1 September 2014

Life goes on

My days are full again. There's a lot going on here and that looks like being our normal for the next few months. We're changing our garden, I'm doing a series of talks in Brisbane, we have visitors coming and I've started writing again. All in all, I have enough to do every day and even though most days are accounted for, I still take time out to have tea with Hanno and to rest whenever I feel I need.

It is the first day of spring today in Australia so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that over the past week we had another snake on the front verandah. This time it's a two metre long python. Hanno called me to come outside and see it, but I only saw the tail. If you look closely at this photo you can see the snake coiled up in the undergrowth.

Our food over the past week has been the last of the winter stews and soups. I'll use up whatever stewing steak I have in the freezer over the next week or so and then it's on to all the summer foods and salads. I whipped up a few banana and walnut muffins. These are truly the easiest and fastest of all my morning tea recipes. You can have them made and on the table in about 35 minutes. It only takes one bowl and no mixer so washing up is a breeze. The recipe is the basic muffins recipe in my Down to Earth book, plus two mashed bananas.

We're harvesting potatoes again - Dutch Creams. Sadly, this may be the last year we grow them but oh, do we love the taste and texture of freshly dug potatoes. These are so crisp it 's like peeling a good apple. We are having them in potato salad, mashed, boiled then lightly fried and baked. We'll continue enjoying them until the last one and then they'll become another one of the things we used to do.

I plan on taking a few photos at my library talks and will share our days out with you via those pics. I'll be back later in the week. What are you doing this week?

29 August 2014

Weekend reading

It's coming to the end of winter now. Our season changes next Monday and I'm looking forward to the warmer weather this year. I wonder if I'll still feel the same when the humidity sets in. Whatever your climate, I hope you're enjoying what it has to offer. Soon it will be part of our history. Thank you for visiting me. xx

Mimi from Manger blog making apple tart - You Tube
Matron of Husbandry is someone I admire very much. This is a classic post of hers: Too much = Enough Over the years we've known each other, she's been a unique figure, working and writing about her life, livestock and land. Not only is she a skilled and experienced farmer, she also understands the ins and outs of what she's doing and why systems work.
NSW calls for national ban on shampoo additives
Ladies, a plate - a lovely NZ baking site
Sydney's doll hospital - I remember my mum telling me about this when I was  little girl
Zero Waste Week - a challenge to send nothing to land fill
DIY 50 hour candles
And finally, just a short comment on this headline at the top of The Guardian this morning: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt marry in France. I won't link to it because I expect it to be as irrelevant to you as it is to me.  But I've mentioned it because it surprised me. I thought they were already married and had been for years. Who knew! This has made my morning. I love it when I find out I have no idea about pop culture.  :- )

28 August 2014

What am I doing? And a hamper to be won

If you'd like to meet Hanno and I and listen to a talk on simple and frugal living, the details are below. The talks are free and sponsored by the Morton Bay Council. We can take a few more bookings at all the venues but Arana Hills and Redcliffe are almost fully booked.
  • Wednesday 3 Sept, 1pm at Arana Hills Library.
  • Thursday 4 Sept, 10am at Bribie Island Library.
  • Friday 5 Sept, 10am at Caboolture Library.
  • Wednesday 10 Sept, 10.30am at Redcliffe.
I'll be talking about green cleaning, dishcloths, budgeting, chooks and slowing down and much more, and you'll have plenty of time to ask questions. If you have one of my books and want it signed, bring it along. I'll have both books there on sale as well.

The server we use at the forum crashed so no one could get onto the forum for the past two days. To make up for this, I'm offering an ecostore products hamper for one lucky winner who lives in Australia.  If the winner is overseas, I'll send an Amazon book voucher. To enter, simply go to the forum and tell me what you were doing on the two days when you couldn't get to the forum. I think we'll have some interesting, and maybe some funny, stories to read.

At the moment, we're looking after Jamie while Sunny gets a few things organised for her new sushi business. It starts on 24 September at the Caloundra Woolworths.  I've started writing again. I'm working on the final book in the series that will be published in February 2015. This book is a baking book and I'm being very careful about including a lot of hints and tips about baking consistently good bread and cakes. This isn't only a recipe book, it will help you with proving, kneading, oven rise and flours and should get you on the road to getting a healthy, delicious loaf on the table everyday for your family.

I'll be in and out of the blog when I can be so don't give up on me. This is just one of those busy seasons.

26 August 2014

Making kimchi with Sunny

I'm sorry the quality of this photo isn't what it should be but it's the only one I have. I only had my phone with me to take the photos and in this one I pointed it toward the overhead light. The rest of them are much better.

