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Taking Stock : May 2017

I've drafted a dozen blog post these past few weeks, but I find it difficult to get past the first sentence or two. It's so frustrating being wobbly on your writing feet. It's not that I don't have a lot to say, or that life isn't filled with things to write about, it's just hard to know where to start when you're not in the habit of writing regularly.   My intentions to become a regular blogger seem thwarted by the flashing curser on a blank page, taunting me, with nowhere to go.  

To make a start, I thought I'd borrow Pip from Meet Me at Mikes Taking Stock posts.  It's a lovely way to sit, reflect and document what's going on, and just the kickstart I need. Take that blank New Post page!  

Making : Plans, for exciting new projects over the next 12 months. 
Cooking : Lots of jam, quince, strawberry, medlar and lemon. (not all mixed together by the way)
Drinking : Pots of tea, I like this Australian one Elmstock that I buy in bulk from the local ag store.
Reading: The Leopard, by Tomasi di Lampedusa, set in 1860, it's the story of the dying Sicilian aristocracy threatened by the approaching revolution. 
Trawling: Gumtree, I'm looking for the perfect rowboat.
Wanting: My Rayburn cooker back, it's up in Launceston for repairs and the house is freezing! 
Looking: At shepherds huts. I quite fancy one like this
Deciding: What to have for breakfast, porridge or toast and marmalade.
Wishing: I spoke Italian. I've been practising with these apps Duolingo and Babbel .
Enjoying: Planning meet ups with instagram friends in Wales at the Sisterhood Retreat.
Waiting: For some drawings from an architect. 
Liking: Cooking hearty winter fare using lots of beloved Savoy cabbages.
Wondering: What Sicily is really like, I guess I found out when I go there next week. 
Loving: Old-school fold out maps of Sicily and Britain. 
Pondering: Where to eat in London, definitely here and here
Listening: Hashtag Authentic, Sara Tasker's wonderful podcasts. 
Considering: Another coffee or a pot of tea.
Buying: Travellers Cheques, are they still a thing? (Mr Wong! Mr Wong!).
Watching: War On Waste it's frightening to discover the extent of our garbage.
Hoping: To get through my big to do list.
Marvelling: At my ability to procrastinate. 
Cringing: That I still haven't filed last year's tax return. 
Needing: To lodge said tax return.
Questioning: Why I leave it to the last minute, Every. Single. Year. 
Smelling: Quinces simmering in a pot on the stove (the other stove, luckily we have a big Smeg cooker as well as the Rayburn).
Wearing: Smocks and camis from Cottage Industry Store and basics from Sassind .
Noticing: The fire needs more wood.
Knowing: I have to restack the house pile from the wood in the back shed. 
Thinking: About visiting River Cottage
Admiring: People who work hard to make their dreams a reality. 
Getting: Excited about a 20 day "research" trip to Sicily and Wales. 
Bookmarking: Places to stay, eat and play. 
Disliking: Unreasonable negative reviewers on Trip Advisor. 
Opening: Jars of raspberry jam. 
Closing: All the distracting tabs. 
Feeling: Nervous and excited about going away by myself.
Hearing: My dog Patch, snoring in front of the fire.
Celebrating: Winter with its short days and long nights. 
Pretending: That I don't miss summer at all.
Embracing: The challenge of travelling alone. 

A bit about the photos: 
Top: a picture I took of a picture in Fergus Henderson's The Complete Nose to Tail, of a shepherds hut I fancy. I don't know who the handsome couple is, but that will be me and my husband one day! 
Centre: A photo from a pretty supper at the Sisterhood Camp, taken from their website. Can't wait to go.
Bottom: A picture by me of a handsome Savoy cabbage. Honestly they are so pretty!  

Ten things on my summer to-do list, in autumn


I wrote this list in January, and meant to post it back then but totally got distracted. So here it is now, ten things to do this summer. Except it's already autumn, so it's my summer to-do list, in autumn.

As it's now (already) March, I have updated the list with what's been done and still to do in red. I'm afraid this summer, I haven't kept up with my to-do list at all.

But the sun is still shining, and the first two weeks of March really are the best weather all year, so there's still time to pack a picnic, book a campground and walk along the beach.  But I better hurry!  With daylight savings ending in a couple of weeks, I really need to get my skates on if I'm going to complete this list.

1. Go camping. I entirely missed camping at all last year, due to a busy work schedule. I'm hoping for a chance to head to Bruny for a quick weekend beachside camp for a night or two under canvas. Still haven't actioned this. SAD! I might go camping in a nearby paddock by the river instead. 

2. Eat as many peaches, apricots and nectarines as possible, preferably over the sink to catch any juices. I can tick this one off. Still doing this - ongoing 

3. Walk along a deserted beach, this one is so easy in Tasmania, they're pretty much always deserted. And nothing blows away the cobwebs and recharges the batteries like a long walk along a windswept beach.  Still to do, status: outstanding.

4. Make a lot of jam. Not sure why I even do this with a pantry groaning with jam as it is. But still, I get a bit twitchy with all this fruit around if I don't make any jam. Completed. 32 news jars of jam in the pantry to date. Yet to start on quinces, pears, apples and blackberries. 

5. Plunge into the sea. We've been swimming in the cool dark tannin stained waters of the Huon River this summer, but the turquoise water of the ocean still calls.  Have not even made it to the beach once this summer. Need to action this! URGENT! 

6. Eat outside whenever possible. Tick, on track with this one. With two outdoor tables we are doing this nearly every night and weekends, despite battling the March flies and mozzies, but it's worth it.

7. Drive to the East Coast to admire the incredible coastline and stop off at my favourite wineries. Yes, I've done this! Completed. 

8.  Drive to Hartz Mountain to escape the heat and hike to the top of the world. Still to do. Possibly reschedule to winter list.

