30 June 2010

Simply living in the city

There is no doubt about it, when most of us think of living a simple life, we think of the country.  Hanno and I live on the edge of a rural town, an hour's drive from our State capital.  We have lived in Hamburg, Sydney, various regional towns and cities and, for 13 years, in an isolated mining town; this way of life is suited to all those places, it is not just for country folk.  I received an email from a young city girl the other day.  She is 27 years old, newly married and longing to move to the country.  She and her husband both work in the city and travel in from the suburbs each day on the train.  She hates it and wants to start a family, be a SAHM and create a home in the country.  She wrote saying she's delaying all her dreams so they can save for a house deposit but it's making her miserable.  She wants to be making soap, knitting and cooking healthy meals instead.  I told her I would answer her email here in this post today.  I am sure many readers will also have friendly advice for her and maybe even be in the same position. If so, please take the time to share your experience.

The phrase "I live in the country" has a powerful and utopian feeling attached to it.  It makes us think of long walks down quiet  lanes, ducks on ponds, apron-clad grandmas taking scones from the oven and family dinners around a big kitchen table.  Of course, country living can include all those things, but so can city living. 

Start living the life you want right now where you are.  You don't have to be in a country location to do any of the things that Hanno and I do.  You are probably in a better place to shop frugally in a city, you have more supermarkets, butchers, green grocers and organic stores to choose from.  If one doesn't suit, you choose another.  You often don't have that choice in the country.  If you learn how to shop wisely and use that saved money for your deposit, you'll be able to move sooner.  You can learn how to cook from scratch in any kitchen.  You can make soap anywhere.   You can dispose of disposables, kick harmful chemicals out of your life, stop using plastic and start a natural beauty program right here, right now.  You can learn how to knit and sew and as you have a long train ride to the city for work, that time could be put to good use by knitting on the train.  All of those activities can help you slow down and live more simply, they will also help you save money so you can move sooner.  See this as a period of preparation when you can build your skills, not a time when you just want it over and done with.  All stages of life have good as well as bad bits, hopefully you'll learn equally from them both.

I often write about how important it is to provide a safe and comfortable home.  I think that is more important in the city because outside your front door can be so uninviting. and chaotic  Spending some time making your home the way you want it to be, within the limits of your tight budget, could be both a challenge and a blessing.  I know this to be as true today as it was when I first married: working side by side with your husband towards shared goals, especially if they require hard work and commitment, has the potential to bind you closer together and make you a solid unit.  Don't see this as hardship, although it might feel like it at times, this is just one stage of your life that will lead on to something better.  Going through these hard times makes the good times better, you appreciate what you work towards and you understand the value of a good days work.  Work is not an enemy, it can be the making of you.

See if you can work out a system where you live on one wage and save the other, or most of it.  If you can do that, you'll be in the driver's seat and you'll be making the most of your situation.  Talk to your husband about all this because you'll both need to be working towards the same goal.  Make plans for the future you want together so that you both have the rewards clearly in your minds.  You might need that when things don't go according to plan, and there will be those times.  If you are lucky, living simply will make you more generous, tender, kinder, happier and more content but it will also make you strong, capable and a fighter.  It is very rare indeed to have anything of value handled to you on a silver plate.  Most things of value need to be worked for.  Never forget that.

I think you're in a wonderful position.  You're young and living with the person you've chosen to be with forever.  That alone should help you climb most mountains you come across.  But if you two can combine forces, decide what you value, come up with a plan on how to achieve what you both want and then work side by side for it, you'll get there.  Simple living is a slow, small steps process.  Having things instantly is a modern ideal what will bring you undone.  Take your time, understand your strengths, work according to them and in time you'll get your dream.  When you look back in 20 years, you'll realise that this time brought many significant rewards that make you the person you want to be.

I send you my best and hope the coming months will bring you the kind of life you're longing for.    You might not be in the location you hope to be but you should be able to clearly see a way of getting there.  Remember, you're not just building a simple life, you're also building a life with your husband, respect and trust for each other and a marriage. And that takes time.

29 June 2010

This is where I work

From an allotment in London to a small apartment in Sydney, today we see where Samantha works. I can't tell you how how much I love it when I find that young women, like Samantha, enjoy my blog and relate to what I write about.

Samantha writes"

"I am a 25 year old who lives in a small apartment in Sydney, Australia. I share my 2 bedroom flat with my husband and our cat. I have set our spare bedroom up as a sewing studio, and in it I create all sorts of crafty wonders! I enjoying making patchwork quilts, clothes, and childrens toys. Just recently, I have begun working with fabric from clothes purchased at thrift stores (often much cheaper than buying the fabric new in fabric stores, and better quality). 
I love country-style living and yearn for the day when I will have a real backyard. Currently I make-do with a small balcony, and tiny plot of land three stories below it. I have managed to grow herbs, lettuce, capsicums and snow peas in pots on my balcony, and get a real 'kick' out of growing my own food. I have been raising seedlings on my balcony ready to plant in a tiny plot of dirt I have dug in the apartment garden down stairs. I love to record all my quilting, crafting, and gardening adventures: http://hand-quilter.blogspot.com"
Well done, Samantha.

