Sunday, 31 May 2009

Cleaning your house with... lemons!

Bu Julie,
Towards Sustainability

My apologies to those of you in the northern hemisphere, but here in Australia it's citrus season, and traditionally, no Aussie backyard is complete without a lemon tree! Although they are becoming far less common than they used to be, it is still not unusual to see large grocery bags groaning with lemons being given away in offices and over the back fence.

So, once you've satisfied your cravings for lemonade, lemon curd, lemon meringue pie and every other variation of lemon possible, did you know that lemons are a fantastic addition to your simple, green, frugal cleaning arsenal?

Tip: To get more juice from your lemons, microwave them briefly before juicing, or roll them briskly on the counter top with the palm of your hand to warm them up.

Meyer Lemons

Lemon juice is quite acidic, hence the sour taste. If fresh lemons are unavilable, oftentimes you can substitute vinegar for the lemon juice in some of the cleaning solutions, as it also acidic. The citric acid in lemons makes fresh lemon juice a natural mild antiseptic and mould killer. It is also a terrific grease cutter and deodoriser, so you could try any the following hints and tips.

1. Make an oven cleaner. Use a paste of 1 part lemon juice and 1 part rock salt to clean your oven. Apply the paste thickly and leave for 5-10 minutes. Wipe away with a coarse cloth and hot water, rubbing gently to remove tough grease spots.

2. Clean your copperware. Use a paste made from lemon juice and table salt to clean copper pots. Rub it on with a cloth and then buff with a clean cloth to shine.

3. Clean your silverware and brassware. Rub on straight lemon juice to bring back a shine to your silverware or to buff your brassware.

4. Clean and freshen your dishwasher. Cut a lemon in half and stick it on an upright in your dishwasher tray or add ¼ cup lemon juice to the soap dispenser before running a cycle, to remove grease deposits and make your saucepans shine.

5. Remove soap scum, calcium and lime deposits from your stainless steel or porcelain sink. Rub the cut surface of a lemon over the boards and taps and leave for a minute or so. Then buff with a clean cloth. For tough stains, soak a cloth with juice and leave to sit over the stain or deposit to soak.

6. Clean the interior of your microwave oven. Add a few tablespoons of lemon juice to a glass of water and heat for five minutes on High. Let the steam soak for a few minutes, then wipe the interior with a cloth.

7. Remove coffee stains from cups. Rub coffee cups with a paste of lemon juice and salt to remove stains.

8. Remove dried cheese from a grater. Rub with half a lemon until the dried cheese softens and comes away.

9. Remove stains and odours from your hands. Rub your hands with a paste of lemon juice and salt to remove beetroot and berry stains or onion and garlic smells.

10. Remove odours from your refrigerator. Leave a cut lemon in a shallow bowl in your fridge to remove odours.

11. Remove stains from Laminate and Formica counter tops. Rub the cut surface of a lemon on your counter tops and dry with a clean cloth. For stains, let the juice sit for a few minutes, sprinkle with bicarb soda and then rub gently and rinse with clean water.

12. Freshen and remove stains and odours from your cutting boards. Rub with a cut lemon or a paste of lemon juice and salt and then wash clean with hot water.

13. Clean your windows and shower screens with lemon juice (the juice cuts through soap scum). Buff dry with scrunched up newspaper to make them sparkle.

14. Use lemon juice to whiten the ivory handles on your old cutlery.

15. Add a teaspoon of juice to your humidifier to eliminate household odours.

16. Run a couple of fresh lemon peels through your garbage disposal unit to clean and freshen it.

17. Dry your lemon peels and store them in an airtight container. Throw them on a fire and enjoy the fragrance, scatter around entrances and kitchen window sills to deter ants and cockroaches, use them in pot pourri, add them to your vacuum cleaner bag to scent the house while you vacuum or hang them in a muslin bag in your wardrobe to help repel bugs from clothing.

18. Make a furniture polish. Mix 2 parts olive oil with 1 part lemon juice. Add a few drops to a clean cloth and rub gently on your timber furniture, then buff with a dry cloth. Make up the mixture fresh each time.

19. Make an all-purpose spray cleaner.
Cleaner #1 - In a spray bottle, mix two tablespoons lemon juice, ½ teaspoon liquid soap, ½ teaspoon washing soda, and one teaspoon borax in two cups of hot water. Shake until dissolved.
Cleaner #2 - Mix lemon juice, vinegar and water in a spray bottle.

Lemon juice is also a natural bleaching agent, which makes it also very handy in the laundry.

20. Apply lemon juice to ink stains immediately, leave to soak and then wash as normal in cold water to remove the stain.

21. Apply a paste of lemon juice or salt or cream of tartar to rust stains on colorfast clothing and then leave to dry in the sun. Repeat if necessary to remove the rust stain.

22. Whiten tennis shoes by applying lemon juice and then leaving to dry in the sun.

23. Add ¼ cup lemon juice to the rinse cycle of your washing machine to brighten your whites.

24. Make a homemade bleach from a mixture of lemon juice and bicarb soda - soak for half an hour before washing.

25. Use a paste of lemon juice and salt to remove mildew stains from fabric - scrub and then dry in sunlight.

So, there you have it! Twenty-five ways to use lemons to clean your home, although I'm sure there are more, so what are your favourite ways to use lemons around the home?

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Our Next Generation

Heather Beauty That Moves

Many years ago, when my now 11 year old daughter was just 2 1/2, my husband entered law school full time. I went from being a full-time stay at home mom to a working out of the house mom... five nights a week. The schedule wasn't terrible, I was able to be home with her during the day and would leave just before 5:00 in the evening. On nights that went according to plan, she would go to bed at about 7:30. All in all, I didn't feel like I was missing that much, and it enabled my husband to pursue his degree.

At some point during that time, as a simple 'dinner' solution (according to my husband), movie night in our home was born (popcorn was the main course) and over the years it has become so much more than just another tradition for our family. It's more of an institution really and is usually only capable of being cancelled for weddings or funerals. It's a serious night around here.

I guess why I am sharing this here on this blog is not because of the inexpensive popcorn that we dine on each Friday night (for years and years now - that's a lot of savings!), or the simple hot cocoa that accompanies (gently heat up some milk in a pan, add a little cocoa powder, vanilla and maple syrup - so easy i can't believe the hot cocoa mix industry even exists!), it's the underlying thoughts and reflections that seem relevant to share and discuss in this space. Nothing fancy is required to make our family movie night happen each Friday, yet we start planning and thinking about it by Tuesday of each week because it is such a highlight for us. Every single one of our friends and family members knows that if it is Friday night, our little gang can be found huddled together with fistfuls of popcorn watching who knows what for probably the tenth time. But we don't care about how many times we've seen the movie, because we are safe and snug together, creating memories and living gently.

