Archive for category Food and Recipes
As any busy person knows a hot drink is a luxury. The chance to pause, to make the drink, to wait for it to hit that perfect drinking temperature and then the time it takes to savour and enjoy. In the lives of many this can be out of reach.
Yet we all know that the difference between a good day and a bad day is a series of moments. When we reflect on how a day went, what it felt like, whether it was good or bad can be differentiated by the smallest of details. We say to ourselves ‘everything went wrong today’ but really we mean two things went wrong but it shaded the lens of our perception, it changed how we saw all the other moments.
I’m learning, bit by bit, what it is that makes a day work for me. I set the tone for our family, for our school days, so this knowledge is powerful and helps me plan our weeks and days. I’ve learned that Monday’s are usually a good day, I’ve got a bit more energy after spending a weekend with my beloved and I’m up for the tasks of the day. This is a day for productivity, for getting things done.
Tuesday by comparison is a day I find hard, I am often scratchy and feeling the effects of a busy Monday. Is it only Tuesday? I think to myself. Luckily a friend of mine has started running a science co-op on a Tuesday, so it becomes about socialising, learning, connecting; a much better rhythm for me. These little quirks and idiosyncrasies are part of what makes up my feelings about life. Did I have a bad day or is this just a day I struggle with? How can I get around that? When you are your own boss and your children’s parent/teacher/nurse etc this knowledge affects us all.
Another thing I have learned is that I need a bit of a break after a busy morning. We haven’t had naptime in our family for going on 3 years but I do like some separation after lunch. I send the boys upstairs for ‘quiet time’ (they are often not so quiet) which gives me a chance to eat my lunch in peace and enjoy a cup of tea and treat after lunch.
This feeling of retreat, of quiet, of heading into the second part of the day a little more fortified, a little more refreshed is important to me. It is the afternoon hours that find me slumping in energy and enthusiasm, so I need to find some inner resources to make that slump as graceful as possible. In this month of cold and inside time that is translating to lots and lots of stories on the sofa, some knitting, some project time. It’s a nice balance that we are easing into, that will be our rhythm until the spring truly comes.
Today I am sitting in the study, looking out at the grey layers of clouds that sit heavily above us. The landscape is confused by the strange thaw we are experiencing, paths of grass poke through the slushy snow; but we all know that the winter is still here, that it will be back soon enough. So I sip my cup of hot peppermint tea, sweetened by a dab of our own perfect honey; I snack on a home made energy bar, enjoying the way the two tastes merge in my mouth.
Days have their ups, and downs, but one thing I can rely on is the magical properties of a nice cup of tea. I am English after all.
Home Made Energy Bar
1 cup Raw Almonds (You can also use Cashews)
1-2 large tblespns of Sunflower Seeds
1-2 large tblespns of Pumpkin Seeds
1/2 tblespn of Chia Seeds (I keep mine in the freezer as a bag goes a very long way)
1 cup of Medjool Dates without the pits
1 teaspoon of Vanilla Essence
1 tblespn of Coconut Oil
1 tblespn of Raw Honey
1 tblespn of Nut Butter
2-4 tblespns of Dark Chocolate drops – add to your own taste. These are optional but a very good addition!
First add nuts and seeds to your food processor and grind until they are a meal (gravelly texture), add the dates one at a time. As the dates are processed in the mixture will become stickier, if it is still very dry add a couple more dates.
Then add the ‘wet’ ingredients one at a time . Pulse in the chocolate drops right at the end just to mix them in. Spread mixture into an 8 x 8 pan, at this point I cut the mix into square shapes before popping in the freezer to set.
Eat with a hot cup of tea.
I wish I could say that I could keep my kitchen looking like this all of the time, but that would be a very big lie. As in, it could be seen from space due to it’s inordinate massivenessosity. That’s pretty big.
Nope, most of the time the surfaces are covered in some kind of food in progress, either at the beginning or the end of the cooking/eating process. Honestly, that’s the way I like it.
I will freely admit, here and to the world, that I find making pastry really stressful. I nearly cry every. single. time. But, when it is done I feel so incredibly pleased with myself that it is worth it. This is the first time I made pastry with our home grown, home rendered lard so it feels extra achievy. Yes that’s a word.
As well as knocking up some pastry I’m on a mission to use LOTS of eggs over the weekend. We have a few, um, dozen that sort of, well, got frozen in the garage and so now are only good for baking. Any egg laden recipes that you have up your sleeve please feel free to share!
I’ve used a dozen making two quiches (one with cranberry cheese that I’m particularly looking forward to) and I’m thinking a couple of flourless chocolate cakes and some meringues sound like a good idea too. Sandwiched together with jam and whipped cream…just me and them, snuggled up together…sorry what was I saying?
Did your Mum make jam tarts with pastry offcuts? Mine always did, doing anything else would, I think, lead to crushing disappointment. These ones seem extra nice as they are made with the strawberry jam I made this summer, a taste of sunshine while we look out at the white and black landscape outside.