28 June 2010

Potato harvest

If there is one true thing I can count on, one thing that reconnects me with what is important and tells me, with certainty, that I am where I should be, it's gardening and pottering around outside.  The sky was bright blue, the temperature was about 20C and with two jumpers on I walked outside on Saturday to follow the call: "I'm digging potatoes!".  It gets to me every time; potato digging is always exciting.  You never know what will be there; it could be rotting seed potatoes or half eaten spuds attacked by insects and rodents, so when I walk away with good potatoes, I'm happy.  From one spot just two square metres, Hanno dug up a bucket full of spuds.  Nice work!  We'll leave the rest of the bed for another time.

There are quite a few vegetables that taste much better straight from the garden - potatoes are in that select group.  Any trouble you might have growing and tending them for three months is forgotten when you bite into that first new season potato.  They just need a little salt and pepper, a pat of butter and a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley and you have a king's feast.  If you've been thinking about growing a few spuds, but hesitating, dive into it.  Your first good harvest will be your significant reward.

Just before I was called  into the garden I was working in my sewing room, tearing my sister Tricia's old linen dress into tomato ties.  I didn't know then that I would be using them within the hour but when I looked at the tomatoes, they had tangled themselves into a mess so I spent a few minutes untangling them and tying them to their stakes.

The tomatoes above are an unknown (to me) variety that grew out of the lawn just near our back verandah.  They're a cherry-type tomatoes but larger than our the Tommy Toes we usually grow so I'm thinking they might be Gardener's Delight that I had some seeds of a while back.  Whatever they are, the rogue seeds grew where it suited them and have grown into the healthiest tomatoes we've had in a long time.  There are so many trusses like the one pictured above, we'll be drowning in tomatoes soon.  We also have two large varieties growing in the garden and another batch I grew from seed planted yesterday.  If they all deliver on their promise, we'll have an abundance of tomatoes in jars for later in the year.  Bliss!

This dill plant is taller than I am!

When you think about it, apart from touching the skin and hair of our loved ones and the food we eat, there are few other natural things that pass over our fingers.  Most of what we touch these days is man-made - furniture, cars, door handles, appliances, vacuum cleaners, irons, the kitchen sink and bench, shopping bags, and the rest of it.  Reconnecting with the natural world brings me back to a more gentle and forgiving place where the soil feels right, the herbs smell divine and picking a snow pea and eating it straight from the bush assures me that even if I work inside amidst the artificial, the natural world waits patiently for me outside and always, always, welcomes me back again.

Eventually, when I came back inside, I had my little harvest basket full of produce.  It was full of green tomatoes that will ripen on the bench, a couple of fat cucumbers and some green beans.  A nice addition to our kitchen supplies.

Back yard food production not only gives you fresh, healthy, organic food, it also demonstrates the self confidence of knowing how to grow, of being a worthy custodian of the land you live upon and the wisdom of backing yourself by believing that a small seed, if tended and encouraged, will sustain you and your family.  So many of our traditional skills have been lost to us, but food gardening is still here, available to all who wish to plan their garden and work to achieve that dream.  If you're not gardening yet, I encourage you to start, even if it's in pots or containers.  And if you're already out there with Hanno and I, breathing in the fresh air, getting your hands dirty and feeling good because of it, well you would know what I'm talking about.  What's that saying about preaching to the choir?

27 June 2010

This is where I work

Today we travel all the way to London UK to visit Dee on her allotment.  This is Dee's workspace, I'll let her explain.

Dee writes:
"Hello My Name is Dee and I'm from London UK I have an allotment that I work on almost daily, basically its a piece of land I rent from my local council to grow fruit and vegetables. My plot measures approximately 1/16 of an acre.

Living in a flat with no garden this is my only means of growing my own for my family and I'm so grateful for this opportunity as land here in London as you can imagine is scarce with waiting lists for council plots between 10 to 20 years. I was lucky, or as some might say, "not so lucky" to get my plot 4 years ago after nobody was prepared to take it on. It had been lying derelict for ten years and was covered in bramble, ivy and plum tree seedlings. I still have around a third to clear with the remainder in full production. Its been hard work at times but well worth it and yes I would do it all again. I cant explain the joy and satisfaction I get from feeding my family with fresh produce that I've nurtured from seed."
You can visit Dee's blog here.  <--  I fixed the link.

25 June 2010

Whole orange cake

I love orange cake and am always on the lookout for a new recipe that improves on my current one.  This is it.  I made this cake last week after thinking about the recipe for about a month.  Yes, I know, over thinking, but I was trying to work out why this recipe would work and if it did, would it be bitter.  It isn't.  Orange cake is a great standby if you have an orange tree in the backyard but even  if you buy citrus, try this cake, it's a real delight.  You will need a food processor to make it.  I found the recipe here.

On the first day we had this cake hot from the oven with our morning tea.  Mmmmmm. The following day I iced the cake with lemon icing and sprinkled it with walnuts.  I think we should call the iced cake - with oranges and lemons - St Clement's Cake

1 whole orange
3 eggs
180 g melted butter (6.3 oz)
1 cup white sugar
1½ cups self raising flour OR 1½ plain  (all purpose) flour with 1½ teaspoons baking powder sifted in

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F.
Grease your cake tin - I used a bar tin
Wash the orange thoroughly - this is particularly important if the orange is not organic or from your backyard

Cut the orange into quarters, put the whole washed orange into the food processor and process it until it's completely broken down and no large pieces remain.  Add the rest of the ingredients and process again until everything is mixed together, about 30 seconds.
Scrape the batter into the cake tin and cook for around 40 minutes.

