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We bought a farm



I often wonder how to tell people stuff about your life and dreams. How much of your life you should share. And most importantly, when to share.  Do you tell people from the start of your dream, and take them on a journey through the trials and struggles, and then, when you reach your goal you can all celebrate in the triumph.

Or do you get stuck in behind the scenes, keep the challenges to yourself until the big reveal..." Ta - Da here's this thing we did! Twas nothing!"

That's how I feel about telling people we bought farm. It's not actually a farm yet truth be told, but a 35 acre parcel of land, with paddocks, a woodland and a river bank. It has magnificent views of the glorious Huon Valley to the east and of the wild snowy mountains to the west.

There's some ramshackle fences, a few flogged paddocks and a pile of stones, and best of all there's a forest that runs along the banks of the Huon River, filled with tall eucalyptus, devils dens and wombat burrows. Plus then theres a sandy riverbank, where you can swim and kayak and fish. It's dreamy and it's ours, and we fancy calling ourselves farmers one day.

For many years, we had a dream to buy an old farmhouse on lots of land, do it up, start a family business and create a place where people could come and learn, connect and unwind. But despite our earnest looking, for years, nothing seemed right, or we couldn't afford it, or someone else bought it before we did.

Then as things often happen, this parcel of land appeared, the land was perfect, the zoning and facilities or lack there of, not so perfect. It wasn't what were looking for, the lawyers said don't buy it, the conveyancer told us we were mad, but we bought it anyway.  A whopping big parcel of land in the Huon Valley without any infrastructure, tricky zoning,  but hey, it has a river bank and forest!

That's what's been keeping us busy these last 18 months, planning a farm.  We've been in lots of meetings; meetings with council, with architects, grazing consultants, weed management consultants, town planners, bushfire risk planners, markets gardeners, landscapers and Resource Management bureaucrats.

We've also done workshops on fencing, farm planning, weed management, wildlife monitoring, stock grazing and irrigation.  We've dived head first into learning about regenerative farming through soil health and pasture regeneration. Studied cattle grazing, sheep grazing, cell grazing, egg production, and pig rearing.  We've applied for funding for weed management, tree replanting and scholarships for farm mentoring. We've crunched numbers, created dozens of spreadsheets with different scenarios, explored many business models. It's been a huge learning curve, and an expensive one.

And I can't help feel frustrated at how slow the process is. How expensive the process is, even through we haven't built a fence, bought a chicken or even begun to build a foundation. It's still a long journey ahead despite how much work we've done so far.

But what we have done is dreamed.

We've sat in the paddocks and listened to the wind rustle through the long grass and imagined where our house would sit, we've mapped out where the new fencing be installed, hammered in stakes where the orchard will go, the vegetable garden will be sowed, the wind break native trees, grasses and shrubs will be planted. We've swum in the river, kayaked along the rapids, picnicked on the river banks.   We've camped in the paddocks, cooked dinner on the fire, looked up at the big sky, taken big breaths and dreamed.

A few weeks ago we submitted a huge whopping proposal to council, putting all our knowledge that we'd learnt during the past 18 months, into a business plan that we hope ticks every box, so that we can get the go ahead to proceed with our dream.  To create a farm, a Good And Proper Farm.

I feel now is the time to tell you, and if you like, you can come along for the journey. The exhilarating, funny, frustrating, scary and expensive journey of starting a farm.

I mean, how hard can it be?

Meet The Hungry Chook

Hello! 

There's a lovely sense of quiet serenity here now that the kids are back at school. The only sound being the dog snoring as he dozes at my feet.   Now, cup of tea by my side, I can finally catch up on all my work emails and get some planning for the year done; workshops, photoshoots, farming, hosting a German exchange student, turning 50. 

2018 is going to be a big one.

Between preserving, school runs and settling in my temporary German son, I've also been doing lots of recipe testing, ordering produce and working hard in the garden to make sure things are looking as spick as span (well as I can get them) for our workshop in March. I'm so thrilled that our preserving workshop has sold out and there's just two spots left for the Italian inspired cooking class and lunch. Whoop! 

So in the meantime, I thought you might like to get to know Vanessa @thehungrychook Miles who is hosting the workshop with me. I'm so thrilled that she is coming to share her knowledge and skills with us in our little corner of the world.  I'm also delighted that Vanessa has persuaded Flore Vallery-Radot to join us. Flore known as @thefloshow is an accomplished cook and photographer amongst many other skills, and she'll be joining us to film the two workshops. Flore also took this gorgeous image of Vanessa. 




Read on for a little background on who is Vanessa, The Hungry Chook....

Have you always enjoyed cooking and eating?

Yes! My father is a wonderful cook and we always ate well when I was growing up. I have fond memories of making fresh pasta (and the fun of hanging it over broomsticks balanced over the backs of chairs), when I was very small. I also remember mornings staying at my grandparents’ house when my grandfather would wake up with the sparrows and go out in his boat. Hours later, he would return smelling of the sea as he cleaned garfish on the back porch, which my nanna would then cook us for lunch.

