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Monday, June 30, 2014

Sawdust or Shavings for Chicken Run Mulch

Last year after harvesting the chicken litter from the chicken run for use in growing Tomatoes we were in a quandary. What to use as bedding, having used the last of the sawdust. For a number of years sawdust had been used from a 15 cubic metre delivery. It kept the run dry in wet weather and over time became rich in nitrogen from the droppings but very slow to break down. It was time to try some alternatives.

The first ingredient was dried cow pats. Being a bit dry and hard it took months for these Pumpkin sized wads to break up and after some rain things got a bit mucky underfoot.

The next addition was dried out silage. Fine for a while but eventually it broke down and became mushy.

Jean reminded me the other day that it was a bit smelly in the run after the last lot of rain. Discussion resulted in a new plan. Rather than sawdust it would be wood shavings to see if the breaking down process would be any faster.

20 cubic metres of shaving fluffiness requires covering against the wind

The shavings have arrived and are very fluffy and being so means 20 cubic metres of them is much less after compacting than sawdust. So be it. The other difference is the smell. These shavings have come from a joinery and are not the usual Eucalypt based material. It smells and feels like there are various timber sources which will make it interesting.

The proceeds of the chicken run are required at the end of August for the Tomato bed. This means that there can't be a lot of shavings incorporated into the run because there just isn't enough time for a bulk lot to break down.

What all this tells you is that despite having a proven set of techniques and standard routines which have worked over decades it is never too late to ignore common sense and experiment with the unknown.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

You Do What You Can, Because You Can

We look after a small beef cattle property across the river for the owner who lives in Sydney. It is his hobby farm and he attends every weekend to do all those farm things like fencing, cattle work, tractor work, vegetable garden and enjoying the rural life style before heading home every Sunday afternoon to prepare for the weeks paid work.

He was chasing me by telephone on Friday and it took a few calls before we caught up with each other. He hadn't left a message as to the reason for wanting a chat but I assumed he may have had something come up and needed me to fill in at the farm on the Saturday.

But no, he wanted to discuss replacing the farm ute with a new vehicle. There were a few options he was looking at and wanted to pass them by me. He started by saying we needed a dual cab so that Nikki our dog with a recovering neck injury could sit inside. Now you probably wonder why someone would bother tailoring a work vehicle, which is almost exclusively used by the part time farm labourer, to the farm labourers dogs. As a matter of fact why does a part time farm labourer get a company car? But then that isn't the point of this story.

The deal was done on Sunday with a shiny new 4WD Toyota Hilux to be delivered in two weeks time when the tray is built and affixed.

And did he get a good trade in on the outgoing, nothing wrong with it, 2005 ute? Well no. The out going ute is being kept.

The boss has a friend going back to his school days who is experiencing significant financial difficulty. To make ends meet the friend started a lawn mowing business but someone then stole his ute.

The outgoing farm ute is being allocated to his friend until the friend gets back on his feet.


The friend had always lived a good and generous life but through bad luck and inexperience has had a number of set backs. At this moment he needs a boost to lift his spirits in a difficult period.

The boss said "you do what you can because you can".

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Burbles has Passed to the great Free Range Chicken Run in the Sky

With sadness we report the passing of the much loved house yard hen Burbles born November 2003.

After the loss of her life long friend Bootsie she displayed enormous grief and seemed to lose the will to keep going.

The two friends rest in peace together outside our bedroom window.
Bootsie in the forefront, Burbles with her back to us speaking with Little Mate. The dogs looking on

Home Kill Beef - Making Tallow

Preparing the beef cuts for the various cures entailed trimming off all the fat. On the brisket this was huge. It seemed a waste not to make it into Tallow which Jean tells me is very good for you. Being a saturated fat it is supposed to be good for the cell structures in our bodies. See Doctor Bruce Mackie's Abstract here and some further research material here

There is a slight problem for me as I'm a vegetarian. It may be bullet bighting time.

