30 June 2007

Long shadows

I've been out in the garden enjoying the mid-afternoon sunshine and pouring a little rainwater on the vegetables. We have some dutch cream potatoes, carrots and English spinach picked for dinner that we'll have with the last of the tuna bake. As usual, I had my camera with me in the SIDE pocket of my apron. : ) I took these photos in the long shadows of a cold winter afternoon.

Don't forget, you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

H is already talking about picking this kale next week to have with his smoked German sausages. I'll be having boiled eggs and pumpkin soup on those nights. He's been happy that it's growing so well as it's the first year we've planted it and it's really taken off.

I love terracotto pots in the garden, not on the ground but upsidedown, like this.

This is the garden right next to the chookery. You can see beyond the fence to the bananas, palms and loofahs.

I'm going to prepare the vegetables for dinner and sit with some knitting. I've been hobbling around with a sore hip all day and I need to sit for a while.

Thank you for stopping by.


I spent a leisurely afternoon making my apron and although there are flaws - the bib is too wide, the ties too long and I had to patch fabric to make it fit, I'm quite happy with the outcome. I'll never win any prizes for sewing, that's for sure, but I do enjoy making this and that for my home. I'll wear my apron as I'm working today and when it is washed and ironed, I'll make some adjustments so it fits me better. Wearing an apron is essential when I'm doing housework. I can wipe my hands on it, carry things in the pocket and it covers my clothes so that if someone visits I can quickly take off the apron and look reasonably clean and tidy.

Aprons drew me into housework. When I was working for a living I didn't do much housework, and didn't like doing it. Then I gave up work, I bought myself an apron, then made a couple more because I felt more like doing housework when I wore an apron. It was like I was dressing for a role on stage. Now I love working in my home and cringe when I think of the lengths I used to go to avoid doing it. I'm really stupid sometimes. LOL

I know there are a lot of people who dislike housework but accepting it as part of every day is just a shift in mindset, similar to those adjustments made to stop shopping, be frugal and conserve resources.Now I see housework as simply making my home as comfortable and beautiful as I can for my family, friends and I. Making my bed each morning isn't just part of the morning routine, it's fluffy up the cosy nest so that it's inviting and comfortable for us that night. Sweeping the floor gets rid of food crumbs and the dust our dogs bring inside. It makes the house look better and that makes me feel good. Dusting gets rid of the dust that would cause my asthma to start if left sitting on furniture. I dust so I don't get sick. Washing clothes is a breeze - how could washing clothes be thought of as work when all you do is put them in a machine and take them out again? Hanging them to dry in the winter sun is a chore I like doing, and folding them when they're dry and fresh and putting them away in drawers gives me a sense of a job well done, a feeling that I've done what needed doing. Planting seeds and tending the chickens gives us good food and flowers that can be brought into the house. Simple flowers or herbs in an old preserving jar are one of the mindful joys of being at home in one's own place.

Cooking and baking have always been a joy so baking bread most days and having fresh biscuits and cakes for our morning teas gives me pleasure. I love sitting on the front verandah with H and sharing time and conversation with tea and something home baked. Since we gave up working for a living we have grown closer and part of that is due to those cosy morning chats. We have been together over 30 years and we've reconnected and reestablished our relationship on our front verandah. It's easy being there with him, we've made it a nice place to relax. It pleases me when friends drop by and I can serve them fresh chocolate chip biscuits or Anzacs, or buttermilk scones with homemade jam and local cream. Cooking from scratch after picking vegetables and herbs from the back garden, supplemented with staples from the pantry comforts me, knowing that I'm providing good wholesome food, without chemicals and preservatives, within the boundaries of my frugal budget.

Of course there are some chores I don't enjoy, but they don't bother me. Who likes cleaning a toilet for instance? I don't really enjoy ironing, but I put on the TV and watch something while I iron quickly. The payoff is fresh and tidy clothes for the following week. I like to look clean and fresh when I go to my voluntary job each week.If you are one of the many who dislike housework, try to look at it with kinder eyes. See it as something you do for yourself and your family, see it as making your home a comfortable and warm place that you're happy to spend time in and proud to invite your friends to share with you. See it as fluffing your nest.

There was a time when women used to work very hard in the home. We are lucky that we've got washing machines and vacuum cleaners now that make our tasks easier, although keeping house is still time consuming and difficult at times. When I had young children on the weekends we used to all do our chores in the mornings and we'd be rewarded by relaxing all afternoon or we'd go out or watch a movie together. They didn't mind working hard if they knew there was a payoff. That's how I see housework now - I work hard for what I get out of it. All it takes is a change in mindset to turn it around. And isn't reinvention part of our simple lives?


29 June 2007

Sewing an apron

I'm not a particularly good sewer but I do my best to make a wide range of things for my home. Today I'm making another apron. I need side pockets, not a front one which most of my aprons have. The front pocket catches on the knobs on the kitchen cupboards and catch me when I try to walk away. So side pockets it will be! Here is the fabric I'm chosen from my stockpile.

While I was looking for fabric, I found this little thing that I made last year. I drew the pattern and stitched it while I was working at our shop. It's mainly stitching with a little applique.

If anyone wants me, I'll be in the sewing room.

