Office Tetris – The Iso-Posts #5

The simplest of dinners – sourdough rye, home grown salad and fresh home made sausages

As promised in yesterday’s post, here’s a pic of the finished meal and it was delicious. I was really pleased with the sausages – flavour and texture were perfect!

Today has been a day of choices, discoveries and some sadness.

I’d only realised last week I was out of seed of my favourite endive “Bionda a curore pieno” and ordered a packet online from The Italian Gardener along with Lettuce Leaf Basil for next spring/summer. That prompted me to check stocks of other seed and do a top up with my local suppliers, Seed Freaks. They specialise in open-pollinated and heirloom varieties and I’ve had tremendous success with their seeds.

Anyway, after my morning feeding of the beasts and chili/basil check, I was picking veggies for tonight’s dinner and weeding the silverbeet. There I discovered a clump of self seeded endives pushing up through the straw and I imagine there’s a few Bionda in there. This is one of my favourites – it’s tangy flavour and great texture add so much depth to winter salads. The extra seeds coming in the post won’t go astray, I’ll just plant a few more 🙂

Later in the morning, I decided to tackle the shoe-box that is my office. It’s served as my music rehearsal space and teaching area, sewing room, writing den and main library for over a decade – effectively three rooms crammed into a tiny space barely big enough to swing a cat! It was high time to rearrange things so I can add more bookcases and start making some hard choices about how to both make the best use of the space and discard bits and pieces I’ve had boxed up in there for what seems like forever.

I found photographs of friends, some of whom are no longer alive, cables (so many cables!), old guitar strings, jars of beads that I meant to restring, demo recordings, little cards from my son when he was small and festival programs going back years. I started to feel a sadness that life is never really going to be the same again, and uncertain about what the future might hold for people like me in the creative industries.

It was more that a little overwhelming. But I also acknowledge there’s nothing at all I can do about it but reorganise my space – internally and externally – keep going and make the best of what I have and what I’m capable of doing. It was wonderful to fit in the new/old bookcase, and realising I could fit a box of my fabric stash on top was a bonus. Certainly like playing Tetris, moving things from one room to another, but incredibly satisfying that it fitted (just!) and made me feel like I’d achieved something important by getting it all to work.

From the crammed shelves of my main film library to the wide open spaces of that empty bookshelf – with a box of fabric for good measure!

Despite my generally upbeat nature, I think it’s important and healthy to acknowledge when I feel down or sad. Sometimes in the past I’ve repressed those feelings with spectacularly awful results – I think it’s like that for most of us. So please don’t be afraid to talk about your fears or sadness with people who matter – and I believe we all matter!

It’s definitely colder today but I’ll leave you with this little image, one I see every morning – the silhouette of a small, grey cat who likes to sun himself on our east-facing doorstep while I’m getting ready to feed him breakfast ❤

 

Sausages! – The Iso-Posts #4

Despite everything that’s going on right now, I personally feel I have a lot to be grateful for. I have a secure roof over my head, plenty of food, the most practical person on the planet to be in isolation with (aka He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Listened-To), a rich life of the mind, animals and gardening to keep me active, comparatively good health and a swag of friends and family around the world who like to check in with me via social media. In many ways I feel I’m doing this pretty easy.

Here in Hobart, the days are getting shorter and Daylight Saving finished today. This is traditionally the end of summer and the start of autumn proper – and today didn’t disappoint! It was much colder, and this morning there was even a dusting of snow on kunanyi/Mt Wellington but it was good to run around outside and feel the crisp air of proper autumn again. But with the onset of cooler weather comes less light and I for one, struggle with shorter days. We can all get through this, but only if we do it together. If you’re struggling, please say so. Reach out to family, friends and let them know you need to talk!

A few days ago a farming friend put out the call that he had fresh organic beef for sale and was prepared to make a delivery run to those of us in the greater Hobart area. We very gratefully said yes, it’s topped up the freezers and meant I don’t have to worry about shopping again for a while. So with a load of meat in the fridge, today we got creative and made sausages!