The other uses for Tallow are candles, Soap, Bio-diesel and Lubricant. What a versatile product.

The extraction process involved a small amount of water and the lowest possible heat setting with lots and lots of time. Using a Bain Marie is a better idea. Even my lowest stove stop setting still created excessive bubbling but it still worked out fine.

A by-product of all this was a jelly (after cooling) that will make great soup stock.

If you look at the last picture in the sequence, this is the leftover meat, sinews etc. It went in for a second rendering for another 4 hours with a little water and produced almost as much Tallow on this second run.

The remaining material went to the chickens and ducks although it was a tossup between them, the dogs and Jean. Apparently it was very tasty.

Simmering on very low heat in a small amount of water.

Chook or dog food from leftovers

Tallow on the top and a thin layer of jelly on the bottom

These leftovers for reprocessing just to extract the last of the tallow

Friday, June 27, 2014

Home Kill Beef - Making Various Cured Beef Product

While Jean went off to move cattle across the river and do the other chores it was down to work in the kitchen for me. It has been quite a few years since we made and cured meat products and the stirrings inside me led to accumulating a few different recipes over the last couple of weeks in anticipation of receiving the results of the butcher's hard work.

After a lot of research the styles were narrowed down to those that didn't have anything except beef, salt, herbs and spices. Would love to have done some sausages etc but the absence of Pork limited the range.

Still  there were six to be made. On day one four styles were produced and then on day two another two. Produced means started not finished. Each recipe requires different steps and timings.  

The list is as follows:

Leith's Meat Bible supplied a good Bresaola recipe.

Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn gave another Bresaola recipe from their book Salumi

Culinaria Greece had a Pastrourma recipe but without quantities and required a bit of imagination.

Found a very interesting Pastourma recipe on the web.

And finally River Cottage from an episode aired recently provided the idea for Pastrami and Biltong.

A freezer normally used in wine making has a thermostat set to 4 degrees C and the shelves reinserted. One thing became clear and that was we did not have enough of the right sized containers. Jeans Scone bowl was pinched as were a few salad bowls and other mixing bowls.

In order to keep track of everything each shelf has the product in progress plus a plastic sleeve which contains the handwritten recipe on one side and on the reverse side a tick list with a day per line to ensure all the relevant turning and rubbing and whatever is all done according to plan.

As you can see from the photographs each recipe is different, one requires weights, others are dry salted and herbed and others are soaking in either wine or vinegar.

Some of the inputs


Biltong drying

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mushrooms - Slippery Jacks

These little gems pop up almost every year just at the top of our driveway beside one of the two Stone Pines. The pines were supposed to produce Pine Nuts, you know those little white seed things that sell for $64/KG. Well so far no Pine Nuts have been seen but the Slippery Jacks are a fine compensation.

Just in case we made an identification mistake the various guide books were cross referenced. These are strange books, the official name varies from book to book but there is some linkage between the names i.e. Slippery Jacks. Some books don't mention whether these are edible or not. One that does specifies removing the skin and the gills (tubes) which was promptly done.

The recipe suggested is Garlic and Lemon juice. The author then describes the taste of the dish as being "lemon and Garlic". We cooked the Garlic a little more and cooked the sliced mushrooms in half the Lemon juice and then added a little more juice onto the completed dish to preserve the vitamin C.

Served on fresh toast it tasted fine. Mild mushroom flavour, good texture. Slippery Jacks have a particular pleasant flavour of their own. An excellent breakfast choice and no hospital trip afterwards.

Gills or Tubes as they are known

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Cheeses, Parmesan, Blue, Camembert

For once there is a massive choice of cheeses all perfectly ripe for eating in the cheese fridge. We took samples of these to the Wine Tasting to be shared.

Despite all the background cheese making that occurs at HHF we don't always have a big cross section of cheeses ripening all once like this although probably should be goal.


