31 August 2009

Healthy home grown tomatoes

Tomatoes are the most popular plant in the vegetable garden. Everyone likes to grow them. They can be a difficult crop, because they suffer from a number of diseases and the wildlife love them, but if you can get it right, it's worth it. I wrote this post a year ago on growing tomatoes from seed but I want to add a few hints that might make it easier for you.

Select your seeds and plant the seed in a propagation tray full of seed raising mix. This is not potting mix, it's a special sandy open soil that will give your tomato seeds the best chance of germinating. You can make your own seed raising mix, or buy a bag. I'll do a post on potting mix and seed raising mix soon. Plant one see per cell, at the depth recommended on the packet, and label them with the type of tomato and the date. Then water them in with a plastic bottle sprayer. If you use the hose you risk moving the seeds around.

Place the tray in a sheltered area that gets sunlight for most of the day. If the area is too protected and the seedlings get too little sunlight, they'll grow tall and leggy and develop into weak plants that you'll have trouble growing.

Depending on your climate, about seven days later, the seed will germinate and start to grow. It will get to the stage where you have two smooth leaves on each side of the stem. Then, true leaves will form that will be crinkly, like tomatoes leaves. Never let your seedlings dry out, but don't over water them and make sure they have good drainage. If the tray is kept wet it may encourage fungal disease. One watering a day should be enough but if you're in a hot climate, you should check them in the afternoon as well and give them a little drink if the soil is dry.

When the tomatoes look like this, it's time to pot them on. You'll need small pots, those long tubes are ideal. Carefully transplant the seedling to it's own pot and bury the stem a little deeper than you normally would for other plants. Tomatoes can grow more roots from the stem and if you allow them to do this, you get a stronger pant with a bigger yield of tomatoes. The tomatoes below are the same as those above just two weeks later.

The tomato seedlings above are potato leaf potatoes - most potato leaf tomatoes are heirlooms. These are Brandywines.

These are regular leaf tomatoes - cherry tomatoes. These seedlings came up in a pot that I'd put some of our homemade compost in. The seeds germinated in the pot, so I transplanted them into their own pots and soon they'll be planted out in the garden. When the tomatoes are the size of the cherry tomatoes, or when they start glowing flowers, it's time to plant them in the garden.

Make sure your stakes are already in - putting them in later will damage the tomato roots. Plant the seedling deep into the soil, an inch or two lower than you normally would. Clip off the lower leaves to allow you to do this. Tomatoes like a rich soil but not much fertilising once they're in the ground. Giving them too much nitrogen will give you huge green lush bushes but you'll get few tomatoes. Put a tablespoon of sulphate of potash (it's organic) in the planting hole and water the plants in with a seaweed tea. Then stand back!

Tomatoes require a bit of housekeeping to keep them growing well. Gently tie the main stem to the stake and continue doing this as the bush grows bigger. Clip off the lower leaves, clip off all diseased leaves. Don't put the diseased leaves in the compost. Keep them well mulched. We use straw or hay as a mulch and we push it close to the stem. Sprinkle a little blood and bone into the mulch to encourage new roots to grow into the mulch. The tomato will send out new roots wherever the mulch is touching the stem.

Water the plants, depending on your climate, maybe two or three times a week. Top up with a tonic of seaweed or worm tea every two or three weeks.

You can pick tomatoes green without it affecting their taste. Tomatoes ripen due to the warm air, not sunlight, so harvesting your crop green and ripening in the warm air on the veranda or on the kitchen window sill will give you excellent tomatoes. We also harvest our tomatoes green because in our main growing season there are a lot of bugs and birds just waiting for a nice ripe tomato to feast on.

You won't get great crops in your first season or two, but if you stick with it, you'll perfect your technique for your climate. It's different for all of us, just learn as you go and don't give up. Overall, tomatoes will give you a lot of satisfaction when you harvest a good crop. They can be used in so many ways - both ripe and green - and having a slice of home grown tomato on a piece of your own freshly made bread is a treat only few of us will know. Good luck with your crops and happy gardening.

29 August 2009

Processing the lemon harvest

I didn't get around to my tomatoes yesterday, there were too many other things happening. One of them may be of interest to you - I processed four buckets full of lemons. Our lemon tree is a Eureka. It flowers almost all year but we harvest the main crop in late winter. The fruit is a true lemon flavour, not as mild as the Meyer lemon and not as tart as the bush lemon. All the fruit hold a good amount of juice.

