# sunflowers in the chicken yard
# cows eating leaves
# diligent mother hens
# handsome fathers
# new raised garden beds, with dolomite lime to be dug in
# wheat sprouting in the 'rested side' of the fixed chook yard
# the amazing mobile chicken caravan (more on this shortly!)
# coffee picking in process, and a harvest that's looking promising
# funny adolescent Plymouth Rocks
You? Are you halfway through a good week? Have you started thinking about Christmas shopping or making or does it just give you a tight feeling in your chest? Do you have fruit on to soak for a cake or pudding? Did I just wreck your happy by mentioning Christmas?
I grew up in a volunteer rural fire service family.
Where Dad would be just as likely as not to get called out in the middle of Christmas dinner.
When some summer days when someone else was milking the cows and there was a big fire, Dad might be gone for hours and hours and Mum would sit next to the two-way radio talking to central fire control (Dad was the captain of the Gerringong brigade for 25 years.)
Crackle, crackle, over.
Dad's yellow brigade overalls smelt of smoke.
The brigade always seems to be filled with champion people. Lifelong friends and people willing to drop everything, even when it's highy inconvenient, to answer a firecall. Because a firecall never comes at a convenient time. They're mostly in the middle of the night. Or when dinner has just been put on the table. Sometimes it's a fire. Sometimes it's a false alarm. Sometimes it's a car accident. And sometimes it's someone you know, particularly in a small town. Sometimes it's a friend's kid in a terrible car accident.
The Rural Fire Service is voluntary. They don't get paid. They partipate and go to training, and keep the fire engines clean and functioning and they get out of bed in the middle of the night if that beeper goes off, because it might be your house, and you might need them.
Tonight at our brigade's Christmas party, which we were at because Adam is a member, my Dad was presented with an award for fifty years of active service. Fifty years.
GO Dad. How awesome is that.
It's been AGES since I posted a bikkie recipe here!
I guess there was always the chance it was something that might make it into the Buena Vista Farm repertoire, and so I've been a little cagey about recipes this last year.
You HAVE to have this one though.
It's similar to a biscuit we made commercially called the Treehouse Treat, which was much lower sugar than all our other biscuits and sweetened with cranberries.
I like this one better.
This is the one that I make for kids lunchboxes (and my Dad's bikkie jar!)
Chocolate Chip Bikkie
125g butter, melted
½ cup caster sugar (or use white if you only have that. Raw sugar doesn't work as well.)
1 free range egg
2 cups wholemeal flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup choc chips
It's a delicious little mouthful of bikkie!
Cup of tea?
First I want to thank you for all the gorgeous comments on my last post. I appreciate every one of them. I didn't actually intend to post, or even to be sitting at the computer. At 5.30am this morning when Adam left to go gym training with a buddy, I looked up and a huntsman spider the size of my head was strutting down my bedroom wall towards me. I was suddenly very wide awake. And so I found myself at the computer, wide awake, and there we have it.
I'd forgotten how much I love this little space. And how much I appreciate you. So thanks. I appreciate it more than you know.
I think sometimes I learn things the long way round.
Take this year's garlic.
It was looking so ready in the garden, I was watching the weather like a hawk, they predicted rain and so at 7.30pm one night last week, as the weather closed in, I pulled out the lot. I'd pulled a few for cooking over the previous month, I knew the cloves were fully formed and the advice was not to let them get wet in the ground for fear of rot.
I bound them all up and tied them up to dry in our feed shed. Thinking I'd come back and clean them in the morning. It was last week. I didn't get back to them.
So now I have a year's supply of muddy garlic hanging in the shed.
Note to self for next year: clean it before you hang it to cure. MUCH easier. (Cleans up OK really.)
And oh sourdough. I will not give up on you.
Even when you repeatedly let me down the way a yeasted loaf never lets me down.
I persist in kneading loaves that just never get that bouncy silky feeling. And the kids turn up their noses at sourdough sarnies (although everyone likes sourdough toast.)
These loaves, proved over 24 hours, both weighed a tonne. Or so.
Am obviously a slow, slow learner.
But wait, who is that interloper?
Yes I see you there, little black chicken! I'm sure he's this one, the first hatched, a Buena Vista bird, not one of the fertilised-eggs-delivered-by-post birds. He's bound to be a rooster and I'm bound to have to make some kind of call about his future which will be, frankly, contested. He's a funny misfitting little black bird and I think he's awesome. Bound to be trouble.
Oh yes hello pig, wipe your nose on my clean jeans huh? Legs all better, that's great. You bound away over there then. Do not name the pig. Do not name the pig. Do not name the pig.
Adam's bees are looking fantastic, from a distance. I admit to not having much to do with them. Dad's the expert, and opened the hives with Ad the other day and confirmed they're just about ready for a new super on each (another box on top.) One day we'll have honey. That's so super exciting. Man I love honey.
Not to self: don't leave eggs stacked at the front door for delivery. It's not like you don't do this every day. You will inevitably be carrying something: a child, a mobile phone that you're reading, another crate of eggs, and you will fall over the crate you left at the door. Every day.
See that tiny baby of mine? Where'd she go? Do we really forget, every time, that this year, the two to three, is by turns the hardest and most wonderful? That overnight they get older, and more articulate, and independent and adventurous? See that scar on her forehead? That's my tiny baby running headlong into a brick wall at daycare while playing with her bestie. Learning the hard way. That's my girl.
Dear lovely people, hello!
As you know, if you've hung around here much, I'm naturally very optimistic. Also pretty positive. Which is why, I guess, when things are a tad grim, I go off the air. I'd prefer not to say anything rather than (a) lie and pretend everything is excellent or (b) confess everything's not excellent. It's not really our style. We spin the 'excellent' story almost by habit.