Our much loved daughter-in-law, Sunny, invited us over for lunch on Saturday. Outside it wasn't so good, the rain was pelting down, but inside Sunny had prepared a tray of perfectly cut fresh vegetables, prawns and chicken, as well as a few sauces. We were having rice paper rolls. It's a great way to prepare a fresh and healthy lunch for a group because everyone makes their own rolls. It was absolutely delicious. Afterwards I helped Sunny peel garlic for kimchi which she'd already started. Sunny is Korean and she's a chef so I thought you might like to know how to make authentic Korean kimchi. I didn't do anything except test taste the batch I was to take home and peel some garlic. :- )

It's important to get the cabbage right. Kimchi is made using wombok - Chinese cabbage, and this was a one-wombok kimchi. Earlier in the morning, Sunny had cut up one whole wombok and salted it using ½ cup rock salt diluted in 1½ cups cold water. Pour that over the cabbage and using your clean hands, move the cabbage around, making sure the salted water makes contact with all the cabbage. This process is used to draw water out of the cabbage. If you don't do it, the water will come out anyway, but it will come out when the kimchi is made and it will result in a watery mix and a watered down flavour. Sunny said it's best to do this on the morning when you want to make kimchi, not overnight, because you can keep an eye on it so it doesn't go too soft.  You don't want crisp cabbage but it should still have some crunch.  The salting process will take about five or six hours, when the cabbage has shrunk in the bowl quite a bit and is soft but still has a crunch, that is when you can wash the salt off the cabbage and thoroughly drain it.  It should look like the bowl of cabbage above.

While she worked, Sunny told me about how Koreans have kimchi days similar to the tomato sauce making days Italian families have. The grandmas organise the families and will make a 100-wombok kimchi, mainly with the help of the daughters-in-law. Sometimes they will make a 500-wombok kimchi and those larger quantities are stored in huge stoneware pots, which are buried until another pot is needed.

About an hour before you need it, mix one cup of plain (all purpose) flour in two cups of water, in a saucepan. Bring the mix to the boil, stirring as it heats, and when it's thick, take it off the heat and allow it to cool completely.  When the cabbage is ready, place three medium onions and about 20 cloves of skinned garlic in a blender (or whatever amount of garlic you want to use). Add a small amount of water and blend until everything is broken up but not quite smooth. Add that to the cooled flour mix. Above you can see Sunny mixing her onions and spices into the flour mix.

The little bowl on the right is the flour and spice mix for the kimchi I took home. It had much less chilli than Sunny's kimchi. She likes hers very hot.

You can also add one tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon of ginger powder or fresh ginger if you have it, as much gochugaru (Korean pepper flakes), fresh chilli or chilli powder as you like, Daikon cut into fine strips and green onions. It really depends on the season - here we have no daikon at the moment so Sunny used the green ends of green onions instead. Use your common sense by adjusting the amounts of spice and garlic according to your taste. Sunny also used fish sauce, about a tablespoon full, and mixed it in with the flour mix.  When you have your flour and spice mix ready, pour it over the cabbage and, using your hands again, rub it into the cabbage and make sure it covers the entire cabbage. You can see Sunny doing that below, with a gloved hand.

Sunny gave me a one litre plastic bucket of the fresh kimchi to take home and this is it below. When she filled it, it came up to the lid but over the following hours, water continued to drain from the cabbage and it sunk down in the bucket.  Kimchi is a fermented dish, similar to German sauerkraut, and at this stage it must sit, covered, on the kitchen bench for the fermentation to start. I left mine out for about 30 hours but it will depend on how strong you want the flavour of the kimchi to be. The longer you leave it, the more the probiotics will build up. It can stay on the bench for up to three days. Like all fermented foods, it contains the beneficial bacteria your body craves.

When the bucket of kimchi had reduced in size a bit, after about 30 hours, I put it in the fridge. It was covered with a lid and Sunny wrapped the entire bucket in plastic wrap as well, to make sure the smell didn't seep out into the fridge.

You can see from the photo above that the juices are red from the chilli and sauces. I tipped the bucket upside down a few times to marinate all the cabbage.

And now it's sitting happily in my fridge alongside my Maleny Dairies yoghurt, a half jar of home preserved pickled beetroot, a jar of golden calendula petals macerating in olive oil and the other strange goodies that identify the fridge of a home producer. I'm pretty sure yours looks similar. And that reminds me, this recipe is okay to use if you're lacto-fermenting too. Sunny said her friend makes her kimchi using Yakault - the little probiotic drink. If you have whey add some to this if you want to add Lactobacilli. 

You eat kimchi on its own as a snack or as a side dish for BBQ or fish. I want to use it to make these kimchi devilled eggs. I think they look delicious. I just have to wait for a while for the brew to mature.  Here are a few more ideas: 10 things to do with kimchi. I hope you can make some up to try it.

22 August 2014

Weekend reading

I hope you have time to relax on the weekend and read this week's selection. I'll see you again next week.

