The Last Week

Beanies galore. We don't get to enjoy them for long.
Beanies galore. We don’t get to enjoy them for long.

This is more of a random post on doings over the last week, given they have been so varied.

The shop has seen a constant raid on hand knits since we opened, so I’ve been updating the spiral beanie stock (which also means working through patterns and sizings for the different yarns we have in the shop). Over half a dozen new beanies briefly went on display. Unfortunately this meant interrupting the Show knitting which is a Shetland lace sampler shawl.

Last Monday saw me on ABC Central West radio doing a shop interview on their Craft Corner. This was an unanticipated bonus and lots of fun.

Just starting to populate our new oak Wernike bookcase.
Just starting to populate our new

Over the weekend we added to our collectibles in the shop culminating with a trip to Sydney to collect our bounty from participating in online auctions from some of the major Sydney auction houses. We now have quite a selection of antiques and collectibles, including silver ornaments and lovely vintage jewellery.

Our new brochures and bookmarks reflect our shop well. Hopefully we can get a wide distribution.
Our new brochures and bookmarks reflect our shop well. Hopefully we can get a wide distribution.

We know we need to market the shop fairly broadly – including via traditional means to attract tourists. Our brochures and bookmarks (which make great pattern and chart trackers) arrived this week and we think they look great. Next step is to distribute them through central areas such as the local Tourist Information Centres, motels and B&Bs. Our first ad should also appear in the Discover Central NSW magazine next month.

Nothing flash but very fast and lots of fresh garden produce.
Nothing flash but very fast and lots of fresh garden produce.

The garden is growing rampantly – with warm, humid weather and plenty of rain, it’s moving faster than I can keep up with. I try to do and hour or two on shop days and much more on other days, but sometimes I barely make an impact and I’m not sure why I bother to mow the grass. It seems just as long three days later! Anyway, things are also growing in the veg garden, although looking at local Facebook posts, everyone seems inundated with veg. I made a slight dent with a zucchini slice and salad of lettuce, mixed cherry tomatoes and cucumber – all home grown.

But for now it’s a battle between garden, Show knitting and topping up the shop knitted items which are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Show knitting - struggling to get priority at the moment.
Show knitting – struggling to get priority at the moment.

Food, Glorious Food!

Sweet chilli and lemon garlic grilled lobster tails for Christmas lunch out on the back verandah.
Sweet chilli and lemon garlic grilled lobster tails for Christmas lunch out on the back verandah.
Lots and lots of salads as accompaniments.
Lots and lots of salads as accompaniments.

It’s been a great Christmas at the Convent – my second in residence. The first Christmas here, I had my parents and eldest daughter and we did the whole traditional thing – roast pork, turkey, glazed ham, roast veg, stuffing, gravy, followed by pudding, custard, brandy butter, cake … lots of work but also rewarding.

Berry icecream, fresh berries, pavlova and cream - with Persian fairy floss.
Berry icecream, fresh berries, pavlova and cream – with Persian fairy floss.

This year I had both daughters and a friend staying and we were much more casual with seafood and salads – still work but mostly done in advance and a chilled day rather than being in the kitchen. We had grilled lobster tails for lunch, followed up in the evening with prawns and crabs – with a nod to tradition with the glazed ham. With heaps of salads, we have feasted for a few days, along with extra guests arriving. A ricotta, nougat and berry ice-cream along with pavolva and fruit has taken care of dessert as well. Add to this a barbecue last night and pancakes for brunch this morning (courtesy of Daughter #1) has meant a great deal of food has been consumed this week.

More seafood for Christmas dinner.
More seafood for Christmas dinner.
Pancakes with about every topping you can think of.
Pancakes with about every topping you can think of.

Now that most house guests have departed, it’s clearing up left overs and doing some Show knitting whilst catching up on a few new TV series – chilling out before the shop reopens next week (not that the shop ever seems like work!)

The girls at the post Christmas barbecue.
The girls.

The First of the Broad Beans

Ten out of ten for persistence. The broad beans sewed themselves back in their favourite spot.
Ten out of ten for persistence. The broad beans sewed themselves back in their favourite spot.

Last year the broad beans were out of control.  I wasn’t here enough to pick them in time and look after them properly. The towering plants fell over in the winds and I picked most of them a bit too late in the season – meaning I had lot of floury hard beans.

The best laid plans – I decided this year to plant them against walls and fences rather than in the raised garden bed, so they had support, however the beans had different ideas and self-seeded themselves back in their original bed. At least I have them securely staked and wired this year. A healthy crop is already underway.

IMG_2674This time I’m also picking them before they get too large and tough – such lovely beans, even if a little work is required – depodding, blanching and then removing their skins, but all so worth it. First meal was a simple orecchiette pasta with broad beans, ham and parmesan. Just perfect for a simple dinner using home-grown ingredients.

I also have a healthy crop of sugar snap and snow peas ready at present that will be lining up for salads and stir fries.

