31 October 2008

Along the salad trail



We have a snake living in the chook house. I think she is there for the mice and rats that hang around at night eating the leftover grain and seed. She's not bothering the chooks, she just sits up near the roof and moves away slowly if we get too close. She is a non-venomous python - either a carpet snake or a spotted python. You can see her in the photo above after she moved into the thick undergrowth behind the chook house, below you can see her yellow belly under the roof of the coop.



Luckily the girls aren't phased at all by her and although she's about 6 foot long, she's too small to swallow any of them and she's not after the eggs. Maybe in a couple of years she'd think about taking a chicken just before she hibernates. We'll have to wait and see.



Here are some of the girls in question, taking turns to peck at a cucumber that fell through the fence.



The garden is growing well and as most of you who have grown zucchinis will know, we have way too many of them. We only planted two bushes this year, plus two yellow squash, but we still can't eat or give away enough of them to keep up with production. The zucchini is pictured above and the squash below.



I wish I could say we have too many tomatoes. We eat tomatoes every day here and we grow a lot of them but no matter how many we plant we always run short.



We use tomatoes on sandwiches and pasta, Hanno likes a fried tomato with his eggs for breakfast and I always make tomato chutney every summer. When I have enough tomatoes, I'll also make tomato sauce for the stockpile cupboard. Nothing beats homemade tomato sauce.



We're growing several different types of tomatoes - the first photo is of Oxheart tomatoes, these above are beefsteaks, we also have Tommy Toe and Tropic and a row of newly planted Grosse Lisse (below).



Continuing along the salad trail, here are several varieties of lettuce.



And new beets just starting to bulk out their roots. By the time these are ready to pick in a couple of weeks time, the beets I pickled last week will be finished and these will take their place.



We have lots of cucumbers forming and new lemon cucumbers to plant out, along with some Moneymaker tomato seedlings.



It's a constant progression of sowing, planting, nurturing, harvesting, removing and replanting. Most of the time we get it right and have enough food in the backyard to feed us, but sometimes we have to buy a kilo of tomatoes to tide us over until our crop ripens.



We have some late leeks this year that I'll pick over the weekend and serve with one of our meals. It's too hot here in summer to grow any of the onion family but these leeks have just made it in time to be a useful and delicious addition to our table.



And how could I forget the corn. We don't grow a lot of corn because it takes too much water to grow it well, but what we do grow at the very beginning of the season is always appreciated for its fresh juicy sweetness, shining away on our plates like golden organic jewels.

We still have a ton of chard growing out there, and radishes, celery, pumpkins, green onions, beans and carrots. It will all eventually make its way to our table and will be appreciated for its ability to help us live a healthy and frugal life.

30 October 2008

Ascot scarf pattern



I don't consider myself a good knitter. I think my talent lies in picking projects that I'm capable of doing. :- ) That said, most knitting is plain or purl, or various combinations of it. My mother taught me to knit but I didn't see the value of it until I understood more about its meditative qualities and could slow down enough to appreciate and be changed by it.

If you're new to knitting, it's quite easy to become more proficient. You do that by knitting dishcloths - think of each one as a little sampler, but your sampler has the additional benefit of being usable as well. Sharon and other knitters have posted a lot of learn to knit sites so all you need to have is some time, a pair of needles and yarn. Once you've mastered cast on and cast off, plain and purl stitches, go back to your knitting site and have a look at the knitting abbreviations. All knitting patterns use these. On your next dishcloth, practise some of the next steps like K2tog (knit two together) or YO (yarn over), mixing them in with your plain and purl stitches and see how your pattern develops.

I am not proficient enough yet to worry about tension. I just knit until it fits. ;- )

This Ascot scarf is a simple pattern of plain, purl, K2tog and YO and it goes like this.

Cast on 34 stitches.

Knit 8 rows.
Knit 1, YO, K2tog and repeat until the end of the row.
Purl one row.

And repeat those three sets of instructions until the scarf is the size you want.

Finish with knit 8 rows and cast off.

You'll need to find some form of fixing the scarf on the neck. I chose two press studs that are hidden under two of these crocheted flowers. I set the press studs at an angle to allow the scarf to fit in around the neck but open up a little towards the shoulders. If you click on the photo above, you'll see the press studs on the right hand side. You could also use buttons or a pin/brooch.

This grey scarf measures 6 inches by 18 inches and took about 1½ balls of pure wool. I used size 6 needles. The scarf is a variation of this scarf which would be a great project if you have some silky yarn.

Nourishing Traditions followup

I want to thank everyone who contributed to yesterday's comments on Nourishing Traditions. I always enjoy reading your thoughts but I want to take this opportunity to explain something about myself that a few of you don't understand.

I firmly believe that everyone has the right to a different view to my own, and to express that view in a thoughtful and respectful way. Difference helps makes us what we are as a group of people - it makes us more interesting, it gives me reason to think about the comments left and, over time, it helps shape me and possibly others who read here. Difference allows us to see other possibilities.

When I recommended this book to you yesterday it was not so you could do what I'm doing. I don't want anyone to be an imitation of me. I made that recommendation so you could read that book and get from it whatever your stage of life, knowledge and past experience will allow you to get from it. I am 60 years old and I have enough life experience to know that many of the things that were good for me when I was 30 do not work well for me now. Needs modify throughout life, nothing is stagnant, change is necessary.