The push to ditch renewables could hand coal and gas industries billions.  If you're as angry as I am about this move to dilute what all Australians should be doing - moving to more sustainable energy options, I encourage you to email your local federal member. I am. You can find their contact information here.

21 August 2014

Wabi-sabi - a reminder

I've been thinking a lot about wabi-sabi this year. If you've never heard of the term, it's a Japanese concept about being comfortable with imperfection. I'm very close friends with imperfection and have been all my life but as I grow older, I see it in almost everything I do and in all the beauty that surrounds me - including my family and grand sons. Nothing is perfect and it seems to me that if you strive for perfection, you'll be disappointed more often than not. I don't want to spend time being disappointed when I can just as easily be accepting and even look for wabi-sabi and celebrate it, just like the Japanese do.

The kitchen on my wall.
The kitchen - a print of the original.

A friend of mine, Gerri, who lives in France and who I met through this blog, sent me a petit point tapestry of Carl Larsson's The Kitchen. Carl Larsson was a Swedish painter (1853 - 1919) and is a favourite of mine, has been since I discovered him when I lived in Germany many years ago. The Kitchen is the depiction of a young girl with a toddler, possibly her sister, in their Swedish kitchen. The older girl is churning butter and the little one is watching her, possibly knowing that one day it will be her job to do that for the family. On the sideline a wood stove holds simmering soup pots, a tiny white cat is almost out of sight, the washing up sits beside a wash bowl and the curtain blows softly in the breeze. And it is that curtain that gets me every time. Little things.

When Gerri sent it to me she said it had been sitting on the wall in her kitchen for many years and now she wanted me to have it. She explained she'd never finished it and if I wanted to, to go ahead. Well, I didn't want to finish it off because to me, it held the history of Gerri and her kitchen just the way it was. I wanted the tapestry to be what it was, not what it was supposed to be. It was more interesting to me as an artefact the way it was. It now hangs on my kitchen wall. Authenticity framed, captured under glass, a wabi-sabi masterpiece. A reminder.

Also in that frame I placed a letter from Gerri, in an envelop with French stamps, and a tiny note on the back of the frame asking: "do you know what this is? Blog 21 August 2014" I suspect that when I die, my family will go through all these things and I hope they'll discover what it is and keep it as their own reminder.  

In her wonderfully descriptive explanation of Wabi-sabi - the art of imperfectionRobyn Griggs Lawrence,  says: 

Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.

Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.

I guess that says it all and also reminds me why I've been thinking about it more as I age. I think that when I die I'll be a case study in wabi-sabi. And I have to tell you I'd rather go out as a frayed edged, grey haired, spectacled, wabi-sabi grandma than anything else. It comforts me knowing that the history of things, and of people,  plays an significant part in what we are and who we become.

20 August 2014

Spreads, dips and sandwich fillings

This may not be the most exciting of posts but it's sometimes a struggle to find good wholesome crackers, dips and spreads for snacks, lunches and to accompany drinks when friends drop around. Add to that the ongoing need of parents to send children to school with a good lunch, and you'll know that having a few recipes for these things up your sleeve is a real plus.

If you do have children going off to school, any of the crackers and dip or spreads, along with a container of salad or chopped crisp vegetables, such as carrot and celery sticks, would make a nice change in the lunch box. Add a banana and apple and you'd have the perfect lunch for an older child.

School lunches and snacks

I try to home produce as much as I can and biscuits, crackers, breads, dips, spreads and fillings are high on my list because so many of the commercial products contain preservatives and artificial additives. I prefer not eating anything like that, and want to serve wholesome food to my family and friends. Many of my recipes are based on my farmers cheese and cheese crackers. The recipes for both are here, they contain only natural ingredients and they're very easy to make. I hope they provide a good basis for some of the goodies you'll make up. And here are some other cracker recipes:

Food additives to avoid

Last year, my sister Tricia gave me a lovely book called Vintage Tea Party. It holds many old favourite recipes for high tea, morning tea and light meals that are more a snack than a meal. One recipe caught my eye a while ago and I've made it a couple of times since.  It's potted salmon and you can make up a jar of it and keep it in the fridge for serving on toast triangles or crackers.

 Potted Salmon 
  • Tin of salmon (skin removed), or if you're lucky enough to have fresh, cooked or smoked salmon, use that.
  • 40 grams/3 oz melted butter, hold some back for sealing the top of the salmon
  • Pepper
Place the ingredients in a food processor and process until a smooth paste forms.  Add the salmon to a sterilised jar and pour over the remaining melted butter. This is how the salmon was traditionally stored in the fridge, with a butter seal. Serve with crackers or as a spread for sandwiches. It is delicious served with pickled cucumbers - homemade, of course.

  Potted tuna 

This is a similar recipe from Not Quite Nigella but it can't be stored as long in the fridge. It makes a great cracker or bread spread and is excellent with drinks when friends come over.