This will give you a deliciously moist cake with a full orange flavour.  And the best is there is no zesting, juicing, peeling or cutting.  Simple!

Thank you for your visits and for the love and support showered upon me during this very tough week.  I hope you have a beautiful weekend.


24 June 2010

This is where I work

This post is another in the series, This is Where I Work.  Today's workspace comes to us from Mel who lives in Canada.  Mel is also one of the moderators on the Down to Earth forum, so it's lovely for me to get to know her a little better.

Mel writes:
"Life for me here in Canada is never dull. One husband + two kids + 3 dogs = chaos. While I don't work outside the home, I work very hard inside of it and decided that I needed my own space. So, when we purchased our home last summer and started renovating it, this was at the top of my list. I couldn't be more pleased with how it turned out. The table is so large and gives me lots of room to work. The wall above it is a bulletin board that we covered in fabric and framed in. I am always tearing recipes and such out of magazines and now have somewhere to put them. The shelves to the left of the table hold a lot of different supplies. It is nice to have everything within reach.

While it started out as my 'creative space', it has turned into more of a 'work space" for me. I never realized just how much time I spend here working on various things - menu planning, budgeting, scrapbooking and card making just to name a few. I have spent many hours sitting here this spring pouring over seed catalogs and planning our first garden. In fact, it was here that I decided I wasn't too old to learn how to knit. I find this space to be very inspiring and it is my favorite part of the house."
Thanks Mel!

23 June 2010

Don't be scared

Thank you all for your kind messages of support.  We will all miss Bernadette very much.

They've scared us all, you know.  I doubt it was their original strategy, but it is now.  When you see advertising for cleaners that promise to kill bacteria that harm our families; when you hear that some people throw out perfectly good food because it happened to be out of the fridge for a few hours; when skilful homemakers doubt their capabilities so much they don't think they can handle soap making, well I just shake my head and wonder why.  When new products came onto the market back in the 1950s, I believe there was a genuine belief many of the products would make life easier. Of course there is the ever present profit motive too but now a new element has been added to the equation, dependence.  Producers want us to be dependent on their products and they use fear to influence us.

We have grown to be a bunch of sooky la las. Instead of learning basic skills as children and teens, we are sitting in front of computers playing games, we are opening packets of chips and biscuits for snacks instead of biting into fruit or making a cake or a sandwich; we are bypassing that period in life when we were taught to knit, sew, mend, garden, collect eggs and honey and change a tyre on a bike or car.  Instead of buying ingredients at the supermarkets, we're buying premade, tinned and frozen meals and prewashed salads to serve on the side.  Instead of learning how to build a fine and healthy life we are watching others do it on TV, movie and computers screens and tend to believe it's out of our reach.

So what's wrong with all that convenience?  It's robbed us of our knowledge and skills.  We don't know how to cook for ourselves. We don't see the need to garden when we can buy what looks like fresh fruit and vegetables at the shops. We prefer our meat pre-sliced and unrecognisable on a plastic tray so we don't know our cuts of meat and we forget that for every bite of tender steak or pork, an animal has died.  We stop canning/preserving our excess food because we're scared of that word botulism.  We clean everything in our homes with chemicals that give us an environment SO clean, our babies are failing to develop resistance to everyday bugs.  In a nutshell, my friends, we've set ourselves apart from the natural world and we've traded our independence for convenience.

I think we lost out on that trade.

Since I regained my independence and reskilled myself, I now know that if you can trust your food suppliers to give you wholesome food then it is okay to leave milk, cheese or meat out of the fridge for a while.  There are no bugs lurking, just waiting to attack anything that steps out of the fridge.  Food spoilage will happen if you're sold old produce, or produce that has been contaminated in the food chain.  I have read of meat contaminated with ecoli in America, here in Australia, and I imagine in many other countries, there is a problem with contaminated fruit and vegetables from China.  That is a problem with government regulations and testing and should be brought to the attention of your local member of parliament or senator.  It is only when they get a lot of complaints from the people who vote for them, that they will stand up and demand action be taken.  Never underestimate the power of a written letter to a parliamentarian or congressman.  The thought of losing a vote is a powerful incentive to act on your behalf.

But the other things are there for us to change.  I believe the best way to learn is to find someone who is already doing what you want to do and ask them to teach you.  I am sure you'll be surprised at how generous and friendly older people are when asked about a skill. Most of them have grown up seeing mothers and fathers teach their children with the expectation that those same skills will be passed on again later.  If you have no one close by to ask, we all have computers, we can do our research about various products and ways of tending to our housework.  Books and blogs are also an excellent way of learning various skills.

And don't forget to think!  You can work things out, even if you've learnt that you shouldn't - that you should rely on others to do the thinking.  Gathering the skills of life will teach you that self reliance is a fine way to live.  We're not talking about rocket science here - this is the everyday work of women and men that has been part of our lives forever.  Don't let it slip away from you and your children.  Learning, and then teaching, will open up a rich life that will allow you to live well even if the system starts to crumble around you.  Understanding the natural world - including the bacteria and fungus that surround us, will show you that not everything has to be killed in order for us to live.