I know that when my daughter is grown she will remember our movie nights just as she will remember that we baked our daily bread, that we ate dinner together by candlelight, that our food didn't come from a box but rather the earth and that her mom cooked from scratch, that sometimes I sewed clothes for her, that we grew a little bit of our own food and personally knew the farmers that grew much of the rest, that we tried our best each day as a family to be good stewards of the earth... she will remember all of this and so much more.

I wonder, what homespun and simple living memories will your children or grandchildren take with them as they grow and become our next generation?

Friday, 29 May 2009

Making Cheese at Home

by Gavin, from The Greening of Gavin.

One of the most satisfying projects that I have embarked on during the Greening of Gavin is cheesmaking. It must be the mouse in me coming out, but it is just so much fun to turn simple cows milk into something so divine!

In February, I attended a cheesemaking workshop and learnt how to make Feta. It was a great day and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wrote about over on my personal blog and if you want to find out how the day went have a look at "Homemade Feta, or Gromit I Found the Cheese!". It details the entire process. I won't list a how to in this post, because each cheese is different, and it would take a book to write them all down.

Since that time, I have bought a basic cheese making kit which contained everything I required except a few kitchen utensils and a press, a very simple recipe book, and I have made the following cheese.

Feta (twice)

Wensleydale (twice)


Pepper Jack (a variation on Monteray Jack)


I have even made an oil marinated feta.

All of these cheeses were made from a few simple ingredients that are readily available on-line at cheese websites or in your local area. The basic ingredients are;

  • Whole milk (the fresher the better)
  • Mesophilic starter (a culture to give flavour)
  • Calcium Chloride (if the milk is homogenised)
  • Rennet (vegetable)
  • Non-ionised Salt
I use milk and salt purchased from the supermarket due to the lack of a local dairy, and the other ingredients came in my cheese making kit that I bought during the cheesemaking class. A small quantity of the culture, rennet and calcium chloride go a very long way and don't need to be replaced that often. The culture must be stored in the freezer and will last indefinately. The rennet and calcium chloride store in the fridge.

Other tools that I use are from around the home. I use a 8 litre (2 gallon) stainless steel cooking pot. A smaller pot with water in it, that I sit the large one on to act as a double boiler to control the temperature, and a cafe thermometer that is used to measure the temp of the curds and whey.

I use a colander, some cheese cloth and another old pot to strain the curds from the whey.

The other kitchen utensils I use are a stainless steel stirring spoon, measuring spoons, and a small medicine measuring cup. The only other thing I had to purchase to complete my cheese making kit was a cheese press. I bought mine from an on-line shop and it was about $70 with postage. The press included a basket, follower and a spring (so you can tell how much pressure to exert on the cheese).

To store and mature the finished cheese, depending on what type you make, you need to wax the finished wheel. My kit came with a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cheese wax. I wrote about how to wax a cheese. The title is "Waxing the Cheese". It is a simple process and seals the moisture into the cheese wheel whilst it is maturing. Most semi-hard cheeses, like wensleydale, cheddar, gouda, edam, and monteray jack need to be waxed and matured for a minimum of between 1 month and 12 months, depending on the cheese and the flavour you are after.

The cheese can be stored in a cool cupboard or basement/cellar. The ideal temperature for cheese storage is between 9 - 15 degrees Celsius. In the Australian summer that is quite difficult to achieve, so I simply stored mine in the butter compartment of my fridge. During winter, I just put it into a cool cupboard and it matures nicely.

I hope I have given you all a small insight into the wonderful world of home cheese making, and am happy to field any questions via comments. I have found that once you start cheesmaking, it is very hard to stop. Since February, I make cheese on every second Friday night as a pleasurable way to spend my evening after a long week at work. A glass of red wine also helps with the process!

"Wine, Cheese, and Friends. These are three things that are much better when old."
- Gavin

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Chickens Eat My Weeds

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

I've only had my tiny backyard laying flock for just over a year. So perhaps the zeal that grips me is merely a phase peculiar to the newly converted. I find myself curbing the desire to proselytize to friends, family, and total strangers about the merits of backyard poultry. All that deferred preaching needs some outlet, and blogging such things usually nets me positive feedback as opposed to politely bemused stares. So today it's another post on things chookish.

If you don't have chickens or are new to keeping them, you may not realize how well their omnivorous natures suit them to life on an organic homestead. We haven't treated our lawn with anything other than milky spore to control invasive Japanese beetles since we moved in almost three years ago. That means we have plenty of weeds around our property. The longer I live here, and the more I learn to identify the weeds we have, the more free feed I find for our girls. Here's a sampling of the weeds common to our northeastern US residential lot that our chickens like to eat. I've ranked these more or less in order of the chickens' preference, though this is an inexact estimation based purely on observation. (Click on any of the pictures for more detail.)

Prickly lettuce - The leaves of prickly lettuce resemble dandelion leaves, especially when young. But as the plant grows it shows a much taller habit and growth along a central stalk. It will grow in partial sun, but does best in fairly deep shade. The underside of the rib of each leaf bears prickles, which, despite the name, are quite soft and untroublesome when I pick them. The girls absolutely relish these leaves, and we don't have nearly enough to feed them generously from this plant.

Mustard greens - These emerge in very early spring and set seed by late spring. The greens become increasingly bitter as the plant grows, but the greens are edible for humans and quite tasty when the first emerge. The hens will eat the leaves at any stage and prefer them to almost any other wild green I have offered them.

Purslane - This is a sprawling, succulent plant that emerges in late spring. It is edible for humans as well, and many people enjoy it in salads or stir-fries. Purslane has one of the highest concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids of any land-based source. An extremely prolific weed that will volunteer enthusiastically for several months in garden beds. The girls enjoy this green but will show some indifference to it if I feed them too much of it. (As shown, the plant is upright at emergence, but quickly becomes prostrate as it grows.)

Dandelion - A well known and easily recognized weed. The hens will readily eat the leaves, but not the flower heads, stalks, or roots. They seem to enjoy it most in the spring, when the leaves are less bitter. The leaves are clearly second-tier delicacies compared with the first two weeds listed above. Nonetheless, dandelion's long season means that the leaves are a staple weed for the girls for much of the year.

Wild rocket - This "weed" shows up in surprising locations around my garden each year. It is easy to recognize both by its distinctive, deeply serrated leaves, as well as by its pleasant but strong aroma when stepped on or picked. Close relatives of this plant (arugula, rucola and rocket) are grown by gardeners and also show up in salads at fancy restaurants. So I was surprised to find that my chickens eat this with only moderate enthusiasm compared to their favorites.

Lambsquarters, a.k.a. Fat Hen - A common garden weed that indicates good soil fertility, this plant can be eaten by humans in much the same way that we eat spinach or other greens. It is identifiable by its angular arrowhead leaves, which sometimes show splotches of purple, and its upright habit. It is also rather easy to uproot, for a weed. Our girls readily eat this weed so long as they are not overloaded with other choices. It seems to be less tasty to them than "Fat Hen" would suggest.

