30 October 2009

Not every day will be perfect

I'm happy to report that it all went very well with Hanno's surgery yesterday. He went in at 1pm, I popped down to Spotlight to check out a sale then spent a couple of hours in the waiting room, knitting, and he hobbled out at 5.30pm. We got home around 6pm. He had no pain, didn't need crutches and he slept fairly well last night. Today and tomorrow will be the test, the doctor said he must allow the knee to heal but he also needs to exercise it. His idea of rest, and mine, are entirely different so we'll see what happens today. My guess is he'll sit on the couch and on the front verandah until he reads everything he wants to read, then he'll want to wander around. Thank you all for your kind thoughts and prayers.

A week's work from Allposters.

I was going to write about biscuits today but that can wait for another time because I'm going to carry on from yesterday. My post on "perfection" seemed to hit a cord with a few of you so let's expand on that.

I was saddened to read some of yesterday's comments. I know it's difficult to overcome something you've live with in childhood but as adults we have the choice to live as we wish. Examine your fears, think about what you believe perfection to be and develop the strength to toss out old ideas and work on new ones. Oh, and examine your fears in the bright light of day, not at 3am lying silently in the darkness when everything seems hopeless. If trying to be perfect just isn't working for you then replace that need with doing your best.

When elite athletes train for the Olympics they don't try to beat world records, they try to beat their own personal best. And that is a helpful tactic here too. Just do your best on any given day, you can't ask for more than that. I know that as I go through my week, some days I feel I can take on the world, and some days I just want to write, drink tea and rest. NO ONE, has the capacity to work perfectly every day. Not every day will be perfect - in fact very few are.

If you're expecting perfection you're setting yourself up for disappointment. You're hoping for something that rarely happens. Don't do that to yourself. Instead, today, this very minute, say to yourself that you're replacing the expectation of perfection with doing your best. And in the days that follow this one, try your best in every thing you do. Slow down and concentrate on what it is you're doing - don't rush through your work trying to get it done - and do your best. Some days your best will be spectacular and some days it won't be but as long as you can go to bed each day thinking that you did the best you could do on that day, that will stand you in good stead. Hopefully over the course of a few months, you'll replace your mother's voice in your head, insisting on perfection, with: I'm proud that I did the best I could.

I have touched on this subject before here: The best

I hope today is a good one for you and that whatever you do, you'll do your best and be happy with it. And remember, happiness is not one huge reward you find one day. It's tiny fragments that are collected every day and added to your basket. Never stop looking for whatever happiness you can find. It maybe in the passage of a book, it may be lurking in your garden or on the faces of your children. Take note of every happy moment, add them to your basket and be enriched by the thought of them as you go through your day.


29 October 2009

A less than perfect day

It doesn't take much, just one good night's sleep and I'm ready to take on the world again. Thank you for your good wishes and prayers for Hanno, we both appreciate them. We'll go in later this morning and be home late this afternoon; no doubt there will be news to write about tomorrow.

A recent shared lunch at the Centre I work at.

But today I want to talk about perfection. I don't talk about it much, mainly because I don't believe many things are perfect, I rarely seek perfection and I tend to feel a bit uneasy when things look too good. I prefer to live in a slightly wobbly, less than perfect world. It suits my nature, I don't have to constantly measure myself against some "perfect" ideal and I learn so much when I make mistakes. Don't mistake perfection for happiness, they are two entirely different things.

If you were to ask me how I discovered how to do what I do I would probably tell you that my mistakes have taught me well. My mentors are books and the fading memories of the many things my mother and grandmother taught me. I also have the remarkable benefit of having grown up in a time when people did for themselves. But the mistakes I made along the way have taught me things I will never forget. When I first left home I tried to forget what I knew because I wanted to be modern, eat convenience foods and live more outside my home than in it. When I reversed that trend I found I still remembered much of what I was taught and saw but still, my main teacher were the mistakes I made.

Even with fresh seeds, not all seeds will germinate.

There is nothing better for making you remember a sequence, a recipe, a method, than putting time into something and then realising you have to start again. A mistake, that perfect teacher, makes you undo stitches, give food to the chooks and make a skirt into an apron, all because you did something wrong. But do you ever make that same mistake again - I don't, I learn from what I did wrong and redoing it cements it into my brain.

It doesn't have to match. Our old couch sits happily beside our new couch.

If you're starting off with knitting, sewing, crochet, soap making, homemaking or marriage, be kind to yourself when you make a mistake. See it as a gift. You won't waste too much of your project if you unpick and redo, and the process of doing it will be your teacher. Don't look for perfection, except if you are seeking a warm sunny day, a five out of five nest of new hatchlings, or the first glimpse of your new baby. They will all be perfect, most other things rarely are.

I applaud you if you set delicious meals on the table every night, if you never drop a stitch, or if you produce batch upon batch of perfect soap. But when you do make a mistake, don't beat yourself up about it. Be kind to yourself, let yourself enjoy all this life has to give you - even the mistakes. See a mistake for what it is - an opportunity to teach yourself. I remember the first time I tried to knit a headband. I unpicked that thing about 10 times before I got the tension and size right, and then it turned into a hat! But I learnt so much from that hat. It still shines as a bright beacon for me because it taught me not only how to knit hats and headbands, it taught me that wasting time on perfection sometimes gets in the way of what I want and need.