There was some venison I’d put aside for this plus a bag of pork back fat and a pouch of salted sausage casings that I bought some time ago for just such an occasion. (They will keep for up to two years in the refrigerator). After taking a guesstimate of how much of the casings we’d need, I cut a length off, soaked them in warm water for a couple of hours and trekked off into the garden to gather some fresh herbs. Returning with this lovely bouquet, I peeled some fresh Tasmanian Purple garlic, thoroughly rinsed the skins and set up the mincer that attaches to the front of my stand mixer.

When I used to make sausages years ago, I did the whole thing with a hand mincer and stuffed skins with an old caulking gun frame I’d rigged with a special food grade plastic tube. Living in the bush was peaceful but hard work – things like this used to take me the best part of a day. Today’s effort was relatively small (only a couple of kilos of meat in total) but took only about an hour to mince and stuff the casings. We opted for a fairly simple sage & garlic mix with the venison but went a little bit further with the beef, with lots of oregano, chili, garlic and smoked paprika for a more chorizo-style but without the traditional fermenting and curing.

The end product looks and smells great and I discovered that I haven’t forgotten how to do links! The test will be how they taste tonight with some home grown salad and a slice of rye sourdough.

And on cleaning out the mincer attachment, it looks like there’s enough for me to make a large sausage roll that’ll make a very nice lunch 🙂

Meanwhile, there was a very disgruntled grey cat, who was quite upset he wasn’t invited in to taste test the sausage meat. Eventually though, all was forgiven and Neko curled up on a favourite chair with me to catch some afternoon sun.

Stay well everyone, and keep talking to each other over social media, text and phone calls – we can do this ❤

PS: Dinner was fabulous, the beef chorizo-style was suitably spicy and the venison sausages had all the warmth and depth without tasting gamey – I’ll put up a photo tomorrow 🙂

Lazy Saturday – The Iso-Posts #3

I love Saturdays.

It doesn’t matter if they’re sunny and I’m in the garden or wet and miserable and I’m curled up on the couch, I just love Saturday at home.

Given our current circumstances, there’s no other place to be – and today’s been what my late father would’ve called a “pearler”. That is, a beautiful example of what a Saturday should be.

It’s been very grey and wet most of today, so this morning’s feeding of the animals was fairly rapid and required a heavy duty raincoat and my trusty steel capped gumboots. No planting for me today and I didn’t see my new friend over the back fence, but I did stop off in the greenhouse to do my daily basil and chili inspection. Pictured below is a most unusual fruit on a chili plant I grew from seed. Looking back through my notes, it’s named as a multicoloured Bishop’s Crown (Capsicum baccatum). It’s supposed to have a more blocky base and finish up a fresh orange red, but I’m not sure if it’s been mixed with something else.

Chilies are notorious for cross pollinating and serious seed collection means hand pollinating with a brush and enclosing flowers in mesh to avoid contamination. I’m never usually that fussy as I don’t sell plants or seed anymore but I’m very curious to see what this becomes as it ripens and (most importantly) what it tastes like!

Speaking of taste, we decided to do a full Super Saturday roast, and as I type, the rich, delicious aroma of roasting venison is wafting through the house. It’s been in the slow cooker since this morning with half a bottle of shiraz, a head of garlic, some dried chili from last year, a handful of button mushrooms and a bouquet of fresh thyme, sage and oregano. The joint is sitting above the rich liquid on a trivet of halved onion and carrot and it’s almost time to go and prepare some potatoes and carrots for roasting and finishing the meat off in the oven, while I make a sauce from the slow cooker. The smell is intoxicating!

This afternoon I indulged myself in some of my favourite Saturday things. I bought some books (online of course) from my local independent bookstore, Cracked & Spineless. I love this place so much and besides going to the cinema, I miss visiting Richard and the overflowing shelves and stacks, but he’s going to do a delivery for me sometime soon. Definitely an essential service in these strange days!

