24 December 2015

T'was the night before Christmas ...

Christmas Eve morning, Santa will be getting ready to leave about now, so it's a good time to wish you all a very happy Christmas. Whether you're spending tomorrow alone, with a house full of excited children and adults, or with your own true love, Hanno and I wish you all the joy your heart can hold.  We loved reading the good wishes sent our way yesterday, thank you. We'll be here tomorrow with some of our family, enjoying the day through the eyes of four year old Jamie. Today he and I will make biscuits for Santa and he'll probably talk about his plans to leave water and carrots for the reindeer. I am truly grateful I get to spend these hours with him. 

I think next year will be a fairly tough one for all of us as we continue to tackle the complexities of our modern world. Creating a safe and sound home for yourself and learning how to grow, preserve and cook food is one of the best ways to get through those difficult years. As you all know, I'm slowing down a bit but I'll continue to show and tell what we do here in the hope that it strikes a cord with you.
She's finished!

I want to introduce you to a good friend of mine. Morag Gamble is an amazing woman who lives fairly close to me in a house she and her husband designed for their young family. Morag works from home and holds frequent workshops and talks focused on skill building and permaculture. I've encouraged her to start a blog to document her life's journey and make a unique record for her own family. Morag is a permaculture teacher and designer so of course her home is surrounded by a productive garden, she works with young children so she has many ideas about how to raise healthy, adventurous, creative children. She occasionally travels the world advising groups and communities on permaculture and living sustainably. But you might be surprised to find she also makes her own cleaning and skin products, she's a cook and a homemaker with her own unique way of living simply. Have a look at her blog Our Permaculture Life. She's been writing there for a couple of months while she develops her style and finds her rhythm so there's already a good collection of interesting posts. Please leave a comment so she knows we're supporting her. She has a wealth of knowledge and she's eager to share what she does. Share her link on Facebook and Pinterest and put her on your Feedly, or subscribe via email, so you don't miss her posts.

Thank you for visiting me throughout the year and welcome to all the new readers who have found their way here this year. I appreciate the time you spend with me sharing your thoughts or silently reading the words here. Knowing you're there does make a difference. Hanno and I wish you a very happy Christmas. Stay safe, be kind - to yourself as well as others, and come back soon to explore what the next 12 months holds for us.  ♥︎


23 December 2015

What a way to end the year

My new book, The Simple Home, was delivered to me a few days ago. I spent time over recent days looking at it and remembering the relentless writing schedule I imposed on myself to get it done for 2016. All that's irrelevant now because here it is, beautifully presented and full of what I think is interesting information. It's the best way to end the year.

The Simple Home is the sister book to Down to Earth. I had a lot more I wanted to say in Down to Earth but the page count meant I could only pack in what I did. This is what I would have added to Down to Earth if I had the space to do it. The book is sectioned into twelve monthly chapters, each dealing with a different topic, at the time it can ideally be done in Australia and New Zealand. There are chapters on organising your year and your finances, the food revolution, food gardening in containers, laundry love, food preserving and storage, simple home bakes, domestic crafts, sewing and mending, the home dairy, spring cleaning, health and wellbeing and celebrating.

I hope I've written well enough to encourage you to try a few things. There are recipes for cheese, bread, soup, biscuits, cakes as well as cold and flu tonic and many of the bits and pieces we use here. There is a section on mending and a few simple craft projects. I write about food and shopping and getting back to basics in the kitchen. And in the finance section, that subject that most people love to hate, I've included action plans to help you over some of the hurdles.

This is the last book I'll write. I feel satisfied that I've said what I wanted to say and I'm grateful I had the chance to do that with the help of a publisher like Penguin. I will retire in the next couple of years and go back to a life of obscurity where instead of writing books, I'll be reading them. Hanno and I will continue to live simply, we'll do the chores we've come to love, we'll collect eggs and pick herbs, we'll garden and cook, but I won't write about it anymore. I've tried my best to write about a way of life that can change people in the most profound way. Often you don't see that at first, you just see a way of cutting back and living well. I've found simple life to be the best it can be when it's at its most basic and peeling back the layers of materialism and conformity not only reveals that but it teaches many significant life lessons as well. I hope my books reflect that.

