30 April 2012

Finding your value at home - Part 1

Last week I received an email from Joannie who said: "After listening to you on the radio and checking out your blog I then bought your book and as a result my family has named me the domestic godess!. Why? I have created a stockpile of groceries, made my own soap, baked my own sourdough bread, made muffins and slices instead of buying pre-packaged snacks, I have made my own cleaners and as of this afternoon I preserved my first ever jar of capsicums in fact that was my first preserved anything! ...  Another amazing positive has come out of this…..we have cut our grocery bill in half!!!!!! WOW truly something I never thought possible as I didn’t think I wasted money and always tried to buy things on sale, this demonstes the benefits of buying in bulk.

"The feeling this has given me is indescribable, I have always struggled with not being in the paid work force but being able to provide for my family and learning to live simply has given me empowerment, I can finally say, I am now so proud of what I do. My children are learning to make cleaners and preserve goods, bake from scratch and have a simple eye and ask themselves can we live without that? My daughter took it upon herself to make a lemon slice from scratch and take it to elderly neighbors and friends, my 12 year old son made his own bread and I overheard him reciting recipes to his 26 year old aunt who can’t yet cook. These small things make me proud of my job as I have two gorgeous offspring who are learning skills for life."

That is the kind of empowerment I hoped to relay through the pages of my book and I'm so pleased it reached out to at least one family.We've all heard the stories of friends and neighbours being unkind when they know a former paid worker has decided to stay at home to manage the home. That negativity can transfer to the new homemaker and be a small seed of self-doubt that can build into something destructive.

When I first started working in my home as a homemaker, after many years of being in the workforce, I felt no shame or that I was doing less than I should be doing. I'm intelligent, I have a degree, I've been successful in several areas and I knew when I came home, I'd made the right choice for me. None of my friends questioned my decision - they either understood I had decided to change for my own reasons or they realised that criticism would flow off me like water off a duck's back. For whatever reason, I heard nothing. However, I couldn't find any other women who were doing what I was doing and being satisfied by it.

During those first weeks, I wasn't sure what to expect. Either from myself, my home or from my own emotions. I knew this was where I wanted to be and I hoped I would enjoy being here. What I didn't expect was to feel powerful and more alive than I'd felt in years. To know that I could structure my day however I wanted it to be after years of fitting into a commercial environment and working to deadlines, well, that alone made me believe I could fly. I didn't have to do anything, and yet I wanted to do everything. There were so many possibilities in front of me! I felt like I'd really found my home. Over the months that followed, I taught myself as much as I could. I read about cleaning, brushes, microfibre, chemicals, preserving, nourishment, making cheese and bread, home maintenance, productive organic gardens and many other things. The more I read, the more I remembered from my upbringing when my grandma washed her dishes at a stone sink and my mother boiled sheets in a copper boiler. We are not so far from that past time; it happened in my lifetime in Sydney. Life has changed so fast.

It made me realise I had a rich heritage, not in money and possessions, but in how to build a strong family and how to look after them well. I came from a family of hard workers, prime homemaking stock, and that made me really proud. When my friends asked what I was doing, I proudly told them I'd made a new kind of bread or sewn some baby clothes or bought more chickens. I was doing important work and I wanted everyone to know it. This was not anything to feel ashamed of and I was not going to keep quiet about it. I searched for an Australian book on the subject and couldn't find any, so I wrote my own book. I felt that if others didn't know about the beauty that is lurking in every home, they should be made aware of it. I kept hearing that women who chose homemaking as a career were downtrodden and miserable but I had lived on both sides of the working track and I knew that working in my home opened up possibilities for me, it was my liberator. I wasn't disadvantaged and powerless at home, I was thriving.

What I had found was a way to bypass going to work to earn money by using the money we had available in a more sensible way. If I made my own products, not only did I have better quality, they were healthier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly. By working in my home I had the time to shop for bargains and to use everything I had to it's full value. By working at home as if it were my career, I'd opened up a different kind of future for myself - one where I felt valued and creative and where anything was possible.

When I looked around to assess after my first year at home I realised I was doing meaningful work, I was making a difference and the home where I used to rush in and out of had become a comfortable oasis in a sea of outside craziness. I read about women criticising other women for staying at home - bored housewives sitting in front of the computer or TV all day with nothing to do - none of that came close to what was actually happening in my home. I'm not sure why women criticise other women. Working life can be difficult for all of us and it's not right to attack others to make yourself feel better. That kind of behaviour is new to me. We didn't do that to each other when I was much younger. Back then, at least where I lived, other women were seen as friends, not competitors. We respected each other and the decisions we made.

This post is getting to be a long one and I still have a lot on my mind, so I'll continue this tomorrow when I talk about making that transition from work to home and self reliance. I know there are a lot of women and men out there that struggle with this. I successfully made that transition and I'm glad I did. I am happier now than I've ever been. Find out why tomorrow.


27 April 2012

Weekend reading

Coming back to knitting - "To think of ourselves as makers, rather than just consumers, is the first part of refusing to accept everything in our culture as obvious and inevitable."

