Friday, June 29, 2012

Special Night Stretch

Let me introduce you to my beloved other half.

When I met him he had a bumper sticker that read, "If I was meant to hang onto money it would have handles," bought by his mom. Nope, no warning bells were ringing. No flashing lights, just stars in my eyes. This handsome, adventurous  young man swept me off my feet and into the future.

We complement each other in so many ways: I follow recipes, he creates fantastic food from inspiration. I am academic, he is artistic. I enjoy soft classical music, he enjoys any music as long as it is reverberating through the house. I like to tie up loose ends, he delights in new ideas and starting up projects. I shiver through the cold nights while he swelters under the covers. I like order and predictability, he thrives on spontaneity and random living.  When I look back with longing, he is looking for the new adventure around the corner. I am Elastic Mom, stretching resources, looking for ways to be frugal and thrifty, he is Extravagant Dad, caring more about quality and the best possible experience that he can find. I save, he spends. As I said, we complement each other and, hopefully, our children will find the balance.

The highlight of my week is Special Night. Every Friday evening my wonderful, kind husband makes dinner and decides on the entertainment for the night. Now this is not just any dinner, but something SPECIAL, out of the ordinary, usually cooked with great gusto by Extravagant Dad, and almost always with dessert. The only snag is that sometimes Extravagant Dad spends the same on Special Night dinner as I do on a week's worth of shopping.

Times being tough, as they are, Extravagant Dad decided to make Special Night dinner Elastic Mom style this evening. Eating it, one never would have guessed that all it cost him was the price of a block of blue cheese. This is what we had:

Three enormous potatoes dug from the fields behind the harvesting machine by some excited visiting children. They had a competition to see who could find the biggest one.

These were roasted and made into gnocchi.

The gnocchi was served with the most delicious sauce made from Rose's milk white sauce, bacon that had been kindly given to us, and the bought blue cheese along with a pinch of this from the pantry and that from the spice rack. First class, as good as date-night gnocchi meals back in Cape Town. Served with a bottle of gifted good red wine, a very special meal that cost us R22 (equivalent to a good cup of coffee out).

So, Extravagant Dad is capable of a bit of classy stretching in the thrifty department too.

We completed this gourmet meal with a scoop of my homemade dark chocolate orange ice-cream that was leftover in the freezer. Who needs fine dining when we are doing it here at home with Extravagant Dad as chef.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Carefree Cooking - Home of the Brave

WARNING: Vegetarians and sensitive readers proceed with caution...

We are entering an unexplored and quite daunting new realm as a family. It's all about using what there is and being resourceful in enjoying the abundance of what this piece of land has to offer in order to sustain us.

Last year when our circumstances here drastically changed, and pinching pennies was no longer a game but a necessity, we were kindly given a generous amount of game meat, hunted by my brother in law. I became an expert in roasting venison, making the most delicious venison pies, stews and even scrumptious soup from the bones. We seldom eat meat but enjoy it when we do, so I carefully stretched the venison into occasional meals that lasted us a full six months, hardly buying any other meat, chicken or fish during this time.

Well, last month we ate our very last venison roast. This end of the game, combined with memories of a New Year's meal I ate in France more than twenty years ago, and along with an inspiring recipe book of mine, "Prickly Pears and Pomegranates" by Bernadette Le Roux and Marianne Palmer, led me to looking at the local guinea fowl population with a new eye. I dropped a few tongue in cheek hints. The men in my life didn't need much persuasion to put their fancy bows to affective use since only ever successfully hunting straw bales with them.

So, imagine my surprise and feeling of dread when, wearing his self-made  imitation-bush jacket and a huge grin, my son proudly walked into the kitchen with his spotted prize two nights ago.

Considering that I have only bought one or two chickens this whole year, and after I had recovered from my shock, my resourceful Elastic Mom Mode soon kicked in and out came all the books. I researched how to deal with game birds while they dealt with our bird out of my sight, but not my mind. Bear in mind that roasting a chicken is a squeamish ordeal for me. When I was presented with the cleaned up bird, I was very impressed with a job well done. I instructed my gracious husband to rub it in vinegar and  I popped it in the fridge to deal with later.

Such an auspicious meal needed something special, so I splashed out and bought mushrooms on my trip to town. I had everything else needed to follow the Guinea Fowl Pot Pie recipe from my delectable book.

Wonderful aromas wafted through the house today as the fowl casseroled slowly in red wine, with bacon, mushrooms, onion and herbs. Later, this deboned fragrant stew was wrapped in parcels of my cream cheese pastry and baked in the oven. A glass of muscadel, some red cabbage cooked with apples, onion and raisins and mounds of pumpkin with cinnamon and honey were the perfect accompaniment to the most delicious pies, "restaurant quality", according to my delighted hunting-gathering man.