My own less than perfect day today will include taking my husband in for surgery, knitting, thinking about whether to replace a broken dishwasher, cooking, updating my diary and mapping out what I'm doing from now till Christmas, including deadlines (I really don't want to do that) and reading. There will be parts of today I don't like but overall it is a day just like all others to be mined for all the enjoyment I can find in it.

I wonder what you're doing on this less than perfect day.


28 October 2009

Worn out and recovering

After a busy day at work yesterday, I'm worn out. I over-slept this morning and as I have to do a few things before going to work soon, this will be a short post. There are times in my past when I worked much harder and longer than I did yesterday but now it does me in. I have another work day today and tomorrow Hanno goes in for his knee operation and I want to be in top form for that. I'm taking it easy and letting myself recover so I have the energy to cope with the rest of the week.

I'm sorry that I haven't had time to answer questions in the comments and emails or spend much time at the forum, but I'll get back there later in the week.

And just a quick word about advertising. I've added Amazon ads to my blog to help pay for the forum which cost a few hundred dollars to set up. I like the Amazon ads, I think they are good value for money and they feature products most of us use. Clicking on the ads will give you more information. I appreciate any help you might be able to give me.

I saved this blog address earlier this week and hoped I would have a chance to share it with you. It's the blog of Jessica Watson, a young lady who lives in my region. Jessica is 16 years old and is sailing solo, unassisted and non-stop around the world. I doubt I would have allowed my children to do what she is doing at that age, but I admire her so much. I've watched a couple of interviews and her videos and she seems a very mature and intelligent girl. We so rarely find real adventurers in our lives now but Jessica is one and I really hope she achieves her goals. I think following her journey would be a wonderful project for homeschoolers. She is in her second week now and has just passed Norfolk Island. Soon she will head south, over open ocean, towards South America. Scary! The route she is taking is written about here.

See you tomorrow. I hope you have a lovely day.

27 October 2009

Wool, cotton and sticks

I love knitting. I'm not particularly good at it, but I get by. There is something about winding a long piece of wool or cotton around sticks that is very appealing. I relax when I knit and I feel connected to all my grandmas who would have sat by a fire knitting clothes for the family. Knitting is a gift I give myself. As well as the relaxation, it exercises my brain, makes me feel productive, even when I'm sitting down, and it produces beautiful items that I happily use in my home or give as gifts. Knitting is part of my day to day life and I believe it should be part of everyone's. If you're not knitting for the productive rewards it gives, then do it to relax.

I still get emails from readers who like the idea of knitting but don't have anyone to teach them. This post is to encourage new knitters, and those who have yet to take up their needles, to start on simple projects and not give up. Knitters are very much like gardeners. I am convinced that if you see a knitter or a gardener anywhere and ask about what they're doing, they'd be pleased to tell you.

Knitting looks complicated but as soon as you learn how to hold your needles and realise that almost all knitting is just casting on, knit, purl, casting off, it seems doable. Learning a few extras like slip stitch, knit two together, yarn forward etc., will give you some lovely pieces that you can't buy at the shops. The thing that really appeals to me is that you can choose your own wool or cotton, and there are some beautiful yarns on the market now. A preknit cardigan from China just doesn't cut it for me anymore.

I noticed a thread over at the forum yesterday about casting on and untidy loose edges. A few techniques were offered and here is mine, I don't know what it's called. I do the normal, for Australia, cast on, then on my first knit row, I knit into the back of the stitch, not the front. It gives me a beautiful firm and tidy edge. The photo above shows where to place the needle, otherwise it's just a normal knit stitch. I find the American way of casting on quite complicated and always use the UK/Irish method taught to me by my mother.

I have looked for what I think are good sites for you to learn from. Remember, it is up to you to put the time in, overcome frustration and keep going. Whether it be knitting, sewing, cooking, growing or anything else in this simple life, don't give up if you don't get it straight away. These are crafts - skills to learn, you have to rediscover how to hold your hands and techniques that, although once commonplace, now are not. That takes a little time. Give yourself that, be patient, and it will come to you.

That learning aspect of knitting is why I encourage new knitters to knit dishcloths. They are the ideal project to learn the stitches as well as cast on, cast off, and you can experiment with fancy patterns if you feel like it. It doesn't matter if you don't do a perfect job, it is the practise that counts, and you get something at the end that can be used in the home. So start off with dishcloths and then progress to other small projects. There are some in the links below.

Set yourself up properly. It's not expensive. Buy or barter some good cotton or wool, I never knit with acrylic but there are many ladies who do. I think if you're putting the time in to knit, it should be the best yarn you can afford. For me, that means watching out for sales, or buying online occasionally. You'll need needles, I think aluminium are the easiest to knit with, just get one pair to start, maybe size 7 or 8. So when you have your needles and either wool or cotton, find a bag to put them in. You'll need to protect your work and if you intend taking it with you when you go out, a bag will keep it all together for you. I use an old flour sack made of calico. I gave a similar kit of cotton, needles and a flour sack to my friend Fifi at work. She is now madly knitting away on her first dishcloths, and loving it.

