Seasons (and a confession)

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Like all of you lovely readers I am a real person dealing with a real life and all of its ups and downs. Times of busyness and times of peace, different stages of family life and different stages in work life.  I was aiming for full-time self-employment with this concept of the Professional Countrywoman and then as often happens, life took an unexpected turn.  An opportunity popped up that was too good to miss. I had been working part time in role which suited me well. I was dealing with good old fashioned country hospitality, food, gardening, events, beautiful historic buildings and contributing in a small way to the appreciation of our rural roots.  I then was offered a full-time management position which after much thought I accepted and so have found myself totally immersed in the role for the past year.

It just reinforces the message that what the Professional Countrywoman’s life is all about. There are some seasons when we are really busy focussing on a big role – and that is where I am just now.  But even in that place all of the other things that are important to us continue to go on and if we’re not careful we neglect those really important parts of our lives.  Family, friends, our own health and well-being, our professional and business lives – all of those things that make us who we are.  It has been a real lesson for me to see how quickly I got out of balance, stopped exercising (too busy), stopped being in control of what I ate (give me food now!) and stopped doing a lot of the things I loved such as gardening (what month is it even?).  My friends probably only vaguely remember me.  These are the important things and of course the PCW way is to be able to wisely consider what is important in whatever season you are in your own life and make recalibrate your life accordingly.  Planning systems and structures and putting them into practice is still the best way to do that.  So it’s been a big lesson for me to get my own act together and practice what I have been preaching!

This past week I met a woman who inspired me to remind myself what is important and to get back into sharing news of those beautiful and useful things that make our busy lives easier and more beautiful, and sharing the stories of those women in business who are producing those products or services. Whatever the season.

 

Pikelet Day

PikeletsWith the weather reminding us more of winter than summer approaching, today is a bit of a pikelet day.  Simple and quick to make they provide an easy and satisfying treat for all.  We invented the “pikelet bar” in our house. Hungry students and their friends making brief forays home line up along the breakfast bar and consume these as fast as you could make them!  Put out bowls of jam, cream or just butter and watch them disappear.  You don’t need anything complicated to make them so can even make them if you are camping.

Ingredients

1 egg

¼ cup sugar

About 2/3 cup of milk

1 cup flour

1 tsp baking powder

25g melted butter

 

Method

Beat egg and sugar until fluffy.

Sift flour and baking powder

Add with the milk

Add melted butter and mix to combine.

Cook

Melt some butter in a heavy pan or skillet

Drop in spoonfuls on hot pan. About 4 per batch.

Flip when bubbles appear around edges

Keep warm in a clean teatowel and serve with jam and cream.

 

 

Elderflower Champagne and Elderflower Cordial

The Professional Countrywoman

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One of the sure signs of early summer with a promise of warm summer days to come is the billowing of the elderflowers in our hedgerows. Down here in Otago our hedgerows are blowsy with elderflower and hawthorn.  We still have the remnants of those hedgerows in our area and they are a precious source of shelter and fodder for insects, birds and animals – and us humans!   I look at elderflower and think… elderflower champagne and cordial followed in autumn by berry wine and nutritious cordials. In fact, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas now without enjoying a delicious glass of delicate bubbly elderflower summer delight. Here are a couple of easy recipes for Elderflower Champagne and Cordial.

Picking Elderflowers.

Like all herbs, gather the flowers on a warm dry day and go for the ones with a mix of some open and some buds. It would be hard to pick…

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Apple and Rosemary Jelly

A good way to use up the plentiful autumn supply of apples or crabapples.  There are usually plenty of wilding apples out there for foraging as well.

About one kilo or 6 large cooking apples such as granny smith or the equivalent in crab apple. (or a mix of both)

2 ¼ cups water

1/3 cup fresh rosemary

2 ¼ cups cider vinegar

2 cups sugar.

  1. Wash and chop your apples – no need to peel or core.
  2. Mix together with the water and half of the rosemary in a preserving pan and gently bring to the boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the fruit has pulped down well.
  3. Add vinegar and then once cool let the mixture strain through a muslin jelly cloth overnight. If this is the first time you have made jelly then make sure you don’t squeeze the bag or force the juice in any way – that will make your jelly cloudy.
  4. Next day put the juice back into the pan and bring it up to heat. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, then boil rapidly for 30 minutes or so until it has reached setting point.
  5. Pour into hot sterilized jars. Of course your rosemary sprigs are going to want to go to the top of the mixture so wait until the jelly has just started to set and push the remaining rosemary sprigs into the mixture. It’s a bit tricky determining that point but if it doesn’t look as beautiful as you want, don’t worry as it will still taste good. Seal as usual. Delicious with lamb or pork both hot or cold.

