So this is Christmas

24 December 2012


  This painting is attributed here to Carl Larsson. I'm not sure it is his work but I like it anyway.

Well, finally it is Christmas Eve. For some of us, tonight will be the start of Christmas - my sister Tricia and her family celebrate in the German tradition, on Christmas Eve. For others, we wait until tomorrow. Some attend church, some sleep in, some get up early to prepare the turkey so it will be ready for a midday feast. We'll be having a cold lunch here with our family on Boxing Day. Shane, Sarndra and Alex won't be here this year so we'll call them tomorrow and say hello.

I hope you have a lovely time with your family and friends and store up those memories of good times, Christmas pudding and laughter.

This year has been a really big one for us. We've had many highs during the year and too many lows with Hanno's health, which still isn't quite right. We have an appointment with a heart specialist in early January which should tell us more than we know now. He'll take it slow over the holidays and rest when he needs to. I'm going to have a short break from the blog to rest, write and think about the new year. 

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for visiting me throughout the year. If you've left comments, thank you for taking the time to connect. Hello to the followers and to everyone who has signed up as a member of the Down to Earth forum. There are over 10,000 of you now and it's become a wonderful place where people of like mind can meet, make friends, share their knowledge, be inspired and learn what they need to know about a wide range of simple living skills.

Wander on over to the forum during the holidays to download the free 2013 Home Journal, it will be downloadable at the end of the week. It features menu planning, basic recipes, decluttering, organisation, to do lists, a garden journal and a whole lot more.

A huge thanks to all the forum admins and moderators - Sue, Rose, Lisa, Lynn, Sherri, Becci, Corinne, Robyn, Amy, Alison, Meghan, Deanne, Sandy, Tania and Tessa. All these incredible women work as forum volunteers to keep everything operating smoothly, coming up with ideas to get members involved and generally supporting and encouraging those who are trying to change their lives for the better. They were the driving force behind the free D2E Journal. Thank you ladies. You all are a gift to me and to the forum. Thank you for all the hours you've put in and for the laughs we've had behind the scenes.

And to all my sponsors, Merry Christmas and thanks for the support during the year. Everything I feature on my blog is something I use or would use if I needed it. Often these small businesses have no other way to advertise so I am pleased to offer them space here. I hope you've been clicking on their buttons and buying from them if you need those products. I am still happily knitting away on the yarns I get from Eco Yarns, they're second to none.

Next year we will continue to work towards sustainable outcomes here in our home. I thought it would be a good idea, in addition to documenting our daily lives, to go over all the basic aspects of simple life again because I am ever changing, I'm sure you are too and it will be useful to talk about how we do what we do, and why.  If you have any questions you want answered, write an email and I'll slot them in as we progress through the months.

While I'm away from here, please browse through the archives. There is a lot of information there that may help you move towards a life change. When I have time, I'll repost some posts from the archives that I think might help you.  In the meantime, enjoy yourself over the holidays and appreciate the time you spend at home with family and friends. Relax, de-stress and make a plan for the coming year

If you've been a lurker during the year, please leave a comment now. When I have time over the holidays, I'll tour around your blogs and say hello.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!


Weekend reading

21 December 2012
The wonderful Maggie Beer

Paper cup garland lights

Homemade Christmas

Ted Trainer's transition

Australian heroes

This is a very cute tutorial - March of the Penguins at Craft Berry Bush

Computer freebies and fonts via Pinterest

Treats for chickens chart from Backyard Chickens

Wise Craft


Check out the Musings of MissFifi, there's a larder full of good food over there.

A wonderfully interesting blog at iliska dreams 

It's holiday time over at kleinemottresfotos

Thank you for visiting me during the week and a special thank you to everyone who took the time to comment. See you all on Monday - Christmas Eve!

The sandpit is officially open

20 December 2012

Just dropping in quickly to share this photo of Alex, the first visitor to the sandpit. Sarndra and Alex arrived yesterday afternoon for a quick visit and will be off home this morning. If I have time, I'll be back later, if not, I'll see you all tomorrow. I hope you have a lovely day.


What is the role of the homemaker in later years?

19 December 2012
An email came from a US reader, Abby, who asked about being a homemaker in later years. This is part of what she wrote:

"I am a stay-at-home mum to 4 children, ages 9-16. I do have a variety of "odd jobs" that I enjoy - I run a small "before-school" morning drop-off daycare from my home, I am a writing tutor, and I work a few hours a week at a local children's bookstore. But mostly, I cherish my blissful days at home - cooking, cleaning (with homemade cleaners), taking care of our children and chickens and goats, baking, meal-planning, etc. This "career" at home is not at all what I imagined during my ambitious years at university, but it is far more enriching. I notice, though, that my day is often planned around the needs of my family members. Of course, with 4 active kids and a husband, this is natural. I do the shopping, plan my meals, cook dinner - generally in anticipation of my family reconnecting in the evening. 

