Saturday, December 8, 2012

Slow Living in November

Now that Summer is here, along with the end of the school year, I am barely managing to keep up with this monthly posting with Slow Living Essentials, let alone more general posts. End of year activity acceleration has kept me running in the slow lane, wading through treacle and trudging up shifting sand dunes.

November has brought wonderfully warm days as well as the long awaited, very welcome first Summer rains. The parched earth just keeps soaking it all in. In the space of one month we have experienced impressive electrical storms that shut down the power for days; destructive deluges of hail that shattered my roses, bruised the cherries, apricots and other crops; rip roaring winds that lifted our vegetable tunnel, uprooting my heirloom tomatoes that were strung up (just as they were starting to fruit) and mangled our car port; dusty desperate drought a week ago had the ducks dabbling in the drying mud in the bottom of many forlorn farm dams; then this weekend we sloshed and slid to town as the rain gauges filled and the farmers smiled. On top of this, we have, on various occasions, experienced the muddy Caledon River flowing out our house taps thanks to some befuddled bungling. On other days we had no water at all.

This year's strawberry crop came with a flourish and then stopped fruiting just as abruptly. The last of the strawberries made the most delicious chocolate strawberry ice-cream. So simple really - cream, sugar, cocoa, chocolate and berries, and so absolutely yummy.

I found a wonderful way to prepare asparagus,which we have in abundance: Trim the stalks, toss in olive oil, pop in a very hot oven - 200deg C- for 5-10 min, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and enjoy.

*Cherries in vodka and hazelnut liqueur for next year's ice-creams (How does chocolate, almond and cherry sound?) - one jar
*Cherries on their stalks, in sugar syrup - to top the ice-creams - half a jar
*Strawberries steeped in spirits to make a strawberry liqueur - two jars
*Peach chutney - five jars
*Apricot jam - 26 odd jars
*Rhubarb and ginger jam - 12 jars
*Crystallized ginger - one large jar
*Ginger honey made from the parings - lovely in tea, or for sore throats - one jar
*Ginger beer - 20 liters which turned to real beer before we could drink it all.
*Basil whizzed up in olive oil and frozen - 6 freezer bags
*Basil pesto - 1 jar, already demolished
*Leeks sliced and frozen - 1 bag
*Batches and batches of rusks and market bakes: surplus croissants frozen for future breakfasts.
*Ice-creams, butter and cheeses till the cows come home...

Oh by the way, the beer brewed last month is fantastic, improving as the weeks go by.

Egg shells, dried and crumbled over my rows of just-planted beans keeps the snails from chomping the new leaves as they emerge.

Yay! My beer trap is in my lettuce bed, hoping to catch lots of slugs. So far it has caught one cricket, quite a few slugs and a some poor earthworms.

Comfrey tea is regularly nourishing my fruiting veggies.

Before recycling paper in other ways, all waste paper with a blank side is first used in the school room as my teaching paper instead of a classroom black board, or it is used for my essential list making, or, if my son gets hold of it, for paper airplanes.


Ooh, I love Summer colour in the garden. Earlier in the month,we were treated to the showy display of this bed of gorgeous poppies.
Now the striking sunflowers have shown their sunny faces. I can't bear to remove the straggling sweet peas, pansies and calendulas leftover from Spring so they are still straggling.

The vegetable tunnel is happily providing the bulk of our meals. We have eaten barrows of leeks (I had so hoped that some of them may prove to be giant garlic). The garden also has some onions, the last of the broad beans, more asparagus than we hoped for, mange touts, sugar snap peas and now some lazy housewife beans. The potatoes are flourishing. We picked a few tiny red carrots, some orange ones, massive turnips, beetroot, two giant parsnips, celery, lettuces, spinach, rocket, radishes, the first marrows and the biggest rhubarb plant we have ever grown. We have rather optimistically planted a cornucopia of pumpkin varieties at the edge of the field, hoping the cattle don't annihilate them. There are also scarlet runner beans waiting to climb the arch, flanked by a few sweetcorn plants.

Besides all the ordinary plants, we have all sorts of wonderful heirloom seeds and seedlings, like salsify, safflower, exotic chillies and much much more than I can list here. Thank you, Guy.

I managed to make two teeny tiny gift tags.

A friend lent me Monty Don's The Complete Gardener. What a wealth of inspiration and information, a feast for the eyes, and a useful reference book. It is now on my wish list.

The main thrust of the month was the three day Cabin Cherry Festival market that we participated in.

We spent grueling weeks preparing for the market...

...making enough cheese to fill my dairy fridge...

...and french pastries...

...and then the time came to display our wares....

... the whole family helped to make a success of the market, setting up the stall, selling, frying halloumi, printing labels, sewing tablecloths, and at the end of the three days...

... we did well.

Our son turned fourteen and so we had six boys to sleep over to celebrate. He braaied sausages for them as the rain pelted down, then they melted marshmallows over the coals. They made forts in the forest and ambushed each other.

