Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Vege Wars

They've done it with meat, they've done it with milk, now our big friendly giants are slashing the price on vegetables. Greengrocers are not a threat to the big two, but they'll strategically put them out of business regardless.  Until they have 100% of market share, these companies will not stop.  By then, nothing will be manufactured or grown in this country.  Yes, there is something you can do.  Shop at every independent store that you can.  Other than that, you'd better do some serious investing in Coles and Woolies, because you'll be competing with the rest of Australia for employment when we have no businesses left.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Aussie Jobs

Australian jobs for Australian workers.  There's been a lot of discussion about this topic over a long period of time now.  Our governments spruik about their Job-Creation exploits as our unions are beating down the doors of private companies demanding job security.  Our two big retailers, Coles and Woolworths are demanding that Australian suppliers provide goods at a lower price than they can produce their product and then buying in from overseas. Sadly, the cost of labour in this country is forcing many businesses to seek alternatives offshore.  

Fortunately, at this stage, we as consumers still have a choice.  We can choose not to shop at Coles just to get the discount on fuel.  We can choose to buy the brand name products so that our farmers and manufacturers can remain in business.  We can choose not to be sucked into marketing gimmicks like no-added-hormones and research the facts for ourselves.

There are alternatives to Coles and Woolworths.  Let the big two fight amongst themselves as we support our local businesses in the form of IGA, Foodworks and Aldi.  Sure, you may have to pay a higher price for food, but at least you and many other Australians will still have jobs in which to earn money for this.  

Unlike Coles and Woolies, Aldi supports Australian suppliers in their home brand products.  Aldi have a brand called Brookdale under which they have recently launched new flavoured toppings.   Not only are these products value for money, but they are also set at a reasonable price for the manufacturers.  This ensures that the Australian workers who produce the product can go to work tomorrow and not worry that the factory will pull up stumps and move to Malaysia.  Since the product is made mostly out of Australian sugar, there are jobs for our Australian cane farmers, millers and other workers involved in the refining process.

For those of you who may be feeling nostalgic, you may find it interesting that the family business who have lovingly made this topping for you are the direct descendants of the Tristrams of Brisbane who made such fabulous soft drinks all those years ago.  Yes the family is alive and well and still producing great food products (and crossing their fingers they don’t have to move to Malaysia).

So if you are interested in keeping Australian jobs safe, perhaps you could duck down to Aldi and buy some Brookdale chocolate, strawberry or caramel topping, a tub of ice cream made from Australian dairy produce and a handful of Queensland bananas and make yourself a good ol’ Queensland/Australian banana split.  Of course if you eat this every day you will have to join a gym but hey, your personal trainer needs to eat too.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cakes don't grow on trees - they are mostly grass.

I baked a cake today.  This was my second attempt at the Day-To-Day-Cookery's easy chocolate cake and it turned out much better than the last attempt.  For anyone who's planning to have a go, one cup of milk is not nearly enough, despite what the recipe says.

I like to think I'm pretty good in the kitchen, but when it comes to cakes, I am yet to prove myself.  You probably think that making a cake is pretty simple, but imagine what it would be like if you had to prepare the ingredients from scratch.  Here's what your ingredients had to go through to get to your kitchen.

This starts off as wheat, which is essentially a grass.  It grows during winter and is harvested using a machine called a header which takes the seeds off the top.  It then has to be cleaned to get the stones and grit out of the crop.  Water is added to soften the grain and it is then cracked by passing through rollers.  The grain is then sieved to separate the grain into three parts.  Depending on what type of flour you use, you may have some or all of these parts.  More rolling and sieving refines the flour.  White flour has all of the bran and germ removed, while wholemeal flour uses the whole seed.

This is also a grass in its initial form.  The sugar is in the stem of the grass so it must be cut close to the ground.  Leaving the roots means it can reshoot and you don't have to plant again for next year.  The cane then needs to be crushed and is combined with water to extract the juice.  At this point there is still dirt in your sugar, a product called slaked lime filters this quite successfully. The water is then boiled off and what we have left is a syrup. When the water is sufficiently removed, crystals form.  The left over syrup is removed by spinning the product like in a washing machine.  This refining process is done a couple of times to remove the syrup (called molasses) and get different types of sugar.

