Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The Best Christmas Present Ever

For the past five Christmasses, my partner has not seen his children on Christmas Day, but has only been able to pick them up on Boxing Day. As you can imagine, this has been very hard for him.

This year, through a last minute miraculous sequence of events, he'll have them from late afternoon on Christmas Day. Although this has turned our plans a little upside down and we'll need to travel, we are absolutley thrilled and we both think this is the best Christmas present ever. WOO HOO!!!!

Hope you all have a very merry Christmas and a joyous New Year.

love and light

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Magic in My Garden

The sparrows are flitting among the silver beet and kale, picking off tiny caterpillars and feasting.

A little silver eye picks at the last fruit on the weeping mulberry. One of the cats lies nearby, but the tiny bird is unperturbed.

The pot marjoram, inconveniently self-seeded and thriving in the middle of a path, is providing food for the bees now, so we'll continue to walk around it.

The zucchini bush, which had its first flower the other day (female, no male flowers), now has fruit magically filling out, thanks no doubt to our stripey, buzzy friends.

Purslane has come to visit - I never knew it before - and now it lives happily alongside the dandelion and yellow dock and wild lettuce. Weeds to many, but to me they are foods and medicines.

My garden is my pantry and my medicine chest, my gym and my classroom, my joy and my meditation. It is a place I can really breathe, taking in the fresh, clean air and exhaling the tension. It is my sanctuary.

But most of all, it is a place I feel at one with nature in all its magnificence, beauty, purpose and playfulness.

It is by no means something out of a fancy magazine, but there's magic in my garden. Hope you can find the magic in yours too.

love and light

Sunday, 21 December 2008

You're Gonna Love This . . . Crumpets!

This would have to be one of my favourite recipes for treat foods. Although, if you use wholemeal flour, you could have it as an everyday food.

4 cups plain flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1.5 teaspoons salt
3.5 cups luke-warm water
1 sachet dried yeast (7-8g) or 15g compressed yeast
1.5 teaspoons sugar

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water.

Place the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

Combine the yeasty water and flour mix and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth.

Cover the bowl and stand in a warm (but not hot) place until small bubbles appear on the surface. This takes about 10 minutes in summer and about 20 minutes in winter.

Lightly grease a frypan or skillet and some egg rings (generally, five to seven egg rings will fit comfortably in your pan).

When the pan and the rings are hot, fill the rings about 3/4 full with batter. Cook over low heat, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes until holes appear on the surface and the surface is beginning to dry out.

Remove eggs ring (with a pair of tongs or they will burn you!).

Cover with lid and cook for a further 2-3 minutes until cooked through and the bottom is golden brown.

Cool, toast and serve with honey, golden syrup, butter, jam, etc.

OR you can simply flip them over in the pan for a couple of minutes to lightly toast the top. This is my preferred way, as they are then ready to eat straight away!

This recipe is designed for wheat flour (white or wholemeal) and works well with these. I've tried making these with all buckwheat flour and it was a dismal failure. But gluten free flours can work - a 50/50 mix of Orgran plain gluten free flour and FG Roberts plain gluten free flour gives a superb result.


love and light

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Bees, Bees, Bees!

This morning we went out to the bee supply place again and bought a nucleus colony - a queen, drones, workers etc on four frames containing honey and brood cells. We brought them home in a foam box (with little breathing holes in it) that was taped up so none would escape.

When we got home, I had to open up the original hive and inspect it to double check there was no queen bee. Couldn't find one, but I did find some brood cells (I pulled the frames out this time, rather than peering down like I did the other day). So I rang the bee fellow who said to check again because if there was an old queen bee, I would have to isolate and kill her (ugh!) so there wouldn't be any bee wars. Apparently, if you catch a spring swarm you often need to requeen and just about always before the following autumn.

I looked and looked at each frame again as well as in the box and could not find the queen bee. So I brushed the bees off and put the frames in the top box with the queen excluder in between it and the bottom box. I left them for a while and when I went back out there it was quite clear there was no queen. If there had been, she would have been down in the bottom box.

So, following the bee fellow's instructions, I put the top box on the bottom and a single sheet of newspaper in between it and the top box. I put the new bees in the top box - they were very co-operative and didn't seem too bothered. A few of them (not many) didn't go in with the frames, but within about twenty minutes of putting on the lid they had found their way inside.

All of the bees seem pretty happy now and I haven't detected any bee wars - they all seem perfectly happy foraging together - lavender, pot marjoram and flowering cabbages being their main targets (in our garden anyway).

I'll have to move the new frames into the bottom box in a few days, so all the brood is down there. When the bottom box is full, we'll be able to go double-decker again. The queen excluder will go on in between the boxes (to keep the queen in the bottom box) and the bees will be able to put honey in the top box.

By the way, the number of bees we bought today was about 2-3 times what we had, so we must have had some sort of remnant colony.

