30 November 2011

Lemony Snippets

I can't tell you how much we appreciate the good wishes and loving words sent yesterday. Thank you all.


There are a few ways to get the taste and smell of lemon into your cooking and cleaning products without having to use fresh lemons.  The best way is to use lemon myrtle or citric acid. Lemon myrtle has a wonderful lemon sherbet scent that is almost addictive.

We are growing lemon myrtle here to use in our soap, but it's also great in baking and for cleaning. Studies have shown that the antiseptic elements in lemon myrtle are stronger and more effective than those in tea tree or eucalyptus.  All these plants are indigenous to Australia.  So if you have lemon myrtle growing in your garden, use it in the home as well as outside as an attractive part of the greenery. A Lemon Myrtle will grow to about 20 metres (about 66 feet) if you let it but they're easily clipped back and will make a tidy bush if you keep clipping. Those clippings can be taken inside for use in a number of ways.

You can make lemon myrtle vinegar by steeping three or four leaves in a bottle of white vinegar for two weeks. This lemony vinegar can be used as part of a salad dressing or on fish but it also makes an excellent cleaner. Lemon myrtle also makes a delicious tea.

This is our lemon myrtle - it's still in a large pot.

My friend Aunty Bevelry is doing some cultural tours of her country here on the Sunshine Coast during December and she asked me to bake some wattle seed scones and lemon myrtle biscuits for morning teas. I'm using Paula's "cheap and easy biscuits" recipe from the Down to Earth forums to make them. This is an excellent all round biscuit dough that can be modified to different tastes just by adding a sprinkling of dried lemon myrtle, jam, nuts, choc chips, spices, honey etc. This is it:

The recipe makes almost 100 biscuits but the dough can be divided up and frozen to use when you need a quick batch of fresh biscuits.
  • 500 grams/ 1 pound butter - slightly soft
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk 
  • 5 cups wholemeal or unbleached white self raising flour 
Cream the butter and sugar then add the condensed milk and mix well. Stir in flour until everything is completely mixed. The dough should be soft and slightly moist; if it's too dry, add a dash of milk. Roll into balls and flatten into a biscuit/cookie shape or roll out flat and cut with a biscuit/cookie cutter. Before baking, I sprinkle the tops with a little sugar and dried lemon myrtle.

Place on a cookie tray, put the tray in the fridge for 10 minutes to cool the mix, then bake on 180C for 10 minutes. When cooked, cool on rack and store in an air-tight jar.

This biscuit recipe is also great for jam drops, walnut or almond biscuits, or with choc chips mixed through the dough.

Citric acid is found in quite large amounts in citrus and some berries. It can be used to replace fresh lemon in jams and fruit drinks. It's a natural preservative but it has a sour lemony taste so it's useful in cordials as well.  When I make lemon cordial, I make it using half pure lemon juice and half syrup, then I dilute that in water to make up the drink, but there are other ways of making lemon cordial, here is a popular old fashioned recipe:

Stephanie Alaxander's lemon cordial recipe using citric acid and tartaric acid (another safe food acid).

Citric acid can also be used to food in jars - in north America that is called canning, in the UK and Australia it's called preserving. Citric acid is used to retain colour in preserved vegetables and to increase the acidity in the jar. Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes botulism, cannot grow in high acidic conditions. How to preserve/can whole tomatoes.

Mix a strong concentration of citric acid in water - 1 tablespoon of citric acid to 1 cup of water to remove hard water stains from the shower glass.

How to descale your coffee maker using citric acid.

To remove rust from your cast iron cookware. Make a paste of a ½ tablespoon of citric acid and ½ teaspoon of water. Rub the past over the cast iron pan and let it sit for five minutes. Rub the rust spots thoroughly, then clean the panw with soap and water, and rinse. When the pan is dry, sit it on the stove over medium heat for one minute to remove all traces of moisture, then allow to cool. When it is, wipe olive oil over the pan to season.

I have no doubt many of you will have more lemony hints and tips. Please add them in the comments because I'd love to find more ways to cook and clean with these products.


29 November 2011

Here it is - the book cover

I have some exciting news and a photo to share with you today. I have wanted to show you this for the longest time and I finally have the go-ahead from my publisher, Penguin. My book will be published on 22 February 2012, it's a hard cover and will cost $39.95. Here is the beautiful cover. It was designed by Allison Colpoys, Greg Elms took the photographs. The page design is by Nicki Townsend but I can't show you her work yet. I love it so much, even now, after first seeing the cover so many months ago and having my own copy of the book here. Every time I see it, I smile.

See what I mean! It just suits our topic so well. 

