31 January 2010

You, me and the kitchen sink

This is Dee's kitchen in Idaho, USA.

Dee writes:
 "I've been reading your blog for about the last 3 years. I really enjoy your tutorials! In fact, tomorrow I am going to try my first batch of cold pressed soap! I've always enjoyed reading your blog and never once have I joined the discussion - but this new Kitchen Sink idea was fun. Also, my kitchen is my favorite room of our home so don't mind sharing! 

My husband and I moved here about 4 years ago. We built this house together, and put a lot of ourselves into it. We did most of the work ourselves or traded out what we couldn't do ourselves. I chose every fixture, paint color, etc. And this is the first house where we have both felt at "home". We live in a small town, Payette, Idaho USA. We have a little over an acre of land, a barn that is over 100 years old where our chickens live, and I have a huge garden every year. We love it here. When we moved here, we were getting out of a large city where it was crowded and expensive. We wanted to simplify, and we wanted to raise animals and have a nice garden. We have had sheep and a cow, and chickens and next year we plan to have turkeys. When we moved here, I was able to quit working outside the home and focus on my household. And we planned to have children too, so I wanted to be home with them because I don't think there is any job more rewarding. 
Sadly, we were unable to have children and after spending over $30,000.00 on fertility treatments I became pregnant only to miscarry. It was devastating, and words do not describe what we've been through. We have managed to keep ourselves out of credit card debt by refinancing our home, until this year. My husband found out he had a health problem and we had to get him treatment that was not covered by his insurance. His medicine cost us $1,000.00 per month! We are not wealthy people, and this was not something we had anticipated. So we put these medicines on our credit card. Then my husband lost his job in the beginning of October! So, we are both looking for work again. The government is going to cut the unemployment starting January 1st. And what we get right now is only enough to pay our mortgage payment. When his unemployment is cut, we will have no way of paying the mortgage payment. It's a sad situation, and I know a lot of people in half a dozen states that are in the same boat as us. Many of our friends have already lost homes to foreclosure. I thought I would send you these pictures of my kitchen, because I think it may only be "my" kitchen for a short while longer. We don't qualify for any government aid, and we've applied for every job there is with no luck so far! We are hoping to both find work and try to get our debt under control and get back to our simple life. Even if that means that we wont be living in our home. And we have learned a lot from this situation, I've found even more ways to save money. Someday, when our situation improves we want to try to adopt a baby.  Please enjoy my pictures. These were taken right after I cleaned up from breakfast this morning."

Please don't forget to comment.  A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the ladies sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends. 

30 January 2010

You, me and the kitchen sink

Good morning everyone.  Today we are visiting Daphne whose kitchen is in Boston, USA.

Daphne writes:
"Yes those are dirty dishes in the sink. I figure I usually have some in the afternoon so I ought to be honest about it. My husband does some of the dishes at night, but often not all of them fit into the dishwasher. I make sure it is totally clean and the dishes are put away every morning. If I'm quick, I can get it done while my eggs are cooking.
My kitchen doesn't have a lot of counter space. It is a one woman kitchen. But with a pantry (whose door is always kept open) I have plenty of storage space. The short dark shelf is for all my home canned goods. When I bought the house they called it a country kitchen. I grew up in the western US where country kitchens are huge with lots of counter space. This kitchen is pretty small by comparison, but for where I live now, Boston, it is a good sized  kitchen. I always find it interesting what the different expectations are in different parts of the country. It will be fun to watch what the kitchens are like in Australia.
Oh and the strangest thing people comment on is the container of egg shells by the stove. I keep them separate from the compost pile because I powder them in spring and feed them to my tomato plants."

You can visit Daphne's blog here.

Please don't forget to comment.  A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the ladies sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends. 

29 January 2010

It's just a building!

I'm taking a break from kitchen sinks and simple living today so I can tell you about what's been occupying my time this past week, and on and off for the past year.  I work as the volunteer coordinator at our local Neighbourhood Centre, and with the help of a grant from our State government, we've just moved into a brand new building.  I often get emails asking me about the kind of work I do as a volunteer, so this is the ideal opportunity to answer those queries.

This is the front of the building, my office is the lower horizontal window behind that first bit of wood panel.

Our Centre is unfunded and operates with the help of about 30 volunteer workers, fund-raising, public donations and occasional government grants.  We have a  *Flexischool that currently has 20 students and three government funded teachers, and we rent space to a family support worker and a community development worker, both of whom we work closely with.
The building is as green as we could make it using the funds we had.  We have four water tanks that are plumbed to the toilets and garden hoses, solar hot water and cross ventilation.  Next year I'm applying for a grant that, I hope, will allow us to install solar panels for the electricity the building uses. 

Our mission is to work with the poor and disadvantaged but we support and assist anyone who walks through our door and asks for help. We offer a range of services, such as emergency food assistance, free counselling, free legal service, free workshops on various things like frugal and simple living, budgeting, nutrition and making healthy meals on a budget - we do this in conjunction with our local University. We have a community bus that we rent out and Hanno drives to take our seniors on shopping trips and outings.  Now we have more space we'll be starting playgroup for young mums with babies and toddlers, we have a sewing circle and teach knitting and I'm working on putting together some cooking from scratch classes.  We had a Permaculture garden at our last home and we'll be starting a new one in this new place too.  Apart from teaching people the principles of Permaculture, it's a wonderful addition to our emergency food program because we invite those people to whom we give a couple of bags of groceries to pick fresh food to take home as well.  At our new home we have a grand site for vegetables and fruit and I see a time in the future when we encourage our Flexischool students to go outside and pick fresh bananas and oranges and whatever else we grow there.  Hmmm, let me think now, what else do we do?  We have a youth program, parenting workshops and first aid for babies, and next month we're presenting the new CRP course with the local ambulance.  I supervise community service orders for teenagers and we hope the community Youth Justice program will be located at our Centre again.  This is an alternative to a court appearance for youth who have not offended before.  We offer domestic violence counselling and family relationships counselling in conjunction with other organisations who send their workers to us.  We auspice new groups and help them establish themselves under our banner and insurance, and when they're strong enough, they work independently.  And we give space to small groups were they can set up a desk and have a public presence in our town.  We also do the catering at the Bunya Dreaming Festival which is the local aboriginal festival (on tomorrow), Santa's Helpers - gifts and Christmas hampers for the poor and our annual Christmas breakfast in the park.

