All friends bright and beautiful! Cuppa anyone?

One annoying thing about the winter is that my car, that runs on recycled cooking oil, has to switch to diesel. When it is really cold the oil solidifies and the car will not start… oh dear.

A positive thing about this part of the winter is that Johns beer and Pepsi (which he cannot give up no matter how many lectures I give him about fake Pepsi sugar destroying his liver) are shifted to their own natural chiller on the verandah, at least until it starts to freeze. I on the other hand am shifting inside. I completed my chores this morning in a snow flurry.

I once lived in a house in NZ that had a box that was built out from the kitchen wall on the cold side of the house. It had little windows of very close mesh to keep the bugs out and protruded from the outside wall about a foot, while standing about two feet high,  catching all the cool breezes. I accessed this little cold box from inside the kitchen through a small  carved heavy wooden door. I want one of these old cool boxes for my kitchen.  But I cannot remember what it is called.

Anyway enough of the rambling,  lets think of something cheerful.

Jessica is a lovely girl residing at Misty Maple Farms. She has llamas.  I want a llama.  I want a peacock too just for the record. Jessica has been kind enough to pass on the Leibster Award to me.  But, Oh dear my computer is being naughty and won’t let me load the actual award. Ah well. The most important thing about this award is that we thank the person who remembered us and pass the mantle on to 5 more bloggers.

Thank you, Jessica. Your writing is lovely and your outlook on life is wonderful. It is always a pleasure for me to visit your farm in my blog travels.

Now for my famous five. I have decided to collect a group of people who I think would have fun if I sat them all down at the same table, for a most unusual dinner. These bloggers  all work with the land one way or another. They grow food to eat.   And they are all new to my table and maybe new to you as well.   I know the Leibster award does not have any requirements but each link will take you to the dish that I would love them to bring to our cyber award dinner.

Naturally I shall host the award dinner here in front of the fire. Well we have to, because my car won’t start in the cold and Daisy just will not be harnessed to drag the dray. Selfish cow.

So here is my guest list.  These five are the recipients of the Leibster award. The logo is on Jessica’s page so zoom over and grab it to display on your pages. I hope it behaves better for you. It is a slippery bugger.

Promenade Plantings does her gardening on what could simply be described as an allotment, but a bigger more comprehensive plot of land.  And she has beautiful plants. She loves to grow. I was hoping she could bring her fried green tomatoes. I know they are out of season but this is a cyber dinner party. We can do whatever we want.

Marcus  from Country Woodsmoke might cook up a pretty wild smoked salmon in the kitchen. You have to see this. He also has a pizza oven. A real one!

Lynda on her Farmlet  is going to bring the tortillas for our dinner.  Well, there is no theme, I am just picking out my favourites!! And Our John loves tortillas.

Willow Archway are coming to have a long hot bath. They are as far off the grid as you can imagine. Just let them soak.  Oh what the heck, let the dogs soak as well. We will drag in another bath for them and poke food under the door.

If we can entice Jean away from her barn renovations, (although she is a bit of a self proclaiimed brat,) I am hoping she will bring apple pie.  I will supply the freshest cream ever!

I will pick a huge fall green leaf salad. The last of the greens before the winter.  They are very crisp this morning.  I do not know how I can grow greens here in the deep winter.  I hope we don’t all end up with scurvy, you know how i am with supermarkets!

Oh no, I have forgotton the  potatoes!  I cannot live without my spuds! Maybe my mystery guest will bring some. He is not getting an award you understand, because he already has one, I just cannot have a dinner party without his potatoes.  I am using him for his potatoes and witty repartee! Shame on me!

Oh no AND I forgot the wine. Whats that Daisy? Wait, hush everyone, Daisy has a suggestion.  Speak up!  Alright, Moo Up then!!  Pedantic Cow.  Ok I’m back.  Just for Daisy we will have another mystery guest. If he brings the wine. ‘He is not getting an award either Daisy, he gives you way too much attention as it is.’  But I do love a feisty pinot gris.