 I amaze myself at my appreciation of this experience. Simple farm living is changing me. Something that would have offended me in the past has become something of value.

Lessons I have learned:

* Meat is precious and not to be eaten in copious amounts, but appreciated for the life that it was. Whether painstakingly hunted or reared and fed, it's value needs cognizance in the approach to the meal.

* One guinea fowl makes ten small portion-sized pies, enough for two family meals and then two more guinea fowl corn soup meals. How's that for stretching food.

* Game is organic and far healthier than most of the meat and chicken available at our local supermarket or butcher.

* My son took pride in helping to provide the food for the table, and bravely dealt with the unpleasant parts of preparing the bird. This experience has grown him a little more.

* My brave husband who did the worst of the fowl cleaning, and was rather suspicious of how the meat would taste, found it surprisingly delicious.

*My daughter who announced that she was never going to eat it and is not even fond of meat, really enjoyed her pie.

* Freshly caught guinea fowl, odourless and clean, was pleasant to cook as opposed to cling-wrapped, fatty, dripping chicken that has me gagging as I pop it into the roasting pan.

* Guinea fowl is not chicken. It does not look like chicken nor taste like chicken. It is just as delicious.

* Hunting for sport is appalling, hunting to provide meat for your family is helpful.

* As Elastic Mom stretching my resources, I appreciate a gourmet French country meal that only cost me the price of a pack of rather expensive mushrooms.

* I thought I would feel guilty cooking and eating the guinea fowl, but instead, I felt thankful.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Every Last Drop

My mum gave me a timely tip after reading my last post....

When a tube is all squeezed out and ready for the bin, cut it in half and you will find a whole lot of extra product to keep you going. Apparently a tube of toothpaste will last another week or more if you try it.

Well, we live far from the shops and my face wash was 'empty' so I gave it a try. I have already had the benefit of six extra face washes by dipping my finger into the cut-open tube, and I can see many more lurking in there.

I have just cut open the sumptuous "Cellular Boost Sugar Balm for Neck and Bust with Pamplemousse and Shea Butter" that was heading for the bin. I see three more luxurious treatments just waiting for me.

Thanks Mum for the USE IT - DON'T LOSE IT tip, it's a good one.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Beauty on a Budget - Lotions, Potions and Commotions

Beauty requires many lotions, potions and commotions, right? Not really. Settling on what works for me, and using up what I have before buying more goes a long way to saving money and keeping my bathroom and bedroom relatively clutter free.

My Elastic Motto is USE IT - DON'T LOSE IT. This means using up the shampoo, moisturizer or bottle of beauty enhancement potion before opening or buying the next one. If you're a stockpiling lady, then keep that stockpile stashed out of sight. Lots of open bottles of half used lotions, potions and commotions makes a mess and often result in the older ones being tossed and wasted before they are completely finished.

Around here, I try to keep it simple. One shampoo and one conditioner per bathroom. One face cleanser, one toner and one face moisturizer for morning and another for night. I only bring out a new one when the old one is empty. My last shampoo wash is always a rinsing out the bottle with water to get at every last drop, even if I have a new one waiting in the wings. Stretch it to it's maximum usage, but do use it.

There are two exceptions to this:

The first one is hand cream and lip balm. We live in a dry climate, so I have hand cream and lip balm in my handbag, in my bedside drawer and in my desk drawer, ready to apply at a moments notice.

The second exception is when I have been given lotions, potions and commotions as gifts. Then I do tend to collect up treatments and lotions. However, I will only buy a similar type of beauty product when that gift is all used up. So even though I do have a small stash of beauty products, I am certainly not adding to the pile of lovely treats, rather using and enjoying them.

In the past I have visited friends and seen gifted lotions, potions and commotions gathering dust, losing their scent and growing old, just decorating a bathroom or bedroom. Rather ENJOY it while it lasts and have some fun while you USE IT UP.

Think of perfume. Old scents lose their appeal. Rather wear it every day, smell lovely and enjoy it before buying more. If you don't really like it, then use it to scent your linen, or your bathroom.
Don't you like your hand cream or face cream?  Use it up on your legs.
Do you have talcum powder gathering dust? Sprinkle it in your shoes or on your sheets.
Are there bath salts getting old on your shelf? How about a candlelit bath tonight, a pamper session alone, or shared with someone special?

It's time for a look at all our bottles of beauty products ....

I just found a bottle of La Pebras Hair Fixing Cream from the days when my daughter did ballet and we fixed her hair into a neat bun. If I close my eyes the scent takes me back to getting ready for concerts and eisteddfods. What excitement. She gave up ballet a few years ago, so I have just donated it to my son so that he can have some fun with his hair.

The second oldest thing I found in my bathroom is a tube of Wasabi Detoxing Clay Mask. Mmmm, time for a mini spa session with my daughter this afternoon.