We do other things but I think you get the general idea.
This is the office that I share with our book keeper.  It's still in a shambles, I put up my computer after this photo was taken and I'll sort out my desk and shelves this morning, I promise.

So this past week we moved into our new home.  I worked closely with the architects and builders during the planning and construction and we have exactly the building we were hoping for.  No, that's not quite right, it's better than I ever imagined or hoped for.  I've been working in my current job for four years now and during that time we operated from old houses and there has been a feeling that we struggle along and do the best we can with what we have. But this new building, even though it's just a building, shows our community and the people with whom we work, that the poor and disadvantaged are valued and they are not hidden away or second best.
The entrance to the neighbourhood centre, the side path alongside the building leads to the Flexischool at the back.

You know, I walked the corridors in an empty building yesterday afternoon, locking up, and making our little home secure for the night and I could not help but think of the worthwhile and important work that will be done in all those rooms.  It's been a long time coming, we've been going for 16 years, but now we are in the position to offer first class service to our clients in a state of the art facility. We can teach simple and frugal living skills and offer the support and encouragement that many people need.  I never thought I'd ever be proud of a building - it's JUST a building!, but I do feel it.  I feel proud of our new Centre, I am honoured to work there and I look forward to many days when I drive down the mountain again towards home feeling that the hours in my day have been hours well spent.

* Flexischool is a small school for students who, for whatever reason, do not fit well within the government school system.


28 January 2010

You, me and the kitchen sink

Today's kitchen belongs to Geodyne who lives in England.  I love this little kitchen and particulary like the old fashioned taps at the sink.  I would feel very much at home in this kitchen.

Geodyne writes:
 "I really enjoy your blog, as I live a similar lifestyle (without the retirement part yet!) and have lived in your area in the past as well, having grown up in Qld.

I rarely indulge in this type of blog participation, but wanted to because I love the idea of people sharing their kitchens. I live in a small villlage just outside Cambridge, UK. My kitchen is completely unrenovated 1950s, in a bungalow that reminds me of Australian houses, instead of the more normal English houses. I thought I'd clear up my kitchen sink before I took the photo, but this is what it normally looks like! I love to cook, so there's always a rack of dishes drying by the sink. I have a very pleasant outlook from my sink through a big picture window into the back garden, where I overlook the herb garden and my kitchen garden (one of three veg gardens I have), and where I can watch the chickens patrol their territory, seeing off any doves which dare enter their domain. One of my indulgences is a proper Australian clothesline in the back yard.

The second photo shows my kitchen proper taken from my back door. The kitchen had a range in the recess long before my time, and I'd love to have one there again but it's not possible at the moment. All food prep happens on the oak and granite bench in the centre of the kitchen, which I love. There are lots of pots for the aforementioned cooking, and what you can't see are the two cast-iron frypans which get daily use. They hang from the end of the bench. The gin is out to remind me that it's time to make sloe gin. It's a small kitchen, but what really makes it is the huge pantry beside where I'm standing. That allows me to store the goodies from my garden, and I make the most of it."

You can find Geodyne's blog here.

Please don't forget to comment.  A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the ladies sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.    

27 January 2010

Simple Living Series - Food storage

I believe today's topic is one of the most important practical things we learn about in our homes - food storage.  I hope you join with me to share what you do because I am always open improving what I do and looking for new methods.  So let's get down to it, why is it so important and what should we be doing?

Buying food is usually a never-ending expense in the household budget. If you can save money on your food bills, you'll generally save big money over the course of your life.  So it makes sense that not only should you look for bargains, buy local and get the freshest food available, you should also store your food so it doesn't deteriorate before you eat it.

I've written before now on the differences in how the northern hemisphere, particularly north America, preserves food in jars.  Canning meat, fish, beans, soup and other high protein foods is quite common there but not in Australia.  Here we tend to preserve relish, chutney, jams, tomato sauce, tomatoes and fruits that do well in a sterilsed jar with lemon juice added.  I think we follow the UK tradition, but I may be wrong.  Here we tend to commonly freeze our meat and fish if it's to be kept for a long period.  I am not going to write about freezing or preserving/canning here, I've done it in the past and it's a subject of its own, but here is a link to one of my preserving/canning posts and to a post on freezing.

Like most things in this simple life, we will all do things the way it best suits our way of living.  Hanno and I grow a lot of our own food so our methods may differ from those of you who buy everything you need.  Basically, we freeze our meat which we buy in bulk, we also freeze small amounts of fish when we buy it at the co-op.  Excesses of vegetables are frozen after blanching and stored in the freezer for up to three months.  Always bag your frozen food well., freezer burn will ruin your food if it's not wrapped correctly.  Don't think that freezing will preserve your food indefinitely.  Freezing stops the fast growth of bacteria, but the sooner you can eat the food, the better.  Long term freezing is not good for any food.  Generally three months is a good rule to work by, and that is the length of a season, so if you're freezing to see you through winter, the three month rule should work well.  Also be guided by your freezer manual though and always take into account the number of times you have power outages.  If they're frequent and long in your neck of the woods, freezing large amount of food might not turn out to be so frugal after all.