Just one of the pea plantings - sugar snaps, snow and regular . I stagger these as they are consumed with gusto. Many don't make it inside!
Just one of the pea plantings – sugar snaps, snow and regular . I stagger these as they are consumed with gusto. Many don’t make it inside!

Chooks and Eggs – I’m really in the country now!

Deluxe Penthouse

I’ve just ordered a ‘Chicken Tractor’. Most of the locals who seem to know about chooks encouraged me to buy a mobile chook coop – they said it would harbour less pests and diseases and let me ‘free range’ the chooks by regularly moving the coop around my property. The other benefit is that instead of killing an area, I get to fertilise a large part of the property regularly.

With the dogs, I can’t let chooks have the run of the property, but at least they will always have fresh grass and ground to peck at. This tractor holds 6 – 8 chooks however I’m only planning on having 3 or 4 bantams.

A few years ago, the thought of my own chickens and fresh eggs was just a dream. I now can’t wait to add a few more residents to the Convent.

Asparagus

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Asparagus is a strange plant. I remember the pretty fronds of Asparagus Ferns which looked so old fashioned when I was young. That’s really what asparagus is. The spears, if not picked when young, develop into ferny fronts. However the spears look so strange sticking out of the soil by themselves – so bare – and you just snap them off at ground level.

IMG_2604I have asparagus growing both in the raised garden bed and in the side extended colorbond fence bed. I’m sure it’s not supposed to have spears now, but I think trimming the old fronds and feeding and watering them has brought them to life. Anyway, it’s most welcome and each day I pick some spears and add them to the collection until I have enough for a food creation. There’s quite a healthy crop at the moment which needs attention most days.

Last night it was Asparagus Crepes – just a white sauce and a little parmesan added to the steamed fresh spears on paper thin crepes. Yum. The asparagus plants are  just over a year old which is very young, so I have high hopes for the future. Once established, asparagus is supposed to crop for decades!

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Winter Christmas in Kandos

I love glazing a ham. It's fun and makes a wonderful show piece. The maple syrup also makes such a difference to the taste.
I love glazing a ham. It’s fun and makes a wonderful show piece. The maple syrup also makes such a difference to the taste.

The frosts and open fires seemed like an ideal excuse to get old friends together at the Convent for a Winter Christmas in Kandos.

I enjoy the whole traditional spread at Christmas with the glazed ham, turkey, roast pork, pudding with custard and brandy butter – but somehow it always seems a little out of place in an Australian Summer. Not so in Kandos in Winter where the temperatures get low, the frosts are heavy on the ground and the air smells of warm fireplaces. I’ve also missed seeing some of my friends and our old get-togethers so it seemed like the ideal opportunity. Fortunately most agreed and we had a great weekend of food, drink and friendship.

Convent Cordial
Is this Convent Cordial I spy?

The garden isn’t at its perkiest to show off and produce is limited, but I managed to salvage some root veg for roasting.
The food was most appropriate – the whole Christmas shebang. Roast pork (with crackling), maple glazed ham, turkey breast filled with cranberries, spinach and pistachios (I don’t think I’d now try a whole turkey again – the breast is fantastic- slices well, looks amazing, cooks faster and more reliably and is easier to control to make sure it remains moist. You can still fill it with any type of seasoning or stuffing), all the trimmings of homemade apple sauce and cranberry jelly, mountains of roast veg, including a potato bake. Rich gravy made ahead courtesy of Jamie Oliver. Dessert was a steamed pudding, accompanied by brandy custard and brandy butter, as well as a very Christmassy raspberry semifredo. A Sri Lankan Christmas cake using preserved chow chow (chokes) topped off the celebrations, all washed down with lots of lovely bottles of alcohol. I think we now have Convent Cordial as a staple – Mrs Wigley’s Rose!

Love the stuffed turkey breast.
Yummy stuffed turkey breast.

Many thanks to my friend G for all her help and contributions and, of course, to my friends for their own contributions, company and good cheer. I hope to see them much more often – either individually or as a group. It’s so important to keep old friends after moving out of Sydney and hopefully I can offer a happy change of pace here at the Convent.

The feast begins.
The feast begins.

Bread and Pizzas

Excited preparations
Excited preparations

A friendly local (not that all local’s aren’t friendly here) directed me to Mudgee Fine Foods who co-ordinate lots of foodie activities and promote local producers. Last weekend friends and I attended Bread, Sourdough and Pizza-making class in Mudgee.

My team's dough posing for a photo
My team’s dough posing for a photo

For a ridiculously small price, an intimate class had two artisan bakers teach us the finer points of bread-making, culminating in us gobbling down delicious pizzas we had contributed to in the class.

It was all highly practical, hands on and we also were given techniques on preparing the starter for our own sourdough. We left the class with pizza dough to use at home (which I didn’t do justice to) and starter for our sourdough. Whilst I have a bread maker, I can see  lots of bread kneading in my future.

Mudgee Fine Foods have great events, including Farm Walks where you get to see local producers close up. I’ll be keeping an eye on their website in future.

I was too busy eating the cooked pizzas to take photos!
I was too busy eating the cooked pizzas to take photos!