Great leadership -  TED on You Tube

Fresh ricotta in five minutes.

I found this blog, Lovely Greens, recently and have been charmed by it. This lady is a bee keeper and gardener.

Outback Tania has been very busy.  Check out what she's up to.

Jenni at A Cheerful Living Adventure has some delightful Topics, including one called Tea and Cake. I found Herman there. :- )


Hello all, I just wanted to remind everyone that the swap is now over and everyone should be busy getting those apron parcels in the mail. I know that some of you have had life's little mishaps and adventures slow you down a bit, but hopefully you have kept your swap buddy informed and she knows you will be a bit late.(like finishing this weekend lol) but try to get your apron in the mail by early next week. As you all know we often show case the photos of the work you have done on the blog, but this swap we are moving the photos to a thread on the down to earh forum. If you are not a memberyet, do stop by and sign up as it has the most friendly and wonderful people on it! To sign up just click on the button at the top of this blog and join in the fun-it is free and has an incredible amount of info for you on so many different facets of living more mindfully and slowly. You will be able to post your photos there easily and look at everyone else's too- which is ever so much fun. 

 Would Pauline paulinexyz(at)hotmail(dot)co(dot)uk please e mail me- cdetroyes(at)yahoo(dot)com or your swap buddy as she has your apron ready but no address to send it to. Hugs Sharon

26 April 2012

Renate Kirkpatrick workshop

The very talented Renata Kirkpatrick will be at the Maleny Neighbourhood Centre next Tuesday, 12.30 - 2.30 pm,  for Crafternoon. Renate will be showing us how to make the incredible creations she is well known for. Here is Renata's blog and her great tutorial on the granny square.

If you're a crochet beginner or if you've been crocheting for years, Renate will have something for you. Our Crafternoon is free and we serve homemade cake with our cuppas. You're all welcome to come along. Please let me know in the comments if you can make it. 

Food production in the backyard

The last part of my home review this week is the vegetable garden. The garden is one of four elements that we deal with to put food on the table every day. Those four elements are the vegetable garden, food shopping, food storage and food preparation. They work together, equally important and supportive of the end goal - feeding the family. We start planting our garden in March, it grows slowly at first, always dependent on the weather and what insects are around, and reaches full production around the end of May. As we harvest, Hanno plants more in those empty spaces. What we don't eat fresh is frozen or bottled for our use later in the year, or given away - either to our family or friends.

I took all these photos yesterday afternoon.

It all starts with the seeds. We collect seeds when we can, otherwise we buy open pollinated seeds from Green Harvest.   These are loofa seeds above and Easter Egg radish seeds below.

This tray of seedlings will be planted out soon. They are brussel sprouts, lettuce, mini kale and tomatoes.

Not everything we grow is in the ground. Here we have an orange tree waiting to be planted (to replace a pink grapefruit we lost in the recent rains), sweet peas, a bay tree, parsley, lemon myrtle, strawberries and nasturtiums.

And this large green leaf vine is my vanilla orchid. It's snaking its way through the bush house.

The garlic has just pushed through.

 Here we have petunias, parsley, beetroot, Chinese cabbage, pineapple sage, tomatoes, chillies and garlic.

Hiding in there is the first tomato.

There must be almost a hundred cucumber flowers on these vines.

We started harvesting the cucumbers this week.

The chooks are the constant companions of the garden. They don't get into the garden, they patrol the grassed area just outside it, waiting for insects and leaves to fall near them.

This bare patch is waiting for the potatoes. We bought some potatoes in Dorrigo on the way back from the book tour and they haven't sprouted yet. They're fresh, straight from the organic farm they were grown on. It's reminds me every time I see them how old the potatoes we buy must be when they often sprout within a week of us bringing them home.
 And finally, a second planting of bok choy and lettuce, just near, but out of sight, of the strawberries.

Further over, in another garden, Hanno has planted beans, peas, more beetroot, silverbeet, and green onions. There is one more garden to prepare and plant out and then the majority of the hard work is done. Then it's just harvesting and planting in empty spaces.

If you're starting your first garden this year, start small and only grow what you'll eat. Vegetable gardening is a wonderful supplement to the food you have in your kitchen but in those first years, take it slow while you learn what you need to produce vegetables without commercial fertilisers and insecticides. Vegetable gardening is one of the slow elements of simple life - it takes its own time, nothing will hasten a tomato or lettuce to maturity. You have to wait and watch, and while you do, that gentle pace slows you too.

Never expect perfection in the vegetable garden. This is nature working right in front of you. You will have perfect tomatoes and some with grubs, you'll have crisp lettuces then one full of slugs, there will be times when you do your best and it doesn't work, and other times when you don't even plant a seed but up will pop the best cucumbers. It's all part of it, all there for you to learn from. So take notes and record what you plant and harvest, so you can build on what you do this year and take it into the next season.