Just imagine.

Kettle’s on! Cuppa anyone! Oh and by the way I made this copper kettle when I was 13.  And it still holds water.  Soon there will be a big pot of chilli cooking away on this woodstove, next to the copper kettle.  What a life!!

c

My mother hated Rice Pudding

When my mother was small, her mother became quite ill while pregnant with her fourth child. It was the depression.  It was winter. They were struggling like nothing we will ever see. The family had been relocated again and again as Pa went from town to town looking for work.  So Grandma had landed in yet another house, in yet another strange town with three small children and one more on the way and no family or friends to call on.

Grandma told me part of this story and Mum told me the other part. I am not sure that they knew that the other had spoken of it. This was in the hard times.

Pa was working. Maybe rabbiting I am not sure. He was away for weeks at a time. My grandmother, pregnant, became very ill and the doctor sent her immediately to the hospital. The children, my mother and her two brothers, were taken to a Catholic orphanage. As I understand it this was only for a few days, maybe a week.  Imagine the fury of Grandma when she recovered and found her children had been stashed in an orphanage by the priest, in the absence of her husband. But there was no-where else for them to go, until one of the Aunties could get there.

Mum told me that the children all ate in a large dining room. The girls on one side and the boys on the other. One night rice pudding was served. Mum refused to eat hers. Just refused. It was winter dark and cold in the big room. I do not know why, I am not even sure how old she was(maybe 5 or 6) but she was a little girl who hated rice and she had run to the end of her tether. She just said No. Thank you.

A battle of wills ensued between this little woolly headed child and the Sister in charge of the dining hall.  All the children silently ate their pudding as Mum sat solidly on her bench with her arms folded and her mouth closed. Her brothers across the room ate quickly and watched with rising horror as their sister got deeper and deeper into trouble. The nun in charge announced that she would have to just sit there until she had eaten her rice pudding all up. She was not allowed to leave the dining hall until her bowl was empty.

The wee girl locked eyes with her brothers across the room as they were led away in a line to wash and then into bed in the dormitories on the next floor.   She sat  in her long socks and slippers, a woolen skirt and shirt topped with a thin hand-knitted cardigan buttoned to her chin. It was cold. It was always cold there.

She sat up straight on her bench in this  enormous drafty wood lined room, high ceilings, long windows. The tables were cleared and wiped by the older orphan girls and soon she was all alone. Her arms still folded, her mouth still shut. Slowly lights went out in the far reaches of the room and yet still she sat. The nun moved in and out checking on her. Cold began to creep up her legs and into her back. But the little girl did not move.

The door where she had last seen her brothers, opened ever so slowly. She saw a shadow like a big cat creep through the door and drop to the floor. Her eyes whipped to the kitchen doors,  she could hear the murmur of the Nuns. The room was empty. The dark shape scuttled across the floor and under the seats. It was only a shadow. But she knew it was her brother.

The Nun pushed open the kitchen door, releasing a shaft of light into the room and peered down the room at Mary. Mary turned and glared back. The Nun, probably wishing she had never begun this, wordlessly retreated back to the well lit kitchen. The light shrank back to a small puddle around the girl.

Mary’s little brother  had appeared at her feet under the table, his eyes huge in his face, he held out his grubby hands. She quickly handed down the untouched bowl of rice pudding. He started to dig in with his fingers. No, she said, use the spoon. She handed it to him. Within seconds the bowl was empty and returned to the table.  Her little brother smiled and wiped his nose with a small sniff. She handed him her napkin.  Now go, she said. Resting her hand on his head for a second.  After a quick smearing swipe,  he scuttled back into the dark, returning to his shadow shape then slipped out of the room.

She sat a while longer with her empty bowl. Then she took her dish and  spoon to the scullery window and was escorted gently up to her dormitory filled with sleeping strangers  and tucked into bed.

As long as I knew my Mother she never ate or made rice pudding. So this is not her recipe. I may have got it from Grandma but I have been making it for so long it’s origins have drifted into the mists of time. I love it.

