Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Spaghetti Scones

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

I discovered a great recipe for scones last week and they were a huge hit with the kids. Simple, inexpensive and tasty, they've been added to my regular list of snacks for the kids.

This recipe is adapted from a CWA Classics recipe book.

80gm butter chopped
110gm S/R flour
170gm Wholemeal S/R flour
pinch of salt
1 egg beaten
1 420gm tin of spaghetti in tomato sauce
1 tb Worcestershire sauce

Add the flour and salt to a mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flours until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the beaten egg, spaghetti and sauce to the mixture. Mix until just combined. Turn out the dough onto a well floured surface. Knead the dough until smooth for around 30 seconds and then cut using a drinking glass or a scone cutter. Makes around 10.

Place onto a greased or baking paper lined tray and bake at 200 degrees Celsius for approx 15 minutes. Bake until cooked through. Place into a tea towel lined bowl and once cooled store them in an airtight container. These scones will keep relatively well until the following day or freeze any leftover for school and kinder snacks. Big kids and adults like these too!

I usually add grated cheese, fresh herbs and bacon pieces to make savoury scones, but the spaghetti is a great change. Enjoy!


Nature Deficit Disorder - Holiday Decoration Edition

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

With Thanksgiving behind us, there is no denying Christmas is right around the corner. Our quiet country road was abuzz with traffic on Black Friday with families heading to the neighbor's Christmas tree farm. Conifers are king in our neck of the woods, with Christmas trees being a major agriculture crop due to our high rainfall and acid soils providing perfect conditions for growing trees. In fact it's hard to keep land clear here, it naturally wants to grow trees.

That being said, many people do get a natural tree, but still buy many decorations for the rest of their homes that aren't natural at all. I have to admit I am a sucker for the bright colors of ornaments and lights, but I'm trying to end it there, and have more natural decorations to go along with the fir tree we will decorate.

Douglas Fir bark with lichen.

No matter where we live we can look outside in our surroundings and find something to decorate with. My daughter and I challenged ourselves to make a bouquet to get us in the Christmas spirit. But, it had to be out of ordinary plants available nearby, and put together quickly. She took off with the camera, and I took off with my trusty Felco pruners.

Cotoneaster, bird planted.

She was attracted to the berries on various plants, all these are natives or wildings and just part of our landscape on the farm.


English Holly.

In the wintertime we cut firewood on any dry day that we are all available. We're taking out dead or damaged trees, and the dead trees have loose bark. Living in a rain forest means moss and lichen grow on anything that doesn't move. It is lovely and perfect for bringing in to dress up a vase or to decorate with.

For our impromptu arrangement we went for scotch broom and sword fern for filler and just added a spray of holly and a multi-branched snowberry to add some contrast.

We know this bouquet wouldn't win any prizes at the fair, but it was fun, didn't cost a penny, and we brought a little bit of the forest into our house to enjoy.

What types of greenery or natural items do you have in your neck of the woods to decorate with?

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Home Butchering

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

I hope by sharing this I don't upset anyone.  I am not up for debate of the ethics of meat-eating.  In fact I'm possibly the least likely to know about anything to do with butchering...  I haven't eaten much meat at all during my adult life...  Some locally-caught fish, homegrown roosters, and very little else. Sometimes for years at a time I ate no meat (or even no animal products) at all.

But now I keep a house cow.  To produce milk, a cow has a calf.  Lucy's first calf when she came here was a Wagyu-cross male.  Unneccessary as a lawn mower and so deemed for the freezer.  And so, at 20 months old this week, his time was up.

 Wags as a new calf

Since we'd known all along that he was to be eaten, for most of our family it was no big deal to call the butcher out.  Some were in fact eager to watch the whole process, learn bovine anatomy and really find out how a walking beast became a packet of protein.  I didn't watch the WHOLE process, but surprisingly I watched quite a lot of it and was amazed at how peaceful and non-gory it was.  Everything was done humanely, quickly, cleanly.

Basically for us the process so far:
1. obtain a beef-cross calf (via Lucy, but there are other ways of obtaining cattle)
2. late weaning apparently promotes tastier beef, as does early castration
3. allow him access to abundant food (for us, grass) and water from birth
4. treat naturally for flies and ticks using neem oil, other essential oils, mineral supplements etc (diatomaceous earth as a worm preventative)
5. carry fewer stock so there is plenty of feed and less problems with pests and parasites
6. call the butcher, ask a million questions
7. buy a freezer
8. catch the steer in a suitable paddock, away from other stock
9. let the butcher do his thing

Wags had a beautiful life

So now we have a cold room in our front paddock for a week.  After this week of hanging, the beef will be ready to cut, pack, label and freeze...  So I'm researching types of freezer bags and different cuts of beef (I only know how to cook roasts, minced and diced beef so far)...  There are a TON of resources about home butchering on the 'net.

A few of our family members eat beef (local, biodynamic beef), who knows I might try some too?  I never would have imagined that I'd write about turning one of our animals into food, but this is where our farming journey has brought us...

I'll write about stage two of this home butchering process next time!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

We're Different And That's OK

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Yesterday, my email provider had a front page article about the biggest mistakes people make when giving Christmas gifts; totally out of my character, I clicked on the article and began to read it. Lo and behold, one of the biggest mistakes, according to the author, anyone can make is to give homemade gifts, particularly knitted items. Apparently such things are ghastly and embarrassing for the giver and receiver. Who knew?!

When I got over my initial one second check in (I had just, the hour before, finished putting together a few little handmade gifts) I enjoyed a little laughter at the hilarity of it all. Not only did the article suggest homemade things are totally inappropriate, but so is anything useful, including some items of clothing, giftcards etc. And I began to think of the hilarity of it all, one person, who came across as incredibly spoiled and pampered, a person who is probably quite young and used to having money spent on them, is dictating what is acceptable/normal/OK. Well, here's the truth, his/her norm is certainly not my norm.