I have a food stockpile and a pantry.  The stockpile is in a separate cupboard and it contains all the unopened packets, tins and jars of food that will see us through an emergency and help us save money.  The pantry is in the kitchen and that contains food we are currently using.   As soon as a bag or container of food is taken from the stockpile and opened, it is decanted into a container and stored in the pantry.

We store a lot of grains, flour, nuts, seeds and dried goods.  Everything goes into the freezer for a period when it first comes home from the shop.  This will kill any bugs or larvae lurking within.  I try to use glass containers for these things but for the larger amounts I use food grade plastic.  I got some food grade plastic buckets for storing flour from my local baker.  These are really handy, but recently I found some Decor square buckets capable of holding 10 kgs (22 lbs).  If you can get square buckets, they'll fit in the cupboard and use the space you have more efficiently than round buckets.  Beans, chick peas, lentils, dried fruit, salt, rice, sugar, coconut, polenta etc are all purchased in bulk, if possible, and stored in large mason jars in the pantry.

We buy olive oil and rice bran oil in large tins when it's on sale and that is used for cooking and making soap.  Always check the 'use by' or 'best before' dates when you buy something you know will be stored for a while.  Look through the items to see if any have later dates, if they do, choose those.  When you bring new food home, make sure the older food is eaten first and place new food at the back, bringing the older food to the front of your cupboard or fridge.

We use the fridge for short term food storage.  Fruit and vegetables, either bought or grown in the backyard, we usually stored in the fridge.  Lettuce, capsicums (peppers), eggplant, beans, cucumbers all are stored in the vegetable crisper.  Celery is washed, the top removed, and wrapped in foil.  It will stay crisp like this for two months.  Nuts are placed in small jars and kept in the fridge.  Herbs are picked as we need them.  Food such as tomatoes, avocados, peaches, bananas, passionfruit do not benefit from refrigeration, and give off gasses that accelerate ripening in other fruit and vegetables, so I store them on the kitchen bench.  None of them last long and they're fine for their short life in a bowl on the bench.  Leaving them on the bench for a week will also allow them to develop their full flavour.  Potatoes and onions are stored in baskets at the bottom of the pantry in the dark.  If you buy potatoes or onions in plastic bags, take them out when you come home because the plastic will make them sweat and they'll rot. They both need air circulation in a cool dark space.

We buy milk when it's needed and store that in the fridge.  But you can easily freeze milk.  We always have powdered milk in the cupboard as well and I usually cook with powdered milk, not fresh.  Bread is usually baked daily, with the leftovers fed to the chickens and dog.

Learn how to use what you keep in the pantry in a variety of ways.  Experiment with your stored food and keep learning.
This is an important subject because food needs to be healthy and safe to eat every time you eat it.   One of your jobs as a homemaker is to learn about how to safely store food in the way most suited to your climate and way of living.  If you get this right, you'll save money because you'll rarely have to throw food out and your family will eat only safe food.

I could go on forever about food storage but it's time now to wait for your comments and see what's happening in your kitchen. I'm looking forward to reading them.

Cat food recipe

This is the cat food recipe I was looking for the other day but couldn't find.  It's from the Choice magazine website and was developed by the professor of Veterinary Science at Sydney University, Professor Fraser:

Adult Cat
250 g boiled potato
600 g lean meat (lightly stewed)
100 g cooked human-grade sheep or beef liver*
20 g corn oil
25 g bone meal**
5 g table salt
Mix all the ingredients together and feed it to your pet once a day.

*A vitamin supplement can be used instead of the liver
**Bone meal can be found in certain healthfood stores and is an excellent source of calcium. 

Amount to feed each day according to body weight:

Cat weight
2 kg
100 g
2.5 kg
120 g
3 kg
140 g
4 kg
190 g
4.5 kg
210 g
5 kg
240 g


26 January 2010

Simple Living Series - Food waste/dog food questions answered

I don't have much time today, unfortunately, so I'll answer the questions raised by yesterday's post and do a bit of blog housekeeping.  I apologise for the delay in the post about food storage but I'll do that tomorrow.

The dog food recipe I gave yesterday is not suitable for cats.  Unlike dogs, cats are true carnivores and need more protein and fat in their diet.  You could build a cat food recipe around tinned tuna in oil with some rice and a few vegetables, but here is a site that has a downloadable cat food recipe list.  Please check them out carefully, I haven't used any of the recipes, and be guided by your common sense and the fact that your cat needs high protein and fat.

Rois, Alice is a really sweet and loyal dog.  She's still a very good watch dog when she can look outside but she's deaf now and almost blind, nevertheless, she's still guarding us well when she has the chance.  Our vet told us she has a faulty heart value and she's growing weaker.  I think this will be her last year with us.  It will be a sad place here when she dies.

Ashley, thank you.  Canning jars used for pantry storage don't have to be sterilised.  We cook Alice's food, and Rosie's when she was alive, because some Airedales do not tolerate raw beef well.  We do give her meat scraps, but a full meal of raw meat makes her sick.  I'm aware of the debate about raw versus cooked dog food and that dogs evolved eating raw meat in the wild.  However, I believe that now, domesticated dogs are a long way from their wild ancestors and, along with us, enjoy both raw and cooked food.  Our old vet was a raw food man, our new one supports cooked food.  All I know is that this food has kept the dogs healthy all their lives and neither Alice nor Rosie needed vet treatment for anything other ticks, and the ailments of old age.  Alice loves cooked food but also eats a variety of raw food.  She loves bananas, apples and tomatoes and even goes into the garden and picks her own cherry tomatoes when she wants them.