The first photo is the high resolution shot sent from Penguin. The second two are photos I took of the book I have here. The photo quality isn't as good but I wanted to show you the spine and back cover as well. They help tell the story of the book at a glance. I love the buttons sewn on the spine, the wooden spoon and scissors blend so well with the peg, string and egg on the front cover. I think it's beautiful, but then I'm biased.

I remember the day my editor, Jo Rosenberg, sent me my advance copy. I froze when I saw the parcel, unsure about whether I would like the look of the finished book. I'm not good with saying I'm happy with something when I'm not. What if I had to promote a book I didn't like the look of? Well, I shouldn't have worried, I opened that packet and fell in love with it. I love the feel of it - it feels like a linen cover. I love look of it, not only the words I've written but every single atom of it - cover to cover. I am so proud to call it 'my book'.  

What do you think?

ADDED LATER: I'm not sure about overseas sales. I will sell some from my blog and Hanno and I are happy to post world-wide if we are asked to. As soon as I know more, I'll let you know.


28 November 2011

Creating Christmas traditions and memories

The year is winding down fast, soon the summer school holidays will start and then, Christmas. We have extra excitement over Christmas this year - this is our first year with grandchildren. I have a million wonderful memories of our own children at Christmas, now it feels like we're being given another ride on the merry-go-round. Now Alexander and Jamie are here. It will be exciting to have our family here over the holidays but we're also looking forward to closing the gate and winding down properly after a very busy year.

These are some little hand embroidered Christmas decorations I made a few years ago. 

The evenings leading up to Christmas can be a wonderful time for families. Making decorations, baking, making and wrapping gifts, decorating the tree, re-telling family stories from years past - all these small activities bring a family together, they mean something, and over the years they create a tradition that can be relived every year as it slowly passes from one generation to the next. The traditions that we create for ourselves on special occasions bring us together as a strong unit, they give children parts of their family identity and they glue families together.

To help you on your way to Christmas, here are a few links I thought you might like:

Gingerbread - make either people or a house. Make up according to the recipe for gingerbread people, if you want to make a gingerbread house, double the recipe and use M&Ms, licorice, jelly beans and jelly lollies for the roof, door and window decorations.

Apricot Balls recipe from the Next to Nothing Cookbook by Helen Harrison. This is an easy to make and frugal treat for the holidays.
Mix all ingredients and shape into small balls. Roll in coconut and store in the fridge.

On Thursday it will be 1st December. Now is the time to organise yourself so you're not rushed and worn out at Christmas. Make up a list of your Christmas tasks and every day (or evening) from this Thursday, make or do something on your list. That way you'll get through your tasks and you'll have control over what you do each day. If you've had a busy day, do one of the easy things, if you're full of energy tackle something bigger.

No matter where you live, the period over Christmas and New Year is the ideal time to relax and take some time out for yourself. Even if it's only for an hour after the kids have gone to bed each night for that week, take the time to pamper yourself in whatever way it works for you. Even if it's just going to bed early with a book, or getting someone to give you a foot massage, whatever you do is valuable. You'll feel like you've taken some time for yourself and you'll start building your strength for the following year.

I haven't made many plans for Christmas yet. I know Kerry, Sunny and Jamie will be here on Christmas Eve and Christmas day and that we'll all go to the Neighbourhood Centre to help cook and serve breakfast for a few hundred people. When that is over, we'll come back here for a late lunch and to relax. Shane, Sarndra and Alexander will be here over Christmas too but Shane is not sure when he's working yet so we'll just be happy to see them when they walk through the door. Whatever we do, I know we'll be eating and drinking so I'll have to plan my menu soon and if I need to prepare something early, I'll be able to do that.  I'm thinking elder Champagne and ginger beer will be on the menu so that will have to be started fairly soon.

Have you started your Christmas prep yet or are you like me and still thinking about most of it?  What are your plans and family traditions? What is your Christmas menu? Are you doing something special this year? I'd love to know.


25 November 2011

On my mind ...

This is a Friday photo feature that anyone with a blog can join. To take part, post a photo on your own blog, write a short caption explaining it, and link it back to here from your blog by saying you're part of "On my mind". Please write a new post, don't link to an older one. When you've done that, come back here and add a comment below, with a link to your blog.

I'm thinking of the calendulas I picked yesterday. Like everything else in our garden, they're organic, so I'm making calendula salve with them. It's a helpful little home remedy to have on hand for rashes and infections. I'll tell you more about it next week.