I hope I've encouraged you to try, or re-try knitting. If you get stuck, go to the knitting ladies over at the forum, post your question and someone will help you. Don't give up on it, or yourself, and have fun!

UK how to cast on
This is a beautiful and simple, ideal for your first double pointed needles project
Dishcloths with patterns
A knitting glossary with videos
Explaination of yarn weights and needles
Free patterns
Lots of free patterns, including wearables and household knitting.

26 October 2009

The Q sisters

Chickens are creatures of habit, they are practical and they like climbing, so it should not have been a great surprise when I looked out the window from where I am sitting right now to find this looking back.

Quentin wanted to be close to someone and she wanted to rest while watching her friend, the half blind Quince. I think she'll make this one of her permanent perching places unless we move them on.

We bought Quentin and Quince about a month ago and since then Hanno has patiently nursed Quince through a nasty eye infection. She looks to be recovered now but she's blind in that eye and a little undernourished but I think she'll be fine in the long run. Generally new chickens would be well and truly integrated into the flock by now but Hanno separated Quince from the other girls when he noticed her bad eye, and Quentin, voluntarily, followed her. Even now she will fly over the fence, away from the other hens, to be with Quince. There is a loyalty there that is touching and quite fascinating.

Hanno washing Quince.

During the time when Quince's eye was badly infected, her feathers became matted around her head and neck. Hanno washed her a couple of times and gently dried her in the sun. If she could talk, I'm sure she would have thanked him. With all this handling, these two little Sussex hens have become very tame and don't mind at all being picked up, which Hanno often does. He has such a soft heart when it comes to animals. I've seen him many times just sitting on the back verandah, smiling, and watching the two Qs.

And drying her in the sun.

But soon the time will come when they will have to join their coop sisters and free range in the backyard. They're fenced off from the flock now, living on the back verandah, and so Quentin can perch on a bench close to my computer and she can watch over Quince as she scratches for food. People say that chickens are dumb critters and I have certainly found that to be so with some, but like people, there are all types - some funny, some sullen, some smart and some not so. Quentin is a leader, so I'm glad we named her for our first female governor general.

I think Hanno will move them out to join the flock today. Their little wooden fruit box full of straw will go with them and they'll have to roost in the coop, instead of on the rungs of the old chair standing near our bedroom. It's been lovely having two baby chicks peeping at the back door but the time has come for them to move on. I think they'll stay together out there and I think Quentin will always help Quince find the water container and scatterings of grain.

Cocobelle and Heather.

If you take the time to know them, you will see character differences in all your chooks. Lucy, our Old English Game chook is bossy, highly strung and a rebel - she took it upon herself to build her nest in the next door neighbours yard instead of taking to the coop nests when the rest of her broody sisters did. Hanno found her there with five eggs. Cocobelle is our prima donna, Martha is a slow and gentle mother, Heather is the individual with her feathered pants and puffy face, and she is as game as Ned Kelly. I have never seen our chooks just as egg producers, although that is their primary function. They also entertain us, eat every bug they find and teach us that birds of a feather do not always flock together.


23 October 2009

Just hanging out

There are certain areas in every home where clusters of chemicals sit. The laundry is one such place and is a great place to start walking the green path. There are many recipes for laundry powder and liquid on the net. I have my own here, but it doesn't matter which you use, just start using one of them, it's a very good way to start simplifying. You can also throw out that softener. Get used to the feel of normal clothes on your skin; clean cloth with no additives is a healthier option that clothes with softener added. Read the labels on the products you're using and if what you read disturbs you, get rid of them, do some research, start making your own and be better off for it.

One of the best ways to be greener with your laundry is to line dry your clothes. I am amazed to read that in the USA, the land of the free, that line drying clothes is banned in many areas. Some claim it's unsightly, it lowers the standards of the neighbourhood, or that clothes hanging on a line indicates "poor" people are living there! I'm not sure what kind of fantasy land people who make these statements are living in but how can clean clothing hanging in the sunshine be unsightly. Clothes hanging out to dry indicates clean clothes, clean sheets and towels all smelling of sunshine. And if "poor" people live there, so what? If you came to Australia you'd think we are all "poor" because there is washing hanging outside all over the country here. It's normal, and always has been.

And while we're about it, what about the regulations that ban home owners from keeping chickens! That's another stupid rule that needs overturning. I think it's about time these ridiculous regulations are seen for what they really are - a way for local authorities to interfere in our lives. Let them regulate parking rules and where shopping malls are built but they can stay out of my backyard, thank you very much. What happens there is my business and no one else's.

If you are affected by these unfair restrictions, start making a noise about it. These are not radical things, our grandparents and theirs kept chickens and hung laundry outside to dry. Why have those simply rights been taken away? It's just another way to control us. Write to your local politicians and your newspapers and demand the right to line dry and keep chickens. These are your decisions to make, they should not be made for you.

And now I'll step down from my soap box. :- ) I hope you have a beautiful day.

Project Laundry

New York Times article.

22 October 2009

Yoghurt Q & A

There have been quite a few questions over the past two dairy days so I'll use this post to answer them. I hope you try making these dairy products. They are very tasty, they're cheaper than the store bought products and you'll help keep old skills alive, particularly if you pass on what you know.