So the recommendation was not to drink raw milk or to eat meat or anything else. The recommendation was simply to read the book - and to see if it made enough sense to you to make some changes. I found the information on cholesterol and heart disease to be very interesting. I often wondered why deaths from heart disease continued to increase when the consumption of low fat foods increased. But everyone will get something different from this book and that is a good thing.

I want to remind you that my blog is not a prescription for anyone to follow. It is simply an account of how I live. If what I write gives you ideas or motivation, that's wonderful, but always remember that your life is about YOU, not me. I hope you will always be open to change, but only ever make changes after you've thought about them carefully and in the context of your own life.

Kim NZ made a good point on the cost of meat. Kim, I expect that our costs will be minimal but I will monitor it. We won't eat meat every day. Our diet will continue along the same lines - eating from the garden and backyard for the most part - we will replace a fish meal with a meat meal maybe once a week. So far I have bought 2 kg of shin beef, with the bone in, that cost $9.90 a kilo. A kilo (with bone) will make us four meals so it's affordable at the moment.

To all those people who are waiting for a reply to an email, I'm slowly getting through them and hope to contact you soon. As always, I enjoy your input here and I love that we are such a diverse group of people. I hope to be back later with the pattern for the ascot scarf.




29 October 2008

Nourishing Traditions



We are changing the way we eat. This is a big decision for us because we're going to eat meat again. I suppose it's less of a change for Hanno because he occasionally eats meat during winter, but I haven't eaten any meat for close to ten years. I started off being meat, chicken and fish-free because I was trying to help Hanno reduce his cholesterol level - he was having problems getting to a decent level, even though he'd given up eating a lot of the cheeses and other foods he loved. I thought that by him giving up meat it would take a burden from his diet that his body couldn't cope with. A couple of years into it, I went back to eating fish because I could never get a decent meal when I went travelling in my job. So we settled into this meat-less diet and I have to say that I always thought we were doing the right thing. Until now.

Then I read Nourishing Traditions, the revolutionary book by Sally Fallon. It changed the way I view food and has convinced me to eat meat again. Two days ago I ate meat for the first time in many years. I must admit I felt a bit sick at first and wondered if it was right for me but I soon settled down and felt fine. We had a beef casserole, made with shin beef, including the marrow bone. This meal was chosen to provide us with natural gelatin, minerals and enzymes.

I first came across Nourishing Traditions on the Lentils and Rice blog and was intrigued that the book had convinced Robyn to change what she ate and how she fed her family. Over the next month or two, I read more about the book and the influence it was having so when, quite by chance, I saw it for sale in my local organic co-op, I grabbed it. Hanno and I have both been reading it since and we're convinced by what the author writes. It's an easy book to read. It has a subject index as well as a recipe index and although I started reading from the beginning, now I'm looking up subjects that interest me, and spot reading.

I'm sure that people would get different messages from this book but this is what I have understood so far. There is no blanket advice that any doctor or government can give because we are all different, our bodies need differing elements and it's difficult to cover all people in one food pyramid or accepted body of knowledge. We are mammals - so we are programmed to drink milk. This starts off being human milk but expands into other types of milk and milk products - mammals commonly drink the milk of other mammals. Tampering with food to remove certain elements from it - like fat or salt - devalues it. Fat is needed to allow the take up of many of the beneficial elements in food. Raw food, in its many forms, is the best food. When I say raw I mean unprocessed - so raw milk, honey, cheese etc. Eat only pasture fed meat, not grain fed, or lot fed.

But most of all, as the title of the book states, it's about going back to the diet our great grandmas cooked. They used to eat soups and stocks made with bones; they ate the entire carcass of whatever animal they had available and didn't waste anything. They drank raw full cream milk, and made cheese from that same milk, they pre-soaked a lot of their grains and cereals - making the nutrients easily digestible when eaten. They pickled and preserved using whey.

This book made a lot of sense to me. I rarely read anything that changes how I view what I'm doing, but this book did it. I always think a lot about what I'm doing and generally, when I decide to change, it's for a reason that I've thought about and makes good sense to me. I know that many people won't get the same understanding from this book as I did. But if you get the chance to read it, do so. It might convince you to make a change.

Please note: You will most likely get this book at your local library. If you wish to buy a copy, I've added the Amazon link for the USA and UK to my side bar.

28 October 2008

Knitting and cooking

I'm very happy to tell you I'm feeling better today. I went back to the doctor yesterday and my medication was changed. It's made a difference. :- ) I can now sit here at the computer for more than 30 seconds and write what I want to write. It's been so frustrating not being able to do that.



I finished off the Ascot scarf I started the other day and have now started on a pair of these fingerless mittens that Heather wrote about on the Simple Green Frugal Co-op. The last two days have also seen these wonderful posts from Eilleen about Learning How to Sew and Oh Darn! Mending Socks or Gloves, written by Sadge.

The only other constructive work I've done in the past week is to pickle some beetroot (beets). We had a small crop of about 20 beetroot that I picked last week and left in the fridge. I finally got to them a few days ago and turned them into the most delicious bright red salad ingredient.