Keeping chooks in the backyard

These are are Rhode Island Red chooks.

How could you live without chooks in the backyard? Don't answer, I wasn't really asking. ; )

I've been keeping chooks in the backyard since my kids were little. When I wanted to teach my boys about
responsibility and looking after something other than themselves, chooks taught them all they needed to know. When I wanted to encourage gentleness as a contrast to the harshness of boy's games, the chooks took over and taught that it was ok to cuddle, speak softly and to defend the helpless. The chooks also showed my boys they were capable of justifiable anger and if they tried to take eggs from a broody hen, they paid for it with peck marks and a renewed respect for motherhood.

This rose comb Light Sussex hen was at the local poultry show a couple of months ago.

Chooks are excellent foragers. They can turn vegetable scraps, lawn clippings and green waste into compost faster than I can, simply by constantly turning over whatever is put in the pen. We have a compost heap and bin but when we need compost in a hurry we empty lawn clippings, vegie scraps and leaves straight into a small contained area in their pen. The chooks go in and out constantly throughout the day to scratch through it. We keep it moist with some tank water, they add their droppings to it and within two or three weeks we have lovely sweet smelling dark compost.

But overall we keep chooks for the delicious fresh golden eggs they give us. Nothing is better than a fresh egg, either softly boiled with toast soldiers, in a light fluffy sponge cake with homemade raspberry jam gently spilling over the side or in a quiche full of dark golden yolks, freshly picked green onions, red peppers and mushrooms.

This is a laced Wyandotte hen was also at the poultry show.
Having been explained the plight of pure bred chook by Pam, a member of ALS, I will keep only pure breeds from now on. Pure bred chooks are like open pollinated seeds. If we don't seek out pure breeds all that will be left in the future will be hybridised chooks bred for the poultry industry. Many of us who farm our backyards choose open pollinated seeds because choosing hybrid seeds is choosing corporatisation of seeds over the heirlooms that have been passed down over the generations. We do the same if we choose Isa Browns or Hyline chooks over pure breeds like Wyandottes, Plymouth Rocks or Barnevelders. Our last additions in the chook house were pure Rhode Island Reds. I'm looking to buy a couple of Welsummers next.

Hmmm, I
might have scrambled eggs with parsley and chives on toast for breakfast today because even in the middle of winter we are still getting six eggs a day. I'll put the kettle on.

28 June 2007

An easy day

I sometimes have people ask me how I fill my days. It's a bit of a patchwork really and each day is different to the ones on either side. For instance, today I rose at 4am and spent almost three hours writing on the computer. Then a break for breakfast of grilled cheese on toast and black tea. After washing the dishes and getting the bread on the rise, I swept the floor, cleaned the main bathroom with non-chemical cleaners, and made up a new batch of laundry detergent. Morning tea with H at 10.30, he made the tea and served it with some little afghan cakes I made the other day. I then had a look in the garden, planted up some tomatoes and zucchini seeds, talked to the chooks and thanked the new girls for starting to lay their sweet little brown eggs, checked the aquaponics gardens and watched the fish for a while. They're doing really well now and I hope they continue to live in good health. One mass fish kill is enough.

Lunch was brandywine tomatoes and rocket on hot bread and black tea.

A parcel of warm clothes arrived from a member of ALS (for the Neighbourhood Centre) so I wrote a quick PM and did some posting on the site while I was there. My sister, then my son phoned, so that made short work of the next hour. I made a start on dinner which is tuna bake made from scratch and is now in the oven. Dessert this evening will be an apricot cobbler I made last night, and warm egg custard, yet to be made. I've just finished cleaning up the kitchen again and took this photo so I could write another post while I had a cup of tea.

It's just after 3pm now, so I hope to do some knitting while the tuna browns in the oven. Basically my work is done for the day. It's been an easy one. Uh oh, I just looked outside to the lemons still sitting on the table. I need to juice them today so I guess I'm not quite finished.

I hope you all had a full and satisfying day.

Book list

Being the type of person I am I always read about things before I do them, or soon after. When I had my kids, I read everything I could while I was pregnant. Like most of everything else, that reading didn't really prepare me for it - it was more difficult, more tiring, more educational, more heart warming, more inspiring and more wonderful than I ever thought possible, but it did give me a few hints and it made me realise I wasn't alone. That's always a good thing to know.

So when it came to a major life change, I was true to form and went back to the books. That was in the days when I had a credit card just for internet spending and I ran it red hot. When I went looking in Australian book shops there was very little on offer about simple living, so I found myself browsing Amazon.

Before I give you my list of books, I must recommend, again, the Australian Readers Digest book - Back to Basics - ISBN 0 86449 028 3. (I've written about it previously in this blog.) There is an edition on sale on ebay at the moment. This book has information about building, crafts, preserving, growing food, cooking and baking and a lot more. As I have a lot of American readers, here is an American edition as well which is on sale here:

Another book along the same lines and also worth buying is The Encyclopedia of Country Living: An Old Fashioned Recipe Book by Carla Emery.

Linda Woodrow's The Permaculture Home Garden ISBN: 0-670-86599-0
If you're looking to create a permaculture garden in your backyard, this is the book for you.

