Actually it's for our annual family gathering for Boxing Day at Struan Farm, but I realised that I needed to get a move on. One batch of cream cheese Christmas cookies down!
These are really easy to make: 8 oz. room temperature cream cheese, 8 oz. softened butter, 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract. Cream then add 2/3 cup sugar, then 2 cups flour.
Use a cookie press. I've had bad experiences with plastic cookie presses, especially in NZ's summer heat, but have landed on the Kuhn Rikon Clear Cookie Press. This has metal shapes rather than plastic, and works well. (If it's a hot day I put both the dough and the press in the fridge as needed.) I have thrown out at least two others that were entirely plastic and too frustrating to use. My mother's was all metal, and I would love to find one of those somewhere, someday!
Once the cookies are pressed out, use various decorations. Bake at 180 C for 10-12 minutes, until slightly brown at the base.
Got myself into quite a berry state given Piopio Berry Orchard's amazing peak season strawberries and blueberries!
I decided to test out a recipe from the latest issue of Dish Magazine, "Free Form Fresh Strawberry Tart." Really pretty quick and easy, it uses frozen puff pastry, fresh fruit, pistachios, and a cream mixture of cream cheese, sour cream (I used lite), lemon curd and a wee bit of icing sugar. The only fiddly part is that the pastry is baked and then turned over for baking on the other side.
I dusted icing sugar on top before serving to pretty it up. And the good news is that we've still got heaps of fresh berries in the fridge.
We have a family tradition of pancake breakfasts at Struan Farm on Sundays when the kids and their kids visit. John cracks out "Uncle Earl's Secret Pancake Recipe," and with help from a sous chef or two delivers delicious pancakes with real maple syrup, lots of butter for several serious butter fiends in the group <ahem, Livvy and John>, and fresh berries in season. After I have my coffee I hover in the background trying to keep everyone and -thing on the rails. Sometimes I add value.
This past weekend we had a pancake turn out in the shape of a Piopio, the extinct native thrush after which our village is named:
Pretty cool, eh? And of course we had to have it nibbling on some Piopio Berry Orchard blueberries!
This is our first Christmas in the new house at Struan Farm, and also the first Christmas in years we won't be shuttling between Auckland and Piopio. So a proper Christmas tree is clearly in order.
The only dilemma is that fresh Christmas trees in NZ are typically radiata pines, seriously "wonky" trees. They make Charlie Brown's spindly little tree look rather okay! John and I checked out a number of pine trees around the property, and decided upon the least wonky candidate growing wild along our roadside.
Over the weekend he and his helpers chopped it down and brought it up to the house.
See what I mean by "wonky?" This is not a tree begging to be decorated festively, evoking loud choruses of "O Tannenbaum," is it?
For this year, it is what it is. But I don't think we will do this again. While we won't resort to an artificial tree, it might be better to get a live potted blue spruce or douglas fir, however small, use it as a Christmas tree, and then plant it out on the property after the holiday. So maybe the next generation will have a proper Christmas tree in 10-20 years!
So technically last week Struan Farm's resident pet lamb Spud was weaned, right? However he's still getting "at least" a small bottle a day so that he doesn't go feral and run off with the mob before Christmas.
Daniel, Clare and the girls were down over the weekend, and everyone took turns feeding Spud.
Okay, maybe even overfeeding Spud, since we also had some visitors from Malaysia who had to take a crack at it too!
Clifford and I returned from a short trip to Auckland yesterday to find that yes, the concrete truck and its related "product specialists" had appeared at Struan Farm as scheduled, and yes, the first pour of the driveway at the new house had happened!
I'm "over the moon" about all this, since this most likely means everything will be finished by Christmas, we might even get the garden at the side of the house filled with topsoil and planted.
Clifford, on the other hand, is somewhat disgusted about the situation. He's restricted to his house until everything dries, only allowed off for supervised walks on a leash. I've told him to get over it, but I keep hearing woofs, grunts, and bored sighs coming from the direction of his dog house.
I'm guessing that you won't be quite as excited as we are to watch the grass growing in the backyard at the new house at Struan Farm? It's a fun time!
I raked the area and spread seed about two weeks ago after it was graded and topsoil spread. We've had a good mix of warm weather and light rain since then, basically ideal conditions for a new lawn, and here's the good news:
The veggies are taking off as well. The green beans, corn, cavolo nero/kale, radishes, broccoli, fennel, purple cauliflower, purple carrots, spring onions, beets, swiss chard, and various types of lettuces and spinach are sprouting, while the tomato and zucchini/cucumber/squash seedlings I planted are also happy.