 

 

Garden Notes for the Family Vegetable Garden: March

March is a lovely month as we head towards the start of Autumn. It’s still warm and wet so plenty of growth still happening – as anyone with a lawn can tell you.  I am happy to report that we are picking sweetcorn and harvesting tomatoes. We had several plantings of potatoes over the growing season and so been enjoying different harvest times of different varieties. Mounding up continues of our main crop Agria potatoes which are still my favourite.   Over this month, the natural cycle of many of our vegetables will be coming to an end so you will be busy in the kitchen preserving and outside beginning the tidying up ready for winter. Keep an eye on the hedgerows for blackberries, hawthorn berries and apples for jellys and sauces.

Keep harvesting runner beans and once finished let the vines die back naturally to provide food for next season then use old vines as compost. It’s a good idea to have perennial runner beans in a permanent spot at the back of the garden somewhere as they will stay there for a few years. All other beans and peas can be cut back and dug into the soil to provide carbon and nitrogen for the leafy plants to follow in the Spring. Start sowing broad beans and peas that will also provide a green crop over winter for this bed.

Root crops will be growing well for winter eating.  Thin February sown carrots at night when there is less chance of carrot fly attack.  Thin beetroot seedlings. Feed and keep the water up to brassicas, celery and leeks. Keep an eye out for sources of animal manure and other compost materials to put on empty beds in preparation for the coming cold months. If you have a patch of ground that is not in use until spring then make that your compost bed and throw all your garden refuse on it, add some manure, blood and bone, a little lime, cover with straw and leave.

Jobs for this Month

Sow. Carrots, parsnips, radish, lettuce, beetroot, Swedes, leeks, onions, peas, Sow green crops in any bare patches.

Plant: Broccoli, cabbage, cauli, Kale, silverbeet and spinach, lettuce.

Cultivate: Keep up feed and water for leeks and celery. Mound up around them if growing well. Keep mounding up maincrop potatoes.

Harvest: Potatoes, tomatoes, courgettes, pumpkin, corn, beans, cabbages, cauli, broccoli, silverbeet, parsnips, carrots, beetroot.

Prepare: Start preparing soil for winter and then the new season. Chop up old sunflower and corn stalks and bury in garden, collect manure and bean stalks for mulch

 

Christmas Cookies

Another Christmas tradition – spicy biscuits cut into Christmas shapes.  My husband loves these and so far I have never made them as well as his mother. (He likes to play with fire.)  Lots of other people love them though and they can be fun to make with the kids.  This is another activity you can freeze from any time now.  Divide the dough in half and freeze the dough.  Or roll out, cut the biscuits and freeze the uncooked cookies.  Then bring them out and bake. You can even freeze the baked biscuits so up to you and your schedule. Baking can be creative but cleaning up can be an added stress in an already stressed out season so freezing the biscuits  now will save that hassle.  Arrange children around the table with little bowls of different coloured icing and anything else you have to decorate with.  Ice in one colour and then pipe decorations on top or just use sprinkles.  We love them spliced together with a good plum or berry jam.  They will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days.   I would suggest you double this recipe to make enough cookies for a family gathering.

Set oven to 180C

  • 125g Butter softened
  • 75g Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tsp each of cinnamon, mixed spice and Ground Ginger
  • Cream butter, sugar and spice together until light and fluffy
  • Add 1 egg and beat well.
  • Sift 225g flour with 1 tsp baking powder
  • Add and mix until well combined.
  • Put onto floured surface and knead until the dough comes together nicely. If too sticky add a little flour.
  • Divide into 2 batches. Roll out the first batch to about 3 mm thick.  Cut out biscuits using your cookie cutters. Put onto greased trays and cook for 10 mins or so at 180C.
  • When cook, stick together with jam. Plum or berry is a favourite. Then ice.

Icing.

Butter icing for covering biscuits.

  • 50g butter melted.
  • Add tiny drop of vanilla essence.
  • Sift 2 cups of icing sugar and add along with enough hot water to make a smooth mix.  Add only a few drops of hot water at a time.
  • Divide up into smaller bowls if you are want different colours and add food colouring to each batch.

Royal Icing for Piping. (an option)

  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 cups sifted icing sugar
  • Squeeze of lemon juice.
  • Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add lemon juice then icing sugar a little at a time until smoothly combined. This will make your basic white icing. If you want to make smaller batches of coloured, divide in two and add food colouring to each batch as needed.

Fun Festive Kiwi Sausage Roll Wreath

20171206_162030You saw it here first! The great Kiwi sausage roll reinvented as a Christmas Wreath.  This is an easy and great idea maybe for Christmas Eve when you don’t know who is going to turn up and at what time.  You can even make this a couple of weeks ahead and freeze – either cooked or uncooked.   I have used a dozen breakfast sized sausages for this one but you can make it whatever size you want and get really creative with the bow.

You will need the following:

4 sheets of flaky pastry defrosted

12 breakfast Sausages

1 beaten egg for washing.

