The quest for recipes this summer…

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I’m on the hunt for some great summer recipes. I’ve come back from Europe with my mind on stews, pies and other wintery wonders. I made three hour slow-cooked lamb shanks this week for goodness sake. The house was like an oven! I need to push the ‘refresh’ button in my brain and start cooking simple, sophisticated summery meals. You know the sort…hot evenings standing by the BBQ turning sizzling marinated prawns or chops, delicious salads full of crisp, fresh vegetables, juicy fruit and pavlovas.

 
What recipe is the essence of summer for you? Send your favourite recipe (sweet or savoury) to mrmcdonaldswackywife@gmail.com 
I will cook and choose my favourite recipe to be published on my blog to share with others. Happy hunting!

 

 

Exploring The United Kingdom

1. London
We spend a total of 10 days in London and loved every moment. London is a buzzing city which is a result of the many theatres and cultural delights. Due to the many immigrants flocking to the UK for job opportunities, the city is an eclectic haven of foreign foods and experiences. We stayed with family friends just north of London who were ol’ pals of my grandparents in the 1950’s-1960’s. Fred and Wendy were excellent hosts, making sure we were adequately fed and looked after. England is for me is a home away from home. I have English blood so I guess that’s why I’m drawn to the quirky and eccentric place that we all love so dearly. Some highlights in London included catching up with Owen’s Oatley mates Lauren and Andrew, exploring the gastronomical delights of Brixton markets pop-up restaurants with Elise, Owen’s rather extravagant birthday including an overnight trip to watch a Champion’s League football match in Manchester, iceskating and exploring the Christmas markets in the Winter Wonderland at Hyde park and hiring bikes and riding around Hyde park at dusk.
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Hyde Park, London
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Big Bob, Bruce, Ken?!?
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Owen ice-skating for his Birthday in Hyde Park
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Staying with good friends Fred and Wendy
Eating out in London
Lunch: Kerbisher and Malt, Hammersmith
We had of the best cooked fish and chips we’ve ever tasted at Kerbisher and Malt – Fish and Chips at Hammersmith. We order battered Haddock with chips and mushy peas and it was simply delicious! One portion was big enough for two!
Dinner: Barrafina, Soho
Hands down one of our favourite meals during the trip was at the wonderful Spanish Tapas Bar called Barrafina in Soho. We went there for Owen’s birthday dinner and were blown away by the friendly service and high quality of food. We had to wait an hour to get a seat, but it was worth it. We were able to order drinks and nibblies while we waited, and we watched transfixed at the show behind the bar, the chefs in clear view working their magic. Each tapas dish we ordered was cooked to perfection and was a work of art. We highly recommend this restaurant to anyone who enjoys good quality food in a unique atmosphere at a reasonable price.
Coffee: Rapha CC, Piccadilly Circus
This little bike shop slash trendy coffee joint is the only place as far as I’m concerned that can successfully mix lycra and good taste. But seriously, this is a charming little place with great coffee and a warm atmosphere is conveniently located in the heart of Piccadilly Circus.
2. Somerset 
We ventured south on a train to stay with the family that I lived with as an au pair in France in 2009. I was eager to see the children and to witness their growth after 4 years. We met Louise and Robbie in Sherborne for a rather special occasion. Louise is a wonderful opera singer and we were invited to her sublime concert of songs by the sea. We drove with them to Crewkerne where we spent the next two weeks living with the family, helping them around the house and in the garden. We were also there for three family birthdays and I had the honour of baking all three birthday cakes. It was so special for me to be able to spend time with the children and to see that they had adapted so well into English life, after living and schooling in France for 5 years. Highlights included a trip to the seaside, antique shopping, village markets, two carols concerts, Owen testing out Sam’s birthday rifle and his spontaneous tour of a racing car factory with Robbie with cars worth over 250 000 pounds!
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Crewkerne
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Heidi and Lily’s Birthday Celebrations
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Nigella Lawson recipe: Chocolate and Raspberry Cream Cake
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The beautiful Innes Family (Note: This photo was taken very early in the morning).
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Seatown, near Crewkerne
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Robbie painting on the beach
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Beautiful Bath
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Day trip to Bath with Willie, Heidi and Iona
3. Exeter
We had a quick day trip to Exeter to see my third cousin Cherry who is a kindred spirit and jolly good fun. Exeter is a beautiful little town in south England near the east coast. We had a lovely lunch at the quay with Cherry and her lovely daughter Jess. We spent the afternoon meandering through boutique shops and Christmas markets. Owen made a rather remarkable purchase of duck-egg-blue knitting needles, declaring he would knit himself a scarf.
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The Quay, Exeter
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Cherry and I walking along the Quay
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Sparkling sunset, Exeter
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Christmas Market, Exeter
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Cherry, Owen and I
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Owen playing around with the camera…
4. Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands
We stayed with my au pair’s extended family, Wille, Heidi and little Iona in the outskirts of Edinburgh. They are a wonderfully generous pair and took us all around to see the sights and sounds of Edinburgh city and surrounding countryside. We were fortunate enough to be able to attend a Christmas concert organised by Heidi. It was a truly wonderful performance held in a chateau in Edinburgh with a string quartet and four opera singers (one of whom was our dear friend Heidi). We also spent some time exploring the gothic city and climbed Arthur’s seat for a spectacular view over city and sea. We found a free tour by the name of ‘Hairy Coo’ (said in the thick and rather cheeky Scottish brogue)…translation… ‘Hairy Cow’ tours. We had a simply smashing day being driven all over the Scottish highlands by a very mad Scotsman who made the trip terribly interesting with his far fetched stories and cheery disposition. We encountered various elements on this day trip including sunshine, snow and rain. A spot of Christmas shopping and time spent in yet another Christmas market made the festive cheer ring true.
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Gothic Edinburgh
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Christmas fair, Edinburgh
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Edinburgh
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Climbing up Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
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Jumping on the springy grass!
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View over Edinburgh
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Owen, king of the mountain!
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Staying with Wille, Heidi and Iona
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Owen and Iona playing ‘peek-a-boo’!
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Hairy Coo Tour, A Loch somewhere in the Scottish Highlands
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A Hairy Coo
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Wild wintery landscape… so beautiful!
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Doune Castle from Monty Python and the Holy Grail
 Home sweet home…
We are now home safe and sound after 131 days of travelling. What a blessing my husband is and what a marvellous travel companion he has turned out to be! We had both high and low points during the time abroad, but we have learnt that together, with God, we can do anything!
I am looking at writing a book about our adventure with the blog entries, photos, travel trips and the myriad of recipes I have collected during the time through Asia, Europe and the UK. If you would like a copy, let me know so I can order one especially for you! I will continue to upload recipes and photos of the wondrous dishes I stumble across, so stay tuned! Until then…
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Italian Tagliata – Beef with Rocket and Parmesan