Cat, I'm pleased the dog food is working for you.  It's a great idea to work with whatever you have on hand.

Dillpickle, the main acid loving plants are  camellias, azaleas, gardenias, rhododendrons and some Australian natives.  Pines and mushrooms also like acid conditions.  You can add them to your compost, but not too much.  I think it would be fine to add grounds to most plants as long as it was not very often.  We don't drink a lot of coffee, we just have a French press when we have coffee loving visitors, and those grounds go on our blueberries.

Karrie, I would give a 75lb (34kg) dog three or four cups of this food.  We give Alice (22kg) 2 cups at night as well as a meal in the morning - she gets weetbix and milk now.  She also snacks throughout the day, so she's get bits of toast, a little piece of cake or a tomato.  Alice has always been an active dog.  If your dog isn't active, you'd have to reduce that amount.

Kristi, I did enjoy reading that article.  Thank you for sending the link. 

Anne, I like that principle.  You're really working well with the waste around you.  It does just require a bit of thought and effort and you can come up with wonderful solutions like yours.

Hi joolz, thank you.  Alice is 22kg and she gets two cups of food, plus extras - see above.

Julia, we use the lawn clippings in two ways.  Some are left next to the compost pile and will become the basis of our next pile.  We add old paper, straw, vegetable scraps, vacuum bag contents, old straw and chicken droppings from the coup etc and it will eventually build into very good compost.  The other clippings we throw into a small enclosed area in the chicken coup.  They love scratching through it to find bugs and seeds and in doing so, and by adding their manure to it, make a really quick compost that is ready in about six weeks.

Pam, you can use any meat, it doesn't matter what kind.  And it doesn't have to be minced, it can be chopped up into small pieces.  I'll do a post on worm farms soon.

And to Roxie and all my American and Canadian friends, "mince" is ground beef but you can use any kind of meat you have on hand - cut into small pieces or ground.

So that ends the answers to yesterday's questions.  Now on to the housekeeping.  I've decided to have a month of reduced advertising rates in February.  This offer is available only to small businesses run from home.  If you are running such a business and would like a sponsor button on this blog during February, please send an email to downdottodotearthdotsponsorsatgmaildotcom for more details.  Please give me some details of your business and a link to your website so I can check it out.

HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY to all my fellow Australians.  Today is the day we celebrate living in this beautiful and wonderful country of ours.  I hope you all enjoy the day.

IMPORTANT ADDITION:  I received an email from Charis, thanks Charis, regarding the feeding of farm animals - like chickens and pigs, in the UK and Europe.  Please be guided by the information in this brochure.

25 January 2010

Simple Living Series - The hierarchy of food waste

Last week we started talking about food waste and how to prevent it.  Of course it starts in the planning stage, before you even buy your food; if you can get that right, you'll be half way there.  Once food is in the home it must be stored correctly then served when it's at its peak - both in flavour and nutrition.  Storing food will be our subject tomorrow, today we're focusing on stopping the waste.

Our garden last year with compost piles in the background.

When you buy anything you are responsible for it and if you're living frugally you want to get the full value of it.  If you buy a dog you must make sure it stays healthy and doesn't bark day and night upsetting the neighbours, your car needs to be kept in good mechanical condition and only those licensed to drive can operate it.  Everything you buy comes with its own set of responsibilities - food is no exception.  When you bring it home you must store it so that it doesn't deteriorate before you have a chance to eat it, and if there is food that will not be eaten by the family, it should be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way - that is your responsibility.  Throwing food in the bin to be taken to the rubbish tip or putting it in the garbage disposal system isn't a solution.  You're passing your responsibility on to someone else.  If you believe that living more simply involves personal responsibility and independence, this is an area that you'll need to focus on.

We deal with food scraps and waste according to the value it returns to us.  On the top of that hierarchy are the chickens - they turn scraps into food again so they're at the top of the chain.  The chooks get plate leftovers, day old bread (I bake almost every day because we like fresh bread), leftover salad, tops of tomatoes, fruit and vegetables peels.  Along with the fresh greens they're fed from the garden and the grain we buy for them, they use that food to lay eggs for us and therefore we get the most value from food waste by giving it to the chickens.

We love our dog so even though there is no returned value except for the look on her face, Alice gets left over pieces of cake, soft biscuits and all the pieces of meaty fat or gristle I trim off meat before cooking.

 We have our worm farm set up on an old bathtub in the bushhouse.

The worms are the next level in the hierarchy.  They get whatever food no one else wants.  I put it through the food processor so it's in tiny pieces.  They don't need much feeding so their leftover feasts are an occasional thing, definitely not daily.

A different time in last year's garden with the compost pile and a heap of grass clipping beside it  - waiting for all the additions that will make good compost.

Potato and onion peels are put in the closed compost bin to slowly decompose.  If left in the open compost, they take too long.  Egg shells are left to dry, then pulverised and added to the chook food as a calcium supplement.  Tea leaves or tea bags go into the general compost, coffee grounds around acid loving plants, like blueberries.  Pineapple tops can be planted - in a semi-tropical or tropical climate they'll fruit in their second year.  Everything else goes into the general compost.

Of course all this is dependant on having those systems and animals in your backyard.  I wonder how people dispose of food waste when they live in an apartment  or flat.  What do you do if you live in a house with no backyard, or a backyard but no chickens, dogs or worms?  Of course there is the Bokashi compost system, but I'd be very interested in knowing other means of efficient and environmentally friendly food waste disposal.  Please leave a comment if you're doing something clever or different.

