Monday, 15 February 2016

Goodbye Alpine HQ

The time has come to say goodbye to my little mountain getaway, my refuge and for the last few months my home.
Bear will be staying on the property and I'm proud to leave the beautiful and productive gardens in his capable hands.
We have spent the last few months putting a lot of effort into building up his soil, and establishing his plants. 

It has been the most incredible and enjoyable experience, being able to really get my hands dirty and test how green my thumb actually is.


The most incredible thing I have learned so far is that the real value of gardening and homesteading lies not just on your table, but in the way it connects you to your friends and the people around you.

Sending friends jars of jam made in my kitchen, from blackberries picked by the river, vegetables from my garden and bread baked from the wild yeasts in the clean mountain air.

The sense of community that I felt being able to swap my excess of pumpkin seedlings for someone else's leeks, or donating my sunflower seedlings to the local preschool, when their seeds failed to germinate.

These are things that cannot be baught, they are priceless and precious experiences that I treasure. 
I am so proud to have helped Bear put together these fantastic gardens and am so excited to see what he does with them over the year to come.
But now that the seasons are starting to turn it's time for me to head off on a new adventure to the big city.
That's right, I'm packing my bags and headed for one of Australia's busiest cities to try my hand at a little urban homesteading.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Simple Scone - Recipe

In my opinion, one of life's most overlooked pleasures is the humble scone. Perfect with a cup of afternoon tea, and a little cream and raspberry jam on the side. 
While I'm still in search of the perfect recipe for raspberry jam, my recipe for scones is hard to beat for simplicity and taste. Mostly I love how quickly these beauties can be whipped up, they make a great treat for visiting friends and can be put together in about as much time as it takes to brew a pot of coffee. 

- Self raising flour
- Butter at room temperature 
- Milk, full cream please
- Salt

There's no exact measurements in this recipe, because I haven't measured my ingredients for scones in years and can't actually remember what the measurements are. I simply go by my gut, judging if I need more butter or milk by the look and feel of the mixture. About two large handfuls of flour makes six scones on average. 

• Preheat your oven on a medium/high heat. Grease and flour a baking tray before you get started.

• I hate sifting flour so I just use a fork to stir up the flour, which will break apart any clumps. Cut your butter into manageable chunks and put them all into the flour after you've forked it. Rub the butter into the flour by using your finger tips to roll the flour and butter together until the butter has blended in and resembles loose breadcrumbs.

• Gradually pour the milk into the flour/butter, add a pinch of salt then mix with you hands, when all the ingredients start to come together stop mixing. If you over do it, you'll turn a beautiful fluffy scone dough, into dense biscuits.

• Turn out your mixture onto a well floured surface and knead until the dough forms, this shouldn't take long. And you don't want to knead the scone dough for longer than a minute or you'll ruin the fluffy texture it gets while it's baking. 

• Flatten out the dough to about 2cm thick, then use a cooking cutter to make your individual scones. Now, I say cooking cutter but what I mean is anything vaguely circular and about the right size. I have in a pinch used everything from egg poaching rings to upturned coffee mugs, it does the job just fine. 

• Place your scones onto your floured baking tray, unlike cookies you should place scones close together as it helps them to rise. Put your tray straight into the oven and let them bake for about 10-12 minutes until they are just going golden on the edges. My personal tip, is to put a tray of water in the shelf underneath your scones as they bake. The water will evaporate and the steam will help your scones to rise, as well as making them super moist and scrumptious. 

• You can check that they are cooked properly by sliding a toothpick through the thickest part and them, then pulling it out again. If it comes away clean, they're cooked through. 

These can keep for a day or two in an airtight container but they're much better served straight away and still warm from the oven. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

The lonely homesteader

I promised to tell the truth about homesteading in this blog, the good, the ugly and all the bits in between. Well there comes a point in every independent homesteaders journey, when you realise you are for all intent and purposes, on your own.

I have always hoped that when my home among the gumtrees was completed, that it would be filled with the people that I love. A bustling hive of warmth and activity, with friends and family visiting from afar or neighbours dropping by. The actualisation of this project is so far away in my future that I had never really questioned it further. 

But apparently this is not an original fantasy for modern homesteaders, and it's not always one that gets fulfilled. 
After one of many late night conversations with my good friend and fellow homesteader Costa, we discovered that we had more than a love of draft horses and bee hives in common, we where both incredibly lonely. 
Costa had been particularly unlucky, having started his homesteading dream with his long term partner. Who decided months ago, for several reasons that she just couldn't continue with the project anymore and left him holding the feed bag. I had experienced something similar a few years previous, when my homesteading dream was still in the conceptual stages. 

