Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year's Resolutions

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

I have the luckiest life. In lots of ways, but one of them is that we have a creek running through our place, one that starts from a spring up in the forest with nothing but forest upstream. When we first moved here, nearly 30 years ago, we used to dip in the creek pretty much every day in summer.  In the heat of the day several mums would take the babies and toddlers down to a shady pool and we'd paddle and make little dams and catch guppies and try to lure the shy yabbies into sight and body paint ourselves with ochre and race little leaf boats down the stream.  

Then we had drought years for a decade and though the creek never totally dried up, the swimming holes weren't quite so inviting. And kids grew up and life got busier and busier. Until, the other day, after mowing a bit too long in the heat, I decided I needed a dip and realised, it's years since I've done this. 

There is something very profound about skinny dipping in a mountain stream. I drift floating in the water, looking up through the leaves of the overhanging trees at an impossibly blue sky, and think: this is life. There are some things I think you need to do at least once every year to keep a sense of perspective, to remember what is important and valuable, to stay sane. And some years, the whole year goes past without me doing them!

So these are my New Year's Resolutions. 

At least once this year, I will
Go skinny dipping in a mountain creek
Sleep under the stars 
Get pounded by the surf
Go for a daylong beach or bush walk
Sit around a bonfire till all hours
Go to a really good concert 
Spend a few days completely alone, including from internet, phone, and radio 
Tell everybody I love that I love them, in a way that they actually hear

I had a few more but I edited them out - I'm sticking to Resolutions I'm absolutely going to keep. Are there others you think of to add to the 2012 essential bucket list?

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Upycling Christmas Cards

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

I receive Christmas cards, as do my children from their friends, despite the fact that we rarely send cards ourselves. There are many ways to recycle your received cards and I started up-cycling mine yesterday into decorations for the tree next year.

Start by cutting 8 circles from your card fronts. They can be any size (larger circles are easier to handle for small children).

Trace a triangle shape with equal sides, that fits neatly (with the points against the edges of your circle shape) and cut out.

Trace around the triangle onto the back of each circle and fold the drawn edges towards the printed side of the circles.

Start matching the folded edges together (see image above) and join with glue or use double sided tape. Join two sets of four circles together and then join the two halves.

Leave a small opening at one end to thread a knotted piece of string through so the paper ball can be hung.

Easy, whimsical and a great way to up-cycle your cards! This is also a simple enough project for kids get involved in these school holidays.

Hope readers here had a lovely Christmas and I will back writing on my blog later this week.


Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Making Broth a Habit

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Being almost done with the holiday eating season, I figured an article about broth would timely. We can all use a few health giving and cleansing eating habits, not just to deal with holiday food overload, but everyday.

I've found in my kitchen that upping the nutrition level in foods can achieved easily by using more broth in place of water during the cooking process. This adds flavor to sometimes bland foods, broadens their appeal and makes food easier to digest.

In our household we go through about 7 - 8 quarts of broth or stock a week. What triggered all this was my husbands autoimmune problems. He needs every calorie to count, so all his meals and snacks need to be nutrient dense. I first had to attack this problem by making more broth and stock. What was an occasional foray in the kitchen with the results committed to the dungeon of the freezer became a weekly habit. I rarely freeze any broth and if I have any leftover, I can it so it is shelf stable and convenient. But for the most part I devote space in the refrigerator for the weekly broth. If it's there, I use it, and it's an added incentive to use it before it gets old.

We use broth for:

Soups and stews.

Hot broth for a quick pick-me-up on a cold day, or to begin the day.

Braising vegetables, or for adding a dash of liquid to stir fry.

Cooking grains.

How do you incorporate broth into your cooking?

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Preserving Time

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Summer and Autumn for us bring abundance from the garden that Spring and Winter don't offer.  Sometimes, we have TOO much.  And we can't give produce away because everyone else has TOO much!

One of my favourite fruits are in in abundance right now - passionfruit.  I love to eat them straight from the shell, in smoothies and iceblocks, as cordial or jam, in cakes and icing...  For information and recipes, see this post.  We have several types of passionfruit vines planted, including some planted by birds (which are the most productive)!