When you pick your beetroot, don't cut the tops off - twist the tops off and tidy the top with a knife but don't cut into the flesh of the vegetable as it will bleed into the water while it's being cooked. Wash the vegies thoroughly but don't peel them or cut into the flesh at all. Place in a pot of salted water and boil until cooked.



Then it's just a matter of making up a pickling liquid that suits your taste. I make mine like this:
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
some new fresh bay leaves
salt and pepper

I would normally have added some mustard seeds too but didn't have any.



When the beets are cooked, let them cool for a short while and when you can handle them, slip the skins off with your fingers.



Then just chop the beets into the shapes you want - either quarters or slices, place in a jar and pour over your pickling liquid. Store in the fridge. They will last for at least three months without any form of canning or preserving.

Before I go today I'd like to say a sincere thank you to a wonderful group of women who have been helping behind the scenes here. You all know that Sharon organises the swaps. She often makes more than she originally intended to because sometimes swappers drop out, and rather than allow our ladies to be disappointed, Sharon steps in. There were a number of swappers who didn't receive their promised swap this time and I'm so pleased to say that Ann R, Christine K and Stephanie all stepped in and helped. They made extras and sent them. I believe that generosity and kindness are a big part of simple lives and it tells me a lot about these women that they stepped up and helped out. Thank you ladies. I appreciate it and I'm sure the women to whom you sent your extras did too. It makes me feel stronger to see the strength of others and I want to thank Sharon, Ann, Christine and Stephanie for being a great example to us all.

24 October 2008

Stitch by stitch



Knitting has been my saving grace these past couple of days and nights. At first I couldn't concentrate on my knitting, or read a book, but with the pain easing slightly, I've taken up the needles again. I'm also reading a very interesting book, but more about that in another post. I started another Ascot scarf, for which I'm using a soft Australian 100% merino wool. The needles I'm using on this project are a pair of vintage pale aqua needles made of a very pliable soft plastic, with amber tops. They are warm in the hand and easily slide under thick wool.

I find that knitting is very similar to simple living. It's a mindful process that slows you down. It allows you to make productive that time you use to rest, and even though rest on it's own is a wonderful thing, there are many times I want to rest but still have something material come from that time. As I sit here, slowly making one stitch after another - like one small step - I know that each of those stitches is added to the overall fabric of what I'm making, just like each small step builds into a simple life.



I knitted the Ascot scarf above to wear this past winter. It's made of Lion brand organic cotton and is really soft and cuddly next to my neck. I made it wide so it's doubled over when worn to provide extra warmth. I secure it with my mum's vintage black and silver brooch/pin.



This is the rest of my recent knitting. I have a stack of cotton washcloths there that I'm adding to all the time and the red item is the beginning of a red cotton bag.

If you haven't tried knitting yet, I urge you to give it a go. You will be able to create some lovely unique things for yourself and your family and also to give as gifts for your friends. It's a truly useful skill to have and will fit into your simple life in a variety of ways. When I knit a gift I always keep the label of the yarn I use and attach that to the gift. That way the person who receives the gift knows exactly what it is made with and how to care for it.

Take care everyone.


23 October 2008

Reconnecting



Our driveway with a wall of star jasmine and agapanthus.

I'm not sure if I told you all about my knee. I had a painful attack like this about five weeks ago, just after driving back from my aunt's funeral. Now it's back again after another long drive associated with the conference I went to last week. After the first episode, I went to the doctor and had an ultrasound, xrays and blood tests. I'm happy to say my blood tests were perfect, but the ultrasound showed the beginnings of osteoarthritis in my right knee. Grrrrrrrrr. I'm not a good patient but Hanno has put up with me and fed me with toasted Vegemite soldiers, tea and plates of watermelon cut up into little pieces. Anyhow, it looks like it's getting better. I've just been for a walk around the garden and reconnected with the outside world.



The front yard this morning.

I've been watching mainstream TV for the last three days and nights. Sometimes I had it on just to take my mind off the pain, sometimes I watched. There is so much rubbish on the box now! I didn't know the full extent of it - the never-ending info-mercials at 2am, the sex websites advertising their shonky wares and the inane advertising for everything a mainstream consumer could ever hope to want. It's pretty depressing.



Hanno is fixing the roof with his friend, Hilton. They're currently at the hardware store buying supplies.

I'm going back to sit in my chair again now. I'll see you all again soon.

Hello!

Hello everyone. This is just a short note to let you know that I'm okay but I have a sore knee and it's not letting me sit at the computer for any length of time. I've been sleeping in a lounge chair for the past three nights. However, it seems to be showing signs of improvement this morning so I'll be back with a post, and to answer all those emails and comments, hopefully, later today.

20 October 2008

Seth and Polly

I can't tell you how good it feels to me to be home again doing "normal" things. I thought that going away for a couple of nights would be sort of semi-exciting, how wrong I was. When I was out, I was in the middle of a large and extremely busy city; when I was "home" I was in a hotel, cut off from nature with air-conditioning, thick walls and a little glass door that lead out to a very un-natural pebble courtyard. I couldn't hear anything when I was in the room, it was just me and the TV. I took a book to read but I went to sleep when I tried to read it. In the end I watched the "live" cricket beaming in from India. What a strange world we live in.



