ode to 2015

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to a year, so nearly spent
so much to say and
yet left unsaid –
you have held in your days
immeasurable joy
and grief too heavy to bear,

you have been the hardest year
so much newness, unknowns
in the darkness of the night
we lay wondering
why and if only,
for what –

we learnt  so much about ourselves
our limitations, our gifts
we wrestled with hopes,
projections, beginnings –

and moments like

holding that just-born baby boy in my arms,
filling a basket of freshly laid eggs, still warm,
saying goodbye to my beloved grandmother,
the crunch of thick frost and the drought that keeps on,
the smell of bush fires that swept out of control near us,
walks up the hills behind our house with my sister, my mother,
with friends and alone,
kin moving to the town nearby,
running out of power for two days
(and running out of water for three)
rising early to set up a market stalls,
plucking your own chicken,
the golden yolk of a good egg and buzz of a busy hive –
the kindness of neighbours, the sheep on the road
and so so many funny phrases of our three year old,

I cannot help but close my eyes
and whisper, in all this
we are so blessed,
truly,
we are held and hounded
loved and enfolded –

we accept because we must –
that most of life is slow, steady work
and we are only just started.

A Handmade Christmas

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This is the first year in a while we have stayed in one place for the season of advent – with our own home to decorate and make merry in. I love Christmastime and the opportunity to be intentional, creative and thrifty – to involve my boys in recycling, foraging and making  beautiful…

We fashioned a sort of door wreath that would stand up to the harsh dry, windy summer weather we have here – made of burlap, linen and cotton scraps tied around a bent coat hanger. We went on walks to find pinecones in our paddock and along the roadside that could adorn our windows and advent candle wreath (and also make highly amusing toys for baby Bear).

We made gluten free salt dough for decorations to hang in the windows and give to friends. We recycled newspaper and brown wrapping paper for Christmas cards and using linocuts and white paint printed garlands and name tags on cardboard packaging. We press-cut star shapes from pure beeswax foundation (that we use in our beehives) and each week refreshed arrangements of spruce, cypress, ivy and holly for welcome sweet-smelling, greenery…

I’ve made a few hand sewn gifts using bits of linen I had in my stash – hand stitched star ornaments and elastic shorts and bloomers for the boys. A neighbour gifted us this wonderful tree made of young eucalyptus which we’ve propped in an old pot out the front of the house – and in the new year will repurpose as a climbing frame in the garden…

I love the excitement and cheer of making things, the (challenging) mess and disorder of young helpers… the growing our collection of advent decorations, and also the giving away our efforts – not spending a great deal of money, but enjoying making do…

And with two days left,
we wish you and your kin very blessing this Christmas –

for good food and health, for merrymaking, thanksgiving,
for giving and receiving, for celebration, reflection,
and for the greatest love we have in Him

xx

festive baking

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christmascakeI’ve had some requests for these two wonderful Christmas recipes – I’ve modified both to be gluten free, although the brunsli bale cookies are pretty much grain free to begin with. With both recipes the quality of the ingredients is pretty important – I feel passionately about finding fair trade dark chocolate free from soy emulsifiers and palm oil (and gluten of course!), chemical free nuts and organic dried fruit and local honey. It does make the finished product somewhat luxurious – but then if you’re going to savour (and gift) sweet treats at Christmas you may as well do it right.

Brunsli de Bale (Swiss style Chocolate Hazelnut +Spice cookies)

3/4 cups white crystallised sugar
1 pinch of salt
250g ground hazelnuts (you can also use almonds or mix of both)
1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons of ground cloves
2 tablespoons flour (I use rice flour)
2 fresh egg whites (70g), lightly beaten until frothy
100g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl beat egg whites until frothy but not stiff. Add egg whites to dry ingredients and mix. Next melt dark chocolate and pour over other ingredients and mix well. Using clean hands knead dough into a ball. On a lightly “sugared” surface roll out dough to 1cm thickness and cut into desired shapes – if your cookie cutter gets too sticky, rinse in cold water. Arrange cookies on trays lined with baking paper and air dry for 5-6 hours or overnight if possible. Preheat oven to 180’c and bake cookies for 10 minutes (they will hardern as they cool down). Once cool, store cookies in an airtight container – they will last 3-4 weeks if stored like this.