And there in that little article was the theme of my life over the last few months. As I navigate motherhood and find what other parents view as normal is vastly different to our life and the norm I want for my children. As I chat with colleagues and hear their views on necessities (a family can not live in less than 2500 square feet, apparently, nor can they function without TVs in their van), I've come to really think about being different and being OK with being different.

We are all on a journey. In my teenage years I desperately wanted to fit in and truth be told, for most of those years didn't. Sometimes, when I compare "notes" with the lives others have, I fleetingly think how nice it would be to have what they have, because in the throws of it, we are all human beings with needs and emotions. But the truth is, I'd rather be different. I'd rather put thought into what comes into our home, than accept the toys a manufacturer tells me my children need. I'd rather give money to help causes, then fret over which new car/van/TV/laptop to buy. I'd rather spend a couple of hours making a dishcloth, then pick up 10 for $2 and I'd certainly rather have to shop at 4 or 5 local shops/farmers stalls, than go to one big conglomerate and feel proud of how much more I could get for the same money.

Sometimes being different is challenging. Sometimes I can feel too different. Sometimes it would be easier not to think critically about each choice, not to have to wonder where something came from, or how its production impacted others. Sometimes it would be lovely to simply roll up at a particular fast food joint and be done with dinner in 2 minutes flat. But the truth is, 99.9999% of the time, I am totally head over heals in love with this different life, bad gift giving (knitted items!) and all. My greatest hope, is that 20 years from now, my children are OK with being different too.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Rainy day birthday party activities

by Eilleen

Hello everyone!

Today is my daughter's birthday party. We were going to have her party at the local community festival but....

Today's weather

So the party is now at my house. EEEK! At times like these, I prefer to keep things simple. I figure that for 15 children (ages 7 to 9), I would only need two pre-set activities for them. They are, after all, old enough to really entertain themselves.

The first activity is craft. I had planned on making them these fairy headbands out of newspaper, paper flowers and ribbon so I can easily spot them all in the festival. Now, I figure they can make it themselves! (Luckily I had already pre-cut the paper flowers.)

Fairy headband materials box

Here is the video tutorial I found on Youtube for this idea:

And the other activity? Karaoke! (Thank you Mum and Dad for lending me your karaoke machine in the last minute!)

Anyway, I best go and prepare my house for the onslaught of 13 tween girls, and two little boys (her brother and a friend)!

In the meantime, do you have any stories of rained out outdoor children's parties? What did you end up doing?

Friday, 25 November 2011

Making Leaf Mold

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I was out riding my bicycle around a quiet neighborhood of one-acre lots. As I rode past one house, with lots of lawn surrounded by big trees, an elderly couple was tossing puffy-full trash bags over their fence onto a huge pile on the side of the road. That looked like something I could use. I turned around and pedaled back to them.

"Are those leaves by any chance?" I asked. "May I have them?"

"Either you or the trash pickup, whichever gets here first," they replied.

"I'll be back with the truck. Oh, did you spray your trees with anything this year?"

Assured that the bags held only leaves, and that I'd be bringing no noxious chemicals back to my garden, I rode home smiling. Returning with the truck, I managed to get the entire pile, at least 25 big black trash bags, into the truck bed, piling them up, mashing and wedging bags in against the sides so as not to lose any as I drove home. What a treasure!

leaf mold bin in foreground, Aries & compost bin beyond
We're already making compost with our garden cleanup, the leaves from our trees, and the manure from cleaning out the chicken coop. I had something else in mind for these leaves - a batch of leaf mold.

Leaf mold is just leaves - piled up and left to decompose. To help them break down faster, we ran them through the shredder first. I made a round bin, about 3' tall and 3' across (it's best to have a pile at least 3' x 3'), with a length of wire fencing, lining it with some of the trash bags to keep the bits of leaves from falling through. First raking, then closing up the circle and shoveling, we filled the bin to the top. Using a small step ladder, I got into the bin, stomping round and round, packing the leaves down as Aries kept shoveling. With a bit of work, we got an entire piled-high truckload of leaves packed into the bin.

I got the hose, and soaked it all down, until water just started to run out the bottom. I live in the high desert, so to keep the leaves from drying out I covered them with more of the trash bags weighed down with bit of carpet and a slab of wood (winter storms can come through here with 60 mph winds). Last item was then to use a pitchfork to poke small holes in the plastic lining the bin. Some oxygen is necessary for the decomposition process.

Unlike the pathogen and weed seed killing heat of a properly made compost pile, making leaf mold is a cold process. Even so, a week later, the contents of my bin, six inches below the surface, pegged out a 125F thermometer. Left alone, leaf mold bins can take up to three years to break down to a dark, crumbly texture - a much slower process than composting. But by shredding the leaves and wetting them down well this bin might be ready by next summer.. And leaf mold, being made of only leaves, doesn't have the multitude of minerals and plant nutrients of compost either. But dug into a garden bed or used as mulch, it's great at retaining water. That's a necessity for my sandy soil and hot, dry growing season, but it can also soak up and hold the water in too-wet soils as well. It's also a great additive to a container potting mix. If you have or can get the leaves, have the room for a bin or two, and the time to let it break down, leaf mold can be a valuable addition to any garden.

Thursday, 24 November 2011


I am envious.

I can step outside of my door every day and choose to see what I want to see; and like most people, my default is to see what I lack - a surprisingly easy task in such a wealthy country. It is so much easier to compare myself to those 'doing better' - to see the flash cars, billboards, airbrushed magazine covers, aspirational homes - than to see the reality of those struggling below me. Some days I am filled with angst for all the things that I don't have. My neighbours own their home, I only rent. My colleagues go on several holidays and weekends away each year, I might have just one week away. Some of my acquaintances can spend money without a second thought, I have to balance a food budget. Poor, poor me.