When I got home we had to deal with the problem of Seth's incessant crowing at 3 o'clock in the morning. The neighbours do not like it, neither does Hanno. Eep! I knew we'd have a problem giving him away, so many roosters are given away and end up in the soup pot, and I didn't want that for him. So I put a free advert on the farm stock online site for a pair of Sussex chooks and low and behold, we had people ringing up and emailing hoping to be given them. In the end, he and one of his silver Sussex ladies - Polly , went to a farm about ten minutes away. He would have been miserable without her and I hope they live a happy life there. The woman who took them wants to breed light Sussex. She came over with her husband who is a bee keeper. A lovely couple and I'm sure they'll look after Seth and Polly.



Seth - caught in the act.



I was hoping to have time yesterday to cook up these beetroot pulled from the garden a couple of days ago, but they're still uncooked. Hanno and I spent yesterday afternoon at the Centre where I hosted a Sunday lunch for the volunteers, committee and a couple of people from the local relocalisation group, who we auspice. It was a lovely lunch, we all brought food to share, and we sat - about 25 of us - under the shade of some very old conifer trees at the Centre. When we came home again, the people arrived to pick up Seth and Polly, so not much else was done. I had a long sleep last night, almost 11 hours, but I'm still a bit weary this morning. I'm going to work but I think I'll be a bit slow today.

I miss being at home, doing those things that usually make up my day. It might seem boring to some but I was bored in the middle of the city and wishing I was home again baking bread and eating real food. There was a time in my life when nothing could have kept me out of the city and all the excitement of it. Now it just exhausts me, now I have found a better place and I am fulfilled by pottering around my home. I think I'll settle back in fully by writing about knitting tomorrow. Thinking about that today will settle my mind and distance me from where I've been.

On the left is a flowering cactus that is growing on our front verandah and in the bush house. I'm not sure of the name of it, I grew it from cuttings I got from my DIL, but it flowers like this every Spring and hangs down from its container in long strands of pink. It's a real beauty.

I hope you're all well and happy and working steadily on your small steps to a simpler life. Oh, and I have to tell you, I really missed this blog and all of you while I was away.

18 October 2008

Poverty

I got back from the conference a little earlier today and have since caught up with a bit of sleep on the couch. It's a different world out there! I'm happy to be home again with Hanno.

Last week, a day was set aside by some bloggers to write about world poverty. I didn't write anything on that day because I was at a conference discussing the problems that poverty invariably bring to those living in those circumstances. The conference link is here. I found fifty percent of the presentations and workshops I attended to be very helpful. I also made very good contacts and hope to have a No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS) operating very soon at the centre I volunteer at.

I also talked to some specialist workers fairly close to our Centre who work solely with the homeless. Our homelessness problem is increasing and I'm sad and a bit ashamed to say that, at the moment, there isn't anything we can do for those people who come to us for help. There is no where to send them - no emergency housing available, no short term fixes, no long term ones either. I hope the current government comes up with a solution quickly. There is a quote, I forget by whom, that says something like the strength and worth of a country is judged by the way they treat their poor. Australia is usually a benevolent country but we are falling far below our own standards in this area.

I'm pleased to tell you all that the Simple Green Frugal Co-op is going really well and already has a readership of over 2000 people a day. I'm hope that, with the other writers, we build up a site that helps people move easily towards a simpler kind of life. Enjoy your weekend. :- )


16 October 2008

Swap News and a BIG Thank-you

UPDATE: Thanks for letting me know Kim and I will take you off the list! Thanks Kris, your parcel will be on its way.
Hello all. I hope that everyone has taken the time to visit Rhonda's new site : http://simple-green-frugal-co-op.blogspot.com/ you will find lots of information from sewing, cooking, and landscaping ideas to saving money! I also wish to thank the three kind and talented ladies that are helping me make pin cushions and needlebooks for the ladies who never received their parcels from their swap buddies-Ann, Christine, and Stephanie. Kudos ladies!! How lucky I am to belong to a blog community that is so generous and talented! I have heard from four of the ladies who never received their parcels, but still need to hear from Amy-you need to send me an e-mail (cdetroyes at yahoo dot com) with your address and the nameof your swap buddy. As soon as I get the e-mail we can get busy and get parcels out to you!! Oh, and Rhonda, so glad you are getting rain!

It's raining!

I just had to tell you that. : - ))) It's been raining all night and all the tanks are full to overflowing! Happy days. I'm leaving now to go away for a couple of days. Don't forget to update at the simple | green | frugal co-op while I'm away. There's lots of great reading over there.

15 October 2008

Out back in the vegie patch



While I was at work yesterday, Hanno planted up a lot of seedlings for our summer garden. When we first came to live here 12 years ago, we only ever planted in autumn and winter because the bugs and heat of summer made gardening too much of a chore. Things have changed now; we changed the way we thought about our garden, we changed how we shopped and our garden changed with us. We eat from the garden every day - sometimes our entire meal comes from our back yard. Last night, for instance, we had silverbeet (swiss chard) omelettes - freshly picked steamed chard was added to our backyard eggs, salt and pepper and a sprinkling of fresh chives. I would usually add a salad but was too tired to make one so I served the omelettes with a dollop of tomato chutney that I made about three months ago. Delicious!



