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Friday, September 30, 2011

Sunchokes

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
In a foot-wide bed along one side of my garden grows a line of sturdy plants, six to seven feet tall.

The leaves and stalks look a bit like sunflowers, an impression reinforced in fall when the plants are topped with sparse clumps of bright yellow daisy-like flowers.

They're pretty enough to be just a decorative garden backdrop. They grow tall enough, even in a small space, to make an excellent privacy screen, and grow thick enough to make a decent wind-break for the garden beyond. They don't set seed, so no worry about volunteer seedlings turning into weeds all over the place the next year. Plus they're drought- and cold-tolerant perennials, and easily divided. I like self-sustaining plants.

The leaves will withstand the first light frosts, but die when the winter temperatures drop to a hard freeze. The stalks wither, but if left in place will harden and stand firm throughout the winter, continuing to break the wind, catching and holding the snow.

All in all, by mere appearance and hardiness these plants have earned their place in my garden. But they're not just pretty. These plants are sunchokes, sometimes called Jerusalem artichokes, and they produce food too. Easily dug and pulled, the plants produce tasty tubers at the base. The thin-skinned tubers look a bit like ginger root, and don't need to be peeled. Raw, they have a mildly sweet and nutty flavor, a texture a bit like jicama. Boiled or steamed, they can serve as a starchy substitute for potatoes or turnips, and cook in much less time (bonus - their sugars break down into fructose instead of glucose during digestion, thus making them a good starch for diabetics). I like them sliced across in thick slices and tossed into stir-frys at the last minute as a substitute for water chestnuts, or chopped and toasted and sprinkled atop curries instead of almonds.

The tubers will keep in a bag in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, and maybe a month in a cool cellar or pantry. But it's even easier to just leave them out in the garden all winter. Freezing weather doesn't bother the tubers. I just pull up plants as needed. I cut the withered stalks down to a few feet after they freeze, to tidy up the garden, then use the shortened stalks to see where to harvest, throughout the winter and spring, and on into early summer.

You might be able to find the tubers in your local supermarket, or they're available through many seed and plant catalogs. Though maybe expensive, you only have to buy them once. There are always a few tubers left in the ground to start growing again in the spring, so plant them in their own permanent bed. Perhaps in richer soil or milder climates they could become invasive, but I haven't had any problems in my dry sandy soils. I'm happy to have found another reliable, hardy, self-sustaining food crop.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Like money in the bank

Aurora at Island Dreaming


I have talked before about stockpiling food and my reasons before. But as we descend into winter, I realise I have been squirelling away other things, for many of the same reasons. 

These smaller stockpiles extend to a few balls of yarn, some fabric (mostly offcuts), seeds, compost, brewing chemicals, glass bottles and jars, cleaning ingredients, children's clothing, a savings account and, erm...toilet roll. None of these are stored to the extent that they are clutter, but are things I ensure that we always have a small stock of.  Sometimes we  take advantage of offers, sometimes we buy what we know we need at any price just for the security of having them. Many of these are the things that make life worth living, that should we take a financial hit, would allow us to continue the activities we do now - and probably save some money whilst we use them.

Physical goods are all well and good, but the most useful stockpile is the one you keep within yourself, from the knowledge you hold in your head, to the memory held in your muscles from practising a thing over and over. My most important possessions now are my ability to balance a budget and the know how to grow and cook some of my own food.

It is this latter stockpile that I think will serve me best in life. I don't believe that I will ever receive a a decent pension, state or otherwise. I am now 26 and currently eligible to retire at 68, which I suspect will rise much higher in my lifetime. Much of the social security safety net is being washed away as we speak. So we must continue to live the way that we do now and hone that most important of stockpiles - the ability to learn, retain and apply knowledge. I think all of us here are probably avid acquirers of new skills; to the extent that I am tempted to suggest we launch a Simple Green Frugal Co-op achievement badge program. Anyone for a fetching sash?

The stockpile I never really appreciated, being quite an introverted individual, is the esteem of a family, a community. The people that will help you out of a hole, as you will do them, when you undoubtedly fall into one. A community of people who care for you and who share useful skills and tools is as useful as the knowledge you yourself hold. I am now forced to be less introverted, to care more and to express my care to my neighbours and friends, where I previously would have shied away.

So these are the banks where I keep my money. Where do you keep yours?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hot Chilli Chutney




One of my favourite home grown condiments would be this one, my Hot Chilli Chutney.  I have made it three years in a row, and it never fails to please any guests who happen to visit and they usually leave with a small jar as a gift.  I proudly boast that all the vegetables within it are home grown except for the ginger, which does not grow in my climate!

When I make this I usually double the recipe which makes about 8 small jars.