It's also choko season.  I've written on the co-op blog about these versatile and under-rated vegetables (fruit?) before, here.


We have an early harvest of pumpkin (squash).  Some of them are Kent pumpkins from last season's vines, and some are enormous bugle pumpkins.  Since this is my favourite vegetable, I have no trouble using up pumpkins!  I wrote a bit more about this vegetable here.


We're also enjoying couple of gluts I haven't written about before...  Chilli is the first one, and what we haven't used in cooking I have put into the first batch of sweet chilli sauce.  I just used a basic recipe from my Thermomix cookbook, and it's a little runny but tastes and smells exactly like sweet chilli sauce should!  There are so many recipes online, if you have excess chillis just do a search until you find one containing ingredients you have at hand.  Mine contained chillis, water, rice wine vinegar, garlic, raw sugar, salt.  Next time I'll try a little cornflour to thicken the sauce. Our bush is still laden with chillis, so I will get to try a few different recipes.  My 12 year old son loves this sauce!


Also in abundance are mangoes.  Not from my own trees, but they do grow about 40km from here!  Where we live, the winters are too cold...  With the excess mangoes I will probably dry them.  It's time to get that dehydrator out because we'll do some herbs (too hard to air-dry in our summer rainy season) and also some bananas when those are ripe.  Dried fruit is such a handy snack for kids when we go out in the car.  I love drying my own because I know that nothing has been added and the fruit is fresh and organic!


What is in abundance where you live right now?  What are some of your favourite recipes to use and preserve these harvests?

Monday, 26 December 2011

The Great Straw Bale Adventure of 2011

by Megan @ The Byron Life

Here we are approaching the end of the year already.  I hope you had (and are sill having) a wonderful Christmas holiday.

When I was invited to write for the co-op, back in September, I began with a post about setting up my very first straw bale veggie garden. You can read that post here. It was an experiment, an adventure, and I had no idea what I was doing! Luckily I'm all for throwing myself in the deep end and seeing how things turn out...

Since this is my last post here for 2011, I thought I'd show you how my humble straw bale veggie garden has developed over the past couple of months...

This is how we started: the straw bales were watered down, left for a week, then the first seedlings planted.

Around four/five weeks in and this was how it was looking: The first beans were ready to be picked, tomato plants were flowering and cucumbers were ripening.

We have had an unusual summer so far, weather-wise. Extremely hot days in November, followed by the coldest summer weather in 50 years this December. Some plants did not like this turn of events: the tomatoes developed some kind of mouldy stuff on their leaves from all the rain, so we haven't had great success there (although some yellow pear tomatoes planted in a tub are now starting to fruit, fingers crossed!).

However, other plants enjoyed the rain and cold: the cucumber vine has been fruiting wonderfully and my basil plants have not yet bolted on me, so we have been enjoying handfuls of basil in meals every week.

And this is where we are at now: The extension of the straw bale garden. These new bales were delivered on Christmas Eve and promptly put into place before the rain came down. This time I am really going to pack on the manure and compost to feed those straw bales before planting, and I am thinking of sowing seeds directly into the compost this time, instead of planting seedlings as I did previously... the experiment continues.

I realise that, aesthetically, this little garden looks messy: There's my wonky clothesline in the background, my drainage pits around the straw bales have yet to be neatly finished with ag. pipe and pebbles and the straw bales, as they break down, may not be to every one's style. But, for me, looking at this picture brings me such joy. I have a veggie and herb garden, and in that garden I am growing food - Wow! Tiny harvests of food, but food, never-the-less. How very exciting.

You can also see my new pride-of-joy in there, too: a compost tumbler bin. I picked it second-hand up for a fifth of the price of a new one and it is already churning up some mighty compost and the kids think it is fun to turn it over (start 'em young, I say!).

Today it is Boxing Day. Our fridge is full of Christmas day leftovers; the kids are happily playing in the backyard, I am on holidays and friends are dropping over for lunch - I may just go and pick a handful of herbs for a salad... such a simple pleasure.

Wishing you all the very best for 2012. I do hope it is full of joy for you.


Saturday, 24 December 2011

My kick arse sugar cookies!

by Eilleen

Hello everyone!