The garden is important to us and allows us to eat healthy, organic food at a fraction of what it costs to buy it in a shop.



We eat a lot of tomatoes. These are beefsteaks and the first of them should be ready in about two weeks. Nothing beats the taste of heirloom tomatoes. If you've never tasted them, you're missing out on a real treat. They are real tomatoes, that taste like tomatoes should taste. Tomatoes at the store are gassed to produce a rich red colour and although they look good, they're often hard and tasteless. You never have that problem with the heirlooms - particularly the salad varieties like beefsteak, oxheart, Brandywine and German Johnson.



More tomatoes have been planted along the new lattice. These are oxhearts and Topic, which we're trying for the first time. They are supposed to be a good hot weather tomato.



And, you guessed it - more tomatoes. These little babies will be producing well into January, as long as the sun doesn't frazzle them. We do have sunshades for the garden. We didn't need them last year because we had a mild summer, but they're on standby.




Further over near the chook house we have corn at the top of the photo, more chard, and seedlings of capsicum (peppers) and beans. We grow a lot of chard and green leafy vegetables because we always share it with the chooks. They love green leaves and it makes the yolks of their eggs a rich golden yellow.



Between us and the chickens we plow through this stuff. Silverbeet, and most leafy greens, are rich in iron so being non meat eaters, it helps us keep our iron levels healthy.




And finally, just to show you that we are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, our failed nectarine tree. Remember when we wrapped it up? It didn't work. After the first storm, gaps appears and the fruit fly got in. Every nectarine is riddled with fruit fly grubs. The chooks will happily eat every one of these fruit. We, on the other hand, will have none. Hanno thinks the trees are too much trouble and want to cut them down. I'm still undecided. We have some peaches protected from the fruit fry by exclusion bags. I think that one bite of a good peach will convince me not to get rid of the trees. We might just have to beat the fruit fly at their own game next year. I'll keep you posted.

I'm going to be away for a few days. Tomorrow I have to go to a conference related to my voluntary work. I'll be back on the weekend. I hope you all have a good week. Thank you for visiting and for your support with the co-op. I'll see you again next week, my friends.




14 October 2008

Flower pot bread - UPDATED answers in comments



If you're not already baking your own bread, I want you to think about doing it. Not only is it preservatives-free, it's cheaper, tastes better and it a great skill to have. Bread is one of our staple foods and in days gone past everyone, and I mean everyone, knew how to make it. Bread baking is just one of the skills we've traded for the sake of convenience - we give them our money and our independence, they give us back a loaf of bread (usually inferior to what we'd make) and the convenience of not having the bake the bread ourselves.

I know that many of you don't have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen baking bread. If you are one of those people, I encourage you to buy, barter, or swap your way to a breadmaker. It doesn't have to be new or fancy, it just has to knead the dough for you. Then you shape the loaf and bake it in the regular oven. Making bread this way will take you about 10 minutes in the various stages of putting the ingredients in the machine, shaping the loaf and taking it from the oven. Baking bread using a breadmaker does NOT make you an inferior cook. If using a breadmaker allows you to make your own bread, then go for it. Don't think you HAVE to make the dough by hand, it doesn't matter! The object of the exercise is to produce bread and if using a bread maker is how you do it, so be it.

I did a tutorial for hand making bread
so you can try that if you want to. I added gluten flour to that recipe because it is a beginner's loaf and the gluten flour helps with the rise. You can leave it out if you can't find gluten or if you feel you'll knead the dough well enough without it.

In the posts here and here I'm talking about the cost of bread. If you can find a supplier of good high protein flour - or bakers flour - you will be able to produce loaf after loaf at a fraction of the price of store bought bread. BTW, the protein in bread flour is gluten so if you can't find high protein flour or bakers flours, use your plain all purpose flour and add gluten to it - ratio is one cup of flour to one teaspoon of gluten.

There are two more posts about bread making here and here.

There are thousands of recipes for bread and this is the one I used to make my flower pot loaves last weekend.

SOY AND LINSEED BREAD - MADE IN A BREADMAKER

First take two teaspoons of dry yeast and a tablespoon of sugar or honey, add to a cup of warm water and stir. Let that sit on the bench to prove (bubble up) while you prepare your other ingredients.

In this order, or the order described in your breadmaker manual, place in your breadmaker:

3 cups bread flour/bakers flour/high protein flour or plain flour with 3 teaspoons of gluten flour added to it. I used soy and linseed flour, you can use white, wholemeal, wholegrain or whatever flour you have.
1 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of milk powder -- if you have no milk powder leave it out

If you have no milk powder, add some milk as part of your liquid component. You've already got a cup of water that the yeast is proving in, when the yeast has bubbled up (therefore you know it's alive and will activate the bread properly) pour the cup of yeast water in the breadmaker on top of the flour. If you didn't add milk powder, add half a cup of milk. If you did add milk powder, add another half cup of water.

Now, here is where you have to use your common sense. Turn on your machine on the "dough" setting and let it mix all the ingredients for a few minutes. Stay at the machine and watch it. You probably need to add more liquid. I can't tell you how much to add because all flour is different and even the humidity in your home will effect the amount of water you'll need to add at this point. If the dough is too dry, start adding water from a cup in very small amounts. Let the machine mix it in well before you judge whether you need more. One of the skills of breadmaking is judging the right amount of water and I always poke my finger in to check it. You're hoping for a moist dough that has mixed in all the ingredients - you don't want dry dough and you don't want sloppy dough. When you're happy that you've got it right, let the machine do it's work. I'll just say that the amount of liquid you'll add will be between 1½ cups and 2 cups. How much of that extra ½ cup you add you'll have to decide.