Why is growing your own food and keeping chickens important to you? 

Growing up, there was an enormous apricot tree near the worm farm in my grandparents’ backyard. My sister and I waited all year for late-summer when my grandfather would climb up an old, wooden ladder and pass us apricots which we would eat, still-warm from the sun. I can still taste the tiny beans my nanna would let us pick and eat raw from the bushes she grew in rows -- these are taste-memories that wouldn’t be possible had the apricots or beans come from the nearest supermarket chain. Today, we have only a small backyard, but growing what we can and keeping chickens is a privilege that reminds us to eat seasonally, reduce waste as much as possible, and to eat less meat (and meat that is ethically sourced).

What do you enjoy about teaching? 

Cooking for others is about nurturing and nourishing the people I love, it’s something I do to relax and I’m very passionate about it. Teaching is an extension of this – an opportunity to share not only recipes and helpful hints, but also stories from my travels in a relaxed and fun setting.


You spend a lot of time in Rome, what do love about it? 

For me, Rome is not just Italy’s capital, and the most populated comune in the geographical centre of that boot-shaped country: it is the place where for centuries food has been the centre of social life.
I have been lucky enough to visit Rome four times over the past five years and slowly, as I have discovered the best places to eat ‘carciofi’, to buy Pecorino Romano, and to navigate its streets without a map; I have fallen in love with it more and more. Nowhere is the concept of eating seasonally more tangible.

Thank you Vanessa, it's been lovely to chat! 


The ten most amazing things I ate last year



This time of year sees social media feeds and blog posts full of new year's resolutions.  All offering promises of a New Year and a New You. A trick for young players, I have never thought that much of the idea, mostly because I'm hopeless at sticking at anything that's good for me, (and let's face it does anyone make a NY resolution to eat more chocolate, spend more money and do less exercise?). Instead, what I am doing this January is focusing on good intentions.

One of those intentions is to write here more often and I'm setting myself a target of 50 blog posts for the year.  That's do-able right?  But starting is often the hardest, and finding something to write about even harder.  I figured to get myself into the swing of it, I'd start with a topic I'm always happy to write about; food, because I always have something to say on the matter.  

So, let's begin shall we, with typical January story, a review of last year in the form of The Ten Most Amazing Things I Ate Last Year. *flexes fingers over keyboard and rolls up sleeves*................

Well, actually I thought that would be easy but as I scrolled though my many phone photos I realised that it's rather ambitions to narrow this list down to just ten things.  Given that I did travel to Italy and the UK, mostly to eat, last year was certainly filled with more than its fair share o' deliciousness. However, rules are rules, and it's a little early to breaking those intentions so early in the year.  So I've whittled those tasty moments to ten things in no particular order:

1. Franca's Swedish Buns 
I ate these a lot actually, Franca is a pastry chef who moved to Tasmania and I feel particularly lucky that she chose to live so close by and that she opens a pop up bun shop on Tuesday. Franca's kanelbullar are fragrant with spice, not too sweet, soft but with a crunch from the sugar pearls.  I wish I had one now. How long til Tuesday?

2. Hot Salt Beef and Mustard Bagel at Beigel Bake
When a friend told me about these legendary bagels, I had to race home and try and make a batch of bagels, corned beef and pickles to try this irresistible sounding combo for myself.  As good as it was, my bagel skills need some work, so top of my must do list was a pilgrimage to London's Brick Lane to eat the original. I'd been schooled on how to order like a local in this tiny, but busy bakery, with queues out the door, and warned not stop to peruse the menu or you'll feel the wrath of busy Londoners behind you. I moved to the front of the line and said "Salt Beef please" and that warm little bundle snug in its paper bag was handed over and promptly eaten standing up on street outside.



3. Brown sugar meringue with kefir cream and preserved blueberries at The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery.  
The combination of crispy caramel meringue, thick tangy kefir cream and preserved blueberries with their irrisistable texture stopped me in my tracks. So much so that I've bottled my own blueberries so I can recreate this one for later.

4. Fresh sheep milk curds and whey sprinkled with raw sugar.
I ate this on a cool summer morning,  in a bright white cheesery in Sicily that smelt of warm milk on a plastic plate with a plastic spoon. Made by a deeply tanned shepherd dressed in white called Fillipo. I'll never forget it. Even without a photo.



5. Caci e Pepe;
On a photoshoot in Devonport, Ben Milbourne made this classic Roman pasta dish that traditionally has only three ingredients; pepper, cheese and pasta.  I've tried so many times to make it since and never managed to get that creamy cheesey peppery  dish right. More a hard cheesy ball with water and pasta. Sigh we'll alway have this photo.




6. Brown Shrimp and Sea Kale, River Cottage
On a seaside foraging class with the delightful John Wright, we went shrimping for, er shrimp and picked sea kale on the shores of a Devon beach, then rushed back to River Cottage HQ where they were sautéed in oil and garlic before being shared at the large table.  It's such a treat to eat things you've read about for years, and then find them just as delicious as you imagined.