Perfectly ready

The larger sized Camembert for slower ripening

Runny cetntres

15 months of age

Great texture and flavour

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Home Kill Beef - Bringing Home the Meat

The Home Kill was collected today from the butcher. The final price came to 3.65/KG including purchase of the animal. In addition extra bones for the dogs were provided.

The butcher packed the steaks into parcels of two with labels, although on some cuts the labelling was only in ink and some packets slipped from 2 pieces to 3 and on the Scotch Fillet 4 pieces. The roasts were a bit large and these were cut into 2 or 3 by us and repacked. The offal was cut but in a single bag, as were the dog bones and trimmings. These bulk packs were repackaged into more suitable sizes.

A few large roast are going to be cured with spices and these were set aside for later processing. No sausages or corned beef were requested. Anything that couldn't be steaked or roasted went into mince a more useful commodity for us.

185 kilograms of meat is a lot to pack away and freeze. In the past the whole lot went into chest freezers and then had to be stirred around every day until it all froze. If they are not stirred a solid bloody block of ice becomes a hammer and chisel exercise.

This time two upright freezers were employed. Rather than pack densely all the packages were seated into cardboard trays kept from dog and cat food can purchases. They now get a second life and later will serve a third purpose as blood flavoured compost for the worms. The trays were placed on shelves in a single depth for maximum air flow. There wasn't enough upright freezer space and a few packs went into the chest freezers interspersed with other frozen products.

48 hours should be enough to have them set solid. After that the chest freezers will be employed to hold sample packs of each cut for easy access and a single upright will be packed solid with the remaining meat. The upright will then not need to be opened except to refill the chest freezer with mixed samples every few months. Uprights are notoriously inefficient because the cold air flows out when the door is opened. The advantage of uprights is the easy accessibility to the different products.

In hindsight the upright that was purchased some years ago was a poor choice. A larger chest freezer would have been a cheaper buy price, cheaper to run and stored more product. Some time in the near future it will be downgraded to use in wine making and as a backup to the chest freezers and a large chest freezer acquired as its replacement.

And finally the clean up was performed before retiring to the house to prepare dinner.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Williams Valley Wine Tasting Club

Well you've heard about our Cuisine Club and now we have a Wine Tasting Club. Nothing flash just four couples on a Saturday night tasting six wines (all red). We all brought palate cleansers such as cheese and other dips.

The wines were part of a tasting pack one of the group received and was willing to share. It contained not only the wines but numbered paper bags to hide the bottle identification and scoring sheets where we could jot down out perceptions on Colour, Smell and Taste. The total score was out of 20.

Not only was it fun but also interesting as we all read the guiding notes and attempted to score each category. Discussion went on during the whole exercise. Non of us are wine buffs, its just that we don't mind a good glass of wine and this evening contributed to our knowledge and helped us focus on what makes a good wine.

There was no winning wine as the group was equally divided between two styles of red i.e. the medium bodied and the heavier style.

The tasting was followed by a shared meal where all the participants brought dishes. A fun night. What a good way to get to know your neighbours.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Around the Garden This Week

The Mulberry tree looks a bit bare at the moment. Being Winter it has lost almost all its foliage but then it also received a severe pruning. Most of the excess growth came off the back of the plant which faces away from the house. At least looking from the kitchen window it looks unchanged.

The Elderflower was cut right back but being a hardy and robust grower it should green up well in Spring providing this little garden escape with protection.

The Turmeric has dies back and this week will be harvested.

Some Cabbage are now ready for harvest. Because there is still a goodly amount of Sauerkraut in the refrigerator these first one's will be eaten fresh.

This green manure crop is coming along well. Next month, only a week away, the bunching shallots are due for planting in this bed.

We planted Amaranth only once and let a plant go to seed. It now comes up everywhere. Handy for Winter salads.

The same self seeding applies to Radicchio. And finally a red tinged one self seeded. We have always had difficulty with the reds and it's pleasing to have finally had it occur naturally.

A funny thing happened with the Broad Beans. These were planted in three groupings. For an unknown reason one group is considerably shorter than the other two. Was it due to the Sweet Potato alongside impacting or some other issue?