Cocoa comes from the seed of a pod which grows on a tree.  Unlike trees I've seen though, this pod grows not from the leaves and branches of the tree but directly from the trunk.  It doesn't taste anything like chocolate at this point.  It is harvested by hand because machinery might damage the tree, and the pods don't ripen all at the same time.  The beans need to then be fermented and dried.  After this, the cocoa beans are roasted to crack and remove the shells and the meat is then sieved and ground into powder.

The vanilla bean is actually a cylindrical capsule which is the fruit of a type of orchid.  The flowers of this orchid are pollinated by hand because they only last for a day if they are not pollinated.  The fruit is harvested by hand also and then wilted to stop any further growing.  The temperature is increased to sweat the moisture from the bean so that it doesn't ferment.  It is then dried at room temperature and enclosed in boxes for about three months to produce the flavour.  Vanilla extract is made from soaking this pod in alcohol and water.  Vanilla essence is a more complicated process and the imitation vanilla essence I used in my cake today, is more difficult to determine.

Chooks lay eggs.  Only female chooks can do this.  Male chooks, also known as roosters, have the job of fertilising the eggs which should ultimately result in a baby chicken so they don't lay, just like men don't have babies.  Female chickens still lay eggs even if there is no rooster around.  These are the ones we eat.  There is no refining process.

Cows produce milk.  Only female cattle can do this.  The same way only women can breastfeed their children.  Cows must give birth before they can begin producing milk.  Same as us.  The cows are milked twice daily at the farm.  Milk is then sent to a factory to be homogenised (milk and cream are mixed together permanently) and pasteurised (heated to kill off germs). Other ingredients are added depending on what type of milk you buy in the supermarket. The resulting liquid is then bottled, and sold as milk.

Butter is made from cream, which is skimmed off the top of the milk.  Skim milk is left over.  The cream is then pasteurised and cooled into a crystalline form.  The cream is then churned to produce buttermilk and butter grains.  The buttermilk is separated off and the butter grains are worked into an even product.  Salt may be added to enhance flavour and acts as a preservative.

So there you have it.  All cake ingredients had to come from either a plant or an animal.  They do not just appear in supermarkets but must go through huge transformations just to become ingredients.  And you thought making a cake was easy.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Curry Night

Isn't it amazing and wonderful, the variety of styles we now have for preparing food.  You can go down to your local bookshop and buy a recipe book which will teach you how to cook food in a Mexican style, French, Italian, Turkish or whatever you fancy.  I, personally, do not do recipes.  If I am looking for something inspirational, I may open a recipe book but only to look at the pictures.  If I see something interesting, I may go so far as to read the ingredients list but I tend to stop there.  Most of my cooking is a collections of styles gathered from people I have have lived with.  I was fortunate enough during my uni days to have a Korean, a Swede and an Indian living with me and so have collected some tips from them.

But as with everything, I tend to mix things all together to create my own style.  The inspiration for last night's dinner came from a book I was reading while my daughter was having her nap.  The characters in the book were preparing a curry. I don't remember how Mum used to make curry before our neighbour showed us a different style.  I think it was something like a beef stroganoff but with veges and sultanas chucked in.  After Mrs B cooked for us one night, curries became more complicated.  The meat was done separately in the sauce and side dishes were laid out on the table to be added whilst eating.  These included a mix or carrot-apple-and-sultanas, onion-and-tomato and cucumber-and-greek-yoghurt.  I didn't have any yoghurt but had I listened to my intuition when I was shopping this week I would have.  As I passed it in the aisle a little voice inside my head said, you should get that, but I dismissed the comment as I never use yoghurt in anything and at that point was not considering a curry as a culinary choice.

I'm off track, but if you'll indulge my thoughts again- Have you any idea how hard it is to grow carrots?  If you don't appreciate the phenomenal art it takes to grow a big healthy, straight carrot, I suggest you go get some seeds, find a spot in your back yard and plant some.  Perhaps after your first harvest, you won't be so picky at the supermarket.