Hot Chilli Chutney
  • 450g (16 oz) Jalapeno chillies
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons turmeric
  • 25g (1 oz) root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 quarters of a cup of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 and a quarter cups white vinegar
  1. Sterilise the jars in an oven @ 120C (230F) for 15 minutes.
  2. Finely chop chillies, including seeds.
  3. Mix together the chillies, chopped onion, garlic, cumin, turmeric, ginger, salt and oil.
  4. Transfer to a heavy based pan and fry for 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking.
  5. Add sugar and vinegar and bring to the boil. Cover pan and boil for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.
  6. Pack into jars, then seal. Water bath for 20 minutes. If you have button topped lids, make sure the button pops down when the jar has cooled to ensure a proper seal. 
We are still using some that we made from last years chilli harvest. It keeps for a long time, but make sure that once opened, that you keep it in the fridge just to be sure. I syphon off the layer of oil on top after I open every jar, and decant it into a small bottle to use as chilli oil.  It is great to use as an additive to spice up that dish that needs a boost.

The chutney is great with all Indian curry dishes.  Be warned, this is one hot chutney!

Bon Appetite!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Spinach & Silverbeeet Quiche

by Jemma at Time for a Little Something


We've just come into Spring here in New Zealand and it is a welcome change in season! I don't mind winter usually, especially being tucked up inside on a cold night with a glass of red wine and a tasty casserole! But it is lovely to see the first daffodils, lambs and of course, the new fresh green vegetables coming through.


You may also have heard about a certain sporting tournament that's currently taking place in New Zealand... the Rugby World Cup 2011 has well and truly taken over our country! There's a great atmosphere here - flags are in shops, offices, on cars and buildings, and our cafes and restaurants are chocka with visitors and locals having a great time.


So with a change in the weather and so much social activity going on here, I thought a nice weekend lunch to share with friends was in order. This spinach and silverbeet quiche is tasty, easy, and pretty good for you, too. Add a simple salad and maybe some crusty wholegrain rolls... and perhaps a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc! ... and you have a great Sunday lunch. Even better if you can use produce from your own garden.




Don't forget, if you make homemade stock, you can use those odds and ends from the veges, and also the excess liquid that you drain from the greens. I recently read a handy tip from a fellow New Zealand food blogger - she saves all the trimmings from her veges during the week and adds them to a plastic bag in her freezer, then makes a chicken or vegetable stock with them at the weekend. Genius!





Spinach and Silverbeet Quiche
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 bunch spinach, washed, ends trimmed
4-5 silverbeet leaves, washed, white ends trimmed off
2 tsp mustard (I used mild English)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
80g feta, roughly chopped or crumbled
150g light cottage cheese
1/4 cup trim milk, or light evaporated milk
2 Tbsp parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
4-5 sheets filo pastry
olive oil cooking spray


Preheat the oven to 180 (c). Heat the olive oil in a large frypan, and gently cook the onion for a few minutes, until softened. Place the onion in a large bowl and set aside.


Return the pan to the heat, and add the spinach and silverbeet leaves. Add a splash of water, cover and steam until the leaves have just wilted. Drain, cool, and squeeze out the excess liquid. Roughly chop the greens and add them to the onion.




Add the mustard, eggs, feta, cottage cheese, milk and parmesan, and mix well. You could add other things in at this point too if you wish - chopped fresh herbs, or pinenuts work well. Season the mixture to taste - for me, the feta is salty enough, but freshly ground pepper is welcome. Set the bowl aside while you prepare the pastry.


Lightly spray a loose-bottomed quiche, flan or pie tin with cooking spray. Place one sheet of filo pastry down to line the dish, spray again and add another sheet, repeating until the sheets are stacked up, overlapping, so that the pan is lined. Fill with the silverbeet and spinach mixture, and scrunch the edges of the filo around to make a nice crust.


Bake the quiche for about 25 minutes, until the filling is set. Serves 4-6 for lunch. Bon appetit!


Documenting the Firsts

By Megan at The Byron Life


This week I have been packing boxes in readiness for our return home and I came across Melody's cherished  "ballet book" - a simple scrapbook I made to document her first ballet classes. I wrote about its creation on my blog last year and I thought readers here at Simple, Frugal and Green might appreciate the idea that memory-keeping needn't be an expensive or elaborate affair. 


***


I’m no Martha when it comes to scrapbooking, that’s for sure. No designer layouts and special albums for me; I prefer to wing-it with whatever’s at hand. While my efforts wouldn’t pass muster with serious scrapbooking enthusiasts, I am happy that I have at least made the effort to document and celebrate some of the significant events and activities in my girls’ lives in this form.