Still loving those bees.

love and light

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Bee Update

We went out to the bee supply place last Saturday to get another box for the bees, just in case they would be in need of it over Christmas when the supply place was closed.

The fellow there said we should be looking at the bees every two to three weeks. I had been leaving them mostly alone, because I didn't want to disturb them too much.

So, yesterday morning (the weekend was too wet and windy), I put on the protective gear and had a look inside. The little darlings have been busy making honey, but there are no brood cells (at least, none that look like the brood cells in our bee book). And all the bees looked like worker bees, no drones and I think, no queen.

I emailed the bee fellow last night and he has responded saying he thinks we probably are queenless and that we'll need to get a nucleus to join with our current hive. Otherwise, the hive will die off. *sob*

Apparently, this is a reasonably common occurrence when you catch a swarm because the queen bee may be quite old and has left her former hive to the younger queen. This means that even though she might be there for the start of a hive, she soon dies and if there are no queen bee eggs laid during that time, the hive becomes queenless.

So, Saturday morning we will once again head to the bee supply place and procure a nucleus, which I'm presuming has a queen and some drones and maybe workers.

Apart from that, the bees we do have seem to be especially enjoying the lavender which is in bloom at the moment. The bee fellow says it makes them very relaxed and they are much less likely to sting when they've been dining on lavender. How cute!

I'm really enjoying having the bees around, so I'm hoping we can get over this hiccough and grow the colony.

love and light

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Glace Fruit for Christmas

I promised this recipe a while ago and here it is. If you are quick (ie, start this today or tomorrow), you'll have these for Christmas.

Glace Fruit

Use good quality tinned or bottled fruit. Pineapple chunks or rings, plums, sliced and halved peaches and halved apricots are all suitable.

This should be prepared by dissolving the sugar in the liquid and then bringing it to the boil.

Fruit needs to soak for a full 24 hours (or multiple thereof) at each stage, so try to find a time each day you can reliably tend to your fruit. You’ll need 5-10 minutes for each type of fruit (unless you process them simultaneously).

What you’ll need
· Fruit
· Sugar
· Heat proof containers (eg, pyrex dishes)
· Saucepan for making syrup

What to do
The following quantities are given for an 825g (29oz) fruit. For a 440g (16oz) tin, halve the quantities.

Day 1
Drain off syrup from can or bottle and make up (with water) to 600ml (1 pint). Arrange fruit in a heat proof container. Place liquid in saucepan with 500g (8oz) sugar, dissolve and bring to the boil. Pour hot syrup over fruit. Soak for 24 hours.

Day 2
Drain off syrup and place in saucepan. Add 125g (4oz) sugar, dissolve and bring to the boil. Pour hot syrup over fruit. Soak for 24 hours.

Day 3
Repeat Day 2. Soak for 24 hours.

Day 4
Repeat Day 2. Soak for 24 hours.

Day 5
Drain off syrup and place in saucepan. Add 180g (6oz) sugar and dissolve. Add the fruit to the saucepan and bring to the boil. Boil for 3-4 minutes, then return the lot to the heatproof container. Soak for 48 hours.

Day 7
Repeat Day 5. Soak for 4 days.
Note: The syrup will be quite thick by this stage and the fruit can be left in for longer than 4 days if desired – up to 2 or 3 weeks.

Day 11
Dry in the oven at lowest setting (about 40-50C or 120F) or in a food dehydrator until quite dry. You may need to turn the fruit 2 or 3 times.

The quantity of sugar can be replaced with a 50/50 mix of sugar and glucose or sugar and honey.
The syrup left after the fruit is finished is quite sweet and fruity. It can be used as a topping on pancakes or ice-cream, or perhaps as a mixer in New Year’s cocktails.


love and light

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Back to Basics Challenge Update Week 7.5

This is only my third post on the challenge. Despite my best intentions, I have been slack in providing a weekly update. Oh well! My last post was 10 November, so I'll try to fill in for the past 4 weeks.

1. Sowing seed or planting

Celeriac - Giant Prague; Celery - Cut Celery, Pink, Stringless American; Climbing Bean - Giant of Stuttgart, Mostoller Wild Goose; Edible Chrysanthemum; Lettuce - Australian Yellow, Green Coral, Salad Mix; Michihili (Chinese cabbage); Nasturtium; Pak Choi; Silver Beet - Rainbow Swiss Chard; Sweet Corn - Max hybrid; Watermelon - Sugar Baby; Goji (potted on); Vitex (potted on); Watermelon - "seedless"; Capsicum - Alma Paprika, Jimmy Nardello, Marconi Red; Carrots - Nantes; Chilli - Anaheim, Purple Tiger; Eggplant - Casper, Listada di Gandia; Ginger and Onions that had sprouted in the cupboard.

