Baked not burnt!

Oven victory! Woo hoo! The anti-Nigella (that would be me) has successfully baked bread! Only minimal swearing was required, and rather than being scarred by the experience, I am actually inspired!

Aren’t gardeners meant to be good at cooking their produce? I was vegetarian for nine years, and though I’m not at all queasy when it comes to slaughtering our chickens, I am not confident when cooking them. In the kitchen I am known for my incredible slowness and ability to burn everything, including myself.

yellow mini tomato

Stay on the vine, you will be safer there!

Rice is my favourite thing to ruin – burnt-bottomed glug in the pot! Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? I had a stovetop triumph about two months ago – cooking perfect rice for the first time ever. A bittersweet victory given that, having been a poor uni student for many years previous, I’ve been cooking rice – badly – for a long time. I was so pleased when I tasted the rice and the grains were just right, I did a victory jig, complete with self-cheering sound effects. I reckon you’ve got to give yourself a cheer every now and then – no one else will!

Needless to say, I’m not a natural in the kitchen, more like an indentured labourer. There’s a few things that I like to bake, like cookies and muffins. Technically, I only “like” to bake them because I like to eat them at the end – the only enjoyable parts of the process are the taste tests and the escalating profanities. At tea time, I’m pretty good at bunging something together Macgyver-style when the cupboard appears bare… But if I only need to cook for myself, when my partner is away working up north, I’ll quite happily plonk myself down on the couch to watch Masterchef, and eat milo cereal for dinner. What kind of aspiring farmer does that make me? I am proud of the things I grow, but shouldn’t the mere sight of over-ripe tomatoes on the vine inspire me to get cooking and canning?

Bread making seems like such a fundamental basic skill to have – I love the idea of making my own and eating it hot. It’s a way of living more independently – making my own if I run out of store-bought bread, and being able to leave out the preservatives and chemical additives. But the kitchen can be a daunting place for someone slow and uncoordinated. Along with the burning, I’m also quite good at cutting myself, grating myself, and slamming parts of myself in drawers.

One part of cooking that is satisfying is the swearing. For me, cooking always involves swearing, out of pure necessity. I have Scottish ancestry, so cursing furiously as I bash ingredients together hopefully counts as “cooking with love”. The amount you care about someone is reflected by how angry you get at them!

Anyway, I would much rather be outside shoveling manure than stuck in the kitchen. I actually enjoy making up the horses’ dinners – sweet smelling chaff, pellets and bran and mineral supplements, just add water and mix. Lovely.

the boys eating breakfast

They always appreciate my culinary efforts

Of course I love eating good food, but I’m certainly not a foodie. Anyway, if “foodie” isn’t a derogatory term by now, it should be!

So I’m not keen on food snobbery, but I do enjoying growing things you can eat, and I would dearly love to gain some more cookery skills. I envy my partner’s kitchen confidence – he’s the Masterchef around here. Ben has been encouraging me to try making bread for almost as long as we have been living together, and prior to last night, I had done it just the once.

I braved the scary yeast voodoo about a year ago, facing it with full faith in Ben’s instructions but little in myself. I can make muffins, but bread is a bit different. Kneading is required – eek! I was petrified I would end up with a rubbery loaf. In the end, the bread I made was really good, dense yet fluffy, but it took hours. Hours of hovering anxiously, waiting for the bread to burn or morph into a granite boulder while my back was turned. Daunting. Scary. Not even the smell of fresh hot bread has been enough to tempt a second try from me.

the bounty!

Soup and stock made from our own home-grown home-butchered chicken, cooked and canned by Ben.
All the homesteader cred duly goes to him!

UNTIL… I discovered a recipe for “beer quickbreads” in one of my mum’s old cookbooks. BEER BREAD! Given my love of beer, I was instantly intrigued. At first I was skeptical. Bread? Quick? Whenever speed and ease are used as selling points, it is usually anything but. But it actually sounded super easy! And it turned out to actually be super easy!

The recipe only called for half a cup of beer, so naturally I had to drink the rest of the bottle (and then some). A recipe that invites you to enjoy a nice cold brew while you cook?! It was like the cookbook knew exactly what I needed to get me through a bout of cooking. I used our current favourite, James Squire One Fifty Lashes (pale ale). To my amazement and thrill, my four little bun-loaf-things did not turn out like little granite lumps! They were perfect and soft on the inside, with a crunchy crust. I had been so anxious about kneading the dough into rubber, I had hardly handled it at all. The worry paid off, for once, and I feel encouraged to make more! A good way to use up some of the James Squire Nine Tales (amber ale) we have sitting in the pantry (previous fleeting favourite – we’re over it now, it’s too heavy for summer anyway). Maybe it will be awesome in bread?

Bread success!

The edible results!