The problem with harvesting four buckets of lemons is that some of them will go off before they're used, so I juice all the lemons in one big juicing session and freeze what I don't use straight away.

Being a late Winter harvest, it makes perfect sense to me to make lemon cordial with some of the juice. I love to offer home made drinks to our visitors. Lemon cordial is the quickest and easiest to make and during summer, I always have either home made lemon cordial or ginger beer in the fridge. Most people love being offer an old fashioned drink, icy cold from the fridge with ice cubes clinking.

Just a word on the storage bottles. If you're storing this in the freezer, use plastic bottles as the juice will expand a bit when it freezes. You can use glass bottles for the cordial itself because that is stored in the fridge.

can be made with any fruit juice, including lemon, orange, raspberry, strawberry, pineapple or passionfruit, or anything else that takes your fancy.

Make up a simple sugar syrup - this is generally half water mixed with half sugar. So if you want to make two cups of syrup, you'd mix one cup of water with one cup of sugar. You can make a lighter syrup by adding more water, say one and a half cups of water to one cup of sugar.

Heat the sugar and water on the stove to dissolve the sugar crystals, then cool.

To make the cordial, add equal parts syrup to juice. You do this by half filling a bottle with juice, then topping it up with syrup. That cordial is stored in the fridge.

To make a glass of cordial, pour in about three tablespoons of cordial (test taste, you might need more or less) into a glass and fill it up right to the top with iced water and some ice cubes. A sprig of mint or pineapple sage in the drink is a nice touch.

It took me about half an hour to juice all the lemons. I have a juicing attachment on my food processor so it doesn't take long at all. That half hour of work gave us 12 litres (3½ gallons) of pure lemon juice for the freezer and three bottles of lemon cordial for the fridge.

I took my first glass of new season lemon cordial out to the veranda to relax and enjoy the warm late Winter day. Half an hour of knitting out there and I was ready for the next task.

I hope to take my tomato photos today so I'll write about that in my next post. Thank you for your comments this week. I love seeing all the new names in the comments, but I miss my old readers. Please say hello if you have the time. I know it's pointless commenting all the time, but I'd like to know you're still there. :- )


28 August 2009

What does 'natural' mean to you?

I'm feeling a bit tired today so this will be short. We had a big day yesterday going into Brisbane to collect my friend from hospital. We brought her home and waited until her family arrived then came back home again. That big city traffic really gets to me now. I need a while to recover. I'll spend a relaxing day at home today and I'll be in the garden to take photos for a post I'll do tomorrow on tomatoes.

But I have a couple of important bits of information for you today. Burt's Bees contacted me a while ago to ask for help with their survey in Australia. I've only used one of their products that was sent to me from the USA, and I loved it. Now they're selling in Australia so I'm happy to help. I forgot about the survey and remembered it yesterday, so better late then never, I'll share part of what they sent:

We are about to launch an online survey asking Australian consumers about their concerns and attitudes to ‘natural’ ingredients – what ‘natural’ means to them and what matters to them about ‘natural’ ingredients in personal care (meaning products for body, face, hair etc). Burt’s Bees has done a similar survey in the US but as far as we know, no-one’s done one here.

Why are we doing this? Firstly, because we just don’t want to make assumptions about what Australians think and know about ‘natural’ in personal care. Obviously Burt’s Bees is a ‘natural’ focused company but this survey is about understanding what consumers actually want. All sorts of assumptions get made in marketing and both Burt’s Bees and Porter Novelli Adelaide have decided that’s not enough for us. So we’re asking. We’ve decided to approach online communities because we know connecting online is one way consumers can share their unfiltered views and concerns, and that’s what we want to hear. Yes, you will be talking to a PR company and a manufacturer in the industry - because we genuinely want to know what people are thinking.

We will use the results of the survey in the following ways: we will report back to the blogs and site communities that link to the survey on what we find, we will share the results with the health and beauty media in Australia and we will make the results available via the Burt’s Bees website. We hope the results will help address any concerns or confusions about what ‘natural’ means and how it is presented in Australia. (One result of a similar survey in the US was that Burt’s Bees joined together with other major natural personal care companies to develop a national standard for ‘natural’ via the Natural Products Association.