The blueberry seeds I planted a while ago from some fresh blueberries have so far produced one tiny seedling at the two leaf stage. I'm very excited and hoping it will survive. The seedless watermelons failed to sprout, so they must be sterile. I have been very disappointed with the Sweet White sweet corn I purchased from Digger's. Out of an entire packet of seed, only about eight seedlings emerged. :(

I've had a delivery of lucerne mulch (about a week ago) and am gradually weeding, feeding and mulching all the beds.

2. Planning for The Future - meal planning, the next seasons garden plan, working out storage plans or more long term goals and projects like plans for digging root cellars

Have worked out a mortgage-reduction plan. Since I re-did my mortgage early last year (for renovations), I should have about 23.5 years left to go (groan!). But, if I raise my repayments each fortnight to just over the repayment when interest rates were at their peak, I should be able to pay it off in 12.5 years. That is with the current interest rate and given they are talking about further drops, it may be shorter than that. Woohoo!

We've also been investigating wind up torches and mobile phone chargers and plan to purchase some in the New Year. If anybody has feedback on particular brands, I'd most appreciate it.

3. Working for the Future - storing food, managing stores, preserving, building that home made cob or solar oven, adding house insulation, saving for manual grain mills etc

The red flowering peas, the snow peas and Greenfeast (shelling) peas have all set seed. I've pulled them out of the ground and they are presently drying so I can harvest the seed.

Following on from the Crone's example, I've started making our own butter. Although it may not work out much cheaper, the taste difference is incredible. I've also blended some with macadamia oil to make an easy spread version.

Haven't had much time to do any preserving, but the Silvanberries are starting to produce and I'm sure I'll be making jam and/or freezing them by the end of the week.

4. Building Community - volunteering, donations, joining an existing community group, forming your own community group, taking a cake to a friend having a hard time, calling someone you just let drift out of your life, etc

Am currently growing seedlings for friends moving house - they are just about ready for delivery. Helped another friend pack up her belongings for a big move in her life. Have rejoined Australian Conservation Foundation, after being non-financial for a few years.

5. Learning a new Skill

Am about to learn how to thresh the oats - they are still waiting for me to get to them.

Well, that's about it. Will try to post on this more regularly.

love and light

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Making Fresh Herbal Tinctures

First gather your fresh herbs and chop moderately finely. If you use calendula petals such as I have here, you don't need to chop them. Weigh the prepared herbs. There are 25g calendula petals here.

Place the herbs into a wide-mouthed jar, preferably one close to the volume of the herbs. Pack the herbs fairly tightly into the jar and pour a measured amount of brandy or vodka into the jar, ensuring the herbs are covered, but not swimming. Try to keep the brandy to a minimum.

I had to use 150ml brandy here, making a 1:6 fresh herb tincture, ie, 1 part herb (in grams) to 6 parts brandy (in ml). Other herbs are denser than calendula and so you will need less brandy per gram of herb.

Seal the bottle (I also tape around the join to reduce evaporation) and wrap with paper. Note the name of the herb, the amount of herb and brandy and the date. This is some wild lettuce I left to develop a little while ago.

If you are making a calendula tincture, don't wrap the bottle and leave it in the sun (it is a herb of the sun). Most other herbs, however, should be wrapped and stored in a cool dark place for a few weeks. Shake each day if possible.

When the herbs have macerated for a few weeks, place a strainer in a bowl, with a clean linen or woven cotton teatowel in the sieve. I have a few old linen teatowels reserved for just this sort of task. They are washed in warm water and dried in the sun. This destroys any bugs that may be lingering.

Pour in the herb/alcohol mix and let the menstruum (fluid) strain through.

Then pull the sides of the teatowel together and twist to force out more menstruum.

When you've finished squeezing, you can open up the teatowel to look at the dryish herbs left over. These can be discarded into the compost.

And here's the menstruum.

Filter the menstruum through an unbleached coffee filter. You can see how much clearer it will get. You don't need fancy glassware - any kitchen funnel will do to place the filter paper in.

When all the menstruum has filtered through, you can bottle and label your tincture. Make sure you include the herb name, the date and the tincture concentration.

If you want to get really tricky, you can work out the percentage moisture in your herb and calculate the equivalent dried herb concentration. This is what is used for commercial tinctures. However, for home use, I find the fresh herb concentration is good enough to give me a guide as to the amount of herb in a dose.

Of course, you should never self-prescribe and only take herbs prescribed by a qualified herbalist or naturopath. This information is provided for interest only.

Nevertheless, a herbal medicine book suitable for beginners is Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies by David Hoffmann.

If you would like to learn more about herbal preparations, a good book is The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook: A Home Manual by James Green.

If herbs really interest you and you'd like to get to know them much more intimately, anything written by Matthew Wood is excellent, especially The Book of Herbal Wisdom and The Earthwise Herbal.

love and light

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Green Power

My partner and I have been looking at buying all our electricity from green sources, eg, wind. We just had a quick look at the costs - it would cost us just under $1 per day extra on our electricity bills to go fully green. That's based on our consumption levels over the past twelve months. Given we have been working on reducing our consumption, it's likely to be cheaper.

