Down to Earth Forum

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27 February 2015

Weekend reading

Thank you all for the good wishes and love sent during the week when I announced I'm writing another book. It's a wonderful opportunity at any age to write but to do it when I'm nearing 70 is a beautiful gift. The process of writing enables me to think about what we value and how we live those values, and in the end, I feel regenerated and that every morning is a brand new beginning. What a life! I'm delighted to write about it and so thankful to live it as we do away from the mainstream.

I hope you have a lovely weekend watching the seasons start to change. Stay safe, I'll see you again next week.

Eggs Are Back: The Elegant Simplicity of the New Diet Guidelines
We'll all die one day. Isn't it time we got used to the idea?
Cheesy cauliflower breadsticks
Avian flue in backyard chickens - specially for north America but a lesson for everyone who keeps chickens
A family affair
Spurtopia workshops in Brisbane Spurtopia homestead is closing in April. If you want to see what they've set up there, you'll have to move fast.
Gluten-free: health fad or life-saving diet?

25 February 2015

Overnight bread

Last week I wrote about soaking your rolled oats before you eat them and the benefits that  come from that. Today I thought I'd continue on and talk about soaking other rye and wheat grains before they're eaten; today's post is about bread. The reasoning behind all this is that grains soaked before cooking are easier to digest than those that aren't, and if they're soaked in an acidic liquid such as whey, buttermilk, yoghurt, or water with lemon juice, the grain will release most of its goodness instead of a small portion of it. It's all got to do with humans having only one stomach so unsoaked grains pass through too fast to be broken down. That causes digestive problems for some people and the grains don't have enough time to release all their goodness, which affects all of us.  Other grain-eating mammals such as cows, goats etc. have more than one stomach, or several compartments in their stomach, that allow them to process their food a lot longer than we do.

This bread is good on the first day and lasts to a second day but the crust and the bread itself aren't like a soft sandwich loaf. It's drier and the crust is crunchy.
 It makes delicious toast and that's how we have it on the second day.
If you don't like that texture, try the rye mixed loaf below which is more like the texture of a sandwich loaf.  Both are excellent as toast.
This is the half white-half rye loaf. It's the one I like the most because I think it has a better texture than the white loaf. 

If you read about how to make bread in Nourishing Traditions it's a long process that I don't have the time nor the inclination for. I'm sure it produces very good bread but I'm a regular bread maker and need my bread to fit in with everything else I do in a day. I'm happy with the so called five minute bread, that I make up and allow to sit in the fridge for a few days.  It's well and truly soaked by the time I bake my bread.

I found very similar recipe in my Maura Laverty classic Irish cook book, Full and Plenty, that I'm going to try this week. Her recipe for "yeast bread (overnight method)" was published in 1960. I'll share that recipe with you next week when I post about the bread I make.

The way I do the five minute bread is to make up the recipe in Artisan bread in five minutes a day, but with a tweak. You'll need a storage container capable of holding the mixture that will sit in the fridge for at least overnight, and for a few days after that. That takes care of the soaking. You can double the recipe quite easily if you have the room to store the dough and then you'll only make up one batch of dough for several loaves of bread.

The book says it makes four one pound loaves (that's just under two kilos).
  • 3 cups warm water
  • 1½ tablespoons yeast
  • my tweak is to add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to the water.  OR you could use ½ cup of buttermilk, whey or yoghurt to the liquid before adding it to the mix, but you'll have to adjust the water content accordingly. Mix it thoroughly so it will be easier to incorporate it into the flour. 
  • 1½ tablespoons coarse salt
  • 6½ cups unbleached white flour (or half rye and half white wheat flour)
I do this step in the morning, the day before I want the bread. 

Before mixing them together, mix the top group together, then the second group together. Then add half the liquid to half the flour and mix together thoroughly. If you have a big mixer with a dough hook you can use that because it takes an effort to mix this. I do it in two batches and use a spatula. When the first batch is finished, tip it into your storage container and start the second batch.  When both batches are in the container, mix them together with your hands, put a tea towel over the container and leave it on the bench to start rising. 

After about two hours, take the tea towel off, put the lid on but don't press it down to make it air tight. The dough will let off gas and it needs to have some means of escape. I use a Decor long plastic bin and have the top attached at one end and sitting on the top other end.  Put the dough in the fridge and store it there until you're ready to use it, but you can use it at any point after this first rise.

The dough after it's been removed from the fridge.

Don't knead the dough. It will develop the gluten and you don't want that. Just fold over the dough onto itself until it forms a smooth top.

When you want to bake a loaf, about two hours beforehand, take a piece of dough suitable for the size of your loaf from the container. Place it on a lightly floured board and fold the dough into itself so you have a smooth top and uneven bottom. You don't want to knead the dough, just bring it togehter as a nice smooth loaf. Let the dough sit to rise and return to room temperature. It won't rise a lot, it will do that more in the oven when it's baking.

Make sure the dough has flour over the top because that will protect it while it rests and rises.