Hairy bittercress - This rather unassuming weed emerges as a low rosette in very early spring, sets seed early, and disappears for the rest of the year. The hens will eat the very small green leaves that the plants have when young, but they do so rather unenthusiastically. They show an equal or better interest in scratching apart the roots to look for chance grubs or bugs among them. (Sorry, no picture for this one.)

I have no doubt at all that chickens will readily eat weeds that grow in areas other than mine. And I'm fairly certain that there are a few more weeds in my region that I haven't yet identified as chicken feed. Because zoning laws in my area forbid me from allowing my hens to truly free range, they can't show me by demonstration what they would be happy to eat. I bring them freshly harvested weeds at least three times each day, and usually pause to watch their reaction to the offerings. It's both amusing and gratifying to watch them consume things that are free for the plucking.

Chickens will also happily eat a great many things that we grow deliberately in our garden. They invariably get a few outer leaves from each head of lettuce I cut, sometimes with a few bonus slugs included. Homegrown lettuce leaves and damaged tomatoes seem to be the twin holy grails of chook fine dining. Spinach showing signs of leafminer activity or their tiny white eggs are springtime fare for the girls.  Swiss chard (silverbeet) leaves that get beaten up by heavy weather are gratefully accepted by the girls. They would happily devour my beet (root) greens too if I chose to share them. Needless to say, they also enjoy most of our kitchen scraps as well. Peelings from beets, carrots, and stone fruits send them over the moon, as do fish skin, baking failures, or leftover cooked grains of any type.

Last year I also managed a squash bug infestation by brushing the pests into a plastic container twice a day and then feeding them to the chickens. I think this was the poultry equivalent of chocolate bon bons raining from the heavens. The girls enjoyed it so very much that I had real incentive to collect the bugs for them. I'm half hoping that we have a similar infestation this year, since the bugs didn't seem to hurt my harvest quantities.

All of this free chicken fodder has several beneficial effects. Firstly, it lowers my expenses in keeping chickens, because I don't have to purchase as much chicken feed. Secondly and most importantly, it vastly improves the taste, nutrition, and appearance of the eggs. The egg yolks from my girls have a deep golden orange coloration, indicating a high content of beta carotene, which comes from green plants. You'll never see that color in store bought eggs from factory farms. My girls' eggs have more of the "good" things in eggs (Vitamins A, B12, &; E, omega-3 fatty acids, beta carotene, folic acid), and less of all the "bad" things (total calories, total fat, saturated fat, LDL cholesterol). (See the full article at Mother Earth News.) Thirdly, it keeps my girls from being bored. Though they enjoy fresh air and sunshine, the ability to walk around, flap their wings, and scratch in a new patch of lawn each day, they still are limited in the space they have. My daily weed offerings are wild cards that I believe they look forward to eagerly. Finally, there's some value to me in continually patrolling my residential parcel of land, looking for things to feed my girls. It gives me a little extra exercise, and it means I know what's going on in every square foot of my property.

If you've considered setting yourself up with a small backyard poultry flock, keep the issue of free food and all its attendant benefits in mind. If you already have a flock, I'd love to hear of any weeds or freely available foods you feed to your chooks, geese, turkeys, guineas, or ducks. Please share in the comments!

Related posts:
Going Mobile with a Backyard Flock
In Further Praise of Domestic Poultry
Putting the Livestock to Work
Using What the Land Provides

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Pumpkin Soup and Coriander Pesto

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I just finished commenting on Frugal Trenches' post below on Frugal Friendships. Like FT, I did find that when I made the conscious decision to live more simply, I found that I had to redefine many of the ways I connected with my friends.

One thing that really worked for me was learning how to cook gourmet but frugal meals for my friends. Budget food does not have to be boring!

Here's a favourite of mine that I like to share:

Thai-style Pumpkin Soup with Coriander Pesto

Ingredients (serves 6)

2 bunches of fresh coriander
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp grated ginger
1 tbs Thai red curry paste
about 1kg pumpkin chopped into small cubes
2 cups homemade vegetable stock (I make vegetable stock by saving bits and pieces of vegetables left over from peelings and simmering these peelings in water for a few hours)
400ml coconut milk

Coriander Pesto
Mix coriander, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic using either a food processor or a hand-held blender (I use the bamix :) ). Slowly add 3 tablespoons of the oil to give a pesto sauce-like consistency.

Pumpkin Soup
Heat the remaining tablespoon oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion and stir for 1 minute. Add ginger and paste and stir for 1 minute. Add pumpkin and stock, bring to boil, then simmer over low heat for 15 minutes until pumpkin is cooked. Cool slightly, then blend until smooth. Return to the pan, add the coconut milk and season, then warm through.

Serve soup in bowls and add a large spoonful of pesto in the middle of each bowl.

I like to garnish using more coriander leaves.

Serve with homemade damper (this time cooked in the oven rather than a campfire) and herbed butter (I make my herbed butter using a dash of lemon juice, chives, and a sprinkling of finely chopped olives) .

(Image from Abstract Gourmet )

Bon Appetit!

Monday, 25 May 2009

Totally Brewed

by Badhuman

For the better part of a decade, I (J.) have been curious about the transformation of malted barley, hops and yeast into the fermented wonder that English speakers know most commonly as beer.  In that time I've found books on the subject at libraries, purchased others, and found (quite literally) hundreds of sites on the internet wholly devoted to that subject alone.  This post will not be (for the most part) an "academic" look at brewing, as I don't claim to be an expert.

This is how beer is made:

1) Processed grain is boiled in order to release simple carbohydrates - sugar.

2) Hops (a climbing perennial of the hemp family) are added to the grains to add flavoring.  The beer is now called "wort".

3) Yeast is added (pitched) to the wort, and will begin to immediately reproduce.   

4) The yeast then feeds on the sugars in the wort.  The product of the metabolization of sugar and yeast is ethyl alcohol (EtOH) and carbon dioxide (bubbles in the beer).  What you do with it after that is really up to you.  I chose to bottle mine. 

There you have it!  Its all as simple (and complex) as that.  One can make beer without great difficulty.  Making great beer is a much more subtly difficult.  Minor nuances in the selection of grain, the type and time at which hops are added... all of these things can result in vastly different beers.  

My curiosity regarding brewing has peaked on several occasions, and lead me to brew on my own; sometimes successfully, others not.  During college, some friends and I figured out some how that we could save money by brewing our own using a kit called a Mr. Beer.  Know what we discovered?  You can actually make pretty bad beer for less than you can buy the same volume.  That, of course, is not to say that Mr. Beer brew is bad.  It can be pretty good!  However, when you're a college kid, you sometimes think you can outsmart the instructions by cutting corners and reducing brewing times.  

Recently I've begun to brew again, and have switched to a more elaborate setup.  Basically, this setup, Mr. Beer, and even high-end Belgian breweries do the same thing: turn water, grain, sugar and yeast into alcohol.  The difference is how well they do it.  

Mr. Beer: Following a very brief boiling of the malt extracts in the kit, the product is placed in a keg and left to ferment for 14 days.  