Thank you for your visits and comments this week. If you've just discovered my blog, welcome. I hope you find encouragement and interesting information here. Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

24 November 2011

Vegetables winding down for the year

I'm looking forward to a peaceful day today. A walk around the garden, looking in on Mary and her eggs, a few emails and two summer hats for the babies and that will be it for me. I even slept in!  That was a good start to a quiet day and what made me think I should relax instead of work today.  It's the ideal time of year to start taking it easy.  The weather is hot again and everything is starting to wind down towards the summer holidays.

Our vegetable garden is starting to slow down too. There comes a time every year when Hanno and I ask each other: Will we keep planting? The answer now, is no. We'll keep harvesting and watering but own main growing year is almost over now and by late January most of the vegies will be gone, we'll rely on our freezer more and start planting again in March. There is still a lot of food there waiting to be harvested and much more that will keep producing like pumpkins and watermelons, but the planting is over for the year.

Let me introduce Lulubelle and Martha, our buff Orpington and Plymouth Rock chooks. Soon they'll be joined by some more of their type. The eggs under Mary are buff Orpingtons and Plymouth Rocks.

There are still a few gardening chores to carry out. This flower spike is just starting and when it flowers and turns into seeds, we'll collect them for our next planting. 

The beans have grow like wild fire this year. There are still a lot of the climbing green beans to eat fresh and to freeze and the butter beans below, a bush variety, still have another couple of weeks left in them.

The tomatoes have done well this year too. These are the French heirloom St Pierre that I grew in a pot at the garden entrance. We'll be collecting seeds from these so we can continue with them next year.

Over near the bok choy, we planted more mixed heirloom tomatoes about two weeks ago. I don't know what they'll be yet because they were mixed seeds given to me but this one above is a potato leaf variety so if might be a Brandywine or a Prudens Purple, or any number of delicious old fashioned tomatoes. Hopefully the weather won't be too hot for them to produce. Tomatoes stop setting flowers to fruit when the temperature is too high.

 This orange tree is full of small fruit that will be juicy and ripe next winter.

We have a few chilli bushes left from last year that have produced very well. These above are Firecracker - you can see them ripe red, and in the kitchen, below. The capsicums (peppers) and chillis aren't bothered at all by the hot weather. If we keep the water up to them, they'll keep growing happily all through summer. Then we'll cut them back and they'll come on again next year.

These are jalapeno chillis, a great one for spicy cooking or for making chilli jam.

 We always grow a lot of cucumbers. This is one of two Lebanese cucumber vines. They're picked small and crisp and are excellent in salads or for bread and butter pickles. Now that the hot humid weather is here, these vines will soon get powdery mildew and we'll pull them out.

And of course we always have flowers and herbs too. Here are some calendulas inviting the bees into the garden and parsley.

And what do we have here? The quiet gardener working on his compost. Shhhh, he doesn't know we're here. Let's walk away quietly.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends. I hope you all have a wonderful day.


23 November 2011

Blanching vegetables

Many of the skills we need when living simply don't exist in isolation, if you want to get the full measure of these things we do, you have to learn a number of skills to make it happen successfully. For instance, growing vegetables isn't only about gardening, when you learn how to sow seeds, tend and harvest vegetables, you also have to learn about how to enrich the soil, fertilise and provide water as well as food storage and cooking to make it work. Most skills are part of a process, often with several distinct skills supporting and making up the whole. 

When I did my post on freezing silverbeet (chard) and beans recently, I received a couple of emails asking if I would do a post on blanching. Blanching is one skill that is part of the process of vegetable production and food storage. It's another kitchen skill that used to be commonly taught but with the rise of purchased frozen and convenience foods, has been forgotten by many.  If you're growing your own vegetables or buying in bulk when you see a great special, you should take the time to learn about blanching, and then do it. Blanching takes only a small amount of time but it will help retain the quality of the vegetables you freeze. All vegetables have enzymes in them that help them grow. Blanching in boiling water or steam stops or slows down the action of these enzymes helping to keep optimum flavour, texture and vitamins. You can freeze food without blanching but you may not be retaining vitamins and you increase the risk of the vegetables spoiling in the freezer.

Start by cleaning your sink. You want a clean work area and your sink will give you a good place to clean the vegetables and if you have a double sink, you'll also have a place to cool the vegetables after blanching them. If you don't have a double sink, use a large bowl or pot filled with cold water. The only other requirements are a colander, a large stockpot with a lid (depending on how much and what you're blanching), a slotted spoon to lift the vegetables out, or basket that fits inside the pot.

The general rule is to use about 4 litres (1 gallon) water per half kilo (pound). For the amount of silverbeet I blanched in these photos, I filled my pot with water to about three-quarters capacity.