This is the best Australian organic gardening book I've read. This book actually taught me things I didn't know, Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting by Lyn Bagnall.

Jackie French's Backyard Self-sufficiency, anther good book with down to earth practical advice. Also available from Green Harvest:

The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs, is not so much a practical guide but a guide to slowing down and reinvention.

Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin will transform the way you think about money. It's a must read!

David Holmgren's Retrofitting the Suburbs for Sustainability, available here on pdf:

Magazines: Warm Earth, Grass Roots and Earth Garden. All available at the newsagent and your local library, I hope.

Not must reads but also very good:
Joie de Vivre: Simple French Style for Everyday Living by Robert Arbor

The Chemical Maze by Bill Stratham - your guide to food additives and cosmetic ingredients. ISBN 0 9578535 2 1 http://www.possibility.com.au/

The New Herb Bible by Carolyn Foley ISBN: 1 87 5169 92 x
This is a good Australian book on herbs - how to grow, making cosmetics and cooking with them. I can't find a seller in Australia but you might be able to order it at the library.

Not books but worth reading and a good reference guide:

I'd probably
forgotten some but at least this is a start.


27 June 2007

Harvesting loofahs

Generally one loofah harvest will keep you going all year.

I harvested most of the loofahs this morning. I have about 18 of them, both dry and green. I clipped off some of the green ones because we've had a lot of rain lately and some were starting to look like they'd go mouldy. They will dry out under the shelter of the back verandah. There are nine green loofahs still on the vine.

If you don't know about loofahs, they're used for washing yourself in the shower, or cut up smaller and used for washing dishes. They have excellent exfoliating properties, so they keep your skin looking and feeling good, they're 100% natural, biodegradable and renewable.

I'll keep a few of these I picked today for using through the year. Some of them I'll cut into small pieces
and pour hot homemade soap into them. When they dry and harden, they make an excellent gift. The smaller ones will be used in the kitchen.
This is a loofah with the skin partially pealed off.
Loofahs are a distant cousin of the cucumber and although they like warm weather, they will grow in cooler weather. Two vines will cover quite a large area and would be enough to produce about 40 or 50 loofahs. They like to climb, so you'd need a trellis or fence to grow them well.

You can pick loofahs
when they are green or brown. If they're still green they'll feel heavy and full, as they dry they lose their bulkiness and will weigh only a gram or two. They'll be ready to peel when they turn brown, are light in weight and you can peel the crisp skin off. When you have all your loofahs peeled and all the seeds out, soak all of them in a bucket of water with a tablespoon of liquid bleach added. This will kill off any mould spores that might be lurking. When they've soaked for a couple of hours, rinse them all, and dry in the sun. When they're dry they're ready to use or store.
These are the seeds from one loofah.
As you can see by this last photo, each loofah produces quite a few seeds. I'm happy to send out seeds to anyone who wants them, but I can't afford the postage. If you'd like some seeds, send me a stamped self-addressed envelope, I'll send some loofah seeds and maybe some madagascar bean seeds or rosella seeds. It's all free, you just have to pay your own postage. Send me an email and I'll send you my postal address.  PLEASE NOTE, I have no seeds left.

These are madagascar bean seeds. They're a traditional permaculture plant. Two seeds will grow a wall of beans that can be shelled and stored in the cupboard as dried beans.

Wasting food

I have few regrets when I look back on my old life but one thing I do regret is all the food and money I wasted. I’m very careful now to make sure that I buy only what I’ll use and when the food is in the house, I make sure I use it. “Forgetting” about it in the back of the fridge or the cupboard is no longer an option for me. I refuse to waste anything. Sadly, it’s not only the financial aspect of all that waste that is disturbing, it’s also that fact that most of it goes to our landfill sites and gives off greenhouse gases, including methane.

According to Wasteful Consumption in Australia: “Overall Australians threw away $2.9 billion of fresh food, $630 million of uneaten take-away food, $876 million of leftovers, $596 million of unfinished drinks and $241 million of frozen food, a total of $5.3 billion on all forms of food in 2004. This represents more than 13 times the $386 million donated by Australian households to overseas aid agencies in 2003.” 1

I wonder if others are shocked by those figures. I am.

The waste outlined in the report is broken down
into the following demographic characteristics: Younger people waste more than older people. In the 18 – 24 year old age bracket, there was an amazing 38 percent who said they wasted $30 worth of fresh food per fortnight. This sharply reduces in the 70-plus age bracket where only seven percent of householders admitted similar waste. 1

The key to stopping food waste is good organisation. When you shop, do it with a shopping list after you’ve planned your menus, or at least have a good idea of what you need to buy for meals. Don't impulse shop, thinking you'll buy something "just in case", or because it looks good. When you buy meat, fish and poultry, get it home quickly, divide it into meal-sized portions and label it clearly, with the date, and put it in the fridge or freezer as soon as you can. Keep all the different kinds of meat together in their own sections. This will help you know when you need to buy fresh supplies of that particular product. If you have a freezer with drawers, keep all your beef in one draw, the chicken in another, or divide the drawer in two and have beef one side and lamb in the other. If you have a box-type freezer, put your meats in baskets, plastic containers or old plastic shopping bags that are labeled with the contents.

