Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Happy Birthday Hank!


It’s my birthday this week which means it must be one year since you came into our lives… I guess that means your birthday was about eight weeks ago. I’m sorry we missed it, but how ‘bout we celebrate together this week instead?

It’s been 12 months since we brought you home in a cardboard box, so little when we first met.

But just a few weeks later we knew something was up… You were already the same size as your fully-grown new brother, Flip! Soon you were three times his size with a bark ten times as deep.

I don’t think it was easy for you to find your place in the family when Flip and I were already best buddies. I admit, the whole reason I chose you was because I loved him so much I thought the only thing that could be better was if I had two of him. But you have grown up to be different from Flip in almost every way, and yet I love you just as much!

Flip was quite jealous when you first arrived. I felt guilty and worried that I had done the wrong thing, that you and Flip would never see eye-to-eye and that you would have been better off somewhere else. But now you adore each other and we would all be less without you.

You are such a wonderful brother and mate to Flip and you make ST and I laugh endlessly. You are very clever – and naughty - the way you’ve taught yourself to jump over the fence to catch rabbits and scavenge for old roo bones. I’m not overjoyed about the amount of them that constantly scatter our lawn, but they make you and Flip happy and that’s the main thing. You don’t even mind sharing your catch with Flip, in fact a lot of the time I think he is the bossy little Lord Farquaad and you his faithful servant.

It’s funny how your mini-big dog stature has turned into a mini-big dog personality. Like life is all too hard when you’re a ‘big dog’ and you just need to have a nap. Right now. And all of the time.

It’s also pretty funny how absolutely terrified you are of the real ‘big dogs’.

You love to cuddle and snuggle. You love playing keepings-off Flip. And you love TV (not that you’re supposed to be inside)! You hate the rain, and thunder, and gunshots.

Remember that time you and Flip cornered that King Brown snake climbing the fence in the middle of the night? I threw you both in the house while ST and I “handled the situation” and later we couldn’t find you anywhere! We searched and scoured and called your name in every room of the house for 20 minutes before bringing Flip back inside to sniff you out. And there you were, curled up and frightened, between the bookshelf and the bed in the guest room. My poor baby.

And that other time when there was a Brown snake out the front and YOU ATE THROUGH THE CORD TO MY ENGLE FRIDGE (!!!) on the front veranda when I just trying to keep you safe! OK, let’s not remember that time, otherwise I’ll start on about the times you've done naughty things and tried to blame them on Flip!

And how you’ve recently started to pull clothes off the line and drag them around the yard (what is with that!?) and how you’ve kept me up two nights this week barking at… seriously, what ARE you barking at? I can’t see anything. Flip can’t see anything. There’s nothing there!

I swear to God, every time I see your head hit your paws today I’m going to shout your name. No naps for you!

You are lucky you’re cute, you big softy.

Happy Birthday Hank!

Love, Your Human xx

Friday, May 22, 2015

Stuffed Lamb Rib Flaps– The most delicious reason to have lamb for dinner this weekend

A FEW WEEKS back I had some requests for the Stuffed Lamb Rib Flaps recipe, so here it is!

I can’t take any credit for the idea. As far as I know people have been stuffing lamb flaps since the invention of lamb and stuffing, but I first discovered it when I moved to Burragan and was suddenly given all the cuts of an entire lamb to cook with. ST said, “Why don’t you stuff them like my mum does?” Now, I’m not stupid, and only a stupid person would try to replicate a dish perfected by their mother-in-law, but after a while I was sick of cutting them up into individual ribs and marinating them, so I decided to give stuffing them a go. And I am sure I never knew food-love before I knew Stuffed Lamb Rib Flaps.

One of the best parts of growing sheep and cattle is that we get to eat our own meat. ST’s Dad is an excellent butcher and he and ST use a bandsaw to cut up the sheep carcass (after it has hung in the cool room for a few days) into all the different cuts of meat you’d usually see in a butcher shop, and then some.