Pictured above is a crazy-huge scrapbook of Ella’s very-first artwork from her toddler and pre-school days. We made this book together when she was a young child, I think she was four-years-old, and we took it off to a local copy shop to have it bound. For many years she would trot out this book to proudly show visitors and to this day it is still one of her most prized possessions. It is an especially important keepsake to Ella as she has developed into a most talented young artist and this book documents her “early years” (or her “bunny years” as I like to call them as that was about all she was interested in drawing for quite some time!)

This one is a book I made last year to document Melody’s first year at ballet. It has photos and mementos from her first ballet classes through to her first performance and I have written the text in very simple storybook style. It is now one of Melody’s favourite bedtime reads (what three-year-old doesn’t love to read a book all about themselves?) This book was made late at night, after Melody had gone to sleep, while I was pregnant with Maddison and finished just the night before she was born. So, for me, this book is also infused with those special pregnancy/birth memories... I gave it to Melody for Christmas and it was one of her favourite presents.

I think this home-made, free-form approach to scrap-booking works better for me because I get intimidated by expensive, “perfect” scrapbooks and I procrastinate over what is the “perfect” thing to write and add to them. If I am just winging it with less expensive materials, in a less structured way, I relax a bit more with the whole thing and don’t end up placing such huge expectations on myself that I never get around to doing anything.

The results are, in a word, wonky! That’s my style... But they are made with mama-love, and I reckon that’s what really counts.


We have some significant things happening in 2010 – Maddi’s first year being one of them - and Melody has oh-so-enthusiastically started pre-school a couple of days a week, so right now I am playing away documenting these major events.
This is the start of a scrapbook of Melody’s artwork from her first year at pre-school. As you can see, it’s made from a simple, old-fashioned scrapbook, and Melody is the creator-in-chief - from making the artwork to start with to sticking it in her book each week. I can’t wait to see how her drawings and paintings change over the year. The book is covered in one of her paintings and then clear contact paper is applied over the top.

While these books will ultimately be in the possession of the girls, I freely admit the making of these is as important, if not more important, to me than them! Childhood, that most powerful of times, scoots away from us so, so quickly... I want to savour, and remember, every moment with my girls while it lasts.

x
Megan

Saturday, September 24, 2011

City Mouse, Country Mouse


by Linda@The Witches Kitchen

A post on Little Eco Footprints this week called Are we making a mistake living in the city? has been in the back of my mind at odd moments all week.  I live in a rural community.  I moved here as a young hippy mum nearly 30 years ago, living first in a caravan with no power, road access, or running water.  I have never regretted it and although it was diabolically hard in those early years, I do have the best of lives.

But sometimes, like the deserted beach or the fantastic suburban restaurant, things are only fantastic so long as no-one else knows they are.  Is living in the country like that?  Is it only possible to do it without destroying it because most people don't?

My "perfect world" fantasy has everyone living in permacultured villages with tiny ecological footprints, networked and linked with electric railways and internet (powered with geothermal or big desert solar installations), largely self sufficient in food, water, waste disposal, houshold and local energy, trading knowledge, culture, art, craft, manufactured goods and specialist crops.

The villages would be neither city nor country, but a bit of both.  They would have enough population density so that people could get around by foot and bicycle - kids could walk to school and to their friends places to play, neighbours would be close enough to rely on in emergencies or even just to borrow a cup of flour or a tool or visit for a chat.  But they would have a low enough density to allow most of the fresh food production to be local - kitchen gardens, fruit trees, chickens, geese, dairy cows.

That's not a very different level of population density to the older suburbs in Australia. As permaculture writer David Holmgren says, "It's technically possible that the traditional older suburbs could actually produce all of the food needed to sustain the people living there. The amount of open space - both public and private space in backyards - means that you've got a population density not that much greater than some of the densest traditional agricultural landscapes in the world."

FAO says that "It is realistic to suppose that the absolute minimum of arable land to support one person is a mere 0.07 of a hectare–and this assumes a largely vegetarian diet, no land degradation or water shortages, virtually no post-harvest waste, and farmers who know precisely when and how to plant, fertilize, irrigate, etc."  John Jeavons claims that  0.2 hectare can support a family of four. So my fantasy isn't unreasonable.  There's a batch of other references here, if you're interested.

But back to my fantasy.  Households and small businesses would have local grid connected solar power and rainwater tanks for water, with local water and power boards managing supply and floating pricing to force frugality in times of shortage. Along the same principles as the current push for carbon pricing - people figure out ways to use less of something when it's expensive.

Villages would have their own schools, hospitals, and local economies, based on trading everyday goods and services, but would be connected by high speed electric trains to allow some villages to produce specialist and higher education, specialist medical services, centres of excellence in research, arts and sport, and manufactured goods and specialist crops. Villages would also be connected via the internet, allowing work in any kind of knowledge industries to be globalised.