For quality control purposes I have
inhaled sampled an undisclosed number of jam tarts and can report that the pastry is extremely flaky and delicious, soft on the tongue cupping perfectly the sweet but tart jam. Lard and strawberry jam are the perfect partners; definitely worth the mess.
I think if I asked most people where their meat comes from they’d say ‘the supermarket’. That’s fair enough and when people lead such busy lives with so many demands on them, sourcing food any other way can feel like a huge hurdle. But raising our own meat has driven home something that we already ‘knew’ but didn’t know, deep down. Our meat comes from a living animal.
When we eat that meat we eat what has been a living being, a creature who walked the earth. For some that realisation leads to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, for others it means sourcing ethically raised meat from their local area; for us it meant creating a farm and raising animals to feed ourselves and others.
These days when I cook or preserve our meat I’m aware of a very different feeling within myself. I no longer see this simply as ‘food’, I approach it with a much greater sense of reverence and thrift. When I rub in the curing mix that turns our pork magically into bacon I feel almost meditative. I’m reminded of the animals we cared for and loved over the spring and summer months, I look forward to raising pigs again and bask in the memories of green pastures and hot summer days.
When I cook a chicken I am committed to using the animal fully, wasting as little as is possible. If we roast the bird (giving us 2 days of meat for 4 people) we then strip the darker meat and use it for a stew or a stir fry/curry (another 2/3 meals for adults or more for children). Then I use the carcass to make a stock, this is something of a 2-3 day event as I aim to draw as much goodness out of the bones as possible making the broth deep in nourishment.
When the stock is suitably thick and rich I often then cook it down again to make a thick jelly that can be used as a concentrate and has the added advantage of taking up less space in the fridge! This can be added to green beans, rice, stews, soups, gravy…anywhere that you’d use a stock cube really. Then the bones are stripped again (including bits we don’t eat like the neck and wings) and Winnie benefits from a good dose of meat and bone in her diet.
This kind of thrift used to be taken for granted and not just on farms or in rural settings. All kitchens, big and small, were units of production and economy. What we now throw in our recycling bin would once have been sold to the rag and bone man generating income for the family, nothing would have been wasted.
While I can never lay claim to producing no waste (we still buy things from the store and they come in packages) we have dramatically reduced our food waste since we moved onto the farm. Our animals take up quite a lot of the slack, with veggies going to the chickens and grateful dogs receiving meat scraps and bones! But we also endeavour to create a menu that uses all of the meat thriftily and with as much respect as we can give it.
It may seem cruel or heartless to some people that we raise up animals, know and care for them, then send them to slaughter. And I admit it is not always an easy process, I’ve shed a few tears as we’ve sent animals to be ‘finished’ at the slaughter house. But the truth is I’d rather have it this way, I’d rather know the life my animals, and my family lead. I’d rather know where each piece of meat has come from, what’s gone into the processing and know that there has been as little waste as possible, honouring the life that created our food.
Each meal, each piece of an animal that we consume has a life attached to it, has a story. That’s the bare truth that many ignore or would simply rather not think about. But it is crucial for the health of our food chain, our children and for the animals themselves that we don’t turn a blind eye to the conditions most animals are raised and slaughtered in. When we make a conscious choice buy as ethically as we can, use the meat as thriftily as we can and treat the meat with the respect and care it deserves we are active participants in making our homes, our diets and our nation’s farms better, healthier and more nourishing than ever before. That is the story I want to be a part of.
What do you do when you have a lot of extra eggs to use up and a poorly looking beloved in the house? Yes, you guessed it, make a flourless, egg consuming chocolate cake. Or in my case, two flourless, egg consuming chocolate cakes.
Despite my terror of all things Martha Stewart (though I’m sure her recipes are written by minions chained to food processors in small cupboards not the great lady herself) I find the recipes on her website nice and reliable, with the joyous bonus of using real ingredients. The flourless chocolate cakes are, as I write this, cooking away in the oven under the watchful gaze of my children who have contented themselves with licking the chocolatey mixing bowl while they wait for them to cook.
If the batter is anything to go by the cakes should taste lovely (and earn me brownie points at science club tomorrow), Huwyl is particularly impatient for it to be cooked. This is how that chat went:
H: How long will the cakes be?
Me: A little while yet.
H: 10 minutes?
Me: A little longer than that.
H: (After a pause to consider his next bid carefully) 11 minutes?
You’ve got to love an optimist.
PS Just in case my friend Movita reads this I can assure you I folded the egg whites in at the end, I didn’t whisk them. Please don’t send baking ninjas after me xxx
Well it’s been a crazy busy week here, it feels like all we’ve done is dash from one appointment to another. Dentist, science club, naturopath, and of course the children’s hospital. A 3 1/2 hour session at the children’s hospital was needed to sort out Neirin’s cast (it might not be a fracture, yay!), which can come off for baths to let him move it and get some mobility back. I arrived at Wednesday night feeling pretty exhausted and very grateful to have a full day at home to look forward to.
