Well, just when I thought it wasn't possible, my love for animals has hit a new high. After spending the day volunteering at Edgar's Mission last Sunday and meeting so many beautiful creatures, Tony and I came home feeling nothing but blissful happiness and overwhelming love for the animals we'd met that day.
The reason I'm a vegetarian is because I love animals so I'm afraid this is going to be a rather long post about our day at Edgar's Mission. But please bear with me as I do have a recipe for one of the most heavenly delicious Greek desserts to tell you about as well!
Edgar's Mission is a not-for-profit sanctuary for rescued farm animals. They rely solely on donations and the help of volunteers. Anyone can get involved by participating in one of the dedicated volunteer days which are held once a fortnight. The volunteer days are open to all who want to come and help with cleaning and tending duties on the property.
It was a hard day picking up goat poo all morning whilst trying to resist the very persistent body nudges from around 25 goats that resided in the paddock we were assigned to clean up, but we wouldn't have had it any other way.
Tony and I and two others were given the task to pick up goat droppings by hand (it's the only way to collect the tiny black pebbles from the dry grass), clean out their water trough and replace the straw in their bedding. Other volunteers had the muddy pig paddocks to clean out and another group had to work in plumes of dust as they swept up the chicken shed. There were around 30 volunteers, each with a different job to do, and I think we ended up with the best job of them all tending to our cloven-hoofed friends.
One of the little goats in our paddock absolutely stole our hearts. I'd never known goats to be overly affectionate, but "Boots" as he was named was the most adorable little thing – he was just like a puppy. He followed us around everywhere, not after food like the other goats. He just wanted to be cuddled and have his neck scratched, and boy did he get plenty of that from us.
Boots was just a tiny kid goat when he was found by Victorian Dog Rescue on the side of the road near Mildura around six months ago and brought to Edgar's Mission. Along with hundreds of other animals, Boots now has a safe and loving environment to live and is taken care of by manager of Edgar's Mission, Pam Ahern and her team of fabulous volunteers.
The sanctuary is home to pigs, cows, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, an alpaca, deer, turkeys, ducks and lots and lots of chickens. There are over 60 acres for the animals to share and the property is very well laid out with separate paddocks for each group of animals, large sheds and sheltered areas, and warm safe-havens for the sick and injured animals.
Tours of the property are conducted twice a week (check the website for dates and times) and there happened to be one on the afternoon we were there so after our work was done we joined the tour and heard many heart-breaking stories of how the animals came to be at Edgar's Mission. We also got to hand feed some very hungry cows and sheep which was a lot of fun.
In December last year Edgar's Mission undertook a massive rescue of 752 battery hens. A factory farm had just been purchased by a man who decided he didn't want to continue with the cruel practice of keeping caged hens, and rather than send the hens to slaughter, the kind man called on Edgar's Mission to rescue them.
Many of the hens have now been re-homed, but around 200 of them are still looking for loving, caring homes. If you are interested in adopting one or several of the hens, you can complete the prospective adoption form on the Edgar's Mission website.
The above photo is the large shed that houses the chickens at night. The doors are wide open during the day for the chickens to roam free over the property's 60 acres. Some of them wander around outside, pecking and scratching at the ground but most of them prefer to just hang in the shed.
With so many happy hens free-ranging on the property, there's an abundance of fresh eggs that Edgar's Mission sells for only $3 per dozen. We took home two cartons and very quickly put them to good use.
Galaktoboureko is a deliciously sweet semolina-based custard pastry, a little like vanilla slice, but much, MUCH better. Some recipes call for ten eggs, others only four. On this occasion I'm meeting the recipes half way and going with the six-egg version.
My inspiration to make galaktoboureko today came from a combination of elements: a suggestion from my older sister Melinda that it was time to add another dessert to the blog; reminiscing about a wild day in the kitchen with Aunt Koula in Limnos last year making this dish; and of course having in my possession a whole lot of fresh eggs from Edgar's Mission.
I have so many recipes for Galaktoboureko I didn't know which one to use, so I combined some of Koula's secret tips with a recipe from Ourania Vayakou's Recipes from Limnos and I have to say, the Galaktoboureko I produced today would have to be the finest I've ever made. I've already eaten two pieces. I do feel a bit sick, and what I'm about to say might make you feel a bit sick too... but I know what I'll be having for breakfast!
Galaktoboureko (Semolina Custard Pie)Adapted from Recipes from Limnos by Ourania G. Vayakou
Serves 12–24 (depending on how much you can take in one sitting)
- 1 packet of thick filo pastry*
- 200g butter
- 1 1/3 litres of milk
- 130g fine semolina
- 400g sugar
- 6 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
For the syrup
- 2 cups of sugar
- 2 cups of water
- 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
- 1 sliver of lemon peel
* In Australia there is a packaged filo pastry product that comes in thin and thick sheets. You can use either for galaktoboureko. If using thick filo you'll need 9 sheets, if using thin filo you'll need 15 sheets.
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
- Beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl for around 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes pale and smooth. Then add the milk and semolina and mix well.
- Transfer the custard to a large saucepan and bring to the boil while stirring constantly.
- Turn the heat down to a simmer and keep stirring for another five minutes, until the froth disappears from the top and the custard thickens. The semolina will give the custard a slightly grainy texture.
- Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla essence. Cover, set aside, and try not to eat too much of it before using it for this dish.
- Melt the butter over low heat and place saucepan on your work bench next to your baking dish and filo, ready for assembly.
- Line the inside of a large baking dish with well-buttered filo sheets, placing 3 sheets on the left-side of the dish and another 3 on the right (or 5 and 5 if using thin pastry), overlapping in the centre and buttered between each sheet. The sheets need to hang over the edge of your dish.
- Pour the custard mixture into the dish and spread evenly.
- Fold the over-hanging pastry back over the custard and lay the remaining 3 (or 5) sheets of pastry over the top, brushing each sheet with butter. If your top layers of pastry hang over the edge of your dish, trim to neaten.
- Brush the top layer with more butter and carefully score the pastry into portions.
- Bake at 180 degrees celsius for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
- While the galaktoboureko is baking, make the syrup (see below) then set the syrup aside until needed.
- Remove galaktoboureko from oven and immediately pour syrup over hot galaktoboureko.
- Combine sugar, water, lemon juice and peel in a medium saucepan and heat while stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 8 minutes without stirring. The syrup should still be clear with no honey tinge to it.
- Remove from heat, remove the peel and set aside until galaktoboureko is cooked.
Unfortunately you will have to wait for a couple of hours before you can eat your galaktoboureko. That's right, you have to sit there and just look at it until the syrup has penetrated and the custard is fully set. If you try to cut it up while it is still hot, the custard will ooze out everywhere.
Galaktoboureko is best served at room temperature on the day of baking. I guarantee it will make you melt in your chair if you eat it this way. Try not to refrigerate until everyone has had a piece (if there's any left over!). It does, however, need to be refrigerated after the first day, and will keep for two more days. You can garnish with finely shredded orange or lemon peel, or sprinkle with almond flakes and dust with cinnamon.