Publication date for The Simple Home is 1 March, 2016. You can pre-order at Booktopia and at the moment, they have a discounted price.

ADDED LATER: I've sent an email to Penguin to find out if the books will be available for sale on Amazon. I'm pretty sure it will be on the US Amazon but I'm not sure about the UK one.  I'll be back later when I have an answer. One way or another, we'll find a way of getting the books out to you.  BTW, Down to Earth is being reprinted so hopefully both books will be available overseas as well as locally.


22 December 2015

From scratch to the Christmas table

It's only a couple of days until Christmas and I hope you've got your menu planned and all your goodies ready, or almost ready. It's always a nice touch to give a nod to our frugal and food loving grannies by adding a couple of homemade items to your yule table. So here are two easy recipes, even for new cooks, that you can make now or over the holidays.

Pickled cucumbers is the easiest pickle you'll make and even though the flavour increases the longer you let it mature, if you made it today you could eat and enjoy it on Christmas day; it's not too late.

Quick pickled cucumber 
  • 4 - 6 young cucumbers or about 15 - 20 baby cucumbers
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups of your favourite vinegar (I used malt vinegar)
  • ½ - ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pickling spice OR ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns, ¼ teaspoon coriander seeds and ½ teaspoon mustard seeds.
Cut the cucumbers in halves lengthways, then cut each half into three long pieces. Leave the baby cucumbers whole. Place the cucumbers in a large bowl and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt over them, cover and leave for three hours. After three hours rinse the cucumbers to remove the salt and salty water. Leave them in a colander to drain.  If you don't do this step the cucumbers will release all their water into the vinegar and spoil it. You must remember to wash the salt off though.

Sterilise a preserving/canning jar big enough to hold the cucumbers. You can do this in the dishwasher or in the oven for 15 minutes at 150C/300F degrees.

Bring the vinegar, sugar and spice to a boil and let it simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, lay the sterilised jar on its side and pack the cucumbers in. Stand the jar up and pour in the hot vinegar. Seal the lid and leave the jar on the bench to cool down. When it's cool, store it in the fridge or cupboard. The vinegar and sugar will help preserve the cucumber if you don't eat it all on Christmas day. When you open the pickles, store them in the fridge.

Ginger cordial
This is a ginger cordial that, when added to cold mineral water, tastes like homemade ginger beer. It will take you about 30 minutes all up to make it.

  • thick piece fresh ginger about three inches/8cm long
  • 1½ litres/quarts tap water
  • ¾ - 1 cup sugar
  • rind and juice of one lemon
Peel and grate the ginger. Grating is better than slicing because the greater surface area you have, the better the flavour. Place the grated ginger, water, sugar and lemon in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir to make sure all the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat, put the lid on the saucepan and leave on the stove top over night. The next morning, strain the ginger liquid through a strainer, sitting in a jug. Pour the ginger cordial into clean bottles and store it in the fridge. If you want to store the cordial for a while, sterilise the bottle before filling it.

To make up a drink, pour a small amount of ginger cordial into a glass and fill the glass with cold natural mineral water or soda water. Add ice, mint leaves or a lemon slice.

I have some exciting news to share tomorrow.  See you then. : - 0

21 December 2015

Enjoying the excitement of the season

Hello my friends. I was away longer than I thought I would be. I had a much needed rest, started a new Maggie rabbit, prepared a few things for Christmas, did some gardening and ironing, cleaned the fridge and oven, reorganised my tea towel drawer and had a few afternoon snoozes in my comfy arm chair in the lounge room.  I feel refreshed and ready for anything. Which is good because my god daughter Casey and her partner Kerry have just had their first child, a beautiful baby girl called Marlee.  So it looks like there will be another Maggie soon.

(Above) I took all the tea towels, tea cosies, jug covers and pot holders from the drawer and dumped them on the kitchen bench. (Below) Then sat with Jamie at the table looked at all the older tea towels, moved some to the rag bag and re-folded the rest.

 And now we have a tidy drawer again.

