29 August 2017

Save money, fewer preservatives

One of the easy ways to cut back a bit on your grocery bill is to make some of the things you usually buy.  We all know about laundry liquid, bread, biscuits and meals from scratch but there are a few others you might like to try.  The added bonus in most of these things is that you cut out the preservatives that usually come as part of the food products we buy. Yesterday I spent 30 minutes making pure lemon juice ice blocks, gravy mix and flavoured vinegar. They'll be small savings but I'll never buy lemon juice, gravy mix or salad dressing again so these small savings are permanent. And we'll eat fewer preservatives.

If you have your own tree or a friend with a lemon tree, making lemon juice ice blocks in ice block trays makes up a convenient, long term juice.  I just looked up the Woolworths site and their lemon juice 500ml is $1.65, but according to the label, it contains Reconstituted Lemon Juice (99.9%), Food Acid (Ascorbic Acid), Natural Flavour, Preservative (223). Preservative 223 is in the sulphite group, it's Sodium metabisulphite, which can cause allergic reactions.  Ugh.

I just juice lemons and freeze the pure juice in trays, then store them in bags in the freezer. If I organise myself properly, I'll have enough small portions of pure juice to see me through the year. It's easy enough to take out a small or large juice block for salad dressing, cordials or cooking. And it's just pure juice! Fancy that. 

My next task was to make gravy mix.  I make a very simple mix of plain flour, salt, pepper and paprika. I also make one for roast lamb to which I add dried rosemary and one for roast chicken with dried sage.  When added to pan juices, it makes an excellent gravy or sauce. I make up about a cup of the simple mix at a time and that lasts a month or so. I use one or two tablespoons stirred into pan juices with enough water to make up the sauce. It's easier than getting all the ingredients from the cupboard every time I make gravy and it's healthier and cheaper than Gravox or one of those packet mixes.  This is stored in the pantry cupboard.

Simple Gravy Mix - customise this to your own taste but start off with:
1 cup plain flour
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

To make the herb mixes, add 1 teaspoon of dried herbs of your choice to the above mix.

According to the Woolworths listing of Gravox it contains: Maltodextrin (From Maize), Maize Starch, Salt, Shortening Powder, Vegetable Gum (Guar), Colour (Caramel Iii), Flavours, Dextrose, Anticaking Agent (450), Canola Oil, Yeast Extracts.  😮

My final product was flavoured vinegar. I don't like oil in my salad dressing so this is what I use. I make up about 300 ml at a time and store it in the fridge. I use it on salad and add it to mayonnaise when I make potato salad. It cuts back the creaminess a bit.

To make my flavoured vinegar I use Cornwells white vinegar (not cleaning vinegar) 😵 and to a small saucepan I add a teaspoon of celery seeds, a teaspoon of mixed black and yellow mustard seeds, ¼ teaspoon turmeric, 2 fresh bay leaves from the garden and salt and sugar to taste. You can add water as well if you want to mellow it out a bit.  Place the saucepan on the stove and bring to the boil. When it comes to the boil, turn off the heat, leave the lid on and allow the pan to sit on the stove overnight to steep.  Heating and steeping the brew will get the best flavour from the seeds and seasoning you use.

In another version of this, you could add any dried herb, spice, garlic, chilli, wasabi or ginger. Test taste as you go and make sure it's to your taste before you bottle it. Adding olive oil and mustard when the vinegar cools down could replace conventional salad dressing. Most supermarket salad dressing cost $4 for 250ml. This is cheaper and healthier. This is the ingredient list from the conventional Paul Newmans salad dressing: Water, Vegetable Oil (Soybean and or Canola Oil), Red Wine Vinegar, Olive Oil, Dijon Mustard (Vinegar, Water, Mustard Seed, Salt, White Wine, Acidity Regulators: {Citric Acid, Tartaric Acid}, Spices), Onion Puree, Sugars, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Salt, Mustard Flour, Pepper, Garlic Powder, Distilled Vinegar, Natural Flavour, Emulsifier (435).