About 20 minutes before you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450F/250C and place a cast iron pot with lid in the oven to heat up. After the dough has risen (about 45 minutes) carefully place the dough into the cast iron pot and with a very sharp knife, slash to top of the dough. Place the lid on the top of the pot.  You could use a pizza stone to bake on, that is how they bake it in the artisan bread book.

Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake until the top is golden brown.

Remove from the pot and place on a cake rack to cool.

The method below is the same recipe, using a cast iron pot, but with the addition of the dough being baked in a loaf pan inside the cast iron pot.

You can leave the dough in the fridge for up to a week if you want to.  I think it makes better bread the longer it's in the fridge. I usually make a fresh loaf every second day and I get three fairly large loaves from one batch. If I had a large family or we ate more bread, I'd make up a double portion of the dough at a time.  I have to say Maura's recipe looks easier so I'm looking forward to trying it. I have a sneaking suspicion I'll like it. ;- )

If you have trouble making bread it's probably because you don't knead the dough long enough or you under or over proof it. This method takes all that away and replaces it with time in the fridge. If you've never made a good loaf, try this and see how you go with it. Or, maybe you just want to wait for Maura's recipe. And I don't blame you at all for that.

23 February 2015

Another book

I'm delighted to tell you that last Friday I signed my third contract with Penguin for another book: The Simple Home. It will be a hard cover, similar in size to Down to Earth. I had told my publisher that I wouldn't write another big book because I felt I'd said what I wanted to say. However, a few years down the track, I found that wasn't the case and a new plan started bubbling away in my brain. When I told Penguin what I wanted to do, they were very happy. The new book will be about the work we do in our homes that help us to live a simple life. It will be published next March. Yesterday was the three year anniversary for Down to Earth.

This is going back in time to early 2012 when Down to Earth came out. Above I was signing books at my desk to post out. Below I was signing books at Dymocks in Brisbane.

I've sold the world rights this time, not only those for Australia and New Zealand.  That doesn't mean it will automatically be in book shops around the world but Penguin will take both books to the London Book Fair in April so I'm hopeful that it will be published on a wider scale than Down to Earth originally was. Maybe the two of them will make more sense to an international publisher that one book by an unknown. Fingers crossed.

It means a lot of hard work in these coming months. I've already completed a few chapters but the deadline is June so I can't slow down. I don't want to just write a book, I want it to be a good book, the best book I can manage, and one that readers will use in their daily lives. There will be a photo shoot too. So if I don't write here as often as I used to, or if I'm missing at the forum, you'll know I'm here, tapping away on the keyboard writing something I hope you'll read early next year.

I hope you have a wonderful week ahead.

20 February 2015

Weekend reading

A cyclone is bearing down on the coast here as I write this. Cyclone Marcia will be a category 5 when it crosses the coast north of here. We're expecting wild weather and a lot of rain in the next couple of days.  I hope everyone in the cyclone's path stays safe.

ADDED @ 11.30AM FRIDAY: Hello everyone. I've had quite a few emails asking if we're okay.  Yes, we're both fine here. We have all we need and although we've already had 150mm/6 inches of rain, there has been no wind yet. I spoke with Shane this morning and they were fine then, they'd only had 40mm of rain but it was windy. Sarndra is 8 months pregnant so I hope they can remain in their home.  Kerry, Sunny, Jens and Cathy are all near us so they'd all have had a lot of rain but no wind. So don't worry, we're good!  :- )

This is part of a poem I love called The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

I don't know exactly what a prayer is. 
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, 
how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, 
how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. 
Tell me, what else should I have done? 
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? 

18 February 2015

Soaking your oats

If you're looking for a nutritious and thrifty breakfast that will take only a few minute to prepare, go no further than rolled oats. I'm not talking about quick oats which are processed much more than rolled oats, I'm talking about the plain old traditional rolled oats your grandma used to cook.

Years ago, when I read in Nourishing Traditions that virtually all pre-industrialised people soaked or fermented their grains before making porridge, I related to it immediately. I hadn't been soaking oats before I cooked them but I clearly remember mum and dad, and my grandma, soaking rolled oats in water or milk over night for a quick and easy breakfast the following morning. Almost all cultures used to do this. It was common practice in many African and European countries, the Indian sub continent, Scandinavia, and some Asian countries to soak or ferment grains before they were eaten. I remember that recommendation being on the packet of oats when I was young. I don't think it's there now, which is a pity. If you make sourdough you're doing this by using fermented starter for your bread. It's the same principle.

All grains, including oats, contain phytic acid, which can combine with minerals in the gut to block the absorption of nutrients in the grain. Soaking or fermenting the grains beforehand releases enzymes to help breakdown the phytic acid and gluten which is present in many grains, especially wheat, but oats as well. Oats contain more phytic acid than any other grain so it's important to soak them.

All you have to do is to measure out the required amount of oats into a saucepan, cover them with water or milk, plus another cup, then add ½ cup whey, buttermilk, kefir or yoghurt. Place your saucepan in the fridge overnight. The next morning, you'll see the oats are soft and creamy, like they've already been cooked. Stir the oats, add more liquid if they need it and heat them for a few minutes and serve. They'll be on the table in less than five minutes. If you have a lactose intolerance, use water and a splash of lemon juice or vinegar instead of the milk based liquids. The Nourishing Traditions recipe has ½ teaspoon sea salt in the porridge but I leave that out.