Organising your freezer, and making a commitment to keeping it organised, will help because you’ll know what you have on hand, what you need to buy and what needs to be used before it is too old. Most freezers have a frozen food guide printed on the inside of the door, be guided by it and don’t store food longer than the suggested time period. Keeping a freezer log is also a good idea. Just get a small notebook and divide it up into sections. When putting new food in the freezer, enter it in the log, complete with portion size, food type, date. When you use something in the freezer, cross it off your log book. You’ll know at a glance exactly how much frozen food you have. Keep the log close to your freezer so you don’t waste time looking for it when storing new food or taking it out.

Be mindful of what is in the fridge that needs to be used. You might have vegetables that are a bit old - make vegetable soup and freeze it. There will be a night when you are grateful to have a pre-made homecooked meal ready to go. The apples going soft in the fridge? Stew them and have them that night with a little cinnamon sugar and warm custard.

I challenge all of you to go to your fridges now and see if there is anything that is on the verge of being wasted. If so, do something with it before it's too late.

1 Wasteful Consumption in Australia
Clive Hamilton, Richard Denniss, David Baker
Discussion Paper Number 77
March 2005
ISSN 1322-5421

26 June 2007

The last thing

I've always been a very keen reader. There was a time when I would read a book every couple of days but that was when I had time to lounge around and indulge in the effortless pleasure of good books. Now I've changed my reading habits and I usually have two or three books to read at one time. I have one in the house somewhere, one next to my bed and usually one in my bag - my travelling book. All these books are from the library because I rarely buy new books now. I gave up a lot of things to live more simply - pay TV, flying, imported food, new clothes and shoes every year; the last thing I gave up buying was books.

Here is a photo of one shelf in a bookcase that stands a few feet away. These are not library books. All these books are used fairly frequently, either as reference books, to lend to someone or just to reacquaint myself with the simple truth they contain or to again be inspired by the beauty of their composition.

25 June 2007

Fresh organic food

We’ve had a vegetable garden for much of the past 25 years. Gardening is one of those things that I miss when I don’t do it for a few days. I can't see myself without some form of garden in the future, even if it’s just a few herbs and some tomatoes in pots.

But now I have five garden beds surrounded by a picket fence to keep dogs and chooks out. On the other side of the garden we grow fruit. Currently we have grapes, bananas, passionfruit, pink grapefruit, mandarins, loquat, raspberries, loofahs, blueberries and lemons. Contained within the vegetable garden there are oranges, peaches and nectarines.

We grow vegetables all year but now is our best growing season. During summer it’s very hot here and there are so many bugs around it doesn’t seem worth it to grow anything. But generally we soldier on with tomatoes, cucumber, eggplant, chilli, capsicums, potatoes, silverbeet and herbs.

We are now growing potatoes, cucumbers, cabbages, bok choy, radishes, lettuce, rocket, English spinach, silverbeet, turnips, carrots, capsicums, beans, peas, red and green onions, pumpkins, herbs, kale, mixed lettuces, loofahs. In the aquaponics garden we have celery, asparagus, silverbeet and lots of tomatoes.

Our garden has been organic since the start. We’ve lived here for 10 years and have tried to operate a closed system over that time, but invariably we’ve had to import straw for mulch and a bit of organic fertilizer, seaweed extract and potash. The soil has been built up of the years from red clay to the friable dark soil we now enjoy. There was a lot of hard work at first, mountains of compost, dolomite limestone and worm castings from our worm farm, but we’ve now got very good soil.

My garden is maintained so it will produce food all year, we eat from it almost every day. I also like to freeze and preserve excess for use later. Often we give eggs and vegetables to our son and occasionally to friends and neighbours. I grow loofahs to use in the shower, in the kitchen and to give as gifts with some of my home made soap.

There is nothing better than your own fresh organic food
ready for picking in the backyard. When you team that up with a stockpile cupboard of dried goods and staples, you can live like a queen without the huge expense normally associated with organic food.

24 June 2007

Organising the linen cupboard

When I decided that I would stop spending, along with that decision came the imperative of looking after what I own. We have always bought the best quality we could afford at the time and when you live simply that is a necessity. You aim to have good quality that will last a long time, and to look after everything you buy so you don't have to keep replacing it. In the coming weeks I'll write about looking after various items in your home, today it's the linen cupboard.

One of the things I do every six months or so is to clean out my linen cupboard. It gives me the opportunity to clean down the shelves and get rid of what I'm not using. I cleaned my cupboard out this morning and now have a small bag of sheets and duvet covers that I'll take to work with me next week to give to families who come in. I also have a nice bag of flannel rags that I cut up from old sheets.

sheets. sheetsW

When you clean out your linen cupboard, remove everything to give yourself a clean slate to start with. Your shelves should be painted or covered with plastic sheeting. Wooden shelves tend to stain linens over time. Fill a small bucket with soapy water and wipe down the shelves, dry each shelf well with an old towel. You can add essential oil to your soapy water to give the cupboard sweet smell. Look for any signs of cockroaches, silverfish or other pests. If you find any such signs, place some borax traps at the back of the linens to kill whatever has made their home in your cupboard.