Back to the curry.  I needed a third side dish.  In the book the characters mentioned banana and coconut.  Since I had both, that suited.  A previous flatmate showed me a way of making the sauce using coconut milk, and that's my standard method now, so I did that.  My Indian flatmate showed me how to make flat bread to go with it, so I did that too.  All up, I spent about three hours in the kitchen preparing this food.  Not an easy feat with Miss-Almost-One demanding my attention.  The whinging got so bad I ended up putting her on a stool next to me while I was rolling the pastry.  I'm surprised I didn't have to catch the little wriggle worm toppling off the chair even once.  But she was happy with her own rolling pin and flour which only added slightly to the cleaning up required.

So that was dinner.  I don't think I'll be making that much effort again for a while.  Not when I get better compliments with my bangers and mash.  But every now and then, you have to do something to satisfy yourself that you still can.

Do you have any cooking stories?  What inspires you in the kitchen?  Where do you get your style from?  Are you a recipe cook or a go-by-feel person like me? Or is it something else?  Leave a comment if you feel inspired.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mango Madness

Mangos are awesome.  I love the taste of mangos.  These fabulous fruit grow in tropical regions, typically north of Carnarvon, WA and Childers in Qld.  Orchards are dotted around the coast of Australia from these points.

The traditional way to eat a mango is to cut the sides off, slice these into cubes within the skin, then turn the skin inside out to display cubes.  A person is then expected to suck the cubes out of the skin.  A word of advice for the mango eater, take your shirt off first.  This is especially prudent for the kids.  Mangos taste fantastic and you don't want to waste any so peel the skin off the rest of the seed and suck the rest of the mango off the seed.  Trying not to get the juice all over your hands, face, and down your neck just makes it worse so have your mango then go for a swim (in the bathtub if that's all you have).

Here's some mango tips:

Wrap unripe mangos in newspaper and leave in a covered area out of the sun until ripe.  Do not put unripe mangos in the fridge as they will not ripen there.
Ripe mangos are great frozen.  Make them into ice blocks or simply store for future smoothies out of season.
Do not store mangos in plastic bags as they need to breathe.

Lastly do not spend less than $2 per mango.  Quality deserves a decent price and anything less means our farmers are working for free.  Farmers love the job, don't get me wrong, but they'd also like to eat.

For more about mangos, here are the sites I plagiarized:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


To a city person such as I once was, raising cattle may seem to be quite easy.  You put the cattle in the paddock and they eat the grass.  Done and done.  When it's time to sell, you get all the cattle out of the paddock and send them off to the meatworks.  How easy is that? Sit back for drinks on the veranda for the rest of the year.

Actually, there is a lot more involved.  I'll try to keep you updated along the way but for now let's talk about weeds.  I look at a green field and think, "Gee that's a lot of grass" but actually it may not be the case.  In fact, some grasses are even considered a weed.

Here's the rundown.  Lovegrass is a weed that is difficult to selectively spray for.  This is because it is a grass and therefore you can't just do a weed-n-feed type thing where you spray everything and the lovegrass gets got and nothing else.  Another reason it is hard to spot in amongst the other grasses.  It's germination cycle is very short, meaning that it grows from a new plant to an old plant with seeds quite quickly.  The cattle will avoid it then and it spreads while the other grasses are being grazed.  Other weeds such as creeping lantana grow in inaccessible places and are difficult to control because they are difficult to get to.  Some weeds, such as mother-of-millions are toxic to cattle and will make them very sick if not kill them.  Seeds can be spread in the wind, by birds, by vehicles and machinery or washed down creeks.

This all adds up to less grass in the paddock for our cows to eat so our graziers (farmers) need to do some serious management.  This usually involves plenty of mathematics.  They have to calculate the amount of palatable grass in a paddock and determine how many cattle can run in that paddock so that the grass can grow back before it all gets eaten.  They have to determine the cost of doing some weeding versus the amount of extra cattle that can be put in that paddock.  If you're at school and you think you don't need mathematics because you're going into agriculture, here's your wake-up call.  Farmers and graziers do maths nearly every day.