I depleted the bank account further when I discovered a heavy duty KitchenAid stick blender on special. It’ll be perfect for winter soups, making single smoothies, small batches of salsa, wet spice mixes and sauces – and far easier to clean up than my big food processor.

Finally, I started reading the new biography of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and it’s pretty good so far. Ardern has certainly shown herself to be a compassionate and caring leader since she came to office! I’ll be reviewing it shortly for The Tasmanian Times and will put a link here when it’s published.

So, a lazy day of unusual plants, buying books and things for the kitchen, happily indoors out of the rain, reading a new book while anticipating a spectacular dinner. A pearler of a Saturday! The only thing that could’ve made today better is if there was proper Australian rules football on the radio or television. I miss my footy too.

What are you missing most? And what’s the first thing you’re going to do when things get back to normal?

Late afternoon and clearing skies

Making Friends Over the Back Fence – The Iso-Posts #2

Firstly, thanks for the public and private messages of support – it’s nice to be back writing again and rewarding to know that I’m not publishing into a vacuum! Secondly, I think I’m going to try and make this a daily writing practice for the next wee while to keep my skills up and to share bits and pieces such as movie reviews, gardening bits and pieces and any sage feline advice Neko might purr in my ear.

As I said yesterday, the weather here’s been really very mild for autumn and we had quite a lovely rain to top up water tanks and deep water gardens. I had to save some of the baby peas from drowning yesterday evening but still, the rain was welcome. The photo below is from my balcony, where I’ve had Egyptian Walking Onions and various salad greens over summer. Now I’m starting to strip the boxes for quick brassica crops plus spinach and corn salad for winter eating. The seed cubes are powering thankfully, full of endives, spinach, beets, red orach and more silverbeet. These will be the last greens I’ll raise outside until late winter/early spring.

In the greenhouse (apart from talking nicely to the still unripe chilies) I’ve been forcing on brassica seedlings that I hope to plant out in the next few days. The photo below shows the last dozen cabbages, a late season English Savoy. It’s a little late to be planting these but I’ve been waiting for them to show roots at the bottom of the tubes before putting them out. I plan to cover them with soda bottles (cut in half and with air vents) to make a mini greenhouse and force some more growth for at least a couple of weeks.

vegetable seed raising

English Savoy cabbage seedlings (note the basil still powering on!)

This morning, while I was inspecting the bed I want to plant these cabbages in, I heard a window open across the back fence. Despite having such a big and diverse urban farm (it’s about the size of a standard house block), I live surrounded by units, mostly occupied by students from the University of Tasmania, which is five minutes walk from my front door. I waved and shouted hello to one of the ground floor tenants, a fellow I’d seen a couple of times before. We chatted about the pandemic and how it was (and wasn’t) affecting us and we realised we were both on daily medication and had good supplies of our prescription meds. Immediately, we each offered to help one another out if necessary. I didn’t even think to ask his name but he knows I come down to feed our animals twice a day rain, hail or shine and he promised to ask if he needed anything and offered the same to my household. He told me he’s got the internet and his study but he has no view except across our yard and he enjoys hearing the chickens (who are being very lazy and not laying much at the moment). I’ll be picking extra fresh salad tomorrow and putting it over the fence for him 🙂

Stay safe, stay home and be kind everyone – we’re all in this together. I’ll see you tomorrow ❤

Self Isolationist Life – Notes From the Back Rows – The Iso-Posts #1

Reflection of sunrise from my backdoor

I’ve been in self isolation for over two weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic (I have multiple risk factors) but that doesn’t mean I’ve been sitting here twiddling my thumbs! Sadly, I haven’t written anything for weeks, so forgive me regular readers! I’ve been a little preoccupied what with one thing and another. Despite being at home, I’ve found myself incredibly busy, and by the end of the day I’ve been too tired to do much of anything.

It’s autumn here in southern Australia, though the weather has mostly been balmy these past weeks. In fact, it’s been so warm, basil plants are still putting on new growth in the greenhouse and I’ve taken to knocking off any new flowers on the chilies while waiting (impatiently, I admit) for the Habaneros to ripen.