Sueellen wrote: Will have a go at the yoghurt but am curious to know if you have posted a recipie for sour cream. My thoughts are that you would need only to sour some fresh cream with lemon juice or vinegar but I might be completely wrong.

Sueallen, sour cream is easy to make at home but I don't think I've posted about it before. If you make this on a day when you've used the oven, you can use the residual heat in the oven to make the sour cream. Get yourself a 750ml mason jar, or glass container with a lid, add ½ cup of room temperature cultured buttermilk and two cups of room temperature cream and stir thoroughly. Wrap the jar in a towel and place it in the warm oven, leave it for 24 hours. Then you have your sour cream.

Attila, you can reserve some of this yoghurt to make your next batch. Every so often, you'll need to buy a new batch of yoghurt as a fresh starter.

Allison wrote: Reading this now I did not cover my jars with a lid so maybe that was my issue. I did cover it with a coffee filter to keep things out of the jar.

Allison: you must put the lid on to hold in the heat. Yoghurt needs a constant low warm temperature for the bacteria to multiply. Try it again with the lid on. Don't overheat the milk once the yoghurt is in it as that will kill the culture, but it does need constant warmth.

Reyna wrote: I would like to freeze some yoghurt to use in place of icecream for smoothies. Is there a special way of doing that, or do you just freeze, stir, freeze, stir etc like you do icecream??

Reyna, that way would certainly work well, or you could use an icecream maker, but I would do it another way. As the frozen yoghurt will be going into smoothies, I'd just freeze shallow covered trays of yoghurt. You will get a few ice crystals but it will be blended in with other ingredients, so that won't matter. It will be much less work this way.

Kristin, adding a lot of starter yoghurt - a full cup, and the extra powdered milk, is the key to making thick yoghurt.

white lilly wrote: I was wondering what the difference would be if the store bought yoghurt has gelatine added. Because the yoghurt I made with using store bought yoghurt was a bit what you call slimmy. Could this be caused by gelatine or something else.

white lilly: gelatine in the starter yoghurt will inhibit the whey separating from the curds and if you're going to make cheese from the yoghurt, that is a problem. If you use starter yoghurt containing gelatine it will take the yoghurt longer to firm up, and if you use the yoghurt before it's finished maybe that felt "slimey". You'd be much better off using a starter yoghurt that is "natural" with its beneficial bacteria added, but with as few extra additives as possible.

Anna wrote: My latest batch of yoghurt didn't work right, so I had to throw it away - smelt and tasted like squashed ants - blechh. I'm interested to see that people add milk powder to their mix, I'll have to try that. I don't think I'm keeping the mix warm enough either, will have to try the esky technique!

Anna: when you make the yoghurt keep it at a consistent warm temperature. You also need to use sterilised jars as the introduction of any other bacteria will inhibit the growth of the beneficial bacteria.

mecathie: yes, you can use any type of milk.

meagan wrote: A week went by and I still had the whey in the fridge but I was afraid it had gone off so I threw it out. How long does whey last before you should use it?

Meagan: If kept in the fridge in a pre-sterilsed bottle or jar, whey should last about 3-4 weeks. If it starts going off you'll notice mould forming on the top.

Lors, a Greek starter yoghurt always makes a delicious thick yoghurt. I'm pleased you tried it.

Barbara: people from many countries have their own version of fresh yoghurt or buttermilk cheese. Germans calls theirs quark, but there are many versions and names.

Shan wrote: In the end of your post it says something like 'It won't last longer than that in the freezer". I'm assuming that you meant 'will'? I'm not sure though b/c I haven't put any dairy products in the freezer except ice cream ;) So I wanted to check to see? Also what is UHT?

I meant "won't last longer than that". Ricotta needs to be eaten fresh. It will last a couple of days in the fridge and maybe a week or 10 days in the freezer. After that it will be tasteless and, if over frozen, like rubber. You can easily freeze milk and cream and then defrost them in the fridge when you're ready to use them. UHT stands for ultra high temperature. This milk is sterilised by being super heated. That is why it can sit on a shelf for many months without going off.


21 October 2009

Milk to yoghurt to cheese

Yesterday we had a 500gram/16oz tub of yoghurt that cost $3.50 and turned it into two litres/quarts of yoghurt that cost about $4. One litre/quart of that was eaten as yoghurt - with one cup reserved to make the next batch, the other litre/quart was made into quark cheese. Quark is a simple fresh cheese that doesn't require any special equipment and will be ready for eating as soon a you finish making it.

Above is quark made on the weekend. I added finely chopped cucumbers that had been salted and allowed to drain for an hour, pepper and topped it with a sprinkling of paprika.

This is an extract from a post I wrote a long time about about making quark.

When you have your yoghurt made and you want to make quark, you need a large jug, a strainer and a piece of clean cotton cloth. Wash the cloth with pure soap, rinse well and wring it out so it's not dripping wet. Place the strainer in the jug and the cloth over the strainer. Then add the yoghurt.

Cover the yoghurt with the cloth, so the mix is entirely covered.