So the next time you see a grassy paddock, it may not be the low-cost, low maintenance farm that you envision.  It could require a lot more work than you think.

update 16/1/12 here's another devastating weed-grass http://www.gympietimes.com.au/story/2012/01/14/plague-of-grass-girant-rats-tail-weed/

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Things I have learned from my vege garden

We're only seventy kilometres from town but it's still hard to get motivated to do a grocery shop.  It's not like you can wake up in the morning, discover there's no milk and go for a quick walk to the corner store to get some, still wearing your pyjamas.  For the 70k trip, you have to psych yourself for a 45 min drive in, 45 min drive out, and the hour long pick-n-pack routine.  That's 2.5 hours if you don't speak to anyone.  But this is a country town.  You can't feign anonymity here.  Inevitably you'll get chatting to someone or many someones.  A grocery shop is a full days activity regardless of what else you have to do.  I get to town about once a month, if that.  Needless to say, my fresh veges, if not eaten within a week will have gone off anyway leaving us without for a good three weeks, maybe more.

So I started a vege garden.  Never having been a gardener, this was somewhat of a challenge.  Luckily for me, my husband (a grazier, not farmer) has had some farming background and he helped me plant my first seeds.  I'm not going to tell you the proper ways to plant a vege patch (you can google that yourself) but here are some things I have learned about vegetables since I started.

Silverbeet is difficult to kill.
One silverbeet plant seems to be sufficient for all of my spinach requirements throughout the year.  It can be pruned right back to nothing and still sprout again. I learned this when some cattle got into our house yard.  It is also impervious to frost and as long as you keep the water up to it in summer, it will handle heat as well.

Tomatoes grow from seeds dropped the previous year.
I haven't planted any tomato plants this year but I had heaps last year.  So many in fact, that we couldn't eat all the tomatos and they were ripening on the vine, promptly getting eaten by birds and seeds and skins were dropped back onto my vege patch.  This season, I have half a dozen tomato bushes with plenty of tomatoes for our needs.  These always frost in the winter but it is good to know they come back.

Pumpkins grow in summer.
I always thought these were a winter vegetable.  I probably sound like an idiot here.  I never intentionally grew pumpkins before.  Last summer, during the floods, a single rogue seed sprouted under our verandah and took off.  We picked the pumpkins around March this year and we haven't had to buy a pumpkin since.

Sandy loam is not the best soil to grow lettuce.
It's almost impossible to wash the sand off.

Shallots never die off.
I have had the same shallot plants for four years now and it is growing like a weed. At the end of winter, the stalks are really woody and seeds grow on the top, but after that, the stalks separate into smaller parts and new shoots grow.  By spring you have many more shallot bushes. I can't eat them fast enough.

There's more.  I'll keep you posted when I think of them.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The truth about hormones in beef

It has been a year since Coles went hormone free with its beef products.  How are you feeling?  Did you notice the change in your bodies?  Are our young girls reaching puberty at a more appropriate age? Was there a significant difference in your menopause symptoms?  Are you feeling less fit? more fit? less cranky?  Chances are, you haven't thought about it since January last year.

There are still many people who believe that hormones in our food is bad for us.  Thus, we have stopped treating our cattle with Hormone Growth Products (HGPs). We used to use these hormones (which were made from Estrogen) to enhance the growth of our cattle in a smaller time frame.  This also served to make their feed go further as they grew faster on the same amount of feed.  We could sell our cattle early, freeing up paddocks for the new generation.  Now, we still sell our cattle early but to feedlots instead of the meatworks where they spend the rest of their lives in cramped conditions instead of happy grassy fields.

The truth is, you've all been the victims of some very effective marketing schemes and nothing more. Like the remarkable Angus craze, the hormone free craze is just a gimmick.  Do you really think your minced Angus is any more tender than other minced meat when you eat it on a Maccas burger?