Oooh one more sleep before Christmas! How are you all going? Are you feeling excited? Or stressed? This time of the year always brings such a mixed bag of feelings for me, but overall, I'm feeling quite excited over Christmas.

So here's the recipe for my favourite stocking filler - Sugar Cookies...or what I like to call my kick arse sugar cookies.

I originally got my recipe from here: But as usual, I've personalised it a little bit (plus I don't measure so I never get the exact amounts anyway). So here's my version:

250 g butter, softened
250 g white sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup of Republica Fairtrade Drinking Chocolate


In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Add drinking chocolate powder and mix until dissolved in the mixture. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour and baking powder. Cover, and chill dough overnight...or a few nights. I get there when I'm ready.

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C.

The dough is usually very cold so I take pieces out it (enough to roll out 2 shapes). Roll out dough on floured surface about 2 cms thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies about 3-5 cms apart on ungreased baking paper.

Bake 8-10 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

And here's why I call them kick arse.....

The graduates of the Ninja Cookie School

The Ninja Cookie School Hospital

Anyway, I wish you all peace and happiness during the festive season!
See you next year!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Pondering the Concept of Intellectual Property

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Writing my own blog has often caused me to ponder the concept of intellectual property, and who profits from it. I don't really have any answers. I'm just using this co-operative blog post to ruminate on some of the questions, and hoping to hear what some of you have to say.

My most recent preoccupation with the concept has come about because of a hot sauce recipe. I have a recipe for jalapeno green sauce, and later adapted it using red cayenne peppers. A few years ago, I was experimenting using Habanero chiles. Now, a few years before that, I'd bought a bottle of Habanero hot sauce in Belize, and was so impressed with it that I'd saved the ingredient list from the label. Using a combination of the original recipe techniques and ingredients from the list, then a few tweaks here and there in subsequent years, and I finally have a pretty, tasty hot sauce.

I made a double batch of the stuff this past summer - so I could give some as Christmas gifts. I made up a label for the bottles, and wanted to show them off on my blog. As I did that,  I debated about posting the recipe (in fact, a first draft of the recipe was there, on an old post. I went back and deleted it for now). I started my blog in order to share my recipes with my family. But I've done searches on-line, and nothing like my current hot sauce recipe shows up anywhere. However, and maybe you've noticed the same phenomenon, there's a recipe for Belize-style Habanero hot sauce using carrots that shows up multiple times, especially in quite a few recipe compilation websites. Someone somewhere developed and posted that Habanero carrot recipe, but there's now no way to track it back to who and where it started. Admit it, despite saying your blog is copyrighted, don't re-post without permission, yada yada yada, you really can't put the Genie back in the bottle. Once you post something nowadays it's common property.

Those recipe compilation sites have advertising, so someone somewhere is profiting from the intellectual property of others. I don't really mind someone making a batch of hot sauce for their own use, but I don't know if I want my hot sauce recipe to be common knowledge. Realistically, I probably never will go into commercial production of it, but I don't think I want that option taken from me.

Maybe 25 years ago, I ripped a recipe for One-Hour French Bread out of a newspaper. I don't even remember which one - I just have the ripped and yellowed clipping. It's a great recipe - one of the earliest ones I shared on my own blog, and again on this one. It's been interesting watching where and how it turns up out there on the world wide web. Sometimes someone links back to my blog, sometimes they'll cite it as Sadge's bread recipe. Occasionally, I find it's been copied and re-posted wrong - one blogger left out the rising time, so anyone using that post is going to have a tasty doorstop. The photo is on Pinterest, as are a few more of my posts (which I really don't mind, since that site links back to my blog, and I like the additional traffic). Sometimes it's a bit of a pain watermarking my photos, but at least the name of my blog is out there when someone re-posts a photo.

I crochet, so wonder about patterns too. I made some potholders from a pattern in an old book, and realized it was wrong - the first one turned out lopsided. I made the necessary corrections to make them turn out square, and have since used my corrected pattern a few more times. My last set are finally getting pretty worn, so I'll be making some new ones soon. When they're finished, I'll post a photo, but can I post the corrected version of the pattern, and call it mine? Can I post the pattern at all?