Method

  1. Place one sheet of pastry onto oven tray. Use baking paper underneath to make it easier to plate up. Using a suitable sized plate, mark out a circle and cut around it. I used a 23cm pie dish for this which was the exact size. Then use a cup or similar to make a circle in the middle. You can either take that out or leave in.  Use as a guide for placing sausages.
  2. Cut another sheet length into 3 even size strips. Then cut straight down the middle so you have 6 pieces of pastry.
  3. Roll each sausage up in its own blanket of pastry. Repeat with the next sheet of pastry and next 6 sausages.  Brush the ring of pastry with the egg wash and arrange sausages in a ring around the outer part of the circle.
  4. Cut the final sheet of pastry in half. On one side, cut 2 lengths in the shape of a ribbon bow. Cut the remaining piece into a bow.  Use a final bit to loop round the middle of the bow.
  5. Brush with egg wash. If you are going to cook now, pop the whole tray into the fridge while you preheat the oven to 200C. Cook for about 20 mins or until well puffed up and golden.Serve with your family’s favourite sauce.

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December 5. 20 Days to Go. Stay Calm and Get Organised – Budget

 

Budgets are important especially if you are on a tight one yourself.  As Pam Corkery said in an article I read a few years ago “Christmas is a time to break bread, not the bank.” It’s hard to find the balance between ensuring you meet family expectations of gift giving and not getting yourself into debt that is going to be with you months to come. Remember that spending money you don’t have is a recipe for more stress and pressure so just don’t do it.   However, it is lovely is lovely to think of everyone at Christmas time so make a list of those who you would like to acknowledge. A card or small homemade gift or treat is a lovely gift for many to let them know you are thinking of them this season.  And do that soon before you get too busy.

You will probably want to spend more on your immediate family for example and come to another arrangement with those outside that group.  Don’t go over your own allocated total budget of course but prioritise it accordingly.

December 4: Stay Calm and Get Organised; Gift Giving.

Make a List and Check it Twice

You may be super organised and have got all your gift purchases all out of the way and wrapped.  Most likely not.  Today in the spirit of staying calm and organised, get your cup of tea, go to your Mother Christmas HQ, get out your Christmas Journal and take stock of where you are up.

Start by making a list of who you think you need to buy for and then consider it.  If you are a parent then of course concentrate on your own children and partner and perhaps your parents as well. But for your adult brothers and sisters – have the conversation with the extended family about expectations and maybe come to an agreement about what level of gift giving is expected. You certainly don’t want to get into financial strife buying expensive gifts for those you don’t need to.  I do like the idea of giving something inexpensive but gorgeous or useful especially if you will see them on Christmas Day and you will be sharing gifts.  Something handmade, a good bottle of wine or nicely packaged cheeses, preserves, chocolate etc will go a long way to ensuring a day of treats for extended family. So agree on who you are going to buy for, shorten that list and your stress level.

For those you are going to buy for, its ok to actually ask them. If its your children for example, depending on their age, get them to write a letter to Santa.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter what their age is either. It can be helpful to have a third person involved – even if that person doesn’t exist! This does not mean that you get everything on their list of course but it helps to know what is in their heart.

 

Sunday 3 December 23 Days to Go. Stay Calm and Get Organised – Christmas Journal

I am a bit of a fan of journals and how they can help you with getting organised – and having a special one dedicated to Christmas is a  good idea.  So today’s task is to start one for yourself. There are plenty of good value ones out there. You might prefer to use a visual diary type or  just a B5 lined one.  Cover it in a beautiful fabric or Christmas paper – something to set it apart as your Christmas journal.

This journal is going to keep you together.  You are going to make some lists in it and you are going to keep it from year to year so you know who you gave what to, what you all ate, what recipes worked and what recipes will become favourites.  The idea is that you download all those things currently in your brain that you feel you need to do between now and Christmas so everything is in one place.  This will help you avoid walking around saying things like ‘I must remember not to forget”  etc.  Keep this handy as you go about your day so you can jot thoughts down as you think of them.

Now make the time to sneak off to your special Mother Christmas HQ and start getting everything down on paper.  Start writing lists – I’ve given you some suggestions below but add what is important to you. Let me know if you added something different as I am working on a master list myself

  • Gift list
  • Gift Shopping
  • Christmas card list
  • Menu
  • Holiday plans and timeline
  • Recipes
  • Events you have to go to.
  • Events you are creating
  • Personal care appointments: hair, nails etc.
  • All of the other things you have to do.

Now that you have brain stormed all that and captured everything you can think of – then comes  the most important thing. Go over your list and do the following.

Eliminate.  There are some things that would be nice to get done but if you’re going to end up a stressed out exhausted wreck by the time you get to Christmas Day – its just not worth it. Cross it off the list or pay someone to do it.

Delegate  to other family members. You don’t and shouldn’t have to do everything. Share food duties, cleaning duties, gift duties.

Prioritise – Get the important and time sensitive things done at once. You need to get something posted overseas?  Get that done soon. Ordering online?  If you want things to arrive before Christmas get in early.  Want to eat turkey?  Get it out of the freezer a couple of days before.

Plan. – Now make your master plan – work out when you are going to do what you think you want to get done, leaving some gaps if you can to catch your breath and enjoy the season as well.

Implement your plan!