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macadamia trees and honey bees

Notes from a tree change

Fathers Day Chocolate Beer Cake

Fathers Day seemed a good occasion to try this chocolate cake laced with stout and it went down a treat. I would be willing to bet that most dads would be pretty happy with a beer cake on Fathers day. The macadamia meal improves the texture and keeps the cake moist (pop 50g of macadamia in the food processor for 2 mins until it has a fine powder-like consistency). Almond meal works as well.

Chocolate Beer Cake

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

What you need:

Cake:

  • 275g dark brown sugar
  • 110g butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 125g self raising flour
  • 50g macadamia (or almond) meal
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarb soda
  • 50g cocoa
  • 200ml dark stout

Icing

  • 110g dark chocolate, melted
  • 2 tablespoons stout
  • 50g butter
  • 110g icing sugar

Method:

  • Beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy
  • Add eggs one at a time
  • Fold through the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon
  • Mix the stout through gently before halving the mix into two 20cm springform pans.
  • Cook 180C for 30 mins.

Now for the icing:

  • While the cake is baking make the icing
  • Whisk the stout through the melted chocolate
  • Beat in the icing sugar

Once the cakes are cooled, sandwich them together with a third of the icing then cover the top with the remaining.

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What you need to do:

  • Wash the lemons and pat dry with paper towel
  • Juice four of the lemons and set aside
  • Quarter the remining fruit and pack them into the jar, sprinkling in the salt and peppercorns as you go.
  • Layer in the bayleaves and coriander at the quarter and halfway points
  • Pour in the juice and top up with water to cover the lemons
  • Leave to rest for one month before use

To use:

  • Remove a lemon from the jar and rinse well.
  • Scoop out the flesh and finely slice the rind to add to meat and couscous dishes
  • Keep the remainder in the fridge

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Making yoghurt in a dehydrator

I’m finding new uses for my dehydrator everyday. This week I experimented with yogurt making. I used a commercial starter as this was my first batch but you can apparently use a few tablespoons of a good quality store bought yoghurt. The dehydrator keeps the culture at the correct temperature to enable it to set.

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  • Heat 1 litre of milk until it is close to boiling point
  • Take off the heat and let cool to exactly 40°C.
  • Sprinkle in your yoghurt culture and stir. You can also use a few tablespoons from a previous batch or from an organic store bought pot.
  • Maintain the milk at 40°C in the dehydrator for at least 12 hours or until set
  • Place in the refrigerator

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How to make wax food wraps

Whoever came up with the idea of replacing plastic food wrap with wax soaked fabric was a truely inspired. I’ve been so surprised, not only by how well they work (they really do create a seal and keep things fresh) but how easy it is to make them.img_8188

I have tried a few different ways to replicate the store bought versions and have found this method to be the best. Using muslin creates a thinner, much more pliable wrap which is easier to fold arpund diffcult shapes and make a seal. They don’t last as long as the professional ones but are far less expensive. If you have access to beeswax then you can make these for just a few dollars each. Best made on a warm day.

What you need:

  • 200g pure beeswax
  • 2 tablespoons macadamia oil
  • 1 teaspoon of jojoba oil or vitamin E oil
  • An old oven tray
  • Muslin cloth cut to your desired size. I find 20cmx15cm a good size.
  • Pinking shears (optional)

What you need to do:

  • Cut the muslin to the desired sizeIMG_8169
  • Place the wax on the oven tray until and put it in a 100 degree oven to melt.
  • Once melted add the oils. Mix with a wooden skewer (saves cleanup and you can throw it in the compost afterwards) and put back in the oven for a few minutes.img_8172
  • Now holding the two top corners of the muslin, drag the fabric slowly through the wax oil mix, letting the excess run back onto the tray before hanging in a well ventilated area to dry.IMG_8170
  • Once dry, trim edges with pinking shears to create a neat edge (remember to wash in very hot water afterwards to get rid of any residual wax and re-oil the blades).img_8186

If you’re interested in other projects using beeswax, there is an excellent book called Beeswax Alchemy, by Petra Ahnert. Get yours here

 

 

 

Cut Flower Garden

I’ve been following Floret Flower Farm on Instagram for a while (@floretflower). The pairing of Erin Benzakein’s photography skills and the beauty of her two acre flower farm in Washington’s Skagit valley is simply instagram magic. Whether it’s a truck carrying a haul of rainbow dahlias or a bountiful armful of pretty pink sweet peas, her feed has something for everyone who loves flowers. And who doesn’t love flowers?

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I recently received my copy of her book Cut Flower Garden. Generous in its sharing of knowledge, this book includes detailed advice on planning stages including spacing and layout, through to harvesting and arranging. Beautifully photographed and comprehensive in its coverage, this book is set to become a regular reference.

Cut Flower Garden
Cut Flower Garden

What sets this book apart from other gardening books is that it is geared towards producing blooms to pick, rather than the garden. Although obviously beds of fluffy peonies or sweet peas are just as beautiful if you don’t mind them trussed up in rows.

What I really love about this book is that it also gives small business advice. The claim that with a bit of planning you can produce enough of a crop to create a hobby that pays for itself may seem a far fetched proposition, however Erin Benzakein speaks from a position of authority – she has done just that and more. Her business has grown from a small hobby farm to successful internet sensation.

You can get your own copy of the Cut Flower Garden here. Well worth the investment.

Jumping in. A toe at a time.

