Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fast Food: Eggs Florentine

Sometimes I need a night off and really don't feel like cooking. Sometimes that feeling lasts for days. Back in Cape Town we would have bought take-aways for dinner on days like that. Here on the farm, it would take longer to drive to town and back for take-aways than it would take to rustle up fast food Elastic Mom style. Anyway,  greasy take-aways leave me feeling dissatisfied and disgusted after eating farm fresh all the time.

A while back I was having one of those cooking-is-the-last-thing-I-want-to-do moments. A little bit of thought, and I had a nourishing, yom-chomp dinner on the table in 15 minutes flat.

Set a small pot of water to boil
Pop some bread in the toaster
Warm up some leftover cheese sauce
Drop a sealed bag of our frozen chopped tunnel-grown swiss chard into the pot of boiling water and as soon as it has defrosted,  remove the bag and stir the contents into the cheese sauce.
Pour a dash of vinegar into the same boiling water and crack in three eggs to poach.

When the toast pops, plate it and spoon over the cheesy spinach sauce and top with perfectly poached eggs and season. Voila!

My men reacted as if I had made a gourmet meal for them. There was lots of lip smacking, yom yomming through dinner. If I had thought of it at the time, I would have added a classic few drops of Worcester Sauce onto each egg. So there it is, fast food at its best. I know that it required little bags of frozen spinach and some leftover cheese sauce, but that's my point...

We all have something better than take-away that we can rustle up faster than it takes to find the keys on those low-energy evenings.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Foraging for Nettles

Nettles popped up in our garden a while back. I was delighted as they are apparently very nourishing. This morning I decided to make nettle and potato soup, a variation on the one in Roots, Shoots and Leaves by Bernadette Le Roux. Wearing gloves, I picked a handful of the stinging weed, then washed and chopped them, ready for cooking.

A knob of Rosie's butter 
Only one too young leek because I have run out of onions and I shouldn't be picking the leeks yet. 
4-6 potatoes from storage, little shoots removed, peeled and chopped
Some stock - I used lamb stock made from a roast bone, but any stock will do. 
A handful of young nettle leaves, picked with kitchen gloves on. I would have picked more, but that was all there was in my garden and I did not feel like walking down to the old barn.  where I have seen them growing before. 

Gently sauté the leek in the butter. Add the potatoes and cover them with stock. Boil lightly until the potatoes are tender.
Add the nettles and simmer gently until just wilted. Purée the soup and stir in a generous glug of cream to thin the soup. Season to taste. 

Serve garnished with wild rocket flowers alongside toasted buttermilk bread and cream cheese with chives. Enjoy your lunch on the warm verandah looking towards the distant Maluti Mountains.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

USE IT - DON'T LOSE IT: Apple Cider Vinegar

There was a bumper crop of apples on the farm this year. They are not sold commercially and are unsprayed. We were given a large number of crates of these lovely fruit that had been picked days before and were fast deteriorating. We made apple purée, apple jelly, apple cider, dried apples and apple sauce. I was most excited to try my hand at apple cider vinegar. It worked so well that I wish I had made more, enough to supply me in vinegar for the year. I love to use it in cooking and it is very expensive. Some people take it medicinally every day, so it has to be good. Best of all, it cost very little to make.



Wash and roughly chop the apples and, in my case, remove any wormy bits. Sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of sugar for every 1/2 kg or so of apples. Place the apples in a large bucket and cover them with filtered water. Put a plate on the apples to keep them submerged. Leave them in a cool dark place away from fruit flies until the apples and liquid start fermenting. This will take a few days. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh ( I used milk filters) and place in large, sterilised jars. Cover the jars with clean cloths and secure with elastic bands. Place the jars in a cool dark place for at least six weeks

After six weeks you will see that fermentation has stopped. There will also be a film called the vinegar mother on the surface of the vinegar. My one jar formed a thick mother, and the other jar formed a thin mother.