We had a version of this recipe in a tiny Trattoria, in the magical backstreets of Florence. Compared to traditional and lets be honest, slightly bloating Italian pastas and pizzas, this recipe is modern Italian cuisine. It’s fresh, it’s tasty and it’s really, really simple to make. Before you start get everything else ready, such as bread and any other vegetables you want to serve. You need to work fast.

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Ingredients:
2 garlic cloves 
200g wild baby rocket 
Olive oil 
2 sirloin or rump steaks, about 300g each, at room temperature 
4-6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
1 sprig of rosemary or thyme
2 strips of lemon peel (from an unwaxed lemon) 
juice of 1 lemon 
60g parmesan, shaved
 
Method:
1. Bash the garlic with the side of a knife and wash the salad leaves and dry in a salad spinner.
 
2.Heat a heavy-bottomed frying-pan until really hot, add a thin film of olive oil and heat until the oil is just beginning to smoke. Season the steaks and fry for 2½ minutes, turn over and cook until rare to medium rare. Take the pan off the heat and put the steaks on a warm plate. Cover with foil and leave to rest.
 
3. There won’t be much oil in the pan but whatever there is throw it out. Don’t wipe the pan, though – there’s flavour in it. Add the extra-virgin olive oil and heat over a medium flame. Throw in the garlic, rosemary and lemon zest. Allow the flavourings to infuse in the oil for three minutes, then add the lemon juice and take off the heat. Careful, it might spit. Add the juices from the resting steak to the dressing. Season with salt and pepper.
 
