Quinta da Bem Paz (or the Farm of Wellness and Peace)

So we’ve finally found and bought our smallholding in Portugal!

After several visits and dozens of viewings we came across the most charming small farm, with an outstanding view. The land is just perfect, it has everything we need (almost). Gently sloping, south facing, walled in granite all round, and although it needs repairing in places, is basically in very good condition. Lot’s of fresh water from 3 wells, strategically placed around the land, and best of all, a fresh water spring situated at the top of the land so that we can gravity feed fresh water to the house. A large pond, also at the top of the land, for rain-water catchment, which we may convert to a natural swimming pool in future, or maybe use to feed a series of smaller ponds and rice paddy down hill.

There are approximately 220 olive trees, so we’ll have a LOT of olive oil (guess what everyone’s getting for Xmas!), lots of grape vines, about 20 orange trees (why anyone would want that many oranges is beyond me) 3 fig trees, a couple of peach trees and best of all, 2 mulberry trees, one black, one white.

Wild blackberries are growing all around the perimeter wall, some of which we’ll keep, and some of which we’ll set the goats to clear. I spotted at least 2 hawthorn trees, and there are several cork oaks at various stages of maturity.

The house is very old and made from local granite stone, and whilst it’s basically habitable ( well one room is) it needs a lot of work. We intend to renovate in natural materials, and are very fortunate that there are 3 tumble-down animal houses on the land built from the same granite as the house, so we have some of the materials already to hand.

Here is a photo taken from the top of the land looking down towards the house

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We intend to plant more fruit trees this autumn – cherries, plums, nectarines, pomegranate, apples, pears, lemons and limes; kiwi fruit vines; almond and hazelnut trees; raspberry, blueberry, gooseberry and currant bushes. Apart from olive prunings, there’s no firewood on the land, so a priority this year will be to plant a woodland of ash to coppice to provide firewood in the future (about 7 years in the future). The lovely people we’ve bought the farm from are leaving us all their firewood, about 3 cords, so that will see us through this winter, and as most of the farms around us are abandoned, we may be able to ‘scrump’ some fallen trees in the spring.

So very excited to be starting yet another adventure! Tom will move to Portugal with the dogs in November, and I’ll continue living and working in Abu Dhabi for some time ( or until the building work is finished :))

Sweet Lime Marmalade

The sweet limes are finally ripening, and I picked a few kilos last weekend
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I first discovered sweet limes when we lived in India. They have a sweet/sour flavour, almost a cross between a lime and an orange, and the juice is sweet enough to drink without the addition of sugar. They also make fantastic marmalade and pickle.

So for my sweet lime marmalade I followed the standard marmalade making procedure, but only used half as much sugar as usual. The end result is a murky olive green, nothing like the day-glo lime green of the commercially made product, but it tastes so much better! It’s surprisingly tart (considering the fresh fruit isn’t) and actually tastes of real limes – I love it.

Off to pick some more now to make a hot pickle to go with curry.

Water kefir

As I’m not eating or drinking dairy products right now, I wanted to take advantage of the benefits of my newly acquired kefir grains without having to rely on milk kefir. Kefir is an ancient probiotic cultured beverage, full of good bacteria and good yeasts and a great immune system booster. I’d read conflicting advice on t’internet on whether it was possible to convert milk kefir grains to make water kefir, but thought I’d give it a go.

The method seemed fairly simple, 2 cups spring water, 3/4 cups of raw sugar or cane juice ( we grow our own organic sugar cane) and some dried fruit. 10 dried cranberries were recommended, as the favourite fruit of kefir grains, but as I didn’t have any I used raisins. Leave on the kitchen counter for 48 hours. Shake the jar several times a day to mix up the contents.

Repeat 3 times and on the fourth fermentation, save the fermented water, divide between 2 sterilised flip top bottles and fill those bottles to 2/3 rds full with fresh juice of your choice (kefir grains really like grape juice apparently), leaving enough space for the carbonisation process. Place in a warm dark cupboard for 24 hours and voila! A healthy fizzy drink. It needs to be refrigerated after 24 hours in order to slow down the carbonation process, as the bottles can explode.

So I followed the process above….and nothing happened. No fizz, no slightly yeasty smell, nothing. I changed the sugar water mix after 48 hours and thought I’d try some dates instead of raisins, and I’m happy to report that within 24 hours that jar was fizzing! Kefir grains really like dates, thank goodness we have abundant supply of them.

