New

So 2013 has officially dawned.  Stephen has gone back to work (after prising the boys and, well, me off his legs) and our school has begun again.  The house is oddly quiet and there is a big man shaped empty space that I’m trying not to think about too much or blubbing will commence.

Are there people who don’t feel sad when their beloved departs back to work after a holiday?  Are there people who think ‘phew, I’m glad to see the back of you’?  I can’t really imagine that there are.  I am definitely not someone who ‘enjoys my space’, I like the connection, the feeling of company that we had all through the holidays.  Sharing each day, each hour together even if we are doing our own thing, separate but together.

Anyhoo, I shouldn’t wax too lyrical or I’ll get myself all sad and today really is a beautiful day.  After a day of snow yesterday the world is even softer and fluffier than it was; I am thankful for the 2 hours of snow blowing and shovelling that Stephen did yesterday to clear the driveway and make paths from the house to the chickens.

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I think we’ve had more snow in December than we had the whole of last winter.  The piles are everywhere and the landscape has the feeling of being covered by a massive, fluffy duvet.  This morning dawned cold and clear, with a crescent moon hanging bright in the sky, preceding the golden dawning of the sun, finally hitting the trees in the forest as we all launched into a breakfast of oat pancakes with butter and maple syrup.

Every time the snow falls I feel a bit like I’m relearning this place we live.  It is so familiar and yet there are little changes everywhere.  Some things (such as piles of scrap left over from the previous owners) I am glad to see retreating others, like the pond, slip quietly from sight to return again in spring.  I notice the pile of snow on top of the chicken bungalow getting higher and higher, it is at least 2 1/2 feet now, I’m curious to see how big it will get.

Each time Stephen ploughs the drive and pathways he pushes a bunch of snow on top of the toboggan run he made over Christmas.  Beneath the snow are hay bales that the boys have played on since the summer, now they are covered in snow and are creating new entertainment.  They are much more fearless than I am, they slide and skid without worry and I envy them a little.  I’ve never enjoyed that feeling of moving too fast, out of control.  But I love to watch them, alight and alive, full of excitement each time.

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After the time inside, the cosy shelter of our family and home over the Christmas season, I feel like I am emerging again.  I have no plans to rush, I want nothing more than to continue the gentle pace of life we enjoyed over the holidays.  I’m happier than ever to keep the busy, concrete world at bay as much as I can.  Instead I’m planning little excursions, to the library, to the feed and seed and out on our own land.

Each day is a discovery, each day we wake up new.

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In Progress

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Meat – A Backstory

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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White

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How’s the weather where you are?

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Christmas

It was bliss.

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Plenty to eat, much of it from our own farm, time to play, time to rest.  We’ve really been enjoying our family time, even managing to squeeze in some quiet hours for Mummy and Daddy while the children play.  Tomorrow the snow is coming in and I have a special project in mind;  another day of just being together with no special plans.  What could be better.

Merry Christmas and a peaceful holiday to you wherever you are.

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Winter Solstice 2012

We started the day with bacon sandwiches (our home grown bacon), watching the snow falling heavily outside.  It has continued to fall through the day, the edges of the world becoming plump and round and the thick flakes snuggle on top of one another.  The day is slipping by in pleasant normality, not an apocalypse in sight.  This is our second December living here, but to me it feels like the first.

solstice2012-7291solstice2012-7275 solstice2012-7279 solstice2012-7282On days like this I’m grateful for many things, here are a few:

– A chap who knows how to clear driveways and a new and improved slightly ancient tractor;

– Silly dogs who make me laugh;

– Children being able to spend the day making a ‘snow wall’ outside, life skills at work;

– A truly beautiful bouquet of flowers, sent from my Dad, that are perfuming the kitchen as I sit here writing.

I haven’t ventured out much, a little walk around to check on the chickens (they are resolutely NOT coming out of their cosy coop) and then some supervising as Stephen tries out our ‘on loan’ snow blower (the snow is too wet it would seem).  I’m glad to have a warm house to cosy up in and nowhere that I have to be.

solstice2012-7286 solstice2012-7292 solstice2012-7293 solstice2012-7296 solstice2012-7301 solstice2012-7304The boys are in the bath (actually now I think of it they’ve been there for about an hour now I come to think of it…), Stephen is ploughing the drive and I’m taking the chance for a sneaky and actually hot cup of tea at the kitchen counter.  We have nothing major planned for today, just being together feels like a wonderful celebration all on it’s own.  It’s been quite a year here at the farm, a year of discovery and challenge and lots of work.  I’m looking forward to another one…after a little bit of a rest that is.  Tea anyone?

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Gentle

The last few days we’ve been at home with a poorly little boy who needed lots of love and attention.  We’ve been up and down these last three nights, sometimes hourly, tending to him as he fights off a bit of a virus.  Though I can’t claim to enjoy waking up 10 times a night or having a poorly child, I have, in my heart, simply felt lucky to have the opportunity to hold him close.

I’m seeing life through a different lens this week.

gentle-7260 gentle-7261 gentle-7262These last few days I’ve been so conscious of my good fortune in having those I love close to hand.  I’ve enjoyed just being with them, hanging out on the sofa watching whatever shows the poorly one requested.  Today we’re starting to see the back of the sickness but I’m still inclined to keep this mood going.

I’ve spent a lot of time in thought these last days, as I know so many have, reflecting on all sorts of things.  The main realisation I’ve had is that I really enjoy being with my boys each day.  That probably sounds obvious, but recently I’ve been feeling a bit weary and ready for a break.  Now I see that the break isn’t from my family, from my life, but from the wider world.

gentle-7256 gentle-7257 gentle-7263 gentle-7265So today has just been a gentle day of early baths, tidying, laundry, eating meals.  Nothing earth shattering and yet it seems like the warmest kind of bliss.  I made up a big batch of ‘snow’ for the boys to play with and sat in the kitchen listening too their crazy giggles, knowing they were ignoring my ‘don’t get it everywhere’ rule and not caring a jot.

I know truly and with sincerity of heart, that this is all I could ever dream of in life.  These people, every day, finding our way.  I’m grateful, so intensely grateful, for the chance.

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