Feeling hot,hot,hot!

This has got to be the hottest year since we first started coming to Portugal in 2012. It’s been in the mid 30’s for several weeks, and 40 degrees for the past few days. We’ve had very little rain over the winter, the wells didn’t fill up at all (we have 2 that are overflowing by end of December usually), and I’ve been watering the vegetable beds since January! Fortunately we have a natural spring that never runs dry. The forest fires have started in earnest, 12 in our county today already, and a huge fire near Coimbra last night in which 25 people died and another 20 were injured, very sad. I’m hearing the fire-fighter planes going over us constantly this weekend 😢

On a brighter note, our female pig came into season within a couple of weeks of being here (I’m assuming for the first time as she’d been in with the boar for several months before coming to us) and after lots of piggy activity, she was pregnant. Gave birth to seven gorgeous piglets on 1st April and all survived. She’s a really good mum and fell in love with her babies the minute she had them. However, it was so hot when they were born that we had to stop free-ranging them and bring them in under cover, as they became sunburned on their very first day! We still have 2 of the boys, which we’ll raise for meat, the rest have gone to new homes. We gave one to a neighbour who has been incredibly generous to us since we arrived here, 2 were bartered for 2 truck loads of manure (black gold and costs a fortune here) and 2 were bartered for 2 days work (which will be tiling the kitchen floor).

Lucky, our boar turned out to be not-so-Lucky, and we dispatched him on a (rare) miserable day at the beginning of May, with the help of our friends Brett and Sandra. We didn’t weigh the carcass, but at a guess I’d say he weighed 200kgs dead weight. We shared the spoils with B & S, and when they do their boar, we’ll help in return for  half the meat.

Keeping the ‘anti-money’ theme going, we have 2 milking goats on permanent loan from Brett and Sandra (ours wasn’t pregnant, despite my wishful thinking in my previous post). They have too many goats in milk at the moment, and as we have none, they have very kindly made this offer. Our 2 loan goats, Georgia and Hazel, are giving us just over a litre of milk between them from once a day milking, but we really need to start milking twice a day as they are uncomfortably full in the mornings. So far I’ve made  feta cheese, yogurt and ice-cream, and have restarted my milk kefir culture.

And the reason we didn’t have any of our own milk was because we stopped milking Cindy, our lactating ewe (first lamb born on our Quinta, as mentioned in the previous post) as we’d bought a cow! Maisy, a seven year old Dexter who’s calf was being weaned (by virtue of Maisy coming to our Quinta) so that Maisy would be in full milk production. With an anticipated 5 -10 litres of fresh cow’s milk everyday, we’d give Cindy a rest. However, Maisy was having none of it. Any attempt to get near those, extremely full, udders was met with a full-on, aim to maim, kick! And for such a small cow she can really kick high – backwards, forwards, side-ways, any-ways. She hadn’t been milked in years, if ever, by humans, and she wasn’t about to start now! We tried the age-old trick of tying a rope around her belly, and whilst that stopped her kicking (traps a nerve apparently that prevents kicking until they get used to being milked), she wouldn’t let-down at all. Maybe moving house, losing a calf, new people, just stressed her out too much, because outside of the milking shed, she’s lovely, and getting friendlier by the day.

The good news is, Maisy is very obviously pregnant again, and must have been so when she came to us ( unless she’s sneaking out at night to party with the cows across the lane😳), so we’ll give her another go when she’s delivered, letting the calf drink first so that she lets down, and then Tom and I diving in, she’ll never know the difference…..

 

 

 

 

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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!