It’s nice to be out and about but I love the feeling of not having to rush, no shoes and coats to get on, no hustling to the car, no worrying about portable snacks. Being home today has given me the chance to catch up a bit on regular chores and some processing work that needed attendance. After about a week in it’s cure our side bacon is looking rather fabulous, it has firmed up and has made that magical transition from pork to bacon. I’m looking forward to adding it to all sorts of foods and of course eating it as is.
After curing I soaked the bacon overnight to get out some of the salty water, it is sitting on the sunny counter drying out a bit before I bag it and freeze it. We have some ideas about a mini smoker this winter but until then the freezer it is. Next to it on the counter is one of our lovely chickens. The last batch went to slaughter last week, filling our freezer with yet more goodness. I’m cooking one up for our dinner, smeared in the rendered lard from our own pigs and just a nice dash of seasoning. It really needs nothing else.
Sorry if that is a bit of a raw meat overload for anyone, I know that’s not to everyone’s taste! But honestly, I don’t see it like that. To me this is the bounty of a year of hard work (and a decade of dreaming, planning, reading and searching), it represents security, warmth, nourishment and independence. To know that we have a year’s worth of meat in our freezer and that it all came from right here on our farm gives me a feeling of such accomplishment I really can’t help bragging.
There have been many times when I’ve doubted our course, I’ve wondered if it is just too hard, too lonely, too exhausting. I’ve wondered if we should have opted for an easier existence where we had leisure time each weekend to do just as we wished. But those moments are far out balanced by the ones of joy and pride. When I can roast a chicken we raised on our own pasture, when I can have the fun of curing our own bacon and the satisfaction of eating a truly home made meal, why would I want to do anything else?
It may seem terribly priggish of me to even question my good fortune, but I lay no claim to an excess of virtue or any great spiritual purity. When it is too hot or too cold or too lonely, I feel grouchy and sorry for myself. But then I have those moments of boxing up the eggs we sell, washing them carefully and nestling them in their cardboard crowns. I have a Saturday afternoon shredding cabbage for our very first batch of Sauerkraut, washing, cutting, salting and jarring up; pushing the jewelled shreds into the glass so that it looks like a little garden all smooshed up.
On days like this, catching up with the loveliness of just being at home, I know I would never trade this life. I am grateful for a day with no schedule but the one we set ourselves, for the abundance of food, for the chance to just be here.
This weekend, all over the UK, fires were lit and fireworks whizzed into the sky. November 5th is Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night and is a favourite celebration of mine. Coming as it does at the beginning of the winter season it sparkles with the excitement of dark nights and magical possibilities. And toffee, lots and lots of toffee.
Our farm was a little piece of England this weekend too, as we celebrated with friends and neighbours a year of work and productivity. We burned wood, ate food, watched fireworks and talked, talked, talked. It was wonderful, the perfect way to celebrate this extraordinary year.
It was a cold day so the fire was welcomed by everyone, especially the children who happily threw waste wood from our house build into the flames. It felt good to watch them use their youthful energy to dispose of those last scraps, the few Stephen hadn’t been able to make use of on the farm somewhere. Friends also enjoyed the opportunity to exercise their chainsaw muscles, chopping up deadfall from the edge of the field, a task we’d been saving up for this time of year.
Eventually we all moved inside for pulled pork or roasted ham sandwiches with home made bbq sauce, along with home made hamburgers toasted on the bbq, all accompanied by delicious salads brought by our guests. But I have to say I think the big hit of the night was the toffee, made with my Mum’s recipe, a tradition for Bonfire Night that goes back to my childhood. I simply can’t imagine the occasion without it.
After the food we headed outside into the twilight to enjoy roasting marshmallows on the still hot fire. Many sticky treats were consumed before Stephen dished out the traditional sparklers and sparked up the fireworks. The night was alight with colours, whizzing fantastically through the sky or gripped in the hands of little people as they discovered the magic of gunpowder-on-a-stick.
Eventually the collective wail went up from the children that had parents reaching for coats and heading for cars. Our own boys were out for the count in record time and the house fell silent. Wrapped up and with cups of tea in hand, Stephen and I headed out to the fire once more. Overhead the clouds came and went, giving little peeks of the stars as they watched our own sparkling embers from above. We talked of the year that’s been and the year to come; what we did well and what we will change. We’ve so much to celebrate and even more to look forward to.
Mum’s Golden Toffee Recipe
450g of brown sugar
2 Tbsp Golden Syrup (or corn syrup if you can’t get the good stuff)
1 tsp white wine vinegar
Grease a baking tray and spread out peanuts evenly (other nuts could be used, salted is best). Alternatively pour into tart moulds for toffee dabs.
In a large, heavy based pan, melt together water, butter and vinegar, bring to boil.
Add sugar and golden syrup, allow to fully disolved.
Over a medium high heat allow to boil without stirring until the hard crack stage, this should take between 10-15 minutes.
Test toffee in a bowl of cold water, keep adding drops until they firm a hard ball that crunches when chewed.
Pour over peanuts and allow to cool before breaking up and eating.
For preference eat while next to a bonfire and watching fireworks, best shared with loved ones.