I made a batch of fermented hot sauce last month and I’ve got another jar underway at the moment. This ridiculously simple recipe has become something of a staple here over the last couple of years and it’s perfect anywhere you’d normally use tomato sauce. If you’re interested in the recipe, it’s here in a blog post from a couple of years ago.

Meanwhile, I’ve been going gang-busters in the kitchen making stock for the freezer, something I like to do every autumn in preparation for the colder months. But family members went hunting just before I locked down so I had to find room for venison roasts and even more stock – it was like playing Tetris with the freezer! I resorted to reducing some of it down so I could fill ice cube trays with incredibly rich, condensed stock. I anticipate one cube will be enough to feed four!

It’s been equally busy in the garden, planting out a bed of garlic, loads of seeds for winter salad (spinach, brassicas, mache/corn salad, endives etc) and trays of peas and broad beans for late winter/early spring cropping. Yesterday I was trying to liberate the cabbages, beetroot and caulifowers from their layer of living mulch (aka weeds) when I pushed a little too hard and I’ve found myself today with very sore hands, a mark of the arthritis that always comes with the end of summer. Thankfully, it’s been raining today so I couldn’t have done anymore even if I’d wanted too!

Instead, I’ve rested up, done lots of stretching exercises, dipped a little into social media, watched some YouTube videos, played with the cat (who also thought it too wet to be in the yard) and called a former fellow student who’s up in NSW. We’ve never met in person (yet!) but it was lovely to chat about families, writing, gardening, putting food by and the joys of modern technology in these days of lockdown.

I DO miss going to the cinema and will be at The State as soon as they reopen but in the meantime, I’m enjoying watching movies online, catching up on reading and getting the garden ready for winter. It’s my hope that we’ll come out the other side of this difficult time with a greater appreciation for the things that matter and a willingness to tackle other important issues as a community.

In truth, I’ve really begun to think of my life and natural introversion as my greatest superpower (talking underwater is the other one, thanks for asking!) After six years of online study, an urban farm to deal with and a predilection for home grown/cooked/made cuisine, I don’t feel put out by being at home. Rather than “shut in”, I feel “safe” here at home.

Talk with you all soon. Meanwhile, stay safe friends and be like Neko (aka Lord & Master, aka The Cat Who Came to Stay) – stay home ❤

Lord and Master, Neko in his cat igloo

One Last Radio Interview for 2019 & Seasons Greetings

Rainbow across kunanyi/Mt Wellington from my backdoor a few weeks ago

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I probably won’t be writing much for the blog between now and next year. 

But I have been asked to come in and talk to the wonderful Ryk Goddard on ABC Radio Hobart about the year in film, my high points and what I’m looking forward to seeing next year. If you’re not in Hobart (or even Australia) the ABC offers excellent ways to listen online, either through their app or via the website for Ryk’s program (which also has an archive of shows). I’ll be on air about 9:10 am (Australian Eastern Summer Time) if you’d like to listen in live or catch the interview afterwards. 

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank you all for bothering to read my meandering musings – more about films at the moment than anything else! – but there are other exciting (to me at least) projects on the horizon for the new decade, so stay tuned. All in all, it’s been a tough year and your ongoing support means so very much to me – so huge thanks from me!

Over the southern summer, I’ll still be watching movies in between harvesting fruit and vegetables, making pesto from the jungle of basil and reading books for pleasure again – probably in my old deckchair under the chestnut tree. There might even be blog posts about some of my other creative pursuits – who knows?

Meanwhile, I wish you all a peaceful and relaxing holiday wherever you are on this wonderful planet ❤ 

 

The Moment I Wept – Ode To a Little Hen

It’s been a very sad morning.