When the machine is finished, take the dough out, sprinkle a small amount (one tablespoon) of flour on your bench and knead the dough into a smooth ball. You'll notice at this stage, the dough is elastic - if you pull a piece out, it's springy. Shape the loaf, put it in a greased or lined bread tin and let it sit in a warm place until the bread has risen. This will take about 30 minutes in a warm kitchen but up to an hour in a cool one. You could also put your tin on top of a hot water system, or in the sun with a moist tea towel on the top to help it rise. I used three flower pots and divided the dough equally into three portions and added them to the pots.

When the dough is doubled in size and has risen just above the top of the bread tin, place it in a hot oven. Preheat your oven to its highest temperature, then when you put the bread in, lower the temp to 200C (395F). Bake until you smell the delicious smell of bread and the top is golden. It will take between 20 - 30 minutes.

And that's it. Even though there are a lot of instructions above, they have been written for those of us who have little experience. Anyone who has baked before will just need the recipe and will go on with it. As I said, it will only take about 10 minutes in various stages.



The little flower pot loaves were baked in real plant pots, but they need to be seasoned. DON"T BUY CHINESE POTS and don't use old pots that have had plants in them. I think mine were 5 inch pots. Clean them thoroughly with soap and warm water, rinse well and allow to dry for at least 12 hours. Rub cooking oil into the pots and make sure you cover ever part of every pot. The oil will soak into the terracotta. Make sure you apply a good amount of oil. Put the pots into a COLD oven and turn the heat up to 180C (350F). Let the pots cook in the oven for 20 minutes, then turn the heat off. Leave them in the oven, with the door closed, overnight to cool completely. Next day, repeat that process again. When they come out of the oven the second time, they're ready to be used for baking.



You can bake anything in these pots. I have used them in the past for baking little Christmas cakes that I gave as Christmas gifts - still in the pot - and tied with a red ribbon. They were a real hit. But on the weekend I baked bread in them. I lined them with parchment paper, both on the bottom and sides, to make sure the bread didn't stick.



If you're not a baker, or if you're young and new to home cooking, I hope you'll try making bread. It will save you money and it's better for you because there is no preservative in home baked bread. But best of all, it tastes like bread should taste and you'll be gaining back your independence because you'll be able to provide for yourself.

I wonder how many of you are having problems with bread making. Are there many? Read through my tutorial and try the recipe above and see how you go with it. If there are a few still having problems making a decent loaf, I'll do a troubleshooting post in the next week or so and well see if we can work out the problems together.

Happy baking!


Swap News

UPDATE: Thank-you so much for the offers to help to make sure no one gets left out. Steph and Christine many many thanks and please e-mail me and I will get you a buddy who has been left out. Our blog family is just amazing!!!
Hello ladies. In order to wind up our swap I would like to ask that Tracy G., Lisa (the tin house), Jo (french knots), Amy, Kim, and Kris (quilted simple ) -to please e-mail me today ( with their names and addresses) and I , with the help of Ann (still at home) --many, many thanks my friend) will be getting out pin cushions and needle books to each of them. If I have left anyone off this list, please, please e-mail me as soon as possible. Their swap buddies will go on my naughty swapper list-sort of like Santa's list) and won't be swapping again. We had one swapper who had a valid excuse (and a wonderfully understanding swap buddy) and we hope and pray she gets to feeling better soon. I have a handful of photos still to be posted (including yours Mandy) and those will be up this week. Would Jo (french knots), who has had a bit of trouble reaching me, please forward a copy of your e-mail to Rhonda also, so that we don't have any that go astray and get lost in Internet land! Thanks and hugs, Sharon

13 October 2008

The simple | green | frugal co-op



The news isn't getting any better, is it? I have never seen our nations' leaders working so co-operatively to try to stop a world-wide recession turning into a full blown depression. The initial steps taken a couple of weeks ago with "rescue" packages didn't do what was expected and the stock markets around the world continue to crash almost every day. It's Monday morning here and it will be interesting to see what happens here and in Hong Kong.

While that is all dismal news, I do have some good news for you. Along with a group of other writers, I have started another blog. It's a co-operative of writers who have similar values to mine and who are working towards a simple, green and frugal future. So what have we called this new venture? It's the Simple | Green | Frugal Co-op and it's open right now. You can find it here.

I will keep Down to Earth going. This is my baby and I'm not abandoning her, but the co-op expands on what I write about here in certain significant ways. Most of you know I'm 60 and Hanno is almost 70, we see things from a different perspective to those much younger. We don't have children living at home any more, we aren't studying now, we are established, we have no debt. Of course, we still remember what it was like during all of those stages but times have changed so much I can't write about those younger stages with an honest heart. I wanted to be part of a project that gives you honest, reliable and authentic information that is written by people who live it.