Gail asked for the Celery and Potato Soup recipe, it's a very simple soup and this method of making soup can be used with almost any vegetable or group of vegetables. The soup makes its own stock while it's cooking. The recipe will feed four people.
  • 2 large potatoes - peeled and chopped
  • 6 stalks celery - washed and chopped
  • 1 large onion - peeled and chopped
  • water
  • salt and pepper
  • a splash of cream

Place the above in a one litre/quart of water, add salt and pepper to taste and cook until soft - about 30 minutes. Blend in a blender or with a stick blender, taste for seasoning, adjust if necessary. Some celery is very stringy, if yours is, strain the soup through a sieve at this point. Then add cream and a sprinkling of parsley and serve. Simple!


25 April 2012

The slow and mindful grocery challenge - part 2

Today is Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand - a day of commemoration for all those who gave their lives in the defence of our countries.


We started our 50 percent reduction in meat consumption last Thursday and yesterday - Tuesday - was the first day we've eaten meat. We'll eat vegetarian today, we have visitors tomorrow, so I'll use a shoulder of lamb as a roast, and we'll go back to vegetarian again later in the week. Meat is SO expensive now, I'm pleased we like eating this way because not only does it cost less, it lessens our footprint as well.

I was at the neighbourhood centre all day yesterday and did some grocery shopping on the way home. I spent $63.25 altogether, buying a few things we need now, and a few things for the stockpile. I am pretty sure that if I put aside $30 for the next two weeks, to buy fresh milk, butter and fruit, that will see us nicely looked after. I thought I'd spend more than $85 a week but I doubt that now. I think it will be less. We'll have to wait and see but I know I won't have to increase it.

Tomorrow I'll do up a meal plan for the rest of the month and into the first week of May. My sister is coming to visit so there'll be three of us here but that won't impact on the budget because we'll be eating from the backyard, stockpile and freezer. I plan on making some pea and ham soup while Tricia's here, she loves it, we do too, and it will do all of us for a few days without mucking about. I'll make a nice dessert each day for variety and I'm pretty sure we'll all be well satisfied with that.

That's the great benefit of stockpiling - that ability to feed more people, to go for a couple of weeks without shopping and to be a bit more creative when you cook. If you get sick, or the main breadwinner does, there is no greater friend than the stockpile. 

I made a whole orange cake last weekend and that is almost gone now, so today I'll make up a batch of quick and easy biscuits - I have a cup of pecans in the fridge that I want to use, and some flaked coconut, so I'll use those ingredients to fancy the biscuits up a bit. And then we'll be set. We'll have the biscuits for our morning tea treat, I'll bake bread every day and make up a non-meat main meal most days and we'll happily sail into May with smiles.

CHEAP AND EASY BISCUITS - this is the same recipe as the CWA's Five Dozen Biscuits, it makes about 80 biscuits

Bake for 10 minutes at 180C/360F
  • 500 grams/1 lb butter 
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 cups self-raising flour 
  • Plus any toppings you like - nuts, coconut, choc chip etc.
Cream the butter and sugar, add condensed milk, mix and stir in flour. Roll the dough and divide up into two if you want to freeze half the dough for later. Mix in the nuts or whatever you're going to use, divide into into balls and flatten, or place a thumbprint to add jam for jam drops.

When golden brown, cook on racks.

To make the equivalent of a tin of condensed milk:
  • 1/3 cup hot water 
  • 2/3 cup sugar 
  • 1 cup powdered milk - this can be full cream or skim milk 
  • 3 tablespoons butter 
Melt the sugar in the hot water, then put all your ingredients into a food processor or blender. Mix slowly at first until everything is combined, then use high speed until everything is smooth.

For jadeleaf who asked the other day. This makes enough for two, you can easily double the recipe.

1 egg
1 heaped tablespoon cornflour (cornstarch)
1 heaped tablespoon sugar
1½ cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a saucepan, whisk together the egg, cornflour, sugar, vanilla and ½ cup milk until thoroughly combined and smooth. Add the rest of the milk and put it on the stove to heat up. Bring to the boil while stirring - this will burn if you don't stir it. Turn the heat down when it's getting hotter and once it's boiled, stir for another minute and it's done. It will thicken up more as it cools down. You can keep it in the fridge, covered, for two days.

I'm not finished my grocery challenge yet - I have some menu planning and tweaking to do - but I'm really pleased I took it on.  I thought we might have to increase what we spend and now I know we don't have to do that. Now I can concentrate on inventing some new simple recipes for us, using the stockpile as my shop. The vegetable garden is becoming more productive every day, the girls are producing a lot of eggs so it looks like there will be smiles at the dinner table here.

How are you going with your challenge?  ♥


24 April 2012

Decluttering and moving forward

I've was busy all day yesterday and will be again today so instead of carrying on from the food challenge, today I'm writing about decluttering. I still have some thinking and reorganising to do with the food so I'll carry on with that tomorrow.

I suggest in my book that it's a worthwhile exercise to declutter at the end of every decade. If you do that, you'll open up yourself for new life to float in and you'll not be tied down with excessive possessions that you have to look after. Hanno and I are not at the end of decades but we decided to reorganise and declutter our bedroom and our guest bedroom. We have an expanding family and changes need to be made so everyone feels comfortable here.

