Stihl Crazy After all These Years

As we have been whittling our way through this epic journey of felling, cutting, splitting and stacking all the wood from the 5 huge, dead, eucalyptus trees in and around our 7 acres. We experience a curious sense of exhausted comfort in working our way through the last tree. Tomorrow should see the end of it.

We couldn’t have done this so quickly without the help of friends and students to do some of the carrying and stacking. We worked quite hard today in the light showery sprinkles of rain to get half-way through the last tree. It’s hard to say exactly how much wood we have processed and stacked to season in the last 3 weeks of part-time labour, but I imagine that it must be somewhere approaching 20 tonnes. I’ve gone through almost 8 litres of bar and chain oil and the same of two-stroke mix in maintaining the saws. Chain saws are such a great invention. They make so much work possible. I couldn’t have done all this without them.

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Of course we were aided at every moment by the chickens. They know the sound of the chain saw and the splitter, and as they are free ranging all day, every day. They know where we are and what we are doing from the sounds that we make. It only takes minutes for them to turn up. Freshly split wood means fresh bugs and termites.

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After all this work, we reward our selves with a high carb, but low GI meal of solid wholemeal pasta topped with a home-made tomato passata sauce and a side dish of lightly steamed broccoli from the garden. All this without the addition of oil, salt or sugar. Not to mention, there are no preservatives, pesticides, or fertilisers used along the way. This is wholesome, fresh, homemade, nutritious food. Simple and plain, but not boring. A green garnish of fresh-picked basil and parsley completes the meal.

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Our little small holding here produces fuel for our stove and kilns, but also fuel for our bodies. Real work with a defined and obvious purpose, that leads to a positive and creative outcome along with home-grown and home made whole foods, these are all part of a well-considered complete life. I’m not sure if all this is working, but we are certainly having a good go at it.

Autumn has finally arrived

The weather is finally taking the calendar seriously. We have had our first seriously cold evening of the year. We even lit the fire, and although it was nice, it wasn’t really necessary and we hardly stoked it as we weren’t that cold, but it was a nice thing to do, quite comforting. It seems that summer has lasted 7 months now. I’m sort of pleased that we can now have some cooler weather.

I have been finishing off half a dozen little wood fired kilns, but have been held up waiting for some parts. So in the mean time, we have continued our wood cutting epic effort. We have almost finished cutting up, removing and stacking all the timber from the dead trees that we had taken down by the arborist. It’s been a mammoth job and will provide us with wood fuel for some years to come.

Having burnt off so much energy during the day, we feel that we can afford the calories and have pizza for dinner. I make up some rye flour dough during the afternoon and it is risen and proved by evening. I roll you a couple of thin bases and we use what we have in the fridge as toppings.

   

I start with a very basic wash of tomato passata sauce and then a sprinkling of finely chopped garlic. We build up the pizza with a few olives, capers and sliced artichoke hearts, topped with some cheese.

10 mins in a very hot oven does the trick.

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We make another one with sour cream, smoked salmon and red onion.

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We have a couple of slices from each one and put the rest in the fridge for lunch tomorrow. Home-made comfort junk-food is very nice once in a while.

Citrus Season Starts

We have the first of the citrus coming on now. Lemons, limes and lemonades. The trees are so loaded that a few of the breaches have snapped under the weight. Janine has made the first batch of lemon and lime marmalade. I use the spent skins of some of the excess to give my copper pans a good clean. After washing up, I give them a quick wipe over with the lemon skin and a dash of salt.

It brings them back to a shiny new look in seconds.

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Wood Cutting Working Bee

We have recently had 3 big dead eucalypt trees removed by our local arborist. One was struck by lightning, and the other two were killed by mistletoe. We paid the minimum, to just have them dropped to the ground. We took it on our selves to cut them up and remove all the blocks to storage and seasoning.

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We spent several days cutting up al the logs into small sizes, such that we could manage to move them. Janine and I spent a week whittling away at the big number one log and   finished the first tree by ourselves, but then had the wonderful assistance of some friends and pottery students for a day.

We have been so lucky to have these people volunteer their help for a day and come along to give us a hand in shifting all the logs that Janine and I had spent the week cutting up. It’s a huge task to lift and load several tonnes of wood and then shift it and stack it for seasoning.

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This is all very vigorous work and we sweat copiously in the heat. The larger, straight pieces were all cut to kiln size ‘hob’ length, while all the scrappy, small or bent pieces were all cut to 200mm. length for splitting for the house kitchen stove. The main central log was over 600mm dia. So it was too big to manage at ‘hob’ length of 700 mm. So I cut it to 200mm. just so that we would be able to manage the lifting and stacking. I rigged up a couple of planks , so that we could roll the bigger lumps up onto the truck to be carted to the wood shed and splitter.

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This should keep us going for a few years in the kitchen stove.

All the smaller dia. logs were cut to ‘kiln hob length’ of 650 to 700mm to suit the fire-box of the kiln, and then stacked for seasoning. A year or two should do it.IMG_0752

There is about 7 or 8 tonnes in this load of 19 stacks about 1200mm high.

 

Mid Autumn and the Chilis are Ripe

Up until last week we seemed to be in a perpetual summer. The temperatures were holding up in the mid 30’s and everything is so, so, dry. We haven’t had any meaningful rain storms since the March before last, that’s 13 months ago. so now we are using our drinking water from our rain water tanks to water the garden.