The survey is for Australian residents and will run from August 20 until November 14. You can find it here.

Thanks to my readers for alerting me to the sale of Burts Bees to Clorox. There is some information about it here at organicconsumers.org.

UK READERS here is a survey for you.
For those not in the UK or Australia, RSPCA is the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Stefan from the UK RSPCA sent this:
For the first time ever, the RSPCA Good Business Awards is open to the public through the People’s Choice Supermarket award which means that people can vote for the supermarket they think is doing the most for animal welfare.

Further information on the award and the achievements of each of the shortlisted supermarkets is available at here.

Take care, I'll see you tomorrow.


27 August 2009

Roast chicken with herb stuffing and gravy

I haven't cooked chicken for years. I stopped eating meat for many years only to start again after reading Nourishing Traditions. So in my quest for frugal and tasty meals, I came back to roast chicken. This is one of the easiest meals you'll ever cook but it can be made fancy enough for a celebration dinner, or simple enough for a chicken and salad sandwich. Chicken is very versatile.

The main thing you have to be careful of is drying the chicken out while cooking it. So don't overcook it, take it from the oven as soon as it's done and let it rest wrapped in foil for 20 minutes before carving.

I like to stuff the cavity with a herb stuffing. The herb can be anything you have growing or have bought, I used:
  • 3 slices of stale bread (any type of bread is fine)
  • 1 medium onion
  • a handful of parsley
  • a few leaves of sage
  • sprinkle of dried oregano - dried oregano has a different taste to the fresh and it goes well with chicken
  • 2 small eggs or one large egg

Put all that in a processor and whiz it up or chop it very finely.

To stuff the chicken:
Clean your chicken well by removing the gizzards and running water through the bird. Wipe dry with a kitchen cloth or paper towel.

Using a spoon or your clean hands, load the stuffing into the cavity.

When the cavity is full, separate the skin from the breast and slip a spoonful of stuffing under the breast skin. That will help keep the chicken moist while it's roasting.

I forgot to do this - tuck the legs under the chicken so they cook close to the body. Otherwise the legs will overcook at the ends like they have here.

Place the chicken in a roasting dish with a little olive oil and brush the chicken with oil to keep it moist. While it is cooking, baste the chicken with the juices that have collected in the pan. This will also give you a moist chicken.

Cook on 190 - 200C (370 - 390F) until the chicken is golden brown and the juices run clear. You can test this by inserting a sharp knife in between the breast and the leg and watch the juices come out. If they're pink, cook another 10 minutes. If clear, remove the bird and cover with foil to rest.

I served this with roast potato, pumpkin, corn and onion and a from scratch gravy.

Chicken Gravy
  • Remove the chicken from the roasting pan. You want the bottom of the pan just covered with juices and oil.
  • Add two level tablespoons of plain (all purpose) flour to the juices, along with salt and pepper to taste and stir it together. It should look like a loose paste. If it's too dry, add a little more olive oil.
  • Place the pan over a medium heat and allow the paste to turn brown while you stir it. Stand there and watch it because it will burn quickly if you don't.
  • As soon as it's a nice brown colour, add about 2 cups of water OR chicken stock OR a splash of white wine and water and immediately stir the gravy to stop lumps forming.
  • Stir until the gravy boils and thickens and then turn it down. Keep stirring until you have a nice brown sauce for your chicken. If it's too thin, allow it to sit on the heat to evaporate off some of the liquid.
Leftovers can easily be used. We had chicken salad the next day with this chicken and I made my sandwich for work using some of the chicken as well. But you could also make chicken stir fry, chicken curry, chicken pie or chicken casserole with dumplings. Don't forget to keep the carcass to make chicken stock or coup.


26 August 2009

The next step

The second most asked question I get here is: "how do I start living like you do?". It comes a close second to: "why do you have all those pots on sticks in your garden?" Well friends, today I'll answer one of those questions, and it will have nothing to do with pots on sticks.

Hanno took this photo from the roof. Good eh?

When I first made my change I'd already been doing a lot of the things that became important in our quest for a simple life - I'd baked bread on and off for many years, we'd kept chooks for 25 years, when we lived in the bush we stockpiled groceries. I guess one big step was to understand that there were others living how I wanted to live and that really inspired me like nothing else. Just having a name for it made a difference to me but knowing there were others I could learn from made me realise that we were not alone and that what I hoped for was possible. BTW, the kids were still living at home when all this started.