Put a plate on top and and weigh the plate down with something fairly heavy. I have used a pot of jam. The process of making quark involves removing the water (whey) from the yoghurt. You do that by sitting the yoghurt in the strainer, in the fridge, weighed down so the whey can drain from the yoghurt into the jug.

To get a suitable dry quark, you'll need to allow it to drain for at least 24 hours, possibly 48 hours. When you think it's able to be moulded into a cheese shape, remove the quark from the strainer, pack it into a mould and then turn it out onto a plate.

The quark below is an old photo of quark I made a few months ago. The savory quark was made by adding salt and pepper to taste to the finished quark and adding some chopped chives. You could also add chilli or chilli sauce over the top of the quark.

This sweet quark below was sweetened with a little honey and then I added a small amount of homemade strawberry jam to the top of the quark.

Whey is a by-product of quark. It is the fluid part of the yoghurt that is full of live lactobacillus acidophilus and is very good for you. You can use whey in a number of ways, don't throw it away. (<- Nice sentence there.) Whey makes a nice drink, you can drink it as is or when it is cold. It could also be added to smoothies. It is an excellent replacement for milk in any baking you might be doing. Whey will give you a great result in cakes, scones or biscuits. It can be added to sauerkraut, relish or pickles to add live culture to those foods.

This is the amount of whey I got from one litre/quart of yoghurt.

You can also use it to make ricotta. You need an awful lot of whey to make ricotta. It takes the whey from 5 gallons of milk to make 1 kilo/2 pounds of ricotta, so I use the small amount of whey I usually have in another way. BTW, if you want to make ricotta and you have such a quantity of whey, go here to find out how to do it.

1 litre/quart milk - can be fresh cow's, powdered, UHT or goat's milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice or cider vinegar

If you want to use the ricotta for a dessert, you may like to add one cup of cream for a creamier ricotta.

The finished ricotta.

Place all ingredients in a heavy bottom saucepan and heat up to simmering point. Don't boil it and don't allow it to burn. Stir to prevent scalding the milk. Soon after you add the acid (lemon/vinegar) you will notice the curds separate from the whey.

When you notice small bubbles form it's hot enough. Turn off the heat and let it sit in the saucepan for 30 minutes.

Prepare a strainer with an open weave cotton cloth in it, in the same way you did when making quark. Place the strainer over a large jug with the cloth in the strainer. Take a slotted spoon and add the curds to the strainer and allow the whey to drain into the jug. This will take a few hours for a dry ricotta and maybe one hour for a smooth creamy ricotta suitable for dessert. When it's drained enough, wind the top of the cloth around so you can give it one last squeeze, then the ricotta is ready for use. I used mine in lasagna. It freezes well so you could wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it or store in the fridge for a day or two. It won't keep longer than that in the freezer.

The leftover whey doesn't contain much protein now, but you could still use it in baking. I give it to the chooks as an extra treat - we soak old bread in the whey and the chooks love it.

I hope you try these cheeses. They will be a healthy addition to your kitchen and another way you can be a self reliant cook. Don't forget that you can use any milk from fresh raw milk to UHT milk. Often that decision is made for you because you have to use the cheapest option. The raw milk will be live and the UHT will be sterile but you will still get good cheese no matter what you use.


20 October 2009

Homemade yoghurt

There are many little cost cutting measures you can take in a frugal home. Most of them, when you see them as an isolated unit, look too insignificant to bother about, but add them all up and you'll make good savings. Saving grocery money is an important goal for most homemakers; it means paying off more debt and all the good things that come from that. So being able to make two cups of yoghurt into two litres/quarts might seem small, but it will save you money and learning how to do it adds to your skill base, and that, my friends, is important.

Live food can multiply, it's one of its numerous benefits. I know many of you use yoghurt to make new yoghurt but there are many new readers here and quite a few young homemakers so I would like to revisit how to make yoghurt at home. I encourage you to add your method of making yoghurt in your comment. My way will not suit everyone and you may encourage someone to learn this skill.

You can do this two ways - either buy a powdered yoghurt starter or just a tub of natural yoghurt. The yoghurt must be natural with no gelatin added. I bought the best yoghurt in my area - Maleny Natural, a cows milk yoghurt that has won gold medals at both the Sydney Royal and the Ekka shows. It cost $3.50 for a 500 gram/16 oz tub. Check the use by date and get the freshest yoghurt you can find. This is important you need live beneficial bacteria for this to work. You could also use sheep or goat yoghurt as a starter as long as it contains a live culture and it's unflavoured with no gelatin. Remember, starting with fresh ingredients of the best quality you can afford and find will give you the best yoghurt.

The cheapest way to make this up is to use powdered milk but you can also use milk from the supermarket, raw cow's milk or soy, goat or sheep milk. You could also use UHT milk and if you do, you don't have to almost boil the milk at the start - this milk is sterile. To make up the powdered milk you'll need just under one litre/quart water and the recommended amount of milk powder to make up whole milk, and about ¼ cup extra of powdered milk.

You'll need a 1 litre/quart mason jar or some other sealable container, a saucepan and a towel.