This extended ‘Indian summer’ has brought on the chilli crops. We now have many more chilis than we can eat, so we are starting to give them away to neighbours and friends,  and hang them up to dry for use later in the year.

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One row of plants is quite enough for us. They seem to bear quite heavily, all culminating now in autumn. We’ve been picking them steadily all summer, from when they were quite green and only just big enough. Now they are fully ripe and have developed their full heat. We have grown 3 varieties this year.

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Small smooth round Thai chilli, crinkly hot cayenne, and mildly heated paprika  capsicums.

The First of This Years Little Wood Fired Kilns Goes Out the door

I have been busy working away at the first batch of little portable wood fired kiln for this year. I had too many to fit in the workshop in one go, so divided them into 2 batches. The first batch of 6 is almost finished. I had to finish one in a hurry to catch the boat to Tasmania last week.

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The rest of the little ‘Daleks’ are calling out “incinerate, incinerate!” But they are toothless, as I haven’t welded the stainless steel fire-box grates or made the burners as yet, so we are all still safe. They still need another weeks work on them to fit out all the additional features, but he main body of each of them is complete.

IMG_0721If you are one of the dozen people who contacted me and asked to be on my build list for this year. This is where I am up to. I will be contacting the first 6 customers who have paid their deposits in the next week or so.

Mustard Pickles

Mustard Pickles are an odd thing. You need cucumbers from the heat of summer, and cauliflowers from the dead of winter to be flowering and bearing at the same time. I have no idea how this might have originated in history. I can only imagine that it is a modern invention. Sometime since global transport was invented, so that food stuffs could be hauled from warm to cold climates and vice versa.

I can’t make this kind of pickle to the traditional recipe. I choose to only make from what I can grow, so this is the time that we have our first early cauliflowers coming on. We have had our first plantings of cauliflower roasted, stir-fried, steamed, gratin’d, and as cauliflower soup, but still they come. So it’s time to pickle the last of the first plantings. When I think of cauliflower, I think of that thick, yellow, acidic/astringent/sweet/salty mustard pickle.

Cucumbers are listed as an essential engredient, But the cucumbers have all shrivelled and died in the hot and dry summer, weeks ago. So I do what I always do on these occations and I do what I can, with what I have. I have the last of the zucchinis, yellow, green and black. They will replace the cucumbers. I have capsicums, long and bell, both green and red, some sweet and some hot peppers, yellow, lime-green and red. Chilli  and onions, the last of the tomatoes, round red, pear shaped yellow and not quite ripe green. Plus some small carrots and a small celery plant. The last few items are not usually included in mustard pickles, but this is what I have. So this is what I will use. I decide to leave out the beetroots. I have lots of them, but I want the pickle to turn out yellow-ish, not red! This is not the usual blend, but its my own home grown autumnal blend. Zucchinis will work fine instead of the cucumbers.

Pickling has been used since the most ancient of times to preserve food from the summer harvest bounty, well into the winter and salting was always the preferred mode. If you add 2.5 % of the weight of the veggies as salt and massage it through the mix, the vegetables will sweat out their juices and then pickle themselves in their own brine over night, while at the same time setting up a natural ferment of lactic acid that consumes the sugars and stops any bacteria from growing in the acidic, low pH environment over the next few days.

Modern mustard pickles however, use a mix of salt, sugar and vinegar to preserve the vegetable mix. I wash and then chop up all the vegetables into small bite sized chunks, place them all in a 5 litre pot and add a good handful of salt. The mix is left to sweat out its juices overnight.

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After sitting in its own brine over-night, I pour off all the salty liquor and rinse a couple of times. When rinsing, I fill the pan with water, just to cover the vegetables, I pour off the water into a measuring jug and measure the amount water needed to fill the gaps between the veggies. This tells me that the 3 litres of chopped vegetables in the pan leaves 1.12 litres of gaps that need to be filled with the pickling liquid. So that is how i know how much pickling mix to make, as I’m not using a recipe with exact volumes of vegetables. I’m just making something by the seat of my pants and improvising. It doesn’t matter, it always tastes good, and I don’t want to make up too much or too little to cover the vegetables. Having rinsed all the salt off the vegetables,

I prepare a pickling mix of ;

1/2 cup of flour

2 teaspoons of mustard powder

1 table-spoon of Tumeric

2 teaspoons of black mustard seeds

2 teaspoons of white mustard seeds

1 teaspoon of curry powder

1/2 teaspoon of home-made dried cayenne pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon of home-grown and dried hot chilli granules/flakes.

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I add Just enough cider vinegar to make a thin paste, that when heated, thickens, while being constantly stirred. Add a spoonful of salt and another of sugar to taste. This is then poured over the vegetables and the whole lot brought to the boil and simmered for just a few minutes to complete the thickening of the sauce and vegetable mix.

Pre-heat glass jars in the oven and simmer the lids. Spoon the thickened mix into the hot jars and seal with sterilised lids while still hot. Perfect! Don’t worry if the liquid seems a little bit thin. It will thicken when it cools.

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Serve as a condiment with a well aged cheddar style cheese or with cold meats. My own particular favourite cheese is 32 months aged, ‘Epicure’ Cheddar style cheese from New Zealand. Bitey and flavour-some. An excellent combination!

Sterilised in this way, these pickles will last all year, till the next cauliflower glut. If you don’t eat them all first!