When I was younger and my oats were cooked for me, my parents always added a knob of butter to the oats. Well, it turns out that cream and butter both help with the absorption of minerals contained in the oats.  It also allows the oats to be absorbed over a longer period of time. Isn't it amazing what the old folks knew. And I thought they did it for the taste. :- )

And if you'd like a price comparison to seal the case, here are the prices for Uncle Toby's and organic oats at Woolworths:
  • Uncle Toby's Oats Quick Sachets Original 340g: $4.40 or $1.29 / 100g
  • Uncle Toby's Oats Quick 1kg: $6.76 or $0.68 / 100g
  • Macro Organic Oats Rolled 500g: $4.03 or $0.81 / 100g
We use Homebrand Rolled Oats 750g: $1.06 or $0.14 /100g. The Homebrand oats are good quality, Australian and taste just fine. You know how sometimes rolled oats have that powdery material in the bag? That's usually from some sort of insect that's been eating the grains.  I've never had a packet of Homebrand like that and always the grains are whole and perfect.

So there you have it. Yet another food item that is as convenient as the modern version but more nutritious, and so much cheaper. So don't believe the advertising that tells you that you need the expensive quick oats and a microwave. Just soak your oats instead and you'll have a much healthier breakfast.

How do you prepare your oats?  Will you try this?

16 February 2015

Surround yourself with good people

After we changed how we lived, going from crass consumerism to a more mindful way of living, I looked around and thought that Hanno and I might as well be living on an island because we'd isolated ourselves so much from our friends and neighbours. All that mindless buying was still happening in the general community and in the rare instance of telling someone what we were doing, I was always asked the most pointed of disheartening questions: why!?!

 Rye loaf with carraway seeds, made in a cake tin.

I knew I had to connect with like-minded people and the only way I knew how to do that was to volunteer to work in my community. I started working as a volunteer in a local neighbourhood centre and very soon after that, was appointed manager. We helped people with food parcels, warm blankets, clothes, budgeting, we offered a place to be during the day to connect and have coffee. I taught bread baking, soap making, and cooking from scratch. We set up a Centrelink office with a visiting worker one morning a week, we offered free workshops, a sewing circle, community garden, counselling and we had a variety of free services such as parenting support and playgroup, a free legal service, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. There was a Flexischool attached, with 25 students.  Although I was tired at the end of every day, I was happy that I was surrounded by good people who shared many of my values.  During the time I was there we moved twice, from one old house to another, and then to a magnificent two million dollar purpose-built facility. I stayed there for seven years and only left when Hanno nearly cut off his hand with a chain saw and he needed me at home.
Delicious butter cake.

Quite a few things changed while I was there. I stopped judging others, made myself available to help whoever came along and I began encouraging and supporting those around me. I'm still proud of those personal changes because I believe they made me a better person, but I'm far from ideal and still have a lot of improvements to make. The biggest change was in 2008 when the global financial crisis hit. Many jobs were lost and although Australia faired better than most countries, many people were in dire straits here. The community relied on the neighbourhood centre more and after I left there a couple of years ago, it continued to grow to be a significant part of a caring community. 
Last year's flowering kohl rabi.
Surrounding yourself with like-minded people can happen in many different ways. Often there aren't the people in the community that you want to befriend but you can find them online. There are many people who comment here and the mutual feeling of friendship and support that has built up is amazing. I don't reply to as many comments as I'd like but I build up an idea of people just by reading their comments. And over on the forum there have been many friendships formed and opportunities for face to face meetings. Volunteering in your community can place you in the middle of a group of people you'd never have met otherwise. It can be challenging but you can make it less threatening by joining a group whose values you support, such as the CWA, WI, a local craft group or church.

Support and encouragement can also be found in books and blogs. There are many others like me who write about the lifestyle changes we can all make. You might never meet the people who write what your read but just knowing you share similar tasks and seeing how others work can be incredibly motivating.

I'm heartened by seeing the changes that have happened in recent years. There are more people thinking about the consequences of consumerism and climate change and making positives changes to move towards simpler lives and sustainability. Farmers markets, local food and micro businesses have slowly moved into the mainstream making some food and lifestyle changes easier and cheaper.
Luffas waiting to be skinned.

There is no reason to feel isolated any more. Of course you have to make the move to connect with those around you, and it will take some effort on your part. If you're buying all, or some, of your weekly food and groceries at small businesses who make good soap and green cleaners, local producers of milk, vegetables, eggs and honey, the farmers of free range meat and chickens, then I'd be surprised if you remain isolated. The people who run those community business, and those you meet when you're shopping, will be able to tell you about community gardens, free workshops and activities you can get involved in. And when you do that, there will be no turing back.

How have you connected online and in your real life? What have you done that made a difference.

Added later: I've just heard from Tina at The Quiet Home blog. Her blog has been hacked so she's made it private until she can fix the problem. I know a number of you read Tina's blog so please be patient. She's be back asap.  Good luck Tina!

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