Copyright law is so confusing, and I want to do the right thing. I inherited some really old crochet and knit pattern booklets - the oldest is from 1916. Can I scan and share some of those? How about Victory ones from WWII?  Old Workbasket booklets? Patterns I bought in the 1970's? Most everything is certainly out of print by now, but does someone still hold the copyright?

I've seen vintage Aunt Martha's embroidery patterns posted on-line, but some of those same ones are still for sale in my local craft store. Is that sort of thing ok? I know there's something about so many years have passed, but then something else about if it's been renewed, or is still in print. If I buy a pattern from someone, can I then make and sell the things I've made? Does it make a difference if it's at my local farmer's market or in an on-line store? Can the pattern-designer set and enforce a limit on how many I make?

And what about my own writings elsewhere? I've been a writer on this co-op since the beginning. I've seen quite a few co-writers come and go over the years. I wonder, does everyone still have access to the posts they wrote, or did the administrators take their names off the permissions list? Will I still have access to my own work if I quit? For the most part, I research and write different things here than on my own blog. What if I'd like to put some of the older posts on my own blog? Should I copy and post them, and have them in two places? Should I just delete them here, or put a "this post has moved" notice in their place?

And I don't even want to start in regarding the music business - debates and enforcement of that issue has been on-going for decades. As I said in the beginning, I don't have any answers. These are just some things I've been thinking about. Your thoughts?

Thursday, 22 December 2011


By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

Here in the northern hemisphere the winter solstice is upon us. After today, the sun begins its return to our part of the world. Most of the religious traditions and festivals that are celebrated around this time celebrate a light returning in the midst of barren darkness. In the depths of winter, there is nothing so welcome; and for many people, this has been a winter (and a year) of extraordinary darkness.

This next bit might sound like a certain Monty Python sketch, bear with me, but I had a relatively impoverished childhood compared with most of my peers. I wore secondhand clothes, got secondhand Christmas presents, ate the same few frugal meal variations everyday. We always seemed to be one misstep away from disaster at any given moment. We lived in a house that was in urgent need of renovation, with no space heating and which regularly hosted an open house for any passing north sea gale. I was happy enough and it stood me in good stead - my bent towards simple living is probably a yearning to go back to the uncomplicated nature of this time.

We didn't have a TV for many years as the license fee was an expensive annual cost that couldn't be justified. I didn't particularly suffer in myself because of this - after all, we had an excellent library, a beautiful old record player and vinyl collection that I still miss dearly and a charity shop jigsaw  puzzle habit that bordered on addiction. It did mark me out as odd from my classmates however, as all they seemed to talk about was whatever had been on TV the night before. Soaps and cartoons were a conversational currency that I didn't have access to and it was isolating.

When a close family friend turned up on our doorstep one Christmas Eve bearing a Christmas card and a tin of biscuits, I was delighted. They were 'posh biscuits' from one of our more upmarket food retailers. A little luxury. My Christmas was made, what a lovely thought. Then we opened the card, and it was clear there was more to it than a tin of biscuits. A TV license stamp book full of stamps (not an inconsiderable amount of money) ready to be traded in for a TV license. Saved up over months, bit by bit, because someone thought that they could make our Christmas. The actual license was the least of it - the sentiments expressed by such a generous act to this day fill me with warmth and joy.

For all of our anti-consumption  rhetoric, money can buy happiness sometimes. It can take care of those most basic needs that are the foundation of everything that comes after. Sometimes it can be used to express our love and appreciation. But that link between the gift and the sentiment is too often broken or clouded. Our annual Christmas consumption fests are often driven by guilt - where gifts and money stand in for time together and caring, or to make up for our perceived social inadequacies. Often gifts are merely given because of social pressures and 'good manners' - you simply have to buy gifts for certain people, it is the done thing.