4. Cut the steaks into slices about 1/2 cm thick. Place a handful of rocket in each bowl and pour some of the dressing on top. Arrange the steak on top and scatter with parmesan, add another handful of rocket then pour on the rest of the dressing. Sprinkle more salt over the whole thing and a good grinding of pepper, too. Serve immediately. 
 
Serves 4
 
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Mr McDonald’s remark: “Mmm, delicious! Perfect for a warm summer’s day!”
 

 

Smoked Salmon Fettuccine

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Ingredients
500g packet of fettuccine (or whatever pasta you like)
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup chopped shallots (can substitute onions)
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1/3 cup dry white wine 
1/4 cup cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
300g smoked salmon, cut into bite sized pieces
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
 
Method
1. Heat to boiling a large pot with at least 3/4 of water in it. While the water is heating, brown the pine nuts. Put the pine nuts in a single layer in a large frypan. Heat on low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove pine nuts from pan and set aside.
 
2. Once the water is boiling, salt it generously and add the pasta to the pot. Leave uncovered, on high heat and let cook with a vigorous boil. Put the timer on for 8-10 minutes, or whatever your pasta package says is appropriate for al dente (cooked but still a little firm).
 
3. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. In a large skillet heat olive oil on medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, cook for 2 minutes, then add white wine, lemon juice and lemon zest. Increase the heat and let boil down by half. If you want a slightly creamy sauce, add the cream and let boil a minute more.
 
The sauce should be done about the same time the pasta is done. If you get done earlier with it than the pasta, take it off the heat.
 
4. Once the pasta is done, and before draining the pasta, scoop out one cup of the pasta cooking liquid and reserve. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the sauce. Add back some of the pasta cooking liquid to the pasta if it is a little dry. Add the smoked salmon, toasted pine nuts (not all) and parsley. Season with freshly ground black pepper and sprinkle remaining pine nuts on top.
 
Tip: If you don’t have white wine, you can substitute with 1 tablespoon of pasta cooking water and a tablespoon of lemon juice.

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Mr McDonald’s Remark: “This dish is fresh and delicious. I don’t usually like smoked salmon, but paired with the lemon, it just sings!”