If I didn't take the time to stop and really look, I probably wouldn't appreciate the roof over my head, rented or otherwise, until I lost it. I would take for granted that we have running water, running HOT water. That my children are growing up in peacetime, on UK soil at any rate. That I can afford and can access good healthy food for us all.  That I had an education, that I can read and write and do maths. That my partner and I both, for the time being at least, have jobs. That I have an awful lot to be thankful for, in comparison with the vast majority of humans on this planet; and even some of my close neighbours. There are some things I lack. Sometimes things are a little tight. But mostly, I am blessed.

I sometimes wonder what is the most important skill for living a simple life and I change my mind regularly. I know that it isn't bread baking, or sewing, or knitting or cooking from scratch, these are merely means to an end. I wonder if it is knowing when to say 'enough' - and to acquire this skill is to be able to look at your life once in a while in the light of all of the things that you do have and be filled with gratitude for them.       

I am envious that we do not have a day in the UK dedicated to expressing gratitude for all that we have.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our American friends.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Great Kilowatt Challenge

Written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

This is a repost from my personal blog regarding an energy challenge (which only started on Friday 18th Nov), that  I have set up to help folks save money on their electricity bills and to lower their consumption.  For those who would like to join and save a few bucks, please pop on over to this series of post.  I will provide a little update each fortnight during my Co-op posts as well.

Most of the readers of my personal blog will know that the initial motivation to change my lifestyle was because of my awakening regarding climate change and the fear of the impacts that it will have on my children and unborn grandchildren.  I wanted to (and still do) make a difference and this blog is a testament to my behavioural change and subsequent journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

Lately, I have had many personal conversations regarding energy efficiency and energy auditing due to the legislation of the "Clean Energy Future Act 2011".  People want to understand the impact and how they can reduce their electricity bills.  It is about this time during the conversation that I usually ask them if they have monitored the outcomes of any of their energy efficiency actions to date.

Most look at me weird?  I repeat the question in a different way, and say "Do you read your electricity meter?".  The reply, more often than not is no, and they state that it is read for them by the power company.

Usually the conversation turns to me explaining how and why this is a good thing to do, even on a weekly basis.  I believe strongly that one cannot manage an action if you cannot monitor and evaluate the outcome of that action.  You may think you are making a difference, but how do you really know that you are.  Facts are our friends, and cold hard data are worth their weight in gold when it comes to implementing an energy efficiency programme.

When I first started had my green epiphany, I took weekly meter readings for three years running from 2007 to 2009 and still have the data I collected and all fully trended.  However, even I have let this behaviour slip and have not read my meters for a while.  So I want to get back into it again, so that I can see if anything has changed and to calculate my current carbon emissions and expenditure on electricity, natural gas and water usage.

So I put this proposal to you all.  Who would like to join me in an energy  challenge?  We will only begin with grid Electricity as most folks have it connected.  Subsequent posts will be about the following;

how to read your meter, the quick basics about electricity terminology, how to manage the data you are collecting, documenting your energy baseline for the first week, and then launch into an energy efficiency programme. I have an MS Excel spreadsheet that I designed that will help out.  For those who don't have Excel, Open Office or Google docs will suffice.  I will guide you all the same.

The posts for the challenge will be over four weeks and at the end of each of the four weeks we will post the total percentage of electricity reduction we each have made.  It should be good fun, and I hope that we can all achieve a big reduction in our consumption.

I also have another request.   In an attempt to spread the word about this challenge, please post about this on your own blogs (if you have one) and get as many people as you can to join us - every person who joins will add to a greater reduction.  Re post the button above with a link back to this post (it is just a picture) wherever you can, to highlight the fact that we all giving this our best shot.

Please let me know if you're joining in via a comment below. I will be here to help you out along the way.  After all, I haven't nearly completed a Diploma of Carbon Management this year for no reason at all.  I will be putting my learning to good use in this challenge.

Remember that not only are we doing this for the kids, but for our own hip pocket as well.  You can shout yourself a nice lunch with the savings!

Sunday, 20 November 2011


by Jemma at Time for a Little Something
Hi everyone,
A quick post from me today with another recipe you might like to take to your next neighbourhood barbecue.
This is a Kiwi dessert - a treasured wee secret! It's similar to Eton Mess, but without meringues, and flavoured with berries. It's lovely over summer, and really easy to make. Everyone here loves it! Boysenberries are the traditional fruit, but I had some fresh strawberries on hand, so I added them too. Feel free to use whatever berries you happen to have!

Serves 4-6

300ml cream
2 tsp icing sugar
1x 250g packet pink & white marshmallows
200g natural yoghurt
1x 400g tin bosenberries, drained

Whip the cream with the icing sugar, until it is soft and fluffy (soft peaks, I guess). Stir in the marshmallows and yoghurt. Carefully fold in the boysenberries so you get a nice swirly colour.

That's it! Refrigerate until ready to serve. It's lovely straight away, or after a couple of hours in the fridge, the marshmallows take on the berry flavour. Enjoy!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Tax Avoidance

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

I am going to pay virtually no carbon tax, none directly and so little indirectly that the compensation in the carbon legislation that has just passed through the Australian parliament is going to be quite a windfall for me.

I am not naive enough to believe that the big polluters who will, from next year, have to contribute towards the cost of dealing with the mess they create, will not pass on the price. They'll probably even use it to gouge us, riding the misinformation campaign and counting on the public blaming the government. But they won't get much out of me. I can even see a whole heap of side benefit windfalls.

Our house is built, but even if it wasn't, it's not that big and mostly made from local wood, much of it recycled, and recycled fittings. The only things in it that would have an embedded carbon price are cement, nails, and roofing iron - and the steel industry is one that is going to be compensated so heavily it will not be paying any tax. It's true the carbon price will push up the square metre price for building, but there's no tax on labour or skill. So it makes sense to spend the money on a good architect or designer to get more space, rather than build a bigger house. Which should mean less sprawl, more smart design, and more green in the suburbs.