I can't help but wonder, though, whether this feeling of purposefulness and satisfaction might ebb after the children leave the nest. When I don't have hungry teenagers bursting through the door in the afternoon, or when I don't have to feed 6 people on a modest grocery budget - will I still feel the same sense of gratification? My own mum is 67, and she continues to work 3 days a week as an educational consultant. ...  My father is quite a bit older than she is, and he is starting to slow down a bit now ... 

I sometimes put myself in her place, and wonder about what life will be like for me when I reach that stage of life. Will I regret not having built more of a world for myself outside of the home? Will it seem too solitary, once the hustle and bustle of child-rearing is over? Though it is not pleasant to think of, what would it be like to live this life as a widow? You are such an inspiration to me, because you have clearly made this transition and it has been a very satisfying one for you. I would be so curious to see this topic discussed further, though. What is the role of the homemaker in the later years?"

Dear Abby,

We would not be human if we didn't have those "what if ..." days. Doubts make us think, and that is a good thing. Those feelings of purposefulness and satisfaction aren't felt only because you're looking after your children and pouring your heart and soul into it, they're there because of the life you're living and knowing what you're doing is worthwhile. You and your husband have formed a team so that you can all live a life full of purpose. That doesn't stop because the children grow up and leave home.

Homemakers have more than one stage of life. You've already gone through the baby and toddler stage as well as the small child stage, now you're moving into the stage where they are more independent and start to make their own decisions. Life goes on after they leave home and the satisfaction then comes developing your own interests, in seeing your children succeed in their work and maybe going on to form meaningful relationships and having their own children. You will not lose your purpose when the children leave. Your role changes, you move into the next stage.

While I was sad to see my boys go, it also gave me an enormous sense of satisfaction to see them out there functioning well on their own.  They remembered most of what we taught them, they transitioned from young men to adults and when they met their "girls", we were there to welcome them into our hearts and family. All the things you're teaching your children now is preparing them to leave you. And while that can be bitter-sweet it can also be liberating and enriching.

It will be at least ten years into the future when your last child might leave home. No one can tell what their life will be like next week, let alone in ten years. But I want you to know that your life isn't just about your children, your husband or your home. It also involves your community, your interests, your extended family and your friends. You are more than a parent, you're more than a wife, you're more than a daughter, you're more than all the single things you think you are. You're a complex mix of all of those parts and who knows what you're capable of. If someone had told me ten years ago that I'd be doing what I'm doing now, I would have thought them crazy. Life has a way of winding and twisting and no one can tell where it will go.

So what is the role of the homemaker in the later years? I think it is the time when you relax a bit. You sit back and see that what you've been doing in those first 20 or 25 years has been worthwhile and produced people who have moved into the wider community to be good citizens, to work hard and to play their part in the world, whatever that may be. You work on developing a new relationship with your husband that is more about the two of you. Maybe you travel a bit. Maybe you become a gardener or a mentor or a grandma. Who knows.

Just keep doing your best and enjoying what you do. Explore your interests, develop yourself, evolve, thrive, enjoy your friends and don't start dreading what might come later. I can only encourage you to become the best, most authentic you, you can be and hopefully, with that, you'll enjoy and appreciate whatever happens later in life.


Building a sandpit

18 December 2012
I am married to a wonderful man and I don't say it enough. I think it often but it's not the same. We make a very sound team and between the two of us, we can do just about anything we need to.  It's easy living with someone who knows what is right, and does it. It gives me strength to see him work doing daily chores and extra projects. It makes me feel secure when he gathers up the climbing frames from all over the garden, the ones that have held tomatoes, cucumbers and beans, then cleans them up to hang along the back garden fence, waiting until they're needed next year. Seeing that happen every year shows me that the garden will go on as ever, that there will be another season and we need to slowly prepare for it.

All along the fence, reinforcing steel from the climbing frames, recycled year after year, and now ready for next season.

But it's not only the practical and necessary he takes care of, he is the maker of gifts too. A few weeks ago I showed him a segment of the Better Homes and Gardens TV program, where there was a sandpit being made. He watched it a few times, going back and forward over particular bits, then he downloaded the plans and set to work on one for Jamie and Alex.

For the first week he worked steadily every day when he had time for it. Slowly it came together and then we planned the colours and where it would sit.

And then it was finished and just had to be moved to its place in the garden. The sandpit has two bench seats that the boys can sit on and when it's not in use, the seats fold over and cover the sandpit entirely. No cats! Just clean sand all the time. A market umbrella provides shade. The black weed mat keeps the sand in while allowing rain to drain away. It's such a good idea.

Moving it was definitely a two man job. We had to wait a few days for Jens to come over to help move it into the garden.

And then it was in place. Now to attach the top and fill the pit with sand from the landscaper.

Jens took over and filled the sand pit. It's a fine thing to have strong sons who have a work ethic that matches their father's.