I was wondering how much you would be prepared to pay for going fully green on your electricity? Please take the poll in the sidebar. It will be there for the next week.

love and light

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Pick a Cake

Warning - not necessarily healthy, not necessarily sustainable, but ....

I was just sent an email with all of these links to cake recipes for the festive season. Thought you might be interested.

'Night Before Christmas' Coffee Cake
'Real New York Style' Cheesecake Supreme
A Cake That's Fit For A Queen
Amaretto Italian Sour Cream Cake
Amazing Tropical Fruit Cake
Apple and Nut Cake
Apple Cake
Apple Cake
Apple Sauce Cake
Applesauce Fruitcake
Apricot Nectar Pound Cake
Baby Cheescakes Baby Cheesecakes
Barron Family Cheesecake
Baumtorte (Tree Cake)
Becky's Pumpkin Cupcakes
Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake
Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake
Broken Angel Cake With Chocolate Chips
Candied Fruit Cake
Carmel Coffee Cake
Carrot Cake with Hot Glaze
Carrot-Pineapple Cake
Cherry Cake
Cherry Cake Sauce
Cherry Cheesecake Cups
Cherry-Pineapple Dump Cake
Chocolate Angel Food
Chocolate Browny Cake
Chocolate Chip Muffins
Chocolate Cookie Sheet Cake
Chocolat e Éclair Cake
Chocolate Ice Box Dessert
Chocolate Logs
Chocolate Lovers Heaven Triple Threat Chocolate Di
Chocolate Sheet Cake
Chocolate welington fudge pudding
Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Chip Cake
Christmas Cake
Christmas choclate cake
Christmas Mixed Glace Fruit Loaf
Christmas-Comes-But-Once-A-Year-Chocolate Cake
Cinnamon Morning Delight
Coca-Cola Cake
Coconut Cake
Cookie Pizza
Cream Cheese Pound Cake
Cream Puff Cake
Creamy Chocolate Cupcakes
Creamy Chocolate Layered Cake
Decadent Chocolate Cake
Decadent Fudge Cake
Deluxe Chocolate Marshmallow Bars
Dream Cake
Dreamcicle Cake
Drizzle Cake
Earthquake Cake
Easy Cocoa Snack Cake
Easy Coconut Cake
Éclair Cake
Edie Ching's Cherry Cheesecake
Eggnog Cake
Extra Moist Coconut Cakes
Festive Pumpkin Gingerbread
Flower Garden Cake
Fruit Cake
Fruit Cocktail Cake
German Chocolate Upside-Down Cake
Golden Bacardi Rum Cake
Gooey Butter Cake
Gum drop cake
Heavenly Pecan Cake
Hedge Hog Cake
Holiday Cake
Holiday Poke Cake
Holiday Rum Cake
Honey Bun Cake
Honey Cake
Hot Fudge Pudding Cake
Hummingbird Cake
Ice-Cream Chocolate Roll
Jewish Apple Cake
Johnny Appleseed Cake
Lemon Cake
Lemon Poppyseed Cakes
Lemon Pound Cake
Linda's Yule Log
Mama's Homemade Banana Cake
Mandy's Cake
Microwave Scottish Pudding
Mini Fruitcakes
Miniature Cheesecakes
Mississippi Fudge Cake
Mississippi Mud
Mock Lemon Meringue Cake
Neiman Marcus Cake
No Bake Fruit Cake
Norwegian Gold Cake
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake
Old Fashion Pound Cake
Old Fashioned Light Fruitcake
Orange Date-Nut Cake
Orange Slice Cake
Oreo Cheesecake
Peanut-Topped Devil's Food
Pecan Icing
Pennsylvania Dutch Pastry
Pineapple Heaven
Plum-Nut Cake
Pound Cake Pound Cake
Pumpkin Cake Roll
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Pumpkin log
Pumpkin Nut Roll
Pumpkin Pie Cake
Pumpkin Roll
Queen's Cake
Reese`s white cake
Reese's Brownie Cupcakes
Refrigerator Chocolate Cheesecake
Russian Tea Cakes
Russian Teacakes


love and light

Friday, 28 November 2008

Green Meme #1

Well, I've been "green memed" by Em.

Here's the low down:
1. Link to Green Meme Bloggers
2. Link to whoever tagged you
3. Include meme number
4. Include these guidelines in your post
5. Answer questions (that bit's quite important)
6. Tag 3 other green bloggers.

1) Name two motivations for being green?
I'd like to leave the planet in a better state, for future generations.
Nature can show us so much and is our greatest learning, so why destroy it? It just doesn't make sense.

2) Name 2 eco-UNfriendly items you refuse to give up?
I doubt there's anything I'd refuse to give up if push came to shove. Chocolate would have to be high on the list, though, as would bananas and other tropical fruits that don't grow here.