Rice Pudding

Cover the bottom of your dish with  rice. Sprinkle over a tablespoon of sugar or honey, and a few sultanas. Half fill the dish with milk and cream, cook slowly in a moderate oven, for about 45 minutes. Be careful not to over cook as it will keep drying out after you have lifted it from the oven.  (I added some home made apple sauce today).

c

Don’t Try this at Home: How Not to Prune a Pear Tree

Our John is pouting. I have pruned his pear tree. Which was not even much use as a shade tree. Something had to be done. He has quite spoilt this tree over the years. In fact when he had his new shed put up he told the workmen in no uncertain terms that if they damaged his precious little pear there would be trouble. He always says things like this with a big grin and a laugh which frankly makes the warning scarier.   He loves his trees you see.  As the little paddocks have begun to sprout all about the place his tree has ended up in the Baby Meadow.

I took to it with secateurs a couple of years ago but there was so much weeping and gnashing of teeth from said husband that I quit. By my reckoning this tree must be about 6 years old now and has yet to fruit properly. This season we got about a dozen pears. Not good enough!  Daisy stood guard at the gate until the few pears were ready then I let her go in and she nabbed them. The tree is now dormant, I know it is a bit early to prune but soon it will be too cold for me to be out there.   So it is now or never.  I coerced Our John into bringing the chainsaw to visit the tree. NO, NO, Not to cut it down. Silly. You know I don’t cut down trees. But there were two branches that are just too high, just too big for loppers and growing vertically.  I drew a line where he was to cut. Then I shoved him up a ladder and made him head them back. I held the ladder and ducked in case a branch fell on my head. Then I sent him on his way to play with the chipper. I took  my loppers from their hiding place and pruned the rest of the tree hard. I prefer  a christmas tree shape. With no central leader I had to attempt a vase shape. So from directly above the tree, looking down it will look a little like a spindly snowflake. Verticals must go, anything growing downwards must go, the mess in the middle must go, branches rubbing on branches must go and dead wood has to go. Every cut needs to be to a nodule that will grow in the direction that I want the next branch. Of course it is much easier to start with a young tree and train it each year, avoiding radical cuts.

Our John has chosen to go out to his workshop to get over his fright. I know it looks bad, in fact I missed a few bits. Pears are forgiving though and next year it will grow in, then I will prune it lightly and the following year we will get fruit. By the third year it should be good to go OR it really WILL be a designated shade tree.  But hopefully a light prune each year will keep it fruiting. 

Poor pear. I have also pruned the grapes.  I have also  pruned and trained all  the young apples and pears and now I am casting my chopper happy eye, while the weather holds ,across the two old apple trees.  I keep them for the blossoms in the spring. The bees love them.  But I almost never get a mature apple off them, they are too old.  They are shade trees now.

This is not a tree so it is safe from my secateurs. 

c

Easy Peasy Cream of Broccoli Soup with Ricotta Cheese.

You will remember that a few months ago, John bought in some sauvignon blanc grape juice for making into wine. We bottled the wine this morning. This is just a light table wine. Nothing special but Quaffable, darlings!! The good wine is still in the tank.

I have a very simple cream of broccoli soup for you. You can use this recipe for all kinds of vegetables so feel free to experiment. My mother would make this with chopped celery using the same process, but with lots of pepper and no blending.

Cream of Broccoli  Soup with Ricotta.

  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 3 tablespoons of flour
In a saucepan, cook onion in butter, make a  roux with the flour
then add:
  • three cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup white wine 
  • 2 big bunches of broccoli
When the vegetables are cooked. Puree in a blender and return to saucepan.
Mix
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup full cream
Pour in with the creamed broccoli. Pepper and salt to taste. Reheat.  This has a very fresh light taste and makes a perfect easy lunch.  Naturally it has a heaped serving of freshly grated parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. I served this with onion and cheese scones.
If the weather is still nice tomorrow, we will prune the pears and the grapes. If it is rotton I shall go into the barn with Daisy and sulk. Fingers crossed.
c

barn windows.. and staying out of debt.