The mother can be used to start a new vinegar, or left in the jar. The vinegar can be kept sealed in the large jars, or siphoned into sterilised bottles for storage. Try not to disturb the sediment at the bottom of the jars so that the resulting bottles of vinegar will be clear.

I now have around four litres of apple cider vinegar. That works out to about 450ml vinegar per month until the next apple harvest. I wish I had made more, but it's a good start. As I always say, use it - don't lose it. I used a lot of apples, however we lost a whole lot more. Hopefully next year I will have more time and energy.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

GROWING POTATOES: Commercial Mondial vs Heirloom BP1, Beds vs Sacks

Warning! The following post may contain elements not suitable for those bored by detailed garden ramblings, and may prove to be tedious even to those who grow their own veggies.

Last spring we planted our potatoes in well mucked beds under plastic. The 'seed potatoes' were Mondial potatoes bought from our local grocer and had been grown commercially by our friend Benny on his nearby farm. I left them to sprout before planting. In the above September pic, you can just see the bright green potato plants in two rows at the back of our tunnel. 

Then a month or so later I ordered some heirloom BP1 seed potatoes and  planted them in the middle bed, between the Mondials. By the end of October, all the potatoes were flourishing under our vigilant watering and beetle inspection. 

By December, the Mondials had finished flowering, and the BP1's were covered in a mass of pretty blue-purple flowers. We were able to begin scrabbling for Mondials already and enjoy the taste of fresh new potatoes in our meals.

And then we went away in January, leaving the garden in the capable hands of Molly. While we were away the water supply dwindled for some time. When we returned, the Mondials were ready for harvesting. The BP1's had taken a knock from spotty red, ladybug-mimicking beetles , but were otherwise fine. 

These are just a few of the giant beauties that we dug up from the Mondial beds. They had a great flavour and we had enough to share and stored some in paper bags for the next few months. Mondials are robust, pale yellow, firm potatoes. They are great for boiling, potato salads and mash. 

When I was planting the heirloom BP1's, I had more potatoes than garden space. Sticking to my USE IT - DON'T LOSE it principles, I decided to experiment with growing some of them in sacks after seeing Jamie Oliver do the same.

We quarter-filled sacks with rich soil and planted three potatoes in each bag and placed the bags in a sunny spot under the kitchen window. 

They grew well and we raised the bags and added soil as they grew until the sacks were full.

Once the potato plants had died back we excitedly tipped them out into holes in the lawn, dug by our naughty puppy. The harvest was dismal.

One or two sacks provided enough potatoes for just one meal. On a happier note, the yield from the tunnel bed was substantially better than the sacks, but not close to the volumes per metre that we harvested from the Mondials.  What I can say, though, is that the BP1 is a superbly delicious, creamy white fleshed potato. It wins hands down over Mondial regarding texture. I found it suitable for boiling and especially delicious roasted. The BP1 potatoes were more susceptible to scab, but losses were minimal. In all fairness to the heirloom potatoes, some of our problems with yield and insects could have been due to less vigilant watering and bug-squashing during the critical growth period while I was in Cape Town. I will still try growing them again next summer, but will not bother with potatoes in tyres or sacks, and will stick to standard well enriched beds in the future. Our first ever attempt at growing potatoes in tyres a few years back was a failure too.

Summer's potato beds are now Autumn's leek, onion and garlic beds and, come springtime, some of them will be planted up with broad beans and peas.  Through winter we will dig in manure to prepare new potato beds where we grew last season's pumpkins, and so the garden turns with the turning of the earth around the sun.

Friday, May 16, 2014

USE IT - DON'T LOSE IT: Seville Oranges

 Kind friends gave us a huge bag of seville oranges picked from their tree. Seville oranges are bitter and very sour, perfect for marmalade. We don't have oranges on the farm and I was thrilled as we all love marmalade. I have never made it before and spent a while searching through my recipe books for a seville marmalade recipe. All the recipes were for small quantities, so I had to wing it a bit.

for 6kg seville oranges

Day 1:
Slice the oranges in half and squeeze out the juice. Thank goodness I have an electric orange juicer. Separate the pips from the pulp and reserve them. Slice each half of rind into 3 wedges and then thinly slice those wedges. Place the rind and pulp into a suitably large container, add 12 l water. Add the pips, tied in a muslin bag. Leave to stand overnight.

