Sunday, 11 September 2011

Spiced Meringues with Strawberry & Raspberry Cream

by Jemma at timeforalittlesomething

Nice to meet you all at the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op! I'm Jemma, I live in New Zealand, and I love to cook and bake. I look forward to sharing some local, seasonal, healthy and inexpensive recipes with you.

For my first post, I thought I'd share this dessert recipe with you. I spotted some NZ raspberries and strawberries at our local community market yesterday and couldn't resist. I served them with these spiced meringues for dessert here at home last night, and it felt like our first taste of the warmer weather to come.

I love healthy food, so using cream is bending rules for me! But if you like the look of these, and want a healthier option, you could make the topping by mixing the fruit with low-fat vanilla yoghurt, or reduced fat fromage frais. You can also alter the fruit depending on what's in season near you, or what you have in your garden. Berries work beautifully, and frozen are just as good as fresh. Or how about some rhubarb lightly stewed with a little brown sugar?

Spiced Meringues with Strawberry & Raspberry Cream
Serves 2-4

1 egg white
50g caster sugar
1/4 tsp mixed spice

Cream Topping:
150ml cream
1-2 tsp icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence (or use extract or paste)
2-3 Tbsp plain yoghurt
about 100g strawberries or raspberries, or a mixture of both

Preheat the oven to 150 (c). Line a baking tray with baking paper.

To make the meringue, whisk the egg white until soft peaks form, and then whisk in the caster sugar, one teaspoon at a time. Once all the sugar has been whisked in, you should have a beautiful stiff, glossy meringue mixture. Whisk in the mixed spice.

Spoon the meringue mixture into mounds on the baking tray. I used this mixture to make two large meringues, but you could easily make three, or even four if you would like to make smaller sweets to serve with coffee. Use the back of the spoon to smooth the mounds into discs (see the photos to get an idea of the shape).

Place the tray in the oven and turn the heat down to 120 (c). Bake the meringues for 50 minutes, then turn the heat off. Leave the discs to cool in the oven. You can do this step in advance - the cooled meringues should keep in an airtight container for at least a day or two.

To make the cream topping, hull the strawberries and/or raspberries. Set aside 2-3 berries per meringue to use as a garnish, and hull the rest. Place them in a food processor and whiz to a puree. I don't mind the seeds in my topping, but if you prefer, you can pass the puree through a sieve.

In a large bowl or jug, whip the cream with the icing sugar and vanilla (use more icing sugar for tarter fruit). Fold the fruit into the cream, and spoon on top of the cooled meringues. Garnish with reserved berries and sprigs of mint.


From straw, big things will grow

by Megan at The Byron Life

Spring has arrived in Northern NSW and with its warmth my thoughts are turning to my new abundant food garden. The one that is but a twinkle in my mind’s eye at present.

We are currently house-minding a wonderful old house with a big backyard and a dozen chooks. It’s been an lesson in greener living; picking fruit from the small, but productive, backyard orchard; caring for a flock of chickens and meeting some wonderful green-minded folk who have shared with me their knowledge and produce of their own gardens.  I have learned so much here and I am inspired for when we return to our own home on the coast in a few weeks.

However, I know the challenges of the garden to which we shall return: The beautiful, but unruly, tropical garden of ours that is dense with established ornamental trees and palms and very little open space. We live in a suburban area on a block less than 500m2, and most of that is taken up with house. The one area that gets a consistent amount of sun, and would be most suitable to vegetable growing, has some real challenges.

This sunny area is small; at least half of it is paved in concrete and the unpaved areas have drainage problems. We have poor soil made worse by us previously compacting down a load of sand for a small above-ground pool (now gone). Sounds inhospitable for a new veggie garden, doesn’t it?

On the up-side it is an area protected from wind, gets a full day’s sun, is close to a water source (tap water at this stage, later it will be a rainwater tank) and is within easy access to the house. And, I visit that space several times a day as the paved area hosts the clothesline.

Previous attempts at a no-dig garden using layers of cardboard and compost had limited success because of the poor drainage. My solution for this potential garden oasis of mine will be to deal with the drainage problems through a drainage trench, raised garden beds and composting to improve the soil quality. That sounds like a bit of work, but doable. 

However,  I think I have stumbled across a simple and affordable way to deal with all three issues at once:  Straw bale gardening. Straw bale gardening, as I understand it, involves planting directly into a bale of conditioned straw (not hay, it has too many grass seeds) filling the planting holes with some compost, watering well and feeding regularly with worm juice or seaweed solution. As the straw bale breaks down, the plant’s roots are nourished by this newly formed compost. It is essentially a form of container gardening with the straw bale acting as the container.