My Kit:  Basically the same thing, only longer boiling of the wort and the wort is transferred to a secondary fermenter after the first seven days to separate the excess bio-mass from the liquid.  

Belgian Breweries:  Not a lot different from that, just on a greater scale (and with much better products, I'm sure), a much more complex set up and an amazing wealth of knowledge that I can only stand in awe of.  


My first batch with this new kit?  Awesome.  A full-bodied, dark brown British Ale with chocolatey notes at the finish.  My next?  An American Red Ale, and I'm very much looking forward to it.


What I've discovered is that, in my opinion, brewing your own beer is not a good way to save money.  The initial investment is at least $100 US.  I do not believe that people should approach home brewing for any reason other than as a hobby or the endless pursuit for the perfect brew... or both!  For me?  Making something from start to finish at home is something that has always fascinated me.  Someday, I hope to have enough land to raise barley and hops, and drink my beer on the very spot where it was grown.  

Until, I'll just enjoy that which I have brewed.  

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Is It Worth It?

A View From the Green Barn


Like many of you, I have a long list of things I did, am doing, or want to do. I don't know about you, but my list seems to grow exponentially, sometimes without my knowledge! Today, Saturday, I checked my list and spent the entire day chipping away at it. One project I worked at today was my vegetable garden. Since I was starting from scratch, I had a lot to do. I started hundreds of seedlings back in April and they were starting to get a little leggy and anxious to get in the ground.

Since my compost piles weren't ready for use, I bought a half ton of peat moss and composted cow manure and using my Ryobi mini tiller, I worked it into the five raised beds. I know this is sounding familiar to you and you wish you were here to get a spade working! Well, as you can see from the picture below, (please note the central location of my green adirondack), it is definitely looking like a garden that has just started. (The nice looking plants in the foreground are all perennials, heading to new homes and the space they are occupying will become a three sisters garden).

Pole Beans

I have a patch of hardy bamboo growing and this is a skeleton of a plant from last year. I have six pole beans ready to climb to the top. In this picture, you can see that I have dug exactly one post hole, and have 23 to go. Have you ever dug a hole with a post hole digger? I have dug lots of them. It should be on your list of 100 things to do in this life, then you will always be able to make a crude comment whenever someone talks about using a post hole digger. I plan on enclosing this garden with 200 feet of cattle fencing to try to keep out critters like ameracaunas and barn cats. I know it will have limited effectiveness, but I have to at least try.


These are mostly tomatoes I grew from seeds. I am wondering if they are going to survive one night! I have been nursing these things along for about a month, and am planning on making my self sick on fresh tomatoes. Should I put another row down the middle?

Point and Plant

In the picture below you can see an old guy (me) trying to plant seeds that are smaller than salt crystals, and of course they are exactly the same color as the soil, so I can't really see where they are going. As I sit here typing this, I am stiff and sore all over! It must be from all of that pointing.


Another item on the to-do list includes keeping up with all of the poultry that has wandered onto my farm. I really don't know how all of these birds got here! I have over forty layers in various stages of "laydom." I also have over fifty meat chickens in a separate coop. They will be going to the Amish butcher in about three weeks. I have calculated my estimated costs, and I will end up paying about $1.60 per pound for my free range, mostly organic chicken. I saw a sign at the grocer the other day that had drumsticks for .69 cents per pound! (I know how that drumstick was raised). I am raising ten chickens for my nephew and he wants to know if I have extras he can sell to co-workers. Uh, no. I love my nephew and am more than happy to do this for him, but I am not quite ready for the open market.

Pictured below are some of my eggs. I like the way they look, a lot! Every day I go to the coop during egg gathering time is an adventure. Not only do I look forward to gathering the eggs, but I usually have to do a little egg hunt as well. Some of the girls are on to my scheme, and are good at hiding their eggs.

Pictured below are my turkeys. They are about five weeks old and are very curious. They like to get out and explore. They also like to follow me around. I have three more that just hatched this past Wednesday, and they will join these seven sometime in the near future. I'm not sure what my plans are for all of these turkeys, but some of them will help us celebrate Thanksgiving.

Is it worth all of the time, hard labor, smells, rooster attacks, chickens in the garden, digging, weeding, butchering, feeding and watering, did I say digging?

I think yes, with a capital YES. But I wonder if there are things I will lose my energy for?

Have you had similar thoughts? Do you have a garden that takes an inordinate amount of time? What makes it worth it to you? For me, it's mostly the thought that I know what is in or on my food when I raise it myself. But another big part, (maybe equally important), is that I feel more connected with life itself as I help provide life not only for my family, but also for the plants and animals I tend.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Old fashioned ideas work better than modern products

By Marc @ GardenDesk

It is amazing how many gardening products, home and garden pest deterrent products and health and beauty products there are on the market today. Some of the products for sale work well I suppose, but most of them are a waste of money. Some products peddled to the masses have harmful chemicals in them, but others are secretly derived from natural components.
These are the products that I find most interesting because many of them have their origin in something our grandparents used to do. Many products underlying ingredients are herbs or other plants. This makes me want to research old fashioned home remedies that have been tossed out by modern society as, well, old fashioned. I’m finding that “old fashioned” does not mean “no longer valid” like society teaches today.

The category where this applies the most is probably in medicine. I know that “natural healing” is often dismissed as quackery, but I think there is quite a bit of wisdom in using natural remedies for common ailments. A small example is a natural wart-remover that I witnessed. I was amazed to see my wife tape a piece of potato on a wart. I was even more amazed when the wart disappeared! Do you know of other natural home remedies for common ailments?

Another category where old fashioned ways are usually better than new expensive products is gardening. This is the category that I am more knowledgeable in, but I have to admit that I am only recently learning the natural remedy for problems in the garden. Sure, organic gardening in general flies in the face of modern chemical aided gardening. I have written much about this in the past. I’m looking for more specific things. Possibly a good example is how I kept rabbits out of my first organic garden by spreading large amounts of human hair around the perimeter. Another example is with my current battle with slugs. Until I began fighting them, this was a common sight in my lettuce beds:

An easy remedy that most people know for getting rid of slugs is putting out shallow trays of beer. The slugs are attracted to the beer and then “drown” in it. Recently I read on a new garden blog that slugs won’t usually cross over crushed eggshells. Since we have lots of eggshells and no beer in our kitchen, I am trying this.

I got this idea from a blog that I just found called crazy organic gardening ideas and recipes. Lynn has dozens of posts about using natural or household items in the garden. There are some pretty creative ideas there.

I haven’t really listed many home remedies to use medically, in the garden or around the home, have I? That’s because I am pretty much a beginner with this. At first, I wasn’t going to write this post since I don’t personally have loads of information to share. After thinking about it a bit more, I decided to bring up the topic anyway.

Here’s where I need your help. I know that many of the readers here at Simple Green Frugal Co-op are experts in this area. Please help me finish this post by commenting and telling the other readers an example of how you use simple ideas or items to cure something, to rid a specific pest from the house or garden, or any other non-traditional cheaper alternative to modern products.

