Back into it.

I keep meaning to write notes for things that go well or well enough that they bear repeating. I never do, so it’s time to dust off the blog, for me if for no one else, and start keeping a loose (knowing me so loose as to be almost useless) of the things I’ve been playing around with. 


For or some reason I’ve been craving lamingtons lately. And not the store bought dry chunks but the super soft, super moist airy bundles of deliciousness that are homemade ones. I found a great recipe that used something more like an icing than a normal lamington coating, and one that used real chocolate. That meant I could use dark chocolate instead of normal, I will 101 time out of 100. (Just for you Andy). Of course when I went to check the recipe, it’s server was down, so I winged it. I whisked a bit of cocoa and milk together and added some boiling water. that heat was enough to melt 100g of 70% chocolate and I finished it by whisking in some icing sugar. Or at least I tried. The icing sugar was so lumpy I had to throw it in the food processor just to break it down to a smooth consistency. 


I won't bother to link the sponge recipe as I forgot the butter in mine, didn’t seem to matter that much eating them today, the sponge was light and moist. All in all was easier and simpler than I thought, if you are visiting soon you can expect some lamingtons.  


We had a great afternoon and evening at Roz birthday yesterday, other than the local Dominoes failing a tribe of crazy kids and inebriated adults about five times. In the end we gave up and loaded up for the drive home and it turned out one of the twins realllllly wanted pizza. The melt down was something to rival the lava flowing over Hawahi in its intensity and inevitability. It was only stopped by the promise of pizza for dinner the next night and it did allow me to try something out I’d been thinking about.  


I had had some leftover lamb steaks, marinated in yoghurt, honey, turmeric and lemon and I made a pizza dough with yoghurt in it, to try and get more of a naan bread base. I cut the lamb very thin and added some haloumi I had left over. With some minced garlic in the dough and some yoghurt on top it was an excellent experiment. 


Chicken/fish on a bed of potatoes and mushrooms

Back when I was courting my lovely wife (that makes it sound like balls and horse rides in the country. Being the early days of uni and share houses and uni, it wasn't.) I leant heavily on my two my most treasured cook books, The Naked Chef and The naked Chef returns. Ok, they were my only cookbooks, but they were probably the two best cookbooks I could have owned. In fact, if you are a horny 19 year old trying to impress your significant other with the magic of food, the good old Naked Chef is the book for you. 


I can't remember ever stuffing up a recipe from those two books. Considering I'd just started graduating from packet pasta and sauces from a bottle, those books must have been really well written for a rank amateur. The original recipe was for fish and I'd prefer to make it with fish. Something a bit oily with a skin that crisps up is awesome. But I also make this with chicken peices. You need skin on, so either cut up a whole chook or buy some skin on peices. Either way you need enough protein to cover the dish you are using. 

Slice up a heap of potatoes. Again, the amount will depend on A - how much you like potato and B - how much you can get in your roasting pan. Slice them thinly, toss with a little olive oil, some torn rosemary, basil or thyme and some chopped garlic until golden" turning occasionally so the bottom ones get a bit of colour. Then chop up a heap of mushrooms. A heap is a technical term I use a lot that means more than one. I usually use a whole bag. Cook them off in real butter, salt and pepper and once soft add the juice of half a lemon. Keep cooking till the shrooms take that liquid back up. 


Slash your fish or chicken on the skin side a few times and stuff a few more bits of herbs into the cut. Throw the mushrooms in with the potatoes and give them a shake then put in the fish or chicken skin side up. Sprinkle with salt. You want to mostly cover the potatoes and shrooms so that as the juices come out of the meat it doesn't evaporate away. 

Once the skin is nice and crispy (did I mention this won't work without the skin? If you won't eat fish or chook with skin on what is wrong with you? Go and cook something with lots of butter immediately) its ready to eat. The meat will be steamed from underneath and in the bottom of the pan will be a glorious gooey mess of all the combined flavours. A lot like 19 year old me was when I first got to cook this for Vanessa.


Shepard's Pie

I love cooking for people. I love cooking generally and perhaps eating a bit too much, but the real fun is cooking for people. Especially people I hav been cooking for for many years, for those people I'm willing to experiment on, for they know my failures are worth putting up with for the things that I punt on and come off spectacularly. I'm a decent cook, but I can't replicate anything to save my life and measuring is something you do when you build a house. 

Ryan and Sana have been on me to write down some of my regulars, so I've dusted off the blog to jot down one or two. Shepard's Pie is not something I cook very often, probably because I'm a traditionalist and think using lamb mince to make a Shepard's Pie should probably be a criminal offence. At least a fine anyway. Real Shepards Pie is made with the left over roast lamb, diced into decent chunks and has a ton of potato on top. Here's my recipe. I'd take these amounts with a grain of salt. 