Today and tomorrow I'll be preparing a bedroom for our after Christmas guests, finishing off the second Maggie, wrapping one last gift, hopefully having a haircut and tidying up the front and back verandahs. It's always a busy time of year but one that I look forward to because we get together with family and friends, relax, watch cricket, reflect, plan and wait for another year to start. There is all that time just around the corner waiting for us to fill in the hours and make the most of what it can be. Thinking about what we want to happen and planning for it gives us a map to follow through the months and when life gets busy again, we just have to follow our map.

I finished knitting a pink apron last night and today I'll attach the apron straps, knit the shawl and make the boots.

I hope you're all getting through your Christmas chores or finishing up at work before a couple of week's summer holidays. Soon in Australia, there'll be camping, long trips to visit relatives, cricket, swimming, cold drinks on hot days and plenty of memories being made. I can picture my friends in the northern hemisphere making soup, walking around the house in their slippers and settling down in front of the fire with warm drinks and craftwork. What will you be doing this week? Is there snow falling silently? Are you enjoying the excitement of the season or pretending it's not happening? 

I'll be back tomorrow and Wednesday when I'll have a something exciting to show you. :- )


16 December 2015

The best cheese rolls

It's been a while since I wrote about bread. We don't eat as much bread as we used to when we had sandwiches for lunch. We have our main meal at lunch time now so I usually only need bread for toast and breadcrumbs. But Hanno loves rolls, especially cheese rolls, and every so often I bake a batch.  These are easy to make and would be a good addition to your lunch boxes or, as a smaller roll, for the Christmas table. I'm linking this to the forum so you can ask questions and, hopefully, share your photos when you've made a batch.

Even if you're a new baker, this should be within your capabilities because the dough is made in a bread maker and then baked in the oven. But you can make them by hand as well. After mixing, you must knead the dough for at least ten minutes. Kneading the dough develops the gluten which helps the bread rise.

  CHEESE ROLLS   - makes ten large rolls

You'll need:
2 heaped teaspoon dried yeast
About 1 ½ cups half water/half milk - warm You might need more but start with this amount and see how you go. It will depend on your flour and the humidity in the air.
2 teaspoons sugar (optional) it adds extra flavour.

2 teaspoons salt
4 cups of baker's flour - also known as high protein flour or strong flour. You can buy this at the supermarket or your local shop selling loose flour and dry goods. I used white flour for these rolls, you can use whatever baker's flour you like. Soon I'm going to do a trial with spelt flour.
2 teaspoons of bread improver. I generally don't use this in my bread but adding the cheese weighs the dough down and it needs some help to rise. Here is information about bread improver. You can buy it at the supermarket. If you don't want to use bread improver, use 2 teaspoons of cornflour, but you won't get the light dough the bread improver will give you.
1 tablespoon soft butter or olive oil

Cheese of your choice - I used eight thin slices of Jarlsberg and a sprinkling of parmesan. You use 1½ - 2 cups of grated cheese and add a sprinkling of ham if you want.

Before you start, warm one cup of half water and milk to blood temperature, then add the yeast and sugar and stir it well. Leave the yeast for five minutes to start blooming. If the yeast is active, after a few minutes, bubbly froth will start developing on the top of the liquid. If that doesn't happen, you'll probably need to buy new yeast.

You can see here how fine the crumb is on these rolls.

In the bread maker bucket and in this order, add the salt, flour, bread improver and butter/oil. Add the yeasty milk and turn the machine on to the dough setting. Wait there and watch it and add more warm water and milk to make a moist, but not wet, dough. You have to judge how much liquid to add, it could be more or less that I've allowed for. Some flour needs more liquid, some needs less, and the weather conditions make a difference too. When you're satisfied that the dough is right, leave it to run through the cycle.

When the dough is ready, remove it from the machine and place it on a floured surface. The dough will be fairly soft and pliable because you added the butter/oil. Knock the dough back by flattening it out with your hands and when you have a rectangle, roll with a rolling pin. If it's easier for you to handle half, cut the dough in two and work with two seperate batches. You want it to be between 1.5 - 3 cm or ½ - 1 inch thick. The rolling process is similar to making cinnamon rolls or a Swiss roll. Sprinkle the cheese over the top of the dough, right up to the edges, and then roll the dough into a big sausage shape. Try to keep the shape together, you may have to add another sprinkle of flour to stop it sticking. With a sharp knife, cut the sausage into 10 even slices and place each slice flat on your baking tray.