Thanks for the help. Together, we can come up with enough good-old-fashioned wisdom that would make our grandparents proud!

Keep Growing,

Friday, 22 May 2009

Frugal Friendships

By Frugal Trenches

One of the first things I noticed when I began this downshifting, frugal life was that the vast majority of my friends were fellow professional 20 somethings with big entertainment budgets and in most cases not an ounce of frugality. My first few months on a more frugal budget I found it was very hard to socialize, not because there are not plenty of ways to socialize on a budget, but because my friend's idea of a night or afternoon out was not in my budget. It was quite a lonely experience and made me at times question whether I was on the right path. I then decided that I needed to get more creative, about 6 months on I have a very busy social life, often too busy and while it hasn't come easy with all of my friends I thought I'd share some of the best tips I have for having a good social life while on a budget.

Firstly I began a blog - while most of my fellow 20 something bloggers had bigger entertainment budgets than I did, for example mine is £25 a month compared to many of my 20 something friend bloggers £300-£400 entertainment budget, I did find other bloggers like myself of all ages who I could relate to, who supported me and whom I supported.

Next I looked at ways to incorporate things I love into the budget. I love to read and I wanted to learn to knit. I found out about local book clubs through my library and through those ladies started a knitting club! Now, book clubs if you buy the book can be expensive, the book we are reading this month sells for £13, but I'm pretty happy to use library books meaning the maximum cost for me each month is £1 if I have to order the book from another library in my county. Pretty frugal!

Then I tackled my friends who weren't so frugal. I found out about free activities that were local, I suggested meeting up for walks followed by a coffee out instead of dinner or a movie. I gave activity based gifts to friends so that we could spend time together in something more frugal then a night out. It wasn't always easy, some of my friends who in many ways need to be frugal are most likely to cancel or suggest alternative get togethers when it is something like a walk, or coffee or tea, getting together at a friends house etc. I'm patient, I try to remember everyone is different, I compromise. I wouldn't want my frugality to be a barrier to friendship but certainly use every creative bone in my body to try to find ways to make everyone happy.

Finally I decided one of the best social and frugal activities is volunteering. I have four part time voluntary roles, one requires me to volunteer one evening a week and the other three are once a month roles. In total it works out to about 8 hours a week. Through these roles I've met some great people, had a lot of fun & given back to the community.

It is possible to have a very active and fun social life on a budget. I'm always looking for new ideas so I'd love if you shared some of yours!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

My Hand-Tool Shed

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Neither of us leave tools out - our dry desert sunshine quickly splinters wood handles and destroys anything rubber or plastic. Besides, neither of us like having to hunt for a tool the other one was using last week. It just makes life easier when tools always get put back in their place after use. So we have a tool shed. Centrally located down among the chicken coop, orchard and garden, it was originally built as a small hay shed back when we still had the horses and goat. Now that they, and the corrals, are gone it's lined with hooks and shelves for garden tools, pots and planters, a mouse-proof plastic bin of frost-protection blankets, hoses in the winter, plus the chicken feed bins.

I love wandering in my garden - summer evenings especially. Or I might head out there with a gathering basket, planning to harvest something. No matter the reason, whenever I'm out there, I'll usually find a little something to be done: a bit of pruning, something that needs to be tied up, a leaking hose connection, weeds to be pulled. But I'd usually left my gloves in the house, plus then I hated having to go back and forth, in and out of the garden, to the tool shed and back every time I needed a little hand tool (and back again, putting everything away afterwards). I needed a hand-tool shed right there in the garden.

So, a few years ago, when I saw a huge rural-type mailbox at a neighbors' garage sale, I knew it was just what I was looking for - big enough to hold all sorts of useful little garden tools, small enough to be unobtrusive, and designed to provide weather-proof protection year-round. Perfect! I had just the place for it too! I have a cable spool just inside the garden gate - placing the mailbox out over the edge enough to open the door left plenty of room for my solar radio and a cold drink, seed packets, my gathering basket, or whatever else I might bring out while working in the garden.

Now, it's so nice having everything I might want close at hand, year-round. Besides a weather-proof place to keep my trowel, shears, hose washers, kneeling pad, and gloves, it's also a handy place to stash twist-ties, string, old pieces of pantyhose - all the little bits and pieces that can be re-purposed in the garden. I guess you could call it my garden version of a junk drawer, too.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Taking them under our wing, chicks in the mail

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I posted about meat chickens earlier, but now the chicks are here, so I thought it would be a good time to go over what I wrote about earlier, and add a few pictures so you could see the process so far.

Ideally all chickens would be raised by their mothers, learning how and what to eat and drink under the watchful eye of Mother Hen. Hatched in a safe, secretive nest, and then wisely taught how to avoid predators. But alas, many chickens start their life in a false incubated "nest." Whether at home or at a hatchery, when we decide to take matters in our own hands and become the hen, we need to nurse the chicks along and provide what the hen naturally would. When chicks are hatched they need warmth, water, and food. Safe surroundings are a given.

Many chicks are purchased from hatcheries and sent via mail. They can survive up to 3 days on the yolk that is ingested just before they are hatched. This time frame gives the hatcheries a window to get the chicks to you. The longer the window is pushed means the longer chicks are without a safe, warm place and something to eat and drink. If you can, try to purchase from a local hatchery to shorten the time the chicks are in a cardboard box, seeing the country via airplane or truck.

Before the chicks arrive, have their brooding area ready.

a) Chick feed and grit.
b) Clean bedding.
c) Heat lamps working, plus extra bulbs.
d) Waterers clean and working order.
e) Feeders clean.
f) Newspaper or cardboard for first few days of feeding.

Gravity flow bell waterers can be hung on a toggle to raise and lower to adjust to the chicks growth. Doing this helps keep the water cleaner but still in reach of the chicks. They won't use this for the first week or so, but chickens are wary creatures and if they are used to seeing this scary red monster, it won't be such a shock. As each day progresses I move their small waterers closer to the hanging one, and gradually provide less of the small type.

Arrival Day! You can gain insight to the chicks needs by listening. These chicks are fairly quiet, even though they have been handled and hauled many miles. Listen and you can hear the rain on the greenhouse, but despite the cold and rainy day, the babies are safe and sound. What you want to hear is slight peeping, no shrill peeping which would signal distress. In the video it sounds like one chick is upset, if the whole crew is shrill, something needs addressing. Usually at this stage it is too cool of temperature. It isn't unusual for chicks to peep loudly somewhat during the first day, but by night they should be used to their surroundings and ready to settle in.

Watch and listen more. If they are huddled closely that means they need more heat, add a heat lamp perhaps. If they are scattered away from the light, that means they are too warm. You want to see a loose group, dotted all around under lights.

Before we take the chicks out of the box, we place multiple feed and water stations around the outside of their hover. We want to give them every opportunity to eat and drink and stay strong. Newspapers sprinkled with food and grit work good for the first two or three days. Use fresh paper with each feeding. After that we start introducing metal feeders and gradually take away the papers.