The room is now light and airy with only what is necessary left in the room. There is a little portable cot for the babies tucked away in the cupboard.

Our guest room was originally our bedroom and 15 years ago, when we came to live here, we added a bedroom and an extra bathroom. Hanno and I use that bedroom and bathroom now and over the years our old bedroom has turned into a guest room and a collection point for old furniture and junk the kids left behind when they left home.  We decided to spruce everything up about three weeks ago. I told Hanno my plan - to paint and reorganise, he added his ideas, and before I knew it, we'd selected paint and the job was started. We also replaced the 15 year old previously recycled curtains and while we didn't add any furniture to our bedroom we bought a little dressing table for the guest room. Everything else was recycled and moved around to better suit the style of each room.

The walls were painted a very pale grey-blue, we took out everything that wasn't necessary and either gave it away or have it stored in the shed in case the kids want extra furniture when they move from flats into houses. I haven't quite finished working on our bedroom yet. We have French doors in there and I'm still trying to find time to make new curtains for the doors. When it's finished, I might take a photo to show you what we've done in there to. I'm very happy with both rooms - they both feel lighter, bigger and liberated from the weight of junk and stuff.

That little green rabbit was made for me by my sister, Tricia, using a recycled woollen blanket.

We both still have some decluttering of our wardrobes to carry out, but I hope mine will be done this weekend. Decluttering your own wardrobe can be quite confronting. I have resisted doing it for too long, but I'm in the right frame of mind now and on the weekend, there will be a couple of bags full of clothes and shoes going to the local St Vincent de Paul shop. Hanno will do his too, but I'm not sure when. (He might even start his when he reads this post so he can beat me to it.) ; - ) I have three questions I ask myself when I declutter:
  1. Would I be sad if I didn't have this?
  2. Is this important to me and my family?
  3. Have I used this in the past year?
Usually the answer is no, and out it goes to be given away or recycled in some way. It feels good.

No one wants to spend their life being a curator of accumulated goods. It is liberating and symbolic when you start divesting yourself of all the unwanted goods you've carried with you for years. It is silently saying: I don't need these things now and I don't need to hang on to them. My life is simpler now, I am moving on. 

I keep going into our guest room so I can smile at it. I'm pretty sure it's smiling back at me because we've removed the burden of those 15 years. All those reminders of wasted hours shopping and wasted dollars, I wonder now why I waited so long to do it. 

I'd love to hear your decluttering story, or your reasons why you haven't decluttered even when you wanted to.


23 April 2012

The slow and mindful grocery challenge

I think it's a good idea to review and rethink what we do every so often. Without noticing, we slip back into old ways and bad habits. Having our own review keeps us on our toes. Hanno and I are concentrating on four key areas at the moment - the 50 percent meat reduction, which is going really well, getting the entire vegetable garden planted and productive, decluttering and reorganising our bedrooms, and our food expenditure.  I'm pretty sure some of you will need to check these areas too, so all this week, I'm going to write about those four things and hope you follow along with your own review and adjustments.

 We have plenty of fruit and vegetables.

I'll start with what we spend on food because we've made a good start on all the others and this needs to be kick started. We haven't changed much on our meals menu, except to eat less meat, and we're currently budgeting $85 a week on groceries. However, I want to spend the savings made on that reduced meat consumption on organic oats and flour so there will be some juggling happening. I'll keep a keen eye on my prices and let you know how it turned out. I stopped doing any grocery shopping when I got really busy and Hanno took over that department, and did it very well I might add. Now I'm going to give him a break and for the next month at least, I'll be doing the shopping, although Hanno went to the market this morning and bought $9 worth of fruit and vegetables - a cauliflower, half a large cabbage, bananas, avocados and pumpkin.

Last night's dinner (and tonight's) - a simple celery and potato soup.

I think it's an important part of our home economics to keep focused on what we're spending on food. I want to cook nourishing meals, I want them to be interesting and what Hanno and I like to eat but with prices rising so rapidly these days, a challenge to mindfully look at what and how the family food budget is being spent makes real sense to me. Cutting back on the amount of meat we're eating will give me the money to buy organic oats and flour and I'm very happy to be able to do that. And I guess that's what we all do with our various ways of shopping for food. We juggle this and that, we stretch meals out, we never waste leftovers, we shop for fresh food that's in season, we make do with what's in the cupboard and we build up a repertoire of good meals taking into account all those factors. That gives us a reasonable food bill while still serving up good meals.

Checking out the pantry before shopping is a must.

Yesterday afternoon I went through my stockpile cupboard, pantry and freezer so I'm sure of what I have in the house when I go shopping. I'll do some shopping at Maleny today and the rest at Aldi on Thursday. I don't have to buy meat, cleaners, laundry products, eggs, fruit or vegetables so it will be interesting to see what I spend during the week on groceries. I'll also keep a keen eye on the prices and will see how much everything has gone up since I last shopped for food.

Last night's dessert - whole orange cake with homemade custard.