So I went searching. I looked for people who wrote well, who live what they write about, and who are at various stages of life. They also needed to be generous enough to want to be a part of a co-operative and who would share their stories away from their own blogs. I wanted passionate writers who shared my values and could help others live more simply. I couldn't be happier with the group who said "yes" so let me introduce you to them, in no particular order:
  • Julie from Towards Sustainability
  • Paul from A Posse Ad Esse
  • Melinda from 1 Green Generation
  • Marc from Garden Desk
  • FT from Notes from the Frugal Trenches
  • Sadge from Firesign Farm
  • Heather from Beauty that Moves
  • Eilleen from Consumption Rebellion
  • my good friend Sharon will help with admin
  • and myself
There are another six writers who have not yet committed and others who will be added as we progress through the coming months.

We hope to quickly build up an online resource that will help you change those things you need to change, we hope to inspire you to simplify and live to your true potential and we hope to help you survive the crash, in whatever form that comes.

I invite you to read our new blog and to connect with all the bloggers who write there; they all have excellent personal blogs. And please, it will help me a lot to have your feedback, both here and over there.

12 October 2008

A bit of swap news and links

Hello all. We are wrapping up the swap soon. I will be posting some new photos tomorrow on our flickr site and would like for two lost swap buddies to contact me-(cdetroyes at yahoo dot com) so we can finish up except for a few photos. Would Pamela M who is partnered with Tracy G please e-mail me and e-mail Tracy, and would Lindsey, who is partnered with Lisa (the tin house) e-mail me and Lisa. I will leave you with an interesting link that give ideas and a few tutorials for handmade holiday gifts. There are some really great ideas there!
http://handmadehomeschool.wordpress.com/2008/10/07/handmade-holidays/
Another site has some great explanations on natural body products that can be given as gifts or used by yourself: http://www.naturalbeautyworkshop.com/my_weblog/2008/10/creating-all-na.html For those techies there is this tutorial that is a great gift idea: http://www.ohfransson.com/oh_fransson/2008/09/how-to-make-a-charging-basket.html and do take the time to check out oh fransson's blog-there are beautiful quilts and great explanations on how to make them!!
For the kitchen here are two links that are fun and useful :http://www.skiptomylou.org/2008/09/26/oven-mitt-pattern/ and http://mybyrdhouse.blogspot.com/2008/09/scrappy-hot-pad-tutorial.html Enjoy and don't forget that there are many ideas out there! Sharon

10 October 2008

Harvesting rain water



This small 500 litre tank holds water for pot plants on the verandah and vegetables in the front yard. We bought it for $49 on sale at Bunnings.


It hasn't rained here for about six weeks. Our large green water tank on the front verandah is empty but I am hoping for rain to start falling soon. I checked the radar, rain is on the way. Hopefully, in about 30 minutes, even before I post this, it will be raining.

Collecting the rain that falls on our roof is an important part of our land management. We have three rain water tanks that hold 15,500 litres (4100 gallons), we even have a downpipe on the chicken shed roof to collect a small amount of water there. When our tanks are full, that water is used to keep our vegetables and fruit growing and to water the chooks, dog and cat. Using it everyday, that water will last us about two months.



This is the first tank we installed here, it holds 5,000 litres. We use this water in the green house and on the fruit and vegetables.

One of the first things we did when we came to live here 12 years ago was to install a rain water tank. That was a 5,000 litre iron tank which is located near the greenhouse. When the government decided to encourage all of us to buy water tanks with the introduction of rebates, we installed a second 10,000 litre poly tank. In the past few months we bought a much smaller tank on the front verandah (for $49) to help us water the plants on the verandah as well as the potatoes and avocados in the front yard. It filled up the day we installed it, it's been empty since Monday this week. We never use water from the tap to water anything in the yard but we use tap water inside the house. In the future, we'll probably buy another tank and use that water indoors.



We bought this 10,000 poly tank when our state government brought in a rebate system. I think it cost us about $800 after the $1000 rebate.

Collecting rainwater is both environmentally sound and frugal. We see it as using a natural resource and while we use the water in those tanks, we don't have to pay for tap water. Having your own water stored in tanks and barrels also makes you independent of the system if you need to be. None of us knows what will happen in the future, but if anything did happen to the dam we get our water from, or if there was a general system breakdown, we would be have our own water here. We don't use our tank water inside the house but if we needed to, we would.




This is just a little DIY downpipe off the chook shed running into a 20 litre bucket. It was made with recycled materials.

It feels good to know that if anything disastrous happened in our region that, with careful management of our rain water, vegetable garden, chickens and grocery stockpiles, we would be able to look after ourselves and our family for a few months. If you have not yet thought about gaining some independence from the system, I encourage you to make a move towards providing yourself with some protection.

Each of our tanks collects water from a different part of the roof. The iron tank collects from the back of the house, the poly tank collects from the large shed roof and the eastern side of the house roof, the small green tank collects from the front of the house and the little downpipe system just collects from the chicken shed roof.

If you're in Australia, check your local State and local government websites to check if you're eligible for a water tank rebate. In other countries, it's easy enough to make a rain barrel from recycled or new materials. Click here for instructions.

Hanno is due to do some cleaning and maintenance on our corrugated iron tank soon. When he does, I'll take photos and write about what he does.

