29 January 2009

More home cooking

Things are grim down south. They're in the middle of a heatwave and the area right along the bottom of the Australia continent, that part closest to Antarctica, is sweltering in 45 C (113 F) heat. And it will continue for several days. Ugh. There are quite a few readers from southern Australia and I send my best wishes to all of you. I know how debilitating that kind of constant heat is. Have they closed the schools?

I spent a pleasant day here yesterday and did everything I had planned for myself. We are having frequent showers of rain, so the tanks are all full, and the garden is looking as good as it gets during summer.

One of the extra things I did yesterday was to start a sour dough sponge. I usually make bread with commercial yeast, and have often made the NY Times quick sour dough, but I want to get back to a traditional sour dough that will develop in flavour over the months, and hopefully years, that I keep it going. I'll write more about sour dough as the starter matures.

All I did yesterday was to add one cup of wholemeal spelt flour to one cup of warm filtered water then mixed it together. It's now sitting in a wide mouthed glass jar on the kitchen bench. Overnight I covered it with a cotton cloth but I'll remove that soon so the wild yeasts in the air here will mix in the starter and help with the fermentation.

One of today's tasks will be to make a jar or two of plum jam. I bartered some eggs for a bowl full of Davidson's plums, they're a plum that is an Australian native rainforest plant. They're very sour when raw but make up into a nice jam that isn't too sweet.

Still in the kitchen, here is last night's (and tonight's) dinner - a tomato and caramelised onion tart. Simply made with whatever pastry you care to make, or have on hand, I had two sheets of butter puff pastry in the freezer and used them. I blind baked the tart for about 15 minutes before adding the filling.

To make the filling, peel and slice two onions and slowly fry them to caramelise. In a bowl mix together four eggs, about ½ cup of cream, one clove of garlic, about ¾ cup of finely shredded Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to your taste. Pour that into the pastry shell, add some thick slices of ripe tomato and the caramelised onions into the mix, careful not to overflow it. Then just bake until it's golden brown on top - 20 - 25 minutes on 190 C (375F). I used a flan tin to bake my tart. It's delicious.

I am always surprised by the generosity of some of the people who read here. The lovely Rose told me she had send some cotton yarn and sure enough, it turned up yesterday. It's called Down to Earth! Thank you Rose. I appreciate your warm, kind heart.

Hello to all the new readers who have come to read over the past couple of weeks. There has been a sharp increase in readership since Christmas so I hope you're all enjoying the posts and the archives. If you have the time, I'd love you to say hello.


  1. Hi Rhonda,

    Don't suppose there is any chance of publishing your Davidson Plum jam recipe? Ours are fruiting and jam making isn't a skill I've acquired yet,

    Great to see your blog booming,

    Sonya at Eudlo.

  2. I am not new,(lurker here) but I had to comment on your tomato pie! I am very envious of your fresh tomatoes and hopefully I can make one of these when our garden becomes bountiful in our summer months! Till then I will continue to read your blog and be envious! Salad also looks great!

  3. Hi from Melbourne!!
    We are doing ok with the heat - keeping the curtains closed, drinking lot's of water....luckily for us school doesn't start until Monday - I think it's supposed to cool down by then?! - hoping.....!!
    Andrea :)

  4. Hi Rhonda
    I'm from Adelaide and we are SWELTERING! It's already 37 degrees at 6.30 am - unfortunately our air conditioning is on it's way out and not being replaced till Feb 11, but at least it works some of the time! Re the schools, I think it's up to each individual school but i'm not sure, my kids are way past school age! Hope all our friends in the affected areas stay as cool as possible.
    Judy in Adelaide

  5. hi Rhonda, Could you possibly post a picture of the sour dough when it is finished and one of the texture inside. I would really like to try and make that some time, and I am never sure if it turns out correct or not. Arent blogs great! Pictures really help you understand!


  6. Yes,We are some of the unlucky ones that had 44 degrees yesterday!
    I have tubs and many containers of water all over the property for our animals and the many varied wildlife we get.
    My Kids are going stir crazy ...i HAVE THREE UNDER5 and they are outdoorsy so Cabin fever has set in,and being in a stifling house does'nt hepl much.
    But tomorrow we are giving in and having evaporative aircon installed...yay!
    Your tart looks very yum and just the simple fresh salad looks lovely.
    I am at a loss with meals at the moment.
    I despise heat and am one of few people who love the cold.
    Thankfully as we are in the Vic highlands we get cool,cold or snow for 9 months of the year.
    Well anothwer hot one today....Stay cool
    P.s send some rain we have had nothing at all for weeks and are on tanks only!