I promised the dog food recipe today and I think it fits in nicely here because it can help you get good use from those vegetables that are going a bit soft.  It also cuts down on all those tins too.

This is taken from my post on dog food here.

  • 1 kg beef mince - if you go to a butcher you'll be able to get a lower grade and cheaper mince. Our butcher is now charging $4/kilo.
  • 1½ cups raw brown or white rice
  • 1 cup raw barley OR lentils
  • 1 cup raw pasta
  • 2 cups chopped vegetables - it can be whatever you have on hand but NOT ONIONS or LEEKS.
  • 1 spoonful of Vegemite or peanut butter (optional)
  • Water
Place all the above ingredients into a big stockpot. Cover with water and stir to break up the mince. Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes. When it's finished cooking, top up the stockpot to the rim with water and leave to cool.

When it's cold, place into portion sized plastic containers and freeze until you need them.We make this once a week. It feeds our two dogs for seven days. The dogs love it and it's got no preservatives or artifical flavourings in it. It costs around $7 a week.

They also have a scoop of Omega 3 dog biscuits in the morning.  Alice weighs around 22 kgs and she gets two cups of this food per day.

  • 2 cups water mixed with 2 tablespoons Vegemite OR two cups beef or chicken stock. This can be homemade or from stock powder.
  • 1 cup bread or plain/all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups wholemeal or rye flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats or instant oats
  • ½ cup powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon yeast
These can be made in the bread machine.  The post about making  dog biscuits is here.

    24 January 2010

    You, me and the kitchen sink

    From China to France, today's kitchen sink is Shandora's in France.

    Shandora writes:
    "This is my kitchen sink in France. The kitchen is the place where I spend most of my time, so I wanted to have a big kitchen (which is rare in France) so when we bought the house, with the tiny kitchen, I had a wall torn down ( there was a washing room behind it) and made it bigger. On the sink, you can see, I always have dishes or glasses left to dry. (oops, I don't always dry them after washing up) Since I have lots of dishes to wash, it doesn't all fit in the rack, so I sew some cloths from an old blanket and hemmed with an old pyjama of my son, to leave stuff to dry.

    I never heard of other things to wash the dishes with, before coming to your blog, so I used sponges... Since I now need to learn how to knit them, I made some "sponges" out of the old blanket and wash up with these, and have to say I'm pretty happy with them. (but still need to learn how to knit, I'm just too curious.)

    There's the rice cooker, that's always there (I married a man from the reunion island and he needs his rice every day...being dutch myself I love potatoes and pasta more).
    Please don't forget to comment.  A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the ladies sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.    

    23 January 2010

    You, me and the kitchen sink

    Today's photos show a very different kind of kitchen.  It's Caitlin's kitchen and she is living in China. 

    Caitlin writes:

    "So here is a photo of my kitchen sink.  I am currently a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English in a small town in the north west of China.  The name of my city is Qingyang and it is in Gansu Province.  I am about a 3 hour drive from Xi'an and the Terricotta soldiers.  I have lived here for about 18 months now and feel like I am at home and a very large part of me never wants to leave. 

    So, the sink.  Well, it is just this small box of a sink that doesnt fit much, nor does it drain well.  It is also about 3 feet high and I am almost 6 feet tall, so back pains come with doing the dishes, which I avoid doing daily.  There is no hot water in my apartment here, so when it is cold my hands freeze while doing the dishes.  I would boil some water to do the dishes with, but my gas stove has proven dangerous and I try to use it as little as possible.  I do have a small electric hot plate that I cook with, but it only works with the wok that it came with and takes a life time to boil an entire wok of water.  The only hot water that I have access to comes from my shower heater which takes two hours to heat up and provides about 5 minutes worth of hot water.  However, I try not to plug it in too often because the electric wiring in my bathroom has started smoking recently.  The socket even exploded on me the other day with a loud POP and sparks flying everywhere.  I had a man come and fix it, but now I am terrified of it and wear gloves and wrap my hand in numerous towels when plugging it in for my twice-a-week shower. 

    My kitchen has, as most kitchens in China, just a cement floor.  I am on the sixth floor and top floor of my apartment building and when it rains all the water comes in through the windows, onto my counter and then flood the floor--which I then mop with.  As well as the windows leaking, so does my ceiling, which is now cracking and falling down around me. 

    Yay for China and their building codes.

    But even with all of the obstacles, I have managed to keep up with cooking, a hobbie I love.  Some friends and I even produced an incredible Thanksgiving meal last month (minus the turkey--as there are no turkeys in China, nor ovens large enough to cook them).

    I still love it here, though.  It has only made me more flexible and now I know that I can live just about anywhere and repair or simply live with just about anything.
    (thank you and goodbye)"

    Please don't forget to comment.  A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the ladies sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.   

    Tomorrow's kitchen is in France.

    22 January 2010

    Simple Living Series - Food waste and cooking leftovers

    I am often asked what areas people should simplify first.  That question really has a lot of answers, depending on the person asking.  The general answer is that if you focus first on the things that help you stay alive - like food and shelter, you can't go far wrong.  So today we'll continue with the food theme and discuss food waste and using your leftovers.

    I don't want to look up the food waste statistics.  Last time I did that I was shocked they were so high. It seemed like such a bleak and dark story of our lack of care. I do know, because I read it in a newspaper article, that currently 15 percent of food in American households is wasted every week.  That means that if your food budget is $100 per week, you'd be wasting, on average, $15 a week.  That's throwing $15 every week, or $780 every year, in the rubbish bin.  I would expect the figures in Australia, Canada and Europe to be similar to those in America.  We shame ourselves with statistics like that.  There should be no, or very little, food waste in your bin at the end of the week.  This is something we can all work on - I know I am guilty of leaving food too long in the fridge.