We discussed break ups the way people normally do, with sympathy and hope, and I made the comment that Costa still had plenty of friends who loved him. 
That's when he dropped the bomb, not a single one of his friends had made the journey out to his property to visit him. When he questioned them on it, they had responded that moving away from the city had just made it all to hard, that it was too much effort to drive the hour and a half outside of the city to visit him.

Suddenly alarm bells started ringing in my head, majority of my friends live in the city. Even Meep who had made this sea change with me, has recently moved to Melbourne for a fabulous job opportunity. I realised that while these friends supported my choices, many of them didn't exactly understand the life I've chosen to live. I spent a week rethinking my decisions, for the first time since I started this journey I really questioned if I was capable of doing all this on my own. 

Are we the modern day pioneers? Awakening a way of life, long forgotten. Or are we crazy? Idealistic fools, trying to live a wilder life in a world that has moved past us. 
Can friends and even family that don't chose the same life, ever really understand? 
I thought for a while that I hadn't committed myself to anything yet. If I wanted to I could still turn around, go home to the city, get my old office job back and fall back into my old life. But I couldn't unlearn all the things that homesteading has taught me. I could never give up the passion I feel when my hands are buried in the earth digging out new potatoes, or planting new seedlings. I didn't want to give up the freedom I feel when my property produces the food on my table. 

I want to feel the exhilaration of watching a new born animal come into the world. And I want to be strong enough to be there when my crops fail or my animals sicken. Like so many before me, who held their world together with bailing twine and a prayer and never asked for more. I want live a life that is filled with practical skills, with beauty and misery and everything else that comes with it. 

 Photo Credit; Kym Hepbourn

I don't want a life of 'stuff' that is made in China, pumped and churned and packaged for me. I want to know that if and when I have a family of my own that they are going to grow up healthy and happy, breathing fresh air and eating real food.
Maybe that makes me crazy, maybe I'm an idealistic fool and the world is moving past me, but I think that's going to be okay with me. 


Sunday, 20 July 2014

Grandma's shortbreads

As deceptive as the title may seem, this isn't actually my grandmothers shortbread recipe. My grandmother sadly is not what you would call a natural cook, and has always relied on canned soups and dehydrated mashed potato. To be fair to my grandmother, she never really had the time or inclination to be a homemaker because she was too busy tearing down the boundaries of her generation. 

Regardless of whatever social prejudices she may have endured as a divorced, mother of four during the late fifties and early sixties, Nanna has never made herself out to be the victim of circumstance. She worked three jobs while her children where in school, managed to pay off her own mortgage and car loan, as well as saving enough money to help her eldest daughter (my aunt) open a business at eighteen. All the while she ran a local square dancing club, performed with the community theatre, became an accomplished seamstress and volunteered with her local church and at school functions. If you detect a subtle hint of hero-worship, you wouldn't be wrong. We may not have always gotten along as I was growing up, but I've always held my Nanna in high regard. The woman may not have many vices, as she doesn't smoke, drink or swear. But she does have a weakness for macadamia shortbreads, so I came up with this recipe just for her.

You'll need;
1 Cup of butter
1/2 Cup of caster sugar
1 Tbs of vanilla essence 
A small pinch of salt
2 Cups of flour
1 Cup of macadamia nuts
1/4 Tsp of lemon zest

Here's how it's done

• Preheat your oven to about 175•c
• Beat the butter, sugar, lemon zest, vanilla essence and salt together until it becomes smooth.
• Crush the macadamia nuts roughly with a mortar and pestle. If you don't have one of those, fold a tea towel over the macadamias and crush then with a rolling pin.

• Sift the flour into the butter mixture and then add the crushed macadamias and mix well until it forms a crumbly dough. 
• Turn out the dough on to a floured surface and press the dough flat, until it's about 2cm thick.

• Cut the dough with a cookie cutter and place on a tray lined with baking paper.
• Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are a light golden brown.