  7. Good morning Rhonda,

    Just 2 queries today. Pardon my ignorance but what is spelt flour and is there a way to filter tap water if I don't have any filter system or filter jug? I usually just boil my drinking water and then just drink it at room temp but I'm not sure if this would suffice.

    Blessings Gail

  8. Hi,

    Great Pizza, we will try to make one this week!! It looks yummmy!!!!

    Also, I needed your advice on composting. We have a small patio garden with 2 flower beds on each side. We don't have enough space, nor need to have a huge compost, anyway almost everyday we have leftovers (peels, egg sheels, etc) we could compost.
    Is there anyway smaller spaces or families with not a proper garden, can also compost?
    Thank you.

    Best wishes,

  9. Hello and thanks for a lovely post. I have been thinking of starting a sourdough culture again - I had one for 2 years when I lived in Northern Alberta. Trouble I had was keeping it alive as I live alone an didn't use it often enough.

    May I ask why you chose spelt flour? Does it have souring properties?

    I do find it funny that people will spend good money to buy a 'real' San Francisco or Yukon starter culture. It may start out as tasting like SF but those wild yeast you mention will morph your starter's flavour pretty quickly.

    I look forward to hearing how this goes for you.


  10. Dear Rhonda
    My family here in Adelaide is still alive and well but very hot so say the least.
    Train tracks buckled leaving my hubby stranded yesterday afternoon in the 45 heat and 45kms from home. A lovely work colleague offered him a lift to the door!Good Aussie mateship!
    My sons swimming carnival tomorrow has been cancelled which I am thankful for but I think most schools are still operating as most are fully aircinditioned but most are not letting children play outdoors at all.
    For the first time ever, we had our aircon all night +fans going and it was still 36 overnight.
    We have lost more plants and veggies as the winds are also drying out things.
    ...However I am thankful for electricity, a roof over my head for shade, cool water and creativity when it comes to preparing a nutritious meal for the growing family - without the oven or too many hotplates.

    Lynette from Adelaide south

  11. That tart looks divine; I think I will give it a try. Tomatoes and onions are two of my favorite things.

  12. Hi Rhonda, I've been silently following your blog for several months, I've made a comment or two but most of the times I just read what you have to say, quitely ponder your words and get inspired. You write what I feel so well that I don't feel the need to comment, I just agree..


  13. Hi Rhonda Jean, I'm very new to your post as in the last 3 days. I was so thrilled when i found your blog. You are a lady after my own heart. As i've always wanted to try sour dough with my own starter i was happy to see your post this morning. Jeanette

  14. Thanks for the commiseration on the heat Rhonda. It sure is hot - this morning it is 33 degrees at 8am. Not nice. In Vic the schools aren't back yet, so no need to close. Not sure about South Australia.

  15. Hello Rhonda,
    I start every day in beautiful SA reading your blog, and woo hoo we are hitting the news everywhere with our HOT weather...
    Just thought I would let you know that my daughters school has a/c so there is no need to close, its actually cooler there than at home at the moment.
    Good luck to all others that are experiencing the heat..

  16. Rhonda Jean

    I discovered your blog a few weeks ago and enjoy reading every post. I love that your blog is about keeping life simple and focusing on what is truly important. Thank you!


  17. Hi,
    I have been reading your blog everyday for about a year now and I haven't posted a comment yet. I love reading your blog, its an integral part of my day now and we have incorporated many of your ideas into our own life, adjusting to suit. We are also on the Sunshine Coast, but I didn't grow up here and gardening in this climate is a bit of a mystery to me. I'm used to snow in Winter. We're starting our own vege patch this year, and your post on potatoes was very helpful.
    Its funny how you can go all the way round the world on the net, then find a blog you enjoy by someone in your own backyard.
    Thanks,good luck with the book proposal. Keep us posted :)

  18. Hi Sonya! I saw you on TV again a couple of weeks ago. You're doing some good work, congratulations. Have a look at my making strawbery jam post - it's very similar. Skin and deseed your fruit and cut the plums in two. Weigh them. Whatever they weigh, add an equal amount of white sugar. Pour the sugar over them and let it sit for a while. This encourages the juice to run out and it's easier to cook without burning the plums.