We live with stand alone solar power. Our solar panels have well and truly paid for themselves in cradle to grave accounting. Our very first pair, now nearly 30 years old, are still in the array. So our household appliances are already chosen for energy efficiency, and whenever there's a free energy choice that's the one we've got. So there's no clothes drier, rather a clothes line outside that makes the clothes smell lovely and sun-fresh, and an undercover one on the verandah on the western side of the house for rainy weather. (Outdoor clothes lines are common in Australia - lucky us - but the carbon tax does mean that any council would have buckley's of trying to outlaw them).

There's no air conditioner, rather some good roof insulation and a lovely big deciduous pecan tree shading the north east side of the house and the breezy east side verandah. There's no space heater, rather a slow combustion stove that keeps the house warm and doubles for cooking and to boost the solar hot water system in winter.

What electrical appliances we have are chosen for energy efficiency and long-life quality. Our fridge was bought second hand twenty years ago, and is due for replacing. The carbon tax will make the (expensive) high quality, very energy efficient one I want to buy more economical to afford. It will have a bit of embedded carbon price, but that will be more than made up for by the fact that producers of high quality, energy efficient goods will get a bigger market share as people factor in the cost of running them.

The TV and the washing machine are also second hand and chosen for energy efficiency. When it comes time to eventually replace them, the same story as the fridge will operate. I get so frustrated with fake goods made to look like the real thing, but actually made to break within hours of unpacking. Any carbon tax in those prices is the least of the worries. More of an issue is whether they actually work, or whether they are on a very short path between the factory and the dump. More incentive for manufactured goods to be made to last a lifetime or two is something I really look forward to, and if they're made to last, they're worth repairing - there's no tax on skill or labour.

I don't buy new clothes, virtually ever. Op shops are fantastic. Even underwear these days I am tending to make. I can make lovely lingerie out of beautiful fabrics for much less than Chinese made knickers with elastic that falls down after half a dozen washes.

Petrol (and diesel for farm equipment) isn't included (though I think it should be), and living rurally we use a bit of it. But we car pool a lot, and the move towards carbon pricing world wide is already bringing the very fuel efficient cars into the mainstream. It's the same story as the fridge. The E-Day electric car (Australian designed, Chinese made - hopefully well) will come on the market next year for $10,000 brand new.

And of course, my own focus is on food that is fresh, very local, in season and unprocessed. There's no carbon tax in anything that comes out of the garden, or that is cooked on my slow combustion stove or wood-burning hibachi. There's a little in the gas for the gas stove we use in summer, but the pressure cooker cuts cooking times right back. There will be a little bit of carbon price embedded in the refrigeration of the kangaroo meat I buy, and the same for dairy products. There will be a little embedded in the electricity for milling the flour and oats I buy to make sourdough, and in things like olive oil. But very little. The main embedded carbon price is in food processing - things like cake mixes and meal bases and breakfast flakes - and the carbon price is again the least of the worries with them. (I pay practically no GST either on food - fresh food is exempt and I buy so little processed food, I almost feel like I should pay supplementary tax).

And I guess it stands to reason. The point of the carbon tax is not to raise money but to change the market, so that those who want to buy stuff with lots of embedded carbon have to pay the real price for it, rather than have the rest of us subsidise them. Fresh, local, unprocessed, handmade, quality made, recycled, cared for, efficient, elegant, crafted, designed, beautiful doesn't have a whole lot of embedded carbon in the first place. That's what I'm going to spend my windfall on!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Promoting Locally

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

Having established a business from home several months ago I have become more aware of what services and support our local shire offers local businesses. As I am a big advocate of supporting local business I was quite 'chuffed' and proud, when I recently discovered just what support our shire does offer.

Although I am told these promotional tools are currently being upgraded I wanted to show you what is on offer. It is my hope that readers may like to share what their local shires are offering or share what support you show your local community.

We have a brochure that lists businesses that sell locally produced products and the outlets that support these locally produced products.

There are swing tags for producers to use on their products proudly displaying that their item is made/designed in the local area.

Local stores have stickers/posters to promote the support of local outlets and I have been given a logo to display on my website.

I believe it is important to support local communities by shopping locally. Not to mention that it is kinder on your hip pocket and cuts back on the miles that we spend collecting a product from afar. Local businesses cannot survive without the support of their community and shopping locally promotes community and creates jobs.

Have you thought about how your supporting your local community may be better for the environment too? By shopping in town we are encouraging spaces that are commuter friendly. People are more inclined to walk thus creating less there is a lot to it when you think about it!

There is something else to think about too. When you shop at a large department store there are so many many shops selling similar products that almost all look the same. When you have communities of small businesses generally they sell products that they are passionate about. Products they source for quality and uniqueness. If I am going to part with my money I would much prefer quality over mass produced, same-as-everyone-else type products!

I want my local community to thrive so that my children can enjoy the same culture we experience today. I am proud to live in the Baw Baw Shire and I hope you are proud to live where you are too.


Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A Stock Pot in Every Kitchen

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I've blogged about making bone broth and stock before but it bears repeating. If you're not making stock already with bones from the meat you're cooking, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and lots of turkey carcasses will be gracing our tables and can be put to good use instead of being tossed.

I make stock every week because:

1) Of the health benefits.

2) It makes food taste better.

3) I don't like to waste anything.

This is what's left of one of our home raised chickens by the time I get done with it.

That handful of bone pieces is about the size of the chick when it arrives at the farmstead.

Rather than thinking of just filling the freezer for our needs, we concentrate on intensively pasturing our poultry after the brooding stage. By doing this, we are fertilizing our pasture at the same time we are growing our meat chickens.

Providing fresh pasture daily helps grow a healthy bird, and ensures a healthy nutrition profile for the meat and broth.

To make sure I use the broth in my cooking, I like to have it on hand, either in the refrigerator or in the stockpot that seems to be always simmering on the back of the stove. We consume roughly one chicken per week. We raise them ourselves, but they are still an expensive item for the pantry. To stretch those dollars, I squeeze the most out of each bird.