Make a batch of Maggie Beer's sour cream pastry for the base.  This is the only recipe you will ever need to make a pie or quiche base. I can do it by eye now I have done it so many times. It is awesome. 

Dice the lamb into chunks roughly and sweat them and a diced onion off in a pan. If you are some sort of animal that gets a lamb roast that is very lean you'll need to add a little oil or butter to sweat the onions. Remove all of that and in the pan make a roux. Add in a dash of whatever wine you are drinking while making this dish (a dash is not like a tablespoon, please remember this when you are pouring me a wine) and then some stock, about a cupful, salt and lots of pepper and mix until you have a thick sauce. A good trick is to use your roast bones to make some stock. For one pie, I'd use about 50g of butter for the roux and go from there. Add a dash of cream to loosen and then add the lamb back in mix it all up and let it cool. 

Bake, blind bake or whatever takes your fancy with the pastry. I vary wildly depending on time and mood. Add your lamb and gravy mix to fill up to below the rim of the pie dish. I always try and get too much filling in and it bubbles up all over the oven. Every time.  

Cover the filling with a thick layer of mashed potato. For those interested I offer a post graduate course on mash at a very fair rate. And I've learnt from some of the masters, let me tell you. A bit of Parmesan in the mash gives nice crispy bits on top. Bake in a moderate oven until it's a bit golden on the top.  

A classic old school dish that deserves every bit of attention you can give it. Drink it with a red with a bit of teeth, which as I buy lots of $7 bottles of wine, is most of my collection. 



Little victories

Two years ago, a bunch of mates, all who are far better runners than I am, decided on a challenge, to run 1000km in a year. For two of them, training for the Gold Coast marathon, it was a bit of doddle, the third scraped it in by December and I ran into a bit of a obstacle. To be fair, premmy twins aren't usually included in the list of running challenges but my little guys, born ten weeks earlier than scheduled certainly changed my plans and perspectives.


Once they were home and safe, I tried to pick it back up, but we then had three boys under three in the house! The Kms per week drifted out to impossible and I missed out on the 1000km club shirt. The following year was probably even more challenging and I got to the end of the year thinking that 2016 might be worth having another crack at the 1000. The end of the year, with its lovely warm beer drinking weather came around and I found the little devil on my shoulder was not even having to work very hard for me to avoid going for a run. I needed something to kickstart me. I needed a challenge. 


The first one was was a self imposed one. Run every day in January and to just to commit myself, start on New Year's Eve. I went for tiny runs. I went for runs in 90% humidity pushing two boys in a pram because that's what I could fit in. We did #sleepinruns with the eldest on the bike, very slowly as he did tricks on the gutters or turned around or stopped to look at the ducks. As the runs started to pop up on Runkeeper, my mates started to chip in with the encouragement. I found out one was going to do the Gold Coast Half this year. Soon the banter started as well and some challenges between us were thrown out.


I love this stuff. I'm far from a good runner, but that just makes winning challenges from skinny little buggers over a minute a km faster than me even more sweet. And that 1000km is so, so so far away, I need some short term things to keep me interested. So here is our list. 3 points for a win, 2 for second and 1 if you complete the challenge. 

Longest run

Fastest run over 5km

Most runs in the year

First name challenge (write your first name with Runkeeper)

Best improvement month to month

Most consecutive runs

Most kms in a month

Most kms in the year

First to 1000kms

Gold Coast Half award

Most elevation in a run

Most elevation in a month (may)

Now, being the turtle in this race, I've got to get out and knock off the low hanging fruit while I can, so I mapped out my name and did that in four days straight. And I think I'm good for most runs in the year and consecutive runs as well (41 at the moment). After that, I might have to start sending anonymous cartons of beer to their house.


15 reasons Taylor Swift is a better feminist than Joan of Arc (roasting meat over bread)

I follow a few interesting food publishers on Twitter. Munchies is one and Epicurious do good stuff. Their only failing is falling into the modern media of announcing headlines like "15 reasons Taylor Swift is a better feminist than Joan of Arc" or "This girl walked down a dark alley, you won't believe what Jack the Ripper did next". Anyway, despite the post declaring "once you've roasted chicken on bread, you'll never do it any other way!!!!!!" I clicked on the article. It was pretty much what it said on the box, you roast the chicken on thick slices of bread. But it's what you do after that is the interesting part.  