You don't have to live as Hanno and I do or learn every skill but you should learn about what you do.  If the only part of a simple life that you have the time or inclination for is cooking, then learn every aspect of it, and  pass that skill on.  If you want to add a new skill, learn about it thoroughly, so that you don't just know it, you understand it as well.  For instance, baking bread isn't just about the ingredients and method, it's also about understanding the chemical processes of baking so that you can fix problems that occur.
Even though we now have all manner of products that promise to give us a better life, I don't think we can look after ourselves as well as we used to.  When things go wrong, we're stumped.  We don't know what to do. We believe stupid claims made by advertisers.  Somewhere along the way we lost that burning desire to do for ourselves.  I hope I've rekindled the spark of that desire again within you.  Regaining independence is not difficult.  It is there for the taking but it is not purchased or available to the faint-hearted.  Be bold, step up and take back what is yours, you'll be better for it, and self reliance will be your fine reward.

22 June 2010

RIP Bernadette

 In respect for my good friend there will be no post today. 

21 June 2010

Soap making - deconstructed

I made a new batch of soap on the weekend.  It's the olive, rice bran, coconut oils mix I usually make but soap may be made with many different oil blends so be guided by a soap making book, if you have one, or any number of the excellent soap making sites on the web.  Once you find a blend that works well for you, stick with it; I am sure that soap will serve you well for many years.

Bowl of measured caustic soda granules.
One thing I always find when I write about soap is that while many people know how to make good soap, there are always a large number who want to, but hesitate, saying the danger or caustic soda is their stumbling block.  On Friday, Helen said that after googling caustic soda she found it is used as paint stripper so she doesn't want to use it.  Let me say this plainly: ALL soap, even the 'natural' soaps you might buy for five dollars a bar are made using lye or caustic soda.  You cannot make cold pressed soap without using lye or caustic soda.  Lye and caustic soda are the same thing and when they go through the process of saponification, they are neutralised and turn into soap.  I use Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) to make bar soap and Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) to make liquid soap - both substances are caustic.  I will write more about the small danger associated with making soap tomorrow, but for now, let's concentrate on the process.  The recipe I used and the process are the same as that in my tutorial, which is here.

Pour the caustic soda into the water, not the other way around.

I have broken soap making down into a few different parts:
  1. Preparation 
  2. Getting the temperature right
  3. Mixing
  4. Moulding
You need to prepare the area you'll work in.  Caustic soda can burn you, your bench tops or anything else it comes in contact with when it's wet.  The granules of caustic soda are fine until you add water, even a moist hand will start a burning reaction.  Please follow these steps:
  1. Open the windows to allow good ventilation.  There is a short period after you mix the caustic soda and water together when you will smell fumes.  Good ventilation is essential. 
  2. Make sure there are no children or animals around.
  3. Make sure you have a clean and clear area to work in.
  4. You'll need measuring jugs, a stainless steel, plastic or wooden spoon, candy or milk thermometer, saucepan, accurate scale for measuring your amounts, mixer or stab blender and your mould.
  5. Have everything ready and measured before you start.

Getting the temperature right
  1. To make soap you add water to a jug and add caustic soda to the water - not the other way around, it splashes too much.  As soon as you mix the caustic soda and water together they will start to heat up.  You don't have to add heat, the water and caustic soda alone create their own heat.  This mixture will heat up to about  80C/170F and after you mix it well so it's dissolved, you'll have to wait for it to cool down again.  Mix the caustic soda and water first.  You want the caustic soda and water to cool down to around 50C/125F.
  2. You also have to mix your oils together and heat them up on the stove.  Heat to around 50C/125F - you need the caustic soda and the oil to be around about the same temperature.  When they are, mix them together.  Pour the oil into your mixing bowl first, then add the caustic soda.
Have everything measured and ready before you start.
  1. Mix until you reach trace.  Trace is when the soap has thickened and when you drizzle the soap from the mixer onto the top of your mix, it will leave traces that don't disappear into the mix..
  2.  Mix gently at first until the oil and caustic have blended, then increase your speed.  Yesterday, my soap took about 10 minutes to reach trace.  The time will be different each time because it depends on the temperature and the oils used.
This is what trace looks like - instead of a smooth top, the ripples stay on the top.

After you reach trace, pour the mixture into a suitable mould.  It can be a plastic resin cake tin, such as the one I use, or small moulds for individual soaps, or a clean milk carton.  Don't use aluminium.  At this point, try to retain the heat in the soap by wrapping it up in towels.  It should be ready to unmould the following day and then you can cut the soap into the size bar you would like.
 Wrap up the soap in towels to retain the heat.

Soap making is a very useful skill that I encourage you all to develop.  Even though it has elements that might be dangerous, with care and concentration, you will be able to do it.  When you've made one batch, you'll understand the dangers and realise it's straight forward and easy, as long as you prepare well and follow the steps.  Tomorrow I'll be writing about how we have been removed from old homemaking skills and scared into believing we have to rely on commercial enterprises to 'save' us.  It's an important topic so I hope you'll come back to read it.


18 June 2010

Simple skin care

It will surprise few of you to know that I don't spend much money on moisturisers and skin care.  I don't see the need when I have more than I need in my kitchen cupboards.  My two mainstays are my home made soap and pure organic olive oil.