Here are the tasty results! We had lovely warm buttered bread for tea, with herby vintage cheddar and homegrown grape tomatoes. I had mine with pesto and fresh basil as well. As much as I can’t stand the pretentious “Ner ner look what I’m eating!” shot, I’m so stoked with my prowess I can’t help myself. This sort of kitchen success just does not happen for me.

Since my first bready foray, I have also baked savoury roll-ups, with herbs, spring onion and cheese filling – the cookbook calls them crescent scones, which sounds a lot more fancy. They were all different shapes and sizes, but they still tasted good. Me and mum enjoyed them for morning tea the other day – they didn’t last long!

morning tea

Okay, so I might be using self-raising flour rather than making dough from scratch with yeast, but if it gets a culinary hazard like me confident enough to try baking, it’s well worth the short cut.

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Enjoying the little things

glove

This morning I had a little walk around the garden before starting on all my jobs. Sometimes I get so caught up in all the things I want to do and build and grow, that I forget to notice the lovely little things where I am so lucky to live.

clothes horse tomato trellis

Our old wooden clothes horse has been in my family as long as I have! My mum’s “family heirlooms” are always practical and so when it finally broke beyond repair, Ben suggested it could have another job; outside, trellising the tomatoes. It’s funny because he always hated it as a clothes horse and I had assumed he would jump at the chance to ditch it for good. It may not be the world’s best tomato trellis, but it’s better than nothing, and we are lazy gardeners so it suits us fine! I think it looks quite at home amongst all the greenery.

corn town

Here we are in corn town with our gigantic basil and lemongrass monsters. During summer it is so nice to have these big green buttresses close to the house. It makes it seem slightly less like a huge earth oven. When the corn is big it will be even better!

baby corn sproutings

Baby corn sproutings from homegrown seed!

At our last house, there was a fountain and pond in the small courtyard and so we cleaned it all out, Ben fixed the pump and we got fish! Quite a lot of little fish. I would spend hours sitting pond-side beneath the dense canopy, procrastinating from study, watching them. They would come to the surface and watch me too. Actually, they probably just wanted to be fed treats. They came with us when we moved out here and though sadly not all of them survived (we moved on the hottest, longest December weekend possible), we soon had three fish tanks inside full of fishlings. We had one big tank in our bedroom which I could watch for hours.

But keeping fish indoors is a lot more work than keeping them outside in a pond, and after a year or two, I got pretty sick of the pump noise, the delightful waft of fishy water, and the constant cleaning (which I usually left for Ben to do, how nasty). So we converted a half wine barrel into a little pond by stapling a plastic liner to the top inside edge, which we covered by U-nailing down lengths of split black retic pipe over the top edge, and moved the fishlings outside. Its not fancy, but it works and it didn’t cost us anything! Three fishes have survived the transition outdoors – one paradise fish is an original from our rental in East Fremantle! What a trooper.

fish pond and herb bed

I think they are much happier to have their fish privacy, little dark places to hide under rocks and plants, rather than living behind glass to be gawked at by silly humans. I mean, I still gawk at them, but they have the option to flee if they want! Their little home is wedged in the corner of the herb bed, so there are lots of unsuspecting insect victims that come to visit the fish. Hehe. And we like to find grubs and worms for them, as a treat. Spoilt fish!

blue wren visitor

The blue wrens have been coming to visit a lot lately. A brightly coloured boy was pecking around near the back door this morning, but he was too quick for me to picture him. This little bird in the pic only has a blue tail (the colouring of either a girl or adolescent male), and was quite friendly, with lots of happy-sounding twitter as she bounced around our capsicum plants. They like to do a group pass along the back verandah and chomp down all the spiders and bugs that accumulate due to the aforementioned laziness. We leave the webs as we’re always keen to recruit spiders to fight the bloody flies for us! If only we could find something willing to take on the wasps and save us the chore…

where's the fence

There’s a hint of fence to be seen here, but not much. A self-seeded rogue pumpkin has completely swamped the straggly bougainvillea. We have another bogan (not that kind!) which we’re training to screen our bathroom window, doing much better than this poor little guy. It’s no worries though, he was a freebie. I plonked him there, hoping his thorns might deter the kangaroos from knocking down the fence rails. All it has done is alter their course! Cheeky buggers.

pumpkin lawn

Still more pumpkin tentacles are helping to shield the growing lawn from the harsh sun. Our house was built facing the wrong direction, and really the hillside opposite would be far more comfortable in summer. As it is, we get burning sunlight which is truly unbearable from about midday onwards, relentless until about six or seven when it disappears over the hill. It would be the perfect spot if you wanted to build a gigantic oven…

I’m not a fan of summer so its easy for me to forget what’s so good about this place at this time of year. But you can’t have everything! Before it gets too hot, its worth enjoying those small things that make you smile. Even if the jobs have to wait.