Go through all your linens and refold all of them. Hopefully you won't have too much folding to do but it is worth it to make sure they're not harbouring pests or mould. Put back only those linens that you use. Don't be fooled into thinking the rose and primrose comforter your granny gave you will be used in the future. If you haven't use it in the past year, give it to someone who will use it. What use is a comforter, even if it is a cherish one, that is not used? When you've made the decisions on what will go back, place it all on your shelves in a way that makes sense to you.

We have a queen size bed so all my queen fitted and flat sheets are together on my main shelf. Under that shelf, I keep duvet covers and pillow slips. Over them I have sheets, duvet covers and odd sided pillow slips to other beds in the house that are only used when guests are here. Below the sheets are guest towels. The towels we use regularly are in our bathroom. Organising my cupboard like that makes sense to me so when I need new sheets, I don't have to sort through the lot of them to find what I need.

This is an easy task that should take you about 30 minutes to complete. I tell you, you'll feel wonderful when it's finished. So if you've yet to start organising your home, start with this small thing and we'll take it from there.

23 June 2007

Ch ch ch ch changes

I have to apologise right now. There will be times when you come to this blog and just as you've become used to one set of colours and layout, I'll change it. I can't help it. The love of change is instilled deep within me. So for all of you who prefer to stay with the familiar, I apologise. I change the furniture around all the time too.

Cutting costs in the kitchen

My sink overlooks our vegetable garden so washing up is a slow and pleasant task.

We spend so much time in the kitchen it easy save a few dollars just by doing things a little bit differently. Over the course of a year, those few dollars can really add up.

Kitchen Sink
Keep a square container in your sink. Fill this with all the water that you use for washing vegetables, hands and general kitchen duties. Each time it’s full, take it outside to water your plants. You can also use your sink container for small amounts of washing up. I use a 6 litre D├ęcor square plastic container and it sits neatly in my half sink. As it’s got the litre capacity marked on the side it’s easy to see how much water I’m using.

Use dishcloths that can be reused many times. I use cotton dishcloths that I knit myself. They last for a few years. I use them for a couple of days and then add them to a dry pail in the laundry. Every week I soak them in a small amount of napisan and hot water and then add them to the next wash. You can knit different colours for different rooms so you never use your bathroom cloths in the kitchen.

When washing vegetables like potatoes, pour water into a small bowl and after peeling, put the potatoes in the bowl. Swish them around and remove most of the dirt and peelings. Tip this water out and fill your bowl again to finish off the vegetables in clean water. This will use between 3 – 6 litres of water. If you stand at the sink peeling potatoes under running water, you’ll use about 10 litres of water per minute …and it will all run down the drain.

It is often said that dishwashers use less water than hand washing, but water is not the only resource dishwashers use, they also use electricity and chemical cleaners. If you use a dishwasher you might like to audit your water and electricity usage to see if it’s more economical to wash up by hand. You can do your own small audit by reading your meters – water and electricity. Use the dishwasher for a week and record your water and electricity usage at the beginning and end of the week. Do the same for a week when washing up in the sink. When I did this I found that it was more economical to wash up by hand if I used the dishwasher every day. By doing a small amount of hand washing – things like pots, tea cups that are used during the day and certain bowls that although small, take up two spaces, etc – I can use the dishwasher every second day. By then it is completely full and I use a bit less water and electricity.

Only use the dishwasher when it’s full.

Experiment with your dishwashing powder. I have found that blending dishwasher detergent powder with 50 percent bicarb, gives an excellent result. Use vinegar as a rinse aid.

As with all your appliances, keep your dishwasher clean so it gives you the best performance.

You can save a lot of power by being mindful of how you cook. When something comes to the boil, turn the power down so it keeps simmering and cooking without the high heat.

When boiling vegetables in a saucepan, keep the lid on. It will retain more heat and cost less to cook.

Make two meals at once - things like soups, casseroles are the easiest, and freeze the second meal for later in the week.

When you bake, do a few things at a time. Bake a few loaves of bread and freeze a couple, or bake bread and cake or biscuits at the same time.

Invest in a steamer – either steel or bamboo. You can boil pumpkin, potatoes, and any hard vegetables in the saucepan, while steaming tender vegetables on top. Doing this will save you the extra cost of a second pot on another part of the stove.

Keep a small container in the fridge for off cuts that can be used to make stock or soup. Things like celery and radish tops, the top bit you cut off carrots, turnips and parsnips. The feathery tops of fennel. If you haven’t made use of these vegetables after a couple of days, use them in your worm farm, for the chooks or compost.

Invest in a slow cooker or crockpot. It costs less to cook in and will give you fabulous soups, casseroles and a whole lot of other goodies with little effort.

Plan your menus. This will save you time and money.

Stockpile groceries. The will also save time and money. I have a post on stockpiling in my post archives.

Save glass jars that can be given a second life storing food in your kitchen.

If you find you have a lot of vegetables in the fridge that are past their prime, make some vegetable soup and freeze it. It’s always reassuring to know you have food ready to go in the freezer.

Rotate the stock in your pantry and stockpile cupboards. Put new things at the back and use from the front.

Keep the seals on your fridge clean. Check them occasionally to see that they’re sealing properly. You can do this by holding a piece of paper over the seal while you close the door. If the door doesn’t hold the paper, you need new seals.