His birthday present was a special-delivery bicycle all the way from Cape Town. Family and friends helped us to spoil him with a beautiful mountain bike. We drove to Bloemfontein to collect the surprise parcel, but he had pretty much guessed what it might be. I am so glad to see him enjoying the bike so much after his last one was stolen.

I feel as if my most precious commodity is time, and that it is slipping away. Just today my son discovered that he is overtaking his sister in height. I feel the urgency to enjoy these special days with them. I love my teens so much. We recently spent a lovely day exploring the countryside as a family, ending the outing with the best burgers in the Free State.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Slow Living in October

Join me as I share the days of October with you, as we lived them in our house on the hill.

This post is inspired by Slow Living Essentials

What better way to nourish the body and soul is there than sharing breakfast with visiting loved ones on the mountain above the farm with views over the Caledon River and into Lesotho.

Extra thick flapjacks served with farm yoghurt, walnuts, honey and last summer's fruit preserves are best eaten out of doors.

Spring treasures: jewels of luscious strawberries and tangy rhubarb wands combine with Rosie's cream into a delectable ice cream. October saw us flavouring and freezing her thick yellow cream into all sorts of spring flavoured ice creams.

Other spring garden delights have graced our table... from broad beans and asparagus to spinach, rocket, coriander, and a few cherries too. The leeks are flowering faster than we can eat them, and the last of winter's potatoes have been turned into many meals this month.

My niece's helping hands have prepared butter for our market croissants.
She learned the dairy dance during her two week visit here. We use a lot of butter in our sweet pastries, so whenever there is surplus cream around, it is churned into golden blocks which I then freeze.

Rocket took over in our vegetable tunnel until I cut most of it down and turned it into rocket pesto with toasted almonds, garlic, rocket leaves, olive oil, salt and mature cheddar cheese.

I am excited to announce the tasting of my first camembert. It was a bit underripe, but amazingly, tasted like camembert. Most of the stockpiling around here is in the form of cheese in many of its guises.
We also have some scary looking blue cheeses on their way.

Grant is experimenting with our first twenty liter batch of beer. Home brewing can be very rewarding. A friend of ours makes beer that is absolutely delicious. I am keen to try a bit of wine making in the near future too.

Leftover soap scraps and the off cuts from soap making are too precious to lose, so I gather them up into an organza bag and tie it closed. This makes an excellent shower scrubby.

I keep buying beer with the intention of making snail traps in the veggie tunnel, but, alas, it hasn't made it out of the house yet.
Soap making has been on my to-do list for the whole month, but the cheese monster has stolen my time.

This is what happens when you feed surplus whey to your roses.
Our vegetable tunnel is flourishing in the warmth of Spring. In my enthusiasm I have filled seed trays with so many seeds, that the emerging seedlings have nowhere to go. Grant is making a plan to extend our vegetable garden.

I spent one precious afternoon sewing this month, and then paid the price with pain in my neck for the following few days. I managed to make a whirlwind block, this patchwork cushion and a quilted gift which cannot be revealed in case the recipient sees it here.

I forgot to show you September's cow cushion. I love the fabric and hope to make another one.

Each patchwork cushion was made from four blocks of the basic double-four patch, just arranged differently. I have treated myself to a quilting course subscription where I receive the template and instructions for a new quilting block each week. 

Look what I discovered in the field.

My mind has been out in the garden with all the sap rising, so my turn-to books for October have been The New Self Sufficient Gardener by John Seymour and Jane's Delicious Garden by Jane Griffiths. Both of these books are wonderful practical resources for vegetable gardening at its best. The latter is written specifically for South Africa which saves a lot of mental month skipping when planning perfect sowing and harvesting times.

We shared a delightful poetry tea with some special friends. Each person read some of their favourite poems while enjoying a cup of tea and some delicious bakes.

We also hosted a home schoolers picnic. A few home schooling families came and the picnic ended up on our verandah followed by a stroll in the nearby poplar forest.

October was definitely family month. My mum came to visit. While she was here, my brother and his little family came, then the following week my niece flew up from Cape Town. What a spoiling to have  time with our loved ones. The gorgeous weather called us outdoors for hikes, swims in the dam and picnics.

Heart to heart time while enjoying the view.

Our first swim in the dam was enhanced by sharing it with our family.

The girls found this farm oven - anthill hollowed out by an aardvark.

 Holly, the sweet Rhodesian Ridgeback stayed with us for a week. She fitted in perfectly with our three dogs, joining us on our walks.

My farm friend and I are hoping to start exercising together again. I so enjoyed our first long walk.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Never Independent

Self sufficiency defined in a dinner, last night.

Pasta tossed in Rosie's butter and just picked and steamed asparagus tips, broad beans and slivers of spinach. Sharp salty matured crumbly gouda - who ever heard of that, mature gouda? And my feta crushed through the pasta.

Bitter salad on the side, radishes in rings, oak lettuce, butter lettuce, mint, coriander, mange tout peas, celery.