Make up the powdered milk in the saucepan, or if you're using fresh milk, add it to the saucepan over heat. Heat the milk until you see tiny bubbles start to form at the edges, then remove from the heat. This process will kill off any harmful bacteria that would spoil the yoghurt. Pour the milk into a pre-sterilised mason jar. You can sterilise the jar by pouring boiling water into it or putting it into a warm oven for 20 minutes. Be careful to keep everything clean as you don't want to contaminate the milk, utensils or jar once you've started .

This is the finished yoghurt.

Let the milk cool but don't let it go cold. When the milk has reached the point where you can put your hands around the jar without it burning you, it's time to add your yoghurt. Add about a cup full of yoghurt and the extra ¼ cup of powdered milk - this will give you a thicker yoghurt. Then seal the jar and wrap it in a towel. Put it into a warm (not hot) oven, that is turned off, and leave it there, without opening the door for about 12 hours. When you open it again, you'll have yoghurt.

You can flavour the yoghurt with jam, honey and vanilla, maple syrup or stewed fruit. If you want to add fresh fruit, add it just before you eat it. I put my yoghurt into smaller jars for sweetening - one here is raw honey and vanilla, the other is homemade rosella jam. Store it in the fridge, it will keep for about three weeks. Tomorrow we'll go on to a couple of things you can make with the unflavoured yoghurt.

You can buy yoghurt starter in Australia here and here or in the US/Canada here and here, if you're in another country, Google "yoghurt/yogurt starter UK" or whatever your country is.

19 October 2009

A weekend roundup

We had a peaceful weekend, didn't do much but potter around the house, I worked on the forum quite a bit, tweaking and reading the manual, while Hanno did some gardening and tidying up outside. There are always tasks waiting to be done in a simplified home and here it's no different.

Hanno pulled out the last of the winter kale and planted up dwarf bean seedlings in their place. They're nicely protected with straw mulch and will soon be joined by corn seedlings that are not quite ready to plant yet. A storm during the week gave us a bit of water in the tanks so some of that stored water was used on the garden, but we still need good rain to soak deep into the soil and fill the tanks. This is often the driest time of the year for us, late Autumn, but when the monsoon arrives and the rains start in November, everyone breathes a sigh of relief that we have water again. Of course, with climate change, we can't rely now on those once dependable patterns. So, for now, we're hoping that rain will fall and the storms won't cause too much damage this year.

Spring time always makes the chooks broody and at the moment we have five hens eager to become mothers. There are four on the nests and Lucy, our Old English Game hen, has taken it upon herself to separate from the flock and make her own nest. She has been missing for a few days but Hanno found her yesterday, with a nest of five eggs. She's in trouble though, she's been eating the next door neighbour's lettuces so she'd better watch herself.

Back inside the house, I made bread - yeasted rolls one day and sour dough the other. I keep persisting with sour dough because I want to make bread without yeast but every time I make it, it disappoints. I have tried several recipes so I guess I just don't have the knack or taste for it, so for now, I'm sticking with my yeast bread. I made heavy grain rolls on the weekend but I flitter between grain flour to rye to unbleached organic white. We like the variety and they usually turn out very well.

While I was in the kitchen I also made yoghurt, ricotta, quark (more on them later in the week) and muesli. This is a new muesli recipe that I just made up of things I like to eat. I just mixed together some oats, moist coconut, dried apricots and cranberries, lecithin granules and LSA mix, which is a mixture of crushed linseeds, sunflower seeds and flaked almonds. It's delicious. I think next time I make it, I'll leave the oats out of the mix so I can soak them overnight and add them just before breakfast. If you soak your muesli, how do you do it?

Over the weekend I also worked on two aprons, did some stitching, knitting and started making a tea cosy for a Christmas gift. I still haven't made room for, or used, the overlocker/serger given to me recently. I'll have to get to it soon because I will need it for a couple of projects I'm working on now. And what would the weekend be without phone calls to my family. I spoke with my sister Tricia and Shane, Sarndra and Kerry on the phone and Jens came over to help Hanno move tree branches and garden waste to the dump.

I would like to do a crochet-along over at the forum and need an experienced crocheter to help me. The project is a milk jug cover that I have the pattern for, so if you have the time and would like to help, please let me know.

Another week starts today and I am looking forward to it. There are so many things to do each day, it's a pleasure to get up early and get stuck into it. I have a work meeting tonight and work Tuesday and Wednesday. As we get closer to our move, it gets busier there, it will soon be time to organise the move and pack up again. I am really enjoying the forum and getting to know the members, and working on my gifts for Christmas. Each day is full of satisfying work that fills my soul and makes me sleep well at night. I hope you had a restful weekend and that the week ahead will be a good one for all of us.


17 October 2009

A special thank you

I want to say a special thank you to Leigh at Blog Chicks who helped me set up the new forum last week. She basically did the whole installation and advised me what to do along the way. It was a complicated process and without her help I would either have had to pay someone to do it or struggled with it for a long time.

I have never met Leigh. I came across her site when I was added to the top Australian women bloggers list, which she compiles. Then I found Blog Chicks, her forum for chicks who blog, like me. :- ) The forum is friendly and you can ask questions about blogging or troubleshoot there if you're having a problem with your blog. The forum is there to support and encourage blogging.