Keep your fridge organised and clean.
Use your fridge wisely. Don’t push things to the back. Know what needs to be used and never waste food. Clean out your fridge today and start with a clean slate.

Here is a green home guide that may help you save dollars and the environment at the same time. It is written for my local area in mind but the advice is universal.


21 June 2007

Homemade cards

I've been tidying up my photo albums this morning because it's too cold to go outside to the garden. I found this little card I made a couple of years ago that I thought some of you might like to see. We owned a shop when I made a few of these cards for Xmas and I got some very strange looks from customers who wondered what on earth I was doing knitting on tooth picks. Truly, there is no easy explanation.
I've also spent some time this morning looking for blogs I like to add to my links list. I did find some lovely Australian ones and I invite you all to check them out by clicking on the links on the left side of the screen. Five and two and soozs. I'm still looking, so hopefully I'll be adding more.

Local food

It always pleases me a lot to cook local and home grown food. When I can combine that fresh food with something from my preserving cupboard it makes it even better. Last night I made pizza. I used the bread recipe below (without the gluten flour) and added two tablespoons of olive oil to make a tender and pliable dough. The topping was my homemade chunky tomato sauce (five jars of it was made last November), some locally grown mushrooms and local cheddar cheese. Perfecto!

We followed that up with a real egg custard danish with home preserved apricots. Unfortunately the pastry was a frozen square of the store bought stuff, but it was lifted by the wholesome homemade topping. The custard was made with our backyard eggs and milk from the local dairy. One of our Rhode Island Reds has just started laying, so her first egg was included. The apricots were part of a batch I preserved last summer. We were both smiling when we finished our dinner last night. Good food does that to you.


20 June 2007

Bread making for beginners

I hope this tutorial helps the readers who are starting out on bread making or those who have tried but failed. All the ingredients are commonly found in Australian supermarkets, bulk food stores and health food stores.

Baking bread makes sense economically, even if you make your bread in a bread maker, it will be much cheaper than buying premade bread. It will also be healthier as your homemade bread will contain only those ingredients you include, not flavour enhancers, preservatives or colourings.

You will see I've added gluten flour to this recipe. It will help those of you who have not yet got the kneading under control to still get an excellent loaf. When you're more proficient, you can leave it out.
I am happy to help anyone who is having trouble baking reasonable bread. Most problems are easy to fix. Just leave a note in the comments section and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

1½ teaspoons dried yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
65 mls warm water
3¾ cups baker's flour - also called strong flour or high protein flour
3 teaspoons gluten flour
1 tablespoon butter/margarine (softened)
1½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon milk powder
250 mls warm water + more if necessary

Just a word about flour. Bread mix, which is commonly used in bread machines, is flour with bread improver and flavour enhancers added. We are NOT using bread mix. By adding the ingredients we add, we're adding natural flavour to the bread as well as giving it a lift, that as an inexperienced baker, you won't get without the gluten flour. When you start experimenting with other recipes you can leave out some of these ingredients and try others. Another thing you need to know about flour is that it's different all over the country. When baking with the various flours, they take different amounts of water. A flour in Melbourne will be slightly different to a flour in Brisbane because of the amount of humidity in the air. And even if you use the same bag of flour at different times of the year, you'll probably use slightly more or less water, according to the weather conditions. This is not a problem, it just means you have to know what your dough should look and feel like before going to the next step. Bread making is very tactile, even when making the dough in a bread machine, I feel it to make sure I have enough moisture in the dough. This recipe generally uses 315mls of water, but when I made this loaf yesterday I used about 40mls more. Sometimes the difference will be one spoon full, sometimes it will be almost a cup.

Activate the yeast. (Proofing)
You don't want to go to the trouble of making the bread and find at the end it hasn't worked. One of the ways to be confident the bread will turn out well is to make sure the yeast you're about to use is alive. Yeast needs water and sugar to activate. If it's alive, when you add the water and sugar, the yeast will start fermenting and becoming frothy. This is what you want to see. Take 1½ teaspoons dried yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar and 65 mls warm water and mix together in a cup. Leave it aside for a few minutes while you prepare your other ingredients. When you come back to it 5 - 10 minutes later, it should look like this.

Mixing the dough
Then add your dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Add the flour first, then make a little depression in the flour to contain your other dry ingredients. When all the dry ingredients are in, add your proofed yeast and the rest of the warm water. Mix all the ingredients together with a spoon until it gets to the point where your hands will mix it better, then start bringing the mixture together with your hands. This is the first point when you check the moisture content. If you need more water, your dough will look like this after you've added all the water stated in the recipe.You can see in the photo that the dough looks dry. It hasn't come together properly and there is still flour to be incorporated into the mix. Take notice what your dough feels like.

You're aiming for a ball of dough that's combined all the ingredients, with a slightly moist feel. You don't want it wet and not dry either. If your dough looks like the above photo, add more water by doing this: get a half a cup of warm water and a dessertspoon. Add the water to the dough one spoon full at a time. You have to be careful not to add to much so do it bit by bit. When your dough looks like the following photo, you're ready to go to the next step.

