Thursday, 12 March 2009

Making Paper

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I read Bad Human's post on making butter last month and I was struck by how the process seemed so simple!

I told a friend of mine of Bad Human's post and she tells me, "that's how I felt when you showed me how to make paper!". And it struck me that I *have* always thought that certain staples would be hard to make - and would require years of intensive study and lots of equipment to produce it. I think I tend to fall into this thinking for those products that I classify as "made by the shops". Sometimes it takes a post like Bad Human's to remind me that everything is made by people and that pretty much anything can be made by a person if they put their mind to it. For many tings, the fancy equipment only becomes a "need" if you are starting to mass produce or think that you need to do it faster (due to lack of time).

Anyway, I am digressing. I thought I'd show readers here how *I* make paper.

So here's what we did:

1. Grab all bits of scrap paper - you can use anything (newspaper, magazines etc etc) as long as its not metallic paper. Tear or cut into smaller bits and place into a mixture bowl. (This in itself is a fun activity for the kids).

2. Add enough water so all bits of paper is covered. Now shred using a bamix. (You can also use a food processor if you want to for this, but since we don't have one, we used a bamix instead). Keep shredding until paper has dissolved into pulp. Add more water if the mixture starts thickening - you want to keep it a watery mixture.

3. Pour pulp into a larger container (we used a medium-sized esky) and repeat steps 1 and 2 until you have at least 15cm (about 1/2 a foot) of water and pulp in the esky.

4. Using a frame with a screen, scoop the pulp.

5. Dry in the sun.

6. Once dry, gently prise new paper off with a knife.


Now it was our luck that I found the screenprinting frame in a 2nd hand shop but of course I only found one and I have 2 children. To save fights over who gets to use the frame, I also made one. Using tulle (found some in a 2nd hand shop) and an old picture frame. I stapled the tulle onto the picture frame.

Worked like a dream!

Some other ideas for your paper - before it dries, you can decorate it using fabric pieces, leaves/flowers, little metal bits, glitter - skies the limit. You can also pour food dye into the mixture for colouring.

Now, I know there are lots of techniques for making paper out there, and if you do have a different technique, I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Asado Negro and less expensive beef

I (J.) love roast beef. I mean really, really love roast beef. If roast beef came in an easily peelable yellow skin, I’d put one in my backpack and eat it for breakfast.

Times being what they are, most of us can't go right out and buy an expensive cut for a roast. However, there are plenty of less expensive, flavorful and juicy cuts that your local butcher provide you with that will work well for this recipe.

Several cuts are well suited to oven roasting. The most elegant choice is a tenderloin roast, which is lean and tender, but very expensive. A rib roast (sometimes called a prime rib roast) isn't as lean and tender, but it's juicier and more flavorful. A good compromise between the two would be a rib-eye roast, which is basically a boneless, low-fat rib roast. Other candidates for roast beef are a top loin roast, top sirloin butt roast, tri-tip roast, round tip roast, and rump roast.

Depending on where you are, there are typically some very good deals on roasting cuts, typically found in conjunction with a coupon. This is how I (J.) have found the best beef prices.

N. and I try not to have the same thing too often, and try to incorporate something we’ve not had in a long time - if ever - into our weekly menu. We’ve never, however, made roast beef. Since I don’t actually know how to make a roast beef, we turned to our recipe sources.

There are about a lot of recipes for roast beef just out there, floating in the universe. Aside from a very few differences, they’re all just about the same. Just when we thought we were becoming conventional adults, it seems that N. and I have developed a more adventurous palate. Or at least more worldly.

We decided on Asado Negro from the Whole Foods recipe site. While new to us, Asado Negro is a time-honored Venezuelan roast beef that is just about perfect for our taste, such as it is this week.

If you’re having roast beef sometime in the future, throw everyone a curve ball and have serve this instead. Be forewarned: if you’re having this for dinner, start no later than early-morning the day you plan to serve it.

4 pounds beef chuck, tied for a roast
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
3 stalks of celery, washed, peeled and thinly sliced
1 leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced and washed
2 white onions, peeled, cut in half and sliced thinly in half rounds
3 dried bay leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
1 cup cabernet sauvignon wine (an inexpensive Chilean one would do nicely)
2 cups of white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
2 large green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut in half inch cubes
8 medium white button mushrooms, sliced thinly
sea salt, to taste
ground pepper, to taste
5 parsley sprigs, washed, leaves removed and roughly chopped (for garnish, optional)

Using a sharp paring knife, make incisions on all sides of the roast and insert the slices of garlic. Combine the celery, leek, onions, bay leaves, olive oil and Worchestershire sauce in a sealable plastic bag. Add the roast, pressing out as much air as possible and seal the bag. Place in refrigerator overnight for best flavor, or for at least for 3 hours.