So this woman, whom I had never met, offered to help me after I slipped in a question about forums into a forum about blogging. I didn't know then that the support I would get from Leigh would be so gracious and generous, but true to the nature of her site, she encouraged and supported. I like that, a woman who not only talks the talk but also walks the walk.

If you have a blog, click here, drop by and register, you never know when you too will need help. Thanks Leigh.

16 October 2009

The soap making question

I had a question from a reader the other day regarding cleaning soap making utensils and equipment. She wanted to know if it was okay to wash the soap making equipment and use it for other kitchen tasks that involve food. If you thoroughly wash all your utensils and equipment it is fine to use it all for other food making tasks. However, if you use a wooden spoon for soap making, you should dedicate that spoon to that task and store it with your soap making ingredients, rather than keep it in the kitchen. Wooden spoons are porous and might absorb some of the caustic elements of the soap making process and, if left to sit in a pot of stew, might contaminate the stew. I didn't read that anywhere, I thought of it myself.

So when you go to wash your plastic, glass and metal utensils, use your common sense, think about all the cracks and crevices that might hide soap. Soak them in the sink for a while then get a brush and scrub all the areas that might hold soap, or put it all in the dishwasher. When they're thoroughly clean, they're ready for your kitchen tasks. I know there is advice out there that says have a separate set of everything for soap making, but why?

We used to be a society that followed in the footprints of our parents. We had mothers and fathers who set the rules, were role models for their children and who taught by example. Sadly, that is not so common now. Often young people have to ask these questions because they have never seen, first hand, a lot of the things they want to do, like soap making, and they don't trust their own judgement to think it thorough themselves.

Common sense has a role to play in almost everything we do on a daily basis and yet many people don't trust themselves to make safe and sensible decisions. I have often wondered about that and I think it's because many decisions aren't ours to make any more. We are over protected. We have governments and local councils who make rules and regulations about such a wide variety of things, and corporations whose products line our shelves, that we don't really have to think about our own circumstances; we know there is a rule for it or a product we can buy.

I guess that is fine if you want to live a sheltered life, but I don't. I have decided to step outside what is "normal" for my class and age and I want to rely on myself more and others less. Now let me first say that I am not advocating anarchy or even civil disobedience, I am merely saying that I make my own decisions and, if there are any consequences for a wrong decision, I suffer that, and make sure I don't make the same mistake again. I am horrified when I see councils and governments setting regulations and making laws about all manner of things. You can't legislate against stupidity, they should have public awareness campaigns about taking responsibility for ourselves and reviving common sense.

One of the problems is that often we don't even know we are making a decision. For instance, if you buy those antiseptic kitchen wipes, and you haven't thought of the consequences of that, you will be wiping out the normal yeasts and bacteria that should be in your home. Yes, you will get rid of the bad bacteria, but those wipes don't discriminate, they wipe everything out, and then you wonder why you can't make ginger beer, sauerkraut or sour dough. Soap and water, or even a few drops of tea tree oil if you have a bad problem, will get rid of most bugs - the wipes used on a daily basis are overkill.

There are many examples I could come up with but let me just say that your life is the sum total of all the decisions you make, allowing someone else to make too many of those decisions for you will result in a one size fits all society that I don't want to be a part of. All the young mums out there pregnant with their first baby. I know you want to do the best for your child, but the best doesn't necessarily involve buying all the products you see out there. Think about the consequences of those buying decisions, both for yourself and your baby. Making more and buying less will not only put you in a better financial position it will also give your baby a greener future. Instead of being guided by advertising, be guided by your mother or your local mothers' group.

I love variety, change and difference and that is not a bad thing - you have seen how I live, I am not a radical, I am just advocating that you question, be sceptical, and decide for yourself. And even these words I'm offering to you now, you should question what I say, make sure it suits you and if it doesn't, keep doing what you're doing. But if you question, use your common sense and make decisions based on self reflection, consideration of consequences and how you want to live, you will make a life unlike any other.

I mean no disrespect highlighting this soap making question. I actually do understand why it was asked - skills are not being passed on, and being multi-skilled develops self confidence. But I hope to use the opportunity to highlight what I see as an underlying problem of mass dependence on needing, and sometimes wanting, others to think for us. There is a lot to be said for taking responsibility for one's self, questioning the way things are done and making your own way. My way might not be the right way for everyone else, but it suits me fine and it is like that because I think about my decisions, ignore rules that don't make sense to me and use my common sense. And that, my friends, has made all the difference.


15 October 2009

Meatballs in tomato sauce

Chances are you've come across recipes for meatballs in tomato sauce but I'm going to recommend mine to you because it's one of those that is perfect for us stockpilers - it uses items from the freezer, garden, pantry and stockpile cupboard.

The trick to this dish, and most other meat dishes, is to develop flavour in the meat by caramelising the sugars when you fry it. Caramelising is the process where you add a little oil to the frying pan, add the meat balls and let them fry to a brown stage without burning. The brownness that develops during that stage adds a huge amount of flavour to the final dish. Adding uncooked meatballs to a sauce will not give you the fine flavour that caramelising will. As most of you know, I cook from scratch and don't add bouillon cubes, stock powder, soup mixes or pre-cooked sauces. I prefer to develop the flavour already in the ingredients to build up in stages as I go. The result is a wholesome meal full of flavour but with no preservative or artificial flavours added.