Giant solar installations in the desert would provide the power for the railways and energy intensive manufacturing.  There would be no private cars.  Petrol would be very expensive and reserved for engines and manufactured goods that couldn't do without it. Young adults would go backpacking round the world on trains, bikes and sailing boats.

Thump.  That was me falling back to earth.

In reality, both urban dwellers and country dwellers are a long way from my fantasy. With the prices people are willing to pay for quality food, and the cut that goes to packaging, transport, storage, wholesalers then supermarkets, it's no wonder that many farming practices are the equivalent of strip mining of farmland, as destructive to the environment as concrete suburbs. Much of our food is industrially produced, in CAFOs and ILOs that are just like rural factories. Both farmland and urbanisation are threats to biodiversity. Both lifestyles rely, in different ways, on huge energy subsidies.

I think most rural areas in Australia at least would benefit hugely from a big population influx of people intent on creating a simple green frugal lifestyle. It would move them towards, not away from my fantasy.  But in reality, the majority of the population lives in cities, and it is there that the real work of creating change needs to be done, and will have the biggest effects, for all of us.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Swept away

Francesca @ FuoriBorgo
sweeping

Is the vacuum cleaner an essential appliance? I've always thought so. But in the last few months, pushed by mechanical failure, we've discovered that, in fact, it may not be.

Our vacuum cleaner was a 4 year old small-size cylinder model of a well known Italian brand, mid-price range. It came with a 2 year warranty, and it worked very well. For two years, that is.

A few days or so after the warranty had expired, the hose split open. I sealed the crack with duct tape, and it continued working for another few months.

Then, one of the plastic wheels broke off. So I decided to do without wheels. At this point, my three year old vacuum cleaner looked like it'd been through the wars (which, in all honesty, is what vacuuming my house sometimes feels like), but it was still chugging along.

Then, just a couple of months ago, it stopped dead while I was using it, and no amount of coaxing, unplugging and re-plugging it back in, no gentle (or firm) tapping, did the trick. It was a goner.

Now, the repair shop is about a 3 hour round trip from my house, in a town where I rarely go unless strictly necessary. Partly because I don't have that time, and partly because gasoline has shot up to €1.60 a liter. But also because, in Italy you pay just to have an estimate for repairs, which these days cost far more than to buy a new item!

So I decided to do without a vacuum cleaner, at least temporarily, and to see whether a vacuum cleaner is in fact an indispensable appliance. In fact, where we live, this was a real test, with the mud and dirt of the surrounding forests and fields, the sand from the nearby beach, the ash and bits of firewood in a house that's primarily heated by wood, the dust and sundry bits and pieces from our ancient house. Not to mention our the three children (need I say more?)? So it's not like a vacuum cleaner wouldn't be handy.

My conclusions? A broom & dust pan don't quite measure up to a vacuum cleaner in three main ways:

1) Efficiency: much dirt and dust are left behind after sweeping, and there are many areas in a house that a broom can't reach properly.

2) Time: since sweeping isn't as efficient as vacuuming, I have to sweep the floors all the time.

3) Cost: though sweeping the floors is free (unless I pay myself an hourly wage!), since sweeping is less efficient I have to wash the floors much more frequently, which means paying for hot water and detergent -- hence, I'm not saving much money, and may actually be spending more.

In my opinion the vacuum cleaner is an essential appliance to get a necessary (and tedious) household task done efficiently and in a short time. Yet still I hesitate to have my 4-year old vacuum cleaner fixed, because I dread the inevitable diagnosis, and refuse to accept that things these days are made to cost less instead of lasting longer.

Does this mean that I'm coming to a new definition of "essential"?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Great Grandma Goldsack's Mock Chicken Spread

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

I am proud to belong to a family inspired by keen homemakers and great cooks. Amongst my handwritten recipes are many favourites saved from now, long deceased relatives.

When I left home my mum gifted me a small, brown, vinyl covered recipe book and inside were many of my family favourites, with some space to create new ones. I often make the tried and true recipes from this book, as they give me comfort, create a feeling of connection to my family and they never, ever fail me.

One of my favourite family recipes is a simple sandwich spread which hasn't been made here for a while. As I have reduced unhealthy and expensive 'deli-cut meats' from our weekly shop, I decided that this could be a great spread to make regularly, adding some delicious flavour to summer salad sandwiches.

My Great Grandma Goldsack made this spread to slather on freshly made baked bread. She would make a few jars and pass these on to my Nana for her family. They would often be presented in drinking glasses with a buttered brown paper circle to seal.

This spread also makes a great dip for dry biscuits and would even make a nice chicken stuffing.