So, for very little effort and around 30 minutes of my time, I've made up healthy versions of three commonly used kitchen products. I'd say that's time well spent because I've spent less than I would have had I bought these products and I know what is in the food we eat.  Win-win!  🌶


28 August 2017

Gracie 'helps' in the garden

We finished off the blog courses yesterday with a Skype chat. I really enjoyed the course - I loved meeting the ladies and helping them move ahead with their blogs. It was great matching a talking face and personality to wonderful women who had just been a name to me before the course. I'll publish a list of the final few blogs on Friday so you can check out what the ladies have been working on.

 The workers having a break on the front verandah.

We usually don't allow Gracie up on the furniture so she made the most of it yesterday by taking up as much space as possible.

After the course, I cooked lunch then we cleaned up and did a bit of work in the front garden.  Gracie came out there with us as the chickens were roaming the back yard. She loves being in the front garden. She sniffed and followed ant and lizard trails, did a bit of digging and running and was on the lookout for dogs being walked along the street. She's such a character.  When we came inside again, she ran through the house at full speed for five minutes, then dropped and rested for a while. We've never had a dog that has made us laugh so much. She's a real joy to live with.

During the week I'll be making a few things in the kitchen, Shane, Sarndra and the kids will be here for dinner tomorrow night, I'm starting on some live Christmas gifts and I want to write about sun angles in the garden. Of course, I'll write about it all as I go so I hope to see you again as the days pass.  I think it will be a good week.  ❤️

26 August 2017

Weekend reading

Hello everyone. I'm looking forward to a quiet and relaxed weekend. I made a lemon tart yesterday and lunch is left overs so not much cooking to be done today. Most of my time will be spent gardening and decluttering. 

Our cucumber seedlings are growing well. This one still has the seed clinging to the tip of a new leaf.

I have the last of the blogging Skype chats tomorrow; this is the fourth one. They've been an unexpected joy. A gaggle of us sit around with our cuppas, me here and the other ladies in their homes, we can see and hear each other and we talk about how to write about our lives. It's like having a series of morning teas with friends. It's shown me just how close we can be when we have the technology to support it.  If you've developed friendships online over the years, and you wish you could pull up a chair and sit down together for morning tea, there is nothing stopping you from doing that now. Sure, you're not in the same room but you can have a good talk just as you would around your own kitchen table. All you need is Skype and someone to organise your gaggle. I think you can have up to about 10 people in the session. Here's how to do it. Why not give it a try?

I hope you have a lovely weekend. Rest up, relax and take advantage of your down time. Next week will come soon enough. xx

This is Australia as 100 people
1.5 Acres of High Intensity, No-Till Vegetable Production
Australia's Karenni refugees cultivate community through Wollongong farming initiative
The triple puff granny square - free crochet pattern

25 August 2017

Organising cook book shelves

I don't know about you but I have a hard time keeping my cook books organised. Often I take them into my work room and after I find what I need, they sit on my sewing table for a couple of weeks.  By the time they are returned to the shelf, other books have taken their place and they go to a new spot.

I don't like sorting them into categories, because I'm quite a chaotic person and I'm comfortable with random placements. I'd never sort them by the colour of the cover and as crazy as it sounds, I've seen photos of books that have been sorted by colour.  That's the book equivalent of buying art to suit the colour of a room. Pfffft!  

But I'm happy with the placement I have now.  To my eye it's interesting and neat but even though it doesn't look like it, there are reasons for all the placements.  It probably doesn't matter much though. In two weeks it won't look like this because I look through these books frequently and my photos are memorialising their temporary places. Still, I'm happy with it and for a couple of days it will make me smile as I sneak a peak walking past.

What's your cook book shelf like?