Set the pot on the stove to boil with the lid on. Keeping the lid on will help bring the water to the boil faster.

While that is happening, trim or peel your vegetables if they need it, and cut vegetables like beans or carrots into serving size. Whatever you would normally do to prepare your vegetables for cooking, do before blanching. For vegetables like silverbeet, leeks or spinach, make sure you wash them thoroughly to remove all the grit or sand. Make sure you do all your prep properly because when you cook the vegetables after you freeze them there will not be another opportunity to clean, prepare or trim the vegetables.

Green vegetables will turn bright green when they've been blanched.

Make sure you drain the vegetables well. Excess water will turn to ice in the freezer.

Make sure you know your blanching times because if you under-blanch it can stimulate the activity of the enzymes and can be worse than not blanching at all, and over-blanching will cause your vegetables to lose vitamins, minerals, colour and flavour.

Click here for blanching times.

Click here for blanching times.


  1. Divide the vegetables up into portions that will easily fit into your pot.
  2. When the water is at a rolling boil, put in the first portion and put the lid on the pot.
  3. Check the blanching guides below to find out how long to leave the vegetables in the boiling water. When the time it up, quickly get the vegetables out of the water using your spoon, or lift the basket out, and plunge them into very cold water - add ice if necessary. You want to cool them down fast to stop the cooking process.
  4. If you have several portions to blanche, carry on doing the above in the same water, making sure it's on a rolling boil before you add the vegetables.
  5. When you've finished blanching and cooling the vegetables, place them all into colanders to drain thoroughly. Let them stand for an hour or so to drain off as much water as possible.
  6. When you're happy that has happened, bag your vegetables into portions sizes suitable for your family.
  7. Mark with a permanent marker with the vegetable name and date.
  8. Place in the freezer. If you have a lot of home frozen bags, try to keep all the same types together or use ice cream containers or plastic baskets (depending on the size of your freezer) to organise the vegetables. Remember, you can't rely on coloured packets with photos on them like commercial frozen food so whatever you can do to organise your food will help you recognise what you have and assist your food storage program.

  • A rolling boil is water boiling strongly with large bubbles - and when you stir it, the boiling continues.
  • When you finish blanching you'll have some coloured water in the pot. Let it cool down and use it on the vegetable garden, there will be some nutrients in the water.


22 November 2011

Living like there's no tomorrow

Age is starting to make its mark on me. When I was younger, I didn't think about age and I didn't feel a particular age. There has never been a time when I thought okay, I'm 18/30/45/50, I should do ...whatever. Now I'm in my mid-60s, I feel it and I know it. I wonder why that recognition of age is with me now.

No doubt, part of the reason is that both my parents have died and I'm a grandmother. I have moved into the front line, so to speak, if things go according to plan, Hanno and I will be the next to die. My friends have started dying too. It's a sad time but it's also full of good memories of times past and a strong feeling I am glad to be alive and that I have to make every day count.

Age has slowed me down a bit. I've also lost some strength and sometimes I forget things. When those things happen it makes an impact on me.  I wonder if it's the start of something sinister, something that we don't talk about. But it's not all bad news, in fact, most of it is good because I love being over 60 much more than being under 40. I feel as if I've grown into the person I want to be. My hope is that now the baby boomers have started retiring, we'll somehow reverse the idea that ageing is a bad thing and restore it to being just a natural process - a part of life. When you think about it, ageing is a success - if you live long enough to be old, you've survived. If you enjoy your old age, you've not only survived, you've thrived and maybe even triumphed.

I feel that this time of life is the payoff for the industriousness and busyness and of younger years - all those years of child raising, working hard for a living, buying a home and building a strong family. I have many good memories of those times, it was enriching and fulfilling but it was hard work. When I look back to when I was young I see all the hard work yet to come, all the teenage years, the struggle to pay off our home as fast as we could and saying the last goodbye to my parents and some friends - it was all ahead of us then.

We survived it all.

We are still industrious but it's gentle now; it's more a slow and steady working towards sustainability rather than working flat out. We see rewards for that industriousness in the form of our own independence and the genuine feelings of self reliance we both feel.

Busyness is different when you get older - it's multi-layered and on your own terms. My terms are not dictated to me anymore by my job or my children; now I do the productive work of my home, and I choose activities that challenge me and make me think. The self-imposed pressure to succeed has gone and been replaced by acceptance of whatever comes my way, trust in the future and confidence in my ability to cope, no matter what.

I am firmly convinced that, for me, now is not a time for plastic surgery or dyed hair. I wear my wrinkles, thinning skin and grey hair with pride; a kind of badge that says I've been here for a long time, I know what I'm doing, I'm a grandma, I have visited the past and I have a little wisdom to share if you care to listen.