Highlights from Rome, The Amalfi Coast and Paris…

1. Rome

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The Pantheon

We left our final farm stay and arrived in Rome with great expectations. We were going to explore this city like it had never been explored before. We were going to learn historically significant things. We were going to wine and dine like the Romans have famously done for centuries. We were going to gaze at masterpieces and boggle our brains with the beauty of it all. We did all this and more! One of the highlights was hiring a bike in the extensive grounds of Villa Borghese. It wasn’t so much a bike as a four wheeled contraption with peddles and brakes so squeaky, we managed to ruin every romantic picnic and casual conversation within a 5 km radius! You can hire a unique range of driving apparatus including go-carts, golf buggys and those crazy two wheeled things that stand up-right, and every  driver has a smug ‘my two wheeled thingy-ma-giggy is better then your four wheeled thingy-ma-giggy’ look on his face. Another highlight was a day where we wandered through the back streets of Rome without any agenda. It was one of those days where it rained on and off all day, and on one particular downpour we took refuge in a gorgeous little bookshop cafe under a canopy of turning deciduous trees. One thing about Italy is, no matter where you are; in a cafe opposite the Colosseum or in a train station or bus stop, the coffee is always great….and this was no exception. You can book a tour where you see every major tourist attraction in the city, but if you don’t meander through the back streets, pay half as much as the tourist spots for food and coffee and walk under Italian Nonna’s hanging their washing out from their windows…then you haven’t seen the real Rome. In saying this, we did have a tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum which was really interesting and we visited the Vatican City and did a tour of the Museum and Sistine Chapel.
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Outside Vatican City
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Piazza Navona
 This used to be an Amphitheatre in Roman times. They would fill it up with water and real life play battle ships!
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Beautiful Roman art in the streets
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The quaint little bookshop cafe
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A Gladiator from a different time and space, you must admit, he looks a little out of place!
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Sunset over  Rome
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Cycling through the gardens of Villa Borghese
2. The Amalfi Coast
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Atrani, Amalfi Coast
After six weeks of back to back workaways and the vast and rather fatiguing travel in between, we decided to head to The Amalfi Coast for a week of rest and relaxation. The Amalfi Coast is about 3.5 hours south of Rome and it boasts beautiful landscapes and clusters of little villages perched precariously on sheer cliffs overlooking pristine (albeit stoney) beaches. Amalfi is also famous for it’s lemons and adds this scent/logo to everything possible…from sweets to liqueur to tea towels. I’d steer clear if you have an allergy or adversion to lemons…just saying. Amalfi is a bustling and crowded tourist destination in the summer months of July to August, but in late November things have slowed down a bit. We spent the week cooking new Italian recipes, reading the bible and listening to online sermons and exploring the coast. I’d would recommend packing motion sickness tablets if you have a tendency to get woozy in the car. I was born with sea legs and have never had any problems with car sickness, but the sheer windiness of these roads is simply sickening! We stayed just outside of Amalfi which is located on the east side of the peninsula. After venturing over to the west side to visit Sorrento, we would recommend staying near here if you ever go. Sorrento is a bit more established and had easy access to islands such as Capri.
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Atrani, Amalfi Coast
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Amalfi Harbour
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Sunset over Amalfi
3. Pompeii
While we were staying in Amalfi, we visited Pompeii, located just south of Naples. I have always had a fascination with Pompeii since I studied it in primary school. An entire city of 20,000 people was not only wiped out over night, but it was immaculately preserved and it gives us a realistic picture of how others lived in 79AD. The city ruins are quite large, so I would recommend taking a whole day to explore it at your own pace.
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Pompeii Amphitheatre and vineyards as it was in 79AD
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The remains of a house, Pompeii
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The remains of a noble’s courtyard, Pompeii
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View of the city, Pompeii
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Beautifully preserved bench top, Pompeii
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A kitchen or restaurant perhaps?
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A cast of a Pompeii citizen killed in the volcanic eruption
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The eerie, deserted streets
4. Paris
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Paris is a city like no other. It has a certain vibe, a buzz, an extraordinary ambiance if you like. Paris in my opinion is one of the only cities  I have been to that seems to be more magical in the rain. You can relate to the wonderful film ‘Midnight in Paris’ as you wander through the glistening streets and into cosy brasseries and cafes along the way. It permeates quirkiness, class and a mystical quality all at the same time. We spent our time in Paris soaking up the Parisian culture, avoiding the major tourist attractions all but one; The Versailles Chateau. When I lived in France in 2009, I went to Paris numerous times, but never made it out to Versailles. Versailles was originally a hunting lodge, but over many years, and the succession of many French Kings and Queens, was converted to one of the most spectacular Chateau’s in Europe. Many of the French Royalty lived there including Marie Antoinette. The grounds are simply stunning and so intricate in their design. It is a landscaping masterpiece. We recommend hiring bikes if it’s a  clear day, or taking the little train around the garden as it’s far too big to explore fully on foot. The garden is more then 800 hectares alone!  Other highlights in Paris included some outlandishly good meals in Brasseries, walking through Luxembourg Gardens, seeing my good friend Marie and exploring Montmartre at night.

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The Seine River, Paris

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 Stalls selling antique books and trinkets, Paris

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A craze for young people in Europe…they write their boyfriends/girlfriends name with their own on a padlock and lock it to a bridge.

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Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

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Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

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Enjoying the sun, Luxembourg Gardens

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Owen’s Parisian Haircut…dashing!!

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 Cooking in our Parisian apartment; Baked camembert with dressed salad and fresh baguette.

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Versailles Palace

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An artists’s depiction of what the palace gardens would have looked like in the 1700’s

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Part of Marie-Antoinette’s private garden

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Can you imagine riding through here in an open carriage pulled by royal horses?

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Owen exploring the garden

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The Grand Trianon and gardens, Versailles

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The Grand Trianon (Essentially The King’s summer residence).