GREAT GRANDMA GOLDSACKS MOCK CHICKEN SPREAD

1 tomato
1 onion
1 tsp butter
1 tb breadcrumbs
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
Cheese, finely grated
Mixed Herbs

Firstly prepare your ingredients: (Please note I doubled this recipe today)


Dice tomatoes and onion.


Grate the cheese finely. I added the salt and mixed herbs to the cheese.


Make your breadcrumbs. I used 3 slices of stale crusts and processed them coarsely.


Fry the tomato and onion in a pan on a low heat with the butter. Do not allow the onion to brown/fry golden, you just want to slowly cook this just enough for the onion to become transparent.


Beat the egg and add to the pan with the remaining ingredients.


Heat just long enough for egg to be cooked through.


Bottle, label and keep in fridge for up to 1 week.

I doubled the recipe today and only used a 1/4 tsp salt, around 100gms of cheese and 3 tomotoes, as ours were smaller than the home grown variety that would have been used in this recipe.

I love recipes that reflect simpler times, using fresh produce and are packed with full flavours and homemade goodness. Let me know if you try this recipe and if you have any suggestions for other savoury spreads. I would love to read any links or suggestions.

Amanda

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Just a Few Canning Tips

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Canning and preserving season is here all of a sudden. I thought it might be a good time just to go over a few basics that can make things go a little easier.

1) Make sure you have everything on hand for your recipe before you start. Ingredients including pectin, fresh spices, salt, sugar and jars, lids, rings, or freezer containers depending on your method of preserving.

2) Round up all your large bowls, colanders, and any other container you may need for the initial parts of production.

3) Plan your processing time to fit in with your other scheduled family responsibilities. Many things can be started and left to simmer, or macerate for hours and as long as overnight. Berries for jam can be crushed and mixed with sugar and pectin and refrigerated for day or so, pickles can be started in brine hours or even days before processing, allowing you to have several things going at once.

4) Follow tested recipes with low acid ingredients or foods. Experiment with safe things that are high acid like jams and chutneys that utilize preservatives like sugar and vinegar. Tomato products like salsa and marinara sauce are loaded guns for canning - treat them with respect. Or experiment to your hearts content and freeze them for safety!

5) Make sure you and your family really like what you're preserving - it's a lot of work and is disappointing to be staring at 15 jars of chutney next year that no one liked.

6) If possible can with a friend, or family members. It's fun and enjoyable, and the rewards are limitless from that first ping when a jar seals, to next winter when you enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Please add your tips in the comment section, I am sure I missed quite a few.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Not?

Posted by Bel

from Spiral Garden

Recently I have participated in some community events regarding our local council's 10 year plan. I have been conversing with many people, trying to explain more about what the grass roots groups in our community are attempting and achieving, and why we are concerned about peak resources, about climate, about the economy and about relocalising our region.

People ask me why I bother? They insist that it isn't worth working with any level of government. They don't understand...

When my grandchildren ask me, in decades to come, “What did you do when the human race was becoming crazy with consumerism, destroying pristine environments, forgetting the old ways and worshipping money…?” I feel proud that I can tell them that I did what my heart told me to... Within the capacity of my roles as a mother, a gardener, an educator, a friend, a volunteer, a writer, a citizen – I shared ideas, and I encouraged action. As much as I could, I always walked the talk.

What will you tell your grandchildren?

(Next time I post, I will continue with the organisation topics as promised!)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Apple Fed Pork

This year we expanded our pork operation from 16 pigs to 48. That's a lot of feed and a lot of hungry pigs! When our feed bills started rolling in I made a few calls to neighboring dairies and orchards and eventually set up a sweet deal taking the whey from a nationally renowned cheese maker and the windfall from a friendly, sustainable orchard.

The whey, that comes in buckets that we pick up every week and exchange with fresh clean buckets. The apples? We have to go pick them up....from the orchard floor. We pick up about 1000 pounds of apples every other week. Last year I was driving around asking door to door every time I saw a neglected apple tree. This is way easier. With two adults and three kids, it takes about 3 hours to fill the truck bed and the trailer. We could get more in a trip, I am working on how to stack bins inside the trailer to do that.




What I couldn't fit in bins the first run, I dumped in the truck bed.  HUGE mistake. Very hard to get them out. 

We wash the apples with a power washer to try and make sure no residues are left from any sprays that might have been used. The orchard uses very little, but we are extra careful anyway.

 What just floors me about this, as I am picking up the fallen apples, is this: food is being thrown away every day. There are adds in the paper for people who have fallen fruit in their yards, neglected berry bushes everywhere that just go to the birds. Commercial orchards hauling windfall to local landfills, dairies dumping buttermilk and whey in the road ditches. It may not be food for people, but it is still food. Usable food.