So what did I hope for? Well, after many years of working as a writer I wanted to work alone in my own home. I wanted to develop myself as a person and as a homemaker. I wanted to collect eggs and honey, I wanted to harvest vegetables every day, I wanted to preserve food. There was a part of me that wanted to create so I knew knitting, sewing and writing would be part of my future. I wanted to give up work and be free to build a little homestead in my backyard where the sun ripened fruit and vegetables, rain collected from our roof filled rain tanks and where chickens and bees reminded me everyday that I was part of a natural world, not a corporate one.

Surprisingly, that romantic dream actually became a reality but it was a bumpy road that lead me to where I am now. If you're at the beginning of this journey, never expect to arrive at a destination because there is none. But one of the important things you will notice, if you trust yourself enough, is that once started, this journey will take you quietly by the hand and lead you to from one step, to the next, and the next.

To illustrate that point, let me tell you what happened here. Once the decision was made to close my business and live on what Hanno was earning in our little local shop, I knew that my first job was to find ways to save. The money I was bringing in stopped, so we had to reduce costs. I looked for different ways to shop for groceries - because we spent money on that every week. I looked around for the best consistent prices (Aldi), did most of my shopping there and shopped at my local IGA for the rest. I found a bulk food store where I bought flour, nuts, spices, beans, chick peas etc. I found our local dairy, with the best milk in the state, sold cheaper diary products right at their door. So did our local cheese maker. They sold cheese and yoghurt at their door, with yoghurt at half price. It was just a matter of seeing what was in my local area. There was much more than I ever thought there was. When I had the shopping sorted, I started stockpiling - that saved me time and money. Our once a week shop became a monthly one, saving time, money and fuel.

We looked around the home to save more money. We got rid of our pay TV and the second car, stopped buying magazines and most books (I still get books from my Amazon associates account when I build up enough points), we stopped buying clothes and shoes on a regular basis. Still now, all these years later, we have enough clothes in our wardrobes to do us, and will have for a few years to come. Oh, we look daggy at home wearing out everything until it goes into the worm bin, but that's okay, we are far beyond judging each other by what we look like and the clothes we wear. It feels good to get the full value from what we own. Fashion is well and truly in the past for us. Now we're comfortable in our own skin.

In the past I had hated housework and did everything I could think of to avoid it. But while I was living this slower life, it occurred to me that if I wanted to live in a home that nurtured and comforted, I would be the one to make that home. So at this point my next step was to learn how to make my own cleaners, how to do my house work well, how to use my time wisely, and how to look after myself while I was looking after my family. Morning tea on the front verandah came into being then, and it still survives, strong as ever today. I did a lot of thinking during this period and changed how I thought about a few things. In the end, when I felt comfortable with the changes I had made in our home, I felt that I had remade myself as well. I had gone from being a corporate worker who wanted to change her life, to a homemaker, happy to work at a slower pace, happy to wear daggy clothes while I worked in the garden, happy to live on less, happy to stop shopping. Just happy!

Martha, Heather and Cocobelle. Martha and Heather are best friends.

When we got the vegetable garden producing and the hens laying, I realised I had to teach myself how to store food more effectively. I already knew how to preserve in a water bath, I knew how to make jams and relish, but I'd never done it in a purposeful and productive way before. All my previous efforts were a bit of a gimmick really, to see if I could do what my grandmother did. Well, it worked, I started putting up our excesses in jars and then we decided to buy a freezer. We started freezing vegetables in packs, just one or two bags as they were ready for picking, with larger sessions for end of season harvests. I tried drying, fermenting and sour doughs. All worked well and are still part of my food prep at various times of the year.

This post is getting way too long so let me just finish off by saying that at every stage of our journey, we've just done the next thing that needed doing. There is always a next thing in a simple life. You're always fine tuning, changing or looking for a solution to a problem, so trust yourself to go with the next thing and your life will probably flow along nicely like ours does.