    Of course the best way is to plan well so there is no wastage.  Planning needs to be done at the buying stage, assisted by meal plans, freezer and stockpile lists.  Often the food doesn't even get to the cooking or left over stage.  It sits neglected in the fridge for weeks and is then thrown in the bin.  (Insert my shamed face here.)

    Meal plans are a bit like budgets.  They help you look at your resources in a way that helps cut down or eliminate waste and use what you have to get the best value for your dollar/pound.  If you haven't tried meal planning yet, give it a go. It may well save you lots of time, effort and money.  Don't forget to include snacks, fruit and baked goods in your plans and stick the plan on the fridge so everyone knows well in advance what's for dinner and how to help you prepare it.

    Australian recipe collections
    Meal plans with recipes
    Frugal menu ideas
    Downloadable Food Plans Recipe Book (USA) with meal plans
    Ten tips for successful meal planning (Canada)

    Once the meal is finished, how often do you have leftovers?  If it's quite often, maybe you need to cook less.  I do know many cooks make too much on purpose so they have leftovers for lunch the following day.  I tend to make leftovers into the main meal the following night  Here is a recipe I made up last week from the leftovers of roast pork.  You could make the same thing with beef, lamb, goat, venison or chicken.  Just make sure you make too much gravy on the first night so that you have about a cup of gravy left over.

    Coarsely mince up the leftover meat.  I used my food processor to do that.  It will only take 30 seconds or so to do.  I remember though, doing this task for my mum when I was young and using a meat grinder - one of those metal ones that you attach to the kitchen table and grind with the handle.  So, of course, the old-fashioned way is also suitable, or you could just cut it up with your sharp knife.  Make sure you don't over process it - you want to retain the texture of the meat, not have it like paste.

    My mother used to call this dish - Hash, so here is my recipe for using leftover roast post - Pork Hash.

    Peel four potatoes and boil them in a saucepan.

    Add a small amount of olive oil to a frying pan, heat it and add one chopped onion, two chopped up sticks of celery and one carrot.  When the vegetables are soft and golden brown, add the chopped up meat, and stir.

    If you have any leftover vegetables, add them too.  Stir it all together and add the gravy.

    Stir until the gravy has coated the meat and everything is hot.   Then transfer the meat to an oven proof dish.

    When the potatoes are cooked, mash them, adding a little butter, hot milk, salt and pepper.  Top the meat with the potatoes.

    Cook in a hot oven for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are golden brown.
    I served ours with corn and beans from the garden and it was delicious.

    On Monday I'll write about using food waste to feed the animals and how to make homemade dog food and treats.   Tomorrow we'll continue with our kitchen sink photos.

    I have enough kitchen photos to show for the next few weeks.  When I'm coming to the end of them, I'll let you know when and where to send them.  So if you're interested in having your photos featured, get your photos ready in the next three weeks.  Tomorrow there is a kitchen from China and Sunday we have one from France.  That's you Caitlin and Shandora!  Caitlin, please send me a link to your blog if you have one.

    Thank you for your visits this week.  It's been a very busy one for me, mostly doing things behind the scenes that might one day make it into the blog.  I hope you have a restful weekend. 


    21 January 2010

    You, me and the kitchen sink

    Vickie is the proud owner of today's kitchen.  Thanks for taking part in this Vickie.

    Vickie writes:
    "I'm Vickie from Sand Flat Farm in East Texas. I loved your idea of seeing everyone's kitchens.  I know you're getting swamped with photos, but I still wanted to send mine. This is our 70+ year old farmhouse which we recently redid cottage style. Everything vintage from garage sales, hand-me-downs, estate sales, etc., went into our farmhouse. I do have a stainless sink that was put in several years ago, and we didn't change that. I'd love to have one of those big deep farm sinks someday. 

     The kitchen was DARK knotty pine and we took off the cabinet doors and painted everything a light green and yellow. Over my kitchen window, I took an old crocheted pillowcase from a garage sale and fashioned a little valance. I collect old pitchers, and I have lots of things from my grandmothers. (I did have to get me a new microwave & stove because the others were kaput!)  I LOVE my kitchen and enjoy looking out the window at our farm while I'm cooking or washing up.

     Thanks for looking!"

    You can visit Vickie's blog here.

    Please don't forget to comment.  A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the ladies sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.  

    20 January 2010

    Simple Living Series - Making bread

    I guess this is stage three of our series.  You start living more simply by thinking about the changes you would like to make and you make them; then you sort out your financial situation and work on a budget.  Either one of the two first steps will generally make you realise that you need to economise and rid your home and food of as many chemicals as possible and that will lead you on to the practicalities of simple living - getting back to basics.

    Back when I was a girl, there were few convenience foods and generally food was fresh. During the 1950s, food started to be overly processed and had preservatives added so that it could be sold in supermarkets instead of at little corner shops.  Instead of eating rolled oats we started eating corn flakes. Freshly squeezed orange juice was replaced by juice made with oranges from foreign lands, with preservative to help it last a long time and colourings to make it look fresh.  Margarine started replacing butter and we spread it on sliced, white, tasteless bread.

    There is no doubt about it, the more you do for yourself, the more money you'll save and the more control  you'll have over the preservatives and chemicals you live with.  When I first started living more simply there were so many things I wanted to do, I needed to prioritise my lists.  I decided the best way for me to go would be to concentrate on those things we used a lot of or were a daily need.  Enter breadmaking.