3) Are you at peace with or do you feel guilty about number 2?
Guilty about chocolate?! :) Pretty much at peace with it, but if things became more dire, I wouldn't be.

4) What are you willing to change but feel unable to/stuck with/unsure how to go about it?
I'd willingly go vego again, but the rest of my household are hard to convince. I could also go without the car mostly, but my partner needs it in order to see his children and I must admit it is easier when getting supplies. Electricity makes things pretty convenient, too - we try to minimise our usage, but it would be hard to go without - especially if I wanted to keep blogging!

5) Do you know your carbon footprint for your home? If so, is it larger/smaller than your national average? (
I think ours is about half the national average (it's a little while since I've done the calcs).

6) What's eco-frustrating and/or eco-fantastic about where you live?
Our biggest eco-frustration would have to be waste - not ours, but from some of our neighbours. We are putting our rubbish bin out only a couple of times a month now and it's not usually full even then (average waste going to landfill from our house is one-two small bags each week). BUT some of our neighbours then add extra stuff to our bin - things that could easily be composted or recycled. Very frustrating!!!
Eco-fantastic is that we can catch a bus within two minutes walking of our house. It's a great way to get to work and the car then gets to stay home. Also, and this would have to be the best part, we have a reasonable sized back yard for growing food and housing bees (and hopefully chooks one day when we get their house built). And I loooove our solar hot water system!

7) Do you eat local/organic/vegetarian/forage/grow your own?
Try to grow as much of our own as possible, but need to get better at continuous planting, so harvest is continuous. We also go to local farmer's markets and certainly try to buy organic food. But sometimes, when things are super busy, we do our whole shop at the supermarket, although usually that's only for cleansers and cat food and such like.

8) What do you personally find the most challenging in being green?
Not having enough time to do all I would like to, eg, making things from scratch, keeping the garden in better condition. Also, the whole wasteful feminine hygiene thing.

9) Do you have a green confession?
Once every few months, we get plastic bags when we shop, rather than using our cloth bags. Rationale: to put our rubbish in them!

10) Do you have the support of family and/or friends?
Mostly yes. My partner and the children are walking with me, as are some of my friends and broader family. But I think that some of the others consider me to be slightly nuts and making life harder for myself than it needs to be. And I'm OK with that.

To tag or not to tag?
I know lots of people don't like tags, so I'm reluctant to do so. So, if you read this post and you'd like to join in the fun, consider yourself tagged and visit green meme bloggers.

love and light

Woohoo! Exams are over!

My last exam for the year was yesterday, so now I can get back to a normalish life for a couple of months.

Yesterday afternoon, I walked out into the front garden and took a couple of snaps - a Silky Oak flower and one of "our" honey bees in the lavender. Bees are tricky little creatures to photograph - puts me in awe of Cheryl's gorgeous photos.

Now I've got a little more time, there's a few posts I'd like to do. Look out for posts on herbal tinctures, oils and oitments, as well as tips on bottling and how to make glace fruit for Christmas.

love and light

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Bee Update

I opened up the bee hive on Friday morning to have a look at the bees. They are still there doing their thing, with a couple of frames starting to look pretty full.

Because the hive is new, these will probably be brood cells (I didn't take the frames out for a closer inspection), so hopefully we'll have some more baby bees soon.

love and light

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Oat Harvest

The oats I planted back in autumn were finally ready for harvest. Last Sunday there was no well-muscled, bare-chested, god-like young man wielding a scythe available (as if!), so a chubby woman in her mid-forties attacked the oat patch with a pair of kitchen snips LOL! Well, it was only a small patch . . .

The result was a couple of boxes full of oat sheaves (as pictured). The oats are hanging upside down for the moment and in a couple of weeks when my exams are over, I'll set about threshing them to extract the grain. Not quite sure how as yet, but it should be good post-exam therapy.

After the harvest, I dug over the patch, putting the residue of the stalks onto the potato patch in the next bed - instant mulch! Interestingly, the roots on the oat stalks were only about 4cm (1.5") long (maximum), so oats are obviously very shallow rooted. The soil in the bed where the oats grew was quite fine and looked somewhat depleted, so I dug in some cow manure.

The patch now has some "seedless" watermelon seeds in it. We saved them from a watermelon we purchased and they were plump and brown, so looked to be fertile. Does anyone know whether these will grow? I thought I'd give them a couple of weeks and if they don't sprout, I'll plant something else there - maybe some other watermelon seeds.

love and light

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Money Can't Buy Me Love . . .

. . . but it did buy me my new favourite gadget - a pasta machine.

Confession: I went to buy some groceries yesterday, but before entering the supermarket, I popped into the little shop that sells brewing supplies and lots of interesting bits and pieces. I thought I would just ask if they had a pasta machine and see how much it cost (you know, reconnaissance for future purchase). I almost walked out of the shop without it, but it kept calling me back - so I lashed out and bought it.