Completed with a handful of warm juicy strawberries each and a teensy dollop of tiramisu ice-cream, Rosie's cream of course, my mascarpone.

Self sufficiency, they may say, but it's He who brought us here. We plant, He grows. We milk and churned, He sustains and protects.

And now?

Now, He gets the credit.

I am thankful for the beginning of the harvest.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Slow Living in September

September, month of warming days, birthdays, visits from faraway family, vigorous new growth and hope. In spite of painful typing due to a pinched nerve, I just had to look back over the past month along with Slow Living Essentials. Our first Spring rains have tentatively arrived, so the countryside is gradually greening. The rains haven't been enough to stop the farm fires this month, but hopefully my men have fought the last one for the season a few days ago.

We have been eating a lot of what there is ... potatoes that I had hoped to store and which are sprouting faster than we can eat them, lettuce, spinach, leeks, asparagus,
 eggs and of course all things dairy. We have discovered Gordon Ramsay's cooking demonstrations and have had fun experimenting with some of his ideas. My husband's Special Night dinners have definitely gone up a notch. His burgers are extra tasty and crispy, his chicken parmigiana just melts in your mouth.

My hubby makes delicious muesli in bulk, with the aim of selling it. It has yet to make it out of the front door. A few more cheeses have joined my repertoire, roquefort and camembert. Time will tell whether they are a success.
The beginning of roquefort.
We bake a lot, for our home and for selling breads and croissants at the market, so we bought an enormous  50kg of bread flour from the farmers' co-op. The wheat is grown locally and milled in a small town not too far away. We are definitely becoming locavores.

I keep all our old oats boxes. They make great storage containers for my seed packets,

and this month I converted one into packaging for a parcel of booties I had knitted. I am trying to think of a way to use them, inside out for my cheese packaging.

I have been blessed with some more organic soaps, made by kind Barbara, and love their gentleness on my skin. 

Now that the frost has headed North, it's seed planting time. My generous brother-in-law gave me all sorts of exciting heirloom seeds to plant, I can't wait to see how they do. I have rows and rows of hopeful seed trays just starting to germinate.
I am struggling to tell the difference between giant garlic plants and leeks in my tunnel. They come from the same family, and I have a horrible feeling that the leeks I am pulling up may be immature giant garlic plants, not yet bulbed.

When we met as students, I was the engineer and my husband was the clothing designer. Now he is the designer builder and I am the home educating, cheese making mom. How our lives have turned around. Well, my daughter decided that for her 17th birthday, she would like a dress, made by her dad, So he spent days making up a pattern from scratch and sewing for her. Her birthday has come and gone, and she wore her daddy's itsy bitsy dress to her birthday dinner. There is another dress, half made, and they have all sorts of ideas for a few more. It's been wonderful to see my creative husband in his element, loving the process.

I was recently given a Dutch tile depicting a woman making cheese. My clever husband set it into a beautiful piece of teak that he inherited from his uncle. Every time we use the beautiful new cheese board, we will be reminded of his Nelson family and my artist friend, Thandi, who gave us the materials.

I am frustrated by my arm pain, and have been unable to sew, knit, crochet or blog this month. I have made a little cheese, but have mostly relied on sweet Blantina to help me with that too.

My daughter's creativity with her 365 self portraits is a delight to see.

Through my market stall I have discovered some wonderful people in our little nearby town. I met an architect and his lovely wife who quilts. Yesterday she invited me to visit and see her inspiring quilt collection. I came away with some fabric scraps for my African shwe-shwe quilt and an invitation to join her quilting group. I am looking forward to meeting these ladies. Sometimes farm life can be a little isolated, but usually I am too busy to notice. I have also been invited to visit a German lady who is a wonderful gardener. She is so knowledgable about succulents and has set up food gardens in the local township. I definitely learn best directly from other people, so I am delighted.

We had a lovely visit from some of our Cape Town family this month. It was a bittersweet time as we were saying goodbye to my brother- and sister-in-law before they left for the UK. We filled their visit with good food and farm fun, the best being our breakfast in the fields, well, the orchard.

It was so special to have Nana here too. Being far from loved ones is the hardest part of living here.

The farm kids next door have rigged up a pony cart which has provided lots of fun.

My son had to give up gymnastics when we left Cape Town. He recently discovered that the security gates provide a perfect place to practice his pull-ups. It's been fun to watch his biceps growing as he builds up his strength again.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I'll be back.

I have a frozen shoulder / elbow tendonitis / threatened carpel tunnel in my wrist - basically I have managed to wrangle my arm a little. It hurts to type so I will give blogging a rest for a while.

(Edited ... it turned out to be a pinched nerve in my neck)

I am not sure if it was caused by heifer handling, cheese churning, mouse moving, continuous crocheting, wild weeding, careless quilt cutting or the whole bundle in combination. However it was caused, it needs some T.L.C..

I hope to catch you here soon.