The straw bale garden can be grown anywhere, including on concrete.  And, once the bale breaks down, after a season or two, I’ll have a rich source of compost that can be put to use building up the soil for a more permanent raised garden bed.

What also appeals to me about this gardening idea is that it is affordable, drainage will not be a problem and I can build up my new garden in any shape I want. I will also be using a renewable resource for my garden “beds”.

Right now I am taking advantage of all of that wonderful chicken poo and straw  from the chicken coop to make compost and I am growing seedlings ready for planting in the straw bales. The next step is finding a source of organic bales – something that hasn’t been treated with fertiliser or pesticides. In my region there are many sugar-cane farmers, so I will search for one that grows organically.

This is my very first post for the Simple Green Frugal Co-op and I am hoping that within this experienced community, both readers and writers, there will be those among you have either tried straw bale gardening, or will be just be able to offer some advice on whether you think the idea has any merit. I'm keen to give it a go.
Below are some good explanatory links to straw bale gardening that I have found. Do you know of any other links on this topic?

~ Megan

Links on straw bale gardening:

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Capturing the Good Life in Statistics

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has started a blog called "Measures of Australia's Progress". It's a public consultation about what we could use, instead of or along with GDP, as a measure of "progress'. It asks "Is life in Australia getting better? How will we know if it is?"

I find this immensely encouraging, and I wonder why I hadn't heard of it before? I knew about Bhutan's "gross national happiness" indicator, which has been around in alternate circles for yonks. But it's a clumsy, soft measure and I could never see mainstream politics taking it really seriously.

Of course one of the seductions of GDP is that it is used internationally, but the MAP site has a page with links to all the similar projects around the world, including UK and USA, and it says "There has been an explosion of interest in indicator projects over the last several years, both in Australia and around the world".

That official statistical bureaus are looking for other ways of meauring wealth beyond how much stuff we buy and sell is, to me, really exciting. It's really hard to argue that simple, green, frugal equals good when the measuring stick used to measure progress is how much wasteful overconsumption we've indulged in over the last year. It's like our whole society is in a giant hot dog eating competition and it's called progress.

But wealth is a slippery beast and it's not so simple to nail it down in a way that can be measured and compared, in a way that newspapers can grab onto and politicians can use. Marge Piercy has a poem called "The Perpetual Migration" that has a lovely part in it about wealth:
"Peace, plenty, the gentle wallow
of intimacy, a bit of Saturday night
and not too much Monday morning,
a chance to choose, a chance to grow,
the power to say no and yes, pretties
and dignity, an occasional jolt of truth."

It's very beautiful and true, but I can just see the poor ABS statisticians trying to measure it. I'm all in favour of the ABS consultation, but when it comes to having my say, it's tricky. How do you measure progress?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics project tries to solve it by a kind of complex of measures grouped under society, economy, and environment, with a whole heap of sub measures such as health, education, crime, social cohesion, productivity, biodiversity, atmosphere and so on, each with their own tick or wavy line or cross. They're all measurable, but they don't grab you. It's like comparing a big box of apples with oranges. My eyes glaze over.

I've been trying to summon up the courage to have a say. The concept at the centre of it, I think, is that once everybody in a society has enough, has their basic needs met, producing and consuming more stuff takes us backwards, not forwards. It destroys common wealth like air and soil and water and wildlife and being able to lie on the beach on a sunny morning without a hole in the ozone layer overhead. It steals resources from future generations that they will need for "enough". The only areas in which you can keep producing more and keep becoming wealthier is in art and knowledge and culture and science. And that's the thing.

I think a society is progressing, is becoming wealthier when more of its citizens have the basics, when less is borrowed from future generations, and when more is given to future generations in the form of knowledge and culture. That would give us three basic measures.

The basic needs themselves are not simple. A nation is wealthier when more of it's citizens have enough, are above the poverty line, but we Australians are all wealthy by the standards of Somalians. A nation is wealthier when more of its citizens are healthy. A nation is wealthier when more of its citizens have access to education, at every life stage from early childhood to third age. A nation is wealthier when people do not need to hoard to feel safe but can rely on their community to rally to their aid, when it has a good and functional fire, police, ambulance, and emergency services, and community connections. It's not simple, but we should be able to have a crack at coming up with a measure for whether we are going forwards or backwards at providing everyone with the basics.

Borrowing from future generations is a simpler measure. Are we using more or less non-renewable resources than last year. Less? Yay, that's progress.