One thing is for sure, trusting yourself will lead you to your own unique life, one that is not influenced by any other. Sure we all support each other, even over all these vast distances between our homes, but trusting yourself to take your own next step, will guarantee your life will develop in a way that suits you perfectly. Starting with the first thing you want to do in your simple life will lead you to a question or the need to learn (or relearn) a new skill. Take each step as it comes, there is no hurry, this life is slow and relaxed, and when you master that skill, there will be another that pops its head up. Trust this process, trust yourself and take it slow. When you look back in a year or two you'll see a trail of questions that you found answers to and a period of rebuilding skills that took you along to the next step and the next. Along the way a life will be built and as I said, never expect to arrive at a destination. The journey itself is our prize.


25 August 2009

Spring cleaning outside

Around here, spring cleaning doesn't only happen inside. Hanno has been busy cleaning screens, doors and windows. He borrowed Jens' high pressure cleaner and blasted the wire screens with plain water. They came up beautifully. He also checked the rollers on the sliding doors and found one was broken. The replacement cost a few dollars and was easily replaced, ensuring the door works well in the coming months.

The old wheel on the left was badly chipped and broken.

It's also time to clean up the backyard and prepare for the bushfire and storm season or if you're in the northern hemisphere, for Winter. We haven't had any fires since we moved here but we're surrounded by pine forests so the threat of a summer fire is ever-present. You have to do most of the prep well before you ever hear of a fire near your home; by then, it's too late. So remove things like ladders or anything flammible that might be resting against the side of the house, rake up any rubbish, mulch or papers that might be laying around and put away everything that can be safely stored in the shed or garage.

Get up on the roof and clean out the gutters. If you have extras on your roof like we have, give them a clean too. Hanno cleaned all our skylights and solar panels while he was on the roof, and when he did that he checked the seals on the skylights and made sure there were no cracks or damage on them or the solar panels. Make sure you check your downpipes.

There is plenty to be done in the vegetable garden too. I removed diseased leaves from one tomato bushes and made sure all tomatoes and beans were secured to their supports. Make sure you never put diseased leaves or plant material in the compost. It will survive and spread in your later crops. These leaves were put in a plastic bag to solarise then they'll be thrown in the rubbish bin.

If you live in a temperate climate, now is the time to start fertilising your vegetables. We fertilise all year long here, but if you're putting in a new garden, Spring is the time to start your fertilising routine. If you're in a cold climate and are just moving into Autumn/Fall, you'll soon be putting your garden to sleep for the Winter. So go around and remove old mulch and plants or anything else that insects may use to overwinter in. The cleaner your garden is when you lay it to rest, the healthier it will be when you start it again next Spring. Do any of my northern hemisphere friends sow a green manure crop in late Summer or Fall? Please leave a link where I can read about how you do this. I'd like to know how to best keep fertility in a garden bed while it's under snow.

Make sure tomatoes are staked and mulched.

There are a few things to be done in the chicken coop too but I'll be writing a post about preparing the chickens for Summer soon, so I'll include everything in that.

You should check your lawn mower to make sure the blades are sharp and will serve you well over Summer. If they need replacing, do that now as part of your Spring cleaning. Check the spark plug, it may need cleaning and make sure the filter is clean. Finally, wipe the mower over with a clean cloth.

If you want to take cuttings to propagate plants you already have in the garden, late Winter and Spring is a good time to do that.

Otherwise, it's just a matter of walking around your house and checking that everything is in good order and clean. One day's work doing this will pay off later in the year. It's all part of the mindset of looking after what you own. If everything is kept well and in good order, it's less likely you'll have to replace what you own before you get the service you expect.

What's on your list for Spring cleaning outside? I love knowing how you're caring for your home. It inspires me to do my best here and it connects me to all you like-minded souls who live simply.


24 August 2009

Spring cleaning

Spring cleaning can be done at any time of the year. We tend to do it when it's cool but warm enough to have the doors and windows open. The temperatures here the past few days have broken records for being too warm for the end of winter. Hanno and I wanted to start our spring cleaning soon but we realised if we left it any longer we might be doing that extra work in the blazing heat, so we started yesterday. If you want to join us, throw open your doors and windows, put your apron on and let's start. Depending on how much time you have, you can do all the inside chores in one day, do one room at a time or put aside 30 minutes a day to work through what you need to do.

Plan and make a list of what you intend to do.