Those social pressures are hard to overcome; and at this time of year, by all means do what you have to do to make your holidays run smoothly. But in the midst of it all, perhaps find one place where you can put a little time and money and make a huge difference. It will make you feel good (the least of reasons to do it) and you might genuinely make someone's Christmas. Be creative. If you can make a huge financial gesture, by all means do it if it is well placed. But if you can babysit someone's children for a few hours so that they can do their shop in peace, then throw your all into it; if you can volunteer at a homeless shelter for a few hours, if you can donate a few tins of 'posh biscuits' to your local food bank, if you can buy someone who would not expect it from you a food hamper, or something they really really need but cannot afford, put your money there. Help someone weatherize their house. Buy someone a patio garden kit. Reestablish that vital link between gift giving and filling genuine needs and inspiring warmth and good cheer.

Now is the darkest time of the year in these parts. Shine your light wherever you can. Happy holidays.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas Giving

Written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

As the year comes to an end, Christmas is one again rapidly approaching us.  Whilst marketing and advertising campaigns at this time of year are encouraging us to spend our hard earned cash or go into debt to buy our loved ones that latest gimmick or fad what will probably break or get discarded only days after the big day, it pays to think of giving that lasts a lifetime, that are sustainable, and where the profits of its sale benefits those who really need it.  Gifts that are mass produced by mindless corporations are off my Christmas list forever!

So what sort of gifts fit my criteria?  Well, firstly, we choose only fair trade products for each other.  As in previous years we have bought some of our gifts at the Oxfam online shop ( which is also sells fair trade goods that also profit the small business that hand-made it. We bought minimal gifts with all proceeds going to people who most need our money.  The quality of the products is outstanding and you know that these handcrafted items have been made with care and attention to detail.  

If you are not into fair trade, then make your own gifts.  We make a big patch of home-made cold pressed soap and give gift wrapped bars away to family and friends or I make a batch of home-brew beer for friends.  These gifts are always well received and are from the heart.

Secondly, instead of racking your brain trying to buy that special gift for someone who has everything, you can give the gift to someone who really needs it.  World Vision Gifts have a fantastic campaign, whereby you visit their website and buy a gift for someone else in need! What a fantastic concept. You can buy something as small as water purifications tablets for $5, or clean water for an entire community for $1,425!  You can choose from mozzie nets to chickens, ducks, pigs, goats, donkeys or cows.  The gift choices are very comprehensive.

So how does it work? Do World Vision pack a goat in a box and ship it overseas? NO, that would be cruel.  So, if you buy a duck or a market garden starter pack, for example, your contribution will go towards their agriculture and environment work to help communities grow food for families and restore and improve their environments. Or if you buy a mosquito net or a toilet, you’ll be contributing to their work to help communities gain access to basic healthcare, water and sanitation.  You also receive a card which you give to the recipients, to let them know about the gift you have chosen.  There are other charities that so a similar type of thing.

The choice is yours alone. You can give socks and jocks to someone who has everything and/or doesn’t appreciate it, or a present that really means the world to someone.  Make a difference this year, and feel proud of your self.

Green 2011 season’s greetings to one and all, 


Monday, 19 December 2011

Christmas Fruit Mince Pies

by Jemma at Time for a Little Something

I'll be upfront. These little pies aren't really simple, frugal or green. I can't even claim they're healthy like most of the recipes I post here. But I hope you'll indulge me; they make a beautiful handmade Christmas gift. And 'tis the season after all.

I like to make these little pies at Christmas to give away, or to share with visiting family and friends. They really taste so much better than the store-bought variety, and as with anything you make yourself, it's nice to know all the ingredients going into what you eat.

This is my family's fruit mince recipe, and we have always used this Neenish Tart pastry recipe from the Edmonds cookbook. This cookbook is legendary here in New Zealand, I think just about every home has a copy. As a side note - if you have the time and inclination, it's a great idea to double the pastry recipe, and bake a few empty pie shells to pop away in your freezer. At some point in the future when you need to whip up an easy dessert or afternoon tea contribution, you can turn the pie shells into lemon tarts (filled with lemon curd and topped with a raspberry),
caramel tarts (filled with caramel and iced with chocolate icing), Neenish tarts (many filling
recipes available online), or jam tarts, etc. They will be ready in the matter of moments!

I hope you're enjoying the festive season, and I wish all readers a very merry Christmas, and a safe and happy New Year.