I saved the water from the fourth batch, as instructed above, filling 2 bottles with cranberry juice (homemade but no additional sugar) and 2 bottles with white grape juice. I left them to carbonate for 48 hours, as I’d stretched the fermented water between 4  bottles and assumed they’d take longer to carbonate – wrong! I opened one of the grape juice bottles after it had been in the fridge for about 10 hours, and it blew the stopper off the flip top bottle and sprayed the kitchen, ( did I mention that these bottles should be opened over the kitchen sink).

Anyway, the kefir water tasted amazing, although a little sweet for me. I opened the cranberry kefir water, and got a loud pop, rather than an explosion. It was nice but far too tart, so I mixed them both together and now have a very, very nice cranberry flavoured fizzy, but healthy drink.

With a shot of vodka, this would make a fantastic cosmopolitan 🙂 – but as I’m booze free currently, will make do with my ‘virgin’ cosmos!

Milk Kefir

I’ve been fermenting batches of milk kefir for 3 weeks now. The first attempts were revolting. I’d heard that kefir was an acquired taste, but how anyone could drink that frothy yeast brew was beyond me. I was fermenting on a shelf in the kitchen for the recommended 48 hours. Then it occurred to me that our kitchen was probably too hot overnight once the aircon was switched off ( I hadn’t noticed as Tom gets up at 5 am to take the dogs to the beach and turns the aircon on, so the kitchen is already cool when I get up). I tried fermenting for 24 hours and it was better, but not great. My dilemma was- as I’m not eating any dairy right now, didn’t want to make too much of the stuff, so fermenting a new batch a day was out of the question.

So now I have a new method, which I’m sure kefir aficionados will not approve of. I ferment the kefir overnight in the kitchen, and then put it in the fridge as soon as I get up. I left the first batch in the fridge for 5 days and it tasted delicious, thick and creamy and slightly tangy. I left the 2nd batch for 7 days and tried it this evening, as good as the first, but with a slight yeasty aroma. I’m not drinking it, just taste testing for now, but the dogs absolutely love it – they dance around me when I take the jar out of the fridge!

I have another batch going now, and will leave it for 6 days, and then will try a double ferment ( adding organic lemon or orange slices and leave it out for 24 hours), which allegedly improves the flavour and the nutrients.

My scoby (kefir grains) has doubled in size in 3 weeks!

 

Busy Weekend

Busy weekend, homemade lemongrass and ginger soap with a copper mica topping ( bit OTT but smells amazing); berry flavoured Shea butter lip balm; home- made ketchup, used the last of the Roma tomatoes, and bone broth – all before lunch!

i have milk kefir fermenting ( thanks to Aisha for the scoby) and have been converting some of the grains to water kefir over the last week or so. I now have 2 bottles of cranberry kefir brewing, and 2 bottles of grape. Will post separately on the process and the results.

Watermelon Rind Pickle

Ever wondered what to do with the rind left over from melons? They take so long to breakdown in the compost, even the chickens leave them alone after the flesh has been pecked off.  I found this great recipe for pickled watermelon rind so thought I’d give it a go. It’s not paleo, as it contains sugar, so I won’t be eating it but Tom might like it.

The process is quite drawn out, but because there was only a little bit to do each day, it was actually easier than making pickles in one big batch from start to finish.

Ingredients

Rind of a water melon, flesh and dark skin removed

3 ltrs water plus 3 cups for the syrup

1 cup of salt

5 cups of raw sugar

3 cups of white vinegar

1 Tbsp of cloves

6 sticks of cinnamon

1 Tbsp allspice berries

1 thinly sliced lemon

Day 1- peel the watermelon rind and cut into 1/2 to 1 inch squares. I sliced my watermelon she’ll into 1 inch strips, which made it easy to strip of the skin and the flesh with a vegetable pearler, took about half an hour.

Make a brine with the salt and water and soak the rinds overnight in the fridge.

Day 2- drain and rinse the rinds. Put in a large pan with just enough water to cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently until the rinds are fork soft, about 15 mins. In another pan pan mix the remaining ingredients, except the lemon, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour over the rinds and when cool, add the lemon slices and put back in the fridge overnight.

Simmering the rinds

 

Day 3 – pour all the ingredients into a pan and simmer for about an hour until the rinds are translucent and the syrup thick. Pack the rinds into sterilised jars and cover with the syrup.  I turn the jars upside down and leave for 24 hours (British method) but you can also use the water bath canning method to sterilise the jars for 15 minutes (American method)

Watermelon Rind Pickle

I did have a sneaky taste, and it’s lovely, the rinds have the texture of ripe pears in a tangy syrup. The combination of spices make this smell and taste quite festive, and I imagine it will taste great with the cold meats and cheeses we usually eat around Christmas – if it lasts that long!