One chicken per week feeds our family of three plus two dogs in the following ways:

1) One breast butterflied and sauteed for my husbands lunches.

2) One breast cubed for fajitas.

3) Breastless carcass wet roasted in 3 - 4 quarts of water to yield 3 - 4 quarts of semi-gelatinous broth, and cooked chicken. (I roast my chicken in a covered roaster at about 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 4 hours.)

4) Remaining cooked meat makes at least 2 more meals of chicken salad, enchiladas or whatever you wish to use cooked chicken for.

5) After all that I take the carcass and make at least two more quarts of stock, since the bird has been roasted already, this stock needs no skimming and stays clear. I cook this for 12 - 24 hours with a glug of vinegar to help release the minerals and gelatin in the bones and gristle. Note: since the dogs will be getting the spoils I do not add onions to the stock. If you're not feeding dogs, onions are a good addition, as well as any other vegetable odds and ends in your kitchen. Carrot ends, celery trimmings etc.

6) Strain the stock for the kitchen and break down the skins and bones for the pups. Most bones will be soft enough for dogs, except the weight bearing bones of the bird. On these I squeeze the bone and marrow until I get to the hard part of the bone. Feeding cooked bones to dogs is not a good idea unless the bones are soft. They are very sharp (unlike uncooked bones) and may potentially puncture your dogs digestive tract. I personally inspect each bone and piece of chicken before my dogs get any of it. This go round yields about two quarts of chicken skin, leftover bits of meat and soft bones for the dogs. They love it!

What hasn't softened in the cooking process goes into our woodstove and is cooked into ash that goes to the garden. I suppose if you were so inclined you could pressure cook the hard bones and make them entirely soft, however for me, it's just one more step that isn't needed. My garden can always use some ash, and it is an amendment that I don't need to buy if I can make my own.

For more reading on the health benefits of bone broths and stock check out the Weston Price organization here:

The interconnectedness of farm and kitchen is an amazing and satisfying feeling. Stock warms your belly and your heart.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Plan B?


A friend sent me this link to a video of Ireland's Financial Expert Eddie Hobbs advising people to get out of the Euro as it is going to collapse.  To understand a little more about why this is seeming inevitable, I watched this video.

I'm no economist.  In fact, I barely understand the concepts being discussed in these clips.  But it seems to me that the writing's on the wall...

What is your personal reaction to the current state of our global economy?

Are you moving your money? Using an alternative economy (like LETS)?  Stockpiling?  Growing more food?  Chaging jobs?  Investing in precious metals?  Seems like all of these activities (and more) are no longer the realm of 'preppers' - people everywhere are getting nervous...  I'm keen to hear what other simple, green, frugal folk are thinking, please comment!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Frugal and Fun Family Camping

by Megan @ The Byron Life

Since adding two more little ones to our family in the past five years we don’t go camping much.  What seems, on the surface, to be a simple and affordable family adventure; the ultimate in frugal living  - close to nature with only the bare necessities – has felt too expensive.  Some of the camping gear I’ve seen for sale would need a second mortgage to afford.

However, we were invited to go camping for three days with two other families we know who have children the same age as ours and, despite not having the right gear, or the cash to buy it right now, I said yes hoping I could pull it together in a thrifted fashion.

Our family-sized tent and mattresses were borrowed (from a family we know to whom we recently gifted a trampoline we no longer used, so this felt like a fair exchange). Bedding and cooking equipment we brought from home and I picked up a few bargains from the op-shop as well:  an as-new large torch and an esky that saved us well over $100 had we bought brand new.

We were fortunate to be holidaying with experienced campers who set up a  communal camp kitchen filled with contributed equipment from us all: a giant tarp, various tables, chairs, mats, games and toys and cooking utensils and we all shared the work involved in setting up and keeping the space functioning.

The camp cooking was shared as well.

Breakfasts were looked after by each individual family, but a roster was set up to share the main cooking duties so each family had to prepare one lunch and one dinner for all. This was the idea of one of our friends, and it makes so much sense to cook like this when camping.

Lunches included:
-pesto pasta and fresh green salad with olives
- a mix of potato, coleslaw and green salads, falafal and freshly-baked breads
- a serve-yourself “salad-wrap table” with flat bread wraps, cheeses, cold meats, salad and spreads such as hommus and pesto for making individual wraps.

Dinners included:
- vegetable green Thai curry and rice
- marinated spare ribs (a marinated tofu option for the vegetarian, me!) with salads, various sauces and rice
- Red lentil dahl and rice

I wish I’d photographed a meal for this blog post. Too busy eating to do that, but you get the idea.  As well as the main meals we shared snacks, treats and drinks. If we had paid for a holiday away with more formal accommodation and bought meals it would have been out of our reach this weekend, but this three-day adventure cost us little more than a normal grocery shopping trip.

I feel strongly that sharing resources is an important aspect to frugal and simple living. It saves energy, money and the earth’s resources – and it is crucial to feeling connected to your community.  Collaboration can take whatever form you choose – with just a bit of willingness and enthusiasm – and camping is no exception. 

One family could purchase different equipment (a camp oven, or a large tarp, for example) and these could be shared, rather than each family having to buy the equipment individually and doubling up. 

I am keen now to build up a stash of decent camping equipment so we can contribute more next time around and family camping trips can become a more regular part of life for us. The children had the best time together, so did we adults.

When you take camping trips with other families, do you also share equipment and/or cooking duties? 

~ Megan

Friday, 11 November 2011

Childhood Joy Rediscovered (Again)

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
As a child, I couldn't wait to learn to ride a bicycle. First on the grassy hill in front of the house, then out on our little suburban street - my dad jogging along behind, holding onto the seat, exhorting me to "keep pedaling", until suddenly I left him behind. I kept pedaling, and the world was mine!