Apart from suffering from a very nasty virus the past few weeks (I blame Dark Mofo Festival) the weather’s been pretty awful and I’ve been watching the elderly hens and particularly B1 & B2 fairly closely. Although they’re younger than the rest, Isa Browns are notoriously frail little things, not bred to live long, just as egg-laying machines. These two came to us over 4 years ago from a paddock-run operation outside of Hobart. At 18 months they were too old to be commercial layers, but they suited us just fine and have been reliable egg-layers ever since. Incredibly tame, these docile little girls also enjoyed being picked up and petted, unusual among my rabble

Today I had to made the call to euthanase B2. I examined her and she was clearly starting to suffer, so I removed her from their run to a sunny spot near the apple trees. It was quick, as pain free as I could make it with a sharp hatchet. She left this plane being thanked for the joy she bought into our lives – not to mention the eggs. She was buried deep with great ceremony in a fallow bed, her final task to condition the soil over the coming months.

I was sad but this is the pact we make when we decide to keep backyard poultry or any companion animal. Chickens in particular can go downhill very quickly and I hate the thought of any creature in my care suffering needlessly. I kept it together until I went back with some barley greens for the other chickens.

There was B1, standing at the gateway, looking for her sister……

Vale B2

 

The Story of the Cat Who Came to Stay

 

Look deep into my eyes…

Back in the start of the year, when I was almost tearing my hair out trying to deal with extremely dry and hot weather, failed crops and the ever increasing work load with university, I noticed a skinny little cat had started hanging around the yard. I live near the university, so there’s a lot of unit blocks all around me and I wondered if this little thing belonged to one of the mostly student tenants.

I’m not a cat person. I’ve got large breed rabbits and a retirement home for elderly chickens in my patch as well as multiple vegetable beds, fruit trees (many on dwarfing rootstock in wicking barrels) and a greenhouse that I purposely didn’t plant out last year in order to concentrate on study. Because of the high number of rented units, this area gets a lot of stray cats that wander into the yard. So the old chooks have a fully enclosed rat, raptor and cat proof run, with grape and passionfruit vines to provide summer shade as well as a covered back section with roosting and nesting areas. (We call it ‘Frankenhutch’). The two remaining bunnies are in their own very secure enclosures and Boudica (the biggest, most sweet natured rabbit on the planet) has been seen taking pieces out of cats when she was still a breeding doe. In fact, we’ve worked out since that she is more than twice as big as Neko, who weighs in at under 5kg (11lb).

It’s common to see an occasional mouse trying to get at the chickens’ kibble but they usually don’t last long, gobbled up as extra protein by the chickens and even the odd rat in the yard looking for feed. Imagine my surprise when I came down one morning and found a freshly dead rat on the pathway!

And up on the fence was perched this very scrawny grey cat, watching me very intently. It had no collar and I asked a few people over the next few weeks if they knew who owned the little charcoal tabby – but no one could help. Over the next couple of months, I surprised it a few times in the greenhouse or saw it watching me from behind a tree and there were further gifts of what I can only describe as pieces of dead rodents. The cat, whether I liked it or not, had moved in. The chickens were still laying, the rabbits were showing no signs of distress and none of the native birds that always hang around in late summer seemed fussed at all by the grey terror in the greenhouse. So who was I to complain about a mouser in the yard? I started leaving a bowl of water out near the greenhouse door but I kept thinking that there must be someone, somewhere missing this little creature.

Then one day, when I was inside the chicken’s run feeding them some of the choicest weeds, the cat, sitting outside the enclosure, started to meow at me. Henrietta, the maddest and feistiest chicken ever, lunged at it, ready to peck its green eyes out if it got any closer. The cat didn’t turn a whisker, it plainly wasn’t interested in chickens – it was looking and talking only to me. I started to meow and sing back to it and so, we gradually came to an understanding. I never tried to approach it or touch it, and bided my time.