    This is a rye loaf I made last week.
    I love every aspect of breadmaking, maybe because my father was a baker, but the entire process makes me feel good.  I like selecting my flours, I like decanting large bags of flour into smaller bins, I like reading new recipes, I like making bread - both in the breadmaker and by hand, I like decorating it with oats, seeds and cornmeal, I like the smell of bread baking and I love serving it up for lunch most days.  Every one of those actions reaffirms to me my role of a provider of good food.

    I think I make a pretty good loaf now but that wasn't always the case.  Breadmaking is like a mini science experiment that happens in the kitchen every day.  Early on I realised that to be good at it, I had to understand the process, not just enjoy the result.  If you're going to make good bread consistently and not waste too much flour, you have to know what happens, why you use certain flours and the role of gluten, yeast, salt, butter/oil and water.  The place I went to learn these things was Baking 911.  There is a menu at the top of the page that will lead you to all sorts of excellent information.  There are instructions on how to make cakes, biscuits, muffins etc but of you're interested in breadmaking, go to Bread101.  If something goes wrong with your bread, you'll probably find the reason why there.

    But today I'll talk about my bread recipe and encourage you to try making your own bread, even if you've never done it before.  The recipe below, my general daily loaf, works with most types of flour - you'll just have to adjust the amount of water you use.  You can use one type of flour or a combination of flours - whole wheat, rye, corn and barley, whatever.  If you're using one of those heavy flours, a good tactic is to add a cup of white flour to the mix. It will make the bread rise more and give you a lighter loaf.  This recipe can be made by hand or in the breadmaker, and if you use the breadmaker, you can cook it in the machine or use the dough setting, remove the dough when it's gone through the cycle and bake the bread in your oven.  If you use fresh ingredients and follow the recipe you should get a good loaf of bread.
    Mix the first three ingredients in a tea cup and allow it to froth up.  This is called proving the yeast.  If you do this, you will be certain that the yeast you're using is capable of making the bread rise.
    • 2 teaspoons dried yeast
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • ¼ cup warm water 

    • 4 cups baker's flour - also called strong flour or high protein flour. I used a combination of 2 cups white unbleached four and 2 cups rye flour
    • 1½ teaspoons salt
    • 1 tablespoon butter (softened) or olive oil (optional)
    • 1 tablespoon milk powder (optional)
    • About 2 cups warm water, start off by adding not quite 2cups and add the rest if it's needed.  You may even need more than 2 cups, it will depend on the flour and the humidity.  Just add it slowly
    If you use the breadmaker to mix the dough, add the ingredients according to what type of machine you have.  I  usually start with the flour and put everything else on top.  It doesn't seem to matter much what order it goes in, as long as you mix it straight away, but if you're setting your machine to start early in the morning and loading the bucket at night, always do it in the order your machine needs. 

    If you dont know how to make bread by hand, read these instructions from an earlier post.

    Whether you're making your bread by hand or with a machine, get your clean hands in there and feel the dough.  That is the only way you'll know if you've used enough water.  Learn how to judge a good dough, know when you should add more water, or more flour.  You need your hands in the dough to make those judgements.  Look at the dough and learn during the various stages.

    Breadmaking, the ability to make a good loaf of bread every day, it a great skill to have.  Once you've mastered this basic loaf, experiment with toppings and shapes.  Then move on to other types of breads - bread rolls, pizzas and calzone, fruit loaf, cinnamon loaf and rolls, Easter breads and the various delicious ethnic breads.

    All these skills will allow you to produce delicious and wholesome food for a fraction of the price you'd pay in the shop, and you'll probably have a better product with no preservatives.  Breadmaking is not difficult but it takes time, patience and observation.  If you let it, bread can teach you to slow down a little.  Bread will not be rushed.

    So if you've never made bread before, start with this recipe; if you've tried and failed, let this be a call to you to come back to it.  When you master a good loaf, you'll feel proud of your efforts and your family will love you for giving them this steaming, hot, nutritious treat every day.  If you have any problems, go to my Down to Earth forum, tell me what's happened and I, or one of the other members, will help you get back on track again.  And if  you do make the best loaf ever, take a photo of it and send it to me.  If I get a few, I'll make a bread gallery of all our loaves made during the coming week.  Don't let doubt, indifference or fear of failure stop you, dive in.


    19 January 2010

    Simple Living Series - Support and Encouragement

    While I slept, the counter ticked over past 2 million visitors.  What a milestone!  Thank you for your visits.  It's always a delight for me to get to know you through your comments.  I do not have the time to reply to the comments very much but I read and appreciate every one of them  They show me in a very clear way that Hanno and I are not alone and that many other people strive to live a simple and gentle life.  BTW, together, you've read 3.5 million pages here.


    Yesterday I wrote about one parent staying at home with the children and how that can help save money.  Today I want to write about what often come up when that topic is featured - the lack of support for both SAHMs and working mums, or dads.

    When I and my children were much younger, I worked.  I was very fortunate in that I could always work from home as a writer.  Hanno built an office at home and I would work there as a journalist, and alongside another women who I paid, we produced the town's newspaper and did various other writing jobs.  I would start work early, then stop to make Hanno's breakfast and wake the kids for school.  I'd do my housework, then return to work when the kids went off to school.  They walked there, it was in the next street.  I stopped work when they came home for lunch and we'd have lunch together, then worked again.  I know I was a very lucky woman to have that working situation and I know it's not like that for most working women.