Everyone's list will be different for this but there will be some things in common. Most of us will have to clean windows, screens and shutters - I'll write about outside chores tomorrow. Some of us will need to wash curtains. Other common tasks will include:
  • Change seasonal clothes, wash and store what you won't be wearing for the next few months.
  • Wash and store gloves, mittens, hats and scarves, or get them out ready to wear again.
  • Change bedding - wash quilts, doonas, duvets, blankets, or get them our to air ready to use again. Either remove or add electric blankets, depending on your season.
  • Vacuum under the bed.
  • Ask someone to help you turn the mattress - top to bottom and over.
  • If you have pillows that can be washed - wash them and hang in the sun to dry.
  • Give the house a thorough vacuuming - move the furniture to get under and behind.
  • Vacuum the furniture - remove cushions and pillows and get right into the crevasses.
  • Wash pillow and cushion covers.
  • Take the rugs and mats outside for a thorough shaking. Let them sit over the fence for a while in the sun - face down to minimise fading.
  • Clean and organise the fridge.
  • Move the fridge out and vacuum behind it. Also carefully vacuum the back of the fridge to get rid of any accumulated dust.
  • Clean and organise the pantry and stockpile.
  • Remove everything from the kitchen benches and clean thoroughly.
  • Go through your magazine stockpile and give away the old ones. (Hanno will laugh when he sees this because I don't buy magazines any more and I'm not getting rid of my stockpile of British Country Living magazines.)
  • Clean and organise your bathroom cupboard. Safely get rid of any old medications (the local pharmacy/drug store will probably take them back).
  • Wash the shower curtain.
  • Clean the toothbrush storage area.
  • Soak hair brushes and combs in a weak solution of chloride bleach or peroxide.
  • Clean out any cupboard that needs it.

No matter how much advertising you might see for products that will help you with spring cleaning, don't fall for it. Use the home made products that have served you well during the year. You'll also need a lot of clean cloths, so you might have to cut up an old towel to help you clean and wipe dry.

And if you can't do everything you want to do, don't feel guilty, just organise yourself. Make a list of things you can do next week, the week after, or whenever your other work allows. Not all of us have the time to dedicate to this yearly thorough cleanup. There will be a number of chores I'll be doing in the coming weeks as part of my spring clean.

Spring cleaning is not the most enjoyable task but it will help you stay on top of your cleaning and organising. If you do a thorough clean now, do a little bit every day, then you'll keep your house clean and tidy and you'll feel better for it. Providing a warm and comfortable home for yourself and your family is a big part of living a simple life. This is another step towards providing just that.

I'm sure I've left off some necessary tasks on my list. I'd be interested in knowing what your spring cleaning routine is and how long it takes you to carry it all out.


23 August 2009


Hello everyone. I hope you're having a lovely weekend.

I'm trying to work out Twitter. If you want me to follow you, my user name is rhondajean

:- )

21 August 2009

When to harvest vegetables

We had a lovely day yesterday. Thank you for your warm wishes for us.

This question is from slakermom: "what do you do with your extra produce? Obviously a lot can be preserved, but what about things like lettuce? There's only so much salads I can eat."

Harvesting is one of the most important parts of the entire process and you have to get it right or you'll waste food. We eat tomatoes almost every day that are freshly picked and eaten in salads or on sandwiches. When there are too many, and that is a truly joyful occasion, I'll pick the excess - usually when they're still green - and ripen them in the shade. Temperature ripens tomatoes, not sunlight. When they're ripe, I'll make relish, sauce or chutney, process it in a water bath and store it in the cupboard. I do a similar thing with cucumbers and beetroot - we eat them fresh but when we have a lot of them, they're picked, pickled and then stored in the fridge.

Cabbages are also eaten fresh in coleslaw and cooked and we probably eat one cabbage every week or two during winter. Like the tomatoes, we grow more than we eat fresh and at some point in the season, I'll make sauerkraut.

We plant vegetables for our chooks and dog too. The chooks eat cabbage, silverbeet, lettuce, broccoli, radish tops, corn, peas and anything with a bug in it. Alice has anything that we would eat from the garden made into her stew that we cook for her each week.

Vegetables like corn, beans, peas, silverbeet, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, carrots are all good to freeze. To do that effectively, wait until you have enough for at least a serving for your family, pick, blanche then bag them up for the freezer. Never skip the blanching step, it makes a difference. Some days you'll only have enough excess for one or two bags for the freezer, other days you have a lot more than that. Just take it as it comes, it will only take you a few minutes to process a bag or two. Don't think it's too small an amount to worry about. You'll be happy to have it later when you can just take the frozen vegetables from the freezer and have them on the table to eat that night.

