Monday, January 20, 2014

Autumn Farm in 2014

In my last post I mentioned that we had been working on a new rawbale chicken brooder house. The reason for this is that this year at Autumn Farm we're hoping to slowly increase the number of chickens we're growing for our community. 

Last year's chicken farming was a bit of an experiment, to see how we liked it, and how well it fit into the community's food needs/desires. Turns out it was a perfect fit on all fronts: We're sold on the farming thing, we're sold on being part of a local, co-operatively-run abattoir (I'm the new chairwoman!), we're sold on feeding our community locally and ethically produced whole food, and local peeps seem happy with Autumn Farm chicken being a regular part of their diet. Pearl was even interviewed as one of the 'Heroes of 2013' by the local ABC radio! Seriously, we were so proud of this, not least of all because of the other awesome people they picked out.

So yeah, we're going to grow a little. Not heaps - we don't want to overwhelm ourselves, and we don't want to over-burden our land: the aim of the game's regeneration, not overgrazing yo! We're just going to cautiously and slowly seek the balance between demand and what we can happily achieve. 

Step one in this journey was constructing a new brooder house. The old brooder house looked alright, but it was way too small and not that easy to work with. It had no insulation, and we found that the chicks had grown out of it by about 2 weeks. As we head into winter, they're going to need to be in the brooder for around 3 weeks, so we knew we had to make something bigger and better to keep those chickies safe and warm.
Day 1 inside the brooder house - it was HOT! So I added a paella-pan chick wading pool for them to drink out of while also cooling their tootsies. Newspaper is laid on the ground for the first couple of days so they can easily find their food and grit, which we scatter on the paper. Though as you can see, there are quite a few chicks already in the feeder, where they will probably stay for the rest of their days. Those little guys sure like to eat...

Being as we are super-keen on the strawbale, we decided to have a go at a rawbale (as in, unrendered) brooder house. The top of the bales are protected from rain by the roof, and the sides perform a bit like thatch, shedding any rain that hits the sides without allowing it to penetrate the bale. We're anticipating the house will last us a couple of years. When it starts to deteriorate, we'll dismantle it and use it as garden mulch. It's 2 courses of bales high (laid on edge), with a panelled recycled tin and laserlite roof, which we can take apart and tilt up as needed for ventilation and temperature control. There's a gas-powered brooder lamp inside to keep the chickies warm. The bales are pinned at the corners with star pickets hammered through the bales and into the ground, and the whole thing is wrapped in chicken wire. So far, it's been great!
A typical morning inside the brooder house. Yep. They're cute.

The chicks seem very happy in their new, spacious home, though they're still happy for some outside adventuring, which is a relief. It's important that they get a taste for grass/weeds/bugs/dirt as soon as possible, so they don't baulk at the prospect of eating heaps of greenery when they're moved out to pasture full time.
Autumn Farm chicks, 4 days old, venturing from their rawbale brooder house for the first time
In another week, they'll be moving into their new and improved moveable pasture house, which is moved every day to make sure they have fresh bedding. These houses are enclosed in electric mesh (the total run is 100 square metres for 130 chooks - a tad better than their 'free range' counterparts, who are currently enjoying about an A4 page per chook of dirt/poo inside a shed), which is moved every 3 days, so they have fresh green pick, and to make sure they don't over-excavate our land in their quest for fresh dust-baths.

It's a labour-intensive way to farm chickens, there's no doubt about it. And there were times (like after spending an hour and a half carrying the chickens to bed one night when they couldn't find the door to their newly-moved house) when I could definitely see the benefits to raising chickens conventional-style, in a shed. But the rest of the time, as we watched them on the grass, hanging out, doing chicken stuff, foraging, flapping etc, and then when we tasted them, we knew that labour-intensive pasture-raising is THE ONLY WAY TO GO.

Which is why we're doing it some more.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A bit of what we've been up to...