    If you like a firm jam, add pectin (it's a natural product) in the form of a pouch of Jamsetta from the supermarket. OR you may also find "jam sugar" which is white sugar with pectin already added in the correct ratio. I'm not sure if you can get jam sugar everywhere but they do have it at the IGA in Maleny.

    When you've got your plums and sugar ready, ad the juice of a lemon or two and then bring to the boil. You want a rolling boil, look at what that means in the strawberry jam post. Boil for 15 - 20 minutes then test for setting. You do that on a saucer that's been in the freezer for a while. The coldness helps it set faster so you'll be able to tell after it's cooled if it's set or not.

    Then just add it to your pre-sterilised hot jars. Good luck!

    Hello to all you sweltering southerners. I hope a cooling change comes soon for you all.

    Country cupcakes, I hope you get some rain soon.

    Slice of life, when I'm ready to make the bread, I'll post photos of the various stages. It will be next week sometime.

    Hello and belated welcome to Hazel, Margaret, Lea-Ann and Melissa. Hello and welcome to Julie and Jeanette.

    Gail, read about spelt here: http://nutrition.about.com/od/grainsandcereals/p/spelt.htm We have a filter on our kitchen tap but I think you would get a similar result from one of those filter jugs you can buy. If you're using water that you've boiled in a jug it won't kill much bacteria, it needs to boil for a while to do that. I just went looking and found this: http://www.drlam.com/articles/2002-No5-Water.asp#TheIdealWater

    Daisy, a small worm farm would help you get rid of those kitchen scraps.

    Janet, I chose spelt flour because I have about 1kg (2.2lbs) of it in the cupboard that I need to use. When I use it I won't be buying more because it's too expensive for us. I'll actually make the bread with my normal flour, but make the start with spelt.

    Lynette, the tale of your hubby coming home with a friend brought a smile to my face.

    Suzen, mine too!

  19. With the sourdough, once you have your starter healthy and fermenting, you can store some in case it goes off, dies or you want to share it by posting some to a friend.

    Spread a thin layer of the starter on some glad-bake, or a silicon sheet so it's about dinner plate size or larger. Put it somewhere it won't get contaminated and leave it to dry. I put mine in the oven with the light on.

    When it's fully dry, remove it from the sheet and crumble it into a jar. Throw in one of the silicon bags that come out of medicine bottles or similar (to keep moisture out). Put the lid on the jar and keep it in the fridge if possible.

    If you need to use it, simple add the dried sourdough to some flour and water and leave overnight. The yeast in the dried starter will activate in the moisture and warmth and begin fermenting again.

    I've kept the dried starter for six months without any problems.

    I've done this when we've moved house, with great success. Sourdoughs all taste different, so if you get a really good one it's nice to be able to share or save it!

  20. Good morning Rhonda. So glad the parcel arrived, the name of the yarn was irresistible! How sweet of you to link.

    I love these gentle homey reflective posts.

  21. I'm in Melbourne too - thanks for your thoughts in this stifling heat. I've been avoiding using the airconditioner - a very noisy little beast in my rented place - you can just hear it chewing up money and electricity. I fully expect that our power will end up cut at some stage due to high demand and bushfires (not many yet thank heaven). I spent last night with minimal clothes on and a thin, wet, wrung-out tea towel over my neck and shoulders as I went about a few tasks, and managed to stay quite cool. I keep my grandmother's old woven fan close by for rest stops. My mum always used to say if your head and feet are cool (or warm) the rest of you is too. Any other homespun suggestions for surviving the heat?

  22. Greetings from Texas! I too am a loyal reader, though I don't comment often. We are trying to do much the same thing as you (and keeping a blog about it, too), but are several years behind you in our progress, so your blog is like having a country cousin who can answer all my questions.

    My sympathy to all you who are suffering in the heat. I didn't understand at first - it gets pretty darn hot here too - but when I realized how many of you don't have air conditioners, I nearly dropped my teeth. We'd never make it through the summer here without them!

