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

in the garden

octobergarden8octobergarden5 octobergarden4octobergarden2There is something magical and healing about a garden… I find so much joy in digging around, planting and pottering, watering and weeding – especially when bright flowers and shady trees bring beneficial insects and bees to visit, and healthy herbs and vegetables make their way onto our plates and into the pantry. This home is our most permanent so far, and we have done much to establish a backyard garden where there had only been dry grass, a couple of straggly rose bushes and a hibiscus tree!
IMG_8497sepgarden2octobergarden9IMG_8498So far we have discovered and weeded out garden beds against the sides of the house and planted various herbs, daisies, natives, strawberries, rhubarb, hellebores, wallflowers, pig face, lupins, forget-me-nots, succulents, violets, violas, lambs ears, silver dust… We also erected a round herb bed (which we later discovered previous tenants had once started their own herb spiral!) with a lemon tree in the centre. We set up some apple crates as wicking beds, and built our own long no-dig beds out the front. We put in a line of raspberries, red currants and blueberries against the front fence. We planted a number of trees too – japanese maple, chestnut, different kinds of oaks, ornamental plum, dwarf pomegranate, and fig…
polytunnel1octgarden1And about two months ago we put up a 12 metre long polytunnel hot house (the metal frame and railway sleepers were gifted to us by friends and the horticultural grade plastic we ordered online) – it’s now filled with mushroom compost and the first of the summer seedlings  – tomatoes, chillies, basil, cucumbers, corn, sunflowers, eggplant and melons. I am making use of it’s heat to start off seedlings for planting outside too – pumpkins, zucchinis, silver beet, lettuce, beans and more flowers than I can name…

I have a habit of being overly ambitious for my Summer garden but I am learning the limitations of being a mama to two small people and helping my love run a business. So I am trying to sow (and plant) only what we like to eat and in quantities I think we can realistically get through, with a little left for preserves and ferments of course. I still feel such a novice to growing food, especially in this particular climate, and it has been such a hot and dry Spring so far – who can say what the next season will bring!

Still, we put on our green thumbs, we mulch and weed, we watch oaks grow and water as the sun sets… it is good for the soul, this growing.

Spring Pyre

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 1.10.19 pmA week ago we were evacuated from our home as bush fires nearby raged out of control. It was a surreal five or ten minutes, methodically collecting important documents, clean clothes, nappies. Outside it was hazy, orange coloured – the wind was fiercely blowing smoke and dust around our noses. It was hot. It wasn’t bush fire season yet. It wasn’t even the middle of Spring.

Today as I drove along a familiar road into town, I took it slowly. There was numerous signs with warnings, there were fire trucks and rangers patrolling by the roadside, keeping a watch on smouldering trees, earthmoving. I came across two stretches of road where the fire had burnt from one side to the next. I could see a mass of burnt umber through the usually green national park. I saw a house with blackened earth on every side of it, and yet it stood in the middle, seemingly unscathed. I cried.
Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 1.10.29 pmThis is nature where we live. This is a reality of the Australian bush – our fire-prone landscape, in many ways carved out and cultivated by fire itself. I want to come to terms with this element, but it still feels unknown, terrifying. In a moment’s wind and crackle of flame, one could loose home, creatures, fence posts, familiar, livelihood…

And yet I carry in my hand a packet of flannel flower seeds. A native that will germinate only in moistened ground that has been burnt. How something so softly petaled, so creamy white, delicate can grow out of charred earth. That beauty can come from the flame…
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healing soup, a recipe

chickensoup1 chickensoup2 chickensoup4chickensoup3This is my favourite chicken soup recipe, which uses a whole chook (bones in) that can even be started when frozen. It’s inspired by the Chinese chicken and corn recipe – and is so simple, wholesome and healing! There are numerous studies into the healing properties of a chicken-broth based soup, and I do think when convalescing, there is nothing so comforting as a steaming bowl of broth.

You will need:
for the broth:
1 whole chicken about 1.5kg – fresh OR frozen

Your choice of celery leaves, carrot ends, leek stalks, onion skins, garlic, parsley stalks, sprigs of thyme etc…

for the soup:
3 large leeks, sliced finely
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen sweet corn
handful fresh chives and coriander + spring onions
3 cups shredded dark greens like broccoli, silverbeet, kale bok choy, pak choy etc..
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons tamari sauce (or more to taste)
2 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
pure rice noodles like vermicelli or pho

2 egg whites

First make your stock. In a large lidded saucepan cover whole chicken with 2 litres of water, salt, splash of cider vinegar and variety of vegetable scraps like celery leaves and stalks, carrot ends, onion skins, green part of the leeks, parsley stalks, bay leaves etc. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 3-5 hours (could also use a slow cooker on a very low heat overnight/day). Remove chicken onto a plate and cool slightly. Strain stock into another saucepan and put wilted vegetables into the compost. Pull off all meat from the chicken and shred thinly – you might want to use tongs if still too hot. Compost the bones. To the stock add chicken meat, grated ginger, thinly sliced leeks, 1 cup of the corn kernels (reserving 1/2 cup to puree), asian greens, fresh chopped herbs, tamari sauce and sesame oil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add rice noodles of choice and simmer for another 5 minutes. Puree 1/2 cup of corn to a pulp (a stick blender makes this very easy) and stir into the soup. In a bowl lightly whisk egg whites and tip into soup, swirl around with a spoon. Serve with a sprinkle of spring onions. 