One problem with chicks can be pasted vents. Their digestive tracts aren't working properly if this happens. An easy prophylactic measure is to top dress their feed with either clabbered milk or yogurt. If you have chicks with this problem, you need to clean off their bottoms for them and make sure they have access to the yogurt/milk. If you have more than one or two chicks with this problem, look to your management. Make sure everything is clean and you aren't using feed and water devices from older chickens. Also, chlorinated water can also put a fragile digestive tract over the edge. If you are using municipal water, let it sit overnight before giving to the chicks. Plus a little dirt doesn't hurt either. Our brooder has a dirt floor and is bedded with horse stable cleanings. Closer to surroundings that a hen would provide her clutch.
Like all babies, as soon as they eat they probably will have bursts of energy and then a lot of naps.

These are our two year old hens. For our chickens to be productive for egg laying or for meat purposes they must always have the same items provided as the babies. These girls are still laying at a good clip - 7 or 8 eggs a day from 10 hens. They have all their feathers and are able to produce and stay healthy. If your chickens are missing feathers this time of year, check your feed, it may be lacking. Or you may have too many roosters, they can be heck on a hen.

Just shy of two weeks this Cornish Cross broiler is getting his feathers. Weather permitting they will go to their field pen at 3 weeks of age.

I will update on my next post so you can see how they are doing.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Manifesting Your Self In Everything You Do

By Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

This weekend I had a great time of meetings, food, and drinks at my new company.  It was sort of a retreat to welcome a new partner into the organization, and to figure out some big strategic and organizational issues.  At the same time we were having these meetings, one of our partners was having his first child.  Another partner had his second child just over a week ago.  It's quite a time of new beginnings.

And I realized at the end of the weekend that I was proud of my self and my life.  It has taken me a long time to do this, but at long last, I have really manifested my true self into my business, my home, my friendships, my family, my neighborhood, and most every other part of my life.

I look back and I wonder how.  I have made a lot of conscious choices to understand myself, who I am, and who I want to become.  I have been striving to make a positive impact on the world for the last 20 years.  I've been striving to make myself a happier, healthier person for the last 5 or 10 years.  I have been striving to become an open, honest, and caring person for a as long as I can remember.  And I've worked hard to bring all of these things into my home life over several years.

But now, finally, I am working in a JOB where I can have my dreams and I don't have to hide them.  I can have my frustrations, and I don't have to hide them - I can air them in a constructive way that makes everything better, in a way that even empowers the company.  I am valued for what I know, what I've done, and what I want to accomplish.  I am valued for my blog, my filmmaking, my strategic planning and my work writing grants, my cultural anthropology background, my dabbling in web design, and all the many other things I've done!  My experience makes me richer and makes my own contribution to this organization more important.

Wow.  Pretty amazing. 

But I worked hard at it.  For years, I hid my dreams.  I hid my disappointments and frustrations.  I did what people told me to do even if I didn't like it.  I ignored the warning signs that should have showed me I was unhappy and unhealthy.

However, this time I gently pushed for greater understanding.  I gently aired my disappointments and frustrations with my coworkers.  I didn't do what people told me, but instead I respectfully worked with them to find the best plan.  I didn't ignore the warning signs that told me I was unhappy and unhealthy - instead, I addressed the root of those problems.

It wasn't easy, but it is extremely rewarding.

Last year, Matt and I went through a similar process when we realized that after living in Geyserville for a year, we were living in a place that was not making us happy nor healthy.  And we decided to make it work to move to a place that did.  It was not easy financially, but we scraped by in order to make it happen.  I can tell you it was a great decision, and worth any sacrifices we faced.

For three years, I've been married to a man who is also my very best friend.  We have a very open and honest relationship, which every year grows stronger.  

I'm not saying there is zero in my life that is dysfunctional, but there is very little left.  And I believe the rest will come along, in turn.   

As I get older I notice that when my relationships aren't healthy - which usually means I'm not staying true to myself - then I get sick and unhappy, and the other areas in my life suffer.  But each of us only has one life, and that is not the way I want to live mine - how about you?

So, please stay true to who you are.  And work on manifesting your self in everything you do.  This is an extremely important part of living a simple, sustainable life.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Willing Workers

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a cultural exchange whereby guests offer volunteer assistance and hosts in turn offer food, accommodation and hospitality.

We have been WWOOF hosts through WWOOF Australia for about two years. We have hosted many WWOOFers from Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Malaysia. Each of our guests have brought something special to our home by way of their knowledge, sense of humour, enthusiasm, patience, eagerness to learn, willingness to help, caring, travel tales or love of animals and children.

Feedback from our WWOOFers has been positive, and many have kept in touch with our family. Everyone has loved the food and felt very comfortable here, just as we have felt comfortable having them in our home and lives.

The scenery has impressed all of our guests, and seeing a tree kangaroo, platypus or echidna has been an added excitement.

Together we have enjoyed camping, juiced oranges, built a bonfire, picked fruit, planted seeds and trees, done lots of general farm maintenance, visited waterfalls, walked in the rainforest and laughed... among many other things. Hosting WWOOFers keeps our enthusiasm and energy high with regard to the many improvements and jobs we have here on our little farm.

WWOOF hosts aren't only organic farms - there are urban and suburban households, tourism ventures, animal shelters, hobby farms and other rural landholders in the WWOOF listings.

And WWOOF is also great for the traveller. All of our guests have explained how WWOOFing has enriched their travel experience and their lives. They have learnt a lot and lived cheaply (or free) but well for the duration of their stay with us. It is sweet to see how relieved they are to have free laundry and internet facilities, not to mention good fresh food and a comfy, quiet, warm bed! WWOOF is for young folk, couples, families, mature age travellers and everyone in between.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Saying NO; Simple, Frugal, and Loving?

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

We have a teenager in the home. He’s 14, and with two younger brothers in the ranks at 12 and 11 he’s giving us a pretty solid preview of what’s to come in the next few years; bouts of insanity, manic joy and illogical depression, paranoia and loving moments. Ok, maybe it’s not that bad, but anyone that has or has had a teenager probably gets my drift, they can be a little “moody”.

There are times when our boys want to go places, or do things with friends that we just aren’t comfortable with for one reason or another. We take very seriously the charge we have to look out for our kids well being. Some may call us over-protective but I’m willing to take the hit on that one. I figure they’ll be a lot less scarred by not getting to surf the Internet un-supervised or hang out with kids that we feel are “trouble waiting to happen” than they would be if God forbid they were targeted by an Internet predator or got caught up in some trouble that could have been avoided. We’ve also tried hard to make sure that as our boys get older they learn that things are very rarely just given. If they want something now, or in the future, they need to be willing to do some work for them. There are a lot of times when this makes them a bit crazy. They have friends who have everything they could ever want given to them as soon as they can conceive of it and have a hard time figuring out why it is that they don’t. I work hard and I make a good income, better perhaps than some of those friends’ parents, and still they get NO’s from us. Why? Because I love them, that’s why.