I was hoping to end this post by writing that rain is falling. It's not, but according to the radar it will be soon. HURRY UP!

MORE READING ABOUT HARVESTING RAIN WATER

9 October 2008

Reducing your Christmas stress - UPDATED


Art by Carl Larsen from his gallery.

Why is it that Christmas, and the lead up to it, is so fraught with stress and panic? Back in my spending days, I use to think that I never had enough time to do everything I needed to do and I’d run around like a headless chook not getting much done at all. When lunch was over on Christmas day, I’d wonder why I got caught up, yet again, in the madness my Christmas had developed into.

Those days are long gone for me, I live at a more gentle pace now and whenever I go out very close to Christmas, I find the pushing and buying quite ugly. It doesn't have to be that way. With a bit of planning we could all celebrate the holidays simply and come out of it strengthened as a family rather than being shattered by it.

We have stopped giving gifts to all but our sons. A few small home made tokens of appreciation go to close friends, but Christmas is pretty much commercial free for us. We still give but we don’t give gifts. Through my voluntary work we organise a Christmas morning breakfast for our community and we cook breakfast for a few hundred people. We have that breakfast in a local park. Last year 450 people came to share the morning with us and we celebrated the morning by being a part of our community.

It’s great to see all walks of life come together in a celebration of Christmas. The town businesses donate most of the food and drinks, and the meal is enjoyed by the homeless, many family groups, and people who are alone at Christmas. We'll be back cooking breakfast for our community again this year and it's something I'm looking forward to. It’s an affirmation of the strength of our community that is remembered well into the year.

What will your Christmas hold this year? If you’ve been troubled with stressed filled holidays, I have a challenge for you. I want you to write a list of three things you usually do at Christmas that you don’t want to do this year. Then I want you to make plans in the coming weeks so that what is on your list is not a part of your Christmas. It’s a small step, but it might just be the catalyst you need to get yourself and your family to a truly happy and enriching Christmas.

ADDIT: I have two blogs I'd like to recommend to you. First is Renee and Marc's great blog, Garden Desk. They're building a polytunnel greenhouse to extend their growing period. It's really worth a visit to check it out. The other is a craft blog full of lovely work. It's Knot Garden, where you'll find some beautiful crochet and sewing. Happy reading.

Deborah has just sent this useful link about breaking the cycle of gift buying. Thanks Deborah!

7 October 2008

Growing pineapples in the backyard



Here's a closeup of what's happening in the old kale patch.

It's well into its second year and sure enough, a pineapple is growing in the backyard. I started this one off by planting the top of a store bought pineapple, it hasn't required any special treatment but it did take up a fair bit of space for just one plant.

Pineapples are surprisingly easy to grow here - in fact I live in the middle of the Golden Circle pineapple farm region, so that's no great surprise. It did surprise me, however, that the growing of this pineapple was as easy as it turned out to be. No pests attacked it, it withstood periods of pelting rain and then no rain at all for weeks. As long as we kept the water up to it, it thrived.



Stuck out in the middle of nowhere, our solo pineapple is slowly giving birth.

HOW TO GROW A PINEAPPLE IN YOUR BACKYARD
You grow pineapples from the tops of old pineapples. But make sure you grow a decent one. Be sure to only plant the top of a pineapple that was sweet and juicy because whatever traits your old pineapple had, so will the new one. You don't want to plant a pineapple that wasn't sweet, or tough, because that's what you grow in the new one.

Make sure you treat every pineapple like one that you will plant. Carefully twist or cut off the top green section off the fruit. Test taste, and if it's good enough to plant, remove all the flesh from the base of the green leaves, pick the lower leaves off so you have a bit of a stem to plant, then leave the pineapple top in the shade of your verandah to dry out for a week.



I'll plant this pineapple top during the week. Make sure you remove all the lower leaves.

During that week, prepare your garden bed. Pineapples like very good free draining soil. They won't produce fruit if the roots are standing in water. Add compost to the soil, dig it in and mound up the soil.

OR ... you can plant in a terracotta pot. Get yourself the largest pot you have, fill it with a mixture of ½ potting mix, ¼ compost and ¼ sharp sand and mix it well. Water the mix and let it sit for a week. Pineapples need a long hot summer but if you live in a frosty area, I'd still give them a go. If you plant in a pot, you'll be able to bring the plant inside during winter and keep it near a sunny window.

Plant the pineapple top in the soil just covering the base plate where the roots will come from. Don't bury the green stem as it might rot. Firm down the soil around the roots to make sure it doesn't fall over. Keep checking the plant for the first few weeks to make sure it's still upright and, hopefully, growing strongly.

Pineapples like an acidic soil in which to grow. Our soil here where the pineapple is growing is 6.5. If your pH is higher than that, add sulphur, according to the instructions on the packet and water your pineapple every so often with the leftover tea in your pot. That will help keep the soil slightly acidic.

Give the plant a good watering at least once a week and fertilise with weak compost or comfrey tea once a month. A pinch of sulphate of potash around the base of the plant at the beginning of the second summer will help with flowering.

Above all else though, you'll need patience because you won't notice any growth for about a year. In the second year the plant will grow and probably at the end of the second year, or in the second summer, you notice a fruit growing deep down in the middle of the plant. That's the point we're at here now.

MORE INFORMATION
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