Next Monday – October 5th – we will be delivering our first batch of truly-free ranging, pasture raised chickens to Watts’ Fresh in Kyneton. Order yours now by emailing orders@wattsfresh.com.au

what pastured means

IMG_8382 IMG_8380cropped-eggmobile.pngA question we are often asked is what our “pastured eggs/chicken” means and how it differs from “free-range” labelling. It’s a confusing business. The words “free-range”, together with most egg carton and meat labels invoke images of lush, pristine, green grass pasture – ethical, wholesome, healthy… but the reality is sadly disappointing.

In typical big “free-range” egg operations, chickens are kept in the thousands in large sheds – they have just enough space to move their wings and can “access” through a door or “pothole” the outside world – which, if the chicken can physically get to the door, is unlikely to resemble green grass. The chickens often have their beaks clipped and their grain feed is cheap and genetically modified, possibly even imported. No wonder cartons of “free-range” eggs cost little more than cage eggs…

IMG_8373IMG_8378Our “pastured eggs” are quite different. They are produced by small batches of chickens that live on real grass pasture – in the open air, with space to move, peck, dust bathe and forage, they move to new fresh pasture on a weekly basis, they experience changing seasons, with freedom to lay where they please, a home free from chemical cleaners and bleach, a diet of garden scraps, insects and bugs, and grain feed that is wholegrain, not genetically modified and Australian-grown. In short, they are beyond free-range and free to express their chicken! These photos are genuine representations of our chickens.

As it stands, there is no legally enforceable definitions for egg production systems in Australia – other than the consumer’s rights to honest labelling – but if you don’t really know what a label means how can you demand transparency? We are advocates for “certify your own” – there is no better way to know how your food is grown and raised then when you are able to connect with the farmers and producers themselves. And the easiest way to do that is to find who your local producers are and support them.
IMG_8334You can buy our pastured raised eggs through Watts Fresh, KynetonHealth on High Street, Lancefield and at our regular farmers’ markets. You can also preorder our pastured meat birds through Watts’ or directly by email to handtoground@gmail.com.

Workshops, markets and other things

markets11markets02markets01markets09I’ve been busy baking gluten free delights for Kyneton Farmers Market tomorrow morning – the house is warm and the kitchen fragrant with beeswax baked custards, pumpkin spice and date bread, olives and rosemary, cinnamon pear loaves and buckwheat sourdough… I love the challenge of using fresh season produce in my baking – fresh herbs from the garden, olives, pumpkins and pears from local farmers and of course those beautiful pastured eggs our hens are laying now!

I’ll be doing a number of markets this month, so here are the dates:

Kyneton Farmers’ Market (2nd Sat of the month)
Saturday August 8th
8:30am – 1:00pm
St Paul’s Park, Piper StreetKyneton VIC

Lancefield Farmers’ Market (4th Sat of the month)
Saturday August 22nd
9am – 1:00pm
Centre Plantation, High Street, Lancefield VIC

I am also very excited to be running two Spring workshops in collaboration with the lovely Tasha of A Plot in Common. The first workshop will be an introduction to the art of gluten free bread-making and particularly how to make gluten free sourdough – while the second workshop will be all about cold process soap making – traditional ways to make use of leftover fats and fresh herbs to make beautifully nourishing soap. Go here for more course details and booking.
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Oh and I did I mention our hens started laying? Yes! On average about 170 eggs a day and rather sizeable too – the most delicious, golden yellow, truly free ranging, pasture raised eggs. We are so happy to be suppling a few local cafes and fine eateries and have them for sale in cartons at Watts Fresh, Kyneton and Health on High Street, Lancefield.

through the seasons

threesisters1 threesisters2 threesisters3 threesisters4 threesisters5  I love watching how the seasons change this beautiful landscape we call home – the dry browns of the summer, green grass after autumn rain, frosts of winter – the hills in the background are called “the three sisters” and they are special to me because I have three sisters myself, and I have walked to the top of each of them now. I have walked round that dam so many times – when I was pregnant, slowly stepping by the waterside as my toddler looked for fish or frogs, and lately I’ve been carrying a babe wrapped to my chest, walking for fresh air… They say farmers are paid in sunrises and sunsets and I guess it’s true – there’s a wealth that one collects watching these earthy wide open scapes change with the seasons…