Kneading the dough
If you've had problems with handmade bread before, you're probably not kneading the dough long enough. This is a very important step if you want light bread with a good crumb. If you're good at kneading, this step will take you at least 8 minutes. If you're light handed, you'll take at least 10 minutes on this step.You need a firm and stable surface on which to knead your dough. It's best done on a clean bench top. Wipe the surface of your bench top with a clean cloth and warm soapy water. Don't use antiseptic wipes, you could kill the yeast. When you're satisfied the bench is clean, wipe it with a clean tea towel. This surface is ideal for kneading. If your bench top is not suitable, use a large bread board with a slightly wet tea towel folded in half under the board. The moistened tea towel will stop the board moving while you're kneading. Sprinkle a small amount of the same flour you used in the recipe onto your bench top and place the dough on it. Before you start kneading, poke your finger into the dough and see how the indent stays in there. This is a good way to test your dough as you go through the kneading process.

Start kneading the dough. You can use both hands to do this. In the photos, I'm using one hand because I'm taking the photo with the other one. What you're trying to do is develop the gluten by working the dough and getting the gluten strands to develop. You do this using the heal of your hand. Push the top of the dough away from you with the heal of your hand while holding the dough steady with your other hand.

The dough stays right in front of you all the time, but you push a portion of it away with every action. After you've pushed out, fold that portion of the dough back on itself like the top of an envelope. Turn the dough a quarter turn and push it out again with the heal of your hand. Fold it back on itself. Another quarter turn. When you've kneaded for one minute, your dough will look like this:

We can see here how the dough had been folded back on itself and that it's starting to look drier and smoother. Keep kneading for another few minutes and the dough is smoother again. If you poke your finger into it now, the dough will spring back out, not stay indented. Keep kneading until your dough is smooth and elastic, like this.

You can see that the dough is smooth and elastic and if you poke your finger in it will spring out nicely. If you've been kneading for AT LEAST 8 minutes and your dough is smooth and looking like the photo above, then you're ready to go to move on.

Don't rush things though just for the sake of a few minutes because the work you do here makes or breaks your bread. Fold all the bread into itself so the other side forms a nice smooth ball like this:

First rise

Place the ball of dough, smooth side up, in a clean bowl that's been very lightly greased with olive oil. Cover the dough with a clean moist tea towel or a lightly greased piece of plastic wrap. The bread must be covered well so it doesn't start to harden while it's rising. If you've got a cold kitchen the greased plastic wrap might be the better option. You want the dough to rise in a warm draft-free area. If the dough stays cold, it will take hours to rise. So place in in an oven that you've heated to about 150C for a few minutes and turned off. Or you could put it outside in the sun (I do this). Make sure it's covered properly though, you don't want flies or ants in your mix. Or place a heated wheat bag near the bowl. If you have a pot of soup on the stove that is still warm, place the bowl near the stove. If you have a hot water system that is warm during the day, that might be a good place for you. You're looking for a a temperature of around 20 - 24 C. If the area is too hot or too cold it will effect the taste and texture of the finished loaf. Leave the covered dough in the warm spot untouched for about 30 minutes and check. It needs to double in size, like this:

When you dough looks like this, you're ready to go to the next step.

Punching down and forming the dough
Punch the dough to deflate it. It will look like this:

Scoop the dough up out of the bowl, sprinkle flour on your bench top again and place the dough on the flour.Turn your oven on to its highest setting. Start kneading the dough again. Use the same technique as before with the heal of your hand and knead for two minutes:
After two minutes of kneading, flatten the dough and roll it into a cigar shape.When it looks like this, you're ready to add some seeds:

On my loaf I used a mixture of sesame and poppy seeds with oats. This stage is the opportunity to add more nutrition to the loaf with oats, wheatgerm, sesame or poppy seeds, soaked linseed or any other topping you want to use.

Pick the loaf up with the smooth side on top and with your other hand, moisten the loaf all over with water. Roll the loaf in the seeds/oats so that's it's completely covered. The water will stick the coating to the loaf. If you don't want seeds on the loaf but would like a crusty loaf, moisten the dough with the water but don't add the seeds. If you want a softer loaf, don't add the water at this stage but put the loaf straight into a lightly greased loaf tin and sprinkle with a small amount of flour. If you like, you can make a slashes in the top of the loaf.

Second rise
Let the loaf sit in the loaf tin for the second rise until it's lifted a couple of inches but not bulging over the sides.

You need a hot oven to get a good lift, so when the oven is hot, place the loaf in to cook. After 10 minutes, turn the oven down to 200C and cook for another 15 - 20 minutes, or until you can smell baked bread and the bread is golden brown. Put the bread on a cake rack and get the butter ready because you are about to enjoy your bread.

Small space sustainability

This photo gives a good overview of our back verandah. It's a bit untidy so look past that. ; ) You can see our aquaponics tank and grow beds, our old washing machine that is attached to the water tank, and the water tank is just in front of the bush house. We installed that tank ten years ago and recently installed another that holds 10000 litres.

You can see lemons ripening on the table, a ladder leading to the roof, where H installed a homemade solar heater for the AP tank and there are lots of recycled plastic pots waiting to be potted up again. Just shows how how many sustainable things you can do in a small space.