What I'm hoping to do is to work out a challenging, but realistic, amount that I'll set as our new food budget. I doubt it will be $85 a week but I don't want it to be too much more. I want you to all come along on this journey with me. I think it will do us all good to check what we're doing to make sure we're still on track. But I don't want to jump right into it. I want to do this mindfully and carefully, by next week I'll have a better idea of my figures but it will take me a full month to get an accurate idea of what we should stick to in the near future. This week, and during the coming month, I'll write about my progress. If you want to join in, please let me know you're here and as usual, I'll start a forum thread so we can discuss what we're doing, give hints and tips and try to find the best way of doing this for all of us.

There is no doubt we all have different shopping lists, numbers of mouths to feed, dietary requirements and restrictions. There will also be plus points with some of us producing some food in the backyard. This could be anything from fruit, vegetables and eggs like us, to milk and cheese for some, and beef, chicken, lamb, fish or honey for others. The aim here is to work together to understand YOUR particular needs for your unique family - or if you're a single person, for yourself. Your aim might be to check your budget figures, or to write a budget for the first time and check the grocery part of it for accuracy, or to change how you shop - it should be anything. It will be different for all of us. There is no pressure, no common goal to reach. It's all an exercise on working out what we're spending each week on groceries and the making sure we're get the best value for our dollars, pounds and eruos.


20 April 2012

Weekend reading

I loved Enid Blyton when I was younger and she's still making headlines today.

The wonderful sourdough site. If you're trying to perfect your sour dough, this is the spot for you.

"no hooks, no clips, no struggles" Dressing when you're older.

Have a look at the egg mobile. I've only just recently started reading Milkwood more regularly. It's captivated me with the productivity there, and it's always interesting.

What are the legitimate limits to copyright - the online war.

The fabulous Wisecraft blog. This is beautiful on so many levels.

Sorcha's blog. She's been reading here for a long time, she has a comprehensive blog of her own that I'm sure you'll find interesting.

Read the nappy chronicles on The Provincial Homemaker - there is a very cute photo of the washing line.

19 April 2012

Reorganising myself for less meat

Yesterday I challenged you to join us on reducing the amount of meat you eat. I was really heartened by the number of enthusiastic comments and the suggestions coming forward using practical, common sense ways to cut back. My intention yesterday was to make a silverbeet (chard) pie. All I had to do was make pastry or buy some filo, I had the filling sorted. Well, true to form in the home kitchen, changes were made to suit the availability of ingredients and to use what was in the fridge that I didn't want to waste. That is one of the best things about cooking from scratch, you can take away or add according to your own requirements. I like that.

Another thing that occurred to me yesterday afternoon when it was getting late and I had not made the pastry, is that if I intend to go back to eating more meatless meals, I have to be much more organised than I am at the moment. It's easy enough to make a meal of meat and three veg or a salad, it requires more fore-thought to make a meal using other proteins. I would love to tell you that my life has gone back to normal since the book came out but to tell you the truth, I'm busier than I ever was. It's not just the book, I'm developing some exciting new projects that I'll tell you about soon, there is a lot going on at the Neighbourhood Centre and now that I'm on the committee I have my responsibilities there as well. I'm not complaining, I work better when I'm busy, I just want to share with you why I have to organise myself and what I'm doing in a more efficient way.

I did make the silverbeet pie! You might remember I had a couple of jars of whey after I made those camemberts. I decided not to make pastry but to make ricotta instead and to use the fresh ricotta in a crustless pie. It was delicious.

Here is what I did.

I heated the whey and some fresh unhomogenised milk to 95C/200F, added ½ cup of white vinegar and let it sit for 15 minutes.

Using muslin in a colander, I strained the milky mix and let the whey drain off. If we still had dogs, I would have given them the cooled whey to drink, but as this was already twice cooked and there was little protein left in it, I let it drain away.

That gave me a bowl of moist and creamy ricotta.

To make the pie filling:

Into a frying pan, add chopped onions and  crushed garlic and fry gently until translucent.

Chop silverbeet/spinach. I used a bag of frozen silverbeet left over from our last crop. It had been blanched, I defrosted it in the microwave, squeezed out as much liquid as I could, then chopped it.

We have small eggs at the moment - all our laying girls are new layers, so I used six small eggs. If you have large eggs, use four. Add salt and pepper, about ½ cup of cream, ½ cup of grated hard cheese - I used cheddar, and all the ricotta. Mix together then add the silverbeet and onions and mix again.

If you want to use pastry, line the dish with it, otherwise rub your oven-proof dish with olive oil and add the filling.

Bake in a moderate oven (180C/360F) until golden.

Serve with a garden salad.

This pie is really delicious. Both Hanno and I enjoyed the depth of flavour that the fresh ricotta added. We have enough left over for another meal. I think this meal would suit a committed meat eater - if you wanted to, you could add some bacon to give your meat eaters the feeling they're not missing out.

There are some interesting recipes being added to the associated thread at the forum. You can check them out here.