Allow the dough slices to rise for about 20 minutes - depending on the temperature of your kitchen, longer if it's cold. Ten minutes before you put the tray in the oven, preheat your oven to 220C/425F.

When the slices have risen, place the tray in the oven and turn the temp down to 200C/395F. Bake for about 15/20 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and it smells like bread.

I didn't think to take a photo when I was rolling the dough out but this photo shows a cold roll cut in half so you can see it's just a simple roll with a cheese layer.

These rolls are delicious and if you use the bread improver, they'll be light with an excellent crumb, even with the cheese layer. Here is the link to our thread at the forum. If you make the rolls and take a photo, add the photo over at the forum and if you have any questions, there are many experienced bakers there to help you along and I'll be in and out during the day to help as well.  I hope you try this.


14 December 2015

Grace and splendid simplicity

It's that time of year again when I slow down a lot, think about what I've done this year and consider the worth of what I'm doing. In some years that process has lead to some big changes and in others I made none because the balance was right and life was going along nicely. I feel privileged to live as I do but I don't take it for granted because I know that life can change on a pin head for all of us. So I continue to look at what I do and prepare for change if its necessary.

When I'm in this period of self-evaluation, I like to think again about why I changed the way I live. I remember back to the old days of spending for the sake of it, of mindless shopping and wondering why what I had then didn't make me happy. Simple life is never easy for any of us but in my experience it still beats my old life hands down. Life makes me happy now so at the end of every year I put aside time to decide what is working, what isn't and what needs changing. There is no doubt that most of us make our simple lives easier if we plan and organise and you don't do that once. Life is never static, it's ever changing, and these yearly assessments will help you change as your life changes.

Planning a simple life is like writing a love letter to yourself. You can include what you want to include, you live by your own values, love who and what you love, develop your own usefulness and eventually you become the person you wanted to be in all those private moments of hoping for a life of grace and splendid simplicity. In times of contemplation and reevaluation I always aim for balance. I plan for what I think will happen during the year but I'm realistic enough to know not everything will follow that plan. I try to be flexible and tolerant and I forgive myself if I don't do the right thing at the right time.

Simple life is different for all of us although there are many common elements as well. Don't judge yourself in comparison to others because you'll always be comparing apples with bananas. There are some of us who think baking is symbolic of what we do and others who don't; some who count every penny making sure they pay the least amount for everything and others whose aim is value for money; there are many of us who work our land and think it's a fundamental part of simplifying and many who have no land, no time and no inclination for growing food; there are list makers and those who plan by following patterns and rhythms. I could go on but I'm sure you get my meaning. How you think about your life, what you do on your ordinary days, what you find value in and what you seek sets you apart.

Deciding to take control of what you do instead of being led by advertising and what your friends think is a liberation that will define your days and what you want for yourself. And what elements you control and how you go about it should be the result of understanding your own circumstances and needs rather than anyone, including me, telling you what will work.

I can tell you that for me, the work I do here helps me create a home that satisfies my need for occasional isolation from the outside world. I can tell you that for me, focusing on my work here helps me slow down but still get everything done. I can show you photos of my rooms and where we sit at our kitchen table, I can show you the plants we grow and what I sew and type out old recipes to share with you but all those things should guide you, not force you to do what I do.

Copying what I do or someone else does, or mindlessly following what is in a book or on a website is the same as listening to advertising - it's someone else's version of life based on their own experience. If I can pass on anything of value to you it would be to work hard and live your own experiences, develop a sense of generosity and kindness, build your life with what feels right for you and choose your influencers carefully. The true prize here is living your own authentic life and that's the result, not of advertising or what others value, but what you plan for yourself and what you work towards. So when you write that love letter to yourself, you need to be at the centre of it because you will do all the work to make it happen. The advertisers and all those who think that one size fits all will be long gone then. It will just be you, me and the chooks.  ♥︎

I've shared this poem before, but here it is again for those who didn't catch it the first time.