So now we just have to wait for two little boys called Alex and Jamie to come along and have fun in there. I love how sandpits help stimulate creative play. There are no directions, no packaging, no right way, just some buckets, little spades and time. That's all that's needed. Thanks Opa!

The pattern and directions for making the sandpit are here.


Preparing for Christmas - week 4

17 December 2012

Next Monday is Christmas Eve so this is the final week to organise ourselves enough so that we enjoy the festivities as much as the rest of the family. We're having our family lunch on Boxing Day and we'll have eight adults and two toddlers here. The menu is:

  • Homemade guacamole with corn chips
  • Yoghurt cheese with homemade chilli jam and crackers
  • Leg of ham
  • Cold roast chicken
  • Potato salad
  • Garden salad
  • Homemade beetroot and kimchee
  • Tropical fruit pavlova - homemade pav using six egg whites, local fruit
  • Homemade vanilla ice cream using the six egg yolks
  • Homemade ginger beer
  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Chocolate truffles
  • After dinner mints
  • Home roasted cashews and macadamias
I've just made the yoghurt for the cheese, the chilli jam is in the fridge.
Ginger beer is on the go.
Will make the dip after breakfast on the day.
Roast the chickens the day before so the house stays cool.

I have my eye on IGA's KR leg ham which starts a week-long sale tomorrow. I'll go shopping on Wednesday, when I get a 5% seniors' discount and 5% discount for using my swipe card, and pick up the ham, a pork leg roast, free range chickens and some fresh salad.

I'll start making ice in the chest freezer tomorrow so we'll have plenty of ice. On Thursday I'll prepare the guest rooms and do a big cleanup, then I'll be right until I cook the chickens on Christmas day.

What's on your list this week? I hope you've been able to get yourself organised and on track for the festivities.

Don't forget to check the threads on the forum today. There are a lot of Christmas threads over there now so if you're looking for ideas and motivation, that is the place to go.


EcoStore fragrance free

16 December 2012
As many of you know I am bombarded with requests for product reviews that I refuse. I've been fortunate to have been sponsored by EcoStore during the year. I use their dish liquid exclusively now and I'm more than happy to keep using it and to recommend it.  They're wonderful sponsors, they send me laundry liquid and they don't hassle me. I don't push their products but when anyone asks me what I use to wash my dishes, I'm happy to tell them I use EcoStore dish liquid. A few months ago they asked me to try their new fragrance-free line of products. I said I would and asked if they could send three packs so Sarndra and Sunny could test it out on their families too. Both have toddlers and my son Kerry has sensitive skin.

It took a while for each of us to use our products because we were all mid-cycle with our other products. I'm not sure what Sarndra and Sunny use but I was using homemade laundry liquid and my four ingredient castile soap - for showering, handwashing and hair washing. I started with the handwash. We always use soap to wash our hands but with Hanno's accident in late August, it was impossible for him to use soap. The hand wash worked very well for him. I'd been unimpressed with hand wash liquids used in the past but I loved the EcoStore one. It really does leave your hands feeling nourished and clean. The laundry liquid cleans as well as my homemade liquid and even removes stains if you rub some directly onto the stain, leave it for a while then add it to the normal wash. Their regular powder works well too but I prefer to use the liquid as you can use it for more types of cleaning. For example, I used it to clean down a door that I noticed had the beginnings of mould growing on it, from the floor up.

Sunny was happy with every product and used it all on Jamie who had no adverse affects. Kerry told me he used the body wash and hand wash and thought they were great - no flare ups on his skin. He said he will use it in the future.

Sarndra emailed the following:
"We are very happy with the EcoStore products we have been using. It is very important to both my husband and myself that we minimise chemical use in the house, especially those that come in direct contact with our skin and most importantly our son's.

The EcoStore Ultra Sensitive range tick all the boxes for us; containing no harmful ingredients, being cruelty free (very important to us also), are kind to our skin and clothes; but perhaps most importantly, do their job. I love the hand wash, it doesnt dry my skin out like other soaps and hand washes do. The body wash is lovely too, with no over powering perfume as other body washes have. I have also tried the laundry detergent, laundry powder and laundry soaker. All wash our clothes and remove stains well. I am very happy with our laundry results.

Another added bonus to the EcoStore range is that it is made by a certified CarbonZero manufacturer, who aim to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or carbon footprint with the highest level of credibility and integrity. Thank you for these wonderful products that we can feel good about buying and using."

As most of you know I don't like fragranced products and these had no hint of any perfume at all, they were mild and gentle on my skin. My favourite product of the lot was the hand wash and I'll use that again, but all of them worked well. When I did my last review of EcoStore products my criticism then was that they were too expensive. I just did a check with the Woolworths online store and all the EcoStore products are now within an affordable range. The shampoo was more expensive than the regular shampoos but was definitely not the most expensive. The 500ml dish liquid is on special at Woolworths now for $2.99.