Henrietta, Queen of the Chicken Coop

In the end, it was Mister Him Indoors (who is not a natural gardener but incredibly good with animals) who made first physical contact. He came down to help me get the autumn vegetable beds ready and called the cat, who sensibly came straight to him and then it was on. There was a quite alarming rumble of purring and rubbing its face on our legs, boots and hands, nibbling fingers. It made us realise just how terribly thin this cat was, how dull its coat but how bright its eyes – and how much it enjoyed the affection! This was obviously no rank stray, it’d spent at least part of its life as someone’s pet. It was beautifully marked and fine boned, we thought maybe a female and a tail that was extraordinary in length and movement. We gave it some dry cat food I keep on hand for the chickens. (Don’t laugh – the extra protein is the best conditioner when chickens are moulting and fabulous in mid-winter when they need a little extra bulk). I was astonished – I’d never heard a cat purr while it was eating before. We included it in the regular twice a day feeding schedule – chickens first, then the rabbits’ mixed greens from around the garden and a little kibble and finally, the cat. It started sunning itself on the top of the back stairs outside the laundry in the afternoon, waiting for us to come down to do the evening feed. With the weather starting to cool, we had to do something. It would be too cold in the unheated, drafty greenhouse in the middle of winter.

So I took a photo, plastered it over my social media network and posted it to the local lost pets register. No response. We had to make a decision.

As I said we’re not a cat-loving household, having spent time in the bush and knowing the damage feral and unconfined cats can do to wildlife and the environment generally. The last thing on our minds was getting one, let alone adopting someone’s dumped pet. There were options. We could call the local cat centre. They would come and collect it, scan to see if it has a microchip identification and if not it would be put up for adoption.

But what if no one adopted it?

We talked it over, we discussed making a bed for it in the laundry, discussed the pros and cons of having a young cat come into our lives for potentially the next 15 years. Big decisions!

Through the lost pets register, I met Suzi, who works at a dedicated cat-only veterinary practice in Hobart and we made an appointment, discussed what to do if it didn’t have a microchip, wasn’t neutered, the cost, the commitment.

The day came and we were so uneducated in feline ways, we had no idea the best way to get a cat into a pet carrier is to put it in backwards. There were deep scratches and much plaintive meowing from the backseat of the car – but we got there.

At the vet’s we discovered little cat was a boy! Skinny, but not undernourished thanks to our ministrations. There was no desexing tattoo but a microchip, and a registered owner in Launceston, about 200km (125 miles) away. Suzi rang the owner who was surprised. She’d bought him as a kitten in 2012, had him desexed and wanted an indoor pet but he was not happy confined in an apartment alone all day. Very responsibly, she rehomed Harley (as she named him) a couple of years ago to a rural family in Richmond.

She gave the number of the new owners and we held our breath while Suzi called them.

Yes, they had a cat they called Smokey but it went missing in December last year. No, they hadn’t transferred the microchip information. Did they want him back?

No, they had another cat now.

Mister Him Indoors (always the scholar of mythology) named him Nekomata for the devious monster cats of ancient Japanese tales. How he got from Richmond to Hobart will always be a mystery. It’s some 27km (over 16 miles) from Hobart and we can only presume that he got caught in a truck or fell asleep without anyone noticing.

Currently, he’s still sleeping in the greenhouse. There seems to be some trauma surrounding being confined but he’s starting to come upstairs into the laundry, where he will have shelter, a warm bed and appropriate facilities (a litter tray) for the long winter nights.

No one’s really sure how it happened, but now we have a cat.

In truth, I think it was Neko’s plan all along.

You will love me and obey…

Wins & Losses – An Early Summer Update

Birthday bounty!

Well, life got in the way of this blog again – it’s been four whole months since I’ve posted anything! Apologies to all you lovelies who follow my fractured, meandering posts. I had another birthday on the weekend and (besides attaining full membership of the Grumpy Old Ladies League) was given a generous stack of DVD & Blu-ray releases that I don’t have in my collection or I’ve worn out with over-use and I immediately watched Bridge on the River Kwai when I worked out I hadn’t watched it for well over 10 years

It’s true that you only miss something significant when it’s not there. I’ve come to realise in the last few months how much of a fabulous thing writing this blog has been, is and I’m sure, will continue to be in the future. I’ve realised what a significant stress release it is to randomly type a few hundred words about things that matter to me, not because I HAVE to but because I WANT to. So thank you to a few folks who reached out wondering where and how I was, encouraging me to continue – you are gold!