So here's a challenge for you:
What is the oldest lotion, potion or commotion in your stash? 
How can you have fun with it..... USE IT - DON'T LOSE IT.

Join the challenge and share what you find and what you plan to do with it. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Slow Living in May

The past month has heralded the arrival of frosty mornings and icy nights. The frost-bleached grasses cover the landscape in a golden cape. Orange berry bushes provide bright accents of colour along the bleak roadside. As autumn makes way for winter, our daily routines adjust too. Join me as I reflect on the month of May, inspired by Slow Living Essentials

There has been much busyness in the kitchen lately. I have been making a lot of different soups this month. They make great lunches. I always make more than we need and freeze half for another meal. Brassicas are on the menu again as they are currently being harvested on the farm. Our cow is in full milk production without a calf to share the flow, so in the past two weeks, we have been eating more dairy products than ever. In the last week I have made feta, ricotta, halloumi, gouda cheese, ice-cream, butter, mascarpone cheese, cream cheese, mozzarella, buttermilk bread and yoghurt. Milking is usually my children's job, but even Dad has been roped in on the odd occasion to help with the milking.

I found a fantastic recipe for  a quick pastry, perfect for venison pies...or any other filling... Cream together 200g cream cheese, 200g butter and then mix in 2 c flour. Roll it in a ball. Chill for 30 min. Roll out, cut and fill pastry. Seal and glaze with a beaten egg. Bake at 200 degrees C until golden. So simple and delicious.

My son enjoys cooking. He baked hot cross buns for a friend's birthday.

He takes after his dad who has become such a pro baker, producing top quality pizza bases, loaves of  yeast bread and rolls so regularly that I hardly have to bake bread anymore.

The last of the apple harvest has been turned into dried apple rings. Our clear, dry winter days are perfect for drying fruit. Dried apples are lovely chopped into muesli or eaten on their own as a snack. I also have racks of herbs, thyme, rosemary and sage, drying in preparation for bottling.

Some of the cheeses that I have made will only be ready in a few months time. I have bottled feta, maturing for a couple of months in brine. The picture below shows the curds in two moulds, draining off the whey. 

 Here is undyed gouda cheese, fresh off the press, waiting to be cut into two rounds for brining for 24 hours and then maturing for a few months.

I think my most exciting stockpile is this bottle of halloumi cheese. Although, judging by its popularity, it might not last us very long.

Reduce, Re-use:
In an attempt to reduce veterinary expenses, I have overcome my fear and learned to give injections to my cow myself. My husband and son have also re-used pencils in an innovative way. On separate occasions two of our hens were stepped on by a cow and broke their leg, so they devised effective splints for them, using the said pencils.

We re-use all our teabags by drying them in front of the fire, soaking them in paraffin and using them as firelighters. We also re-use our coffee grounds, scattering them at the base of broad beans and roses to discourage ants from bringing aphids. All the cheese making produced more whey than I could handle. After using it to make ricotta,  I use it in soups, baking and to feed the dogs and chickens and my garden. The surplus whey has found a very eager recipient. There is a pig in the staff village up the road who gulps it down in a minute, squealing loudly whenever it sees us arrive with more buckets. 

Our vegetable garden is looking rather bare. The asparagus and rhubarb are all mulched into their winter beds after being frosted. All the frosted beans, tomatoes, marrows, cucumbers, peppers, and brinjals have been pulled out and the last fruits eaten or preserved. The current stalwarts are the last turnips, some leeks, cabbages, cauliflower, onions, spinach and rocket. As the grazing frosts over, we are hoping for rain to irrigate the field of oats growing next to our home - winter grazing for our animals. The oats that I sowed in our tunnel as green manure is flourishing in comparison. 

My clever husband has been creating lovely saddle racks for storing tack indoors after our last lot were stolen from the outdoor tack room. I love the vertical use of space.

I made and sold beeswax, olive oil and honey lip balm along with April's soaps at the May farmers craft market.

My cream cheeses were sold out. I am hoping to create a name for myself as the local cheese lady.

I am devouring Ricki Carroll's book, Home Cheese Making, and learning so much as I apply the new skills to the buckets of milk s they enter our kitchen. Her website is a great resource for cheese makers too.

The only community enhancement that I managed this month was to help in fattening up the local community pig. Oh yes, we also helped babysit my friend's six children. 

We are so enjoying the horses... Saturday morning rides with my man, my son setting up jumps in the field and Sundance behaving like a dream, training Omega, exhilarating father and son outrides, nuzzling soft noses looking for apples and affection. Thanks to a wonderful kindness shown to us after a burglary that cleaned out our horse gear, we have tack again and are able to enjoy riding again. I love watching them doze in the early morning sunshine, warming up after chilly nights.