21 August 2017

A good old working bee

Hanno asked me to pass on his thanks for all the good wishes you sent.  Reading through your comments made him feel better.  He's still weak but his chest has cleared and it looks like he's on the road to recovery. Thank you all for your thoughtfulness.

 The delicate and tiny Cecile Brunner rose.

There is no doubt about it, old roses are bullet-proof. When Hanno took down our ancient wobbly wooden arbour in the front garden, we got rid of the wisteria and moved the 20 year old Cecile Brunner rose. I hoped it would survive but I wasn't sure. The transplanting procedure was typical - we carefully dug it up and let it sit in a bucket of diluted seaweed solution. When it was planted again - this time in the vegetable garden fronting the chicken run - it was watered in with seaweed and watered every day.  That was a month ago. I hadn't seen any signs of life and took my trusty garden knife out to check the cambium layer; that is the layer under the bark where moisture and nutrients travel through the rose. It was moist and healthy so I knew Cecile was still alive, she just needed more time. Yesterday, I noticed the first shoots on both trunks and now I have visions of Cecile Brunner establishing herself along that back fence, providing me with a beautiful backdrop over the wire chook fence. Every time I see a Cecile Brunner rose, I think of my mother who grew her Cecile rose along the side fence. It's such a beautiful reminder to have in the backyard.

I transplanted some of the Welsh onions to make way for Cayenne chilli bushes. This bunch was divided into eight clumps.
Another basket of delicious tomatoes.
I've spent the last couple of weeks working in the garden and sitting in the shade thinking about the plants and the coming hot weather.  I've finished doing all I can do now. I'm hoping that as it gets hotter, the mulch will keep the weeds down and the water in the soil. Everything that needs it is cut back, tied up, fertilised and ready for Spring.  Don't forget to get out and do some pre-summer jobs in your garden if you have the time. Just about everything will benefit from a cut back, vines and tomatoes need to be supported and tied back and if you're in Australia, it's the ideal time to fertilise.  I've just added liquid potash, organic pellets and liquid seaweed and fertiliser to the entire back garden. It will make a big difference in the coming days and weeks and the plants will go into renewed growth much healthier and better able to cope with the heat.

I'll stop gardening when the humidity returns some time in November. When it's humid, there are lots of bugs and it's too hot to be outside for long periods. Then I'll put it all to bed for a few months and start up again in March next year. But until then I can keep harvesting parsley, thyme, dill, rosemary, basil, mint, oregano, bay, green leaves, tomatoes, cucumbers and chillies.  I've ripped out all the large tomato plants and we're continuing along with two cocktail tomatoes, about golf ball size, and one cherry tomato. In future years we'll only grow small tomatoes because we have too many problems with the beautiful large heirlooms.  We don't have fruit fly but we've always had a night-visiting moth that sucks juice from large tomatoes. It seems to have been worse the last couple of years so I'm giving up and staying with the smaller varieties.

This is the new edging around one of the orange trees. It's holding in the mulch.

The citrus are thriving and they're very important to us. We always get a huge return on the work we put into our lemons and oranges.  I've put up a small border around two of our Washington navels and filled in with organic sugar cane mulch. We also have a late orange - Lane's Late - which is starting to grow well and will extend our orange season by a couple of months. One of our Eureka lemons has had a boron deficiency - brown patches in the flesh - so I've given them all a dose of trace elements that should  fix it. Hanno balanced out the other side of our old lemon tree by cutting off the old branches and now it's looking better than it has for many years.

I was going to plant cucumbers in the trellis garden where we grew berries last year but I don't have the will or the strength to dig up the hard soil there. I'll plant the cucumbers over the garden arch this year and let the berries come through again. I'm learning to be very flexible with my gardening plans. ;- )

The garden looks quite bare now although there are still lots of greens. I've harvested a lot of tomatoes and herbs and pruned back the roses. Everything should start growing strongly when the warmer weather starts again. It feels good to have done this garden work. It's a long time since I've had sole responsibility for the garden but when I packed up my trolley and brought in the garden tools and hose, it felt good. It was certainly time well spent.