I had wheels, and my boundaries grew - from my street, to my block, to the neighborhood defined by the "busy" streets. The bikes grew too, from that first little bike soon passed down to a younger sister, to a bigger one, with fat tires, coaster brakes, and a basket. It was great! As an avid reader, I was overjoyed once allowed to ride to the library on my own - I could get more books whenever I wanted! I taught our little dog to ride in the basket, and the two of us had our faces in the wind every day. Whoopee! I had wheels!

By high school, I had traded up once again - getting a Schwinn 10-speed, and a job. My boundaries had expanded too. Even the steepest hills were no barrier now, and I was old enough to be allowed out after dark. I could now ride for miles, and did. Oh, the fun I had! When I went away to college, that bike did too - providing plenty of exercise along with my new-found freedom.

Once out of school, my commutes got longer (and I was making more money). I got my first car, and the bike gathered dust in the garage. About 20 years ago, I sold that old 10-speed to buy a mountain bike. It wasn't suitable for in-town riding, but made for some fun weekends. As I got older, it got harder to ride the hills - it wasn't as much fun anymore. Eventually that old mountain bike was pretty much just gathering dust in the garage. I still liked being out, and on the move, though. I live in a gorgeous part of the country, with plenty of trails and paths nearby. Hiking and walking was more my recreational speed; with the car for work and errands about town.

I believe in living as "green" a lifestyle as possible. In order to put some effort behind my beliefs, I joined a local organization advocating for pedestrian and bicycle safety. I went to a lot of public meetings, met with a lot of elected officials, and kept speaking out that transportation need not mean only cars. Over the years, and through our collective efforts, we now have a pretty good start on a bicycle-friendly community (and a nascent bus system, too).

And this summer, I figured it was finally time for me to stop merely advocating and "walk the talk" - put my muscles where my mouth is, so to speak. I'm old enough to need my comfort, though. The old mountain bike out in the garage never did work very well other than recreational. I saved up my money, and went shopping for something I could ride about town. I'm amazed at the advances technology has made in bicycling. I was thinking a little-old-lady cruiser-type bicycle, but eventually decided a hybrid would better suit my needs and riding style.

And it does - it's perfect! It has the suspension (oh, what a concept!) in seat and handlebars, and upright sitting and wide, padded seat of a cruiser. But then it has the gearing and brakes like my old mountain bike (definitely a plus, as my house sits up on a hillside). I never liked strapping my purse on the back rack, or wearing a backpack, so I love having a bike with a front basket once again (and now they make detachable baskets - I just lift it off and use it as a shopping basket in the store, and then carry it in the house to store my helmet, water bottle, and lock). And a bell - I had to have a bell! - I'm a town rider now, I wanted a bell :-) I've also found that an Ipod - turned down very low, so I can still hear traffic noises - makes riding so much more enjoyable (I always have the radio on in the car - why not enjoy my music while out on the bike?)

I've rediscovered the simple joy of having the wind in my face once again. I use the bike for running errands about town, even bundling up to keep riding as the weather has gotten colder. I've noticed I can get a little farther up the hill to my house, before having to get off and walk, each time I go out. Before, I'd started having problems with my knees, feeling like I was kneeling on gravel. The doctor said I needed to strengthen the tendon that runs under my kneecap. When I get out on the bike regularly, I've found I can once again kneel without pain. And need I even mention the savings in gas money, or the benefit to the environment? That I'm losing weight and getting in shape? All that aside, it's just plain fun!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Thoughts on learning to cook

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

I honestly believe that our food cultures offer us the biggest opportunity to improve our health and to reduce our impact on the planet. Food also makes up a large part of the monthly expenditure of many households. Knowing your way around a kitchen, a spice drawer and a produce aisle or box are therefore essential if you are going to cook frugally and sustainably. The aim is to not be a slave to ingredients lists and recipes, but to be able to make the most of what is available to you. Kitchen skills are hugely important and I know that many of you will have the basics and beyond. But equally, I know that many of you won't, or at least won't have confidence in  the kitchen. So how do you learn?

Necessity is the mother of all invention. At the age of 15 I began my five year vegetarian experiment - and was swiftly told by my mother that I would be cooking and buying my own food if I was going to be 'awkward'. I lived in a fairly rural part of Britain and new fangled frozen bean burgers and Quorn hadn't made it to the shelves of our local supermarket. I had to learn to cook. We don't have home economics lessons in schools here - rather, we have 'Food Technology' - which basically teaches you to design a ready meal to be sold to supermarkets - wholesome, I know. Armed with a cheap illustrated vegetarian recipe book, I made a start that very night trying to recreate the dishes as pictured. The first thing I cooked was a bolognese with TVP in place of the expensive (and as yet unheard of in my part of the world) exotic mushrooms the book called for. It was...revolting. The onions were diced too coarse, in spite of the 5 minutes I took to chop them carefully with a blunt knife, the carrots were still hard, the pasta mushy. 

Now, my mother did actually start to accommodate me again a few weeks later and cooked us both vegetarian food. But for a month I had to persevere and I made a lot of mistakes. I ate them all and many still linger in my memory. But I ate them with a critical palate - what had gone wrong? (everything). What could I add? (exotic mushrooms, probably). What could I take away? (TVP, for sure). Making mistakes is the best way to learn just about anything. Fear of failure will hold you back in the kitchen - and you will make plenty of them. Oven temperatures vary, ingredients vary, pots and pans vary, your attention span varies. It is a long road to confidently balance all these variables, recognize your own limitations and find solutions for them.

There are a few solid skills worth learning, either from a real life cook or from a google video search. Knife skills are perhaps the most important - from sharpening (a sharp knife is safer and faster than a blunt one) to chopping onions in seconds rather than minutes, to jointing a chicken, to slicing vegetables and filleting fish. All of these basic skills remove your dependence on a food supply chain that charges a premium for doing this simple (when you know how) work for you. Once you have these under your belt, the rest of the techniques - grilling, frying, baking and roasting can be built with each and every dish you make.