In a deep pot over medium high heat, combine sugar and water, stir infrequently and cook for about 30 minutes or until a dark caramel color is reached. Carefully add the wine, vinegar and brown sugar (the hot caramel will splatter) and cook, stirring just until there are no sugar lumps in mixture, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Remove the beef from marinade (reserving the marinade) and season with salt and pepper all over. Heat an oven safe medium-sized pot with a lid (large enough for the roast and vegetables) over high heat. Add the butter and vegetable oil. Sear the meat over high heat until brown on all sides. Remove to a plate.

Pour off any excess fat, leaving about 3 tablespoons in the pan. Add the reserved marinade and cook over high heat until the onions turn translucent, about 10 minutes. Return beef to pan with cooked marinade and scatter the bell pepper and sliced mushroom pieces on top and around the beef. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Pour the caramel-wine sauce over the beef, cover pot and place in oven for about 1 hour.

Remove from the oven, baste the beef with the juices, reduce oven temperature to 275°F and cook for another 1 1/2 hours, basting every 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 20 minutes. Place roast on cutting board and slice into ½-inch thick pieces. Place all cooked vegetables (but not the sauce) in an ovenproof dish and arrange beef slices over them and set aside. Taste the sauce, which should be of an almost syrupy consistency. If not, place in a pan and reduce over low heat until it reaches a syrupy consistency. Taste and re-season with salt and pepper if needed. Remove bay leaves from sauce pour over beef slices.

Return to the oven for 30 minutes at 275°F. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Simplifying Your Life! Part I

My Frugal Trenches

Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I'm sure many many people who read this blog have a little fantasy or dream about being able to give up the day job, sell up their home in the city or in suburbia, get rid of some of those commitments and live on a plot of land in the country! Many of us might want to grow our own veggies, raise our own hens and live a more simple life. However, I and I am sure others, feel trapped by our commitments, such as work, family, debts etc and feel we simply can't get away from those at this time. For a long time I found this overwhelming, then I realized that I could start simplifying and downshifting by simply making a few small changes into my daily and weekly routines. Here's how I did it!

I started by focusing on the weekends because I came to realize that I was most tired after the weekends, especially Monday mornings (sound familiar?!). So how did I do it?

1. I started by listing what the ideal weekend would look like, my list included things like spending time in the countryside, pottering around the garden, being with loved ones, reading books, listening to the radio etc. While I was at first scared I would be listing things that were not achievable in my current life, in fact none of those were unachievable!

2. I made a list of what interferes with how I'd like to spend my weekends - generally speaking that was going to the shops, paying bills, running errands etc.

3. I started by using my day planner to plan my "relaxing weekends". I know this might sound contradictory, but in the early days I needed to actually schedule time for me, time to relax, time to be home otherwise I simply wasn't prioritizing it. Within a few weeks I was able to stop using my planner, although if I take on too many commitments then I tend to get it back out again. There is nothing more helpful then seeing a box through my Saturday afternoon and evening saying - HOME TIME!

4. I decided to prioritize my home time, giving myself at least 1-2 evenings each weekend and 1 day at the weekend where I was home by 2 or 3 (at the latest) and stayed put! This gave me time to try out new recipes, listen to the radio, read the papers, write letters etc.

5. I decided to switch grocery shopping and cleaning/household chores to Wednesday and Thursday evenings. These were two of the bigger commitments that took a fair chunk out of my Saturdays and even at times Sundays! While I at first thought I'd be too tired to add in another commitment on weekdays, I found I had a new spring in my step knowing that it cleared up my weekends.

6. I made time for nature. I think spending time in nature is one of the best ways to take a mental health break, to get fit, to relax and just be! One of my main goals for the weekends now is to get out into nature both Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes this will simply be a walk along a local canal or river other times I might drive to the seaside, bring a book & picnic either with family or by myself. I might be there an hour or three hours and I always feel refreshed when my walk is over!

7. Exercise - I realized that being in a busy gym, surrounded by noise and people wasn't particularly relaxing me. You might be different which is fine, but for me it wasn't working! So I decided to make time to do what works for me. I mentioned above getting out into nature helps me get some exercise, but I also found swimming one morning each weekend really helped me get into the weekend mode, helped me keep fit and relaxed. It is now one of the things I most look forward to at the weekends - my early morning swim!