I will continue to make my own soap and laundry products but in those times when I need to buy them, EcoStore will be the product I buy. I've just been looking at their website and noticed they recently won the Home section of the Green Lifestyle Awards. I'm pleased there is a range of products that we can all use, made by a company who don't use any harsh chemicals, and who freely show their ingredients list. I wish every company had a similar policy.  

I am happy to recommend EcoStore to you.

Down to Earth eBook is published today

15 December 2012
The Down to Earth eBook is being released by Penguin today. Yipee! I had a few sample pages emailed to me last week and I'm really pleased to tell you that they've retained the beautiful look of the print book. That's quite a feat because formatting illustrated books with a lot of photos can be quite a difficult process.  But they're done it and if you've been waiting for the eBook, you can buy it today. It will be sold for $19.95 (although Amazon has it listed for slightly over $20) and is available in Australia only, initially through Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, Google, Readcloud and

If you have an ipad, tablet or a Kindle you know to just go to the appropriate retailer and download the book. However, even if you don't have one of those devices, you can also read it on your computer. I'm still not absolutely clear about the software to read eBooks so I asked my publisher for her advice and she sent this information from the eBook guru.

"[your eBook is] good for all devices – so it can be bought through Amazon (for Kindle), iTunes (for ipad, iphone etc), Kobo, Google, Readcloud and – or indeed from

And if you want to read on a desktop and you download from us then we recommend downloading Adobe Digital Editions – which is free – there’s instructions on our website. and Google have a browser that opens when you download the ebook – so it depends where you buy it from is the real answer – I think all Rhonda needs to do is direct people to the retailers and the rest will take care of itself…"
I just checked iTunes and Penguin and it's not available yet but it's ready to go on Amazon.

There is some information here about downloading the software to read Kindle books on a PC or Mac. I downloaded the Kindle software yesterday and I was up and running with my own Kindle library within minutes. I also downloaded Adobe Digital Editions and it was simple and fast. I've not yet read the book here on my computer but I hope to download from the Penguin site soon and read it on Adobe Digital Editions.

I don't usually recommend you get things you don't need, and software is the same. However, there are quite a few free eBooks available to download and if you have Digital Editions or the Kindle software installed on your computer, you can download and read them.

Free eBooks: The Gutenberg Project - many of the classics
For pre-schoolers and younger children
More free eBooks for adults

And if you do buy my book, I hope you enjoy it and I thank you for your support. :- )


Weekend reading

14 December 2012

Homemakers come into their own at Christmas

13 December 2012
Not many women grow up knowing their career of choice will be that of a homemaker. Most Western education is steered towards the commercial world but it is not until we start that type of work that we realise that our time might be better spent doing for ourselves and our family at home, actively saving the money brought into the home by the breadwinner and having time to raise children. Of course, it's not a choice for all of us. Many women have to work to make ends meet and some women work because they want to build a career or like the stimulation of the business world. But it seems to me that whether you stay at home and work, or go out to work, there are unwanted opinions and judgements being made about your choice. There is guilt involved too. The homemakers sometimes feel guilty for not bringing in a wage and the wage earners sometimes feel guilty about putting their children in day care.

I am happy to be living in a democratic country where free choice, within the confines of the law, is taken for granted. The last time I looked, free choice was not immoral or even unfashionable. Why then do so many people feel they should make their opinion known even when it's not been asked for. If the person making the comment is not in your family, it is not their business what you do with your life. We have to stop this silly petty behaviour and support each other, even when the choice made by someone we know is not what we would do. Giving out support and encouragement is much better for the soul than constant criticism and disguised hatred - that will make you crack around the edges.

Homemakers come into their own at this time of year. Even advertising changes from featuring career women in spiky shoes and men in sharp suits to gingham enhanced homemakers decorating the Christmas tree with eager, perfect children. TV news reports the shopping crowds are swelling and how much of a work out the plastic is getting. But we homemakers are at home knitting, crocheting, sewing, polishing, creating, cooking, baking and wrapping a huge variety of beautiful and soon-to-be-appreciated gifts that have nothing to do with shopping malls or cheap 'stocking fillers'.

We've changed.

We know that the spirit of the season has nothing to do with how much we spend, how big the tree is or how many bottles of Christmas cheer we can afford to provide. It more about gathering the family around, spending time together and appreciating each other. That is what Christmas is about for me - it's looking back and looking forward and knowing that our family is safe, sound and supportive of each other.

So as we glide slowly towards Christmas day, I hope you're not falling for the hype or stressing yourself out. Remember, this is not a competition or a race. This is the time for showing the love as well as feeling it. Take things slow, remember your small steps and be kind to yourself.


Dear 2012

12 December 2012

Dear 2012 

I'm writing to you on 12.12.12 because some people think there are magical qualities attached to the date, and although I'm very skeptical, there is no harm in playing it safe. I've been meaning to write for some time to tell you how wonderful you've been and that I've thoroughly enjoyed our time together these past twelve months. I knew I was in for the ride of my life with my book launch in February but when I saw my 11 page itinerary there was a deer-in-the-headlights mix of apprehension, excitement, anxiety and "who me!?!" I didn't know then that I'd enjoy every minute of it.