Day 2:
Bring the mixture to the boil and then simmer for about 2 hours. Test the pectin by mixing 1 t of the liquid from the pot with 3 t methalated spirits in a glass. If it forms a jelly-like clot then it is ready. If it does not clot, then simmer the mixture for longer.

Once the mixture is ready, remove the muslin bag of pips and squeeze out as much liquid from the bag into the pot as you can. Add in 6 kg sugar and boil rapidly until a spoonful of the jam wrinkles when you push it with your finger on a cold saucer. The faster you cook it, the paler your marmalade.

Remove the pot from the hear and skim off any foam scum. Set the pot aside to cool a for 5 minutes so that the shreds of rind will be evenly dispersed in the marmalade. Ladle the wonderfully aromatic mixture into hot sterilised jars. Seal immediately.

Makes 19 assorted sized jars from 300 to 500 ml.

My Granny Elizabeth used to make marmalade, so it always reminds me of her. The scent of the bitter orange preserve transports my mind to years long gone by.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Slow Living in April

April... autumn month of golden poplars and misty mornings, magnificent  fiery sunsets and icy sunrises, first frost and late harvests, horses and puppies, the pain of lives ending and fragile hope of life beginning, holidays and hard work, fires in the hearth and in the braai, family and friends, fast frenzy and Slow Living. Join me, along with Slow Living Essentials as I keep track of the month that was for the twelfth consecutive month.  

We fed many mouths at various intervals this month. Three Jersey cows, two calves, three horses, twelve plus chickens, four dogs, one cat, three family members, two farm staff, eight guests, two grandparents and one hundred or so horse lovers and countless customers at our market stall. Here, waiting for their afternoon dinner just outside the veggie tunnel are Thorn, Rosie, Hope and Joy. Each of our animals is fed twice a day. That, along with regular meals for family and friends, has resulted in much meal preparation. I love the cooking part, especially when it is for loved ones, but resent the daily grind of dishes and milk buckets that pile up into mountains every time my back is turned. Dish washing visitors are always welcome in my house. We cook with passion and nourishing others is definitely an act of love around here. Our generous animals in turn feed us... milk, cheese, butter, cream, yoghurt, ice-cream, eggs, meat, entertainment, rides, cuddles and joy. 

Decadent Dad made his first batch of boozy cabernet salami. These delicious-smelling cured meats will hang for four months before we can taste them. His first chorizos are already proving to be fantastic. 

We picked all the grapes off our verandah vine the night before the frost, then froze the whole lot to deal with at a later stage. I hope to make grape jelly, juice and smoothies. 

Besides halloumi, feta, chabie and cream cheeses for market, most of Rosie and Joy's milk is made into an unpredictable farmhouse gouda that we mature for at least four months. It is always fun to cut through the red wax and discover the unique character of a cheese made months ago. With the summer grasses giving the last of their green sweetness, our store of red-waxed goudas has grown substantially. Hopefully it will provide enough cheese to see us through the winter. 

Elastic Mom USE-IT-DON'T-LOSE-IT principles sometimes send me into borderline hoarding tendencies. Challenged by the clutter accumulating in my craft cupboard, I hauled out my cande-making crate, untouched for more than six years, besides the random occasional tossing in of melted pieces of wax and spent candles. I, the unskilled dabbler in many crafts had all these wonderful visions of making candles with my growing children which we did when they were little, yet when the opportunities arose over the past few years for time with my teen children, we chose other pursuits instead, like tea and a chat, a walk on the farm, reading aloud, an outing to town or baking, sewing, and encouraging them in their interests rather than mine or just being together, and the candle-making crate gathered dust. Frustrated with my lack of creativity one afternoon when two young girls were visiting, I hauled out the heavy crate and we spontaneously made some dipped candles from bits and pieces of pink and purple wax. It was fun and I spent the rest of the evening melting my coloured wax into various tins, ready for another dipped candle session. There is a sense of satisfaction gained from making something useful and pretty from waste that I couldn't bear to throw away as it represented regrets over missed mothering opportunities . Repeated dipping and waiting for the wax to set as the organic-looking lumpy candles grow is slow living at its best... deliberate slowing down, pausing and sharing a moment with different enthusiastic children, or even time to ponder and mull over years gone by, extinguished like the puff of breath on a flame. It is a chance to turn regrets into hope for new special candlelit moments.