 Triple layer dip  - another great dip for a party.

 Chicken spread  
For this spread you'll need to get into the habit of saving a cup of cooked chicken when you've made a roast chicken.  Or you can cook a chicken specially for lunches, finely dice the chicken and store it in one cup portions in the freezer.
  • 1 cup farmers cheese (see my recipe above)
  • 1 cup diced cooked chicken
  • Small red onion or one green onion, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • As much chilli as you like - either fresh or powdered
Combine all the above, mix well and serve on bread or crackers.

 Beetroot dip 
  • 4 beetroot, cooked, skinned and cooled
  • One clove garlic, crushed or finely grated
  • 1 cup farmers cheese (see my recipe above)
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper
Place all the above in a food processor and blitz until the cheese and beetroot is just combined. You don't want a smooth paste for this, it needs some texture. Serve as a dip with crackers.

  Yoghurt cheese - labneh/quark  
When you finish making your yoghurt, or using good commercial plain yoghurt, pour about two cups of yoghurt into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. You need to drain the whey off and as this will take a while, place the strainer in a large jug and store it in the fridge overnight. The following day you'll have a ball of fresh cheese and a jug of whey. Use the whey in your baking or fermenting. If you store it in a sealed jar, whey will keep for about six weeks in the fridge.

To make your cheese, finely chop some chilli and herbs of your choice and add it to the cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Store in a sealed container in the fridge. This is delicious on bread, particularly rye bread, crackers or toast.

These are all good recipes so you can steer clear of those additive-packed dips, spreads, biscuits and chips you buy at the supermarket. All these recipes are delicious and easy to make.  Do you have any recipes like this to share? Please only add those with no additives or artificial flavourings, and no soup mixes or MSG. We all need to have a good selection of these kinds of foods. I'm looking forward to seeing what you can share with us.

18 August 2014

Bathroom renovation DIY

I am often praised for just living the way I want to live: I want to sew, bake, mend, tend the garden and spend time with my family. And that gives me a lot of pleasure as well as structure and purpose to my days. When the praise comes, I appreciate it but I never receive a compliment without knowing that this is a team effort - Hanno is here too, working away and helping both of us live our simple lives. 


As some of your know, we're slowly preparing ourselves and our home for a time when we can't do as much as we can now. Hanno has good days and bad days with his health and occasionally he can't walk due to the pain of crystal arthritis/gout in his ankles and feet. He has a good GP whom he trusts and between them they work out what is best for his health. What is obvious though is that prolonged heavy work is no longer possible and whatever work he does, is done as it can be done and not to a timetable.  Part of Hanno's treatment is an emergency supply of cortisone tablets prescribed by his specialist. He is to take it only when the other medications don't work. About a month ago, we had one such time and he started taking the cortisone for the first time. Within the first couple of days the pain and swelling went but he had to continue taking the pills according the instructions, and that would take him through the following month. During that month he renovated the bathroom.


Some of the tiles on the bathroom floor had been stained for some time. The original tiler had left traces of glue and who knows what else on the tiles and although it was invisible, over the years it stained and continued getting worse. We also had an old vanity unit in that bathroom that needed replacing. Neither of us want to live in a home that is falling to pieces and if we can repair and replace while we still have the strength and will to do it, that is what we'll do.  We decided to buy a new vanity and taps and when Hanno removed the old unit, we discovered it had already been moved three times - we'd moved it once.  He started off by removing the old vanity, lights and plumbing, then he painted the walls and ceiling and retiled the toilet floor.

Each day Hanno did the work he felt he could do, he took frequent rests and slowly it all started coming together. We realised that to replace the bathroom tiles would cost us about two thousand dollars and we didn't want to spend that much. We got a quote for a few hundred dollars from a local floor tile cleaner, and when they cleaned the tiles we were both amazed at the change. The tiles look new again. We bought the new vanity, taps and mirror and just had the plumber come in to connect it all up again. Kerry helped with some of the heavy lifting and with putting the new mirror up, Hanno did the rest of the work. And now it looks amazing. Sadly, the effects of the cortisone have worn off now so he's got some pain back but he's really happy he did the work and I'm happy and proud of him for doing such a fine job. I cooked him a favourite meal to say thanks.

If you can do your own house maintenance and renovations, it will always be much cheaper. I think we would have spent about four thousand dollars if we'd had someone do all that work for us. In the end it cost us about one thousand; one quarter. It makes sense to keep on top of all these jobs so they don't get too damaged or expensive to fix, and certainly to change what you need to change as you get older so you can live in your own home as you transition from young old to old old.

We're changing our vegetable garden later in the year, and I'll write more about that when it happens. Small slow steps are not always easy or fast, but they get us to where we want to be.

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