It gave us the opportunity to travel around Victoria and New South Wales, having a little holiday of sorts, while signing books and meeting many interesting people from the online world. I was amazed that so many turned up to meet us. It was a wonderful surprise and I will remember those two weeks with much fondness for many years. When the book was released I wondered how well it would sell, if at all, but even now, as you're drawing to a close, it's still doing well and the ebook version is about to be released. It's astonishing. You pulled the rug from under me when we came home again. I was expecting to rest and relax but there were so many requests for interviews that we kept on moving and remained busy for months. We still are and I appreciate you continuing to shower me with various opportunities. 

I decided to stop public appearances in September and sure enough, The Real Food Festival was my last. That was good timing because you shook us up in late August when Hanno had a bad accident with a chain saw and nearly cut off his hand. That brought my time at the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre to an end because Hanno needed me at home. I said goodbye to my voluntary and committee work and retuned to my home once again.

I am currently testing cheese recipes in my kitchen. Who would have thought that I would be doing that at this age? I see it as part of the magic you've weaved into my life this year. I am doing things now I never dreamed about. I love waking up every morning knowing that here in my home my days are filled to the brim with work that keeps me interested in life. But I am getting older so I took a bit of time recently to think about the coming years. I have decided to keep writing for the next two years, to try to build up a little nest egg for Hanno and me, to get a few things fixed in our home - retiling the bathrooms and the front and back verandahs, and then I'll start taking it easy. Who knows we might even go on a driving holiday through southern Australia.

In the meantime, I'll write my blog and continue on with the forum. Penguin want me to write more for them, I'm releasing an eBook in America next year and while that will probably fill in the next two years, it will require a bit of juggling. I still love my blog, I can't give it up, but it might not be written as often as it is now. The local Council has asked me to do a series of talks in the libraries and my friend Ernie and I will be starting up our blogging workshops very soon. I wonder if we will fit it all in. I'm still a sucker for new ventures, I doubt that will ever change.

Thank you for giving me the time to grow closer to my family and grandsons. We've watched them grow from tiny babies to little boys running around and starting to talk. I love being a grandma and I thank Shane, Sarndra, Kerry and Sunny for giving us two of the most beautiful boys to love and care for. When they were born in 2011, I didn't think life could get much better, but you improved with every passing month. I know I live a charmed life. I look around and see others who don't have what we have, who have no home or family and no one to love and I wonder why I'm so blessed. I wish I knew because if I could give away some of what it is, I would do it in an instant and be grateful for the chance.

Thank you for being so good to me during our time together and for keeping my family safe. Oh, and if the world ends today even though I'd think you were a party-pooper, I think we made a great team.

Yours in appreciation,
Rhonda xx

PS: when are you thinking of ending? We're already four hours into the twelfth so will it be 12.12pm or is this another one of those things that magazines use to fill up space? I hope it is because I think many people in the world are working towards living more sustainably and I would like to know that Jamie and Alex and all the other boys and girls will have the chance to grow up and make a mark on the world. If you've decided to not throw in the towel, let your neighbours, 2013 and beyond, know that we'll be working with them, not against them this time.


Setting the table

11 December 2012
Food is part of many of our family celebrations. When you think about Christmas lunches and dinners, Thanksgiving dinners, as well as birthday celebrations, Christenings, wakes and weddings breakfasts, food is eagerly brought into all those milestone events that bring extended families and friends together. But food is much more than part of a celebration, food is part of ordinary life and something that every one of us deals with every day of our lives.

Meal times are so entrenched in our daily lives, they're used to break up the day. We have breakfast soon after we wake up, lunch in the middle of the working day and dinner, tea or supper at the end of the day. As homemakers, our lives are partially driven by growing, shopping for and cooking food. If you go out to work, it's usually a quick breakfast, packed lunches and a planned meal when everyone returns home. Either way, food divides up the day and everyone deals with it.

It makes sense to me to use the day's main meal to come together as a family. Bringing everyone to the table to talk and listen, while enjoying a good meal, reminds us all that we're part of our family. Sitting down together teaches young children that it's important to stop everything, sit down and reconnect. Meal times can teach young children how to be part of their family. Young couples can talk about the day's activities over dinner and feel the absolute pleasure of being together again. Older couples feel that connection too. Here in our home, every day, the table is set with a tablecloth, cutlery, plates and glasses. Often fresh flowers and candles are set out beside the water jug or tea pot. Setting the table sets the stage for the meal; preparing for the meal makes it special.

Meal times are a significant part of family life, particularly the meal when everyone sits down together. It's important to keep the tradition of setting the table going. Setting the family table every day is a good job for young children and will bring them gently into doing their share of productive work for their own family. If you start young, and children grow up working alongside older members of the family, it gives them self confidence and a sense of pride, it makes them feel like an important part of the team. It gives you the chance to work closely with your children too. You can show them how it's done, explain the concepts of left and right and discuss the meal that will follow and why different meals need different knives, fork and spoons.