It saddens me when I see women and men who are scared of ageing. This is not something to be frightened of - growing older is the golden prize. It is the time in your life when you can choose what you want to do - and if, like us you choose to take control of your own life and simplify, make your home productive and enjoy the day to day process of that, then you'll have something new to get up for every morning. I reckon I have another 20 years to live, if I'm lucky, I might have 30 or 35. Beyond that, forget it, I don't want to be here forever. I think my job has been to raise my children and to see them raise theirs. I have fulfilled my duty to my species and now is a time for freedom,  happiness and maybe a bit of craziness. Now is the time to really live like there is no tomorrow, but maybe that is how we should live all the time.


21 November 2011

Changes in the chicken coop

There are a few changes going on in our chicken coop. We’re preparing a nursery. As I wrote on Friday, Nicky kindly sent us six fertile eggs – a mix of buff Orpingtons and barred Plymouth Rocks. The eggs came by mail, carefully wrapped in tissues, sitting in an egg carton to keep them stable and packed into the middle of a medium sized box full of shredded paper. The packing was perfect and should really have kept the eggs safe but who know what happens in the postal system. Hopefully they'll all hatch.

For any readers living in the Glen Innes, Inverell or Armidale area, Nicky has large buff Orpingtons, large light barred Plymouth Rocks and large silver laced Wyandottes. You can contact her here.

Nicky advised us to sit the eggs in a safe place to settle for a while and to place them under the broody just on night fall. So after a settling down period, we were going to set them under Lucy, our experienced mother hen.

Lucy had other plans.

About three weeks ago Lucy built a nest in the front garden for herself and eight of her own eggs. She sat, appropriately enough, in the dwarf Madonna lilies, well hidden from view but when we looked well enough, we could see her long black tail poking out.

When it was getting dark and all the chooks had already put themselves to bed, Hanno lifted Lucy off her own nest and brought her back to the coop to a newly prepared nest holding the six fertile eggs. We thought we were giving Lucy a treasured gift but she made some yodelling noises and started grooming herself. We left her to settle in, an hour later Hanno went back to check on her and she was asleep on the roost with the other girls. Grrrrr.

Hanno transferred all the eggs over to Mary, Lucy's daughter, who has been steadfastly sitting on her own imaginary eggs, on and off, for the past two years. Mary deserves these chicks. 

(left) Lulubelle, our barred Plymouth Rock girl, with Mary in the adjoining suite.

Hanno is making a wire wall that will keep Mary and eggs/chicks away from the other girls but they’ll all be able to see each other. He’s made up a box nest for her so she can sit on the eggs away from the other chooks and when the eggs hatch, there is a little chook run right next door where they can all stay safe and together away from the older chooks and predators.

This is the second time we’ve put fertile eggs under a broody hen. The first time, a couple of years ago, the mother hen, a big Rhode Island Red girl, squashed the Wyandotte chicks after they hatched. I had thought that Lucy, being an experienced mother would hatch and raise the chicks. Obviously Lucy's broodiness was at an end and it was not to be. Hanno said her eggs were black when he disposed of them.

Hanno made a cute little ladder for mother and chicks to use.

So now we count the days until 8 December when the chicks should hatch. Just 21 days seems like such a short time for life to form and being viable, but that's all it takes. I'm really looking forward to having chicks here. If it all goes to plan, they'll start laying in early May. We can't keep roosters here, we have tried, but given them all away. I'd love for our hens to lay fertile eggs but that will never happen without a rooster. This is the next best thing and it feels right to me. I guess when it comes down to it, it doesn't really matter how you get good free range eggs on your plate - you might have a local supplier, a neighbour you barter with or you have your own chicks.

Having those chicks grow up here and wander around our backyard all their lives makes me happy just thinking about it. We'll have an unspoken agreement with them that we provide a safe environment, shelter and food and they provide eggs, manure and their fine insect eating skills.  They'll help us provide a balance - putting into the soil instead of just taking.  It's a fine arrangement, I'm sure you'll agree.


19 November 2011

Weekend reading

I've just discovered Green Journey and what a find! It's full of interesting and helpful information and inspiring stories written by people who are living true to their simple values.  It's well worth a visit.


18 November 2011

On my mind ...

This is a Friday photo feature that anyone with a blog can join. To take part, post a photo on your own blog, write a short caption explaining it, and link it back to here from your blog by saying you're part of "On my mind". Please write a new post, don't link to an older one. When you've done that, come back here and add a comment below, with a link to your blog.