Fruit Mince
1 lemon, rind and juice
1 orange, rind
1 cup brown sugar
2 apples, cored and cut into large pieces (leave unpeeled)
2 cups sultanas
2 cups mixed fruit (use chopped dried fruit of your choice, or cake fruit mix)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp finely grated nutmeg (fresh is best, if you have it)
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup rum, brandy or whiskey - or use orange juice if you prefer

Place the orange and lemon rind in a food processor with the brown sugar, and whiz until finely chopped and mixed. Add the apple, lemon juice, and half of the sultanas and mixed fruit. Whiz until the apple is finely chopped, then add the remaining sultanas and fruit, spices, salt and rum/brandy/whiskey/orange juice, and whiz again, just until everything is combined.

You can use this straight away for mince pies (see pastry recipe below), or refrigerate or even freeze for later use. There are other uses for fruit mince too - you can bake filo pastry parcels
filled with fruit mince for dessert. There are a few recipes out there for Christmas muffins, or you could make festive cinnamon buns or a wreath of bread with fruit mince spread through the dough.

Christmas Mince Pie Pastry
This recipe comes from the Edmonds Cookbook recipe for Neenish Tarts
Note: I doubled this recipe, and it made enough pastry for 4 dozen standard sized tart cases (half of those filled and topped with stars; the other half empty, lid-less and destined for my freezer; PLUS a dozen filled mini fruit mince pies).

125 g butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Sift flour, baking powder and salt, and mix into the butter mixture, stirring well. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured board and knead well. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven the 180 (C). Lightly grease a couple of muffin tins - standard or mini size. Roll the pastry out to 2-3mm thick. Cut out rounds with the appropriate sized cutter, and gently line the muffin holes with pastry rounds. Prick the bases once or twice with a fork. If you're baking empty shells for future life as a Neenish tart, pop them in the oven for about 12 minutes, until cooked and light golden.

If you're making fruit mince pies, fill the uncooked, priced bases with fruit mince. Cut out small stars from the pastry and use them to top the mince pies - or cut out rounds to make lids, or strips to make lattice tops - whatever you like. The filled micne pies will take 20-25 mintues to bake.

Leave to cool a little in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar and enjoy!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Gift Wrapping Geekiness

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

If you're here, there's a chance that you are a little bit geeky. And there's a good chance that you find the whole shopping frenzy of Christmas confronting, shall we say. So this is an idea that involves putting the two of them together. It's not a new idea - there are versions of it all over the internet. But it's such a good one, it's worth repeating.

Most of us don't need more stuff. Our lives would be richer with less stuff, less stress, more time. The trick at Christmas is finding some way to gift wrap that kind of richness so it can go under the Christmas tree!

There's a viral email that has been doing the rounds lately, suggesting that you spend your Christmas gift budget on services from local small businesses, rather than stuff. Have you seen it? I spent ages trying unsuccessfully to find the original to give the writer credit. There's a version here.

There is lots to appreciate in my simple green frugal world about economic growth based on trade in services rather than goods. But if you want to keep it really simple, you can leave the conversion of time to money then back again right out, and just give your own services. For many people, the richness of the internet is hard to access, and though you may think you're not an expert, I bet you get asked to help quite a lot.

Your geek goodness is worth bottling. So why not bottle it and give a jar full of tech support. If you google "gift coupons" you will find dozens of templates, or you could create some nice contrast by by hand-crafting some.

I am thinking of a few people in my life who (I hope) will love the gift of a CD or USB stick with a remote support program like Gitso (and there's lots of others like it), along with a book of help coupons. When they can't figure out how to install the printer or download software or change the email settings or stop the popup from popping up or set up a feed reader, I can just do it for them from afar, while they watch my mouse move around their screen.

And there's a bit of delicious secret-keeping here, because I can safely tell you!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Handmade gift tags

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

I started making handmade gift tags for our Christmas gifts today and I savored the break from the housework to do something creative and fun for Christmas. First up were labels for the Worcestershire sauce that I have made for gifting- recipe here.

I punched out shapes and stamped my labels, using bakers twine to attach each label to the bottle. If you don't have punches or stamps simply cut out your own unique shapes and hand make the labels or you can print labels off the internet. I love these FREE vintage/handmade style ones here at the Black Apple.