Have you done any work in your garden lately?


18 August 2017

Weekend reading

There are a lot of elderflowers this year.

Hanno hasn't been well and during the week he was diagnosed with pneumonia, again. This is the second time in 18 months. He also had an internal bleed due to his Warfarin levels being too high - apparently a side effect of the antibiotics. He's going through the process of healing now, taking it slow, breathing in clean air, eating nourishing food and getting back in shape for his birthday next month. He'll be 77.

With Hanno out of action I've been doing a bit more work here which, of course, takes more time.  At the moment I'm trying to get the garden and bush house ready for summer. I'm on target to do that which will make things easier for us later when the hot weather returns.  We've had a sneak preview of that the past couple of days with our temperature here rising to 31C yesterday after a very warm week.

I hope things have been good in your neck of the woods. Thanks for your visits this week, enjoy your weekend and don't forget to stop a few times during the day to appreciate what it is you're working for.  See you next week. 💕

Inner Pickle blog is back! For those of you who know Fiona, she's blogging again, for those who have no idea, click on the link and get acquainted. She returns with her passionfruit slice recipe. Yum!

15 August 2017

Can you learn to love hard work?

Amy left this comment a few days ago:
Can you do a post or point me to resources about how to love hard work? I'm finding that being a wife, mother, and grown up is frankly a lot harder than I thought it would be! I keep trying to look for solutions (usually via some gadget/ something convenient to buy) but I'm realizing it's just plain hard. Need some help "digging in" and expecting/ enjoying the work...even the small stuff.

Amy, I doubt you can be taught how to love hard work. You either love it or you don't. I think the real point of this post will be to work out how you get to the point where you want to do the work. I know nothing of your circumstances but I do know this. If you want to live in a clean house you have to clean it, if you want to get into a comfy bed at night, you have to make it in the morning, if you want clean clothes, you have to do the laundry, if you want to eat nourishing food, you have to grow or buy it and learn how to store and cook it. And when you've finished cooking, you have to clean up. Unless you're wealthy and can pay others to look after you, the time has come for you to step up, work out what you want for yourself and your family, and then do the work to make it happen.

From what I can see, you have two choices. Either decide it's all too hard and stay as you are, or think about the kind of life you want, decide on what values are important to you and start changing.  The first option will be easy now and become more difficult later, the second option will be difficult now but will become easier as you learn more. Being a grown up is hard, being a mother is the toughest thing I've ever done, but the rewards are significant and beautiful. If I can do it, you can too.  So sit down with your partner and work out your priorities.

The main things you'll need to focus on are living on a budget, saving for a home and creating a sustainable and thrifty home and lifestyle. And within that framework, you'll simplify your mindset, live a slower life and show your child, by example, that you don't have to work until you drop to pay for products, produced in their millions, which end up in landfill. You don't say if you're going out to work but if you are, the housework is something you should share with your partner.  If you're at home looking after your child, make that and your home your career. Run your home like a small business, with your partner earning the money and you using that money to build the life you both want. There are many ways you can move away from the mainstream model of what "normal" life is nowadays. You'll be able to make things you used to buy, use fewer chemicals in your home, cook from scratch, mend and recycle. By doing those things, slowly but surely, you'll create a new life.

As you do all those things, you'll develop routines and become more organised.  If you read through my blog and a few others, you'll learn how to make shortcuts that will make you more efficient. You'll develop a new strategy for your grocery shopping, set spending targets that are lower than what you're used to and then use the money you'll save for a home deposit or to pay off debt you may already have. It's all within your reach but you'll have to have a clear vision of the life you want to live and you'll have to change your attitude. I've listed a few of my older posts below to help you get started but there are a lot of other posts there that are exactly what all this is about. I hope you take the time to read some of them and then put your plan in action.  It won't be easy but it will get easier and I think you'll grow to love your new life. Good luck and keep in touch.


