29 June 2017

Transforming vinegar and lemon juice

We have so many visitors here that sometimes it feels like we're camping in the middle of Central Station. I'm a solitary soul and while I thrive with my family around me, I need silence and solitude as well. Hanno and Jamie went to the movies yesterday so I took the wonderful opportunity for some alone time. I spent some time in the garden pottering around and planning future projects and when I came inside again, went straight to the kitchen and made up two quick liquids that we'll enjoy in the coming days. I feel refreshed and full of beans now, so watch out. 😊

When I make salads, I prefer a no-oil dressing. I grew up long before the days of bottled salad dressing and olive oil. If we dressed salads at all, it was with vinegar. I remember my grandmother making salad by sprinkling a teaspoon of sugar, salt and pepper over the salad and then pouring in some vinegar. By the time the salad was eaten, the dressing was a mix of tomato, cucumber and onion juices mixed in with the vinegar and sugar. Grandma drank it straight down and taught the habit to my sister, Tricia. I drink it now too and have discovered there is nothing quite as bracing as a mouth full of vinegar juices.

I often have flavoured vinegar in the cupboard. I make it up ahead of time so it can develop flavour and add extra depth to potato salad, coleslaw, fish and quick pickles. If you add two tablespoons of this vinegar to mayonnaise, it cuts the creaminess back nicely and gives it a little kick.  I've been using flavoured malt vinegar recently so I decided on an apple cider vinegar this time.  It's a simple process that takes less than five minutes. All I do is place vinegar, sugar and spices in a saucepan and bring it up to a hot, but not boiling, temperature.  You can use any spices you fancy, I tend to use the traditional pickling spices of mustard seed - I have yellow and black here, celery seeds, pepper, chilli flakes and salt. I used two small fresh bay leaves too. I'm not giving you any set amounts because this is one of those things where you throw the recipe out the window and rely on your own taste to guide you. When it tastes right, it's right.  But as a little hint, I used 400 mls of cider vinegar and ½ cup raw sugar.  If the taste is too sharp and it's already sweet enough, add a little water to mellow it. When you have the base liquid to your taste, start adding the spices you like.

White vinegar will result in a clear liquid, cider vinegar will go cloudy.

Pour it into a jar while it's still hot and let it sit on the bench while it cools. Stir it occasionally to bring in the flavour of the spices even more.  If you don't like the floating seeds in the vinegar, strain them out after a couple of days when the flavours have completely developed.  I always store this in the fridge. I'm not sure of the acidity level of the vinegar, it needs to be 5% to be stable in a cupboard, so it's safer in the fridge.

A great use for this is to do a quick pickled cucumber. Three to fours hours before using it, slice cucumber and some onion and place in a bowl. Sprinkle over about a tablespoon of salt and let the cucumbers sit for 45 minutes. This draws water from the vegetables so you don't get watered down vinegar when you fill the jars. Wash the salt off before placing the cucumbers in a jar. Pour over just enough vinegar to cover the slices and allow it to sit until you use them.

We're still working our way through the citrus. The orange tree has been picked, we have a jug of fresh orange juice in the fridge and the last bucket of oranges waiting to juiced.  There are still a lot of lemons on the trees and I had about 1500 mls of lemon juice in the fridge waiting to be used. I made more 100ml portions of lemon juice ice blocks and used the rest of the juice I had to make a small amount of lemon cordial.  It will give us a nice boost of vitamin C over winter.  This is my usual recipe for cordial.   It's delicious made up as a cold drink but you can also add it to hot black tea in winter.

Such simple liquids, but they both transform any food they're added to. Do you have a favourite vinegar or juice recipe?


27 June 2017

They're back!

If you were reading here last year or the year before, you'll probably remember how I became hooked on watching brown bears live streaming from Brooks Falls  in Alaska's Katmai National Park. It was fascinating viewing and, I believe, a true privilege to be able to watch wild animals living side by side in their natural habitat so far away.

 I took these two photos this morning.

As with most things we find joy in, bear watching comes in fairly small doses and in October/November the bears start climbing nearby Dumpling Mountain to hibernate over winter. When they make that climb, they're in top condition with enough fat and nutrition to see them through months with no food.