Can't wait to be eating and cooking with just picked veggies from our gardens, watch this space!
It's a somewhat bittersweet day at Struan Farm, time to wean our pet lamb Spud. I'm prepared for major wails outside the bedroom window when the bottles don't appear like clockwork at the back fence, this lamb knows how to tug at the heartstrings! We have gradually cut back his milk to get him to this point, so it won't be entirely cold turkey.
I had a few rainy day jam making sessions at Struan Farm over the past week. With the farmstay open full time I will need more of a stash than ever, so I'm making batches of strawberry jam here and there when I can fit them in. The blueberries aren't available quite yet, so I've got plenty of time to gear up for blueberry jam, which is a bit more involved with lemon juice and apples.
I was reminded of a marathon jam making session many years ago now with my friend Marilyn Laktin, who has moved back to Canada with her family. We spent an entire day making strawberry and blueberry jam. I'd weighed out bowls of fruit and pre-measured sugar, and we cracked into it, completely exhausting ourselves in the process. Was the total count 60 jars Marilyn, do you remember?
With the apparent success of the farmstay I might need Marilyn to get on a plane when the blueberries are in....
It was Happy Birthday John at Struan Farm over the weekend, with a few special dinners. So of course we needed some special flowers to grace the dining table. Roses without a doubt, but also hydrangea, poppy seed pods, nigella (love those delicate, whispy blooms), a few other bits and pieces from the gardens.
At least if you're a kid that is. I finally got my act in gear this past weekend to design and print out "Certificates of Commendation" for the young family members who submitted suggestions for our recent "Name the New Gnome" contest at Struan Farm.
Signed by John, they look pretty official, don't they? Two have been posted off to the U.K., while the other three will be awarded at a ceremony in the next week or so.
But who are we kidding, it's really the jelly beans they'll be happy about!
The past few weeks I've noticed that Spud has been increasingly curious about Clifford, who lurks around me while I feed Spud. Earlier on he was afraid of him, but lately he's been wanting to engage. And now they do, Clifford licks the milk dribbles off Spud's face after he finishes his bottle.
When you think about it, they were both adopted into our family. Clifford came to us when his original family moved to Dubai, while Spud's mum abandoned him. So they've got shared experiences.
Things have been happening at the new house at Struan Farm. Over the past week the builders got the boxing and groundwork done for the driveway:
The concrete is meant to be poured in two installments, this week, so watch this space! It will be so good to have this done before Christmas...
And meanwhile, out back, I've planted black currants, two citrus trees, and rosemary and lavender hedges around the troughs, with mulching bark on the respective beds. I also managed to get about 2/3 of the lawn area raked and grass seed spread. It's been raining intermittently, so important for us to get this done before the ground starts to dry out for summer.
We still need to grade and fill the bush side of this area, move the pile of recycled bricks, and landscape a bit around the edges, but we're getting there.
As I recall, this expression used to mean you were being expelled from the house, or sent outside for a spanking, but in these politically correct days that is definitely not the case for me! I'm a good girl, really, painting the new wood shed in the backyard at our new house at Struan Farm. It's been built out of timber and recycled corrugated iron.
I did a coat of special primer paint first, have just finished a top coat of Karaka Green (yep, your basic farm green). On everything but the roof and flashings, that's for John since there's no way I can reach that on my little ladylike stepstool, it may actually require standing on the roof!
And as reported earlier this week, the mountain of firewood is now stored safely inside, waiting for winter. Clifford is guarding our stash, clearly.
On my recent travels to garden centers I came across a sign from Oakdale Organics, explaining companion planting, with some ideas on what herbs and flowers to mix in your vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects and reduce pests.
And so I have planted the following:
Tansy: Attracts lady beetles and lacewings which eat lots of aphids. Deters flying insects, cucumber beetles, squash bugs and helps repel flies and ants. Great companion for cucumber, squash, roses, berries, grapes, fruit trees.
Hyssop: Flowers attract bees, hoverflies and butterflies throughout the summer. Plant near brassicas to deter white cabbage butterfly.
Shoo-Fly Plant: Effective in the veggie garden as a natural deterrent to whitefly.
Nasturtium: Good companion for radish, cabbage and cucumber. (You can also use the flowers in salads, they are edible.)
Marigold: Attracts hoverflies and parasitic wasps. Helps repel nematodes in the soil.
Borage: Bees love borage.
Calendula: Attracts beneficial insects, good companion for anything in the cabbage family.
Bee Balm: Improves the growth and flavor of tomatoes. Attracts bees, parasitic wasps, beneficials flies, loved by hummingbirds.