Take note, as the butter is warm the shortbreads will still be quite soft, so be careful when taking them off the tray or the will break. Allow them to cool and they will harden into perfect little shortbreads. These tasty little snacks go fabulously with a cup of afternoon tea, and make a wonderful gift for overachieving grandmothers.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Mamma Gem's Perfect Pancakes - Recipe

learnt this recipe years ago when I was living in a tiny, two bedroom apartment with my good friend Sav. We were both studying, both poor, both working minimum wage jobs. His mother, Gemma (who is to this day the most generous woman I have ever known) would regularly drop over huge, mountains of home made lasagna, muffins or cinnamon rolls just to make sure we were eating. Her visits were always a pleasant break from instant noodles, frozen vegetables and packet mix stir fry sauces. 
On one morning Gem dropped by to find us feeling particularly hungover, and preceded to make us the fluffiest and most delicious pancakes I'd ever tasted. I'm fairly sure I proposed marriage shortly after my first bite. While Gem politely declined my offer she did compromise by giving me the recipe, which has come to be known as; 

'Mamma Gem's perfect pancakes'

1 egg per person = two pancakes (approximately)
1/2 cup Self Raising flour per egg
1/2 cup milk per egg
Two separate mixing bowls

The thing I like about this recipe is that you rarely waste any of the batter. If you calculate how much batter you need to make, for however many people you're feeding. If you use a standard kitchen ladle to spoon the mixture when cooking, you should average out at about 2 pancakes per person. 

• separate your egg yolks from your egg whites, yolks in one bowl and whites in the other.

• put your egg whites aside for the moment. Add the milk to the yolks and whisk until the mixture turns a buttery yellow and is smooth. Then add the flour gradually whisking as you go. The yolk/milk/flour mix will be very fluid, don't worry it's meant to be, it will thicken when we mix in the egg whites.

• Now for this next part you may want electric beaters, or a really strong wrist. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks, you want good stiff egg whites to help keep your pancakes fluffy.

• Using a flat knife or an icing spatula fold the egg whites into the yolk/flour mix. Fold. Do not stir, or you will ruin all the wonderful air pockets your egg white are holding and you'll end up with a pancake batter the texture of PVA glue. If you don't know how to fold a mixture, google it it's very simple I promise.

• Now I'm sure we all know how to cook a pancake but just in case; Ladle or pour some of the mixture onto a hot, buttered skillet. Turn over after a minute or two, and cook the other side. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.

If you've done it right you should be rewarded with the softest, fluffiest pancakes you've ever had. 
Serve them hot, with fruit, ice cream, jam, whipped cream, pretty much anything. Yes I am a freak of nature, but I love to eat my pancakes smothered with butter and vegemite.

The perfect Sunday breakfast to feed your hungry (slightly hungover) hoard...

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Overnight Bread - recipe

This is always a popular bread, it's a GGN family favourite.
Easy to make, no preservatives, no sugars and it's guaranteed to please your hungry hoard.
I usually start this dough right before I go to bed, so it can bake first thing in the morning.

You'll need;

• 3 cups flour
• 3 cups of water (approx)
• 1 teaspoon dried yeast
• a cast iron, ceramic, terracotta cook pot 

• I don't like to sift flour if I can get away with it, so I just stir the flour briefly with a fork or a whisk to break the clumps apart. 

• stir the dry yeast into your dry flour

• Stir the water into the dry ingredients. It's a wet dough so it will be sticky but it shouldn't be watery. Add the water gradually and if your mixture is beginning to look like pancake batter simply add a little more flour it won't hurt. 

• Once the mixture is thick, well mixed and sticky, cover the bowl in a clean dry tea towel and leave it overnight (hence the name). 

• In the morning turn your dough out onto a very well floured surface and knead it until it starts to go tough. At this point I normally wrap it in a floured tea towel and leave it on the bench for an hour or so (long enough to have a shower and my morning cuppa) 

• Turn it out again, knead again and then drop it into a floured Dutch oven, I've used a granite saucepan in a pinch but basically any stoneware pot will do. Let it sit for half an hour for it's final rise (long enough to start the eggs and the bacon cooking).

• After the final rise, put the pot in the oven with the lid on, bake at about 150 degrees celsius for about 10-15 minutes. Take the lid off and let it crisp on top for another 5-10 minutes. Or until it looks golden brown. 

I like to serve this with herbed butter, but it goes just as well with a little jam. 

Monday, 10 March 2014

Lest we forget the biscuits

Anyone who knows me knows I have a soft spot for the military, I have a lot respect for the men and women serving in our armed forces. I donate to charities like Soldier On and Legacy and as you can imagine my heart almost burst with pride, when my younger brother joined the Cadets at thirteen. So as April rolls around the kitchen in the little northern homestead has been buzzing of late in preparation for ANZAC day.