    I am very rarely in groups of women where this subject is talked about but I've seen it featured on TV and it's usually portrayed in a very negative way.  It's SAHMs versus working women, like it's a battle over who has the high ground.  No one has the high ground, most of us are just doing what we have to do to get by.  When I was working from home when I was younger, I had friends who worked and most of the time, they had to work.  I also had friends who were SAHMs who wanted to work but couldn't find a job and friends who were working who wanted to be at home.

    You can never be sure of anyone else's circumstances.  What looks black and white, often is not.  None of us should stand in judgement and say what others are doing is wrong.  What I would like to see is a return to the way women supported each other as I was growing up.  In those days we all encouraged each other, we supported our friends and other women in their choices and if we could help them, we did. 

    Raising children is not an isolated process, our children grow not only within their family but also within their neighbourhood.   They will come across all manner of people, some will be like us, some won't be, but being tolerant of the beliefs of others, makes the neighbourhood stronger and more resilient. It shows young children that not everyone is the same, or like us, but they're still good people.  That builds confidence and children feel they can rely on the people they are growing up alongside - it makes them feel secure.
    Life is not about possessions - it's about living and finding pleasure and goodness in our days.  All of us can do that without demeaning the choices others make.  I hope the next time you have the opportunity to join in a conversation where you could criticise, you'll decide against it.  I hope we all move closer to support and encouragement rather than closer to disapproval and judgment.  I hope that all of us together show our friends that there is no one right way.  We all have to choose what is right for our family situation. Life is tough enough without having people in our family or neighbourhood criticise our choices.  Living a more simple life isn't just about the practicalities of life, it is also about raising a fine family and building a community you feel proud to be a part of.  This is one small step towards that.

    Tomorrow we will move on to the practicalities of home.

    18 January 2010

    Simple Living Series - Living on one income

    Getting finances organised and controlled is one of the early actions of most simple lives, even for those who have no need to budget their money. There are many people who strive to live more simply while earning a good living.  They need to practise moderation and reduce the stuff they're surrounded by.  The challenge for these people is to live to their values and, like those of us who do budget, get the money organised so we can concentrate on the important task of living.

     The last bowl of summer's  fresh green beans.

    While not everyone gets married or lives with a chosen partner, most of us do and that can be an important part of a strategy that supports and assists living on a budget.  It is a common assumption nowadays that it takes two wages to raise a family.  But for many families, where it has been decided that one parent should be at home with the children, they have made it work on one income, even with a number of mouths to feed.  If you are undecided about whether this would work for you, sit for a moment and work it out.

    If you have to pay for child care, transport, work clothes, hair cuts, makeup etc, and your job pays a minimal amount, it will probably save you money not to work.  Always do the sums.  Don't just assume that any job will be good for your family.  Make sure it will actually be worthwhile.  If your work related expenses add up to $300 a week and you're making $350 or $400, ask yourself if that is a valuable use of your time and efforts, because there is another way.

    Real raspberry jelly.

    If the parent earning the smallest wage stays home, it is then their job to run the home like a small business.  It is their job to make a budget and stick to it, scan the flyers for grocery bargains, stockpile, learn the skills necessary to make healthy bread and nutritious meals from scratch.  On these things alone, the home will function on less money.  If you were going to earn fifty or a hundred dollars from that job you were offered, you should be able to save that amount with prudent shopping and cutting back.

    Unless you are super organised, your grocery bill will increase when you work.  You'll buy different foods because you need the convenience of them.  You'll need to streamline your household activities because you won't have as much time to spend on chores and the children. Convenience foods usually make an entrance in those circumstances.

    If you're in the position now of trying to decide whether to work, give this a try before you make the decision.  Of course, there will be those who tell you that you should work, but you don't have to listen to them.  If you're young and have always thought of yourself as a worker then being at home with your children will be just the challenge for you. You will be taking control of your family money and it will be your job to buy everything you need to stay happy and healthy on budget, you will pay the bills, on time, now and every month, you will make important choices every day about what your family consumes and it will be your job to stretch every penny until it hurts.

    This is an interesting and significant job.  You'll re-skill yourself in the kitchen, you'll learn to sew, mend and knit.  Instead of buying new curtains or dishcloths, you'll make them.  Gone are the days when you'd clean with spray and wipe chemicals, in your home that cleaning is done in a gentler way.  You'll be cutting up old sheets for cleaning rags, sewing on buttons, repairing rips and generally making everything last longer.  If you've never taken control of your home before it will be very liberating and exciting.  Despite what your friends say, you won't be bored because your days will be filled with a purpose - to make you home comfortable and warm, to teach yourself life skills and to show your children, by example, how real life is.

    Hopmemade soap and natural bristle scrubbing brush.

    If you're trying to decide on whether to go back to work, or if you're already working at home but have stalled a bit because you have no role models and are unsure of your first or next step, I'm here to say that being a homemaker is enriching and life enhancing.  It can help make your family a strong and tight unit,  it can help provide the warmth and security necessary for a growing family and it might be the making of you.  It was for me.

    This way of life is not just for those who choose to stay at home.  If you're newly married or in a relationship with no children and you're both working, try living off one wage and using the other to pay off debt. I know Little Jenny Wren and her family have always lived this way, even when she was working outside the home.  I think those of you who read her blog would agree, she has built a beautiful and joy-filled life.   This is not just a great budgeting strategy, it is a good way of moving towards the life you want to live.

    So if you're at this point of your life, dive in.  It will not be easy - you'll work more - but it will be satisfying, enriching and life enhancing work.  You'll be stepping away from what is expected of you, but that will give you the unique opportunity to build the life you want, instead of trying to fit into the one size fits all life that is on offer in every shop, on every main street, in every Western country.  Don't listen to the naysayers - building a life at home is an active and positive step towards a way of life that gives more than it takes.  Dive in.

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