Every so often I receive an email asking if a reader can send me something as a gesture of thanks for this blog. Nicky wrote just after my post on chooks to see if we'd like some fertile eggs to put under one of our broodies. We jumped at the chance. We said "yes please!" to six - three buff Orpingtons and three barred Plymouth Rocks. They arrived yesterday. So, this is a little teaser about what my Monday post will be. It's what is on my mind today and what I've been thinking about all week. Thank you Nicky! It is a beautiful gift.


17 November 2011

Dear Down to Earth blog

Dear Down to Earth blog

I've been writing you for a few years now and although you feel like a very close friend, you also keep me on my toes. You make me accountable to myself, you provide a space for me to express my thoughts and the record you provide of the life I'm living with Hanno has been very helpful.

Flowers from Jens and Cathy's garden bought over when they had morning tea with us last weekend.

Having been born in the 1940s, I'm pretty much old school but writing you has given me continuing opportunities to seek out the new, remember the old, and blend it all into our daily lives. You push me on to better things. I doubt I'd have looked into so many cleaners if it weren't for you. And bread, instead of just making it, you made me think about it and keep tweaking until I got it right. I make a really good orange cake now because of you. My old version was okay, but you pushed me to make it better; now my orange cake is a moist and delicious piece of homemade loveliness. So thank you, you should come round for tea one afternoon and try a slice. 

Blog, you really have been life changing for me. If it weren't for you I wouldn't have a book about to be published, I wouldn't be writing for the Women's Weekly and I wouldn't have a New York agent. Even writing that for you now makes me stop and think if it's really true. If I were following my life's pattern, I would be slowing down now, doing less and becoming invisible. You made me do the opposite. I'm busier than ever, becoming involved in a lot of interesting projects, and people I don't know say hello to me now. I'm not sure I like the recognition but I enjoy the new  opportunities to express myself creatively and to share information through you.

More beans picked for freezing. Photo by Hanno.

You've brought a lot of great people my way too and I want to thank you for that. I doubt I'd have met such an intertesting bunch otherwise. When I think about your readers and all the people who comment on you, the wonderful women who help run your forum and the 6000 members there, the writers and readers at the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op, the staff at Penguin and the Women's Weekly, and all the people who come to the neighbourhood centre for workshops they hear about through you, well, it makes me grateful you whispered in my ear to start you all those years ago.

It makes me humble too.

Thank you for not requiring too much of me - just a few words tapped away on our mutual friend, the computer, most days keeps you happy and functioning. I appreciate that because even though I've grown to love you, the short time I spend with you allows me to do so many other things you've made possible. We make a great team. Keep up the good work.

Sincerely yours,
Rhonda x

PS: Thanks to everyone who left a comment yesterday. I'm fine now; I was not sick, just tired. There is a lot going on here, I had some extra writing work I had to do in a hurry, and I spent the past two days at the neighbourhood centre. Both days were busy and hot. It takes me a while to get used to the hot weather again every year, so on that first very hot day on Tuesday, it really knocked me over. A couple of good long sleeps has put me right and now I'm ready for anything. Thank you for your concern and kind words.


16 November 2011

What's happened?

I'm worn out and too tired to write today. I'll be back tomorrow.

15 November 2011

Prepping - getting ready for storm and bush fire season

Here in Australia, summer is the time for floods, bush fires, severe storms and cyclones. I'm sure everyone remembers the devastating floods we had last year in Queensland and Victoria. Recently we received a free booklet from our state government (Queensland) about preparing for disasters. It's called "Get Ready" and it's given us a lot to think about. It contains four steps of preparation that can be carried out well before, and leading into, an emergency situation:
  1. Prepare your emergency plan
  2. Prepare your emergency kit
  3. Prepare your home
  4. Tune into warnings
It also gives safety tips on how to survive severe storms, tsunamis, floods and cyclones. There is a pdf file of the brochure here.

When we were younger, we probably wouldn't have taken much notice of these types of booklets but now that we can't move as fast as we used to, we read them, store the information away in our brains, and keep the booklet handy. But for younger folk, I guess the recent floods and cyclones and seeing the overseas hurricanes and tsunamis has taught us to never be complacent. There is a role for disaster preparation in every home.

We are lucky here. If there was an emergency that affected food distribution, electricity or water, we'd be able to stay safe in our home for a few weeks. There is enough food and water here to keep us going and although we'd have to build a fire outside to cook, that's easily done and it wouldn't phase us. We would make a quick trip to the shop to pick up fresh batteries for the radio but everything else is taken care of. We keep our mobile phone charged and have a battery charger for the phone in the car so if we needed to, we'd run the car for a while to charge the phone. We have spare fuel here.