Hanno and I will be at the Cooroy Butter Factory tonight for the Permaculture Noosa gathering and tomorrow at Dymocks in Brisbane - the details are here.  We hope to see you if you're close by.


18 April 2012

The 50 percent less meat challenge

There are a few reasons why it's a good idea to reduce the amount of meat we eat - it's a more environmentally friendly choice, it's cheaper and some would say it's healthier, although I am not convinced that it is for everyone.  I certainly don't think we have to eat meat every day and over the next month, I'm going to halve the amount of meat we eat, for no other reason than I want to. I challenge you to join me, for whatever your own reasons may be.

I think one of the problems when we do something like this is that the family might complain, but with a few carefully chosen recipes, or modifying old ones, it can be done fairly easily. Hanno and I were vegetarians for about eight years but when I read the Nourishing Traditions book we started eating meat again. I won't go back to being meatless again but our menu needs a shake up. I want to cut down on the amount of meat in a meal containing meat and to eat meatless a few times a week. I am hoping some of you will join me and share your favourite recipes, so those of us who do this, can build up a good selection of new, but satisfying, home cooked meals.

And that is the challenge - can you reduce the amount of meat you eat by 50 percent? The challenge will go for a month but for us, this will be a permanent change. For clarity, I classify beef, lamb, pork and chicken as meat. 

So how do we do this?

Now that the chooks are laying well again and we have the garden up and running, it will be easy to make up my favourite silverbeet/spinach pie. Click here to see how to make it.  I'll have to make the pastry or buy some filo but I have cream and cheese in the fridge and the rest of it in the backyard. That's tonight's dinner. I have celery in the fridge too so towards the weekend, I'll make up some potato and celery soup and serve that with a small wholemeal damper - easy, quick, economical and very filling.

Of course, over the course of the day we all need to be eating complete proteins and when you take meat out of the meal, that is more difficult to achieve. Meat is a complete protein, vegetables, nuts, beans, lentils, eggs, cheese etc, are not, but by combining certain foods you can get complete proteins. For instance, beans alone are not complete protein but beans on wholemeal toast are. If you don't know about complete proteins, I encourage you to read this or to research it further.

I have some chicken in the freezer that we'll have on Friday night and possibly leftovers on Saturday, and by then I'll have sorted out some other meatless ideas. That is part of the challenge for me - to be more organised in my meal selection. We already eat meatless meals but I want to have a better selection of them. Generally I don't menu plan but over this coming month, I will, so I can get into the habit cooking with less meat. I hope to some great ideas from you.

Would you like to join me in this challenge? Please let me know here and also join in the discussion about it on the forum. I'll make a new thread for it later today. Remember, these need to be tried and true recipes that your family or friends love to eat. It will do us good to cut down on meat, doing it together makes it fun, and hopefully, sharing our recipes will give all of us plenty of great ideas for our own meal plans.

17 April 2012

Thrifty sewing - slippers, mittens and hats for baby

I loved all the birthday messages you sent yesterday. Thank you all so much. The comments you send me, even after all this time, really make my day. They remind me that you are out there and the numbers of us living as we do are increasing. Happy birthday to all the other April babies.  I hope you have a joyous birthday too.

I found the most charming and cuddly pattern for baby slippers at The Purl Bee the other day. The link is here. The Purl Bee suggested making them using woollen felt and when I was at our Crafternoon, I made a couple of pairs of felt slippers but then started wondering about the practicalities - keeping them clean. You could wash the felt shoes but they'd take a long time to dry. So I went on to version 2 - fleece slippers. 

They're easy to make, look really cozy and three pairs of slippers can be made from a 35cm/14 inch square of thick fleece. I bought a half a metre of different colours of fleece recently and each half metre cost me less than four dollars. Making three pairs of slippers cost me about 50 cents. Best of all, they can be thrown in with the normal wash and be dry in a couple of hours. I guess they'd be fine in the dryer as well, if you use one.

These are an easy to make, simple baby gift for the little loves in your life. If you have a few different fleece colours you could make a selection of different colours slippers for a newborn, or make different colours for different ages. They make a delightful and very useful little gift.

To make the slippers you'll need thick fleece, a sewing needle, embroidery thread, a few pins and a pair of scissors.

The slippers are cut out according to the template here  and then sewn together using a simple blanket stitch. If you don't know how to do that, look at this  You Tube blanket stitch video. Try it, it's very easy, even for beginners. Fleece is very forgiving. It's easy to cut and the cut edges seal themselves and don't need any hemming of edging.

I'm going to make a thread at the forum later today so we can share photos of our fleece slippers. So even if you're new to sewing, dive into this great beginners project and see how well they come up. If you're really keen you do make up matching mittens and warm hats. I'll be doing them as soon as I have a bit of share time. Don't forget to show and tell on the forum thread. I'd love to see what you do.

I'll be at the Permaculture Noosa meeting this Thursday, 19 April. They have a small market, speakers and supper from 7pm till 9pm. If you're nearby, come along and introduce yourself. I'd love to meet you. If you've bought a book, bring it along and I'll sign it for you. The following day, on Friday, 20 April, I'll be at Dymocks in Brisbane to sign books. If you've been reading here for a while, come in and say hello, I'd love to meet you.  Some readers have asked when I'll be signing books near them but the only places I'll be in the near future will be close to my home - Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba (in June) and Brisbane.