14 August 2017


Last week Donna commented that she and her husband will soon be first time grandparents and wondered if I had any tips to pass on.  Of course I'm happy to share my own experience of being a grandma but I think that every grandmother-grandchild relationship is unique and even though there are many similarities, there are just as many differences. Children are wildly different too. What works with one grandchild, won't work on another, so you tear up the guide book and reinvent the strategy for each child. It's also worth remembering that times have changed since we raised our children and while that doesn't mean that everything is different, most things are and you'll need to be guided by the parents and do a bit of reading yourself.

These are my boys at age four and five.

It's a wonderful thing to live long enough to be able to hold your grandbaby in your arms. You get a sense of pleasure and duty but it also gives you an extremely clear perspective on your place within your family, both living and dead. I started researching my genealogy 37 years ago when my children were born but I didn't understand my significance in my family's story until my grandchildren came along. It's good for your grandchildren to know how they fit in their family history too.

Becoming a grandmother is overwhelming, mysterious, thrilling, exciting, terrifying, the most unimaginable thing and the most natural thing all at the same time. Everyone has their own take on it but no one forgets that first look on the day it all starts. I think it's my responsibility to love each of my three grandchildren, to show them respect, kindness, strength, intelligence and unconditional acceptance and love. I try harder and walk taller when they're here with me. I try to show them that I'm a hard worker, that I do what I can for myself, that I'm optimistic and content and that they make me happy. I help them solve problems, I show them how to do practical things and I teach by example.

But in those first few months, it's not only the new baby that needs nurturing; it's the parents too. They're learning how to be parents, they have the bulk of the work and they usually don't get much sleep. If you can offer practical help in the form of babysitting so they can have some time together, catch up on sleep, or just do the housework, those gestures help develop better relationships while providing practical help.

You don't need to keep much at your place but I've found it's wise to have a spare baby bottle and sippy cup in the cupboard. Buy a couple of books to read and a little teddy bear and if you have a quiet space where baby can sleep in those first few months, it will help. Take the lead from the parents on nappies - it's quite common for parents to use disposable nappies so don't lecture them if you'd prefer they used cloth nappies. Remember, this is not your baby. Think back to how you would have felt if you mother or mother-in-law told you you should be doing X when all you could manage was Y. New parents need support and help, not confrontation.

But having said that, don't be a doormat for your children either. If you're asked to babysit and you can't do it, or don't want to do it, let them know. We have a really good relationship with our kids and even now, after six years of babysitting when we're needed, our kids still ring and ask if we can look after our grandkids. They never take it for granted, and they always thank us when they leave.

I guess to sum it up, give as much as you can in the form of practical help without feeling miserable about it.  Remember that generally the more time you spend with your grandchildren the closer you'll be. Don't expect them to feel instant love, they'll have to get used to you, they'll have to spend time with you and if you can develop a strong bond with them without it involving toys and gifts, you'll be on the right track. But most of all just enjoy those new babies as they arrive and be the kind of help you'd wished for when you were a new mum. Congratulations new grandma. You're in for the ride of your life.

I wonder what the other grandmothers here will tell you.


10 August 2017

One year old!

This photo was taken yesterday afternoon as Gracie was posing on the verandah.

Happy birthday to our dear Gracie who is one year old today.  We're taking her to the beach for lunch and a run around. Despite her outbursts of craziness, we both love her dearly. She's unlike any other dog we've had before and we're looking forward to many years of Gracie antics ahead.

==  ❤️ ==

If I had to name this dish I'd probably call it chicken fricassee but it's not the traditional recipe for fricassee.  This is, however, a lightish, delicious and easy to cook chicken stew which makes its own stock as it cooks.  It's popular with children as well as adults, it's a good winter all rounder.