Now, excuse me a minute while I digress to tell you a quick story. A little over a week ago, was our oldest boy’s birthday. The only thing that he’s wanted, and had worked hard saving toward on his own mind you, was an electric guitar. It was a goal that we had decided to help him reach for his birthday. We spent the evening shopping around, comparing prices and “test driving” different guitars. In the end, he was able to find a guitar that was in his budget, which was of good lasting quality and came with some basic services available for the life of the guitar. After the shopping trip, and then later that evening, he came to me to say thank you for helping him stay patient and keep focused on his goal. He was so happy with having reached his goal, or maybe it was just having gotten what he wanted, that he was beaming all evening.

The reason I bother to tell you about this is because just this week we, the wife and I that is, were talking to each other just after asking our son to take a little time upstairs in his room to get a handle on himself after becoming a little, shall we say annoyed with us, for not allowing him to do something that he wanted to do. I remember telling her “Remember how nice it was when he ‘loved’ us last week?” And then it happened. I had an epiphany that made me some understanding of the reasoning behind why some parents treat their kids the way they do; like they are little Kings and Queens who cannot be denied anything. I mean, it’s hard to be a parent. Who of us likes having their kids mad at them or feeling like we’re “picking on them”. We love to see their smiles and beaming faces. We thrive on them being excited to talk to us and giving hugs and love right? Who wouldn’t want that?

I guess I can understand why families that have two working parents, or maybe even just a single parent that obviously has to work, taking hours of the day away from the time they can spend with their kids would feel the need to shower them with gifts and “stuff”. I can’t say there aren’t times when I like to give my kids something special because I know I’ve been busy lately. It’s a conundrum though isn’t it? We work more to afford all the things that we “have” to get, and then feel guilty for working so much and feel obligated to get more stuff, which we have to work more to afford… etc, etc.

As we look further into this idea of simple and frugal living we inevitably come up against this argument. My wife and I did and it took us talking about what we wanted and what we were willing to give up in order to get it. We determined that, at least while our kids were young, we wanted her to have the ability to stay at home with them. I didn’t make much at the time so it meant making some hard choices. We taught ourselves to repair and re-use things when we could, we built regular habits of buying second hand clothes, toys and furnishings and my wife became an expert at stretching a food dollar. These are all things that are regularly suggested as ways to down-size and simplify; no shockers there. The other thing we had to master though was the art of saying NO, and meaning it. It’s hard to do sometimes. But in the long run I think it makes for better budgets and happier kids. You may be saying “What? Happier kids that get told NO? I don’t believe it!” but I tell you it’s true. Remember, raising happy kids doesn’t just mean while they’re kids. It also means raising happy kids that will be happy adults too!

We’ve all heard the term “spoiled rotten” right? Well, it comes from somewhere. Few are the families whose children can be given everything they want for nothing and who will grow up to be able to continue to afford to live that way. So unless your children will be the heirs to some enormous family wealth at some point the chances are that they’re gonna have to work to pay for things themselves one day. What kind of lesson do we teach them when we let them have everything they could ever want? Certainly not that things come at a price in the real world.

The reason I even bother to get into this is because I think it's one of those topics that maybe doesn't get talked about a lot. Often times I think it's easy to decide that we're going to "go green" or live more simply and frugally, but that we don't want our kids to have to "suffer" for it. I submit to you that they will not suffer. In fact, I think I can be second and thirded by many others here that can share with you the INCREASE in their children's joy and happiness after deciding to simplify their lives. What child wouldn't prefer a little time laughing with their family playing board games over a video game? Who of them wouldn't be thankful for a little less "stuff" in exchange for a little more time?

I hope this is received in the tone of which I mean it too. It's not about just saying NO to your kids. It's about helping them to know their place in the world. It's about giving them the keys to a happy future rather than one that leads them from one temporary pleasure to the next.

Bless you all. Till next time.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Green methods for removing common stains from clothing.

By Julie
Towards Sustainability

It makes good sense to look after your clothes to prolong their useful life as long as possible. As a mother with three young children though, I have a constant battle with a variety of stains on their clothing! So I thought today it might be useful to share some methods for removing stains from machine-washable clothing, using commonly available ingredients. I keep a notebook to jot down methods as I come across them in magazines, books or the internet, and asterix the ones that work well to use next time. As always, use your judgement when spot-cleaning any item of clothing and if you think it might not be colorfast, test a small hidden area first (like a hem) and be as gentle as possible with more delicate or printed items.

I also try to avoid using methods which require specialised products like dry-cleaning fluid or white spirits as two of us have very sensitive skin, and for environmental reasons I prefer the simpler, the better. Usually, my first line of defence for dried stains is to soak in an oxygen bleach prewash such as NapiSan or OxiClean (although I use a cheaper generic version of these), and then move on to other stain removal methods for persistant stains, while the garment is still wet.

Firstly, note that all spills should - ideally - be seen to as soon as possible for the best chance of removal. When that isn't possible, or you don't have the time (or the energy) to deal with it, rinse the item in COLD water and leave it to soak until you can get to it.

Secondly, heat will invariably set stains, making them very difficult, if not impossible, to remove. If you miss a stain when you are washing your clothes as normal, but notice it when removing it from the machine, deal with it while it is still wet. The heat from drying the item in the sun, in the dryer or ironing it, will usually set it.

Thirdly, if you can, work from the back of the stain to the front so that you don't accidentally force the stain further into the fabric. For most clothing items therefore, turn them inside out and rinse from the back. Treat delicate items with appropriate care; don't rub vigorously.

Lastly, if you can't remove a stain, don't throw the garment away immediately - it may be possible to save the garment with some creative sewing! Eilleen for example, has covered up stains on her children's clothing using applique, fabric paint and buttons. Oh and a word about hairspray and perfume - these are commonly discussed online as being good for removing certain stains, but it is the alcohol in them that does the job. Go for rubbing alcohol in preference if you can, as hairspray and perfume contain other ingredients which can make the stain worse in some cases.

Ballpoint pen: Cover fresh stains with salt to absorb as much of the ink as possible, and then soak in milk before washing as usual. If you know that the fabric is colorfast, you can use a paste made from cream of tartar and lemon juice. Apply to the stain and leave for 30 minutes before rinsing and washing. If you aren't sure, test the paste on a hidden section of fabric like the hem, first.

Beetroot: For fresh stains, rinse as much juice from the item with cool water as possible. Then soak a piece of white bread in cool water, place over the stain and leave to absorb the stain. Wash as normal in cool water. If it has dried, rub the stain gently from the outside edges inwards with glycerine, or try soaking it in white vinegar. Rinse and wash as normal.