Potatoes, pumpkin and onions can all be stored in a cool dry place and will last for a few months if you find a place that is rodent-free. I know many of our American and Canadian friends can and freeze pumpkin but as far as I know, this is never done in Australia.

Don't look at the current crops as being only for that season. If you can spread the availability of produce over a wide time span, you'll be getting the best from your plantings. So with that in mind, try to plant a few extra plants so you'll be able to freeze or preserve some produce for later in the year.

Steelkitten, we do use straw to mulch our plants. It's cheap and easy to get here. When we buy ours, we buy about 12 bales and store them in the shed. We usually don't have a problem with seeds in our mulch. If you can get the chooks to sort through it, they'll eat all the seeds for you. Otherwise, you'll just have to pull out the green shoots when they grow - and if you do have chooks, they'll love to eat the grass shoots and they'll be full of Omega oils.

Maxine, Hanno will pick a lot of the kale to have in one of his seasonal pork meals. He cooks the kale with smoked pork sausage and meat. I don't eat it but he feasts on it for a few days because he makes a big pot. There will be kale left after he picks, so a couple of days later, we'll pick it all to clear the area for tomatoes. That kale will be processed in a water bath and stored in the cupboard.

Avalon, we tilled the original soil, added a lot of manure and compost and then enclosed the beds with the besser blocks. The soil is higher than the surrounding soil because we added a lot of nutrients and continue to add them between every new crop.

Linda, there'll be a post about the bush house soon.

Karyn, I forget the exact size, it's something like 2 metres x 6 metres (6'x20').

Trina, Heather has been a very healthy girl since we brought her home as a two week old chick. However, in the flock we bought with Heather, about six of them died. They were a mixture of rare breed chooks, Heather was the only Faverolles. There was a Barnevelder, some Plymouth Rocks, Sussex, Hamburgs. From what I have read, it is quite normal to have a portion of a flock died when they're relocated and we've certainly found that to be true. If they survive the relocation and settle in, usually they live for a very long time. We often have old chooks here. At the moment Cocobelle is our oldest at five years.

Evelyn, bok choy bolts in the heat. So does lettuce, broccoli, coriander (cilantro), spinach and cauliflower. Tomatoes don't set their fruit well in the heat either. Over around 30C (85F), tomatoes often stop producing flowers or setting them to fruit if they're already there.

Courtney, don't give up, love. You're doing the right thing, even though a lot of people around you don't know it ... yet. :- )


20 August 2009

Days like these

I should never say I'll do something on a certain day "when I'm not busy". My post must be short today because I have a very busy day, so I'll answer those questions from the gardening post tomorrow. Hanno is just about to collect our son Kerry from the airport. He's had a few weeks in Canada and the US. Later in the day Shane and Sarndra will be here for a family lunch. But before all that loveliness, I have to go to the Centre to have morning tea with 20 ladies from our local church. They asked ages ago could they come in to find our more about what we're doing there.

I really love days like these. As you know, I really love the everydayness of my life and enjoy squeezing every bit of pleasure from what I do here. But these special days, the days I spend with my family, shine out like beacons in the dark when I look back on them. Life is all about family and friends and the older I get, the more I know that to be true. Today will be one fine day.

Some of you will remember that Kerry left a few weeks ago to work in Canada and then travel to the US, Cuba and Brazil. He planned on being away for a year or so. Well, that did not go as planned. When he got over to Canada, he realised that he missed his girlfriend Sunny too much to go on without her. Today he is back. Sometimes life teaches us what we need to know in strange ways. Sometimes you have to go away to realise how much someone means to you. Sunny is a lovely girl and I thank my lucky stars that both my sons have brought wonderful women into our family.

So later today we'll be dining on roast lamb and vegetables with something that I haven't decided upon yet for dessert. We'll listen to Kerry talk about his adventures of roaming across the US for the past few weeks, we'll hear about Sarndra's new business that we're all excited about and the plans Shane and Sarndra are making for their life together, and when I go to bed tonight I will be pleased and satisfied with my lot. It doesn't take much to put a smile on my face; today I think it will be there all day.

I hope your day is beautiful too.


19 August 2009

How to make pastry

Hello everyone! I'll answer the questions from yesterday's post tomorrow, when I'm not so busy. I'm working Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the moment and today will be a big day for me.