While lamb leg roasts, shoulders, chops and shanks are all cuts you see often, I don’t recall ever having lamb flaps before Burragan. They are the breast section of the sheep that is left over after you cut off the loin and the rack and… well, basically all the other cuts!

Lamb Rib Flap laying Rib Side Up

Sometimes you see it boned out and rolled up into a roast. Sometimes you see it sliced up into individual ribs (the kind you put sticky sauce on and cook on the BBQ). Stuffing them with the bones still in requires less butchering and if you’ve got nice meaty ribs it really is the stuff food heaven is made from.

To prepare your flaps:

The tips of the rib bones must be sliced a little way down with the bandsaw first to make them easier to cut with a kitchen knife. I’m sure you could ask your butcher to do this when you buy your flaps, otherwise if you have a meat cleaver and strong arm muscles I’m sure you could do it yourself.

Lamb Rib Flap laying Rib Side Down

Prepare your flaps by slicing off any really thick sections of fat from the top, careful not to cut into the very thin layers of meat.

Create a pocket between the ribs and the meat by using a sharp knife to make small cuts along the edge of the flaps, using your hands to slowly peel back the top layers of meat as you use the knife to go deeper into the pocket.

You can use your fingers to push the meat layers away from the ribs by running them back and forth inside the pocket. You don’t have to be gentle, it doesn’t matter how pretty it looks on the inside, but you do need to be careful to not cut through the back or the top of the pocket – you only want one opening and that’s at the front.

To make your stuffing:

If you’ve got a favourite stuffing recipe then feel free to go with that or do your own thing. I like to use whatever I have on hand and that can change depending on how recently I’ve been to the supermarket, but generally my stuffing recipe is like this:

Finely diced leek or onion, lots of crushed garlic, pine nuts or roughly chopped walnuts, sliced sundried tomatoes and a generous amount of chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, parsley, basil, chives, oregano etc. Use dried if you don’t have fresh. Add chilli if you like a bit of spice.

Fry it all up in a dash of oil or butter. If you’ve got some spinach or silver beat (or anything else green and leafy, aside from lettuce), finely slice a big handful and add that too. Add breadcrumbs (fresh bread ripped up or packet breadcrumbs), salt and pepper.

Turn the heat off and let it all cool for a bit before adding a couple of eggs. Mix it all together quickly to stop the egg from cooking on the warm frying pan base. If your mixture is too crumbly just add more egg, if it’s too runny add more breadcrumbs.

To stuff your flaps:

Make sure your stuffing is cool enough to handle with bare hands. Open up your flap pocket and stuff it, packing the stuffing together tightly.

Once you’ve stuffed your flaps as full as you can (wow, this is turning into a very saucy recipe!) while still able to close the top of the pocket, you need a really big skewer to weave through the top and bottom layers of the flap opening, to hold it closed. Knit the skewer between the rib bones, every third or fourth one along, and back through the top of the pocket etc. Depending on the size of the flap I can only ever get it to weave through about three times. This is fine.

Cooked version pictured, sorry, I forgot to take a photo before I cooked it!

Finishing touches:

Dress the outside of your flaps as you would a lamb roast. I like fresh rosemary and salt and pepper but other herbs, spices, lemon, and garlic also go well. You can toss any roast veggies such as potato, pumpkin, sweet potato, zucchini, eggplant etc. around the flaps before you chuck them in the oven, or prepare something else on the side like harissa spiced sweet potato wedges.

Cook the flaps for about an hour on a moderate heat. I don’t think you can really over cook them, as long as they’re not burnt!
When they’re out of the oven use a large, sharp knife to slice between each rib, carving off individual stuffed ribs. Serve with your roast veggies and some steamed greens. Or save them 'til the next day and eat cold!


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Is "local" food always best?

I LOVE THE idea of eating "local" but if I’m completely honest, sometimes it worries me. How near/far is local? If local is a couple of hundred kilometres then no one except ST and I would be eating Burragan lamb, mutton or beef. Which is what worries me.