I use the soap for washing my hair, I don't need a conditioner because the soap conditions as it cleans. Commercial soap is robbed of its glycerine, which is the part of the soap that moistures and conditions skins and hair.  This glycerine is then sold separately for more that the soap and the leftover depleted soap is sold cheaply, after being hyped up with perfume and lathering chemicals.  Yuck.  My tutorial for soap making is here.  Despite what others may say you do not need a separate set of bowls, mixers and spoons to make soap.  A thorough washing after your soap making session will restore everything as clean as a whistle. I use my regular kitchen appliances and utensils and have never had a problem.  Soap making is a wonderful skill to have and it will supply you with excellent everyday soap and help you make beautiful gifts as well.

Below is a tiny glass bottle, formerly used for French vanilla extract, that now holds my cosmetic organic olive oil.  I use a few drops of that oil to remove eye makeup and a few more drops to moisturise my face.  It works perfectly.  I am happy that it's organic so I know there are no nasty chemicals hidden within.  Your skin is the largest organ you have, you must be careful what you put on it.

You do not need to spend a lot of money to keep your skin in good condition.  If organic olive oil can keep my wrinkled 62 year old skin in good condition, then it will do the same for much younger skin too. When you go into a store selling beauty products, have a look on the containers to see what they contain.  It's scary.  Simply your beauty routines as well as your life, you'll be healthier for that one little change.  If you need a skin boost half way through winter or summer, use your own homemade yoghurt as a face mask.  Just apply a layer of yoghurt to clean skin - washed thoroughly with your homemade soap, place two slices of cucumber from the garden over your eyes, and rest for 15 minutes.  You'll be surprised at the difference this makes.

And for those of you who are using those disgusting nail shops to have your nails done or for false nails, stop going.  Anything that smells so bad, any job that requires its operators to wear masks all day, just isn't right.  I first saw one of these stores at our local mall a few years ago and now they're in almost every shopping centre I go to.  Limited experience I know, but I wouldn't enter such a vile smelling place and I don't want you to either.  Develop a taste for simplicity in all things, including nails nicely manicured by yourself.  I'll get off my soap box now.  :- )

Have a lovely day and enjoy the weekend ahead.  I thank you all for your visits this week and for the wonderful comments you continue to leave.  They are beautiful, just like you.


16 June 2010

This is where I work

Today's workspoce comes to us from Jill in the USA.  Jill has sent in a photo and a link to a You Tube video.  I hope you enjoy her story.

Jill writes: "About me :) My name is Jill, I live in the United States in Fredericksburg Virginia. I love my job, but I also love to do homey things. Right now I am painting a few rooms in my house. I'm really happy with my color choices. Always good, right? My favorite hobby is gardening. I'm hooked. I've dabbled with gardening here and there over the years, but this is my first time going all out. I have a squarefoot garden, into my second year. Here is my blog about my garden http://jillsgardenblog.blogspot.com/ I am married and have three kids ages 20, 16, and 10. The photo attached of my garden was taken just last Thursday. Fun!

Now about my work :) My work space is outside, all day long! I am a pet sitter. It's such a great job. My clients LOVE me and they are so cute, furry and fun! They are always happy to see me. I walk them Monday - Friday while their owners are working. I get to wear tennis shoes everyday, shorts and jeans. I try to look nice but in a comfy way to stay cool or warm. I wear sunscreen and a hat most of the time. I walk dogs in snow, ice, sleet and rain...oh and sun. It's sunny most of the time, that is good. So that is my work space, outside all four seasons. I enjoy them all!!!

I made this video about two years ago for my clients, just for fun. It's of me driving all around my town and visiting my clients. They're great! I have known them many years now, some of them since puppies.
If you would like to be part of this series, please send me two photos of where you do most of your work - rhondahetzel@gmail.com. Reduce the size of the photos down to about 25% before sending to save me reducing them.  Add two paragraphs describing you, your work and how you use the space.  I am featuring the photos in the order in which they arrive.  Thanks!

15 June 2010

Cool summer drinks

Thank you all so much for your kind thoughts for Bernadette and I.  I spent a short amount of time with her yesterday because she was too weak for more and as she asked for a visit from a priest, I arranged that.  I'll go back this afternoon after work.

 Last night's dinner - small sweet potatoes, turnips and cabbage, with a pork chop.

Getting back into my work here made a big difference to my frame of mind but I couldn't clean the bathroom out properly as Hanno was still working in there when I returned from my visit.  I watched a free DVD with Tricia instead.  A French film, Amelie.  We both loved it.  After that I picked vegetables for our tea and prepared a feast of sweet potatoes, turnips, cabbage and a pork chop each.  Dessert was creamy rice pudding with stewed apples.  A hearty dinner enjoyed by us all.  It is very gratifying to eat organic food picked from the garden that is cooked and on the plate a couple of hours later. While I wandered around the garden, I noticed the potatoes are growing well out there, the tomatoes and cucumbers too; it's only a matter of time before they are on our plates.