I love a good roast, but for a while I've been steering clear of the whole nine yards. For those that know me, the thought of me deliberately turning down a chance to eat potatoes might seem a bit strange, but I've been eating a lot more salad. A little bed of lettuce leaves growing outside the back door, some nice tomatoes and some feta cheese and an avocado and a simple dressing is nice base to start with. Which brings us back to the bread. 


When I read the recipe I had a leg of lamb in the fridge, so we went with that. Some rosemary tucked in and around and a bit of chopped garlic rubbed into the meat. The salad got some olives thrown in, and yoghurt in the dressing, then that glorious crispy bread, flavoured from all the fat and the juices that came out from the roast, got cut up and tossed through. Oh my god. A pretty good salad got elevated to the next level. Roasting meat on bread had just begun. 


Next up up was some pork belly. My idea this time was to use even less meat and dice it up once roasted and make it a warm crunchy salad. To my standard base salad I added, mung bean shoots, peanuts, diced green apple and used apple cider vinegar in the dressing. Some fennel seeds rubbed into the pork, plus the beautiful crunchy pork fat soaked bread made the lamb roast salad look tired and sad.  


Finally tonight, I got to the original. The salad had some artichokes, grilled peaches and the now mandatory bread. Lemon zest over the bird and the lemons roasted in the bum went to the salad dressing. After the pork belly salad it was a bit of a letdown. Still, better than eating a full plate of roast veg in the QLD heat.  


I miss my potatoes though.  

Daddy day care

Our daycare sends home an email with pics every day of what the boys have been doing. With me having to take a sick day to look after one miserably sick kid and one happy one I thought I'd keep track of the day to send to The Wife.


The day started out with dad giving Raylan cuddles and Curtis watching play school because daddy needed to do some work. 

During Raylans first sleep Curtis and daddy went outside and picked some mulberries before Curtis did a poo. Fascinating stuff. We also saw a butterfly. 


Raylan then woke up and we had some cereal. Curtis had some cake. 


Curtis was a bit sad and needed Wiggles to cheer up. Turns out that three episodes of the Wiggles is the right amount to raise the flagging spirits of a 2 year old. Maybe I can get a grant and study it further. Tracey then came to clean so we all went upstairs to play marble run. Daddy had his third coffee. 


Raylan went back to sleep so Daddy and Curtis had some lunch. Curtis announced that his belly was full as soon as he sat down. Daddy brought out the FBI negotiating textbooks to get Curtis to eat two pieces of pork and one mouthful of mashed potato before sleepy time. We then read some stories and nodded off. I don't know what Curtis did. Raylan kept sleeping. 


Once Raylan woke up we had a feed then watched some NBA while Raylan got a massage. We had a brief discussion on "winning" and who was "winning" more at that point. We decided that because none of the NBA games were that good today, Raylan probably had the edge. 


Raylan then enjoyed some time in the PlayStation while Daddy did email. 


After a disappointingly short sleep Curtis and Daddy made a fruit smoothie. 


Then Grandma and Poppa turned up so all the rest of the day's plans went out the window. 


Bonus material for subscribers only. 
Rivers of snot, wees, feeding the chooks, cuddles, chasing scrub turkeys.

Hey lullaby

Ever since The Wife did the sleep training with The Boy we have sung a lullaby as a trigger to go to sleep. The base standard has always been three rounds of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star but I always sang The Cat Empire's Ryhme and Reason to The Boy. 

When The Twins came along I was either too tired or too stressed to think of a new song to sing, until the other day a memory of an old folk song started slowly surfacing in my memory. I couldn't remember the name of the song and had the lyrics wrong but I eventually tracked it down along with an awesome recent cover version.  


I've just changed the lyrics to make them a little more....Lantanaland for The Twins


Hey rain, rain coming down. On the cows, on the roof of the farm. Hey rain, hey rain.

There is rain in my hair, rain in my beard, we haven't had rain like this for many a long year. Hey rain, hey rain.  


The chooks are all soaked, the ducks are all wet, the cows are all muddy, but we're not sick of it yet. Hey rain, hey rain.


Farming stupid.

I think I might have to face the fact I have lost my cows. I've looked down the Lantanaland version of behind the couch, in the deep freeze and under the bed, but I think it's time to face the reality that someone has claimed them or shipped them off to council. (They are tagged, so council should ring me, but they were most unhelpful when I called them.)

This is what happens when you are on a small holding and you gamble with consequences. I have learnt the hard way that you shouldn't do things until you are ready for them, but sometimes circumstances force your hand. I had one well fenced paddock that was almost eaten out and one that was open on one side to 100 acres or so of i fenced bush that backs on to many different properties. They'd gotten out into this many times and I'd always got them back or they'd come back themselves. It had great grass and lots of water, so I gambled and moved them to where there was feed. It was a stupid gamble.  