They came back this week and the past couple of days Jamie and I have been catching glimpses of the bears as they return to Brooks Falls. They're not there all the time but soon they will be. The bears are drawn to the falls by hundreds of thousands of sockeye salmon as they swim up stream to spawn. The cycle replays every year - the salmon return to reproduce and as they swim upstream to do that, many become weak, the bears get their fill of high value food, the salmon eventually reach their destination, spawn, die and float back down river where the bears and gulls tidy up, fuelling their bodies for the coming winter.

This photo was taken late last year.

There is only one camera operating at the moment, and there will be four soon, but even with one camera it's something you should see. It's a rare sight seeing those huge bears scrambling after fish, swimming, establishing their place in the hierarchy, and living alongside other wild creatures such as wolves and the ever-present seagulls.

July is the peak bear watching month but there are already a few small bears at the falls, along with a mother with three cubs. Every week from now on we'll see an increase in the number of bears feeding at the falls. If you get a chance, have a look. Like me, you'll probably be amazed at how we can sit in our homes while watching these beautiful animals, live out there, living in the wilderness.


This little fellow is at the falls now. It's 5.30pm there and the bears will continue feeding until midnight.


My sincere thanks to everyone who left a comment on the previous post about how they reduce their household waste.  There were many excellent ideas that I know will help others work on this important aspect of home management.  Soon there will be other posts dealing with the waste issue and I hope we have your continued involvement as we build up a resource for everyone to refer to.


23 June 2017

Weekend reading

We're having a fairly mild winter so far with cool to cold nights and warm sunny days. It's ideal gardening weather. How is it where you live?  I haven't had much time for gardening this week because I've been writing the notes for my blogging course. Happily, I've finished that now and I'm hoping to get out into the garden this afternoon to tie up some wayward tomatoes and sweet peas and fertilise some of the vegetables.

I hope you've had a good week. I look forward to seeing you again on Monday.  😋

Cut power bills this winter
3 ways to turn herbs into cleaning products
How to make chilli powder
How to make passatta
How to make sauerkraut
Australians spend less on food but waste more of it than we did in the 1970s
The good, bad and ugly truth about your career after 50
How To Stop Losing Your Socks in the Wash
Vegan cashew icecream
Throwaway culture has spread packaging waste worldwide

20 June 2017

Using traditional skills in a modern home

We all work in different ways in our homes.  Some of us have babies, children or elders to care for, some produce fresh food in the backyard, there are readers with cows, goats, chooks, ducks, geese and bees, many of us make laundry liquid and soap, we have candle makers, quilt makers and producers who, for necessity or love, make all sorts of things. We also have people who go out to work and who are part-time homemakers, doing their chores after their paid work and on weekends. There is no doubt about it, there is always something to do in our homes and homemakers, both full time and part time, are the ones who get things done.

The idea that is sometimes floated in magazines, or gossiped about, that homemakers sit around drinking coffee with their friends or watching TV is laughable. I'm sure there are some women, and men, who do that but it is not the group defined as homemakers.  We're busy creating the life we want to live and we do that by working at a thousand different things in our homes.

Here at our place, Hanno has been busy harvesting and juicing oranges and lemons. I've been picking herbs so I can freeze them before they die off during winter. We look after grandchildren. Hanno has deep cleaned the chook house and tidied the yard. I made up a ten litre batch of laundry liquid a few days ago. I've sown seeds, cleaned cupboards and washed curtains with Hanno's help. I don't know what we'll do tomorrow, but it will be very similar to what we did today. And yes, we sit down to rest and drink tea, we have conversations about work and life and then we carry on.

As I was thinking about all this yesterday, it occurred to me that it is the traditional work that most of us love doing. It's the harvesting, the slow cooking of food, the jam making, fermenting, soap making, sewing, mending and reusing, over and over again, what we can. They are our pleasures. If we can do our work using a traditional method, that is what we do. I can't say I've ever thought how wonderful it is to use a tea bag but I love making tea in a pot so that I can pour that properly brewed tea into cups standing on saucers. I've never celebrated paying through the teeth for a bottle of laundry liquid at the supermarket but I adore opening my plastic bucket to scoop our a tiny portion of homemade laundry liquid. Do you know of anyone who looks forward to a store-bought frozen meal heated in the microwave?  I don't, but I know many who want to eat the food I cook from scratch. Beautiful handmade soap is such a tender treat and sleeping under a homemade family quilt surely brings the best sleep.  It's the keeping of old ways that make these tasks remarkable and significant.