It is an Imperia pasta machine that makes lasagne, fettucine and tagliatelli. You can also get other attachments to do gnocchi (but I generally make these by hand) and one for ravioli, as well as a motor attachment. I wanted a hand worked one, so I don't think the motor is on future shopping lists, but the ravioli maker looks pretty good and could be in danger.

The reason I bought a pasta machine is that we mostly don't eat wheat (my darling man and I both seem to react to it if we eat too much). Consequently, we buy gluten-free pasta. These pastas tend to be very refined and I would prefer we eat whole-grain pasta, hence the machine.

Of course, as soon as I got home, we had to make some fresh pasta. The kids joined in and had a good time. They even made meatballs to go with it. Here's our raw fettucine before we cooked it.

For our first attempt we used a 50/50 mix of Orgran gluten-free all purpose flour and FG Roberts gluten-free plain flour. We added the eggs as instructed (plus one more) and a little water. It all held together during cooking and was truly delicious. In the future, I'm going to try buckwheat and oatmeal and such like, but for the first attempt we thought it best to stick with a fairly refined flour. The end result was very yummy and definitely superior to shop-bought pasta. I'm now dreaming of canneloni and lasagne and wonton wraps, etc, etc.

love and light

Saturday, 15 November 2008


In the sidebar, under the moon gardening, I've started recording the rainfall we receive.

love and light

Pea Harvest and Other Garden Things

Last weekend, we harvested quite a few peas - both shelling and snow peas. Here is a photo of the harvest.

Clockwise from top left, they are:

Yakumo Giant Snowpeas (tender, juicy and sweet even when 12cm long)
Greenfeast peas (shelling)
Red Flowering Pea (these turned out to have the purplish bi-coloured flowers common to snow peas, but they are a dwarf variety rather than a climbing pea)

I'm not sure that the photo shows off the quantity that well, but there were enough to eat fresh as well as plenty to freeze. I've never frozen snow peas before, but they seem OK so far. The snow peas and red flowering peas are both still producing and I've left the last few pods on the shelling peas go so we'll get some seed for next year.

Now to foam boxes - last weekend on Gardening Australia they showed ways to re-use common items in the garden. One of these was styrofoam boxes, which you can usually pick up for free from your local markets or greengrocer as they can only be used once before being thrown away. So, I went to the markets and picked up some boxes, figuring I could use them to raise seedlings, etc.

After planting up the boxes, a discussion with the Crone revealed that we shouldn't really be using these in our gardens because of the fumes they emit. Looking on the web, I found a site called Non-Toxic Life, which had this to say about polystyrene:

NEVER use Styrofoam cups, especially for hot drinks. Polystyrene, #6 PS, is usually found in foam containers and cups may leach styrene. Styrene, considered a possible human carcinogen, may also disrupt hormones or affect reproduction.

*SIGH* I thought I might be doing something to help the environment by re-using a product which is otherwise disposed of after a single use. Now it turns out it may not be such a good idea. But what I'm thinking is this - the boxes are not getting really hot like they would if filled with boiling water and if I take the seedlings out when they are large enough and plant them out into open ground, the likelihood of them having loaded up with much toxin is pretty low. After they grow on and produce food, the amount of toxin should be extremely low and the food will still be heaps safer and less toxic than the commonly available fruit and veges. Then the boxes go!

Sometimes I have to agree with Kermit the Frog - it's not easy being green! But all things considered, I'd rather be green than not.

love and light

Monday, 10 November 2008

Back to Basics Challenge Update (a little late)

I should have posted last Thursday; thought I'd do it Friday night; had an almost computer free weekend, so it's Monday and I'm just posting this.

1. Sowing seed or Planting
Squash and Zucchini - various; Rockmelon - Hearts of Gold; Beans - Giant of Stuttgart, Purple King; Fig - Preston's Prolific; Grapes - Black Muscat, Pink Iona and 2 I can't remember; Nasturtium; Sweet Corn - Sweet White; Cucumbers - Orbrad's; Cape Gooseberry - Golden Nugget; Ground Cherry - Aunt Molly's; Blueberry seeds (wonder if they'll sprout??)

2. Planning for The Future - meal planning, the next seasons garden plan, working out storage plans or more long term goals and projects like plans for digging root cellars
I've sorted my seeds (at last!!) and have worked out just how much straw/hay I'm going to need for my mulching (hoping to put this off till the end of the month, when it'll be cheaper). Also started work on a mortgage-reduction plan.

3. Working for the Future - storing food, managing stores, preserving, building that home made cob or solar oven, adding house insulation, saving for manual grain mills etc
Vacuum-sealed and froze shelled peas, snow peas and asparagus on the weekend. Am delighted to have excess this early in the season. We've also constructed a pair of heavy trellises for the grapes, with the usual wires on one side and wire netting on the other side for climbing beans or peas.