We had a little lapse from blogging over the Christmas/holiday/visitor season, so this is a bit of a catch up on what we've been working on/eating/enjoying.

We've been experimenting with new ways to eat eggs for breakfast (or lunch, or dinner...), like in the recipe at the end of this post.

We've been enjoying the very first blackberries, making plum jam, and drying chillies.

We've been eating Autumn Farm chickens for Christmas lunch, making pulled pork in the pizza oven (8 hour slow roast - yeeeeaaaaahhhhh....) and eating it on rolls with home-grown coleslaw. 

We've been building a new rawbale brooder house for our Autumn Farm chickies, and falling in love with our 13 new baby ducklings.
We've been pickling eggs (!) and eagerly awaiting the opportunity to taste them.
We've been feeling inspired by new books like Food DIY, and Practical Self Sufficiency, and trying out new recipes (like pulled pork, coleslaw and pickled eggs).
We've been celebrating old and new years with friends by cooking an enormous wild rabbit, rosemary and almond paella over the fire - YUM! - and drinking copious amounts of home brewed beer and rhubarb champagne.
We've been swimming at the beach and in our dam, fishing, kite-flying, and watching in awe as a pod of dolphins passed us by on their own (far more successful) fishing expedition at Bithry Inlet.
We've been welcoming new babies by sewing onesies and baby quilts.

We've been feeling super lucky to be enjoying visits with friends and family, showing them the wonders of our neighbourhood.

We've been harvesting garlic, zucchinis, tomatoes, beans and zucchinis, and wishing we'd planted more parsley.

And we've been feeling super super grateful for all of these things - and more! - and wondering what the year ahead has in store for us...

And now for a little recipe-sharing, in the form of our new favourite way to eat eggs, inspired by our friend Yotam Ottolenghi and his friend Sami Tamimi and their book Jerusalem.
First up, I fried a chopped onion in some olive oil with a whole bunch of garlic.

Then I added a teaspoon of ground cumin and 2 teaspoons of sumac, a couple of bits of preserved lemon, some finely chopped chard leaves and some chopped tomatoes, and cooked it all up til it was kind of saucy.

Then I cracked in some eggs and put the lid on to let them poach in the sauce.

When the whites were set (yolks still runny!!) I served it up with some of Pearl's flatbreads, some more sumac, and a yoghurt, tahini and lime juice dressing.

It was crazy good, and we highly recommend you give it a go.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Ah pâté... Ain't nobody don't like pâté...

I'm not sure when I first ate pâté, but I must have been young. I seem to have many childhood memories of devouring a lot of pâté. I don't know if they're real imaginings or as frequent as I recall, but I can still taste that deliciously unique creamy richness. As a child I piled the crackers high with big chunks of the stuff and this is the way I eat it now. Nothing delicate here. 

Truth be told, I didn't eat pâté for years and years. That stuff with jellied peppercorns atop it in plastic packaging has never really appealed and eating liver from an animal of dubious sources freaks me out. It feels like pâté is pretty much bad fashion on a plate these days, which means we are either very much behind the times or very much cutting edge here because we have been eating A LOT of pâté here at Autumn Farm. And why not? We have access to some pretty delectable pasture raised chicken's livers these days. And to make this story even more feel good, it is said that liver is the most nutritionally dense food you can eat. A-mazing. 

When people buy our whole chickens they can also get hearts, livers, feet, gizzards, necks by the kilo. While lots of the bits end up as pet food, the orders started coming in for the livers with people telling me, 'I'm going to have a go at making some pâté..." Pâté?! Oh wow, that taste of my childhood returned to me and I got a little bit pâté curious. Then I read this lovely post and my return to pâté was confirmed. My childhood pâté memories centre around my parent's dinner parties and family lunches, and then there was that brioche and pâté extravaganza at my mum's 40th birthday party... Annie's childhood pâté memories are of a more Germanic variety. At her Oma and Opa's she ate a lot of liverwurst on black rye with radish or mustard. At home, she ate it on white with pickles. How we both eat it now is entirely influenced by those formative experiences.  