We cut our feed bills down quite a bit by doing this.

I know there are even more places doing this too. Where do you find free food for your family or livestock?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Life Changes

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Since I wrote my last post here, I've become a mother to two beautiful children, a daughter and a son. Life has felt anything but simple, green and frugal. In fact, I'd go so far as to say like has been somewhat complicated, definitely the opposite of green and more expensive than it has ever been [aka I am leaking money]. One piece of advice has carried me through, from a seasoned parent who I really respect: focus on survival until it feels like you can do more.

This whole experience has taught me so much about understanding people who feel the simple, frugal or green life is beyond them. I've heard friends, co-workers and people in the media say that they feel overwhelmed at the thought of making their own soap, recycling, composting or cooking from scratch. While I've long held the belief we should all start slowly, being a mother for just shy of three weeks has really given me a level of compassion and understanding about why changes can feel so challenging.

Almost three weeks in, we are doing well. I can't say I'm cooking every single day, I certainly can't say my laundry situation isn't scary. But in terms of small successes:

- I am using green soap and green cleaning products, even if I didn't make them myself
- I am composting, even if the bucket is in a sorry state and needs to be dealt with
- I am ensuring we get three meals a day, even if they are simple or from a favourite independent store instead of more complex {what I would do for a roast!!!}
- I can see where I want us to be (a more simple, green and frugal life defining parenting choices) and I know slowly we will get there...

One of my favourite quotes is this: "All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Anatole France.

So if you are struggling with life changes, just know part of embracing the single, frugal and green life is to be simple with yourself and your needs. Don't be harder on yourself than you would be with others. Understand sometimes focusing on survival is the right thing to do.

I feel hope our new life is emerging and I'm sure as long as we are together it will be a grand one. I hope wherever you are in your life you see hope to.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

S.O.B.

By Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I thought I'd share a post from my personal blog that readers here might enjoy. I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Hello everyone!

I hope you've all had a good start to the week. Me, I've been on hyperdrive at work! Which doesn't leave a lot of time for reflection, so its good that I had set this goal of writing a post today. Blogging has become a very important way of stopping and reflecting.

A few days ago, Jen of Darkpurplemoon said:
To someone like me across the other side of the world who only knows you through your blog - you have a really strong identity, which is creative, strong willed, caring and all out impressive.
Awww thanks Jen! You know, I'm always surprised by how people talk about my blog..and I guess by extension, me. :) But it is very nice of you to say these things Jen - thank you.

I wonder though what other people - ie non-readers of this blog - see when they see me and my home? I wonder if they see that I do this out of choice - to avoid human exploitation as much as possible? Or do they think I've fallen on hard times? Or do they think anything at all?

I have a feeling it falls into the latter category. I think that many people see so much stuff that they become kinda blind to how much they can see ("stuff overload"??).

My theory of "stuff overload" can be supported (I think) by the experiences of Alex who wore the same brown dress every day for a year...and she said that most people (especially those at her work) didn't even notice she wore the same dress every day. I also know that I don't really notice what other people wear or have either unless if they themselves point it out to me (and even then I usually have forgotten about it by the end of the week.)

"Too Much" Photo by Joe Madonna

So where am I going with this? I am starting to develop a theory (or should I say further develop my original consumption and identity theory).

I believe that consumerism has become a major way for us to project our identity - in this context:
  • the me I want people to see; or
  • the me I want to be.
The problem, however, is that in projecting our identity in this way we start surrounding ourselves with lots and lots of stuff....and we all develop "stuff overload blindness" (let's call it SOB).

And because we become blind to stuff, we then don't understand why the stuff we have do not seem to be projecting "the me I want people to see" or the "me I want to be".

Which leads us to think that our stuff must be "wrong" and so we get more new stuff. And we think "great! this is the stuff that will finally get people to see!!" or "great! this is the stuff that will finally project the me that I want to be!"

But the reality is that no matter what stuff we get, people (including ourselves) still have SOB and therefore won't be able to see for any meaningful length of time what we want to project...

So the whole thing is a pointless exercise which leaves us feeling dissatisfied.

...anyway, I hope I've made sense in this post. What do you think about my little theory?

Wishing you all a good week ahead.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fermenting Cucumbers

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
It's late summer, and the garden produce is really rolling in. I only have a few more weeks, if I'm lucky, before the nights drop below freezing. So I'm busy harvesting then using various preserving methods to squirrel stuff away for later. For years, canning various flavors of pickles was standard operating procedure around here for dealing with the cucumber glut. And I still have plenty of jars full of sweet, dill, bread & butter pickles and relish.