I have had the benefit of seeing many children grow from babies to adults and it is those who were expected to do age-appropriate work in their family homes when they were young, and grew up helping and being a part of their family and its work, who generally developed a good work ethic and became confident adults. Setting expectations for children to help when they're young makes it easier for them when they're older. 

And it can all start by placing knives, forks and glasses on a clean tablecloth every day. If we remember that sitting down to eat together is important, and encourage the younger members of the family to be part of the preparation, it is a gentle introduction to work for them. Almost all of us will spend many of our life hours working, either for pay or for love. Starting that work with setting the table is ideal. It's slow and easy work. It contributes to running the family unit successfully and it gives a sense of being a real part of the family.

Small steps. Always.


Preparing for Christmas - week 3 and eBooks

10 December 2012

This year's garden is almost gone.

It's been a very busy month for me because I'm trying to get some writing work finished before Christmas. Add to that some family happenings, a little repotting in the bush house and my home chores and you'll understand there has not been a lot of spare time. I'm sure you're in the same situation - December is a busy time for most of us. And that's okay because usually, we can balance that busyness with the relaxation and peacefulness of January. Here that means sitting with my feet up, watching the cricket or knitting and enjoying cold drinks with clinking ice cubes. Then, all the work done in December is forgotten, life springs back into perspective and I get my head ready for the new year.

Best friends, Fiona and Mary, sharing an apartment as they brood and yearn for chicks.

Penguin is releasing the Down to Earth ebook at the end of this week. It's for Australian release only and will be sold though Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, Google, Readcloud and I believe the price will be $19.95. To co-incide with the release of the Penguin eBook, I've written another eBook called The Down to Earth Home Dairy which is written for home cooks with little experience with dairy other than drinking milk. It contains several recipes for making cheese - hard cheese, camembert, ricotta and a soft meltable cheese, similar to Kraft slices, but without the preservatives. It also contains what I know about making and storing yoghurt, how to make sour cream, buttermilk, pouring custard, baked custard, delicious milky puddings, butter, homemade condensed milk and vanilla ice-cream using the condensed milk. I have tried to present recipes that can often be made with what's already in the kitchen and although there are some special requirements, such as starters and rennet, I have included links to reliable places you can buy these from. You don't have to buy a cheese press. I have priced The Down to Earth Home Dairy eBook at four dollars. It is available for international release later this month and will be sold from my blog.

The lace cap hydrangeas flowered just in time for Christmas.

So, this is the third week of Christmas preparations to avoid a last minute scramble. I have to report that I didn't get around to wrapping gifts last week so that's on my list again this week. I'll also be:
  • working out which glasses we'll be using for our Christmas lunch, then washing them.
  • polishing the silver cutlery. I know this sounds posh and very unlike me but I have some very old cutlery that I like using and some of it needs polishing and washing to look its best.
  • I haven't made a Christmas cake this year but if you've made a fruit cake, don't forget to keep pouring brandy or sherry over it. There is a thread at the forum full of Christmas cake recipes and encouragement.
  • I know that I have enough homemade relish and pickles for our cold Christmas lunch buffet but I'll be making kimchee for a very special Korean lady. ;- ) If you want to add relish, chutney or pickles to your menu, you still have time to make them.
  • start ginger beer from scratch. If I start that this week it should be nicely fermented in time for Christmas.
What's on your list this week?

Don't forget to check the threads on the forum today. The mods are working with me on this and they have started many excellent threads over there full of Christmas prep ideas.


Weekend reading

7 December 2012
Thank you all for your visits and comments this week. I'm running so far behind answering emails and comments I'm not sure I'll get to them. My problem is that I don't want to spend a lot of time writing about living my life, I'd rather be out there doing it. There are so many things to do at the moment, I'm sure we're all in the same situation, so thank you for understanding.

Homeless deaths in Totnes

The delusion of growth

Fear is not a lifestyle choice

A very good article on saving vegetable seeds - Mother Earth

Are homemade Christmas presents always better?

Braised neck of lamb with apricots - from Nigel

What to do with your old Christmas cards - Dutch Sisters

Amazing montages of old and new photos of the same place - Spitalfields Life


Lone Pine Farm - if you love horses as I do, have a look at the beautiful John Boy. Scroll down to see the rescue animals

Make Sew Bake Grow - Christmas prep and scroll down for wanting less money

Rabidlittlehippy - getting ready to move to the country

Better late than never

6 December 2012
My post is late today because we've just returned from the Gold Coast. We had a call from Kerry late yesterday to tell us that Jamie was on his way to hospital after having a convulsion. He wanted us there with them. We were just about to eat dinner but jumped in the car and took off. Luckily, by the time we got there, everything had settled down and Jamie came out of hospital around 9pm. We stayed down there overnight because Kerry had to fly off to work today and we wanted to take Sunny and Jamie to his own doctor to make sure everything was okay. It is. After a delicious Sunny-cooked lunch of fish and salad, we drove back, pleased we made it through a family crisis with smiles.