Most of my time in the last few months has been taken up with my big three passions; music education, urban farming and film criticism/university study. Music teaching is gradually winding back for the summer break but I’m constantly enriched and amazed at my marvelous, talented tribe.

With respect to film criticism, I’ve been keeping brief notes on films watched, and there’s quite a backlog to catch up with, many of which I’ll expand out to reviews here. Also, I’ve just completed a unit on Screen Celebrity and Stardom, which takes a cultural industries approach to the generation of celebrity and I’m proud to say I received outstanding marks. Unfortunately, this is also probably the last Screen Studies unit I’ll be doing for my degree course but the good news is I’ll be completing my studies and graduating next year! I also have to do a major project, which I’ll talk about at length here once it’s finalised with my course convenor.

And of course, being early summer here in Tasmania the garden has been going gangbusters despite unseasonably cold and wet conditions. I have a spectacular crop of weeds as a result but the cooler weather didn’t suit most of my heritage tomato seedlings and I’ve had to resort to buying some Burnley Bounty as my main crop. Similarly, my entire basil seed failed this year and I’ve had to buy in punnets and pot them on for the greenhouse. I suspect it was a dud packet and I’ll be contacting the seed merchants more out of courtesy than just to complain. Meanwhile, I’ve had a lovely (albeit small) first crop from the asparagus I grew from seed a couple of years ago, the salad veggies are leaping out of the ground and the fruit trees are laden.

Pricking Basil seedlings into paper pots in the rain last week

There have been some sad losses too. The elderly Ladies Who Lay have sadly been reduced to five, Hipster passed away peacefully in her sleep in early September at an estimated age of 10 years. This is pretty remarkable for a laying hen and I’m pleased her final years were stress free and comfortable, with lots of room to run around in, plenty of things to eat and good earth to scratch. Harder still was losing my beautiful Bella B. Bunny at the beginning of October. She was a truly awful mother, bordering on incompetent, completely disdainful of any other life form (including me most of the time) but I adored her and I’m still trying to adjust to life in the yard without her nosing her way in.

The beautiful Hipster, late of the Ladies Who Lay

Nevertheless, the seasons turn and life continues. The other rabbits Bernard Black and Boudica are well, though dear Boudica is getting noticeably older and slower. I’m inundated with eggs as usual for this time of year which is astonishing as my chickens are commercially, well past their use by date. It just goes to show what plenty of space, a more natural diet and low stress does for any creature’s well-being. Speaking of which, I’m going outside to enjoy the sunshine that’s finally arrived

Take care lovelies wherever you are in the world and I’ll post again soon ❤

My Bella

Winter Warmers Part 1 – Boeuf en Croute

Moon set at sunrise over kunanyi/Mt Wellington 30th June 2018

Now we’re past mid winter’s day the weather has taken a much chillier turn (very common for this time of year) and unfortunately it’s wet as well. Normally, most Australians south of the tropics would welcome rain but tanks are full, garden beds are waterlogged (very bad for the garlic crop!) and the chicken’s yard is rapidly turning into a quagmire.

The biggest issue is that it’s kept me housebound. As a rule, winter in Hobart is much drier and colder but we are blessed with crisp, clear blue days, ideal for outdoor activities. Winter is normally the time of year when I want to do things with fruit trees, sharpen spades and secateurs, clean out the greenhouse, prepare beds for spring planting, and generally charge around the yard, doing things to keep warm.

So, although it’s been milder than usual, it’s just been too wet to do a great deal out of doors on the days when I’m home to do so. As a result, I’ve been cooking more and watching a lot of movies!

