Thursday, July 28, 2016

The winter garden

Although we've passed the solstice and the days are getting longer and the soil (supposedly) warmer, there's not much growing in my garden right now. I've pulled out the carrots and dug up the remaining scraps of silverbeet to give to the chooks. The broad beans and garlic are popping up but months away from eating. I have planted radish and spinach that can be sown in winter. In the greenhouse, there is broccoli growing and I hope to be eating it soon, but I'm not sure that last weekend's coating of snow did much to help it along.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A decent loaf

After last week's failed attempt at ciabatta (I forgot to put a dish of water in the hot oven to create steam, and although it puffed up nicely, the loaf did not go brown and was a bit soggy inside), I am pretty proud of my first stone ground wheat sourdough loaf. It's soft and tasty. Since the sourdough course at the Agrarian Kitchen earlier this month, I've been feeding the starter and keeping her happy. This week I acquired a proofing basket from a local store. The early good result is encouraging.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Winter in the hills of the Huon

It's powdery and soft and has coated everything. Snow was forecast down to 150 metres today and looking at the much lower hills across the Huon River from us, I'd say that's what happened.  It is just so pretty, I can't help but slip my warm gloves off to take more and more photos. My gloves are supposedly touchscreen-friendly, with a small metallic tip on both forefingers, but I have to tell you it doesn't work. But it's worth frozen fingers for this. There's always a toasty wood fire to warm up near after our snow excursions.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Mid-winter feasting

Work done for the week and gumboots, beanies and thick, woolly socks on, it was time to head to the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival at the Apple Shed in Grove.

A feast of local produce awaited. Red Brick Road scrumpy cider, a pork bun from Fat Pig Farm, a hot cider from Willie Smiths, some goat chilli with corn chips and sour cream, a Lady Hester sourdough doughnut with rhubarb and whisky jam and a McHenry sloe-gin chocolate from Cygneture... oh my god. All superb. The burning man ceremony was a hit with the crowd again, and with glowing fragments of straw streaming into the crowd I was reminded of a recent article by Sydney broadcaster James Valentine on why a festival like Dark Mofo could never happen in Sydney. Put simply, too much OH&S getting in the way of common sense and good fun. We managed to miss much of the musical entertainment this year, but we did take a walk through Woolfzinger's Cider Show Alley, where I heard a young fellow say, "Mummy, does that man have eyeliner on? Are those real eyeballs on the back of his head?"

This is one seriously well-organised event, as we've come to expect from the teams at MONA and at Willie Smiths. We've had a lot of rain and that morning nearby Huonville saw some of the worst local flooding in 20 years, but the not-quite-Glastonbury level mud was tempered with truckloads of mulch and sand. We didn't have to queue long for anything despite the big crowd, there was plenty of seating, all undercover, well-organised parking a short walk away, good-humoured staff keeping the place clean and loads of fire barrels to stand around to keep warm... just amazing. It was brilliant fun - again - we'll be back next year for sure.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Icy, icy

The water coming out of our taps is pre-chilled, you could say. No wonder, when our very full water tank looks like this:

It's great for adding to a refreshing cordial or when the shortcrust pastry recipe says 'add iced water'. Not ideal for washing hands and faces, it must be said!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Snow Day

Today was a 'snow day'. Usually that means kids get to stay home from school (and some people can't get to work) so you play in the snow, make snowmen, cook, read, bicker, sit by the fire and get cosy. Everyone gets excited about a snow day. But it's school holidays this week, so a little different I guess. It's the first decent snow we've had this winter, after last year's record dump. I got up early to put some bread in the oven. After breakfast and before work, it was time to head out into the snow with the dogs. You can spot their Swiss heritage. They absolutely LOVE the snow, even old Baerli skips like a puppy in it. They lie in it, eat it, run, leap and play. Snow day for dogs, you could say.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

First timers at the Festival of Voices

As part of the annual winter-time vocal extravaganza that is Hobart's Festival of Voices, 'pop up choirs' perform short sets in various locations around the city. The Little Boat Choir of Franklin is barely a year old and today we took part for the first time. We were assigned two locations for the Sunday morning. First up, the open space in Mathers Place at the popular Farm Gate Market held each Sunday in Bathurst Street. It was a chilly but sunny morning and there was a good crowd sitting around sipping coffee or taking a break from shopping. They even got to enjoy our warm up routine... oh dear!

Then we hot-footed it down to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery where we got to perform in a warm and inviting gallery space with arranged seating and even beanbags! There was no time pressure of a choir following us, so we sang a few more numbers. To the right is our set list... a mixture of the folk, gospel and world music we typically sing. It was so much fun. People commented that it looked like we were having fun. And smiling and having fun is a bit infectious in group singing. That's all thanks to the hard work of our choir director Tiffany Eckhardt who arranges the songs, leads our weekly singing and herds cats (us) to make it all happen. Community singing has grown in popularity in recent years and the health benefits are well documented. Get out and sing!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Sourdough from scratch

Jay Patey is the king of sourdough bread in Tasmania. His Pigeon Whole Bakers in Hobart is known far and wide for it. After my very poor attempts at baking sourdough breads in the past, it was time to learn from the master. Over two days at the Agrarian Kitchen, we made a stoneground wheat sourdough and a variation with apple and walnuts, a sourdough ciabatta, focaccia, a purple wheat loaf, a heavy Danish rye, a spelt porridge loaf, lemon rye bread and even sourdough doughnuts. Some of it was baked in a proper wood-fired brick oven and some in a traditional oven so we could recreate it at home. At the end of day one, I plonked some ham on roughly hewn chunks of the still-warm wheat sourdough and that was dinner. Perfect.

It would take years of practice and tweaking to get close to Jay's breads, but the most important thing is, I've regained some confidence and picked up enough tips, tricks and inspiration to give it a go again. Our teachers Jay and Sharon were patient and good humoured, happy to explain and demonstrate over again and polite enough not to laugh at our novice bread shaping techniques. And I arrived home this evening with seven different loaves to eat and a spare doughnut for David. I just love eating good bread (definitely not in the anti-carb or gluten intolerable camps) but that's the thing - it has to be good, tasty, nutritious bread. Not fluffy white stuff passed off as bread. I wanted to know how to cultivate wild yeasts in a starter so that if I go away for a few weeks, neglect it, and return to a nasty-smelling dead mixture in the fridge, I can start from scratch, all over again.

The 'Secrets of Sourdough' course is held in winter at The Agrarian Kitchen in Lachlan in the Derwent Valley near Hobart. Join their mailing list to find out the dates for next year.