4. Building Community - volunteering, donations, joining an existing community group, forming your own community group, taking a cake to a friend having a hard time, calling someone you just let drift out of your life, etc
Have received my Climate Connectors information pack and viewed the video; need to find audiences for that now and to start discussions about grass-roots projects people can undertake to help stop / reverse climate change.
Have planted up some foam boxes (more about these later) with seeds for friends for when they move house in a few weeks.

5. Learning a new Skill
Ummmm - does studying for exams count???

That's my update for now. Will do another post, hopefully in a couple of days, about the pea harvest and foam boxes.

love and light

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Garden People

The other day I planted some cucumber seeds. These seeds came from my elderly neighbour who passed away a couple of years ago. So, I call the cucumbers Orbrad's cucumbers, after him. I'm not sure of the exact variety, but they are good sized green cucumbers which are quite tasty.

What I like about them most is their association with a kind old gentleman who was a fellow gardener. He produced the most magnificent tomatoes each year and tenderly kept his garden in pristine condition. A couple of times I came out the back door to find him hastily zipping up his trousers after fertilising his lemon tree (chuckle!). His fig tree is one of the very best I've seen in Canberra. Although he could hardly speak English, we'd have great conversations about our gardens over the fence. So, every time I plant these cucumbers, I remember him.

Last season, I was lucky enough to find yellow egg tomatoes growing in my garden. They reminded me of my Pop, who used to grow them when I was a child. One of my fond childhood memories was visiting my grandfather and walking down the back to pick and eat these yellow tomatoes.

Some of the tools I use in the garden once belonged to my father and also to his father. The same goes for some of my gardening and self-sufficiency books. And when there's something a bit tricky to do and I'm having trouble with it, I ask Dad for help and things go smoother.

Then there's the plants given to me by various friends over the years - the tiny loquat seedling, no more than a twig with two leaves, rescued from the Crone's garden before she left for warmer climes is thriving and ready to be planted in the open ground. Her daughter's birthday rose is in the front garden and still going well - see pic.

And there's other treasures, like the Goji cutting another friend gave me last year, which came from her uncle's garden. Or the bees, which remind me of some of my blogging friends.

The point of all this is that my garden is more to me than a producer of food and flowers. It's also a place of lovely memories and lots of garden friends. I hope yours is too.

love and light


Well, I've just been given two awards - I'm very humbled.

The first one is from flmom who has a lovely blog about her journey to a more sustainable life.

This award acknowledges the values that every blogger shows in his/her effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values every day.
The rules are:
1. Accept the award and post it on your blog along with a link to the person who has awarded you.
2. Pass the award on to 15 other blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment. Remember to contact each of them to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

The second one is from Molly who is a fantastically politically aware blogger who provides us with lots of well-researched information.

The rules are:
Put the award logo on your blog or post (right click on award, save as).
Nominate at least 1 blog that you consider to be Uber Amazing!
Let them know that they have received this Uber Amazing award by commenting on their blog. Share the love and link to this post and to the person you received your award from.

Many of you have already justifiably received these awards, so please don't be offended if I don't award you again. Soooo, I choose to award (with both the awards):

Daughter of the Soil

My Wildlife Sanctuary


The Dance of Small Things

Towards Sustainability

Feel free to pass on (or not) as you wish.

love and light

Friday, 31 October 2008

Asparagus Brag

The bees seem to have settled in nicely now, so I can tell you about the asparagus. I harvested some last Saturday morning and thought I'd weigh the harvest - 800g - and take a photo. This doesn't seem like much until you realise we are picking this amount every 2-3 days! Just thought I'd have a little brag . ..

love and light

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

First Lesson in Beekeeping

Last night I had to put the remaining four frames into the hive, so duly put on my veil hat and gloves and headed for the hive. Feeling lazy, I had decided that my white top was enough and that the black trackpants wouldn't matter. Wrong!!!

Six stings later, I was feeling like the worst bee-mother ever. I didn't really care about my own discomfort, more that some of the bees might have died while defending their home. *sob*

Then my darling man found an article on beginning beekeeping I wish I'd read before being so cavallier with my new friends . . .

Finally, why are bee suits white? Well bees have odd memories. They cannot remember their owner from one day to the next but they do remember that their natural enemy is the brown bear. White is the colour least like their old adversary from way back. Conversely, dark clothing rings warning bells for bees. So be warned. If you approach a bee hive looking and behaving like a bear, never mind that generation upon generation of Australian bees have NEVER set eyes on a brown bear, the bees will regard you as a bear and attack!

So stupidly, I became a bear last night and even though there were only six stings through my clothes, I cannot be sure that the bees escaped unharmed. I can only hope that they were able to retract their stings from my clothes and that they were OK. Note to self: NEVER do that again!

The good news is that this morning they seemed to be back to their old selves, with the scary bear of last night having disappeared. And I can definitely smell honey now emanating from their hive . . .

love and light

Saturday, 25 October 2008


Yesterday evening I went to empty the compost bin and on my way back to the house, noticed a swarm of honey bees in the pear tree.