  23. We're having a family dinner for my mum's 75th birthday tonight and I was thinking about what to make when I saw your yummy tart and thought that's it! Mum loves fetta so I'll add some of that and some organic silver beet I've got frozen.
    I've made her a lovely bird on a twig mobile, a combination of ideas from a couple of blogs.Truly a bloggy birthday!

  24. Hi Rhonda,

    While it is hot here (Canberra) we're not sweltering like southern australia. I have been making the most of the heat in drying tomatoes on my trampoline (on trays :) ) I've also been experimenting with a 'solar oven' (upturned lasagne dish on a metal baking tray on the trampoline) and have to say that was quite successful :)

    I am very glad our water restrictions are not as severe as other areas, and my vegetable garden is still alive and producing. But I am still looking forward to a cooler change and more rain soon!

    I have recently made some plum sauce (and extended that to chinese plum sauce) from the small fruit on our ornamental brown leafed plum, which is actually very tasty. I am hoping to use it as a marinade for chicken pieces in winter :) The onion and tomato tart sounds lovely!

    Thank you again for sharing your life :) It is so inspirational!


  25. Melinda, thanks for sharing that way of preserving a starter. Fabulous!

    Hill Country Hippie, where I live, in the north of Australia, air conditioning is quite common. However, down south where it is so hot now, their climate is usually quite mild to cold. In the summer they do have occasionally heatwaves but nothing like this for the past 100 years.

    Marg, I would have done what you did. When I was nursing back in the 70s, we used to wet cotton towels and spread them out over the front of a fan to cool patients. I'm with your mum, if my face is cool, I'm cool.

    Lana, I love hearing how people are experimenting at home with various things. How about adding some aluminium foil to the lasagna dish to see if it increases the heat? I wonder if you could bake scones in there.

  26. Hi Rhonda, thanks for your well wishes.

    We are sweating it out here today with a temperature of 45C, yesterday was 46+ and the day before was 43C. No relief in sight.

    We only have ducted airconditioning and it is really struggling in this weather. It is a real problem keeping the animals cool. So far we haven't lost any chooks, but a friend lost 6 last night from the heat.


  27. Hi Rhonda
    Also sweltering here in Adelaide. My children are at high school, but did complain thata few of the rooms air con was not working so well! Still cooler than at home though, with no aircon.
    Melting slowly...

  28. Hi Rhonda

    yes, It's hot, hot, hot here in the Lower SE of South Australia. Expecting 44C here again today with no relief in sight.

    My office thermometer says it's 30C in here so it's getting rather sticky!

    The tart looks yum!

    Cheers - Joolz

  29. Hi Rhonda, I've been reading your blog for the last two months or so. In fact, you have inspired me to revive my own blog, www.spadesandspoons.blogspot.com.Today I've written my first post in quite a few months, and have linked to your blog. I hope you don't mind. If you do, please let me know and I will rectify. I'm relatively new to this blogging lark, and am not sure of the proper blogging etiquette.
    Meanwhile, you have inspired me to put my zucchini pie for dinner tonight in a crust tonight. That might entice the 8 year old.

    Regards, Paola
    Berry NSW

  30. Hello from snowy Canada,

    I've been reading your blog for a few months now. It's the first thing I check when I get home from work.

    Thank you for sharing a sane way to live in this not so sane world.
    Joeann :)

  31. Oh my goodness Rhonda-Jean! That tart is making my mouth water just looking at it. But alas, I shall never get to taste one, because I am allergic to eggs! Ack!
    I would love to start a sour dough starter. I will follow you with yours and hopefully someday be able to do that myself.
    Thank you for all you share!

  32. Rhonda thanks for your wishes for those of us down south. I am in Adelaide having come from up your way three years back. I do enjoy the heat as I find the winters here are very long, but this is incredible. We have air conditioners on at home but I can't get the house below 26deg. It's OK when you're at home but when you have your little girl to take to school for the first time it's hard to cool down again on your return. I was walking around outside in the hot carpark yesterday in 46deg heat with my 16m old baby. Not nice! We have the option to collect the children at 1pm even though the rooms are airconditioned. I will today, even tho my daughter is loving it just to give the teacher a break. It is hard to sleep at night when the min is about 34deg. (Sigh) And oh my poor herbs and veg and my roses are fried!!