Traditional Fruit Cake
250g dried sultanas,
250g dried currants
250g dried cranberries
100g dried apricots, chopped
100g dried prunes
60g candied citrus peel
140ml brandy
270g softened butter
40g slithered almonds
200g plain gluten free flour (I use 50/50 rice flour and tapioca starch)
40g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
200g rapadura sugar or brown sugar
5 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoon honey
whole blanched almonds (for decorating)

Stir brandy through dried fruit and peel and leave to soak overnight. Next day preheat low oven to 150’c. Grease a deep round cake tin (or loaf tins) and line with two layers of baking paper. Combine flour, almond meal, baking powder and spices in a bowl.  In a separate (large) bowl cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, followed by flour mixture. Stir in soaked fruit, honey and slithered almonds. Pour mixture into prepared tins and gently press whole almonds on top for decoration. Bake for 3 hours (if a whole cake) or 2 hours if doing smaller cakes. To test if the cake is done, insert a skewer and if it comes out clean it is done – if not, reduce the oven temperature to 110’c and bake for a further 10-15 minutes and check again. Let cool completely in the tin. Wrap cake in paper and foil and store in an airtight container for as many weeks (or months) till Christmas!

There is so much fruit and sugar in these cakes that they will last a good long while and improve in flavour the longer they are left! 

red and green

bottlebrush2christmastreechristmascakeIMG_8669crochettreeIMG_8675starSomehow the first day of December sneaks up on us every year – we wonder where did the year ago, we count on the calendar just a handful of weeks left to the year, we remark how wonderful that advent has begun!

And so we bake fruit cake and wrap it up to age in the pantry, we string up handmade garlands and stars, we find a tiny pine tree in a nearby paddock and adorn it with our funny collection of decorations bought and given and made all over the world, we play finger puppets with mamie and read stories on the bed, we work on handmade gifts, we crochet late at night and sip creamy tea, we light the first candle of the advent wreath and usher soft prayers of hope.

Amidst all the busyness, the hum drum, the deadlines
we pause, we savour this special time of year…

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For those interested we have two more markets left for this year; we will be selling our pasture raised chickens and eggs as well as my European-inspired gluten free Christmas delights. Think dark fragrant gingerbread, moist fruit cakes, dark chocolate, hazelnut + clove cookies, buttery vanilla bean shortbread, dainty mince pies and of course those beeswax baked custards – canéles!

Come along and find some delicious treats to store up and share with loved ones this happy season!

Woodend Farmers’ Market
Saturday December 5th 
8am – 1pm
High street, Woodend

Kyneton Farmers Market
Saturday December 12th
8am – 1pm
St. Paul’s park, Piper Street, Kyneton

slowly seasoning

seasoning2 This winter I began a sort of visual catalogue of the subtle changes in seasonal produce I could buy or batter for at our local farmers’ markets… see how the apples and pears come in, leeks come in, parsnips come in, daffodils for one weekend only, the last potatoes, the first asparagus, the first strawberries, heirloom carrots…

Its something I’ve really been thinking about in the last few years – the importance, the necessity of truly seasonal produce… I loved that when we lived in France we would go to our weekly farmers markets and you could actually see the changes in fresh produce – the stalls changed week by week – there were the year-round staples (potatoes/carrots/beetroot/lettuce/radishes) and then there were those absolutely wonderful short-season specials – raspberries, asparagus, fennel bulbs, tomatoes, zucchinis, capsicums, aubergines!

I do not accept that we need to have endless variety and colour on our plates all day all year round. If our not so-far-back ancestors were happy and nourished by a simpler diet, with what could grow easily and organically, that I think we would be to – if we tried. If we ditched the latest fad diet and instead focussed our energy and resources on eating locally – ethically – organically, what the season allows us.