 

More Sweet Potatoes

We planted 7 sweet potato plants last autumn, 4 in large pots in the garden, and 3 directly into raised beds. The pots were not successful, the chickens ate the vines of 2 pots, and they didn’t produce anything. The 2 other pots flourished, but I turned them out too soon, t’internet said I’d have kilos and kilos after 4 months.  Both had 2 reasonable sized tubers ( 6 inches long and 3 inches wide) and 4 or 5 tiny tubers. Rather deceptively, the larger tubers were at the top and the tiny ones at the bottom, so I fooled myself into thinking that they were all of a reasonable size. They’d been growing for 6 months, so longer than the recommended time for huge crops – don’t believe everything you read on Pinterest!

The potatoes in the raised beds are doing much better, the vines are spreading through the beds, especially now we’ve pulled up the tomatoes and courgettes, and are putting out runners, which will produce new plants and new tubers. The potatoes are growing near to the surface and are a good size. Below is one I picked this morning, with my flip flop for perspective (UK size 6). I’ll record how many I get, this one weighed 450gms, and I picked another that weighted 250 grams that was poking through the soil.

The pots were planted out last November and harvested end of April. The one’s in the beds were planted in January. We had pretty cold nights (12 degrees C 🙂 – it’s all relative) right until the end of Feb, so maybe it’s the warmer weather rather than the raised beds that have allowed these plants to do so well – they seem to be thriving in the 40+ heat.

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Summer Fruits

It’s in the 40’s here in Abu Dhabi now, summer’s well and truly here! This is the first year of having an established garden, this time last year our fruit trees were fairly newly planted, so I’m surprised to see that so much is still growing. We have a second flush of figs, seen in […]

Rendering tallow

I’m really getting into this whole paleo lifestyle, but don’t like coconut oil for cooking savoury dishes and so thought I’d have a go at rendering my own tallow (lamb in this case), and it’s surprisingly easy.

I bought a pack of lamb fat at the local supermarket ( as I’ve said previously, you really can get anything here) trimmed off most of the excess meat, which the dogs really enjoyed, and set about slowly rendering the remaining fat. I used a heavy saucepan on top of the stove, using the smallest burner and putting the saucepan on a trivet so that it really was a slow melt, but this can also be done in a slow cooker, it just takes a bit longer.

The whole process took about 4 hours, by which time most of the fat had melted and there were bits of crispy lamb meat in the pan. I poured the hot fat through a muslin lined sieve into a slightly warmed mason jar (to stop it cracking)’ and got a full 500gms. I didn’t render it all, as it was getting late, and thought I might render the rest the following day, however we gave the leftovers to the dogs and chickens as we were too busy to keep watch over a boiling pan of oil the following day!

I have to say, I’m really pleased with the result. The tallow is a creamy colour, is odourless in the jar, but gives off the most wonderful aroma when used. Food cooked in the tallow is much tastier also.

The only thing I would do differently next time is pour into a small loaf tin and then once solid, cut into squares and wrap in grease-proof paper, as this is quite difficult to get out of the jar when solid – and we have to keep it in the fridge here. Photos of the finished product below

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Homemade Almond Milk

Shop bought almond milk is expensive and often full of sugar/other less desirable ingredients. Yet almond milk is so easy to make, is healthier than shop bought and tastes delicious. Here’s how:-

Soak 2 cups of almonds for about 24 hours (some recipes say 12, I’ve left mine for 48 hours sometimes). Keep them in the fridge and rinse in fresh water before using

Soak 10- 12 dates in water, also in the fridge, keep the soaking water to add to the milk blend. I use Sagai dates, as they are my favourites and taste like toffees, but they are also expensive, so I really must buy some cheaper ones just for blending. They are also really sweet so I use less- 6 usually.

Throw the almonds and dates into a blender with 8 cups of water ( including the date water) and add vanilla paste/seeds (optional). Blend on high speed until all ingredients are liquified. Strain through a muslin lined sieve and squeeze as much liquid out as possible.  Keep in the fridge, I believe it keeps for a few weeks, but never lasts that long in our house.

The whole process, after the requisite soaking time, takes a few minutes.

The almond meal that is left over can be dried (on a baking sheet in a very low oven for a few hours) and used like pre-sweetened almond flour, or better still, used while still moist, to make almond biscuits, which is a lot less bother! I’ll post a recipe later.