19 June 2007

Slow start for the sewing circle

It was very disappointing, only one woman came along to the sewing circle. She wanted to learn how to cut out and sew a pair of pants that fit properly. Not a problem, she now has her pants cut out and pinned. It was really good for me to see how easy it looked to do it, although I think it may be one of those skills that looks easy, but isn't. The ladies weren't put off at all by not having more people there and will meet again in a fortnight for the second sewing circle. Hopefully by then a few more women will join up.

The first Brandywines have been picked from the aquaponics garden and are now waiting in the kitchen to be eaten. I might have one with an egg for breakfast, or I might have it with a salad for dinner. Decisions, decisions. Anticipation is a wonderful thing.


18 June 2007

Library books

I'll be taking my library books back today - I have this Reader's Digest back to basics book as well as the seed saver's handbook. If you're in Australia and are looking for an interesting book to read, grab this one. It's worth a look.

On top of the book is my latest dishcloth.

17 June 2007

Back to the earth again

Just in case you missed it, there was an interesting article in Time magazine this week: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1630816,00.html

Julie from Towards Sustainability was interviewed for the article and she had some important things to say. You can read her blog here: http://crazy-mumma.blogspot.com/

Linda Cockburn was also interviewed for the article. Linda wrote that fabulous book, Living the Good Life. Linda's website is here: http://www.lintrezza.com/

And finally, a plug for Ted Trainer, also interview by Time. Ted's website is here: http://socialwork.arts.unsw.edu.au/tsw/

A busy Sunday

It will be a fairly busy day today. I have to sow some seeds in the aquaponics garden as well as some brandywine tomatoes for another garden we are making in the front yard. I have some ironing to do, there is a load of washing on at the moment, I will bake a cake and bread, get my notes, notebook, diary and bag ready to take to work tomorrow and later on I will pack the car with the new sewing kit, my sewing machine and some spare lemons I'll give away. I have to take my sewing machine as the new sewing machines didn't arrive at the place I bought the new ones. If I have time, I'll clean out a cupboard in the kitchen that is driving me nuts.

DH is replacing a fan
belt on our old Asko washing machine. It cost $45 to replace the belt, which will probably keep the machine going for another 10 years. We have it on the back verandah attached to the water tank and we use it to wash the dogs bedding and other heavy things like mats and rugs. It saves the new washing machine from that heavy work, and hopefully both machines will keep working well for a long time. H will also clean out the chicken coop and wash the car and the dogs.

Yesterday H picked all the kale
for a big German feast he wanted. I don't eat meat, he only eats it rarely, but he decided he needed some with the kale. One of the meals he loves from his childhood is
Grunkohl und Schweine Wurst or kale and pork sausage, so that's what we both made.

He picked the kale - see photo - and washed it, I cooked a ham hock in half water, half apple cider for an hour, then we added the chopped kale, two chopped onions, four tablespoons of rolled oats (to thicken it), salt and pepper. That cooked very slowly for 45 minites. About 30 minutes before it was ready I added three knackwurst. It was served with our homegrown kipfler potatoes, boiled. H was really pleased with it. There is enough there for two more meals for him. I'll make some soup or beans for myself, so tonight's meals will be a breeze.

If there is any spare
time, I'll relax with some knitting. All in all it looks like a good day.

16 June 2007

Aquaponics in all sizes

Veggieboy from http://www.backyardaquaponics.com/ contacted me this morning with some very good links to their members' small, medium and large aquaponics systems. If you're intested in aquaponics, I'm sure you'll learn something from these links:


The dying art of morning tea

We've revived an old ritual, H and I. That of the sit down, talk and enjoy morning tea. No matter what either of us are doing, at around 10 am, we stop for tea. It's such a great thing to do. It peps you up for the later morning, it gives you time to talk about whatever with your partner and it gives a gentle rhythm to the day.

We don't go overboard with what is served with our morning tea. If there are muffins, pikelets, biscuits or cake, we'll have it, but otherwise it will be a stern black cuppa and a talk. If there is a biscuit, there are eyes watching your every move.

Airedale Rosie watches every move when food is about.

I wonder if others are sharing this ritual with us and if so, what are you drinking and eating?
Here is something about the art of the sponge cake that I found this morning. It's worth a read:


Dressmaking is a dying art

I'm really excited about this! I'm starting our sewing circle at the Neighbourhood Centre next Monday - it will be free and we have two ex-professional sewers who are coming along to help. We'll either work on the projects each person brings along or we'll make things like painting aprons and smocks for the local kindy, or items needed at the local hospital and nursing home. One of our helpers used to make costumes for the Queensland Ballet and Theatre Company so she will help our sewers make up their own patterns as well as show them how best to construct their garments.

Dressmaking is a dying art. There are so many cheap clothes from China now that it doesn't seem worth it to make our own clothes from scratch. But I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who would like to learn the once common skill of making and mending clothing. I guess we'll see on Monday. I'm looking forward to it and I hope we have a lot of eager sewers come along to learn and meet each other.

Yesterday I bought a sewing kit for the Centre. It was quite daunting going into the shopping mall after so long not shopping there, many things had changed, but so much of it is still the same. I was pleased to get out of there. I got quite a nice sewing caddy and have filled it with all sorts of sewing goodies. Here is the photo.

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