I was in a Big Box superstore  the other day. I try not to go into these places too often as they confuse me. This one was bigger than my wee farmy.  Much bigger. Filled with the most curious collection of useless objects.  AND it had christmas music screeching and shoving me into a scurry.  Christmas Carols In November make me want to Bite Someone’s Head Right Off!

I will tell you why I was in this Mammoth of a Store.  You know I avoid them like the plague preferring their small familiar dusty predecessors. But I was on my travels last week, and  I needed to buy a book. I cannot function unless I have a book.  Words are like my air. Books are my television. My handbag has to be big enough to contain a book, a camera,  a wallet and a lipstick.  I read every day. I read before I go to sleep, while I am waiting in a cue, on the plane, in the bus, on the train, in the car (when I am a passenger of course), I can read and walk the dog at the same time.  I can read and cook at the same time. Well, you get the picture. Now, I knew that that night I would finish my current book and I cannot sleep if I have just finished a book. I MUST start the next one first. This is just how it is.  I was slightly panicked.

So I asked Third Son to take me to the book store. He told me the bad news. Both of the BIG book stores in his city had closed recently. There were no others in the town.  No book stores at all.  We stared silently at each other for a minute. He knew that this was not good. We would have to go to one of the big bad stores, maybe they would have books, he said hopefully. 

The second Big Scary Box Store  we went to did have books, they had  twelve books as a matter of fact, and I bought the two I had not read. Did I also mention that I am not a discriminating reader. I read anything I can lay my hands on.

So I took my two books to the check out and began what I imagined would be a simple transaction. The girl sharply scanned the books and  then brightly asked did I want to sign up for a store credit card and receive eighteen percent off my current purchase?   I said to the girl, who was a cheerful blowsy wee thing with heavily made up eyes. I said,” No thank you, I only buy something if I can pay for it.” She looked at me like I was spouting Greek.

She blinked.  “But you would,” she spluttered, “with your credit card and you get eighteen percent off your current purchase”   She looked at my two little books then back to me.

“So do you want  to sign up for a credit card and receive eighteen percent off your current purchase?” she said again, more clearly this time.

” No, honey”, I told her gently “that is borrowing money.  I don’t need to borrow money. I only buy something if I have the money to pay for it.”

” Oh,” she stared hard at her  screen as though it would give her a prompt. Completely at a loss.

I said to her carefully “Why would I buy something I cannot afford.”  Someone turned the volume up on the Christmas Carols.

The skinny lady behind me in the queue, shoved her over laden cart closer to me and started the queue shuffle. I whipped my head around to her and stilled her with one of The  Looks.

“You know what I mean?” I said to the girl.  She cast panicked looks around.  “If I can’t afford it, why would I buy it?”

Skinny Lady began to loudly rummage in her handbag, bringing out her fat purse. Full of skinny credit cards no doubt.

“So you won’t be wanting to sign up for a store credit card  and get eighteen percent off  your current purchase?” the girl said hopefully.  I shook my head and tried REALLY hard not to sigh.

“That will be 18.95” she squeaked and took a deep breath. “Would you like to purchase one of our store bags for 95 cents and receive a 5 cent discount every time you shop with us again?”

Her screen prompt was not helping her. She ran out of breath.  Third Son wandered off towards the doors. The Christmas soundtrack paused between tracks.  Suddenly I felt sorry for her. Maybe she wouldn’t spend her entire life in debt. Maybe she would resist the lure of The Card held out by a faceless myopic banker who would live off her interest for the rest of her life.

I took out a twenty and gave it to her. She gave me my change, concentrating hard on the palm of my hand.  I smiled at the girl and then just for good measure I smiled slowly at the skinny lady. I jammed my new books into my handbag and turned to leave.  Though I knew perfectly well that if there had been a bell on The Girls  counter she would have been bashing at it in seconds desperately calling.  NEXT! NEXT!

c

PS Above is the new rake for the hay! Well, new to us. It is looking lovely in the last of the light on a lovely Thanksgiving evening.  Ni Night.  Have a lovely Green Friday tomorrow.