Friday, June 20, 2014

NZ Compost Update, Mushrooms, Chicken Food

Got very close to finishing building the massive 4'6" cubed compost but things kept getting in the way of putting down the last few layers. The lawn is completely mown and the Elderflower, Buddleia and Mulberry are all pruned with pruning's mulched in the compost. Finally this morning the last layers were added.

Steam has been emanating from the central hole for days and too wispy to catch in a photograph but a probe dropped down the hole measured the temperature at 66.8 C. Now that should sterilize any wanton seed.

A few of the Mushroom containers appeared to produce spore and some time was spent sterilising batches of Lucerne to use as a bed. Before adding them to the hothouse.

Oyster Mushroom Spore - I think/hope

Lucerne Hay

And the day is not finished without unloading the ute which carried the 160 KG of mixed grain for the chickens and another 100 KG of Oat grain which will be sprouted for the cattle. Grass is getting scarce and they need to keep up their strength even after gorging themselves on Pumpkin.

Of the last 100 KG of Oats they only got through about half before the rains came and the Autumn grasses took off. The remaining grain went to the chickens.

We don't expect any luxurious growth now until well into September or later. Their diet will be a little sprouted Oats and a small biscuit of Lucerne in addition to what can be picked out of the paddocks.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Recipe Indexing

Like most people we have lots of cook books, myriads of recipe cuttings from magazines and the usual handwritten scraps of paper.

One wet day all the loose recipes went from a box into plastic envelopes and into a binder. This made finding a recipe index a little easier. Jean has an incredible memory for recipes. She can remember that so and so gave her a recipe for making Hunza Pie or there was a cutting from Women's Weekly on Malay Fish Curry.

The only short coming is where in the three large binders of recipes is the one that is required. When the binders were setup each page was numbered in indelible ink with the expectation that one day an index would be created. That just never happened.

But one day there was this brilliant idea. Some recipes just get used much more than others. A new folder was started called "Most Used Recipes". A simple process was implemented i.e. any recipes that were in regular use made their way into the new folder.

The next problem to solve was cook books and tracking recipes. A simple solution is of course to insert a book mark. This works well until the book marks equal the number of pages in the book.

Sometimes standing in the kitchen with a set number of ingredients and all you need is a guiding recipe to put these ingredients together in a tasty ensemble. Wading through the cookbooks for a couple of hours is one solution. Another was to build a spread sheet of interesting recipes. Showing the Book Title, Recipe Name, Page Number and a column for each of up to  five major ingredients.

BookRecipePageIngredient 1Ingredient 2Ingredient 3Ingredient 4Ingredient 5
The Rice BookCarrot Rice115RiceCarrots

The Rice BookRice with chickpeas114RiceChickpeas

The Rice BookSavoury Rice with Herbs123RiceMackeral

The Rice BookFried Rice126RiceMushroomsCarrots

The Rice BookJamaican Rice and Peas116RiceRed Kidney Beans

The Rice BookMexican Rice and Refried Beans128RiceRed Kidney BeansTomatoes

The Rice BookSouth Indian Rice Soup153RiceRed LentilsTomatoesCarrots
The Rice BookMinestrone Rice158RiceHaricot BeansCannellini BeansLeeksTomatoes
The Rice BookGreen Rice Soup159RiceOnionSpinach

The Rice BookMiso163RicePeanutsShallotsTofuMushrooms

Each column in the spread sheet has a Filter button to enable sorting by Book Title, Recipe or Ingredient. The Filter button also allows a single ingredient to be displayed simplifying the research.

No, it wasn't a matter of sitting there for days accumulating the index. It was done a little at a time such as when looking through a book and finding some interesting recipes to try at a later date. Especially important were recipes that used a number of seasonal vegetables. Remember the food guidelines say 5 vegetables every day.

Our lives are not as regimented as this post may indicate. As much as we try to keep these things in an orderly manner much slips through the cracks. But then there are Espoused Theories and then Theories in Action and somewhere in between.