Luckily, I'd already written my post and just had to add the photos.

I wanted to share to beautiful gifts with you that I received recently. The first is a book given to me by one of our recent German visitors - Sasha. I had never met Sasha before but I met his mother Dagma when we lived in Hamburg in 1979 and 1980. The book is called Grandma's German Cookbook and it's filled with the most brilliant receipes for everyday German home cooking - all the things Hanno loves. Hanno's mother died shortly after we came home in the early 1980s but she did teach me how to cook kartoffel puffer, lentil soup and a few other family favourites.  This book will help me add a lot more German cuisine to our winters.

It's full of good soup recipes, as well as main meals, cakes and desserts. Just the kind of cookbook I enjoy reading. If you're interested in good hearty food, this is the book for you. It's available from these retailers.

The eBook version of Down to Earth - a guide to simple living will be published by Penguin and will be available in Australia and New Zealand next week on the 15 December. I'll have more details for you soon.

The other gift I received was this beautiful embroidery of a Carl Larsson painting. It was sent by Gerri, a long-term reader in France. I love it so much! Gerri said it's been hanging in her kitchen for many years and she wanted it to go to someone who would appreciate it. And that would be me. :- ) The stitching is done on the softest linen and every time I see it I want to touch it. 

Gerri stitched it herself and from the look of it, it must have taken a very long time. I'll be having it framed soon and will then hang it on our wall here, many miles away from where it originated. Thank you again Gerri!


Preserving food in a traditional way - pickling beetroot

5 December 2012
I've had a number of emails from readers who want to start preserving food in jars but don't know where to start or what equipment to buy.  Leading on from yesterday's post, let's just say up front - don't buy any equipment. Once you know what you're doing and that you enjoy preserving, then you can decide whether or not to buy extra equipment.

Food is preserved effectively without refrigeration by a variety of different methods. A few of the traditional methods are drying, fermentation, smoking, salting or by adding vinegar and sugar to the food - pickling. This last method is what we're talking about today. Vinegar and sugar are natural preservatives and adding one or both to food sets up an environment that bacteria and yeasts can't grow in. If you make the vinegar and sugar mix palatable, you can put up jars of vegetables or fruit that enhance the flavour of the food and can be stored in a cupboard or fridge for months.

Other traditional ways of preserving food in jars are to make jam, chutney, relish and sauce. It works because you add sugar, in the case of jam, or sugar and vinegar for chutney, relish and sauce, then boil the food to remove the moisture and to kill off the bugs. These foods are then placed in sterile containers and can be stored for months without further processing because you've created an environment in which bacteria and yeasts can't grow.

You will need a large stockpot or saucepan, some wide-mouthed jars with metal lids of the size to fit what you're going to preserve. If you have tongs or jar lifters, that's great, if not, we'll get around it.

This type of pickling has three stages:
  1. sterilising the jars and utensils you'll use to transfer the ingredients to the jars
  2. preparing the food
  3. preparing the pickling liquid
I pickled some beetroot last week so we'll use that as our teacher. This beetroot should have been picked at least a month before but it stayed in the ground until I was ready. It was badly sunburnt on the top, but beetroot is very forgiving and as long as you cook it well and make a tasty pickling liquid, you'll come out of it with excellent pickled beetroot. Of all the pickles I make, pickled beetroot and tomato relish are the two that most of the visitors who eat here compliment me on. And they're the most simple things to make.

Sterilising the jars
The jars must be cleaned thoroughly before sterilising. It's no good sterilising a jar that has a smear of jam or relish in it. Get yourself a good bottle brush (and that will be another post soon - cleaning brushes) and with warm soapy water, clean the jars and lids. Many people use their dishwashers to sterilise jars and if that is what you wish to do, go for it. I use the sink and elbow grease. Both ways work.

When the jars and lids are completely clean, put them in a large saucepan full of COLD water, with the lids and utensils, and boil for 10 minutes. OR, place the clean jars, lids and utensils in a low oven (preheated), about 150C, and keep them in there for about 15 minutes. Remember to keep your jars warm and to always add hot/warm food to hot/warm jars. Adding anything to a cold jar is likely to crack it.

Prepare the beetroot
To prepare the beetroot, just cut off the leaves and clean up any blemishes. Even if they're sunburnt like mine, don't worry, when they're skinned, they'll look fine.  Don't peel them at this stage and don't cut into the beets because the juice will bleed out into the water.

Place the cleaned up beetroot into a saucepan full of lightly salted water, just covering the beets, bring to the boil and boil slowly for 20 to 30 minutes. The time will depend on how big the beets are and how old they are. 