8. Friendships - They are soooo important and at times in my life I've felt it was feast or famine, I either had too much on at the weekends with friends or not enough. Now I see it as a balance. I try to make sure I have a social event each weekend, but don't stress if I don't and feel more comfortable in saying no if I have too much on. On a recent weekend I met a friend for hot chocolate Saturday and had a long dinner with friends Sunday night. That was the right balance for me, so when I was invited out Saturday night I politely declined because I knew I was going to be out most of Sunday and needed some time to relax, so Saturday evening became my time for me - I read, telephoned a friend who lives far away and practised my knitting!

9. Hobbies - I felt like I never had time for hobbies before I simplified my life and weekends. Now through some basic changes I've taken up knitting, am a member of a knitting club and am in 2 book groups. Both are quite open groups meaning there is no pressure if you can't make it, which really helps. Similarly before I was always too tired to go to Church, now I go each week and love it. I've made some good friends and get my spiritual needs met!Simple changes really made all the difference.

10. Planning Ahead - I do try to get some things done at the weekend to keep the week more simple. I try to make a meal or two which will have leftovers that can be used weekdays; soup works well! I also try to make little things like breads, muffins or homemade chocolates for when people come over, or I'm invited out. Again this means I'm not rushing to the shops, I can be hospitable and my stress levels are reduced.

These changes may seem overwhelming at first, but in all honesty by adding them in slowly I've really simplified my life. Not everyone can leave their current life to pursue their dream and while I think it is so important to carve out the life we want for ourselves and our families, it is also important to see what we can do now to simplify and reduce our stress levels. If you have any additional ideas I'd love to hear them!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Planning for Intercropping and Succession Planting

by Marc @ GardenDesk

Winter is slowly giving up its grip here, which means the vegetable garden is right around the corner. I have some seedlings growing under lights inside like in one of my previous posts, but except for garlic, potato onions and horseradish, the outdoor garden is pretty empty. Now is the best time to plan what vegetables will go where and to decide how many more raised beds will be added this year.

You may remember from one of my other posts that we grow all of our vegetables in wood framed raised beds. Each year, we build a few more beds. I have the space and extra wood to make many more this year, but I am limited in the amount of good soil to fill them with. Our garden is powered mainly by compost so we don't want to over-build. If you don't have a compost pile, I have to pause here to tell you that you need one! Not only is it a great way to responsibly recycle plant and yard waste, but it is key to growing organically. If you want to know more about composting, see the composting post written here on the co-op by Compostwoman. It is possibly the best post ever written anywhere about composting and how to compost.

I make as much compost as possible, but I don't have quite as many bins as CompostWoman. So to maximize the effects of my limited compost, I always want to get maximum harvest out of each raised bed. A great way to to get more vegetables out of a small garden is by intercropping and succession planting, and by planning this in advance.

Intercropping, or Interplanting is the practice of growing different kinds of vegetables together. Typically they have different growth patterns and therefore don't compete with one another. One example of this in my garden is that I plant lettuce and tomatoes together in the same bed. Tomatoes are planted 2 feet or more apart because they need two feet of space when they are mature. At time of transplant however, they only need about six inches of space. If I only planted tomatoes in that bed, there would be a lot of unused space for at least six weeks. By planting salad crops in that space I get maximum harvest from that space. The lettuce is harvested before the tomato plants require the space. I do the same thing with tomatoes and onions.

Succession planting is similar in that when you harvest something, you immediately plant something else in that spot. It can be the same thing or a different vegetable. In one bed, I plant Spring broccoli followed by Summer green beans followed again by Fall Brassicas. I also use beans in succession planting with lettuce and spinach. In my lettuce/tomato Intercropping example you don't succession plant after the lettuce because the tomatoes will be ready to use that space by then. This is the fundamental difference between Interplanting and Succession planting.

Sometimes I use a combination of both techniques as I do in my pea beds. In early spring I plant peas on a trellis and lettuce in the front. In one bed, I harvest some of the lettuce and plant bush cucumbers in their place. Later I harvest the rest of the lettuce allowing more room for the cucumbers (intercropping). I also plant vining cukes by the trellis after the peas are harvested (succession planting).