And with freezing, drying and canning, and age-old methods of fermentation we can preserve some of the harvest for other seasons too – passata on a pizza base and frozen corn for a soup. But nothing compares to a vine ripened tomato, freshly sliced, with a little sprinkle of sea salt – or the sweet earthy crunch of a carrot freshly pulled…

I’m challenging myself in the new year to only eat the fruits and vegetables I can grow, batter or buy locally grown and raised. I hope this will help us as a collective household to be more mindful of the seasons, to really enjoy produce when it comes, to waste less, garden more and counter the luxury of choice big supermarkets offer us “anything we wish, whenever we wish it”!

It may mean a year without bananas and sweet potatoes and a special request for a box of mangoes for Christmas from our North-of-the-boarder friends… But I have no doubt at all that we will eat very well!
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a springtime stew

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This Tuscan-inspired chicken stew is one of very favourites. It has carvolo nero (tuscan kale) and thyme from the garden, lemon zest, white wine and cannellini beans… I like it because it cooks the kale thoroughly (so you can digest all it’s wonderful dark leafy nutrients more easily) and that I can make it from a whole bird – which happens to be our beautiful pastured raised chicken no less!

So I have the whole bird in front of me. With clean hands and butcher scissors I dislocate and cut off the whole legs + thighs and the wings –  I will use those four pieces in the stew. I then cut away the breast meat and freeze it for later. The leftover carass I pop into a large stock pot with vegetable offcuts (you will add more as you prepare the stew) and most importantly a “bouquet garni” a bundle of aromatic herbs – from my garden; bay leaves, oregano, thyme, rosemary and parsley stalks. I let the stock simmer on a low heat for a few hours.

Now to prepare this glorious stew, you will need:

x2 chicken legs + thighs (bones in)
x2 chicken wings
1 tablespoon butter
1 brown onion, chopped finely
2 large yellow carrots, sliced in rounds
bunch of tuscan kale, carvolo nero
zest of one lemon, unwaxed
1 cup dry wine wine
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (may need more if it gets too dry)
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 cup of cooked cannellini beans (if using tinned – drain and rinse thoroughly)
seas salt + cracked pepper to taste
(for serving – pure pouring cream)

serves 4-6 people

In a heavy bottomed pot melt butter and gently sauté onions. Once the onions are soft and translucent stir in carrots and cook a further five minutes. Add chicken pieces (four in total) and brown each side with tongs. Pour in wine, stock, chopped kale, lemon zest and thyme. Let simmer on a low heat for 1 – 1.5 hours. Add beans and cook a further 30 minutes on a low heat. Season to taste. Serve on it’s own with fresh bread or with potatoes – I like to add a splash of fresh cream over the top before eating.

And so with one whole chicken I can get numerous meals; the stew lasts us two dinners, the stock can be used throughout the week in other dishes or on it’s own, and the breast meat is in the freezer for another meal or two. And that my friends is why you actually save money when you buy a whole chicken, bones and all – and why you can afford a premium, pastured raised, beyond organic free range chicken!

If you’re local and interested in trying one of our birds email handtoground@gmail.com to order.
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when your tank runs dry

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when your tank runs dry
and your hens stop laying,

you haul discoloured
garden water in big pots,
saving every drop,
and you gather half empty crates of eggs
careful not to crack a single one
all spoken for, needed –

when your livelihood depends
on the length of the day,
able back, rain drop –
when you fall short
disappoint,

why is it so easy
to take for granted,

a farmer told me once
to hold everything lightly,
I think he was saying
things will come and go,
seasons, unknowns,

everything grows –

am I beholden to my generation
defining my worth
in what’s done or earned,
how my peers see me –
or am I free

to care most about
how we do a thing,
the discipline and faithfulness
to look back and remember
not what I did, but who I was,
learnt, loved, worked, rested.
mamabear