750 grams (2 pounds) minced beef (ground beef)
1 large onion
herbs - I used parsley, oregano, bay and marjoram. You could also use chives, chilli, thyme or basil.
4 slices of old bread
2 eggs
¼ cup milk
salt and pepper

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
whatever herbs you used in the meatballs, add here too, finely chopped.
several leaves of silverbeet or spinach, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tin tomatoes - or your home canned tomatoes, about 2 cups
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper

Soak the old bread in the beaten eggs and milk. Finely chop the onion and herbs. I do this in a little processor so it's very fine. These are very small meatballs so your ingredients need to be very finely chopped. Add the meat to a bowl and add the soaked bread, leaving the rest of the egg mixture to one side. Add the chopped onion and herbs and mix with your clean hands. Add salt and pepper to taste. Whatever egg mixture is left over, add now and mix in so the meat and the other ingredients are thoroughly combined. Wash your hands, then with wet hands, form the meat into little balls.

Heat up your frying pan, add a small amount of oil and when the pan is hot, add the meatballs. Turn the balls so that all sides are able to brown. When the meatballs are brown all over, remove them from the pan to a plate and keep them to one side.

To make the sauce:
Use the same pan you fried the meat in. Add the chopped onion and garlic and stir while it cooks. Be careful as the garlic can burn. If it does it will add a bitter taste to you meal. When the onion is soft, add the tomato paste and stir in. Cook for two minute to get the raw taste out of the tomato paste. Add the tomatoes, chopped silverbeet/spinach and herbs and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste and the teaspoon of sugar. The sugar takes the acid taste off the tomatoes. If you're using your own home grown tomatoes, you probably don't need the sugar. Bring the sauce to the boil, then turn the heat right down to a simmer. Add the meatballs and continue cooking, very slowly, for 20 minutes.

Serve with pasta and a garden salad.

This amount is enough for at least two meals for Hanno and I, with a lunch for me to take to work. It can be frozen for a couple of months or whatever your freezer's recommendation is for processed meats or sausages.

I was going to answer a question about cleaning my soap making utensils and using them for other tasks. I have some thoughts that go along nicely with that topic, so I'll write a post about it all tomorrow.

I'll check those registrations now for the members who had trouble registering yesterday. So far we haven't had many problems with the registering and it's much easier than the other forum. The moderators have worked very hard to bring over as many of the old threads as they could manage but we're also keeping the old forum as an archive you can dip into. All the signs indicate that this forum will be better than the old one, it's user friendly and many of the members are used to the format of VBulletin. When we are all settled in, there will be swaps, challenges, competitions and prizes in each of the sections. It's already a bustling community full of people eager to learn and pass on what they know. The atmosphere is calm and friendly and the threads are building up nicely. Over 300 people have signed up in the past 24 hours, why don't you join us?


13 October 2009

What are you growing this season?

We are waiting for rain to fall. Our tanks are empty. There was thunder and lightening last night but only about five minutes of rain. We are using town water on the vegetables to keep them growing and each time I do that I think that we should get another tank. I thought 15,000 litres/4,000 gallons would be enough for us, our annual rainfall is 1200mm/47 inches, but it is apparent that if we are to produce backyard food on an ongoing basis, we need to store more water for these times of drought.

Click on photos to enlarge them.

But despite our water shortage, the garden is growing well and producing some nice vegetables. At the moment we are growing cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, capsicums (peppers), leeks, lettuce, sunflowers, radishes, zucchini, bok choi, celery, silver beet, the last of the kale and cabbages, beetroot, wild rocket (arugula) carrots, corn, eggplant, Welsh onions, parsley, chives, oregano, curry plant, marjoram, yarrow, comfrey, thyme, bay and a selection of fruit.

It's the first time we've grown this variety of cucumber and we haven't eaten any yet but they look like real winners. I'm definitely going to save some of these seeds for future years, and for a seed box swap over at the forum.

The first of the eggplants. These are heirlooms, Black Beauty.

Tomatoes and lettuce, all we need is the bread.

Our constant companions - the chooks. This is Cocobelle, the grand matriarch of the flock, with Heather, our little feather-panted Faverolles. Chooks provide nitrogen in the form of their manure for the garden, they catch bugs we don't even see and they provide us with hours of entertainment.

I have just harvested about a kilo (2 pounds) of ginger and a small amount of turmeric. They're still outside because I haven't had time to do anything with them yet but the ginger will be used in cooking and for ginger beer and the turmeric will be used in curries and as a tea.

These sweet potatoes will be planted soon. I'll take photos when I plant them. Basically you just need a couple of sweet potatoes that have sent out shoots. Waiting for them to shoot is the hardest part, the rest is easy if you're in a warm climate.

These are follow up tomatoes, beans, silverbeet and those tiny spots on the back tray will be little daisies. I always plant flowers in the vegetable garden. They bring the bees in and provide some colour amidst all the green.

Every time I walk through our garden I remind myself how lucky we are to live were we do. With the call of the wild ducks and geese, a wall of rain forest to shelter us from wind and prying eyes and our vegetables to keep us going, there is no other place I'd rather be.

What are you growing this season?

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