However, if there was a bush fire, flood or cyclone close to us  we would leave and drive to a predetermined safer location. In that case we'd need a grab bag - a bag containing those things we wouldn't want to leave behind to potentially be destroyed, as well as all the things we'd have to take to survive some time away. Generally a grab bag would be packed at the beginning of each storm/bushfire season, or left partially packed and added to when needed, and would contain:

Grab bag
  • Important documents in a waterproof container
  • Address book or phone containing addresses, phone charger and spare battery
  • Treasured photos in a waterproof container
  • Laptop computer, a flash drive or portable hard drive containing the files you don't want to lose
  • Medication and tissues
  • Water
  • First aid kit
  • Torch - one for each person, and spare batteries
  • Candles, matches or a lighter
  • Can opener and cutlery
  • Battery-operated radio with spare batteries
  • Cash (if there is no electricity the ATMs won't operate) credit and debit cards, just in case.
In a separate box:
  • Enough food and water for 48 hours. Make sure the food doesn't have to be cooked or refrigerated - sandwiches, cans of beans, fruit, popcorn, chocolate, biscuits, processed cheese, muesli bars etc.
  • If you have babies, the elderly or people with special needs with you, you'll need whatever special food and drinks they require.
  • Nappies, wipes,  baby bottles, sippy cups for the babies. A bucket with lid for waste items.
  • Eye glasses, walking sticks, asthma puffers and any special needs for your family.
  • Clothing and shoes for everyone.
  • Books, games and toys for the children. Books and cards for the adults.
  • Depending on the weather, either sun hats or blankets.
  • Sleeping gear.
  • If you have to evacuate for any reason, do it early.  
  • Always go directly to the place you specified in your family emergency plan.
  • If you have to evacuate when flood waters are rising, if there is time, firmly plug up all your sink drains to stop water backing up into the house. 
  • If you evacuate due to a bush fire and there is time, close all interior doors as well as the outside doors. Remove the mats from the front and back doors. Cinders may land on them and ignite them creating a fire source at your wooden doors.
Well before anything happens, the whole family should talk about what would happen in an emergency and practise your evacuation plan. If you have teenagers, add the phone number of a trusted friend or relative that they can phone if they're out and can't contact you. Add the same emergency phone number to all phones in the family and ask that person to be your contact point in an emergency. Decide what you'll do with pets, if you want to take them with you, you'll need leads or pet boxes.

In Australia, the State Emergency Service will respond to all large emergencies. Each state has it's own branches and you can find their websites by Googling SES in your state. The SES have a lot of valuable information on their sites so it's worthwhile having a look. This is the Queensland SES site.

I think we often think that disasters only happen to other people but the floods last year proved that anything can happen. Do you have an emergency plan in your home? Do you have any information that I've forgotten, if so, please add your comment.


14 November 2011

Freezing and pickling vegetables

When our garden is in full production, we have too much food to eat all of it fresh. Often we give some to family and friends but when there is too much beetroot or enough silverbeet or beans to sink a ship, the excess is picked and processed in the kitchen. Recently we had a patch of beetroot that needed to be harvested so it was all pulled out and I made pickled beetroot. This is such a common thing in Australia and there are always tins of it in every supermarket so many people have forgotten that home made pickled beetroot far outweighs the poor tinned cousin for taste and value.

I tried the Women's Weekly Preserves cookbook recipe for these beetroot and they're really delicious. It's one of the easiest pickled vegetables you can make. Wash the beets thoroughly, then cut the leaves off without cutting into the beetroot, boil until tender (about 45 minutes), drain and allow to cool. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water to mix with the vinegar (recipe below). When they're cool enough to handle, it's very easy to just skip the skins off with your fingers. Cut them up however you prefer, then place in sterilised jars and fill the jars with hot spiced vinegar. The three large jars I made will be stored in the fridge and eaten over summer but could also be stored in the cupboard for six months as long as you're confident with your sterilising and sealing. The high vinegar and sugar content act as a preservative, preventing the growth of bacteria in the sterile jar.

1 litre/quart cider vinegar (I used malt vinegar)
220g (7.7 oz) sugar
½ cup of cooking water
1 small cinnamon stick (I didn't use that)
8 black peppercorns
4 small dried chillies
1 teaspoon mustard seeds

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan, bring to the boil, and pour it hot over the beetroot in the jars.

It's a very easy job to just slip the skins off with your fingers.  Don't worry, the red stain washes off.
Here are the beets I did last week, some sliced, some quartered, packed in sterile jars and ready for the hot spicy vinegar.
Four bags of blanched fresh beans, out of the garden and in the freezer within the hour. These will be very handy when the beans have finished for the season.