At least I have learnt my lesson with the chooks. I have a nice secure pen near the house whe The Boy can see the chickens. It was home to a lone silky, the big ones were tearing up the garden beds so got shipped back to the beehives, where they had space and could help control the small hive beetle. Fluffy the silkie chook went clucky, so we got here some Sussex chicks to look after. They were a little to big though and she was smart enough to ignore them, so the experiment was repeated with 3 Indian runner ducklings. This time it worked a treat, so the ducks no have a fluffy silkie mum that will end up being a third their size. 

Great to have ducks back though, one of my favourite farm animals, great for the yard and produce the best eggs going. Duck egg pasta is one of life's great pleasures, but if you have any good duck egg recipes, leave them in the comments!



Changing tastebuds.

Once upon of time, in my distant youth, ok probably still only last year, I could feast on a bit of roast pork. Delicious fatty belly, crisp crackling, potatoes roasted in duck fat, rivers of gravy. 

Im not sure when my tastebuds changed. But no longer can I scoff down more slices than it is worth counting. Instead I get a queasy feeling on slice three. And there has even been crackling going into the fridge. I barely recognise myself in the mirror.  

But when I bought a delicous bit of rolled pork belly today and found myself googling 'green apple salad' I knew that things were never going back. Maybe there is a weird undiscovered phenomenon of fathers of twins losing the taste for mountains of roast veg on top of mountains of roast meat? The Wife should do some research for me. 

Thankfully my desire for mashed potato remains undiminished, or life would just not be the same. 


Busy as a Bee

Turns out, having twin baby boys, let alone premmie ones, is not conducive to running a well groomed hobby farm. The grass is overgrown, the shed is a mess (I'm sure that's the reason), the cows have escaped into an unknown neighbours place and only the strongest survive in the veg patch. 


When The Boy went down for his Nap and Twin B* slept off the trip to the local creek with a super sleep, I took leave of Super Wife/Mum and went to see if the bees were still going OK. I had been keen to set up a trellis to encourage the passion fruit to climb out and give them some relief from the harsh midday summer sun we get at Lantanaland. 

Dry cow shit makes the best smoker fuel. 

Dry cow shit makes the best smoker fuel. 

After quickly rigging up the trellis I got stuck into the hives. Both are going strong, even though the big hive is still mostly living in the top box and it looked like there must be a queen above the excluder. I'm not even sure if that's possible and I'll need to consult my proper beekeepers to see if what I did was the right move. 


As usual I cribbed a single frame for my honey supplies and refreshed the beetle traps. The hives looked really good, the small one Ryno bought me was full and finally went into a bigger box, I'll try and sneak a look next week to ensure its going ok. I stole a few frames of brood from the big hive to give it a boost. I couldn't see any small hive beetle at all. The chooks now live underneath the hive, a theory I have heard breaks the breeding cycle of the beetle. See if anything crawls into the new traps I guess. 


All in all it was a successful little outing. Now I just need to find the cows, fix the break in the fences, clean up the bales, plant some more fruit trees (gotta get the avos in), run the irrigation lines from the dam up for the orchard, get two loads of mulch in for the orchard,  plant some more veg, mow the lawn.........


*Twin B has a name, which I use when referring to him, mostly, but it drives some twin mates of mine mad to refer them as half of one entity. 

Dumpling dreaming

I have a thing for dumplings. One of my favourite dishes to cook, and eat, is Mr Flintharts wonton soup, a aromatic slurp fest with pork wontons. I don't get to eat out much so when I was in Melbourne last year and Albion Love Den suggested we go for dumplings and introduced me to xia long bao, dumplings with soup in them. Rarely has my mind been blown like that even when I wasn't sober. 

If I can get out for a feed I'll try and look for a good dumpling place. Brisbane has some awesome dumplings at Sunnybank but I never go through that part of town. Cheeeesy is going to record a podcast out there when my schedule gets a little less crazy. 

So if I want dumplings I have to make them myself. And I really wanted some tonight. The plan was to incorporate some of the brisket I'd slow cooked in stock, garlic, soy and fish sauce the night before. So what I ended up doing was finely chopping a heap of ginger, garlic and fresh cabbage and sweating it off with the shredded beef. Then I coated it with soy sauce, mixed up with a little vinegar, sugar and corn flour. Once the mix cooled I added a little sesame oil and filled my wonton wrappers. 