I was asked recently how long it took for us to make our big life change and move to the country. I’m finding this is a question I’m asked more and more by people who connect with me through social media and here on the blog. It’s a nice question because for a long time I was answering only a ‘why’ question (as in, why on earth would you drag your children away from the stability of a salaried income and a high ranking school to a life reliant on the weather, full of risk and uncertainty?). It’s also a good reminder of how social media provides such a fabulous avenue to connect with people who share a similar view of the world.

My answer to the question was that we’re two years into the adventure and loving it, but we’re not done yet. Our experience hasn’t been a clean delineation between city life and country living. It has happened in a couple of big steps (buying a property and moving) and lots of little increments – like creating a productive garden, becoming accustomed to (and embracing) some deadly wildlife and making peace with the fact that my footware selection is now drastically reduced (crocs are actually a very practical choice).

We’ve come so far but we are still not exactly self sufficient. We still generate some rubbish, still rely on grid energy and our income isn’t solely reliant on the farm.  So we haven’t really cut our safety chord. Not quite, anyway.

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I guess what we have achieved in this time is proof of concept. When I’m asked these kind of questions, I can say with confidence that it certainly is possible to improve the quality of your life by moving to the country and living a more sustainable lifestyle. If that means investing in an agribusiness or simply establishing a location independent job then I think we’ve proved that it can be done. We just haven’t dived head first. 

Recycled Paper Gift Bags

When you have three children, it’s inevitable that at some point a birthday party will be announced on the morning it is set. Whether you have missed the invitation or it was sitting in the bottom of a school bag, it’s happened at our breakfast table on more than one occasion. Not only does a three hour notice period present the age old problem of purchasing a last minute gift, but also in wrapping it. After finding myself in this position a couple of times, I’ve learned how to create a cute little gift bag using paper out of our recycling box.

Using a number of pages for strength (about four depending on the publication), I fold a rectangle in a one third to one proportion and mark the above pattern (where the asterix is the final size of the box). Score each fold line. This is easiest to do with a plastic knife on a soft surface. Clip out the triangles to create the joining flaps.

Using a hole punch, create a series of holes on each segment to thread either a ribbon or twine for handes. Tape or glue the two short sides and secure well. Do the same with the base and thread the handles.

Preserved Lemon

Its citrus season here and the trees are groaning under the weight of their own fruit. While marmalade and citrus cordial are a great way to preserve the excess crop, it is sometimes a relief to have a couple of less time consuming recipes on hand which still provides the same ‘squirelling away’ satisfaction. Preserving lemons in salt is a great one. It only takes a matter of minutes before you have a pretty jar for the pantry shelf. Only one jar per season is probably enough though – a little goes a long way.

Preserved Lemons

  • Servings: 1 Jar
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

What you need:

  • 2kg of ripe unwaxed lemons
  • 1/2 cup good quality sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 4 Bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 litre jar with vinegar proof lid

What you need to do:

  • Wash the lemons and pat dry with paper towel
  • Juice four of the lemons and set aside
  • Quarter the remining fruit and pack them into the jar, sprinkling in the salt and peppercorns as you go.
  • Layer in the bayleaves and coriander at the quarter and halfway points
  • Pour in the juice and top up with water to cover the lemons
  • Leave to rest for one month before use

To use:

  • Remove a lemon from the jar and rinse well.
  • Scoop out the flesh and finely slice the rind to add to meat and couscous dishes
  • Keep the remainder in the fridge

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Macadamia Crisps

I adapted this from an almond biscotti recipe that I’ve been making for years. It really is even better with Macadamias.

Macadamia Crisps

  • Servings: makes about 20
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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What you need:

  • 3 Egg whites
  • 1 cup Self raising flour
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 150g dry roasted macadamias

What you need to do:

  • Beat egg whites until stiff
  • Gradually add sugar
  • Fold in nuts and flour
  • Spoon into a greased & lined 10cm∅ loaf tin
  • Cook in moderate oven (180°) 30 mins
  • Cool in tin, wrap in foil and refrigerate overnight

Next day:

  • Cut loaf into thin slices
  • Bake in a low oven (140°) on a lined tray for 15-20 mins.
  • Store in an airtight container

Rainbows and Waterfalls

Since moving to the country I’ve noticed that the prettiest thing to snap an iphone at is often the sky. I’ve compiled a whole file of pictures of the sky taken from our little farm. I’m not sure if its because we see more of it here, or if I’m just noticing it more.

Canteen duty also looks a bit different in the country. Run by the parents once a week, each family volunteers for duty.  I was a bit nervous at the prospect of feeding the whole school. I decided to do pizza scrolls. I didn’t get any returns, thankfully.

As I was driving home the other afternoon, I saw these amazing beauties by the side of the road. Now tell me you don’t believe in fairies.

Our resident Frog Mouth Owl is still insisting on pretending he’s a branch, but only occasionally. We say good morning every other day. Here he is blending in:

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And here he is not bothering:

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Same time of day. I love that he’s so inconsistent. He must have an artistic temperament. In other news, look what we found when we cleared away a huge swathe of lantana (well, when I say we, I mean the hardworking farmer in the family..)

 

IMG_1342We could hear the running water but couldn’t see a thing through the spikey mass. We would never have guessed we had our own waterfall & rockpool. Pretty cool. No leeches found so far.

Aren’t passionfruit flowers eccentric. They kind of look like they’re doing jazz hands. Or is that just me?

 

 

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