While the beetroot is cooking, prepare the pickling liquid
You'll need to make enough liquid to completely cover the beetroot so if you have a large amount of beetroot, you might have to double the quantity.

Into a small saucepan place: 
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups vinegar - use good vinegar, not cleaning vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • ½ teaspoon cracked pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of mixed spices - I mixed up a combo of celery seeds and mustard seeds and used two teaspoons of the mix. If you don't have these, leave them out.
Bring this mixture to the boil and simmer it for two minutes. Taste the pickling liquid and make sure it's to your taste, you can still modify it at this point.

When the beetroot is cooked, and you can test that by inserting a sharp knife into a couple of them, pour off the water and let the beets cool down a little - just enough for your to handle them. Then, with clean hands, slip the skins off. It's easy to do. You'll end up with shiny, smooth beetroot, ready to slice or cut. You can see in the photo above that the lighter coloured beetroot has been skinned.

You want everything to be warm to hot - the jars, the beetroot and the pickling liquid. Get your sterilised jar/s and cut the beetroot into the jar. When it's full, pour over the hot pickling liquid. Seal the jars immediately and let them sit on the kitchen bench until the next day. Then store either in the cupboard or fridge. When you open the jars for the first time, store them in the fridge after that. They'll be at their best after a couple of weeks maturing in the jar and before about three months.


Know what you can do, and do it well

4 December 2012
I was talking to a woman the other day who told me she always bought cakes and biscuits because she didn't have an electric mixer and couldn't afford one. I asked her if she made scones, banana bread or nut loaves - all of which don't need a mixer. She told me that she thought everything needed a good mixing. I have no doubt there are many people who can't afford mixers but who would easily just carry on doing what they can with what they had. It doesn't make sense to me to do anything else. Later in the day I emailed her these three recipes.

You don't need a mixer to make very good scones, pikelets, pancakes, banana bread, date loaf or the heavier biscuits like Anzacs or oatmeal cookies. And you can make a most cakes if you apply enough elbow grease and mix by hand with a whisk or wooden spoon.

One of the challenges for me when I came back to my home was to work out what I could do. I wanted to do everything to make up for all the nothings I'd done in the previous years. In the end, the challenge turned out to be not only to know what I could do but to know what I could do with what I had. I didn't want to buy anything extra. I wanted to make do with what we had here because from where I stood, it was more than enough.

If you're reading this you have access to the internet - the world's largest resource for finding information, including recipes that don't require too much mixing. If you don't have a mixer, accept that and learn what recipes you can make with what you have, be that a wooden spoon, a hand beater or whatever. You might not be able to make a sponge cake but if you can make the best date scones or walnut loaf your family has tasted, who cares about the sponge!

  • 1 cup of chopped and pitted dates
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 80 grams butter
  • a drizzle of vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon bicarb
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1½ cups SR flour or plain/all purpose flour with 1½ teaspoons baking powder added
Add the dates, walnuts, sugar, butter, vanilla and bicarb to a large bowl and pour the boiling water over the ingredients. It will fizz a bit because of the bicarb. Mix it all together thoroughly with a wooden spoon, making sure the butter has melted during the mixing process.

Add the flour and mix thoroughly.

Pour the batter into a greased and papered baking tin - I use a rectangle tray, and bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F until you can smell the aroma and a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

You don't have to be too exact with your measurements for scones, close enough is good enough.
  • 2 cups SR flour or plain four with 2 teaspoons baking powder added
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • ½ cup finely chopped dates or sultanas
  • pinch of salt
  • 60g cold butter 
  • ¾ cup buttermilk or plain milk if that's what you have
You need a hot oven to cook scones. Turn on the oven before you make the scones - about 200 - 220C (395 - 430F).

  1. Sift flour, sugar and salt into a bowl. Add the butter and using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. 
  2. Add the dates or sultanas.
  3. Add buttermilk and with a bread knife, stir until the dough forms and all the dry flour has been mixed in. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead gently until just smooth, no more than 15 seconds should do it.
  4. With your fingers and palm of your hand, press the dough down to about 1½ inches/3cm in height. Then cut each scone with a scone cutter or a wine glass.
  5. Place scones, just touching, on a tray. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden.

  • 1 cup SR flour or plain four with 1 teaspoon baking powder added
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¾ - 1 cup  milk
  • 1 egg
  • 20 grams butter, melted
These will be cooked on the stove top in a frying pan.
  1. Sift flour, sugar and salt together into a bowl.
  2. Mix the milk, egg and melted butter together, then add to dry ingredients, whisking until smooth.
  3. Heat a non-stick frypan over medium heat and brush with a little melted butter. 
  4. Drop level tablespoonfuls of the mixture into the pan and cook for half a minute or until bubbles appear on the surface.
  5. Turn over and cook the other side for one minute or until golden.
Serve warm with butter, or cold with jam and cream. You can add grated apple and cinnamon to the batter to make a delicious variation.

You can keep the batter in the fridge till the next day if you only want to make half a batch each day.