Last year, I tried fermenting the cucumbers instead, and found a new favorite. I like sauerkraut - fermented cabbage. Fermented cucumbers, also called sour pickles, are just as good - plus easier and less time-consuming than heat-processing lots of jars. And now, as the heat of summer fades, it's cooler inside. The fermentation process works best between 55F and 75F (13 - 24C). Above that, the pickles ferment too fast and get soft. Lower temperatures just mean a longer fermentation time, and slower is better. I use a 2-gallon glass crock, but for those interested in trying this method a gallon glass jar works great.

Your cucumbers should be fresh, right out of the garden if possible, picked before the seeds inside start to toughen up. Size doesn't matter - bigger cucumbers just take longer to ferment (so eat the little ones first). If your cucumbers are a couple of days old, you can soak them in water for half a day to refresh them a bit. You might want to take your kitchen shears out with you when harvesting. Try to clip with a little 1/4 inch of stem attached instead of pulling them from the vines. Don't use damaged fruit, and wash away any remaining dirt or debris.

Slice away the tiniest little sliver from the blossom end. The blossom contains an enzyme that encourages the cucumber to continue to ripen. Removing it stops the process, and your pickles stay firmer and crunchier. Old recipe books say adding young grape leaves will make crunchier pickles. I have a couple of organically-grown grapevines, so I figured it couldn't hurt. I don't know if it made the pickles any crisper, but the leaves pickled along with the cucumbers and were so good I now add extra just be able to eat them on their own.

For a gallon of fermented pickles, you'll need about 4 pounds cucumbers (about 6-7 salad-sized ones). Put any or all of the optional ingredients (2 tablespoons dill seed or a couple of fresh heads of dill; a couple garlic cloves, a couple dried hot peppers, 2 teaspoons mustard seed, and/or a layer of 4" grape leaves) in the bottom of your container, and add the whole cucumbers. You can pack them in vertically if you're using the big ones. Stir 1/2 cup non-iodized salt into 8 cups water with 1/4 cup vinegar added. When the salt dissolves, pour the mixture over the cucumbers. Use a clean ceramic plate or glass jar to keep the cucumbers submerged an inch below the level of the brine. Cover with a piece of cloth or another plate, and put it somewhere cool where you can check it a couple of times a week. Skim scum and mold from the surface as needed.

As the cucumbers ferment, they'll lose their bright green color, turning translucent (that's not mold - it's white flakes of sediment, easily stirred up and then it settles out again). Complete fermentation can take from 4 - 8 weeks.

You can eat them at any time, but they are fully fermented when no white patches remain. If kept in a cool spot, the pickles will continue to get sourer. If you can't find a cool spot to keep the jar, refrigerate them for longer storage.

I'll keep my crock on the kitchen counter for 4 - 5 weeks, adding additional cucumbers as I continue to harvest, making additional brine solution as necessary to keep them submerged. After that, I'll move the crock down to the cooler cellar, to keep through the winter. Every week to 10 days an almost gel-like layer of scum forms on the top - rarely it would get a couple specks of blue-topped white mold on top of that. It's easy enough to just pinch that layer, pull it out, and toss it.

When I want another pickle, I'll fish one out, redistribute those left, and replace the plate. Inside the house, I keep a quart jar of brine in the refrigerator, where I keep the current pickle, cutting slices off as needed. No scum forms on the jar in the refrigerator. When the cellar starts warming up, in the spring, I just transfer the pickles left to a jar in the refrigerator to keep eating until I either run out or I can start a fresh batch. My reference source here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Crops in pots

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming


It has only been in the last year, since I acquired a very small plot of earth to cultivate, that I have begun to appreciate what can be achieved in a small space. Before this I had a container garden on the patio that I experimented with, but I have to admit, growing things in pots is so much more difficult for a novice, than growing things in the ground. Open earth does a lot of the hard work for you - it holds water and nutrients, it collects the warmth of the sun, it has a healthier balance of pests and predators. Container gardens are not like that - they dry out and deplete easily, and the pots themselves are ideal habitats for unchallenged pests - in my case, slugs.

This year, my back yard pots have been neglected. It is only now as we crawl into autumn that I have begun to fill them again and take care of the volunteer plants that have sprung up from last years seed. It seems that I will get a good harvest from a little effort - remembering to water everyday, staking and pinching out.

The situations where container gardens are most likely to be appropriate are the places that most desperately need them, for their aesthetic and habitat supplying qualities as much as the food. In the high density concrete jungle of the city, they will catch the rain, slowing its otherwise unimpeded rush across paving slabs and into storm drains. They will attract wildlife where once no creature dared tread.