9. Drag out the kayaks, and paddle down the Huon River. Done! Most weekends. 

10.  Pack a basket and go on plenty of picnics. Sadly have not been on nearly enough picnics. Perhaps this weekend.

What about you? Tell me, did you make the most of this summer?

Pickling workshop at Fat Pig Farm

I'm super excited to announce that I'll be taking part in a mini workshop at Fat Pig Farm this month.

We're trailing a new evening workshop mainly because the farm looks so beautiful in that glowing twilight, it's breathtaking.  Add to that a market garden overflowing with produce and it really is a going to be a delicious evening.  
Here's a brief rundown of we'll be doing:

We’ll start with a garden tour and pick the best of the summer produce then return to the kitchen to chop, slice, pickle and preserve the harvest. We’ll cover sterilising, storing and pickling techniques and you’ll take home a couple of jars to enjoy. The focus will be on vegetables, so think cucumbers, zucchini, beans and greens, and we'll show you some great ways to flavour your pickles and use up your excess produce.  The class will finish off with a glass of wine (or two) and dinner at the farmhouse table. 
If the weather is nice we'll eat outdoors in the warm summer air. 

I can't wait and I hope you can make it! 

The date is February 15 from 5pm - 9pm, click here to book 

How to make raspberry jam

The first step to making raspberry jam is to pick your raspberries on a hot sunny day, when they are perfectly dry and at their most fragrant. Then you must take them home straight away and make the jam immediately, while they are still warm from the sun.

So reckons Hugh Fearnly-Whittingtsall, and who am I to disagree? It's just that it's an instruction impossibly out of reach of most. Who has a large berry patch within close distance to their kitchen, and really, how much difference can it really make?

Well, let me tell you, I found out it's entirely true.  To make truly great raspberry jam, that really is the first step. Find raspberries that have never been refrigerated.

My favourite school holiday activity, in-between a very busy work schedule, is to get the children out picking fruit so I can preserve it in a few spare moments of a busy summer.  It's been a dismal season for a lot of growers of soft fruit around here, not a lot of sunshine and plenty of rain. Cherries have spilt, peaches have rotted and raspberries gone mouldy on the canes. Not great for farmers, but great for jam makers who have the time to turn this less than perfect fruit to jam straightaway, (as it won't keep a minute so you really have to attend to it straight away).  I see a bit of jam making in my future!

This season saw a mad rush to the local raspberry farm, where we picked up the berries off the ground, that had been just shaken off the canes as there was no time to pick them for market before the rains came. (Left on the canes they'd go mouldy and spoil the remaining crop.) We only picked for 30 minutes and came home with a bounty of fragrant raspberries and the jam pan was filled and on the stove immediately.

Looking for some jammy inspiration, HFW aside,  I thumbed through my collection of jam books, and stumbled across an "uncooked" raspberry jam" in a couple, namely Darina Allen's book, and Constance Spry's Cookery Book.  Raspberries and sugar cooked in the oven.  Excellent! I often make strawberry jam and apricot jam this way so I knew it would work, but it also meant that I could do a batch on the stove and a batch in the oven at the same time and quickly get through the kilos of raspberries. (I reckon cooking in small batches is best for jam, not one whopping big pot boiling away for hours)

My raspberry jam is runny, as I'd prefer to cook it for less and use less sugar to keep that wonderful tart fruity flavour prominent, rather than make a too-sweet, stiff jam with the life cooked out of it. So if you don't mind that, the oven jam is delicious and worked a treat. One spoonful and I was instantly transported back to the berry patch on a hot summer's day. And to me that's what a good jam should do, capture that glorious fruity essence in a jar.  Seems Hugh was right.

Here are the instructions I used, not really a recipe as such.  And if you ever do get the chance to pick raspberries in the midday sun, listen to Hugh and make them into jam straight away.

Uncooked raspberry jam

You'll need equal quantities of raspberries and sugar.  Tip the lot into a baking tray, stir, then bung in a 180C for 20 minutes. You don't want the jam to boil.  Carefully remove from oven and stir until the sugar dissolves (this took about 10 minutes).   Pour into sterile jars and seal.

Constance Spry puts her sealed jars in a cool oven (90C) for one hour, which isn't a bad idea as an extra sterilisation measure. Although I didn't as Darina says you can keep this jam in the pantry for a year, which is rather unheard of in our house, that is raspberry jam lasting for a year.

As a reward for our hard work. We made waffles and smothered them in warm raspberry jam.

A midsummer's picnic

A drizzly grey evening was not what I had in mind when planning a midsummer picnic. In my mind, we were going to be sitting on picnic blankets, basking in the warm sunlight and watching the sun set over golden meadows, dotted with great bales of freshly cut hay.

Instead, we rugged up with coats and scarves, wellies and beanies, and headed to the field anyway, determined to enjoy the longest day whatever weather this crazy Tasmanian summer threw our way.

There's something magical about midsummer, the solstice, a day for being outside and marking the turning point when the days start to get ever so shorter again (already?!).

A day worth marking in my books.

We sat in the drizzle, hoping it would pass, and supped on a summertime feast of hot-smoked salmon, watercress and dill, soft boiled eggs and loads of radishes.  For sweets there were the most fragrant of strawberries, chocolate coins and a bottle of prosecco to mark the occasion.

The children weren't bothered at all by the weather, and, looking like they'd just stepped out of a Boden catalogue, ran through the meadows playing hide and seek in the long grass, and rode their bikes speedily down the long steep hills.

We made our way home in the gloaming, and honestly walked through the door as it just got dark at 10pm.

Of course, today is the perfect weather for a midsummer picnic, so we'll probably head out and do it all again. As they say, you've got to make hay while the sunshines.