My preferred mode - on toasty sourdough with leaves and tomatoes from the garden

Annie's preference is with homemade pickles
I'm still amazed that something so luxuriously delicious could be so cheap and easy to make. Sadly I think my amazement just reveals how out of touch with eating simply and well we have become in the west. We are supremely lucky in that we have a ready supply of chicken livers we feel very comfortable consuming. Annie's work at the abattoir has confirmed for us just how good our livers are. Our chickens have livers of deep deep red and they smell sweet. Some other chickens that have consumed a different diet and lived a different life have livers that appear, well, sick and pale browny coloured, and they smell yuck. I know I know, some of you may be wondering where you can get these sweet smelling livers from? If you don't live in the Bega valley then I cannot really say. You need to find yourselves a butcher who can guarantee the provenance of the meat they're selling you. If you're in Sydney, you would want to try these fine fellas

The pâté recipe I have been using is a little fusion of what we have at home + Emily's + Matthew Evans + a little bit of internet searching... and it goes a little something like this - 
250g butter (Bega butter of course!)
2-3 brown onions, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
5 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
a small sprig of sage
500g chicken livers
a splash of red or white wine or port

Slowly cook onions in the butter until onion is soft but not brown. Add the herbs and garlic and cook a little longer. Add the livers and cook for 15 minutes until livers are cooked through. Add a splash of wine or port and cook for a few minutes more. Add a little salt and pepper to taste. Then blend in a food processor until smooth. 

How easy is that?!
I read somewhere that it freezes and thaws really really well. I ask you, can this story get any better?

Basically we have had a continuous supply of pâté the past four months and we're so not sick of it yet. We've had many visitors from Sydney and I've fed them all pâté. I like to think of it as a little something special we can offer our friends from the big smoke. It's true, we don't have fine theatre or cinema or very much hustle bustle but we do have very fine pâté. And we also have very fine beaches and what could be finer beach food than pâté on sourdough, with a little home grown cherry tomato chaser? Seriously good stuff, the kind of stuff that makes my heart sing.   
Eating pate' while gazing upon this feels pretty good

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A graduation dress for Carly

Last session at Uni, I had the absolute pleasure of having my friend Carly in my class. Not only is she an awesomely funny, dynamic and lovely person, but she's also the smartest person I've ever taught. This was good - smart people are always great to have in class - but also intimidating and challenging, though ultimately rewarding.

When Carly came to me with a request to make her a dress for graduation, I was thrilled and honoured. She brought a dress for me to copy, which she'd found at the op-shop, and we picked out some fabric from the stash (the last of the Temora Hospital nurses' quarters curtains, also seen here and here), then Carly went home and left me to it.

When I pulled out the dress and actually looked closely at it, I completely freaked out. It felt way too hard, way beyond my capabilities, and way more tricky than anything I'd ever made before. There were too many different kinds of panels, in-built pockets with pleats and a split up the back. I had the phone in my hand to text Carly to tell her I couldn't do it, when I thought, "What the hey! I'll give it a go! The worst that'll happen is that it's a major disaster and I've wasted a bit of fabric, but I can always chop it up and make something for the kids."

So I put on some music and sat down to (carefully!) cut out the dress. I took my time and concentrated, I used mathematical trajectory calculations (kind of..) to work out all the pieces, because I wasn't allowed to take the original dress apart to make a pattern. And then I sewed it all up and tried it on... 

And  it was lovely!!!!

Carly was stoked, and looked frikkin gorgeous in it, so was (appropriately) the star of the Uni of Gong's 2013 graduating cohort. I felt proud of Carly, and proud of myself for rising to the challenge of not piking out on the dress before I'd even started. Thanks Carly for giving me the opportunity to challenge myself both in the classroom and at the sewing machine: You're a rock-star, lady!!!