Other vegetables, like beans, silverbeet, spinach, peas and carrots, only need blanching to be stored in the freezer for eating later when the garden isn't producing as much. Always blanch; it slows the action of enzymes on the vegetables which can cause loss of flavour, colour and vitamins.

How to blanch vegetables.

There is no doubt about it, when you have a backyard patch, you need to learn about preserving food too, otherwise you'll end up wasting some of it. But if you do that, if you learn these few basic skills, you'll have a good supply of fresh and frozen food to keep you going. I know my north American friends would generally can beans, carrots and many other vegetables. Here we do it differently, here we have a longer growing period and we generally use fresh most of the year, supplemented by the frozen stores.

Don't forget that you can also use these skills on cheaply bought vegetables that you might find at the market or supermarket. If you have too much of any vegetable, think about the best way to store it for later. If you pickle or freeze it before it loses its freshness and you'll get the full value of your money. I think that once you get a taste for home pickling and you see how easy blanching and freezing are, there will be no going back.

11 November 2011

On my mind ...

This is a Friday photo feature that anyone with a blog can join. To take part, post a photo on your own blog, write a short caption explaining it, and link it back to here from your blog by saying you're part of "On my mind". Please write a new post, don't link to an older one. When you've done that, come back here and add a comment below, with a link to your blog.

Julie asked to see the yellow apron I made a few years ago so I've been trying to remember to show it. Of course, it's still being used frequently, still serving a purpose. Good luck with your sewing, Julie.

Hanno and I want to thank you for all the kind and wonderful comments and emails sent this week about the book. We're really excited about it and glad you are too. When I have anymore information about it I'll let you know. I hope you take time out over the weekend to relax and connect with your family and friends. Be kind to yourself. See you all next week.

10 November 2011

Meet the girls

This is Lucy.

We're down to seven chickens now. We have barred Plymouth Rock Lulubelle, buff Orphington Martha, Australorps Cocobelle and Gracie, Old English Game bird Lucy and her two little girls, Mary and Kylie, who give the most beautiful white shelled, golden yolked eggs. Lucy and her brood came to live with us when Shane and Sarndra moved from their rural homestead into the Gold Coast. Lucy had reared a batch of mismatched eggs and although she was smaller than most of her hatchlings, she bossed them around and generally had all the chooks doing exactly what she wanted. Lucy is the first on the feeder every morning. The other chooks know that, we know it too. We have one of those feeders that is closed most of the time and when the chook wants food, she stands and a little step, which drops down and opens the feeding hatch. We put a brick under the step at night to stop rats feeding in the dark. Lucy stands on the step while I remove the brick, she is lowered to the floor of the chook pen - it looks like she's on a stage - and she starts eating before I walk away. All the other chooks stand back and wait, although sometimes Lulubelle might poke her head in to the trough. When she does, Lucy will peck her.

Every Spring, like clockwork, Lucy goes broody, hides somewhere and lays a clutch of eggs.

We have deliberately chosen not to buy Isa Browns and the general run of the mill chooks on sale at produce stores. They're bred for the cage industry, they've had their broodiness bred out of them and generally they will lay eggs almost every day, deplete their systems and then drop dead when they're about seven or eight years old. I know there are a lot of people who don't think there is anything wrong with that. I am not one of them. I want my chooks to live healthy lives and to go broody as nature intended.  When chooks have that natural period of broodiness they stop laying eggs when they feel they have enough under them, and their body has a break from egg laying and replenishes calcium supplies. We have a few old girls now who lay only a few times a year and we're fine with that. We're not going to kill them just because they don't lay eggs. They still catch insects and produce valuable nitrogen droppings. And, like us, they have a right to life simple because they're alive.

Cocobelle, Gracie and Mary above, Lulubelle  and Gracie below.

We'll have to get a few new girls soon. My preference is for either Barnevelders or Wyandotts but whatever we end up with they will be one of the old breeds. Just about any chook would suit our climate and probably an egg laying breed as opposed to a meat breed would be good. But who knows, I have found that chickens have a way of finding their own way to you. I would never have thought that I would have had an Old English Game bird - originally bred for fighting, but we have Lucy and she is such a character, you can't help but love her.

Walking into the backyard and seeing the chickens free ranging over the grass is one of the absolute pleasures of living as we do. They're as much a part of the backyard as the garden is. They help us keep the garden going and the garden produces food to keep them going. The chooks entertain us and produce the best eggs and all we give back is food and a safe haven. I think that's a wonderful exchange.

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