In the other pea bed, I also plant lettuce in front. I harvest the leaves over and over for my salads and they keep growing back. Eventually when the hot weather decides to stick around and the lettuce gets bitter, I remove all of the plants to the compost pile and plant bush bean seeds there. The peas remain on the trellis for several more weeks. The only caution here is that you have to chart where you put everything if you succession plant with seeds. You also have to remember to warn your kids friends not to step on the new bean seedlings while picking peas!

Perhaps the best example of using both techniques simultaneously is when the peas are still producing on the trellis and the pole beans are up but not yet using the trellis.

See the small bean plants tucked in amongst the peas? This way, I am able to harvest peas and beans in from the same trellis.


...followed by beans.

Intercropping and succession planting is fun but takes a bit of pre-planning. Sometimes it takes some experimenting too, if you are not sure exactly how long it takes each crop to grow. A very important tip for succession planting is to be sure to add a generous supply of compost or organic fertilizer between plantings to re-energize the soil. Growing many plants in the same space uses up a lot of nutrients. That is okay if you concentrate on feeding the soil instead of the plants. This isn't a problem because while the first crop is growing, I'm making more compost. The bottom line is that I'm always looking for ways to maximize the use of my compost as well as maximizing the amount of food that reaches the table. I can hardly wait to get started!

Keep Growing!


Sunday, 8 March 2009

Freezing Fresh Produce

by Gavin, at The Greening of Gavin

Hopefully this topic hasn't been covered before on the co-op. I did a search and couldn't find a post on the subject, so here goes. This post is a bit of a rehash of one I posted on my own blog last season with additional information. I have tried to convert it roughly into both metric and imperial measurements where I could.

This is my method on how to blanch broad (fava) beans in order to freeze them so that they are nearly as fresh as the day you picked them. I know it is not a very manly thing to write about, but it hasn't stopped me yet.

First of all, wash your beans so that they are clean and free from dirt, bits etc.

Then, bring to the boil at least 6 litres (1 and a half gallons) of water per 500gm (1lb) of beans, preferably in a large pot with a steamer/basket type arrangement. The water must be at least half way up the basket, so that all the beans are submerged when placed in the water. You can add some salt to the water if you like. I have been told that it adds to the flavour of the beans.

Before the water has come to the boil, make sure you have another bowl of cold water to place the beans in after blanching. The beans have to be cooled rapidly to stop the cooking process. That way, you can preserve the freshness without cooking them all the way through.

Once the water is at a rapid boil, place the beans into the pot

Boil the beans for three minutes only. Keep an eye on the time, because any longer and the beans start to cook. You are aiming to kill the enzymes that make the beans rot, not to cook them outright.

When three minutes are complete, then remove the beans from the pot as quick as you can, and immerse them into the cold water you had placed aside earlier.

The beans will cool down. If you are making another batch, make sure you change the not so cold water bowl for fresh cold water, because you are still attempting to cool the beans down as quickly as possible. Once cool to touch (about a minute) then strain and place in a freezer bag.

Once in the freezer bag, tie it off and place in the freezer as quickly as possible.

If you are freezing other types of vegetables, the blanching time will vary with the size or weight of the produce. Below is a blanching table that should have most vegetables. I haven't tried them all, but the times look reasonably accurate from experience.

Vegetable Boiling time (minutes)
Artichoke, medium 8 to 10
Asparagus, medium spears 3
Bamboo shoots 7 to 13
Broad beans 3
Bean sprouts 4 to 6
Beet greens 2-1/2
Beets, small until tender
Black-eyed peas 2
Broccoli, split 3 to 4-1/2
Brussels sprouts 3 to 4-1/2
Cabbage, leaf or shredded 1-1/2
Carrots, sliced 3
Cauliflower, florets 3
Celery, diced 3
Chard or Silverbeet 2-1/2
Chinese cabbage, shredded 1-1/2
Corn, frozen on cob 6 to 10
Eggplant, 1-1/2-inch slices 4
Green beans 2-1/2
Kale 2-1/2
Kohlrabi, diced 1
Okra 3 to 4
Parsnips 2
Peas 1-1/2 to 2-1/2
Peppers or Capsicum 2
Pumpkin until tender
Spinach 2-1/2
Sweet potatoes until tender
Turnips, diced 2
Wax beans 2-1/2

I managed to get four meals out of my 1.9 kg of broad beans. It was a great way to keep the harvest for winter, which is when we use broad beans the most. I shall be planting this seasons crop in the next few days. I hope that this post helps keep your frozen vegetables nearly as fresh as the day you picked them.