I wrote about warming winter soups last week so to balance the equation, I thought I'd remind our northern hemisphere friends about cooling summer drinks.  I was prompted to do this because in our front yard, a pineapple is growing.  Many of you will remember the pineapple I grew in the backyard.  Well, we transplanted it when we cut the pineapple to eat, and planted it in the front yard.  Pineapples are slow growers and take up a fair amount of space - we needed it out of there. It took its own sweet time but true to form, the pineapple produced its second fruit.  When this pineapple is ripe and picked, the plant will have done it's job and will be pulled out.  Home grown fruit - it's organic and the sweetest fruit you can imagine.  We also have oranges, lemons and passionfruit growing at the moment. If you have a bit of land, I encourage you to grow whatever fruit is suited to your area.  Fruit trees take some time to establish but when they are they're relatively easy to grow and produce such wonderful crops.

We will be eating this pineapple next summer.

Of course the best drink anyone can have in all kinds of weather is spring water or tap water that is filtered.  We have filtered tap water here and I try to drink about two litres/quarts of it every day.  Some days I'm better at it than other days, but I get close most of the time.  Throw in a lemon wedge of a squeeze of lime with a few ice cubes and you have a drink any visitor would be happy to be offered.  If you want to go a bit further, or if you have children who prefer soda or soft drink, maybe one of these recipes will tempt them.  They will still be drinking a bit of sugar (although not as much as any fizzy drink or pack of commercial juice) but there will be no preservative, artificial colourings or flavours, and no chemicals whose names you can't pronounce.  All it is is the juice of whatever fruit you have on hand, mixed with a sugar syrup.  You control the amount of sugar in the syrup.

This week's flowers - dill flowers.

This is just equal amounts of water and sugar.  So if you mix 2 cups of water with 2 cups of sugar you'll have one litre/quart of sugar syrup.  Just add the amounts to a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer, stirring, until the sugar dissolves completely.  Allow it to cool.  BTW, if you want to make a weaker syrup, go for it.  That is one of the benefits of making your own summer drinks, you decide how much sugar goes in.

Here are some of my recipes for cool summer drinks.  Please note that if you can't find citric or tartaric acid at the shop, leave them out.  They are natural fruit acids that help with storage of the cordials but aren't necessary for the taste.  Because off the sugar content, the cordials can be stored in the fridge for at least a week.

Remove the top (if you have a garden, plant it) and skin from a ripe pineapple.  Cut it into pieces and add to the blender.  Add about a cup of sugar syrup and blend.  When the pineapple is crushed, add cold water and more sugar syrup to suit your taste.  Serve with ice cubes.

If  you have children who like fizzy drinks, serve them ginger beer.  When you make this you're entering into the wonderful world of fermentation.  This is a healthy drink that most of our grannies would have made.  My post about ginger beer is here.  Adults will enjoy ginger beer too.  An article about homemade ginger beer.

So, there you have it.  A range of fruit and spice drinks to serve your family and guests.  With the addition of tea, coffee and water, you'll be able to offer refreshments you'll be proud of that contain no hidden additives.


14 June 2010

Small moments

Despite being at home surrounded by what should be my housework, lately I've slipped out of my daily rhythm and life has become a disorganised and frazzled. My good friend Bernadette is gravely ill now, I've been visiting her in hospital and my sister Tricia, is visiting us so we've been talking, knitting, sewing and socialising and apart from a bit of cooking and washing, not much has been done here.  Everything is upside down.  Right now, Tricia and Hanno are awake and watching TV!  Usually when I rise to write, the house is as quiet as a mouse, but can I hear the sounds of the world cup on TV and I know if Australia scores a goal  there will be cheering and clapping. Uh oh, Germany scored. 

It's a public holiday here today - we have this ridiculous holiday for the Queen's birthday, it's not her birthday and even in the UK they don't celebrate this.  I'm not working today so I'll try to get back into the rhythm of my normal day.  It's easy working to a rhythm - you start with one familiar thing, others follow in a flow one after the other, you don't need to think about much and the work is done.  But as easy as it is, it doesn't take much to stop that flow, just one thing needs to be out and I'm lost.

Today's plan is to make the bed (I changed and washed the sheets yesterday), make breaksfast, get bread on to rise, clean up the kitchen, sweep the floor, water the garden and the plants at the front of the house.  Funnily enough, bread seems to be the stabilising influence in my routine.  When bread is rising, all  the other chores just fall into place.  Later this morning, I'll visit Bernadette, who is now at home.  It was her wish so her son took her back  home yesterday.  Later in the week the rest of her family will arrive so if I go today, I'll have some quiet time with her without getting in the way of family things.  I'm not quite ready to say goodbye yet.

When I come home, I'll clean up the bathroom.  It's a bit of a disaster at the moment because Hanno did a major repair in there.  There had been an unseen leak which seeped into the wall cavity, rotting the timbers in the door frame.  Hanno took them all out, replacing the rotting timbers, and then covered it all in again.  Cost of the repair was $19.  He had spare timber in the shed, got the gyprock free from the supplier (they were offcuts) and just had to buy sealer and anti-mould.  It was a big job, it took a week to complete, but now the bathroom is operational again - it just needs a good clean.

I haven't had time to take photos lately but hope to do a few this afternoon.  Apart from that, all I have to do is cook dinner and things will be back to normal - at least for today.  I wrote a post a few years ago call The Familiar Rhythm of the Unremarkable and that's exactly how I feel about my daily routine.  It's like an anchor.  It holds me firm when I get pushed this way and that and it shows me that while life has many changes and ups and downs, much of my home life remains the same; small moments, ever constant and a safe haven from the unspeakable.