  33. I love the idea of the sour dough starter. I think I will join you.
    I have used up my spelt, I have some hard winter wheat.
    Good trade. I got a whole laundry basket of lemons for a necklace I made. She would have given them free, but I enjoy creating to give.
    I so wish I could talk my Mr into water conservation (the tanks) we have the timer on the water heater , but on the tanks out side. Some day...

  34. Thank you Rhonda for a great blog I have been reading for about 2 months now and here is my first comment WOW !!!!!! great work I look forward to my dose of home grown sanity every day after I read GREENING OF GAVINS blog I especially loved the cleaning recipies.I live in Hervey Bay in Queensland and am a retired nurse . loving my retirement and have tried to turn my life around to the more sustainable lifestyle Regards ELLIE

  35. Hello from portland, oregon!

    I am one of the new readers that found you this year. I had been reading a lot of personal finance blogs at the end of last year, but realized that I wanted to read more inspiring simplicity/frugality blogs and I came across yours.

    Thank you for sharing these stories from your life - I can't wait until spring so I can get back into my garden again!

  36. So good to see that there are still people who will barter. :)

  37. Enjoy mum's birthday, Maryanne.

    Tania, I hope you don't lose any of your chooks, love. When we lived in a much hotter climate, I used to fill an upturned rubbish bin lid or saucer from a large pot plant with water. My chooks used to stand in it when it got really hot.

    Take care, joolz and Lisa.

    Paola, good luck with your blog. I've just left you a comment.

    Hello Joeann, a belated welcome to you. One of my sons is heading over your way soon. He has lived in Jasper and Toronto and wants to get back to the snow.

    Dear me, Cee. It must be very difficult mothering two little ones in that heat. I hope it's over soon.

    Thanks for saving hello Elle!

    Welcome Dawn. Personal finance always spreads out to day to day living in a very practical way. I hope you find some good tips here.

  38. Your tomato pie looks delicious. I'll keep that in mind when summer comes and we have fresh tomatoes.

  39. There are a lot of us in the USA buried under snow and ice right now.

    Except for having to drive in it, I'll take snow instead of excessive heat.

    I was just watching a program on TV this evening about making sourdough bread. It looks like fun.

  40. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    I only found your blog last week, and have been reading, reading, reading. I have actually had to walk away from the computer on many occasions so I don't spend all day or night reading all your wonderful info! I have been struggling myself over the last couple of years with all the "meaning of life" stuff, and especially in the last 15 months or so I have made a radical change in spending habits etc and now find it nearly impossible to go shopping, as most things look like a total waste of money or I find I just don't desire "stuff" anymore. I found your blog through a comment a breadmaking forum I was reading on the Simple Savings website, and thanks to your breadmaking for beginners article, I have finally managed to make a decent loaf of bread! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge, and as I am only down the highway a little, find that the information on gardening etc is very relevant. I noticed you purchased some chooks from your "chook lady" last year, I would love to get some more purbreed girls, does your "chook lady" sell chooks to anyone, or is this a personal contact of yours? She certainly seems to have lots of beautiful different breeds, and I would also love to get a couple of silkies for my daughter as she wants to pick up our current girls, but they're not really keen! Once again, thanks for your wonderful blog ... Debra K

  41. Hello, I found your blog thro' an article in 'The Sunday Times' weekend magazine and have been reading your words of wisdom since around october.Just yesterday I discovered a name for myself...a lurker!! So I thought I ought to drop by and leave my first comment. I've loved tapping in daily and catching up with old posts too. In fact my husband has even noticed a change around the house in terms of home management and organising - THANKYOU RHONDA!! It's all about taking pride in what you do and valuing the role you have in the home. Everyone wins - I feel good and my family benefits from a cleaner, more organised, and calmer house!
    Thanks again,

  42. Hi Rhonda,
    thought I'd better finally say hello since you keep prompting the newbies to do so ;-)
    I'm Missy and I recently stumbled upon your blog. I've enjoyed it so much that I've since read through all your archives in the last few weeks or so. I can't wait to get some of your great ideas going at my NEW HOUSE on 2 1/2 acres (northern NSW). We are moving in on Monday and I am so excited. Can't wait to get some new veggie gardens going. I planted some seeds in half toilet rolls last week and the beans are already ready for their new home, which I anticipate will be a temporary one as I won't be able to get a "real" garden ready soon enough for them!
    Thanks for all your work in writing this blog, it's so informative, especially for a generation of baby boomers' kids who were brought up on packaged goods and consumerism.
    Missy :-)

  43. Debra, the chook lady sells to everyone. She's at Fernvale. Silkies are great pets for children. Thanks for saying hello and your great comment.

