Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bit of a bitsa...

We've been having some lovely times with some lovely loved ones of late and while these times have been wonderful they're not so good for continuing the action-stations theme of this blog. Oh but you would have seen that Annie has still been churning out the P & E wares. Her productivity is second to none. We like to engage in a little bit of pathetic cultural stereotyping about this, attributing it to her German heritage. My experience of Germans is limited to Annie and her family and the 2005 Berlin film festival, all of which serve to heartily reinforce the stereotype (yes yes hardly a representative sample). Meanwhile my friend Drew assures me that he does indeed know some lazy Germans so whether Annie's productivity is cultural or genetic or learned or none of the above, the point is she is one productive lady and this is simultaneously inspiring and exhausting but certainly great when considering owner building straw bale dwellings and food forest creating on our 7 acres.

Ok, so we've had some fun summer times with some people we love. But now it feels that we must declare the summer fun over. Our first born just started school ( so far, so great) and well, it hasn't stopped raining for awhile now and there are flood warnings. So what better time to knuckle down and preserve tomatoes and start planning our April build.

Speaking of the build, we thought it as all over red rover. Banks don't like owner builders. Apparently their disdain has increased since the GFC which is a little frustrating since the GFC was hardly caused by owner builders. We had a few tears, a bit of hand wringing, a lot of woe is me (which is, upon reflection, pretty embarrassing given how many billions of people go hungry each day) and now it seems we've found a way through and have a modest amount that should cover the costs of excavating of our house site and driveway, a new dam and swales for fruit trees, "little straw bale", a water tank, composting toilet and solar panels. Little straw bale is the 3x6 + loft studio cottage we'll be living in while we build "big straw bale", our actual house. Anyhoo, it's all back on. Hurray. Oh and best of all, the straw-bale builder we are working with, Frank Thomas, is German so well, you know, we're happy. Our free straw bale building workshop with Frank runs from 16-20 April so if you're busting a gut to learn how, let us know we may still have a spot left. But beware, Frank tells us that the workshop will run from 8am to 5pm for 5 days straight (again with the stereotype). We'll feed you and thank you and love you for participating.

As for the tomatoes you may recall some earlier discussion here about tomato preserving. And I am happy to say that tomatoes are now at their peak here in the south. I bottled my first batch today.
I decided to move on from the raw pack method of previous years, get a little more sophisticated and actually make a passata, of sorts, for bottling this year. Today's batch is the first of many. My rough calculations tell me that we will need at least 28 bottles to last us from April through to November, for these are the months that tomatoes are not available in these parts. However 28 bottles, only leaves us with, on average, a bottle a week, not much for this tomato loving family so I'm aiming for 35 bottles. Only 27 to go! In time I'm hoping the tomatoes we bottles will be grown on our land but I'm giving myself several years for that. Something to aspire to around the age of 42 methinks.

Following the plum bonanza of December, we've moved into full-on berry bonanza territory. Being a lifelong Sydney dweller, my experience of berries has been somewhat limited. I recently realised I'd never actually had a blackberry. Oh my! what absolute delight. Is there anything more delicious? Yep the picking is hazardous but so worth it. These gorgeous pestilents are everywhere in these parts, including across our land, and we've been scoffing up a storm. It's hard with berries, they taste so good and they're so small, it's easy to eat so many while picking. However I am determined that a few jars of blackberry jam should make it into the pantry before the end of the season.

Cue - gratuitous shot of a thistle

We have thistles aplenty across our land and while we think them quite beautiful there is no denying they are even more a pesty pestilent than blackberries, with significantly less culinary appeal. So while Gourmet Farmer hasn't totally changed our view of them, we were pretty excited to discover that the stamen of the thistle flower can be used as rennet! Ah nature, you are so wonderful. Trite but true. We'll let you know how we go in our goat cheese making endeavours.

It's busy time ahead as we finalise our bare rooted fruit tree order with a local nursery, equivocate over building materials, decide on our solar power needs, continue to research earthen/adobe floors, work through our mountain of anxiety about what our water tank should be made of and work out how we will cheaply but deliciously feed over 15 participants in our straw bale workshop for 5 days - breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner...
Ah so busy, so good...