16 April 2012

When I'm 64

In 1967, when I was 19, I bought the Beatles LP Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I listened to that record for hours at a time, my favourites songs were A Day in the Life and She's leaving Home. Also on that record was When I'm 64. I didn't like it much and for the life of me I couldn't imagine ever being that old. Well, look at me now, a few minutes have passed by and yesterday was my 64th birthday.

When I was much younger I used to look forward to particular ages. When I was 18, I met a young man who was 24. Back then, to my teenaged sensibilities, 24 was so sophisticated and mature! I wanted to be 24 then, straight away. Imagine, wishing away six years! I'm not sure when I stopped looking forward to particular birthdays but I don't do it anymore. I look back instead. But not in melancholic way; I don't yearn for my youth nor wish I was younger. I look back to remember, the view from here is wonderful. I can see back about 60 years.

There is a lot to be thankful for at this age. The main one being that I haven't died early, because the only way you won't age, is to die. Growing older with no health problems is a very interesting exercise. There are so many things to learn about and have an interest in. We have a close and beautiful family around us, we have many friends. In fact, in these past few years, we've made many new friends. I am not a very social person, I prefer to spend time alone and at home with Hanno but friendships and an interest in our community have brought us out of our home much more than in the past. I guess we have the luxury of time now too. We've had our babies, lived through not only our teenage years but those of our children too, stood proudly by when those teenagers became men who found their partners and had their own beautiful babies. I smile to myself when I think of all those times in my younger years when I read books to them, cooked for them, became engrossed in conversations with them, showed them how to hold a chicken and carry eggs, encouraged them, was proud of them and disappointed, when I wanted them to do more ... or less, and when I just stood by and watched. Life is full of tiny increments. I didn't know that when I was younger. I thought life was supposed to be about grand gestures. But teaching those small things to children, seeing a little finger poke a seed into moist soil, being taken to those first emerging shoots with an entire hand wrapped around my finger, helping with homework and projects one night and then the next, cooking all those dinners, making sandwiches by the hundreds - all . one. at . a . time, knitting one stitch by one stitch, making batches of soap, celebrating all those birthdays - not only my own 64 but also those of my parents, my sister, my husband, my sons, and now their wives and their babies. It all happened one thing at a time and then added up to so much.

In an email I received a couple of months ago, I woman wrote to ask me how could she get to where I am - at accepting my age, the passage of time and the loss of youth. I told her, I do accept the passage of time, and I am grateful that I can because to do otherwise would mean I was dead. I also accept my age, how can I not, it is part of me. But I am much more than a number. And loss of youth? I don't see that as a loss. I see youth as a stage of life that prepares you for a more profound season. It's not the main prize, it's just part of the package. If there is a prize, I think it's being able to grow older, to have the time to enjoy life without the busyness of the younger years when marriage, family and careers are being built. We put in all the work when we were young, now we are reaping the rewards.  I'm more content now, more accepting of what is. I see beauty now where I didn't before, small things make me happy, I am grateful to be healthy enough to work in my community, it's made me better than I was. Youth? Yes, it has some wonderful benefits and I look back on my youth full of interesting and crazy people but there comes a time when growing up is the only thing left. Now is better. Time marches on, unstopped by face creams, cosmetic surgery and irrational wishes for passed youth.

Hanno and I went out yesterday to lunch to celebrate my birthday. We dined at the gorgeous Daisy's Place, just a short drive from here, which is owned by an incredible woman, Sue Joseph. I've spoken with Sue both times we've been to Daisy's, I'm very impressed by her and hope to get to know her better. Sue has turned the old Rustic Cabin into the best restaurant I've been to in many years. There is a feeling of calmness and warmth there, the staff are very obliging and the menu is superb - with fresh, organic, locally sourced food.

Hanno and I enjoyed our lunch, we had a lot to talk about, we loved the food, we took in the atmosphere in the dining room and the view into the rain forest outside. The restaurant was packed with people with whom we might have a lot in common but although we looked like everyone else, my feeling was that we were different to most of the others there. Because we hold a secret, we are living radical lives here. We've stepped away from the expected and prescribed and given ourselves the best chance of wonderful third age. We're trail blazers at 64 and 71. We have dared to live beyond 50, 60 and even 70 and we're standing up with arms wide open to welcome in all that is still ahead for us. I'm looking forward to another year full of tiny dot points along the way and I'm happy that we're walking this path you and an increasing number of others.


13 April 2012

Weekend reading

Final moments.

The Crafty Crow A craft collective for kids. Lots of kids' projects here.

Dads yearn for more home time.

Simple steps to cut your electricity. We've seen it all before but this one gives prices and savings (in Australia).

Our Handmade Home - a blog about home renovation and a handmade life

Curlew Country - a very pretty UK blog

I love French Knots - it's a beautiful and creative blog. I used to follow French Knots a couple of years ago but somehow I lost it. It's been a lovely reunion.