And thirdly, how much have we invested in art and knowledge and culture and science. There will, of course, be huge debates about whether it is better to spend money on opera or street art, a cure for malaria or for coral bleaching, an internet protocol or a novel, surfing or soccer. But an overall dollar value will do for a measure of progress.

By these kind of measures, simple, green, frugal equals wealthy, and that feels like the truth to me. What do you think?

Friday, 9 September 2011

Portuguese onion braids

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

share braids

This week, Natércia from Portugal shared her photos of onion braids (see here for details).

Aren't they gorgeous? The photos were taken in the municipality of Vila de Rei - in the heart of Portugal - where Natércia is from. As you can see, these braids were made with regular-sized onions, not the small onions I chose to braid with, worrying that the larger ones would be too heavy to braid! Hence, you can braid all onions, up to an impressive 20 or so in length (from what I can see from the images), and store them conveniently out of the way by hanging them from wooden beams ... if you have them!

Thank you so much Natércia for sharing your photos with us, and for the Portuguese lesson in onion braiding.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Up-cycling Plastic Bags

by Amanda from Amanda Brooke

I have a confession to make.

I sometimes forget to take my re-usable bags to the shops and I come home occasionally with plastic bags. I also accept plastic bags from friends and family that may contain items they are passing on/back to me. As a result of accepting plastic bags, we now have a collection housed in a purpose-made, plastic bag holder in our pantry and they are staring to overflow.

During the week I made a firm decision not to have a single plastic bag in our house and I don't want to see the ones we do have going into landfill. So what do you do with a collection of plastic bags?

Well, I've started making one of these. This is a great up-cycled plastic bag 'sheet' to keep in the boot of your car for a myriad of uses. Ultimately I will use mine if I am traveling with plants/wood kindling/straw etc but you can place damp towels on it after a trip to the beach or it makes a useful mat to sit on when traveling, especially if the ground is damp or a chair is dewy.

An Up-cycled 'Car Boot' Sheet

Firstly you will need quite a few bags. You might like to use up what you have and then ask some friends and family if they would like to join you in being 'plastic bag free' and pass on their bags to you. You could make one of these as a practical gift too.

You will need:

  • If you are using regular supermarket style bags you need 6 to 8 for each 'layer'. If using the thicker style plastic bags (department style) you will need around 4 to 6 for each 'layer'.
  • Scissors, baking paper, sewing machine (nothing fancy), an iron and a safe work surface

1. Using a pair of utility scissors, cut the handles away from each bag.

2. Cover and protect your work surface in baking paper.
Smooth each bag out and stack in a layer on your protected surface.

You can see the baking paper at the bottom of this plastic bag layer

3. Position another sheet of baking paper over the top of the stack of bags. Using a moderate (not too hot) setting on your iron, press the stack so the plastic bags melt and adhere to each other. If your iron is too hot the plastic will bubble and if not hot enough the bags won't seal. Please note: Your stack will over heat and bubble if you try to add each bag one at a you do need to do them in complete layers. I had to fiddle quite a bit with my iron settings, to get it at the best temperature and you might like to experiment with some smaller pieces first.

I worked from the inside to the outside and held the iron down for a few seconds before moving to another area

You absolutely do not want your iron to come in contact with the plastic bags or your bags with the work surface either.

4. Continue to iron each stack of bags until you have enough 'shapes' to make the size sheet you wish.

This is a sheet of bag layers after ironing

5. Cut each shape out with straight edges. Position shapes on floor and arrange so you are pleased with the layout.

Sewing the seams

6. Pin and machine sew each shape together by overlapping one bag edge over another and join using the largest zigzag setting on your sewing machine. This is supposed to look 'scrappy' so don't worry too much about perfect edges etc. The plastic sheets warp a little too, so that makes it hard to get perfect edges.

The front

The back

No more plastic bag collection guilt and you now have a practical sheet to protect your car boot. You can also make bags, like this one my mum made for my son's soccer boots. We have used this for two soccer seasons now and it is still going strong!

I understand this post might be a little hard to consider, as like many I wish that plastic bags didn't even exist. BUT if they are there (as in my case), and you obviously don't want to throw them into landfill, you can make something useful, re-usable and practical.

This idea and the sheet in the first photo came from my mum. She was inspired by a tutorial on an episode of Better Homes and Gardens. I haven't seen this tutorial, so if you have and wish to add any further suggestions or ideas please do so in the comments.

After making my 'plastic sheet' I will give my plastic bag holder another purpose, perhaps a lost sock holder.
Now I just need to think of an idea for up-cycling lost socks!

Amanda x