I know it's only a smallish section of the population who can really afford to seek out meat direct from the farmer, but it’s important to note that it’s also only a smallish section of the farming population that can by-pass the middle man and sell direct to the public.

Australia is a huge country and around 60 percent of Aussie land is used for agriculture, according to stats from the World Bank. Between 6 and 7 percent of that is arable land used for growing crops, fruits and vegetables, meaning roughly 53 percent of that area is home to grazing animals – Burragan is in that 53 percent.

As you can imagine, a lot of agricultural land is covering areas of Australia that are a long, long way from the towns and cities, which, by the way, account for about 1 percent of Aussie land use.

Meanwhile – 64 percent of Aussie people live in capital cities. And only around 2 percent of us live in “rural” areas – that’s me!

There is a huge overlap there, between the majority of that 53 percent of land that’s growing animals and the 2 percent of people that live there.

I’m not saying it’s impossible for farmers within that 2 percent to sell direct to the public, but it is unreasonable to think all of them can or should. And just because they don’t, doesn’t make them any less fantastic farmers than the ones that are launching boutique brands and accessing new markets.

Burragan sheep and cattle are just as well cared for. ST and I are just as conscious about our environment, our practices, the welfare of our animals and the quality of the end product. And I know the vast majority of farmers looking after the land and animals within that 53 percent of Australia are the same.

But our meat ends up on a shelf at the supermarket or butcher shop alongside meat from thousands of other farms, indistinguishable from the rest.

Of course farmers seeking out direct to public avenues are doing a wonderful job and I hope their businesses are reaping the rewards of their hard work. Maybe we will head in that direction one day… who knows?

I know if we didn’t supply our own meat I’d love to be able to buy it through those types of avenues – I love knowing the story behind food and feeling that connection with a meal... and fortunately we get that for free at Burragan.

But not everyone sells local, and that doesn’t make our farming practices any less ethical, sustainable or innovative than the rest. We’re still supplying healthy, safe, affordable food, just to a different market. A market further afield.

If you can’t buy “local” don’t sweat it, because as long as it’s Aussie you’re probably buying from somewhere just like Burragan. And that’s just as good.

Do you try to eat local or Aussie food? How far do you think is still considered local?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Best and Worst

THIS AFTERNOON a friend on Facebook posted a question: “What’s the best and worst thing about where you live?”

My answer came easy.

I had just tripped over an old loose section of tiles in my kitchen doorway, stubbing the two little toes on my left foot. ST is out doing a water run. After rolling around on the floor in agony for 10 minutes I managed to crawl to the freezer to extract some ice packs and then prop myself up in front of the laptop.

The worst thing about living where I live? Is being so far from medical help. Not that a doctor could do anything for my toes, whether they are broken or not, but those times when you do need a doctor, those times are excruciating.

The 110km emergency drive to a hospital that doesn’t even have a doctor, when someone you love is in pain, or sick, or scared… That is the worst.

But my best was an easy answer too.

And I think the best thing about living where I live beats the worst thing, even at the worst of times. Because the worst of times can happen anywhere… and they’re traumatic even if you only live minutes from the doctor. The best thing is a little more special, more privileged, more magical. And you get it every day!

The best thing is space.

Space to have pets and a garden (water permitting). Space to accommodate all your friends and family at once, even if they have to BYO swag. Space to not wake up the neighbours.

Space to buy really, really big toys and not worry about where you’re going to fit them.

Space to be your own person. Space to choose to be free of influence (if you want to be) from society.

Space to spread out and to get lost.

Space to find freedom.

Space to move around - if you’re not stuck on the floor with ice packed around your (possibly broken) toes.

Space to sit still.

Space to breathe.

Space to just be.

Combined, the three stations we run are a total area of around 800 square kilometres - which is totally and completely average for this region and absolutely teeny-tiny compared to regions further west and further inland.

But in that same space in Sydney, fit the lives of around 3 million people. And where I live, there are just four people...

Right now I kind of wish a certain one would come home and help me to the couch.

What's the best and worst thing about where you live?