I always feel very satisfied and pleased when I produce a good meal by combining our garden produce with the pantry stock. Monday night's meal was a quiche, made with eggs from our hens, and a pastry made with ingredients I always have on hand in the pantry. We had it for dinner again last night and I'm taking the last slice to work for my lunch today. It's delicious.

Many people are put off quiches and pies because they're not sure how to make pastry. But pastry making is another one of those things that if you master it - and it IS easy - you'll have a skill that can be used for a number of things. You'll be able to make sweet fruit pies, as well as savoury ones like this quiche, or even meat pies, an Australian staple. So here is my tutorial on pastry making.

When you make pastry you need to keep the ingredients cold. In the old days, cooks always had a marble slab or bench on which to roll out their pastry, some also had marble rolling pins. Make sure your butter and water are very cold. It's easier to make pastry on a cold day, naturally, when I made this on Monday, it was the first hot day of the season.

Short Crust Pastry
1½ cups plain flour (all purpose)
120g (4½ oz) cold butter straight from the fridge
1 tablespoon cold water from the fridge - you may need to add 2 or 3 tablespoons of water - it will depend on the weather (if it's humid you'll use less water) and the flour you use. Start off with one tablespoon, and add the others in small portions if needed.
1 egg yolk

Spray a quiche form or baking tray with cooking oil and leave to one side.

Put the flour and butter in a food processor and process for about 30 seconds - until you have what looks like breadcrumbs.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Mix the egg yolk with the water and add to the mix. Process again. If you need more water, add it now and process again. The pastry will start to form a clump, and then collect around the blade. When it does that, it's ready.

The pastry will look dry but if you take some and squeeze it between your finger tips, it will stick together and not fall apart.

Take the pastry out of the processor and place it onto a lightly flour bench. Work fast now, you don't want the cold butter to melt in the pastry.

To roll out the pastry, roll up and down a couple of times, applying light pressure. Turn the pastry a quarter of a turn and roll again - up and down a few times. Turn a quarter of a turn again. Repeat this until you have a round disc large enough for the cooking pan you're using.

You might need a palette knife to lift it, I did, the warmer the temperature in your kitchen, the more it's likely to stick. Place your rolling pin at the edge of the pastry and roll the pastry around the pin, lift it up and place it on top of the baking tin. Gentry ease it over the tray and press it in place.

Make sure the pastry comes up to the top of the tray and then, with a sharp knife, cut the top of the pastry off to make a neat edge. If you have any holes in the pastry, and you often do, patch them with bit of the cut off pastry. Just place the patch over the hole and press it to connect with the pastry surrounding it.

When everything looks right, take a knife or fork and make holes in the bottom of the pastry. That stops it from rising when it's in the oven.

Now put the uncooked pastry in the fridge for 30 minutes. This allows the gluten in the flour to relax and it hardens the butter again. If you don't do this, your pastry will be a bit tough and it will shrink.

After 30 minutes, blind bake the pastry until it's a light golden brown. Blind baking is when you bake the pie crust without the filling. Take a piece of baking paper and place it on top of the pastry, then cover the paper with some rice, chic peas or dry beans. Then place in the oven and bake on 180C (350F). I keep chic peas for the purpose in a small jar in the cupboard - they can be used over and over again.

When the pastry is cooked, you can add whatever filling you like. We had eggs, sour cream, cheese, onions, garlic, mushrooms and bacon. Make the filling earlier so it has a chance to cool down before adding it to the pastry shell. When the filling is in, return to the oven and bake until the top if a golden yellow and a knife inserted in the filling, comes out fairly dry.

Other fillings to use include:
* spinach, onions, cheese and eggs
* zucchini, onions, garlic, eggs, cream and cheese

With the addition of a little sugar to the pastry recipe, you could make a delicious fruit pie. Nothing in this whole world is better than a peach pie or (maybe) a cherry pie. When the next meeting of world leaders takes place, I propose one of us make a peach pie and take it along to the meeting. We should serve the pie up to the leaders and before leaving, remind them that the people whose lives are in their hands are real people who eat things like peach pie. We'll make sure everyone has a cup of good coffee or tea before we leave. I bet that meeting would produce a better outcome than most of those we hear about. Sometimes good food reminds us of things that are otherwise forgotten.

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