7. Cake feast at Flour and Stone Woolloomooloo
With my dear friend Jane Grover, we ate carrot cake and fine apple tart, date scones and canelle. All squished onto a tiny table with pots of fragrant tea.  The Canelle! The Fine Apple Tart! The Carrot Cake! Sadly the baker wasn't there, but she made sure we ate well and not just one thing but many, a cake smorgasbord I'll always cherish.



8. Laver Pancakes
Laver is a traditional Welsh dish of boiled seaweed. I had read many stories of this this traditional Welsh food, most of it disparaging. But in the hands of Jessica Seaton, co-founder of Toast, the laver was mixed with softly fried shallots and bacon, tossed with oats, gently fried, then topped with a poached egg and asparagus. Think the umami taste of seaweed, with the comforting flavours of bacon and oats. I can think of no finer dish.

9. La Tabacchiera Peach
I spent a week at a cooking school in Sicily last year, and I had so many delicious dishes during my stay, but I though it best to limit one thing I ate there for this list.  That would have to be a little flat peach, that I plucked from a tree on an early morning work through the garden.  Sweet, juicy and fragrant, a perfect summer moment. Forbidden Fruit? Perhaps, and it certainly was heaven.



10. It doesn't look like much, this salad of gem lettuce, shallots, capers, croutons and snails, partly because I let it sit while I ate the other salad I ordered (rookie mistake) but oh my, it was so fresh, tangy, crunchy and crispy and it was in London and it was at St John Bread & Wine, where even snails and wilted lettuce taste amazing.

What amazing thing did you eat last year?  

Late Summer in the Huon Valley





Where does the time go?  Although it's been quiet in this space, away from here it has been a year filled with parenting, work, gardening, and of course, eating.   Amongst all that I find it hard to find the time to write here.  However, there are exciting new things happening in our world, and I shall tell you about them as soon, and hope to have some space to write here more often. 

In the meantime, I am very excited to let you know about two workshops I'm running here at my home in the Huon Valley.  Next March, the delightful Vanessa “The Hungry Chook” Miles, will join me to teach two very special Tasmanian workshops sharing, learning, cooking and eating.

Middle March is the best time of year in Tasmania, the weather’s warm, harvest is at its peak, and it’s the perfect time to be outside cooking and eating.

We’ve put together two workshops over one weekend to make the most of this special time of year. 
On Saturday it will be a seasonal long table lunch in the garden, inspired by our Italian travels. And on Sunday we’ll haul out the preserving pans for a day of bottling and jam making.  Most of the ingredients will be sourced from the garden, or friends’ farms in the Huon Valley, such as beautiful free-range eggs, Bruny Island Cheese and Little Grove Olive Oil, and if not from the valley then from the Island where possible. 


LATE SUMMER GARDEN LUNCH  (Italian Inspired)

Saturday 17 March 10am - 3:30pm - $275

A day of harvesting cooking and eating at my farmhouse cottage in the beautiful Huon Valley. The day will start with coffee and cake before a stroll through the kitchen garden where we’ll harvest produce for the day such as tomatoes, potatoes, herbs, zucchini, scarlet runner beans, and fragrant basil. 

Then we’ll return to the kitchen to create a menu inspired by our time in Italy.  We’ll make Vanessa’s amazing silky pasta, a creamy ricotta using local milk, an Italian inspired fish and vegetable dish, and to finish, peaches with amaretti roasted in the wood fire oven.  

We’ll be cooking both in the kitchen and outside in the wood oven ‘al forno’!  

The day will end outside in the garden with a long table lunch that you helped prepare.


The class includes recipes, morning tea and a three course lunch with wine. Both workshops will be limited to an intimate group of eight guests.



PRESERVING THE LATE SUMMER HARVEST

Sunday 18 March 10am – 3:30pm - $275

March is peak preserving season in Tasmania, so we’re sharing a few of our favourite recipes for preserving the late summer bounty. In this full-day workshop we will introduce you to the fundamental techniques and skills of home preserving, including selecting fruit, sugar, pectin, acid and the equipment you need to pot up and seal those fruity preserves. We’ll use Huon Valley grown fruit to prepare and make our own jam, and forage for some flavourings growing wild in the garden - think apple mint, rose geranium and lemon thyme. You’ll learn the secret of a delicious, long keeping tomato sauce ‘salsa pronta’, for your pasta and we’ll bottle late summer peaches from a nearby orchard using the Fowlers Vacola method. We’ll also do a special cordial syrup for winter.
After all that hard work we’ll enjoy a light lunch in the garden, before finishing off the bottling so you can go home with a few treats for your autumn pantry.
The class includes recipes, morning tea, a light lunch and preserves to take home.








The fine print
Due to logistics we are unable to issue refunds, however we are happy for you to send someone in your place. Please advise us of any dietary requirements at time of booking. Menu may vary due to the nature of seasonal produce.