Last weekend, I started half heartedly taking stock and cleaning out the freezers (yes, I was that desperate to be doing something). There were lots of treasures for winter meals – home made pork and chicken stock, roasted and peeled chestnuts, slow cooked beans in meal size portions, leftover servings of curry and soup and bones from the christmas ham that need using very soon. To my horror, I discovered the last beautifully packaged piece of truffle that was lurking in the back corner of a freezer. I buy a Tasmanian truffle every winter and try and make the most of it fresh and then spend the rest of the year dreaming about truffles, so I was horrified to think I’d neglected this exquisite morsel, hoping it hadn’t denatured or suffered freezer burn. Thank goodness I wrapped it so well – it was fine!

I had a piece of beef fillet that was looking for a good recipe too, and a need to do something special for myself as well as my long suffering partner (aka He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Listened-To). So I decided to make a rather spectacular but remarkably easy dinner. The preparation is everything with this but in my opinion, the easier you can make the flavour profile, the more clearly the core ingredients can shine through, in this case the truffle and the beef. I think it’s worth making just for the aroma. My house smelled amazing for days after ❤

Before we get into it, I just want to talk about expense. At first glance this looks incredibly expensive, and compared to most of the food I share here, it probably is. I did a rough costing and (without wine or power allowances) this comes to approximately AU$70 of ingredients for two generous serves. Given that a quality pub meal in Hobart can vary from AU$25-35 for steak per person and something like this in a restaurant would be more in the order of AU$45-65 per serve, I think this is really good value for something exceptional that most home cooks can easily manage. Now, let’s crack on!

Boeuf en Croute (serves 2)

Beef fillet piece (approximately 500g/1 lb)

1-2 sheets frozen puff pastry

2 rashers of good quality bacon

Truffle (my piece would’ve been just under 20g)

1 clove garlic (optional)

Fresh herbs (I used oregano and sage)

Salt and pepper (optional)

Method:

Heat a skillet to high and sear the beef on each side quickly. The idea here is to seal the meat, not to cook it through, so make sure the skillet is very hot. Remove the meat once every side (ends included) has seen the pan and set it aside to cool completely. (I left mine for about an hour).

Preheat an oven to 180 C (350 F). Lay the pastry sheet(s) out on a parchment covered board to defrost. How much pastry you need is determined by how big your piece of beef is and how much you like puff pastry. Once defrosted you can roll the pastry out a little to make it fit or be lazy (like me) and make a patch with another piece of pastry.

On a clean board remove the bacon rind, chop the garlic and herbs finely and slice the truffle. On a defrosted pastry sheet, lay out the rashers of bacon side by side and cover with the chopped herbs and shaved truffle. I don’t have a proper truffle shaver but find the slicing blade of a box grater does very well. Also, I don’t generally use salt and pepper but if you do, this would be the spot to use it.

Now for the tricky bit! Position the beef on the top side of the pastry sheet like this –

Use the parchment to help make a tight roll. Also, I find rolling towards yourself lets you see what’s happening and poke any stray pieces of truffle or herbs back into place. I used a little water and a pastry brush to tack an extra piece of pastry to one edge and finished the roll, using this as the surface the roast sits on. At this stage, I also trimmed a little excess pastry off the sides and folded the sides tightly, making sure the meat was completely sealed in the pastry. I put a few decorative slashes on top to give some indication where to slice for serving but you can decorate it any way you like.

Place on a small roasting tray and bake on the middle rack for 35-40 minutes. Everyone’s oven is different so adjust your cooking time accordingly. Mine came out medium rare though it looks more like well done in the photograph (and the pic of the pastry lies too – it was nowhere near as dark as the photo!)

Leave the meat to rest for 10 minutes and then carve carefully into four slices. Serve on a bed of wilted spinach or silverbeet (Swiss chard) and a glass or two of good red wine.

Next time, I’ll share how I used the ham bones to make home made Baked Beans – one of the cheapest and heartiest meals ever. Although it costs far less, it actually takes more time to make than Boeuf en Croute!

Also, please let me know if you try this recipe – I always love to hear from you 🙂

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