Technical skills are only one aspect of cooking, the easier part to acquire. A greater part of it is intuition - what flavours go together? What texture am I aiming for? How best to cut the carrots for the stir fry? These are things again learnt over time, with every dish you make and once again fear will hold you back. Be bold with sniffing and sampling the spices and condiments and add them liberally. Pay attention when things go wrong and write and make a note of what worked and what didn't. If you can cook together with others occasionally, you will expand your horizons. As a student I cooked with and for others a lot - and discovered in the process quite a few foods, spices and new techniques that improved my confidence.

Cookbooks can be useful inspiration - they can teach you basic flavour combinations from various culinary traditions, but again they are just a starting point. I always tended to veer away from the glossy tomes of celebrity chefs - if you are just starting out, the expensive, complicated showpieces they proffer are probably best avoided. Cooking shows (thanks to the internet,you can find shows from any tradition and dietary preference from anywhere in the world) can be helpful if you lack inspiration to get up and cook.

The most important thing is to really appreciate what food is, how it got to you and how it can enrich your life. If you have ever grown even a pot of herbs, you will appreciate the effort and resources that go into producing our food. Don't live to eat, but eat to live fully - take a little time to savour the flavours and the aromas and the textures and appreciate the chain of events that brought your food to you. Find a diet that you are passionate about, too, that fits with your ideals - you may want to cook as frugally as you possibly can, you may source pasture raised meat, you may be vegetarian or vegan, you may have special dietary requirements. When you are comfortable with your food choices, the rest will follow.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Cooking in a Cob Oven

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.

As I wrote at this post titled "Clay Oven Community", I have been making a clay cob oven in my back yard.   After five layers of cob, it is now finished except for a little render on the base, but other than that we have been cooking in the oven on weekends.  You can read about how I made the oven on my personal blog under the label "Cob Oven"

Before we used it for the first time I spent some time making a door for the cob oven, cut it to size and popped on some handles.  I used the two bits of ply that I cut for the door arch template, trimmed off about 1cm from the bottom, screwed them together and added some handles.  The handles are just some shelving brackets that I screwed into the front of the door.

We also added a coat of render and my lovely wife Kim decorated it with mosaic tiles.

Kim worked diligently on the oven to make it all beautiful.  All of the tiles were pushed into the render or stuck on and the grout has been applied.  The grout colour is terracotta.

I think that the finish is wonderful and it really is an outdoor feature, as well as a practical oven.

Here is the other side with the grout still wet.
So my first attempt of cooking in the oven was a bit of experimentation.  I lit the fire at about 5pm and kept it going until about 6.30pm.  There were lots of hot coals that I pushed to the sides of the oven, and then put the door on for about 10 minutes to let the heat build up.  It only got to about 180C (356.0F).  Kim was busy in the kitchen making the pizzas and brought the first one out, which was a garlic pizza.  Just a base drizzled with olive oil, crushed garlic, some Italian herbs and a little rock salt.  It took just over 10 minutes to cook.

A big smile for the first pizza!
It tasted delicious, (sorry for the dark picture).

This quick and easy pizza was brown on top and bottom, and was scoffed down in about 2 seconds flat.  Luckily it was time for the main meal, so in went all the other pizzas.

These took a little longer, about 20 minutes and the door was on during the cooking time.  They were still a bit soggy on the bottom because we used trays.  We also found that the temperature dropped considerably and had to throw a few more sticks on the coals to raise the heat to finish off the cooking.  In essence it cooled down way too quickly.

Since that first attempt, we have added a layer of render to the oven, and the mosaics as you have seen.  After all of that dried solid I tried to cook in it again.  I started the fire small, and built it up and kept the burn going for 3 hours which was twice as long as the first attempt.  I pushed the coals all over the floor and let it sit for 10 minutes to heat it up.  Then I moved the coals aside and mopped the oven floor with a wet rag on a stick to get rid of the ash.  I checked the temperature and it had reached 350C (662.0F)!  I was pleased with that so got ready to cook.  This time I made simple garlic and herbed bread in a thick pizza shape.  I floured the peel and placed each pizza in the oven directly on the floor.  This time the pizza cooked in 4 minutes flat, with the dough cooking all the way through.  I cooked 4 of these flat breads in a row in the space of 8 minutes which tasted fantastic!

Just after we finished the pizzas, I put the door in place and found that the temp went up to 400C (752.0) and the door began to blacken, so I removed it quickly.  Talk about being hot!  If I soak the door in water before I cook, it should stop this from happening.

This time we found that the oven kept its heat for more than 4 hours, with the temp dropping down to about 180C at about midnight.  If I had have planned ahead, I would have cooked a roast dinner next, then bread, and maybe even more bread or pastries or even jacket potatoes in foil on the coals. 

I have so much more to learn, and have even bought a cook book specifically for cob ovens which should help a lot.  I know that there will be many more wonderful meals to come out of this oven in the very near future.

Does anyone have any suggestions of dishes to cook, or had experience with cooking in a clay cob oven?  I would love feedback via comments.

Monday, 7 November 2011

White Coleslaw

Here in New Zealand the barbecue season is just getting started. Our weather is getting warmer and the spring lamb and summer fruit and vegetables are starting to appear in markets.

Summer pot luck barbecues are a bit of an institution in New Zealand, so I thought I'd write my next few posts about barbecue season dishes. Every summer I seem to be scratching my head for a new salad or dessert to take to a barbecue - last week I used an old recipe I had forgotten about, and it was a hit! It's certainly simple and green! It's also healthy, tasty, and very easy. Perfect to take to your next neighbourhood barbecue.

