in New Zealand in a warm christmas climate. So I thought I would try that with a Christmas pudding because I am not living in New Zealand and I miss the warm Christmas climate.
I should have started this on Advent Sunday (the fourth Sunday before Chrtistmas Day.) But ah well.
I minced two and a half cups of packed dried fruit. Dried mango, apricot, dates, raisins, sultanas and a few peels of fresh lime and orange. A few prunes too. You can put in whatever you fancy. I pulsed this in a reluctant food processor, then covered it with brandy and it sat for a week.
First using your fingers dust the fruit with the flour.
Add the rest of the dry ingredients then the wet ingredients.
Spoon the stiff mixture onto the cloth. Wrap it, tie it, leaving enough space for the cake to rise within, then make a loop, pass your wooden spoon through the loop and lower into the boiling water.
Mum made hers in a stainless steel bowl with a lid she made from tin foil. She set this into a pot of boiling water and it floated and bobbed about in there, cooking madly, while Mum thought of a way to get it out without burning herself to death when it was cooked. A double boiler might have been a more sensible idea.
Recipe for Plum Duff
I cut a wee piece out so that I could do a taste test. It is lighter in colour due to the lighter fruits and is good! Now the pudding can be wrapped and stored until Christmas Day. Then reheated and served with hot custard and cold hokey pokey ice cream!
Clink. Cheers. Drink. Happy Birthday To Me!
PS Be careful eating the berries – they are frozen solid by now!! (bubbly laughter). And don’t stay out too long or you and your champagne will be frozen solid too. However if the weather stays nice and cold, ( I know this is a contradiction in terms but bear with me) your frozen ice bucket will wait on its frozen table to chill the Christmas champagne as well. Maybe even New Years. You never know.
You knew I was going to do this didn’t you. Because I am a pastry fiend. I love pies. Not so much the American sweet pie. Though some of those are nice in really tiny doses. Savoury pies. Meat pies. Vege Pies. You will all remember that at home in New Zealand someone who is getting a little chubby is described as ‘Putting On the Pies’. Or if you are a horse they will say you have been ‘In a Good Paddock’ but I digress.
My Fathers Mother had a pie shop in Napier, NZ, during the war years (WW2). My Fathers Father was away at war for almost 6 years. So she had to make her own way. Her pies were made in beautiful oval tins. Both of my Fathers parents died before I was born but I do still have my Paternal Grandmothers cookbook. In fact we grew up in their house on the beach. We had stacks of pie tins in the baking cupboard when I was a kid, though those have been lost. However genetics and my Grandmothers cookbook have won out and I am carrying on the pie tradition for her.
Make or buy your pastry. Refer here if you need the easiest butter pastry recipe in the world. Dads Mum did not have a food processor and her pastry was made from shortening or lard but I use butter.
Now I have to add here, that I have struggled with taking shots of these tiny pies. The pies above are cooked, and will be thoroughly heated and browned just before eating, but still. Roger very sweetly commented to me yesterday that he liked my shot of the dishwashing liquid and this pretty much says it all. I am more than happy to agree with him! He knows what he is talking about. I take shots of dishwashing liquid very well. What I like the most about Roger is that he is bloody honest. My food photography is a work in progress.
I roll out the pastry thinly and then using a small wine glass I press out as many small discs of pastry as I can (well what else would a small wine glass be good for?) Line the little muffin tins/chocolate molds with the pastry discs, cover with a wet cloth and return to the refrigerator (keeping your pastry chilled is essential) , cut all the lid discs and wrap these in a damp cloth and pop these in to chill as well.
Fillings: I am leaving it up to you to work out the portions as it really does depend on your personal taste. Each pie will be one bite, so design a filling that will have a real taste pop in the mouth, make it a taste sensation in that bite. I have so many variations. Here are a few. My grandmother made good hearty meat pies. They were filled with well cooked beef stew. I have posted this recipe before for you. Though I am fairly sure that Grandmother would not have added cheese.
Chicken and Apricot Pies. Cut the chicken strips into tiny pieces. Marinade in Wine, Lime Juice and Black Pepper. Pan fry until browned, add cooked onions, deglaze with a little juice from the canned apricots so the chicken and onion pick up all the tastiest bits, toss in a handful of chopped coriander and sliced apricots turn off heat. Cool before packing into pie shells.
Caramelised onion and leek with gruyere cheese Pies. Soften onions and leeks until melty, about 30 minutes, add a little honey or balsamic vinegar and stir as it darkens. Spoon into shells and top with a paper thin slice of cheese. No pastry top needed.
Bacon and Egg Pies. Spoon cooked and chopped bacon and onion into the bottom of the pie shells. Pour in egg and cream mixture. Mix plenty of pepper into the egg mix. Sprinkle finely chopped fresh or dry parsley on top. (I dry my parsley by picking big bunches and stuffing them in a brown paper bag, then the bag goes in the back of the fridge for a few months.)
Mince Pies. Browned and slow cooked ground beef, with finely chopped onions, thyme and seasonings.
Curried rosemary lamb and mushroom.
Chickpea and spinach with cumin and paprika.
Mozzarella and basil with a cube of tomato. Let your mind go free!!
Fabulous Cheese and your home-made chutney! Tuna and Parsley Sauce! Brie and Walnuts!
You see where I am going don’t you. Design your own fillings. Create your own teensy weensy tasty savoury pies. Serve hot, but not too hot.
John is a bit sad that the Teensy Weensy Pie Trials are over as he and his workmates have been having very fancy lunches this week! But it looks to me like they have been in a pretty good paddock! Celi’s Diet Coleslaw from now on!
Toot Toot (just because I can)
Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial has a lovely tradition at her place. She encourages us to post a wee peek into our kitchens,then let her know and she posts our sites, in a column on her page. So here we are. Have a wee look at a couple of things in my kitchen. Not many though as I can’t be cleaning more than one corner at a time!!
And look what I found in an Illinois supermarket. Dishwashing liquid advertising a New Zealand spring scent. Right out here in the MidWest! I am not very sure about that. I mean did they ask New Zealand if it was OK to use it’s smell as an advertising gimmick. Naturally Our John had to rudely sniff at it. Oh, he said, New Zealand spring smells like dishwashing liquid and why is it written in French. I very tartly told him that that is NOT how our spring smells. And we do not speak French. Well really! All very misleading.
Then I looked out the kitchen door and who should be looking back at me! On the verandah, stealing dog food! Snapped! Katherine’s rooster. Yes, I do mean you Katherine, I know how you like roosters, he is arriving in a box shortly, addressed to the Rufus household! He will be your Christmas pressie so you have to pretend to be grateful. You can keep him in your pot cupboard and he is very partial to pomegranates in his champagne!
And on a very separate and exciting subject, Mary’s Cat has got all famous and has been interviewed by RumpyDog. The barnyard is agog. There are noses seriously out of joint. Rumours flying. For a mute cat she seems to have a lot to say. Hope it doesn’t go to her head. I think the interview will be up today, so pop over if you have a moment and have a read, Rumpy is such a sweet doggie fella.