Here are some stats about the hormones found in food you eat compared to what your body naturally produces:

4 oz. beef from steer given hormones: 1.6 nanograms of estrogen
4 oz. beef from untreated steer: 1.2 nanograms of estrogen
4 oz. beef from non-pregnant heifer: 1.5 nanograms of estrogen
4 oz. raw cabbage: 2700 ng estrogen
4 oz. raw peas: 454 ng estrogen.
3 oz. soy oil: 168,000 nanograms of estrogen
3.5 oz. of soy protein concentrate: 102,000 nanograms of estrogen.
3 oz. of milk from cow given rBST: 11 nanograms of estrogen
3 oz. of milk from untreated (non-BST) cow: 11 nanograms of estrogen
Average level in a woman of childbearing age: 480,000 nanograms/day of estrogen
Average level in a pre-pubertal girl: 54,000 nanograms/day of estrogen
Average soy latte (one cup of soymilk): 30,000 nanograms of estrogen 

These stats compliments of the website http://www.feedstuffsfoodlink.com

In an article produced by the MLA (Meat and Livestock Australia) it is stated that "one egg contains about the same level of oestrogen as 77kg of beef from cattle raised with HGPs."   

So there you have it folks, no need to worry about hormones in your food anymore.  If anyone wants to argue the point with you, please direct them to this blog or the following websites for more information.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Friday, January 6, 2012

Getting out and about

Sometimes you just need to get out of the house.  We're pretty lucky out here, no traffic noise, no lawn mowers or leaf blowers to disturb the peace.  But even with all this space, a long walk or a drive around the watering points isn't all that motivating.  Luckily for me, I have a wonderful husband who just took me for a dinner out at our local pub  - a twenty minute drive from here.  I feel renewed and refreshed.  For anyone who has not been to the Cracow pub, you are missing an experience.  But that is for another blog post.  Today is about getting out and about.

The cattle feel the same sometimes.  No matter how good the fences are, if a beast wants to go visiting, there's not much that can stop him or her.  There are various reasons for this - the grass is greener cliche is one.  Another reason is simply that they want to go home.  I don't know if there are any mothers reading this but I can say from personal experience that when I was ready to have my first baby, no other town or city was going to be good enough - I wanted to go home to Brisbane and that's what I did.  Cattle are not much different.  When they are ready for their calf, we often find our heifers back in the paddock in which they were born.

But sometimes, you just need to go and visit the neighbours to be sociable.  Only problem is, if you walk all that way, someone has to go and pick you up and drop you home.  That's what we were doing today.  We borrowed a truck from LN, drove to CP, picked up 9 of our visiting cattle, came home, dropped off the cattle, reloaded the truck and made a pit stop to CR for a drop off, and the remainder were taken back to LN.  We would also have brought cattle home from CR but they hadn't had a recent muster yet and our cattle are still in their paddock.

So there you have it.  Sometimes you just need to get out of the house.  For determined cattle, barbed wire fences are merely a challenge and not a barrier.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Peanuts - pea or nut?

Apparently, before I came on the scene, my new family used to grow peanuts.  Now I always thought that peanuts were a nut.  But I've been informed that they are actually a pea or part of the legume family if you will.  There are many different types and they can grow on a bush or a creeper.  But unlike peas, peanuts don't actually grow on the bush, they grow under it.  They grow in the soil, but not as a root like potatoes or carrots.  The flower which is on the plant, is pollinated and then a stalk which comes from the flower imbeds itself in the soil and a peanut pod grows with between one and four peanuts.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Make hay while the sun shines - or else!

I haven't seen my husband for 24 hours.  He's at his dad's place helping to bale a field of hay.  My father-in-law had tirelessly ploughed the paddock, planted a lucerne crop, irrigated it and watched it grow.  When the time was right (he thought) he went back out with his tractor and cut the hay.  Ordinarily, he would then bale the hay and store it in his shed until it was sold to those requiring hay for horses or weaners or other purposes.
Not so this time.  The time was apparently not right for cutting hay.  The night that he finished, an unpredicted storm swept through his property and the hay got a good soaking.  So what? I wondered.  Apparently, this meant that the entire crop of hay was ruined.  My husband explained to me that the goodness leaches out of they hay after it has been wet.  If only my father in-law had waited just one more day.  We haven't had rain since.  But the weather forecasts are not so good as to predict exact rainy days or nights and our good farmers take some huge gambles every time they plant a crop.
So now the entire field of hay cannot be sold.  My husband is in there baling because what else can they do?  He is going to bring the hay here today and we will use it, for whatever feed value is left.  I will certainly have enough mulch for my veggie garden for years to come.
So that's my farm fact #3 Hay is ruined after one shower of rain. That's about as much of "Farming" as I know.  Can you contribute your own farm facts?  What crops do you grow?  What are some gambles that you take when you plant or harvest?  Isn't it really such a miracle that we get to eat at all?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cows are just people - in cow bodies