I'm always motivated to work when I see or read about others working in their homes. I feel like I'm part of a big working bee and that if we all pull together, everything that needs doing will be done. Most of us aren't part of a community that takes part in barn raisings or working bees but we have one going here. You in your home making bread and biscuits this morning, me starting to prepare vegetables for our lunch at noon, Hanno out the back fixing a fence, Kate who has been knitting beanies and gloves, Jack who moved his bee hives yesterday, and I've seen those gorgeous photos of cakes and slices made by our local ladies for the recent show. No, we're not part of a real life community who does those things but we're doing them nonetheless and we're reaching around the world with our photos and words. Let's celebrate our work and what we do at home. We're keeping traditional skills alive and supporting each other in the work that others seem to have forgotten. And that's worth celebrating. ❤️


16 June 2017

Weekend reading

Another week almost over and I don't have much to show for it. I've been concentrating on my blog course this week and should have it ready to send out on 26 June.  It's been raining or overcast here so the temperature has been at a mild 10 - 15C at night and 20C during the day. Next week will probably be colder.  If you're in the northern hemisphere, I hope you're enjoying your summer temperatures, if you're here in the south, I hope you're not too cold and have a warm home to shelter in.

Thanks for your visits this week. Visitor numbers are starting to increase again which is surprising as I've been around so long.  Still, I hope my new readers find the blog interesting and motivating. I'll see you all again next week. Have a lovely weekend, my friends. xx

How your clothes are poisoning our oceans and food supply
Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts
Australians want government to focus on renewables even if it costs more
The Great Allotment Challenge - first series, no. 1  I love this series, particularly the Make challenge.
20 best vegetarian recipes: part 3
A story about cold chickens and their knitted jackets - this is in my neighbourhood 😊
Patterns for aprons, modest clothing - women, girls, men and boys, some free patterns
Consumer watchdog launches legal action against Thermomix
Cooking hacks - You tube
Swedish Food - lots of delicious recipes here
How to control tomato caterpillar


15 June 2017

Winter warmer - beef with vegetables

We had this for lunch yesterday and it was delicious.  Just to set the scene for you, outside was wet, windy and cold and this meal was an aromatic pleasure that carried on for hours.  As soon as it started cooking on the stove top, then braising in the oven, the aroma sent out the message: you'll be having a delicious warming lunch soon.

If you want to make this recipe, when you buy your meat, don't buy good quality steak. It will dry out and be tasteless. You want a cheaper cut, something like round, blade or skirt steak. The meal will cook slowly for a couple of hours so even if there is a bit of gristle or sinew in the steak, which is often present in secondary cuts, it will melt during the cooking process and add to the flavour of the dish.  I used two thin pieces of round steak. The vegetables you choose can be whatever you're growing or what's in the fridge. I had some mushrooms and a leek I wanted to use but I started with what I usually start with - onion, carrot and celery. This is commonly known as a mirepoix, which is the flavour base of most European-style casseroles/stews.  


one thin slice of round, skirt or blade steak for each person you're serving. This needs to be thinned out with a meat mallet so all the meat is the same thickness.
For the stuffing
Leek or onion
Speck - cut into lard ons, or bacon - cut into small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
The sauce
Either beef or chicken stock or water and a stock cube
Salt, pepper, paprika, plain flour, parsley

chopping vegetables
First, prepare vegetables for the stuffing.