    Hi Rachel. Woohoo anther lurker! LOL It IS all about taking pride in your role in the home and valuing what you do. Thanks for the feedback.

    How exciting Missy, a new house! I wish you well with the move and hope that settling up your home is a true joy for you. Good luck with all you do there. Thanks for saying hello.

  44. Thank you for the tart recipe! I love onions and cheese, so this sounds like the perfect recipe for me!

  45. Hi Rhonda

    What an inspiration you are! Can you tell me about that simple little handmade cover on the jar?
    Looks like I could manage to sew something like that.


  46. Oh, I was just yesterday talking about how I would like to start a sourdough....then I came here! I am so excited about your upcoming posts about it, thanks!

  47. Yes, please keep us updated with the sour dough starter. I want to start doing this, but have no clue where to begin. Thank you.

  48. Hello Rhonda,
    I´ve been reading your blog for a while. It´s very interesting.
    We are from Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is also VERY hot.
    God bless you, Ana

  49. I keep a Amish friendship start on my counter and make breads, cakes, pancakes, etc. from it. It's similar to sourdough but sweeter. It works the same. Take some out, put some in... bubbles, ferments and is the most awesome thing ever!

  50. Carol, the cover is just a square piece of pure light cotton that I hemmed with red stitching. I attached some light weights to keep the cover over the jar. Your weights can be anything like buttons or beads.

    Hello Ana, welcome!

    Joy, I've read a lot about the Amish starter and I know of someone who used to post it to her friends. What a great gift!

  51. Hi Rhonda,

    I enjoy reading your blog. I wanted to tell you that I made the laundry detergent with your recipe and it was wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your skills and ideas.
    Carmen from Florida

  52. Hi from Wisconsin, USA
    I am new to your blog and have been enjoying it! It sounds so nice to be planting a garden now, we are covered in snow at least the wind chills have let up (was -30F wind chill)
    I garden her at our place and have been looking at the seed catalogs for this spring, can't wait. Use to have chickens where we lived and would really like them again.
    Once again am really enjoying all of your info.

  53. Hi Rhonda

    I do love your blog and try to read it every day. Your Bantams are just divine.

    I'm in Melbourne and down here is unbeleivably hot. They havent closed the schools no, in fact they havn't closed anything really except the roof at Rod Laver arena! But hopefully the end is in sight .....Monday maybe!Meanwhile i'll read your blog and dream of being in Sunny but not scorching Qld!


  54. I've been reading your blog since early last summer, and you've been a huge help as we endeavored to simplify wherever we could. In the past year, we've planted a vegetable garden, canned more than I'd ever canned before, made our own soap and laundry detergent and sewed at least one item for each family member for Christmas. Thank you for the inspiration and encouragement.

  55. Hello Rhonda,

    greetings from The Netherlands. I never left a comment before but I do love your blog! Thanks for all the great ideas!

  56. Hello Rhonda,
    I just wanted to let you know I truly enjoy your blog and appreciate all you share with us. I am very interested in following your post on the sourdough starter.

  57. The temperature is finally going to drop below 40 today! Hooray for 37 degrees. Over 600 000 homes without power, fortunately not us. I'vekept the garden alive by capturing the water from our evap cooling. We haven't had rain for over a month and our tank is dry. I went for a long walk whn it cooled down last night and saw so many poor little dead possums. Heatstroke has been getting them and they are literally falling out of the trees.
    I'd love to make a tart for dinner, cooking hs been out of the question and the family is getting tired of living on salad.

  58. Mmm, that all looks so good. So jealous! lol

  59. That looks delicious. I love your blog and can't wait to try some of your gardening tips here in the US. I'm looking forward to some home grown tomatoes.


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