13 June 2010

This is where I work

Here is the work space of one very busy lady, Rebecca.  It never fails to amaze me how we all live in different countries where expectations and conditions are not the same, yet we share similar values and a desire to live simply.  Those values and desires unite us and therefore when I look at Rebecca's workplace it it familiar to me.  I feel like I could walk in there and start helping her with the children and garden and although it's thousands of miles from my place, I'd feel at home there.
Rebecca writes:  "My name is Rebecca and I live in the Netherlands. I am a childminder who works from home and so this is my work space. 

Since I am watching 1 yr old twins, the huge play pen is very handy indeed. The children get to play safely and when they have been picked up again by their parents, it folds up and stores away in a corner. It was quite hard to get a good overview picture of my living room but in the foreground you see a small part of our dining table. It is the biggest we could find in Holland. (2 mtrs 40 long and 90 cms wide) Since we have 5 children ourselves and always eat together at the table we needed one that was big enough. It also serves as folding surface for laundry, sewing table, crafts table etc. We do have central heating but we prefer to use the coalheater you see on the right.

The second picture is taken from the front of my house. It is where I grow as much veg as I can possibly get away with. There's brassica's under the netting, lettuce, beans, beets, kohl rabi and well quite a bit more. It is all the space I have available and it makes me so very happy to potter about in the soil and to feed my family fresh food.The neighbours think I'm nuts but I don't really care.

On the right you catch a glimpse of our Canadian Canoe. We just love to take that out onto the water and make trips with it. It is great family time and wonderful exercise too!

Ours is just a simple, small house. But it's our home and we feel so very comfortable here."
Thanks for being involved in this series, Rebecca.

12 June 2010

Making soup from scratch

Rachel asked about making soup from scratch, so here are my thoughts on soups.  I have two regulars  I make frequently over winter that are made in large amounts and are either frozen to eat later or will feed Hanno and I for about five or six days.  These are vegetable soup and pea soup.  Both are based on bone broths and both can be made without bones, using just vegetables.  I used to be a vegetarian until I read Nourishing Traditions.  That book convinced me that I should eat certain types of meat and these soups are the ideal recipes for those types of meat, and bones.

The vegetable soup recipe is here,  I wrote about it in Winter 2008.  Soups are very forgiving and are ideal recipes for new from-scratch cooks because you don't have to be precise with the quantities.  However, in the soup recipe I use a stockpot that holds about 8 litres/quarts and it results in about 7 litres of soup.  When you put the bones in the stockpot, cover them with water - that's about 2 - 3 litres, but it doesn't matter precisely how much water you use.  You just have to make sure you leave enough room for the vegetables.  If you don't have enough water in the soup, you can always add more as you go along.

To make the non-meat version of this soup, simply leave out the bones.  You could use a vegetable stock you made earlier but the soup makes its own stock as it cooks.  Add herbs just before you serve it to boost the flavour.

My pea soup recipe is here.  The same rule about water applies here.  Cover the bones and cook the stock, add the peas and if you need more water, add it.  You can use yellow or green peas or a mixture of both, or if you're growing pigeon peas, use them.

There are a number of soups you can make that you can whip up quickly and have on the table in less than an hour.  Some of these follow:

This soup serves six and uses fresh or frozen peas

2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons butter
2 pounds freshly shelled peas or frozen peas
1½ quarts chicken stock  (plain water will do here if you're vegetarian)
½ teaspoon dried green peppercorns, crushed
sea salt and pepper
piima cream or creme fraiche

Serves six
6 medium beets
4 tablespoons butter
1 quart filtered water
sea salt or fish sauce and pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
piima cream or creme fraiche

Peel beets, chop coarsely and sauté very gently in butter for ½ hour or until tender.  Add water bring to the boil and skim.  Simmer about 15 minutes. Puree soup with hand-held blender. Season to taste, garnish with cultured creme.

Sauté the onions gently in butter until tender. Add peas and stock, brig to boil and skim.  Simmer about 15 minutes. Puree soup with a hand-held blender.  Season to taste.  Garnish with the cultured cream.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small cauliflower head, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
About 1½ litres/quarts of water or chicken stock
Salt and pepper
½ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Chop the cauliflower and onion and sauté gently in oil until soft.  Add the water or stock and bring to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer.  Cook for 30 minutes, season to taste.  Blend using a hand-held blender.  Add the sour cream, sprinkle with chives and serve.


Nourishing Traditions - can be purchased in most countries
Women's Weekly Country Cooking - for Australians and possibly UK
Commonsense Cookery Book - Australians
Forgotten Skills of Cooking - Darina Allen
Ad Hoc at Home - Thomas Keller - I recommend this book because Thomas owns and cooks at The French Laundry, which is the one American restaurant my sons and I would like to visit.  This is his home cooking book.

From scratch cooking is usually called Country Cooking in the publishing world.  So if you're looking for a from-scratch book, look for Country Cooking.

Thank you for your visits and comments this week.  I hope you have a wonderful weekend doing things with those you love.