Easy, no knead crusty bread  - from Mother Earth News

Living in a not so simple neighbourhood and making the best of it, denimflyz

Deb's Diary of a "Try Hard" Frugalista will get you thinking about expanding your skill base.

12 April 2012

Self reliance and the yoghurt jar

Now that the hot weather is over for another year, I'll have to bring my maturing yoghurt inside again. I've had great success over summer making yoghurt and leaving it outside on the warm verandah. I really dislike buying new equipment to make something we use here at home. I don't want any new appliances or gadgets here. I prefer to find a way of doing what I have to do without bringing in the specialist piece of equipment. Most of the time, it's easy to find a way.

When you make yoghurt, the milk needs to be held at a warm temperature for a few hours - or overnight. That temperature is easy to reach when you're warming the milk, so if you can keep the temperature constant for a few hours, you'll have yoghurt. Leaving it outside in the warmth works well. A warm day will give you the temperature you need, and often you don't need to leave the jar in the sun, it just needs to be sitting on the verandah in the warm air.

This is what I do. When the yoghurt is made in the usual way - there is a post here about it - I pour the warm yoghurty-milk into a warm sterilised jar. It's vital the jar is warm. Then I wrap the jar in a flannel sheet and place it outside in a warm area. It doesn't matter if it gets some sun on it occasionally, but it doesn't have to have the sun beating down on it. At the end of the day, I bring it inside and check the yoghurt is made. It's then stored in the fridge.

But now that the cooler weather is here, I have to find that warm space inside. Instead of flannel, in winter I wrap the yoghurt jar in a woollen blanket, then leave it on my laundry bench top all day. If the day is particularly cold, I might place the wrapped jar in a warm oven in the afternoon, but usually, just the woollen blanket is enough.

So if you've been thinking about buying a yoghurt maker, try this method first. You'll save yourself some money and increase your self-reliance at the same time.

If you've been following my cheese making ventures, you might be interested in this photo, taken yesterday, of the two camemberts made a couple of weeks ago. This is the white mould growing on the cheese. They smell divine and I can hardly wait to try them. It will be a couple of weeks more before we will taste them.

Hello to Sarah and Tim, thanks for sending the photos. Good luck in your new home.

11 April 2012

My name is Fiona and I lay blue eggs.

My name is Fiona and I lay blue eggs.

Our Araucana, Fiona, starting laying her delicate pale blue eggs two days ago. She's been such a crazy and interesting chicken so far. When she first came to us from Julie Thompson's wonderful chicken hatchery in Brisbane, she was with her sister, Margaret. Margaret was killed a couple of weeks ago. :- (  We found her in the middle of the day, under a palm tree with all the feathers on her neck stripped off, she was as dead as a door nail. Before that, Fiona was always a very shy and flighty chook, now she's moved up in the pecking order and always makes sure she gets her fair share of any extra food treats thrown her way. 

Fiona is  a lavender Araucana, she has a small comb hidden under her feathers and no wattles, she lays blue eggs and from what I've seen with ours, Araucanas like to fly. We have found Fiona in our vegetable patch quite a few times, but it's not a great problem, when we chase her, she flies out again. As you can see in the photo above, Fiona's eggs are small at the moment, but soon they get bigger. When cracked open, the eggs look the same as any other hen's egg.

If you're looking for some unusual chickens, I recommend the Aracanas to you. If you're looking for somewhere to buy them, check out Julie's ad on my side bar. Her chickens are the healthiest we've even bought, they'll be vaccinated and guaranteed females.

One of the ladies at the forum asked about using the tops of celery yesterday. I had taken these photos a few days ago and told her I'd write this today. Celery tops have as much nutritional value as the stalks but unless you have a consistent strategy, you might not use them. I always buy a full head of celery. Buying half a head increases the price and I refuse to buy anything that has already been cut up and washed, so a bag of celery pieces is completely out of the question. But how can you keep a full head of celery fresh and crisp for a long time when you only use about two stalks a week? This is what I do.

Wash the celery under the tap and shake off the water. Then cut off the top and lay it on top of the stalks. 

Wrap the celery head and tops in aluminium foil so that it is completely covered and sealed in. If you don't want your food touching aluminium, cover it first with a sheet of baking or greaseproof paper.

Store it in the fridge until you need it and wrap it up again when you've finished. Storing celery like this will keep it fresh and crisp for six to eight weeks. Even at the end of the eight weeks, the celery will be as crisp as the first day you bought it. No more limp celery.

You can see some of those celery tops above in my leftovers curry we had the other night. I use the leaves more like a herb than a vegetable. You can use them instead of parsley or chives in almost any recipe. They will also make up a delicious pesto, replacing basil leaves with celery leaves. Any stew or soup will be improved with the addition of celery, including the leaves. So don't cut them off and throw them away, if you keep the cut tops in the aluminium parcel with the celery stalks, they be ready to use whenever you need them.

 What do you do with your celery leaves?
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