But it's been a bit of a tough month.
It started with the chickens, I think. One day we had seventy fully grown (expensive to raise) free range chickens out in the paddock ready to go to the abattoir, and the next day the abattoir was closed down. And it's the only poultry abattoir anywhere around here.
I spent a full day on the phone (while in the kitchen making biscuits for market) trying to find an alternative. I called the Department of Primary Industries and begged for help. I called every poultry processing place this side of Brisbane. No one wanted to stop their "lines" for a small number of hippy-raised free range poultry. The numbers were too small. The birds were too big. (That's what happens when they eat grass and run around and you don't kill them at six weeks old like the commerical producers, they grow big and healthy. Der.)
We faced the reality that out meat bird business was probably kaput, and we quickly cancelled our standing order for day old chickens with the hatchery, but we had seventy birds that needed processing yesterday, another seventy that were six weeks old and in the paddock and another seventy in the big brooder box under lights, one week old. How could we possibly process all those birds by hand?
So we called the old abattoir again, a little place we've really liked dealing with, all hand processing done by two very competent Greek ladies in aprons, and we asked if we could buy their equipment.
We knew we wouldn't be able to legally sell our birds if they were processed here on the farm, so we tentatively set up some black market chicken contracts where customers agreed to buy our birds processed outside the system. We spent $800 on the equipment and more retreiving it, and Adam set it all up.
Meanwhile we were notified that the bulka bags of feed we'd been trying to get delivered for about three months were finally delivered into the Sydney warehouse. We haven't been able to justify buying a silo, but buying feed in 20kg bags is more expensive and very inefficient when you go through it at our rate. We went through a palava to find a commerical feed available by the ton and to sort out how to get it delivered into a shed on the farm, and right when the bottom had fallen out of the bird business, we get an unexpected delivery of thousands of dollars worth of feed.
Did I mention the kids weren't all sleeping through the night and we were both chronically overtired at this point? And I had an awful cough that wouldn't go away?
Anyway, Adam gets the equipment fired up and starts processing birds. He does a singularly awesome job, the birds look terrific and he's quick and the plucker in particular works like a dream.
He does about sixteen of the first batch and I'm transferring them from the icebath into clean bags when I get a call from our hatchery telling me they've found a place that will process our birds. I stutter that that is impossible, I've called everyone, no one in a three-hour radius will do it (that's the limit we'll transport birds, they don't want to be in crates on the back of a truck for any longer than that.) They give me a phone number of a friend of a friend and ka-bam, we've got a family-run abattoir outside of Sydney that can take our birds.
I run over to the dairy and tell Adam to stop processing, so we can process and sell the birds legally, we'll freeze those sixteen for our own use.
Adam takes the birds up a couple of days later, we sell them all to a local restaurant and breathe a sigh of relief. Well I don't really sigh, because there's something a bit wrong with my chest and Adam finally marches me to the doctor. Turns out it was suspected whooping cough, and I'm already at the end of it and no longer infectious. I feel pretty crook. They give me some kind of steroids which don't really help and anyway, I've got another market to bake for.
Then one of our pigs goes lame. Not just lame, but paralysed from the waist down. Neither of us have ever seen or heard anything like it, so we take a deep breath and call the vet. He says she has maybe 50% chance of recovery. He gives her an injection, and not very optimistically gives Adam six more syringes to inject over the next three days. We're worried about our pig. For the vegetarians out there this might seem hypocritical but we take the care and wellbeing of our animals very seriously.
And meanwhile our car has blown up. The (uninsured) one which went through the flooded causeway last year, now insured, but not against a timing belt failure. I love the idea of running just one car but our lives being as they are, it's impractical. We live on a farm, I can't walk to the commerical kitchen, Adam needs a four wheel drive to move the chicken caravan. I make an appointment to talk to the bank about a car loan.
While discussing car loans with the bank, I talk about our business plans, and commerical kitchen building plans, and exciting workshop running plans. The bank is enthusiastic and loves the plan, but suggests I really look at the profitable parts of the business in terms of loan repayments. The bikkies are not one of them. They're breaking even, but are not stong enough to get us a significant business loan. And I guess they're not central to what we're all about: growing and raising incredibly nutritious food and sharing it and talking about it.
I'm on steroids that don't seem to be working and I'm chronically overtired and there's a ton of pig food on it's way on seven day terms and crows are killing the younger free range meat birds and there's commerical kitchen rent owing and everywhere I go people want to know where the biscuits are.
I need a job. I called my friend Kirsten who was about to open a new business locally and asked if she needed any help. She wondered how it might work with the biscuit business and I said, biscuits schmiscuits. Or something.
And so I started work with Kirst and it's so. much. fun.
She's opening a place called The Schoolhouse, it's a cheese making place that also sells her locally grown tea. I'm working four days a week, baking mainly, morning teas, scones, crackers and oatcakes to go with the cheese. It's a gorgeous place, a beautiful fit-out, and I've always admired Kirst. And how lovely to get a paycheck.
Meanwhile Ad can concentrate on chickens and eggs and bees and vegies and we've got a bit of breathing space to plan a series of workshops that don't require an expensive commerical kitchen just at present.
And after two days of injections, our pig got up and walked. And now she's bounding around with her sisters.
The photo at the top is from 18 months ago, Tilly at a neighbour's farm with a neighbour's pig, before we had our own pigs, before we'd started the egg business, before we'd grown or sold our first meat bird, before we'd ever had a market stall, before we'd put up a fence or planted a carrot.
Only 18 months ago.
And besides that, I have no idea where my camera is.
First order of the day today, find my camera, and go take a photo of Adam's solution to the crows and our safe and sound little meat birds.