More food to die for

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From gathered mushrooms to old meat: this is my attempt at sort-of bresaola. I hadn’t heard of it till about 3 weeks ago. It’s air dried cured beef. I picked it in a mixture of salt, special pickling salt containing nitrates, sugar, herbs and spices for about 2 weeks in the fridge. Then a quick bath in wine and balsamic vinegar.

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It’s now wrapped in muslin and hanging under the house. It’s really a little warm for this kind of caper: should have been doing this a few months ago over winter. I’m also using the wrong cut of beef: chuck not round. But it’s only a little piece, so if it all goes horribly wrong I’m not throwing out very much. We’ll see in a month or so.

Stay warm, little veggies

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It’s going to be a very cold night after what had been the hottest winter on record in Canberra. To protect or baby tomatoes, it’s stakes, plastic and bricks to form a makeshift temporary cloche. It should be enough to keep the veggies safe. Hopefully it defrosts soon!

Foraging: a step forward

I’ve taken a step in foraging if only a little one: I’ve eaten a bit of mushroom I found. Not just any old thing: this was a slippery jack.

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I went exploring in a pine forest today, with the expectation of encountering interesting fungi to view and photograph. But when I found these, I had to take a few home!

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clockwise from bottom left, here is:
-old ammonia test: started pink then turned blue
-whole mushroom
-fresh ammonia test (pink)
-raw slice
-cooked slice (fried in olive oil)

In the interests of caution, I ate precisely one slice. It was pleasant: mushroomy and nutty. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully I have many more years of exploring and blogging ahead though.

Edit: 3 days on and I’m still here! I dried the rest of the mushrooms, which has not affected the lemony, almost apricot smell they have. I’ll try a bit more again in a few more days.
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Companion planting

This is a post from a while back that didn’t get published at the time.

These days we’re coming to think of our garden as a tiny created ecosystem. I’m now trying to expand what started with companion planting and the chickens to another kingdom: fungi. The idea of foraging for mushrooms is a tempting one, but comes with its dangers. Foraging for spore-bearing mushrooms for companion planting had many of the benefits without the risk!

The ink caps are endemic it seems and grow on decomposing matter. We have a ready supply of decomposing matter in our chicken manure, so I hope to be able to keep a colony supplied. And curiously, structures in the fungus are damaging to nematodes. Nematodes are a natural part of the soil, but some species eat vegetable roots.

We have what appears to be a species of ink cap that grows naturally in the garden:

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Using some shaggy manes (I think!) that I found in a garden, I’ve inoculated my garden beds.

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Hopefully they’ll flourish and I’ll have a poo-digesting, nematode-busting, soil-stabilising and curiously autodigesting ally in the garden!

Winter solstice preparations part two

Last week Mme Four and I went for a walk and gathered some pine cones. We then spent several days this week painting them with glue and sprinkling them with glitter. Every four year old’s dream. (Our house has never looked so sparkly either). We finished them with some ribbon and buttons hot glues on so we could hang them.

Mme Four took great delight in helping to decorate the house this year and really being part of the family festivities.
And I’m really enjoying making new family rituals that are in sync with and celebrating the changing seasons around us and watching and noticing how nature changes through the year.

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Hail!

We had a fairly heavy storm come through yesterday and it dumped a lot of hail on us. Here are a few pictures of our yard just after the storm.

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Thankfully the chickens were sensible and stayed in their house.

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Our broccoli seedlings were safe and warm in their little mini greenhouses (aka upturned plastic cups), installed the night before in the nick of time (good work MacGyver!)

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The silverbeet looks okay but this might be the end of the basil and mint for the season though – I’ve been expecting them to curl up and die for well over a month now, but so far they have stayed alive.

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This morning there was still lots of hail left on the ground.

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The chickens came out and braved the icy ground this morning and seemed quite perplexed by the cold white stuff.

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Splash was not amused by the cold stuff.

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The broccoli seedlings and mint (amazingly) look fine, but I think this is it for the basil.

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Our makeshift kafir lime greenhouse (aka a plastic bag over a tripod) has also done a great job of protecting the little tree.

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All very exciting really.  It’s rare for Canberra to get snow that sticks to the ground so seeing everything white was a big novelty for the kidlets.  Mme Four had a lovely time building “hail castles” after the storm had passed.

Winter Solstice preparations – orange pomanders

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orange pomanders

We spent the afternoon today making these beautiful decorations from oranges and cloves.  While it would be more awesome if the oranges were home grown, sadly we bought these.  They still smell delicious though and look very festive.  And Mme. Four had a lovely time helping to make them.  M. One, however, did not have as much fun – he found and ate a dropped clove.

Slow and steady

Here’s today’s progress on the laundry:

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We’ve started varnishing the bench top in marine grade polyurethane. This is coat number 1 (of 4!) on the underside, so lots to go.

An autumnal cake

Until we set an orchard, we’re reliant on the shops for fruit. If like us you’re not lucky enough to have fruit trees, you can usually tell that a fruit is in season because it’s cheap in the shops.

Right now it seems to be pear season. These are going into Miss soon-to-be-4’s birthday cake. The great thing about pears is that if you slightly overdo it, they don’t make the cake taste weird.

So the recipe was 6 pears, halved and roasted until soft, then cooled, cored, skinned and pureed. Into that went 2 cups of sugar, 1 tablespoon if baking powder and about 1 cup of cocoa, plus some ground cinnamon and clove. Miss stb4 proclaimed that it “smelled gorgeous!” Mixed it till smooth, then beat in 4 big eggs. After that, in went about 250g melted butter and half a block of melted chocolate. Again, we mixed till smooth. Then we folded in about 2 cups plain flour. If you overbeat cake mixture that contains flour, it sets the gluten off and makes the cake tough. The advantage of adding the flour at the end is that you can beat the hell out of it to get the mix smooth at first, and you only need to ease off at the end when the flour goes in.

That went into an oven preheated to 160 for about 50 minutes. I put a tall baking paper collar around to stop it burning, which seemed to work.

This makes heaps of batter. You might want to halve it actually:

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It made 1 big cake and 3 small ones.

I think this is the best cake I’ve ever made: moist, spongy and chocolatey. Miss stb4 was much more interested in the batter though, and completely rejected the cake in favor of licking the bowl! 

Edit: once you decorate a cake for a four year old, all traces of the seasons are lost:
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Green tomato sauce

A while back we cleaned out our tomatoes to make way for broad beans.

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We also picked out remaining people beans and olives.

Most of the tomatoes didn’t ripen so I made some green tomato sauce with them. Step 1 was smoking them, but I missed getting a picture of that. Then, in the pan with about a kilo of browned onions and some apples:

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Had to do the onion in batches.

Then I boil up cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, while black pepper, caraway, coriander, cumin, cayenne and anything else that takes my fancy in some vinegar, strain through a cloth into the tomatoes, tie off and drop the “bag” in.

Plenty of sugar goes in, a bit of salt, and then it boils away for a while.

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Six jars, some of them whoppers! This is great on roast beef.

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