Anything particularly fussy about its growing conditions can thrive in a container. For many people here in the UK, blueberries are container crops, as few have the naturally acidic garden soil they require. Tomatoes, aubergines, chillies, sweet peppers, beans, salad onions and salads will all do well. Most herbs, especially the Mediterranean natives can thrive in shallow, dry soils. There are now varieties of root vegetables bred especially for shallow container growing.

I know how disheartening it is to want to grow a sizable proportion of your own food, to be confronted with just a windowsill or patio. I spent many years not bothering, waiting instead for a patch of garden to come along. It was a long wait and we eventually made use of the limited space we had. Resist the temptation to not bother, to believe that the effort is pointless. To make things easier, start with a good book. General gardening books aren't particularly useful to container gardeners. Instead, try one of the many books suited. The Edible Container Garden by Michael Guerra is particularly inspiring and comprehensive. Books on square foot gardening, self watering containers and container 'recipe' books are also useful.

Start with the largest containers that you can; and the deepest. They will hold moisture more effectively, meaning that if you are as disorganized as me and forget to water for a day or two, the result shouldn't be catastrophic. Look for seeds and plants suitable for containers - you can buy patio root vegetable seeds and dwarf fruit trees bred to crop prolifically in small spaces. Start with something that you like to eat too - if you don't eat salad, don't grow it just because it is ideal for pots. Choose a tasty variety of tomato instead, even if it will be less productive for the same space.




If you manage to grow a pot of basil on a windowsill, you have added a little life and flavour and fragrance to your world.  If you then manage a trough of herbs and salad on a patio or balcony, you have saved yourself more than a few pennies and food miles - and created a small ecosystem teeming with valuable organisms. If you then manage a grow bag or two of tomatoes, beans, new potatoes or even a dwarf fruit tree, then you may just be able to make a few whole meals out of your labours and will be well equipped for the day when that little patch of earth does come calling for you.
 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Limoncello - Concentrated Lemoney Goodness

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese

As spring is now upon us, we have an abundance of lemons on our tree. So what to do with all those lemons?  For a bloke who likes a drink or two, my wife had a fantastic idea.  Here is what unfolded.

About 3 weeks ago, Kim (my lovely wife) was ill and tired of laying in bed, so I trundled her off to the lounge room, threw on the blankets, and she started watching the movie Under The Tuscan Sun.

Half way through the movie, the main character, who was eying up some hot Italian lad, was told about this wonderful drink called Limoncello which she proceeded to drink.  Kim then asked if I could make some.  The reply was of course I can!

With lots of lemons on the tree, and a bottle of vodka in the cupboard, I set myself the task of making this luscious lemon liqueur.  After a bit of research on the net, the consensus was a recipe that goes kind of like this.  I borrowed the directions from an on-line cooking site, however I changed the amounts because I didn't think it was sweet  or strong enough.  So here is how I made it.




Limoncello (Gav style)

Ingredients

9 large smooth thick skinned lemons
700ml bottle of Vodka or Grappa
1 1/2 cups of white sugar
2 cups of water
juice of one lemon

Method

Pick the lemons, then grate the rind of all lemons.  Be careful not to get any pith as I am told it will make the liqueur bitter.


Once you have all the rind place in a big glass container that you can seal or otherwise the alcohol will evaporate. 


Then pour in the alcohol and seal the jar.


Let it rest while you perform the next step.


I love the way it changed colour over the course of a couple of hours.  Note the rind sitting on the bottom.  Some recipes state that you must leave it at this step for 30-40 days to infuse the flavour, however, I stumbled across a few Italian recipes that I translated, and they added the sugar syrup the same day.


So add the sugar and water and stir whilst heating on a medium heat.  Bring to the boil.


Boil without stirring for 3 minutes.  You will find the syrup will thicken a little.  Take it off the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and let it cool to room temperature.  Do not add the syrup to the rind mixture whilst hot.  You will burn off the alcohol, which kind of defeats the purpose of this drink.


My syrup cooled after two hours, so I gently poured it into the rind/vodka mixture.


I gave it a gentle shake to mix, and left it at that.  Sealed the lid tightly and tipped it upside down to check for leaks.


I popped it into a dark corner in the kitchen where I will remember to mix it by shaking once a week over the course of a month.  Apparently, it is then ready to drink, however I did see recipes that recommended two months.


As for the rest of the left over lemons, I squeezed them and made a drink for Kim.  We are look forward to drinking the Limoncello on a nice late spring day!  I still have a few lemons left on the tree, so Kim has convinced me to go and buy another bottle of vodka to make another batch.  Might try Grappa this time, to make it a little more authentic.  If it is as good as my Cumquat Brandy, then it should be a ripper!

Has anyone else made this liqueur before?  How did it turn out?  Have you tried to make other fruit wines or liqueurs?  I would love to know.