Day for Giving Thanks is Tomorrow

All of my American readers will be frightfully busy.  Kitchens will already be groaning with fresh food, the clank of saucepans being heaved up out of the  pot cupboard that can never stay straight. ( Just shut the doors fast with your foot.) They  will be sorting the ingredients for Gramma Emma’s special recipe for beans that must be replicated at all costs or worrying that Cousin Bob will cry into his four fat chins if they swap out the mashed something for mashed something else.   And who would do that to Cousin Bob.

This is what I love about Thanksgiving. It is about people.  And about People and their Food.  (And, at the table of The Matriarch, a glass of lovely chilled white pinot gris.)

There are no painstakingly wrapped presents, no shopping campaigns to find something for someone who has every something you can imagine, no gaudy blowups deflating slowly outside the door, or lights flashing or not, no dressing up or guilty spending, or pressure to buy or terror of  competition.  Thanksgiving is not a Main street day. It is not a High Street day or a Mall day. It is a Kitchen day. It is a Dining Room day.  Our Dining Room.

It is largely ignored by the money hungry Big Box Stores (who try to cash in with Black Friday .. we are having a Green Friday).  In fact most of the stores already have Christmas Carols shrieking like reluctant bullies in the background. Halloween  stuffed back in the  store rooms with undue haste and Christmas lights blaring out into the night.

But Thanksgiving sits proudly and quietly stuffing its face, in its own house. Ignoring the ignorance of the ignorant and loving them for it too and knowing that this day  is just food and family and friends.  It is not tinny or commercial. We LIKE that the stores skip straight over Thanksgiving from Halloween to Christmas. Because Thanksgiving does not belong to big business, it belongs to us.  You don’t have to be rich to have a lovely lovely day of Thanks.  You don’t even need a big family or lots of friends.  There is always something to be thankful for.  Always. Even in the darkest of our dark times (and everyone has them, I could tell you stories that would take the curl straight out of your hair). There is always a lovely little glowing space for thanks, a wee shiny rock of thankfulness sat out there on a tiny sheltered shelf waiting to be seen, collected and stored in our pockets, where we can hold it in our hands like knowledge. And keep it.

Whether your gathering is large and rowdy with a Big Fat Turkey and marshmallow stuffing followed by flaming pink desserts,  or a small juicy duck cooked with orange and pine nuts accompanied by roast potatoes crisped in the duck fat and  a fresh spinach and lettuce salad, (that I will very thankfully gather from the garden.) Whether it is colorful and pretty or plain and tasty.  Maybe just ordinary and not even particularly bright. 

It is still our Day of Giving Thanks.

Thanksgiving.

Thank you.

c

Walkabout on the Farmy!

Yesterday afternoon Mary’s Cat, Thing Two, TonTon and I walked the fences checking for holes. Naturally we had company.
Thing Two and Mary’s Cat were particularly vigilant about checking fences. They like everyone to be in their proper places. Speaking of which the chickens are behind bars again until the ground is frozen. I am going to put the mulch around the vines and fruit trees and they have a history of scratching it all out.  So this is lock up time again for them. To say they are not thrilled would be an understatement! THING two seems to need to test the wire for strength!

Daisy still plays with her rocking horse, because no-one will let her have a real horsey.   She has had this rocking horsey since she was a calf. It used to be on springs and she liked it better then because it would play back, but she is a big cow now and it is a little horsey so it lost its spring!!.
Queenie wants a turn, but Daisy does not like to share. Queenie has her own toy. Now, is it just me or do you think that Mama (right) is looking fatter?! Remember she had quads (four lambs) last time. I am rather hoping she does not do this again. That was a messy day! This time she is due from mid January on. Actually I think Hairy MaClairy is looking pregnant too!! There is no real grass left in the fields so I have to consider bringing all the stock in or risk over grazing, which will be to the detriment of our spring growth.   But I believe animals need lots of natural light  so I hate to bring them into the barn until I have to. They have extra feed in the barn with their doors open but the sheep are not interested yet. And the weather is still so mild.