10 June 2010

Welcome to the kitchen revolution

Back in the day, before the invention of supermarkets, most of our food was unpackaged and much of it was fresh.  I remember a time when there were little grocery shops on suburban corners which sold a wide variety of food.  We'd go there, the shop owner knew us by our first name, and we would buy just a small amount of food that we would eat that day.  Many of the people who shopped at these little stores also had a vegetable patch at home so tomatoes, potatoes, salads and green leaves were grown and eaten fresh from the backyard garden.

When we bought meat, it wasn't an unidentifiable slice of flesh on a polystyrene tray covered with plastic wrap that was plucked from a refrigerated open case.  We walked into butcher shops onto a floor that was covered with saw dust that contained a few drops of blood fallen from the carcasses hanging in plain view in the shop.  We recognised the animal our meat came from, we knew how the animal was cut up and we knew our pork, beef, lamb and chicken cuts.  I still buy meat from a butcher who buys local meat carcasses that hang in the store in full view.  I wouldn't buy anything from a butcher who buys meat in boxes and vacuum packs - that food has been processed in an unseen location.  Choice has been taken away from me.

Take back control of what you eat.  YOU be the person who chooses every part of your meal - stop buying fast food or convenience.  These foods take away that choice - if someone else is cooking your food then someone else is making important decisions that you should be making.

I really love the advice given by Michael Pollin and I heartily agree with it:
  • Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognise as food.
  • Shop are the farmers' or growers' market - it's all fresh food straight from the grower.
  • Stay out of the middle of the supermarket - meat, fish, dairy products, fruit and vegetables are all on the outside aisle of every supermarket.  The processed stuff is in the centre.

It's quite a complicated process to unwind yourself from supermarket shopping.  Buying all your processed and pre-made favourites makes shopping a breeze - you know what you want, you don't have to think about ingredients, you buy and off you go.  But as you're unwinding yourself from the quagmire of supermarket food you should be reading labels, cutting out anything that has preservatives, artificial colourings and flavourings and buying food that is as unprocessed  and fresh as possible.  For instance, you'd think that buying oats for your porridge would be easy and straight forward.  Nope!  Rolled oats or oatmeal have been processed - or rolled and steamed to make them easier to cook.  That is acceptable to me, but quick oats aren't.  They've been further processed and if you apply the great grandma rule, you'd steer clear of quick oats but keep eating rolled oats.

Of course, all this depends on time and inclination.  If you're working outside the home, you might not be able to make your own bread every day, but if you bought a bread machine and set it to have the bread ready when you wake up, you're fine.  If you're someone who works in your home you might be prepared to make tomato sauce but are you going to make tomato paste?  It's all a question of time and whether you want to do it.  The reason you pay so much for processed food is that you're paying for someone else's time and energy to prepare the ingredients or an entire meal for you.

I tend to go with what I know.  I make similar meals to those I had when I was a child.  I change things around at times, I substitute ingredients that I don't have on hand, but basically it's similar food.  We eat butter not margarine, full cream  not low fat, sugar or honey not sweeteners.  If you're still buying lots of snack foods or prepared foods, stop buying them and replace them with home baking.  If you can afford organic ingredients for your baking, that's great. If you can't, it's still much better than the supermarket versions of that food.

If you're not a cook now, I want to encourage you to learn how to cook good, simple food. And when I say 'cook' I mean a wide variety of uncooked food as well, like salads and good dressings. If you are cooking, I encourage you to go back to basics, get rid of processed food and regain the choice of what you eat.  Part of the process of cooking should be learning how to select good food and for some, to start growing it as well.  Nothing will teach you more about fruit and vegetables than growing them yourself.

I am happy to share more recipes and to write about the process of cooking.  If you need help, ask.  We might be able to get a few  more people cooking at home.  This is part of the revolution was was writing about here.  This is important and empowering. Welcome to the revolution!


9 June 2010

This is where I work

Thank you all so much for your lovely comments on the radio interview.  I'm back at my voluntary job today so I'm going to introduce you to Andrea in our This is Where I Work series.  I had a little chuckle when I looked at the first photo, Andrea.  In addition to your very tidy and organised desk (much tidier than mine), you have Down to Earth on one screen, a beach on the other and a map on your wall.  I think your thoughts are outside that office.  Congratulations on your engagement, love.

Andrea writes: "My name is Andrea, and I live in California in the USA.  I'll be 40 this year and am recently (amicably) divorced and even more recently engaged (that *is* the correct order of events, last time I checked - lol).  My fiance lives at the other end of the country, 2000 miles away, but will be moving into my house as soon as he does something with his house.  We plan for him to be a house-spouse and get the garden going.  The property isn't big enough for us to grow a ton, but it will support enough veggies and some chooks to give us a little more independence.  And thanks to you I've been researching aquaponics, so maybe some fish too!

This is where I spend my days.  I'm a programmer for a manufacturing company, so the view out my window is of the production floor.  It's a beehive of activity, which is good for motivation when I find myself lacking energy.  As workspaces go, it's fairly good.  Quiet, comfortable, with the equipment that I need to get my job done.  And I do like most of the people.  But this is not where I want to spend my life.  I don't even know what the weather is like all day!  But when we get my mortgage paid off and some more savings built, I'm hoping to trade this small, enclosed cubby for a lot of time in the sun with the fiance, garden, chooks, and fish."

I'll see you all tomorrow when I'll be writing about processed food.

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