I also made some gift tags for wrapped gifts for nephews, using images from a damaged children's 'Golden Book' and a scallop punched circle. You can use luggage tags or your own handcrafted labels to make these. I machine sewed the circle to the scallop, but you can use glue or double sided tape.

These aren't the simplest or even most earth friendly ideas, but I just used what I had on hand and we have a good supply of scrap booking and stamping supplies, so it makes sense for me to use these rather than buying store bought tags.

Some other items you can use to make tags is to up-cycle Christmas cards, use natural foliage like dry berries and leaves, kids drawings, photo's and artwork. Attach using kitchen string, scrap yarn, twine, glue or tape. I'll get the kids involved over the weekend and see what other ideas we come up with!

Are you making gift tags this year? What materials are you using to make yours?

Amanda x

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Winter Checklist

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Sweet Meat Winter Squash.

Just a quick winter checklist from the farmstead:

1) Check stored vegetables and fruits for signs of spoilage, use up blemished specimens first. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

2) Check home canned foodstuffs for bad seals. Discard any spoiled food safely.

3) Make a mental note of what home preserved foods you are really using up and which are not too popular. This information will be helpful when planning your next garden.

3) Stock up on winter emergency kit supplies, such as stored water, first aid supplies, batteries, flashlights, lanterns etc.

4) If you have livestock, try to keep at least two months of feed on hand. In extreme cold weather animals can easily eat twice as much. Count salt as feed too, adequate salt intake along with water really helps an animal regulate their body temperature.

Stay warm and have a great holiday!!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Bulk Meat

Last time, I wrote about our Home Butchering journey.  Today I will share what happened the second time the butcher came, a week later, to cut up the hanging quarters of beef.

Whether you are buying a quarter or half or whole slaughtered animal, or have a homegrown one, the result is that you will end up with a LOT of meat, and some of it may be unfamiliar to you.  It sure was to me, and I'm really glad I asked a lot of questions throughout this process.

We'd purchased our freezer a couple of weeks earlier, switched it on and tested it.  I gathered about a dozen shallow cardboard boxes - the type mushrooms and stonefruit travel to the supermarket in.  This was a tip from a friend to separate different types of meat and allow airflow in the freezer, so the meat would freeze quicker.  It also prevents bags from sticking together.  The boxes did mean that the meat didn't pack as tightly, but we had enough space, so that was okay.

I asked around other farming friends I knew about bags, labels, cuts of meat and any other advice they had to share.  I purchased plenty of bags (and ties for some), a new marker pen and some labels.  We bagged a lot of the meat into sandwich size snaplock bags - these don't stick together in the freezer and can hold about 500g of mince packed flat, or a couple of steaks.  Obviously roasts, steak with bones, 1kg lots of mince etc did not fit in sandwich bags!  For these we used a strong type of freezer bag a neighbour picked up at a catering supply shop in town.  Twisty-ties, standard white sticky labels from the newsagents and a thick bullet-point permanent marker pen completed the packing kit...  We had hoped to vacuum seal some of the meat, but found that we just didn't have time.  If we had an extra person or two (and the space available), we could have delegated that task while other meat was packed into ordinary bags.

Source: Ausmeat Ltd.

The butcher arrived early and work started right away.  He asked lots of questions to find out what cuts of meat I was used to cooking and what would be of most use to us.  At a friend's suggestion, I had looked briefly at cuts of meat online, so I (as a non-beef-eater) was familiar with at least some of the options.  As the butcher cut each quarter and loaded the meat into a plastic tub, he told me the names of the cuts.  He was patient with me because I didn't know much about the cuts, and he even told me ways to cook some.  Occasionally I had to poke my head out of the shed, waving a steak in the air and call out, "Hey, what was this again?"  The whole butchering set-up was contained on the side of a truck which was parked beside the cold room.  There was a crane/hook device, a saw, tubs for meat and waste, and a mincer.  We decided not to make sausages this time, but he can do that on the spot too!

In the shed, next to the freezer, I had set up a large, strong, clean trestle table, somewhere to wash our hands, and the packing items all within easy reach.