Juggling many things at once, I regularly burn the porridge in the pot, or even worse, let it bubble over onto the stovetop. A recently-read tip has helped me deal with these awful burns quickly and easily...
For burnt pots: boil up a little vinegar in the pot, leave it to stand off the heat and simply wipe away the burn marks. 
For the stovetop: sprinkle a bit of bicarbonate of soda on the blackened marks, drizzle over vinegar, leave for a bit and then wipe with a soft sponge. Repeat if necessary. 
I am pleased to say that it works.

This Atlantic giant pumpkin wandered far from its bed fellows. Our first frosts have come so we can haul in the many enormous round orange and flat white pumpkins from our pumpkin patch. I left them standing in the open until the frost could concentrate their flavour. 

I greet the icy change with mixed feelings... sadness at the end of peppers, cucumbers, basil, tomatoes and brinjals and relief that the intense gathering of the harvest is over and it is time to enjoy the fruits of our summer labour. Other harvest foods best gathered after first frost are Jerusalem artichokes, celery and, apparently,  rose hips. 

It took a road trip for me to finish my first sock and cast on for the next one. 

It arrived a few days ago in the mail, a brown paper package, a surprise, unexpected. The note read, 
" Couldn't resist sending this one. Love from the UK. " 
Chez Panisse Café Cookbook by the renowned Alice Waters.
The beautifully illustrated hardcover book has become my bedtime companion. Filled with detailed instructions, anecdotes and beautifully simple recipes for creating magnificent meals from freshly grown seasonal produce, this thoughtfully chosen gift book has already brought me much delight. Thank you kind Kerry. 

I have had the privilege of visiting this lonely young mom and her precious prem baby in hospital. She was born ten weeks early.

My son and Xoche, this gorgeous 3 year old appaloosa gelding, participated in their first 40km endurance ride. Xoche was timid and head shy, but with gentle patience and tenderness we are winning him over. His owner is very kindly allowing our delighted son to care for him here and train him. He hopes to ride another 40 with him in May. Decadent Dad and Elastic Mom catered for the  endurance event, cooking three meals, and providing cappuccinos and snacks for around 100 people. 

We spent a wonderful Easter weekend with my namesake school friend and her  extended family.  It was a time of long walks and chats and good food, and of course, an easter egg hunt after dark. I value our longstanding friendship. We were in nursery school together. It's so good to pick up after months and years apart, and for our relationship to be as special as it was before. 

The absolute highlight of my month was an unexpected, yet long overdue visit to my precious mum en route to a funeral. She, my stepfather and their two cute lapdogs live on the KwaZulu Natal south coast, about 8 1/2 hours drive from us. 
We only spent a short time with them, but it was so, so good to be with her again. My mum is the most gracious lady I know, and such a strong role model in her character. I love her to bits and I savoured every waking minute with her. My family is split up all over South Africa, so we really value chances to be together. Being at the seaside again was an added bonus. There's nothing like walking barefoot on the beach, feeling the gritty sand and shells and the water rushing up, foamy and cold.

 I have completed a year of monthly journalling of slow living in our home. In so doing, I have reached a personal goal, and I am not sure whether I will continue the record keeping, or not. Lately I have found myself writing poetry when compelled and part of me wants to focus on more creative writing, while another part of me so enjoys the online contact with like-minded Slow Living bloggers. I feel as if I have all these words tumbling in my head and waiting to be written, yet seldom find the time to record them.