I have found joy in simple things
by Grace Noll Crowell

I have found joy in simple things
A plain clean room, a nut-brown loaf of bread,
A cup of milk, a kettle as it sings,
The shelter of a roof over my head,
And in a leaf-laced square along the floor,
Where yellow sunlight glimmers through a door.

I have found such joy in things that fill
my quiet days: a curtain's blowing grace
A potted plant upon my sill,
A rose fresh-cut and placed within a vase,
A table cleared, a lamp beside a chair,
And books I have long loved beside me there.

7 December 2015

Winding down

Well, the first week of summer has been and gone and was marked in my traditional way - eating fresh yellow peaches. I think many of us mark the changing of the seasons with different foods and for me, everything about those first golden peaches says summer, heat, knitting and cricket. The heady aroma, the sight of peaches sitting in a bowl, the temptation to buy a tray of them and make peach jam. It's all there to tell me that Christmas is on the way and for the next three months there will be peaches to enjoy.

These chillies are the extremely hot and small Trinidad Scorpion and next to them and below, the mild large yellow Hungarian wax pepper. They turn orange when they ripen.

I've been busy with the library talks over the past two weeks and have the last two this week at Caloundra and Maroochydore. It's been a real pleasure to meet so many people interested in creating a simple Christmas for their families. I've noticed a real change this year in the number of people coming along to the talks and the enthusiasm they've taken on their various life changes. Mindsets are shifting and that has to be a good thing. I've taken Maggie the rabbit with me to the talks. She travels inside a calico bag and rides in my red shopping trolley then sits on the table during the talks. She's version 3 now; I changed the shoe laces on her boots from embroidery cotton to hemp string. I've decided to make another one before Christmas for another little girl I know so during this week, I'll gather my materials and then sew and dress her next week. I'm looking forward to going through the process again. I'll take photos so you can see her.

Meanwhile, out in the chook house, the girls are diligently sitting on eggs and refuse to be moved. These are three breeds we won't keep again because of their tendency to brood - Australorps, Wyandottes and this particular Frizzle, which I think is a Rhode Island Red cross. They're wonderful if you intend to raise your own chooks but not so wonderful if you don't.

Outside in our backyard, the hot weather is taking its toll on our vegetable garden and, as usual, there are broody chickens sitting on eggs that will never hatch. The cucumbers have finished and been pulled out, blight has taken hold of the Rapunzel tomatoes, the lettuce in the ground has all bolted to seed in the heat and the flat leaf parsley is forming flowers. But on the other hand, the first of the rosellas are on the bushes, chillies and capsicums are growing like wild fire and the raspberries canes have reached the top of the trellis. And as usual, the rosemary, sage, curly parsley, Welsh onions, comfrey, oregano and kale are all loving the heat and growing strong. There are more than enough blueberries and passionfruit too, they're not quite ready to pick yet, but it won't be long.

 Passionfruit above and raspberries below.

I'm also caring for a trough of baby lettuce in the bush house. When our lettuce go to seed in summer, these troughs keep us going for another six weeks. They only get a couple of hours of sun in the early morning, the rest of the day they're under 80 percent shadecloth. They're a handy crop to have in summer and instead of buying lettuce, I just go outside with my scissors and cut a bowl full of baby leaves.

As soon as these tomatoes are picked, we'll rip out the blight effected vines and let the soil rest for a few months.

Nothing can kill this kale. It will go on and on over summer and still be there in winter. It happily grows alongside the herbs.
The rosellas are flowering but still have a long way to go before we have enough of them for jam, cordial and tea.

After Thursday, I have no engagements, no deadlines, no articles to write. I'm a free agent for a couple of months and I'm looking forward to that a lot. I have a few projects to make, some gardening to do and a little bit of cleaning but apart from that I'll be relaxing along with the rest of you over the summer holidays. I won't write the blog for a couple of weeks over Christmas but will be here when I can be until then.  I hope you're looking forward to the holidays too, and if you're in a colder climate, that you've got your fires burning. How I envy you that time you'll have in front of your fire. But we'll be sitting here clinking our iced drinks, knitting with feet up and watching the Boxing Day cricket test. (Hello Sue.) Good times!

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