Place into a frying pan with a small splash of olive oil and cook until the speck/bacon is crispy and mushrooms and leeks/onions wilt a little.
prepare meat
While the stuffing is cooking, thin all the meat slices.

stuffing meat
Then place a small amount of stuffing on the meat and fold it so you can secure all sides with toothpicks.  The steak isn't rolled, it's folded so it forms a pocket.

cooking beef rolls
Place the stuffed steaks in the same frying pan you cooked the stuffing in and start browning them on both sides.  Don't miss this step because this browning process is where you start building natural flavour in your meal.
When the meat is seared on both sides, place it in a casserole dish suitable for slow cooking in the oven.
When the frying pan is free again, start your mirepoix. Add chopped carrot, celery and onion (the onion went in after I took the photo), salt and pepper to your taste, two teaspoons of paprika, two tablespoons plain/all purpose flour and cook on medium heat till the vegetables and flour develop some brown colour.  Again, this will add natural flavour to your meal.

Add the mirepoix mix to the casserole dish, add whatever vegetables you want to add. In addition to the mirepoix, I used the rest of my mushrooms, some chopped herbs and the leftover stuffing. Pour in about one litre of water with a stock cube, or stock. You could also add some Worcester Sauce for added flavour. 

Heat up the mix on the stove top, put the lid on, then place in a pre-heated oven and cook at 165C/330F for about two hours.

beef stew
About one hour before you intend eating the meal, add some potatoes and greens so it's a one pot meal.  I added potatoes and Brussel sprouts. Test taste to see if you need to add a little more seasoning. 

beef stew
This is a really delicious meal that will fill you up and make you feel well fed. It is good home cooking that is tasty and healthy and you can mix it up depending on what's available in the fridge or garden. Don't forget to remove the toothpicks before serving. 

I hope you try this, especially if you're having a cold spell where you live. If you give it a go, let me know what you and the family think of it.


13 June 2017

A recommendation

I want to recommend two products to you. I use these here and as they're not in the mainstream of consumer products, I thought some of you may be interested in them.  I have no affiliation with Slipgard or Clover.

Many of you might remember we renovated our bathroom last year and instead of a regular shower enclosure, we installed a walk-in shower with tiled floor and a glass screen. It's been a real pleasure to shower in there but it had one draw back for both of us. We felt we might slip on the tiles in the shower when they were wet. We used an anti-slip tile to the Australian standard but they felt slippery. We bought an anti-slip mat but it absorbed and held water and eventually it became a slip hazard too.  I couldn't find anything in our local hardware stores or paint shop but online I found an Australian product called Slipgard  We purchased a pack for $69 which included the Slipgard and a bottle of Tile Power, which cleaned and prepared the tiles.

Hanno applied two coats of Slipgard, it took minutes to dry, there were no fumes, it's environmentally sound and the tiles look the same. We've been using it for a week and the floor feels very safe now. Even when wet, it's not slippery and we can move around with ease. We also did the tiles at the front door, they too now have a good grip, even when wet.  Slipgard is guaranteed for 5 years. It's a really good product that I've never seen advertised anywhere.

My next product is an excellent thimble from Clover. I'm sure many of my patchworking friends would know this thimble. It's got a metal tip with a silicone cup which fits over the finger comfortably. You can use it for hours with your hand stitching. It's much better than any other thimble I've ever used.  I bought mine from my local patchwork shop, The Patchwork Angel.


9 June 2017

I want to die happy

Dying happy

Homemaking attracts people from all walks of life, with differing wants, needs, philosophies and ambitions. I have a degree, a moderate amount of quiet success in small business and, regrettably, a personal history of waste and overspending. But I had an epiphany of sorts many years ago and since then my aim was to create a safe, comfortable and loving home for Hanno and I and everyone who visits us here. I'm glad I made the changes I did all those years ago because I have grandchildren now and the reason we live as we do is crystal clear to me now. 

I think my history focused me like a laser beam on my home because over spending, waste and living in a disordered home made me unhappy. We only have the pleasure of living in a beautiful and secure home if we put the time and effort in to create it. Nothing is handed to us on a silver platter and most of us have the opportunity to not only work for a living but to also create the kind of simple  life we want to live.  I want to be comfortable and content in my final years, I want an interesting life because I have more time to enjoy my days now and I want to die happy.  We all want that, don't we?

When I first came home, I wasn't really sure what to do, so I tried to do it all. I remembered how things were as I grew up and my days were full of home production, growing food, storing and preserving, mending, creating and serving delicious food in an atmosphere of fluffy, calm comfort. It was very self conscious and focused at first. I've mellowed a lot and relaxed into it now, everything flows and I have much more time to enjoy the process and breathe in the fresh air.  I smile a lot, especially when no one else is around.