All the fences are secure.  No holes. Walkabout is over.

We can get some work done now.  Time to make bread.

c

Treasures from California

Before I take you outside for an inspection of the Farmy, I want to show you a treasure I found in California. A beautiful girl took me to a Fantastic Second Hand Shop, I think it was called a Consignment Store. Look what we found:

I used to use one in Italy when I worked over there but Lost it somewhere along the way.  It just fell through the cracks of time. 

And just when I need a real Parmesan Grater for my own Parmesan cheese, one turns up on a dusty shelf behind all kinds of junk in the shop of my dreams!  Like my well worn Italian one,  it has a little drawer and is perfect.

I brought a little cheese out from the cheese cupboard to show you.  We found this big white bowl  in the same store too. 

How about that for pretty!

Now there is one other treasure that I found in California but you and John will have to wait to see them. Third son is going to ship them to me.  Fingers crossed!

c

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggedy Jig.

I am home again.  As you can imagine it has been a busy day today.  All the animals are present and accounted for except for a few of Houdinis  chickens.  TonTon has already forgotton I had been away. Mia (little ewe) was immediately at her special door waiting to come out and play. But the look on Daisy’s face! Not impressed At All.  She reached her huge head over the door, nudged my shoulder with her nose and  burped at me. Just burped into my face. Case closed, she said.

On the way home from the airport, quite a long drive, John told me that he had a surprise for me at home.  He had bought me something very special.   Something exciting. Something I will just love.  

Yes you are right. It is a haybaler. It is just the right size for HIS tractor. He saw it for sale on the side of the road and .. well, you know the rest. He hitched his checkbook out of his pocket then hitched the baler to his work truck and towed it home.  He is very pleased with himself. And he bought the rake as well, but the rake does not have a bow. I guess he knew the Jig was up by then.  At this very moment he is putting the baler back together after he took it apart to see how it worked! 

If all was fair in love and war I would buy him a single cow milking machine for HIS UnBirthday present!  Daisy is still unimpressed. But she will be impressed when she gets to eat the sweet alfalfa hay that John will harvest, next summer.  If John can work out how to untangle the strings.  I find it is best to leave the men alone when they get their strings tangled!

Tomorrow if it is fine I will take you for a walk around the Farmy and we will do a proper inspection.  I think I might light the fire this afternoon though, it is getting a wee bit chilly don’t you think?.

c

Following a Mandarin through a massive Californian Packhouse

We are going to follow a mandarin today.   We are going to visit a fruit packhouse, it is my last day in Central California. Nothing you will see  is sustainable or organic and absolutely nothing is old fashioned. But interesting nevertheless. 

This packhouse  packs the Cutie mandarins.  Mostly I am interested in the architectural shapes created in a packhouse. They are designed specifically to be efficient, so everything is refined right down to the essentials.  Also the grading machines themselves are created with extraordinary precision. On walking into the packhouse we were hit with a fresh blast of citrus.  If they could only bottle that scent! The fruit is washed and scanned and runs along these lanes and onto the grader.

This packhouse is  400,000 square feet. Each fruit drops into its own individual cup and travels along the grader. 

500 fruit per minute per lane, 10,000 fruit per minute on this one machine! In its own cup the mandarin is pre graded for blemish, colour,  density and weight.  Then onto another belt and sent through a wall, in a river of orange, to be waxed then onto the next series of graders that grade for size. 

None of these images can capture the vastness of this arena of fruit. Each piece of fruit can be graded multiple times depending on the market. The girls do a last quality check before bagging. This packhouse that sends your Cuties to your supermarket is absolutely pristine. I was very impressed. 

Automation everywhere.

The bagging machine is behind glass and fascinated me!

And off to the market.there is always a shadow..

c