You can use either chicken pieces with the bone in or a whole chicken. I use a whole chicken because it's cheaper; I always use free range chicken. If you have a whole chicken, using a sharp knife and chicken shears, cut along both sides of the spine, then snip it along the cut to remove the spine. Don't discard it, it goes in the stew to help develop flavour in the stock. If you have boneless chicken pieces, use them with a good homemade chicken stock.

1 whole chicken cut into portions, or 8 chicken pieces with bone in. After removing the spine, cut off the wings, cut each of the breasts in half, cut the legs from the thighs. This will give you 8 portions plus the wings.

1 cup plain/all purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper)
1 tablespoon paprika
Olive oil for cooking
1 large onion, diced
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
4 medium potatoes, cut in quarters
½ cup parsley, finely chopped
3 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves

Mix the flour, salt, pepper and paprika together and coat each chicken piece. Place olive oil in frying pan and brown each coated chicken piece. Add the chopped vegetables and all the bones removed when you portioned the chicken. Add a litre of water and mix. Add the herbs.

Put the lid on, bring to the boil, and then place in the oven to cook slowly (about 150C/300F) for two hours. About an hour later, add some potatoes.  Yes, you can use the slow cooker instead of the oven.

As it cooks the sauce will thicken. Make sure you cook this slowly to retain the moisture. A fast cook will dry out the meat.  Serve with a green vegetable.

I hope you enjoy it.


7 August 2017

I'm not ready now, or ever, to be non-productive

I fear there is a dumbing down battle going on. It's there in food - why would we want to cook for ourselves when there are constantly changing, easy products to buy and heat up? It's there in clothes - most of us have lost the dressmaking and mending skills our great grandmothers had. It's there in general daily life where there is a constant buzz from the social media peanut gallery made up of criticism, self-rightiousness, inane comments and fake concern for, well, you name it, just about everything.  Busyness and distractions are highly prized, shopping is an entertainment rather than a necessity and there is constant pressure to follow instead of lead. Gone are the days when we were encouraged by our elders, friends, politicians and neighbours to do our best, help out, create community, cherish uniqueness and try to do better and be better. We are now learning you are what you own.

A torrential downpour on Sunday afternoon.

I think simple life is a safe haven for those of us who refuse to be dumbed down and who want to continue learning and developing ourselves all through life. School and university are the launching pads for learning but it certainly doesn't stop there. Once we have our basic education, then we have the abilities and reason to learn about the things we want in our lives. That might be home skills, traditonal skills, craft skills, developing creativity and productivity or nurturing a family, but it could also be a career with an emphasis on calmness and sustainability at home. There are always choices along the way and it is only through building your skills and knowledge that you'll be able to make the best choices for you and your family. If you take learning and self-development seriously and if you use it to enrich your home and career then you're well on your way to living the kind of splendid life that we dream about in our younger years.

The choices are key here. Instead of following a straight and monotonous "normal" path, we can step away from that to embrace learning, independence, daily contemplation, critical thinking and individual choice. Sometimes we take the easy path, sometimes the difficult one, and each day, small step by small step, we move through life. There are times when we stop and reevaluate what we're doing, sometimes small adjustments or huge leaps are made but if we resist the noise of modern life and stay focused on our own life being a work in progress, then these periods of adjustment help us continue along the road less travelled.

Having lived through six decades I'm about to move into the most challenging one. It's not easy growing old but it's certainly better than dying young. I don't want to live a fake life where I buy everything I need and take the path of least resistance. That kind of life is always partnered by the work it takes to pay for it and a huge amount of waste. I want a life that is challenging and interesting. I want to work for what I get. I want to sit in the sun when I feel like it, grow food, take cuttings, mend the things I love and do as much for myself as is possible. I'm slowing down now because of my age but I'm not ready now, or ever, to be non-productive. 

What stage of life are you at?  What are you doing with your days? Remind me of that exhilarating phase, that lasted many years for me, when I went to bed thinking about tomorrow's plans and wanting the hours to pass quickly so I could be catapulted out of bed to face the new day. I miss that.

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