White Coleslaw
300g white cabbage, shredded
1 green capsicum (bell pepper), sliced
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
4 spring onions (scallions), sliced
1/2 Tbsp dijon mustard
1 tsp horseradish cream
1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1 Tbsp white vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp reduced fat mayonnaise
pinch cayenne pepper
chopped fresh dill, to taste
Toss the prepared cabbage, capsicum, celery and spring onions together. In a small bowl, mix the mustard and horseradish with the Tabasco sauce and white vinegar. Gradually whisk in the olive oil, then add the mayonnaise and cayenne pepper (I also added a spoonful of wholegrain mustard). Season and toss the dressing through the salad, adding the fresh dill as you go.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Gifts for Babies

From Linda Woodrow from The Witches Kitchen

In the community I live in, we have a tradition of making a quilt for any new baby. We choose a theme - for this one it was native animals, but others have been nursery rhymes, things that fly, beginnings, circles - and a background colour, and invite people to make a square. (Mine in this one was the native mouse eating a grass seed). We generally aim to have it made and ready to give a few weeks after the baby is born, at the first stage when parents are usually ready to bring him or her out to meet a largish group.

There are so many magnificent quilt makers online, and within the circles of people who contribute to this blog. This isn't that kind of quilt! Squares are made by kids and teenagers, men, women of all generations, people with no real needleworking skills. They are appliqued, embroidered, fabric painted, found, made from recycled fabrics and salvaged buttons and beads. Often the sewing together and backing is a real challenge to make stretch fabrics and non-square squares fit together.

Usually four or five of the better sewers have a "Sewing Together Day" to piece it all together, and that's the best fun. It is amazing how beautiful they always turn out. There is a moment when they are all first sewn together and laid out to admire when I always get a sense of wonder that the sum is so much more than the parts.

Mostly the quilts are used as play-mats rather than bed covers. The variety in the textures and colours, the images and connections are rich stimulants for a baby's play and imagination. Stories can be woven around the characters and language practiced on naming the animals. It's a lovely soft toy with no "Made in China" tag.

And I guess the no "Made in China" tag was the inspiration for this story. The shops in my town are filling up with toys in the lead up to Christmas, and it just seems so wasteful that so many of them, especially those designed for babies, are destined to end up in landfill in a matter of months. Mass produced soft toys with no character, art or craft to them.

Older kids are harder to do the handmade thing for. They have very particular and specific desires, and friends to compare with. (Although, having said that, my daughter's very favourite childhood gift was a hanging rail with a dozen handmade Barbie dresses, all on little wire coathangers - I was very proud of that one!)

But babies and little kids are such a joy to make gifts for. I'm making a list and checking it twice. I'm collecting ideas.

Friday, 4 November 2011

keeping warmer

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo


One problem with living in an ancient stone house built directly above a chill, humid wine cellar is that, though it's wonderfully cool in summer, heating it in the cold season is hard.  To keep heating costs down (while not freezing to death), we've found some simple and efficient ways to stay warm - which I wrote about on FuoriBorgo last year (I've linked the relevant posts below).

hot water bottle

-    Hot water bottles - a time-tested and yet vastly underestimated method of keeping warmer.
-    Felted blanket curtain - we added a thick layer of insulation to our largest double-glazed window.
-    Warm slippers - yes, warm feet do make a huge difference!

How do you keep warm in your wintry house?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Cloth baby wipes and cleaning solution

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

It has been 10 months since our youngest was born and I am still dedicated to using re-usable wipes and my own cleanser at change times. It may sound strange to some, but I really enjoy nappy change times, using handmade products that I have blended and experimenting with materials for wipes.

The recipe I love most for cleansing bottoms is:

1tsp natural/organic SLS FREE baby bath wash (I use the Little Innoscents body wash)
1tsp almond oil
250ml cooled boiled water
Mix in a spray bottle and shake before each use.

I spray the cloth wipes and then use, but you can spray directly onto an older baby's bottom. This mix needs replacing regularly, but I like that it is fresh each time I make a batch. You can also make up tubs of cleanser and soak your cloth wipes in the solution, but I would recommend that you replace the solution daily for this method.

Some other ingredients that can be used in this recipe in small quantities are:
  • Manuka honey (1/2 tb in the above recipe)
  • Vitamin E capsules (1/2 capsule - not synthetic E)
  • Essential oils (only oils that are safe for infants and use only as directed at the right ratio babies and the solution base)
  • Pure Aloe Vera gel (1 tb)
Or you can just use plain water without any additives!

My favourite wipes are ones made from upcycled flannel baby blankets and bamboo velour. I just throw the soiled ones in with the nappies and the wet ones go in with the baby's clothes. Wipes are really fast and simple to make and don't need to be any special. Just a square cloth that has been over locked around the edges is fine but I make mine double sided with top stitched edges to make them last. I also use terry cloths, but I much prefer the softness of the flannel and bamboo velour variety. You will need at least 24 to 36 wipes for your baby.

Some of the reasons you might like to consider using cloth wipes are:
  • Your baby has sensitive skin
  • You wish to avoid the chemicals found in most commercial baby wipes
  • You wish to save money
If you don't want to make your own wipes there are plenty of online shops that stock cloth wipes. You will find wipes made in gorgeous rainbows of colours, bamboo, organic cotton and more! Often the hand crafted websites Etsy and Madeit have WAHM's who make wipes too.

  • You can re-use some of the stronger varieties of disposable wipes by throwing them in the wash. They will last around two to three washes before starting to fall apart and this makes your dollars stretch a bit further if you use these full or part time.
  • You might like to consider some of the more natural varieties of disposable wipes. They are generally dearer but your baby will be exposed to less chemicals and this has to be a good thing. Combining the use of these or the non-natural variety with cloth wipes will save you money too.
  • For short trips travelling with cloth wipes use a good quality wet bag to store and pre-soak your wipes.
  • Cloth wipes also make great face and hand cleaners at meal times and you can upcycle them to the rag bag when you no longer require them to be used as baby wipes.
  • Hand made wipes make a lovely gift for a new mum. Make a stack and tie them with hemp string for a thoughtful, eco-friendly gift.
What are your experiences with cloth wipes and solution?

Amanda x