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Royal Tapestry

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The Hall of Mirrors (and chandeliers). Sheer opulence! Versailles

We are now in the last phase of our trip. We are staying with family friends in London and will travel to Somerset and Edinburgh to stay with good friends over the next 3 weeks. We will then return to London for a few days before our departure homeward bound on the 21st December just in time for Christmas!

Farm Stay in Marche, Italy

Highlights from La Fattoria Dalia

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View from the farm house

1. The Farm Stay

Jodie and Kevin moved from England to Italy three years ago to start a new way of life. Leaving their friends, family and jobs behind, they decided to live and work on their own farm in the beautiful rolling hills near Sibilli National Park in the region of Marche, east Italy. The house is situated rather grandly on a hill overlooking the most spectacular patchwork valley….we’re told they bought this property for the view and the view alone! They have 12 geese, 25+ chickens, 5 ducks, 5 goats (soon to be 4 as one is going in the pot soon), 2 cats and 2 dogs. As you can imagine, looking after this many animals is a full time job, hence why they need the help of workawayers like us. They also have the most impressive vegetable patch, with not only every vegetable you could ever imagine…but the quality and sheer quantity is just amazing.
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The Farm
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Taking the dogs Holly and Walter for an afternoon walk
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The beautiful wilderness
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Pretty wildflowers
2. The Work
The work had both routine and variation. The animals had to be fed twice a day, and let out in the morning and locked up each night, so this we took turns at doing. I got rather nervous feeding the geese as it turns out that they are incredibly territorial and bark and hiss at you if you come near them…even to feed them. So I would cautiously approach them, then fling the food into their bowl and make a quick dash for the fence. As soon as you turn your back on them, they run after you, with their heads to the ground and their beaks open and tongues out hissing at you menacingly. Such ungrateful nasty creatures. I comforted myself thinking of them roasting away in the oven…getting all nice and crispy skinned (Slightly morbid I know…but you haven’t met these evil geese!). Other then this, Owen and I worked mostly apart on separate tasks. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen helping Jodie with the abundance of freshly picked produce. I spent a total of two days deseeding and chopping chillies to freeze for winter or to make into chilli jam. I must admit that the sight or smell of chillies makes me feel a little dizzy now. I also chopped and froze a few kilos of peppers (or capsicums) and cut and stewed some quinces to freeze for winter. I got to spend some time out in the pumpkin squash patch weeding and maintaining the produce. Owen spent a good deal of time chopping up and stacking wood which I’m sure was rather therapeutic. He was Kevin’s handyman, doing some more strimming (whipper-snippering) on the steep and slippery hillside as well as general manly-fix-it type stuff.
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Owen working the field with his trusty wheelbarrow
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 A gaggle of geese
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Frank, the lone duck who spent his time with the goats and geese (he was exiled from the younger female ducks as he was a bit of a womaniser…well, he demanded frequent mating).
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A brood of broody hens (they had a rooster in their midst).
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Baba, one of the frisky goats
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Owen and Bambi
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Holly
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Fatty-Stripes, the farm yard cat
3. The Food
Jodie is a wonderful cook, using produce wholly from her garden. It seemed to us, revolutionary to only buy milk, cheese and spices from the shops. They slaughter their own meat, dry their herbs, made their own tomato passata and other preserves, make delicious fluffy bread by hand and collect fresh eggs daily. Nothing is wasted and any food scraps are given to the chickens to plump them up nice and good. The menu for the week consists of the ripe picked produce, which is super tasty and economically savy. They also eat a lot of vegetarian meals. This time in Italy has given me a real appreciation for the delights and practicality of vegetarian cooking. I would love to live like this, living off the land. It’s incredibly satisfying.
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Chopping, deseeding and freezing these chillies
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Chopping and freezing the capsicums from the garden
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Sewing dried chillies to preserve for the winter months
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Simmering tomatoes to make passata
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Sterilising beer bottles for the preserved passata sauce
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Pouring and preserving the homemade passata sauce
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One of the vegetable patches
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Beautiful, fresh produce
Jodie’s Chilli Jam Recipe
This recipe is similar to sweet chilli sauce, it’s a tad runnier than jam. Unlike fruit jam recipes where you bottle the liquid searing hot, in this recipe, it’s important to allow the chilli jam to cool completely before bottling, otherwise it won’t set. Use in stir-frys, as a sauce to accompany meat or potato wedges or as we discovered in Italy… it goes swimmingly on a pizza!
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Ingredients:
150g red capsicum and 150g red chillies, sliced lengthways and deseeded
(or 300g red chillies for a hotter jam)
1kg preserving sugar (Or use normal sugar and add pectin)
600ml white wine vinegar
Method:
1. Pulse chillies and capsicums in a food processor until finely chopped.
2. Heat the vinegar in a saucepan until simmering, add sugar and dissolve.
3. Add the chillies and capsicum and boil for approximately 10 minutes. Only use the wooden spoon to scrape any burning sugar off the edges but don’t stir it too much. Allow to cool completely before bottling, otherwise it won’t set.
How to bottle preserves:
1. Fill the jars or bottles to the top with hot water.
2. Place them snuggly into a deep saucepan, pour water around the bottles until the pot is almost full (If using jars, place the lids in too). Bring to the boil, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the bottles with tongs and mittens as they are hot!
3. Pour the cooled chilli jam into the bottles, leaving no more then 1cm at the top. Carefully screw on the lid, making sure not to touch and contaminate it.
4. When the jars are cool, label with the name and date of preservation and store in a dark cool place. When opened, store the bottle in the fridge.
Alternatively: You can sterilise the empty bottles on shelves in the oven, at 120°C for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven with mittens and continue from number 3 in the method above.