Rather than hang steaming them I did what I've seen Tastetrekker do and fry the bottoms a little before steaming them. Goddamn they tasted good. Much better than I expected. Win, win, win. 


A bit dry, eh?

If I was a real stereotypical Aussie farmer, I'd be out dusk till dawn trying to make shit work in a year when instead of being six foot deep in grass, Lantanaland looks like a school oval in an African desert. On a hill. I'd push my akubra back and wipe the sweat away and say "bit dry, eh". No it's not a bit dry it damn fucking dry for February, and I'm glad that Lantanaland is not a proper working farm. I don't own and akubra anyway, usually it's a straw hat that even a hobo would discard, shorts in long grass in snake season and Tshirt. 


I was was supposed to have the orchard in and the drippers running nicely. Oh for town water! Instead we bought water today, in goddamn March! For those of you on town water, where a tap is turned on and the water flows, March is the month where I only go outside in gumboots and I lament water flowing out the outlet of the tank. This year, thanks to my lovely parents I even have a second tank, newly installed and sitting there empty, waiting for that wet stuff in the sky. But no. I death watch the BOM site and sit in  dark corners, slowly weeping as storms split and wither before reaching Lantanaland. I inspect every light shower, usually so fleeting that it barely washes the dust from my car. I gave the existing fruit trees a nice long drink today, luckily I've babied most of them through, only a blood orange lost to the gods of stupid bloody hot, dry weather. 


Well that's the weather hey, not much you can do. What I did do today was race round after visiting the twins in NICU this morning, while the toddler napped and ran another 500m of electric fence so that the cows could at least have a bit more pasture. The neighbours kikuyu pasture that I am "borrowing" is a bloody marvel actually. Mostly seeded by another neighbour, Cliff, who at 80 odd still works harder than I do, it has been eaten down but is surprisingly intact, a good week of rain and it will bounce back. It makes me itch to really get in and improve my own patchy pasture, but first there is the small task of lantana removal. 


March is really the last hope. No rain in March and we won't get enough moisture in the ground to give the grass a good growing season before it cools off. Not much I can do except push my battered straw hat back, and drawl, "bit fucking dry, eh". 

Grass Makes Me Happy

We have been so busy making the house at Lantanaland big enough for a family of five (damn that is a scary sentence right there) that for the last few months the bare necessities have been done and no more. While Joey was down helping move the big furniture around we banged in a heap of star pickets for a bit of expansion of the Free Kikuyu Paddock and I raced round in between urgent jobs and ran an extra 100m of electric fence.

But it needed to be checked, because chasing a cow and the cow equivalent of a teenager at schoolies all over lantana covered hills is a lot more work than fixing a loose or broken electric fence. The paddock is looking amazing after just a small amount of rain really. The part they had eaten right down has a nice coverage of new grass and the new section looks like it is growing faster than they can eat it. The top dam has no appreciable increase in level though, the storms have greened everything up rather than saturating the ground. Still, I'm estimating that I should get another 8-10 months out of that paddock with a bit of expansion, which gives my home paddocks a full summer to recover from the thrashing I gave them.

My neighbour who bought the boy calf and had taken Laf for company came round a few weekends and gave him back. He had a bad accident not long after they came to his place and he couldn't keep the feed up to them. I'm learning there is difference between a bit of grass and a well established, diverse pasture. Laf was looking a bit on the thin side, and I took her straight down to my back neighbour, The Real Farmer. He will take Laf off to get in calf again and I'll give the boy another six months or so before he becomes steak dinner.

With things calming down a bit I'm looking to inject a bit of variety into the cooking around here with a view to expanding my list of 'things I can cook without thinking'. My Cheeeeesy co-host Tastetrekker has give me a pork risoni recipe, I have some pork hocks I'm going to play round with and I picked up a Feast Mag for a few sweet ideas. If you have anything I should learn though, throw it my way. Especially if it contains a strong flavoured stock, I have a pot of pork trotter stock that has been barely simmering for over a week, I'm just too lazy at the end of the day to deal with it!


A Bit of Rain For The Soul

There is a nice bit of gentle follow up rain here at Lantanaland as I sit in bed writing this. The storm to the north is rumbling away and I can feel those dry cracks in the paddock where the chooks are closing up as the rain seeps into the ground. Already the grass is starting to green up. The free kikuyu paddock which was starting to look a bit bare is greening up nicely. Soon it will be growing quicker than the cows can eat it.

There is just a loosening of the shoulders once the rain comes, that feeling that things will get a move on. Now that I have a ready supply of water and some moisture in the soil, I can too. A few weeks and I am going to start planting fruit trees.