For my international readers who may not know ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and the 25th of April marks the anniversary of the battle of Gallipoli. 
A quick google search will give you a much more detailed picture of the event itself so I'll just give you the broad strokes version; 1915, the Anzac's where supposed to deliver a quick blow to what was then known as The Ottoman Empire, instead it turned into a bloody campaign that stretched out about eight months and terrible losses where suffered on all sides. Now every year Australia and New Zealand (as well as Tonga, Cook Island, Pitcairn Islands and I think Niue) celebrate ANZAC Day. 
Australian's hold a traditional dawn service at churches, Army Barracks and RSL (Returned Services League) Clubs across the country.
 It is a solemn but by no means morbid affair. The service itself is beautiful and almost always brings me to tears, there is something sacred about the dawn service that rattles my soul. It lasts a little over an hour, which I'm sure seems too long to the smaller children still in their pajamas, still too young to fully understand. But after the wreaths have been layed and the prayers have been said, in typical Australian fashion we wipe away the tears and fire up the barbecue. And everybody shares their sorrows with a hug, a handshake and perhaps a beer or two. 

Over the years ANZAC Day evolved from a service held to remember a single event, into an opportunity to remember and honour the sacrifices made by all our service men and women and their families throughout our countries history. Where we stand side by side with the men and women of our nations armed forces and first responders and share in a minute of silence to show our gratitude and respect. 

I'll be honest I was little offended when I asked some workmates if they would be attending an ANZAC service and they responded by asking "no, that's our holiday, it's a drinking day". I understand we all have different views and I try to respect everyone's opinion. But it can seem sometimes that we have become an apathetic generation. When we are personally removed from another persons loss or pain we seem to lose all ability to show respect and compassion. Even soldiers who never face war sacrifice more than we can imagine. They give up time with their families in exchange for a family in green, they give up normal friendships and relationships in service of their country.
While yes, it's their choice to enlist. I don't feel it's unreasonable ask that once a year a little respect be shown to the men and women who make those choices so we don't have to.

They move when and where they are commanded to, they spend weeks sometimes months at a time away from their family. They're on call 24/7/365 and they work until they are told they can stop, regardless of how tired they are, or how stressed they are, or what troubles they may be facing. They do this not only in defence of their country and their family, but of yours, and mine to.
When you're the one left behind, you try not to ask too much of them, and often fail. You try stay positive while the weeks without your loved one stretch out in front of you. You try to make the time you have with them as pleasant and relaxed as possible because you never know when that damn phone is going to ring. 

Regardless of your personal, political religious ideals I think it will always be important to remind ourselves that we get to enjoy an incredibly blessed country and these men and women defend it, so that we can.
ANZAC day isn't about presents, or hallmark cards or your holiday rates, it's just about being grateful.

So with this years ANZAC Day just around the corner preparation has begun on an extra large batch of ANZAC biscuits. These where originally sent over to soldiers in care packages because the ingredients meant they could be sent a long distance without spoiling. I make these almost every year usually just a small batch for family, but this year I'll be sending care packages of my very own to friends and family across the country. 

If you've never tried an ANZAC Biscuit, you've never lived and I hate to boast, but mine are pretty damn near perfect.
I'll eventually post up a copy of my recipe by itself without my overly passionate ranting, but for the meantime here it is;

1 cup each of
- finely shredded coconut 
- rolled oats 
- flour
- sugar (raw not caster)
- about half a cup of butter, use the good stuff. None of this margarine nonsense.
- a healthy tablespoon of golden syrup
- about a teaspoon of bicarbonate soda

And here's how it's done;

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over a low heat, add a dash of water and mix in the syrup and the bicarbonate. It'll go frothy, don't freak out, it's supposed to do that!

Now mix all your dry ingredients together, is that done? Good.

Now mix your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients, viola biscuit dough! 

Now spoon the mixture onto a flat tray, (obviously use baking paper, or grease and flour or a non-stick pan) flatten the biscuits a little but leave plenty of room between them, because they spread out as they cook. 

Cook at about 150 degrees celsius, or until golden on top, it should take about 15 minutes.
They should still be soft to the touch, but let them cool before you try to move them or they'll fall apart. 
Remember these aren't shortbreads, they should be crunchy on the edges but still a little chewy in the middle. Enjoy with milk or perhaps a gunfire breakfast (rum and coffee) if you're feeling brave. 

 Dedicated to Tsunami Rayner; who taught me the meaning of ANZAC day.

And a special 'thank you' to the folks that shared their experiences and photos with me to help me write this, I couldn't have don't it without you