SO…We have now completed all of our farm stays. Not every aspect of our workaway experience was easy, but we can say that we have learnt a great deal about how others live and for this we are really grateful.  We are currently spending a week on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, after spending 3 days exploring Rome. We have Paris and a month in the UK to come. Until then… ‘Arrivederci’.

Italian Chargrilled Capsicum, Mozzarella and Basil Salad

After searching for a recipe for capsicums (or peppers), I stumbled upon this beauty. It is dead simple and has delicious yet delicate flavours. Throw away the faceless iceberg lettuce, frown at the tasteless, green tomatoes, ignore the lousy lebanese cucumber…try something different..I dare you.

Italian Chargrilled Capsicum, Mozzarella and Basil Salad
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Ingredients:
4-5 large capsicums, mixed red, yellow and green
1 large ball of mozzarella in a bag, liquid drained
1/2 bunch fresh basil
1-2 teaspoons dried oregano
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Olive oil
Fresh chilli, chopped finely or dried chilli flakes (optional)
Method:
1. Using a gas stove top, put burner onto medium-high heat and place capsicums on top of the flame (Put 2-3 capsicums on 1 burner).  Keep an eye on them and using tongs, rotate. They should be all charred and black on the outside (don’t worry, it won’t affect the inside). Alternatively, you can oven bake the capsicums. Google http://theshiksa.com/2010/02/04/roasted-bell-peppers/ for the method and step by step pictures.
2. When they are done, place in a plastic bag. This will help the removal of the skin later. After a few minutes, remove the capsicums and pull off the charred skin, or use a sharp knife. When all the skin is removed (its ok to leave some burnt bits for flavour), slice into long strips and place in a bowl.
3. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and dried oregano. Using your hands, or a fork, toss to coat. Taste, and add more seasoning or oregano if needed.
4. Break up the mozzarella into small pieces and place on top of the dressed capsicum (It looks better if they are torn rather then cut properly, to give a more ‘rustic’ look).
5. Give an artistic drizzle of olive oil on top, sprinkle with fresh basil leaves and throw on a bit of cracked black and some chilli if desired.
Serve as a side dish with some meat (It goes well with Italian Pork Saltimbocca) or just by itself as a delicious, summery salad.
Buon appetito!
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Serve as a side, or all by it’s own
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Beautiful, bright, summery colours
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Mr McDonald’s remark: “I just think it’s fresh, vibrant and tasty!”
If you give this, or any of my other recipes a try…I’d love to hear how they turned out and what changes/variations were made in the process.  I’m  always keen to learn off others!