I think I'm very fortunate to have had the upbringing I did, the family I have, the education I had and that I took advantage of most of the opportunities that came my way. All that made me the person I am today. But when I look back and see where I've been and where I am now, I am absolutely convinced that I'm here right now because I changed the way I think about money and possessions. And that is the opposite of what I grew up believing, which was that I, and everyone, were made happy by earning as much money as possible and then spending it on whatever we wanted.

I'm happier now than I've ever been and I'm grateful to have learned lessons that were often hidden and not talked about.  It takes a bit of digging and self belief, but the truth, your truth, is there. You just have to find it and believe it when you do, because it won't be the truth you expect and it won't be what everyone else is doing.

Is your story similar to mine? Do you think you're on that path now?


8 June 2017

Daily routines and seasonal rhythms

It's been comforting to get back to my regular household routines after a few years of intensive writing. Once established, rhythms and routines help you get through repetitive housework. They reduce procrastination that can take hold of us sometimes and they help us work at the same time and pace as we did yesterday and will do again tomorrow. You don't sit at the kitchen table wondering what you should be doing, or staring at the computer screen with another cup of coffee wondering where the day went. When you have your daily routine worked out, you'll have all your tasks done and still have time to do what you want or need to do - be that sewing, gardening, talking to friends, looking after grandchildren, working in your home business or going out to work.

I don't set specific times for my domestic tasks. Instead, I have a list of things that I want done by a certain time. That works well for me but it's not the only way to do it.  We eat our main meal at midday here so my routine is to have a group of tasks completed before I start making lunch. That includes making the bed, tidying the kitchen, general cleaning, straightening the lounge room and doing the floors. My routine isn't the same every day. It's either that exact list or a variation of it, depending on what needs to be done.

The way to start developing your own routines is to make a short list of what you need to do, either on a daily basis, over the course of a week or month.  A list for a daily routine would probably look something like this:
  • Make the bed
  • Prepare breakfast
  • Prepare lunches for school and work (although this is probably better done the night before)
  • Pack dishwasher and wipe down kitchen benches
  • Prepare the evening meal to go into the slow cooker or remove a meal or frozen meat from the freezer 
  • Load washing machine with one load
Decide how much time you have to carry out everything on your list. I would expect the list above to take about one hour, or you could do what I do and tell yourself everything on the list has to be finished by 7 or 8 or 9 or 10 or 11am.

When you do your list the first time, you may need to make minor adjustments. For instance, if you have a limited amount of time to get through the list and you can't do it all, you could carry out a couple of the tasks the evening before. Things like preparing lunches or preparing the evening meal could be done after dinner the evening before.  Don't be shy in asking the family for help with this. You are not the only person who should be working in your home. This work should be shared.  Teenagers and older primary school children could load the dishwasher, wipe the benches, change their bed linen or load the washing machine. They could probably make their own lunches too.  They might complain when they start all this, particularly if they haven't helped with house work before, but they will grow into the habit of it, just as you will, and it will become easier and just be a part of their day. And believe me, when they grow up, they'll be able to look after themselves and they'll thank you for it.

After the first day, decide what worked and what needs changing. Whatever needs tweaking, do it after that first day so that on day two you have a clear run through.  If you still have problems, keep tweaking so you can do your list in the time you allow yourself.

Often you'll have at least two sets of daily routines - one morning, one evening. When they're established, work out your weekly and monthly routines. Weekly routines will be for cleaning bathrooms, changing bed linen, vacuuming the floor, menu planning etc while monthly routines will help you deal with cleaning the fridge and dishwasher etc.  It you need help creating your lists, there are hundreds of housework lists here. Just make sure your lists cover all the work you need to do and you set realistic time goals.

You can make up short lists for other areas at other times too, and this is especially helpful for seasonal cleaning or on weekends when you need to get through your housework as well as spend time with your family. But start with daily routines first and when you've settled into them, create weekly and monthly lists as well. How do you organise your housework? Do routines work for you?

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