Blood: Wash as much of the stain out as possible with cold running water. Rub the remaining stain with a bar of pure soap until removed, and launder with your normal powder or liquid in cold water. For dried stains on colorfast items, soak in cold water first to loosen the stain, then apply a paste made of 6 tablespoons baking soda and 1/2 cup water. Work it in a little and leave to sit for 30 minutes to an hour, then wash as normal in cold water.

Chocolate: Rinse in cold water, then scrub with a cake of pure soap and cold water to remove the brown stain. Then to remove the oil stain, rub with a cake of pure soap in hot water. Rinse and wash as normal.

Coffee and tea: Soak in a solution of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water. Wash on a cold cycle and hang in the sun to dry.

Crayon: Mix two drops of tea tree oil with one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid and then massage gently into the stain with your fingers. Rinse and wash as usual.

Curry powder/ turmeric: Wipe with a small amount of lavender oil before washing as usual.

Fruit juice: Wash in white vinegar and then hang in the sunshine to dry. Many fruit stains are UV sensitive and will break down with exposure to sunlight. Dark fruit stains like stone fruits may benefit from rubbing with glycerine first.

Grass: Try soaking the item in full strength vinegar for half an hour before washing. If stains remain, try sponging the stain gently with rubbing alcohol before rewashing.

Grease and greasy stains: Cover fresh stains immediately with salt to blot up the excess oil. Brush off gently and dab any remaining stains with vinegar, or gently rub a small amount of dishwashing liquid into the stain. Wash as usual.

Marker pens: Try dabbing gently with methylated spirits, changing the cloth frequently to remove the marker. Wash as usual.

Mud: Allow to dry and brush off as much as possible (you can even try the vacuum cleaner nozzle). Rub liquid detergent into the remaining stain and allow to soak, rubbing occasionally, for 30 minutes, then wash as normal.

Paint: With water-based paints, try rubbing the mark with dishwashing liquid or dab the stain gently with methylated spirits. Rinse and wash as usual. For acrylic paints, dab with turpentine or gently apply rubbing alcohol with a toothbrush. Rinse thoroughly and wash as usual.

Rust and mildew: Make a paste of lemon juice and salt and apply to the stain. Leave to sit for 30 minutes - if the garment is white leave it in the sun (don't do this with coloured garments as it will bleach the fabric). Rinse and allow to dry (but not in a dryer). Repeat if necessary.

Soft drink/ soda: Treat as per fruit juice stains (most soft drink dyes are vegetable-based).

Tomatoes: Sunlight! Wash the item as normal, and then hang right-side out in the sun. Like many fruit stains, tomato stains are UV-sensitive and will fade to nothing with exposure to the sun. Many a bolognaise-stained white shirt has been saved this way at my house ;-)

Clearly, this list is by no means exhaustive. If you are looking for methods to remove other stains, try Googling it as there is a wealth of information out there on the internet! And if you have other simple, green and frugal stain removal techniques, please share them with us in the comments section :-)

Friday, 15 May 2009

Simple Steps

Heather of Beauty That Moves

It's easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to put together a simpler life for yourself and your family. There are so many things that could be done, the tasks seem countless and huge. In a way, they are, because most modern day living is so far removed from anything that resembles simple. There are indeed many, many steps that need to be taken. But they are just that. Steps. And it doesn't really matter which one you take first, just start walking.

There is no correct starting point. I think most of us on this journey daydream about rolling acres of fertile land and off-grid homesteads. We hope to someday collect heirloom vegetable seeds and never buy a market egg or potato for the rest of our lives. But reality is such a funny thing isn't it? It often (for most of us) does not feel or look like those daydreams. Maybe some day it will, but for today, it's okay if our steps lead us in a slightly different direction. As long as we are walking.

Most recently those steps led us to turning our two loaf weekly batch of bread into one loaf of bread and nine burger/sandwich buns... because it is grilling season, and we happily have just found one less thing we need to buy at the store in a package! The step we took to start baking our own bread happened a long time ago, now we'll rely only on ourselves to put the buns on the table too! It might not seem like much, but these steps really do add up to miles in no time at all.

I wonder, what is the latest step you've taken?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Saving Energy in the Kitchen

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

Last year, I received a pressure cooker for my birthday. The following day I cooked up a storm! The results were outstanding, and where just as I remember from my childhood. The meat was so tender, the tastes were amazing, and it only took 30 minutes (once the pressure built up) to cook the meal!

Before I cooked the first meal, I had to season the cooker by boiling 2 litres of milk and 3 litres of water. Apparently, because it is aluminium, this boiling of milk/water seals it and stops the stains from forming. The seasoning has worked, because a year down the track I have not yet had a meal stick to the bottom during cooking.

I started out simple and made a Beef Stew, with seasonal vegetables. Here is the recipe from memory, as I whipped it up on the fly when I cooked it.

Gavin's Beef Stew
500gm Stewing Steak or any cheap cut of red meat, 2 cm cubes
3 large potatoes, diced 2 cm cubes
1 stick of celery, chopped coarsely
1 large onion, slices
3 large carrots, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
100gm mushrooms, sliced
1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 litre beef stock, low sodium
3 tablespoons cornflour
3 tablespoons gravy powder
1 half cup water
2 tablespoons oil
salt & pepper to taste

Heat oil, add onion, garlic, rosemary and celery to soften. Add beef and brown. Add remaining vegetables and stock, seal pressure cooker, and cook for 30 minutes from when the control valve starts to jiggle, reduce heat so valve just moves. After 30 minutes, turn off heat, reduce pressure as per cooker instructions and remove lid. Make a paste out of water, cornflour, gravy powder and thicken stew. Bring to boil with lid off, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with mashed potatoes and crusty bread. Serves 6 with sufficient seconds!

A fantastically simple meal, and it was very hearty on a cold Sunday evening after I had been working on the chook house all day. I could not believe how tender the meat was, especially after only cooking for 30 minutes. Kim was very impressed, because she is normally put off by beef because of its chewiness. Normally that type of steak would take between 90-120 minutes to get to that stage in the oven. The vegetables all kept their natural favour and were really distinct in on the palette, with the potato breaking down just enough to help thicken the stew.

This type of cooking is not only energy efficient (I cooked on the medium gas ring on the lowest setting), but you can utilise the cheapest cuts of meat, and they will be tender in no time. I reckon that even game, such as kangaroo and emu would become very tender in a short time. Every time I have attempted to cook roo it has been tough as old boots! I have since used it to cook some kangaroo, and it is absolutely delicious!

I also found heaps of recipes on the net at the Pressure Cooker Centre. The model I have is a SILAMPOS Classic aluminium 10 litre, which is made in Portugal. A long way to transport it, but I could not find a pressure cooker that was made in Australia so it was the only option.

It was simple to figure out how it worked and the instruction manual was easy to understand. I would recommend this cookware to anyone who wants to lock in nutrition, and to cook meals quicker without resorting to processed fast food. In the year since I got this piece of cookware, I have made soups, stews, pot roasts, cooked lentils, chickpeas, and rice. Nothing has stuck to the bottom, and all have cooked extremely quickly, and tasted fantastic.