My apprentice chef daughter (17) laboured away for over 2 hours with me, packing meat into labelled bags and stacking it into boxes while I wrote on bags, ran back and forth, helped her pack and asked questions.  She also shared some ideas for ways to cook various cuts and marvelled at some she'd not seen before, curious as to which part of the carcass they'd come from.  Even though we were rushing and hot she really enjoyed the process.

We were amazed at how fast the freezer was filling!  Our steer was young, and not a pure beef breed, so we didn't get as much meat as some people do when they do a home kill (or buy a 'whole beast' through their local butcher).


We now have a lot of roasts, heaps of mince, and various stewing cuts to experiment with.  There is more steak in the freezer than we've consumed in a decade!  So far we've only cooked some mince (chili con carne and meatballs in tomato sauce - both in the Thermomix) and some pan-fried steak. I tried some of the steak and it was tender and very mild in flavour.  I'm not sure I'm ready to begin eating beef again, but I did decide to at least taste some.

Because it's summer here, a lot of the cuts I'm not used to will have a bit of time in the freezer before they become casseroles and roasts.   I wonder which steak is best to cut into strips for stir-fries, and which is best to cube for curries?  I also have liver, kidneys and heart in the freezer!  I think the butcher told me a lot more about preparing various cuts than I remember...  In hindsight, a pen and paper (and clean hands) would have been handy for taking notes.

Apart from buying the freezer, and keeping it running throughout the year, this beef cost us a couple of dollars a kilo, butchered and packed.  That's cheap, quality protein, and I believe it's ethical too.  At this stage, I'd be willing to raise more large animals for the freezer.

There was very little waste from this butchering process - the skin is being tanned, the fat rendered, the bones are for dog food...  Reusable containers would omit the use of plastic bags, but we went with the easier way of packing this time.

I'd love any beef recipe suggestions you have! Meanwhile, I think this is one of the most inspiring collection of beef recipes I've come across so far...

Monday, 12 December 2011

In Praise of the Honesty Box

By Megan @ The Byron Life

Each week I drive along winding country roads to get somewhere or other: school, work, friends, appointments, etc. I have set routes for my usual drives, but my work as a regional news reporter also sees me travelling down a variety of different roads each week, depending on where the story takes me.  I love the discoveries I make along our country roads... especially of the edible variety.

Living in a region with rich soil and a near-perfect growing climate means I can be guaranteed that along the way there will be a roadside stall selling seasonal produce the old-fashioned “honesty box” way.

I’m sure you all know the honesty box (although it may be called something different in your area). It is the system whereby farmers and property owners leave out excess produce for sale, relying on the passing consumer to pay for the goods by dropping money in a tin. There is nobody supervising the transaction, so it is up to the consumer to be “honest” with their payment.

There is something delightfully simple about an honesty box purchase. Firstly, I know the produce is locally grown and secondly, my money is going direct to the grower, and often this also means the prices are very reasonable.  And there is the surprise element to what I might find at an honesty box stall; what is in season and unique to that grower and their property. It’s such a different, albeit random, experience from buying pre-packaged goods from a supermarket.   

Among the produce I’ve seen, and bought, from local roadside stalls with honesty boxes are: avocados, ground coffee, bananas, lemons, stone fruit, potatoes, macadamia nuts, honey, pawpaw, cut flowers, herbs... the list could go on and on. I’ve even bought bags of pine cones for a winter fire and sugarcane mulch for my garden through the honesty-box system.

What I love most is the sense of community inherent in the honesty-box system. When I pull over and select locally grown fruit, vegetables, nuts or coffee, it feels good to hear my coins drop into the tin, knowing I am contributing to my local community, and being nourished in return.  As well as the treasure I have just found by the side of the road, I feel grateful for the trust and generosity shown by the appearance of an honesty box stall.  

Pictured  above is a newly discovered stall selling potatoes. The field they have grown in is just 500metres away. At $3 per 2kg bag, it works out to be $1.50kg, which is a good price around here for locally grown potatoes. What’s more, they tasted fantastic! We baked some up last night.

Even if I do not stop and buy something from a roadside stall, just the sight of them makes me feel happy and reassured that the buy-local concept is so established here.

How about you? Have you dropped a coin or two in an honesty box of late?