When driving around the paddock, I am often amazed at some of the similarities cattle have to people.  They appear to have similar social groups to us. Here's a farming fact for you.  Cows have a gestation period (length of pregnancy) of nine months - the same as people.  After the calf is born they have similar behaviour to us in a social sense.  It is not uncommon to see small groups of cows hanging out together watching their calves play with each other.  I call this playgroup.  We will also see one or two cows watching over up to ten calves while their mothers are off in the distance grazing.  This is cow kindy and our working mums.  They also seem to seek out friends of similar race.  We have Brahmans, Santa Gertrudis, Herefords and mixtures of all of these breeds but even as little fellas, the cattle seem to seek out their own kind and hang out in these groups.  Grey cattle over there, red cattle over here.  I haven't seen any overt racial discrimination at the water trough but you never know how subtle a cow can be.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Farming Facts

Well it's day two of 2012 and I've just had a friend visiting who was telling me some very disturbing stories about what her friends knew about food.  Apparently, after telling her friend how fresh her carrots were (dug out of the garden that very afternoon) she was met with the comment "Eww that's disgusting." When told the milk she was drinking came from the cow over the fence, her friend replied with, "I hope you washed it." What? The cow or the milk?  Another friend, she argued with at great length, because garlic could not possibly grow in the ground because it is white.  Laugh if you will, but clearly, as farmers, we have failed to educate the public on some very important issues.

Since this is the Year of the Farmer, and I have not much else to do, I have decided to assist in the education of the public on some facts about food.  I know a little about cattle since I have lived on a cattle property for the last four years, but, alas, I am still city born and bred and know precious little about the rest of the farming world.  In fact, my husband feels compelled to correct me every time I refer to our place as a farm.  Apparently it is not a farm as we do not grow crops.  We are graziers not farmers.  And while we're at it "Cows" is not a generic term which includes all cattle.  At best, it refers to all female cattle but if you want to get into semantics, it does not refer to any beast which has not born a calf.

So these are my first farming facts.  I'm happy to enter into discussion with anyone whether you agree or disagree with me.  As I said, I'm really a city kid playing farmer...sorry, grazier and I know not much.  If you would like to leave a comment, please do.  If you would like to be a guest blogger or contribute your own farming fact, please leave a message for me on my twitter account @fathappycows.

Join me on my quest for knowledge and my crusade to educate the world, as I plan to put up a new farming fact as often as possible.  Let's see if I can find one for each day this year.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 - Day One

Well here we are again at the beginning of a new year.  Like many others, we are enjoying a good season with plenty of green grass and fat happy cattle.  It is officially the year of the farmer and we're going to make it a good one.  But the year of the farmer is not just for people in the agriculture industry.  We can all celebrate by having a nice piece of steak or enjoying some fresh fruit.  Why not make this year, the year to take a further interest in agriculture by heading to the outback and visiting a farm for yourself.  Treat the kids to a weekend away to find out where their food really comes from and get involved in the farming process.

Be warned though, farming experiences may ruin your usual city recreations.  I certainly don't apologise for it, but my own brother used to really enjoy going on the odd trail ride.  Now he sees no point in getting on a horse unless there are cattle to muster.  For that he must come and visit.  Poor soul.

So come out and give a hand to fix a fence or grease a windmill.  I'm sure that many farmers will be happy to provide these experience for free, as long as you bring the beer.  Remember it's not work if it's not your usual job and the splinters you get to keep to show future generations the character building you experienced on the farm.

You can find more inspirational farming stories in blogs on my sidebar, check out what some other farmers have to say.

Have a happy new year everyone.  Make it special by starting to fulfil your dreams TODAY.