I understand that some people keep their lives simple by minimising the number of variables they work with but that has never been our style.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ripe Near Me

Ripe Near Me is running a Crowd Funding campaign to raise dollars to improve the site.

Having said that, we tried to donate a few dollars to what we believe could become a valuable resource but struggled with the website where you can lodge pledges. It may be our technical skills. It ran slowly and wouldn't allow us to log in after registration saying our password was invalid. After getting issued a new password and logging in with it and re-entering a new password it logged us out and kept us out. Did this twice with no good result, Then tried the last password they sent us with success except when we went to donate it logged us out again. Finally, got to the pay page after logging in on every new page to finding it only offered Credit Card and no Paypal. May have considered this prior to experiencing so many problems but not now.

Now that all confidence has vanished the last resort was an email to Ripe Near Us asking where to send the cheque.

The amount pledged was growing as we played around with the site access so it means everybody else was having success. As stated it could be just our technical skills or bad luck.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Home Kill Beef

Recently some friends in the valley offered us a calf as a home kill. They run two Murray Grey cows and breed two calves most years who are fathered by a local farmer's bull. In this area there is a lot of bartering of services and goods.

One the calves is normally used as a home kill and the other goes to the markets for some pocket money. Usually, half the meat that comes from the home kill is shared with their daughter. But recently the daughter turned to vegetarianism and now a home kill lasts twice as long.

This deal works well for us. Firstly the calf is still feeding from mum and is what is known in some places as being 'sappy'. Secondly, the final price per kilogram is estimated at $4 after calf costs, abattoir fees and butchering costs. As an indicator of price, the local supermarket sells meaty bones for $5 per kilogram. Thirdly the provenance is known  i.e. grass fed, well treated, no chemical usage.

For the calf owners it means a guaranteed price and cash in the hand. With cattle prices still fluctuating greatly this is the best way to sell.

This is being written as the calf goes in to slaughter. It will hang at the abattoir for a week and then be transported to the butcher for cutting, packing and labelling.

We visited this butcher to agree on the type of cuts. Both avoiding commercially corned beef and sausages. Rather than sausages there will be more mince as the cats and dogs are happy with this. Nor will the beef pumped with corning material instead it will come as plain roasts.

The only short coming is that the offal that comes with the carcase will not be from this calf as it cannot be kept with the hanging carcase. Instead there will be fresh offal from another animal on the day.  Any charcuterie will be performed at HHF when the meat arrives.

Ideally, it would have been best to have slaughtered the calf in situ and avoid the transport but no such butchering facility is available locally.

This is the first time with this butcher but we felt confident after the visit that all should proceed well. A bonus is that cuts are automatically packed in twos and labelled. Something that isn't part of our regular butcher's offering.

Monday, June 16, 2014


The Pumpkin Patch has experienced a major set back. We had already harvested a crop and then the mild Autumn resulted in the vines taking off and running amuck with an even bigger crop. The main fruit was a local Dry Pumpkin a wonderfully long keeper and some additional Mosque de Provence also made a comeback. Some had hardened off and were ready to harvest but most were almost there.

Then The cattle broke in yesterday. Not their fault. I'd become lazy and hadn't flicked the switch and turned on the electric fence around the patch. Not much harm done. A few Pumpkins eaten and a little trampling of the vines.

Then overnight they broke in again. I hadn't fully checked the fence perimeter and there was a major short in the farthest corner. This time they made a meal of it. Well and truly a meal. They ate all the giant Mosque de Provence and quite a few drys. The worst part was they trampled the vines.

There are still enough pumpkins remaining to keep us out of trouble but probably over half of the bumper crop is gone.

Just in case you're asking the cattle were very full. They had a great time not only with the Pumkins but also cleaning up all the weed and grass growth.

So the lesson is never not have the fence energised and always test the voltage to make sure it has a sufficient kick. Complacency results in devastation.