Mega-excited, I rang the owner of the local beekeeping supplies place. He told me they could stay there for a few hours or a few days. Since it was late, we decided to leave them bee for the night and see if they were still there this morning.

They were!! So my darling man and I went to the store this morning and bought our first beehive box and some protective gloves. I used an old net curtain last night to make a veil for my straw hat and it looks simply elegant, darling! Well, more like sonething out of a C-grade 1950s sci-fi movie, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, isn't it? :)

We came home and constructed the box, then I rubbed the inside with some lemon balm (to help the bees settle in). We placed the box in the wheelbarrow beneath the tree, gave the branch a quick jerk and the bees dropped down into the box. On goes the lid and hopefully (fingers crossed), we got the queen bee in and have started our very first bee hive.

Things are looking hopeful, as the bees are no longer clustering on the tree, but buzzing around the hive instead. Tonight I need to go out after dark and move the hive to the ground. After they settle in for a couple of days, we need to put in some more frames (you leave some out at first). After a week, we need to move the queen excluder from the bottom as she should have settled in by then.

I have been wanting bees for a while now and actively researching, etc for the past few months. Well, it looks like they finally came to me. And, when the fellow with the two hives rings me back to tell me they're ready, I'll still be getting them. After all, three hives in a back yard isn't too many.

love and light

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Ramblings and a Challenge

I can hardly believe it's a week since my last post. A combination of being busy during daylight and tired after dark! Apart from my usual work and study, I've been digging up weeds and laying paths in the garden, as well as digging holes for some sturdy posts to make an excellent grape trellis.

I've also been contemplating the challenge set by Belinda and already taken up by a few. It's the Back to Basics Challenge and here's what you have to do. Report weekly or fortnightly on:

1. Sowing seed or Planting

2. Planning for The Future - meal planning, the next seasons garden plan, working out storage plans or more long term goals and projects like plans for digging root cellars

3. Working for the Future - storing food, managing stores, preserving, building that home made cob or solar oven, adding house insulation, saving for manual grain mills etc

4. Building Community - volunteering, donations, joining an existing community group, forming your own community group, taking a cake to a friend having a hard time, calling someone you just let drift out of your life, etc

5. Learning a new Skill

So here's my first report:
1. Not much on this front in the past week, as I'd already done a bit of planting the week before, but can report that the seedlings are emerging.

2. Have been contemplating the amount I'd need to plant to supply our family for a year, given that we tend to have a shortish main growing season here. My conclusion was that I should go the way of the Shibaguyz! I've also spoken to a tree butcher about the cost of getting a truck load of mulch for the garden. Still pondering whether this would be a good thing to do or whether I'd be better off saving up for hay/straw. {Comments welcome!!}

3. Been paving between the garden beds to help keep the weeds at bay and to encourage others to go out into the garden more often. Also, been building that trellis and all is ready to go for concreting the posts in the ground.

4. Signed up to be a Climate Project Connector. Am awaiting my package of goodies to help spread the word.

5. Well, it's not really a new skill, just getting rid of the cobwebs on an old one - I've been walking more and actually walked to class yesterday (~6km) (against the wind, I might add!) and almost halfway home again. I want to increase my fitness level and to explore other forms of transport. I regularly use the bus, so this is the next step (tee hee :))

Have a look at Belinda's blog and take up the challenge. The more we all do our little bit, no matter how small, the more we'll all be working together for a sustainable future.

love and light

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Telling The Inconvenient Truth

At long last, I procured a copy of Al Gore's The Inconvenient Truth and my beloved and I sat transfixed two nights ago, watching it. If you haven't yet had the opportunity to view it (I'm hoping we're not the last ones on the planet!), please do. It is a great watch.

There is also a study guide, downloadable from:
The guide is primarily aimed at teachers and students, but there are lots of things in there that you could work through with your own children or even friends, family or colleagues.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) is now calling for people to participate in the next phase - being a Climate Project Connector. These people will be asked to screen Telling The Truth, a documentary showing the experiences of the original presenters of The Inconvenient Truth. The aim is to have 1000 screenings of Telling The Truth by December 08 and to have 1209 connector projects by December 09.

They are hoping to create a grass roots movement of people with projects designed to help fight climate change. These projects can be whatever a community group decides, eg, a solar panel buying cooperative or a lobby group for more public transport.

If this interests you, please have a look on the ACF website:

Hope to see lots of you Telling The Truth.

love and light

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Economy = Ecology

Isn't it interesting that at a time when we are increasingly concerned about climate change and sustainable living, that world economies are also beginning to collapse? Coincidence? I don't think so!

We humans have been living far beyond our means, both ecologically and economically, for far too long. Over-consumption has replaced the connectedness we have with Mother Earth and spirit and is rapidly driving us towards ecological and economic bankruptcy.

Many people today have hungry souls and instead of using spiritual food to feed their souls, they are using physical food and rampant consumerism. The trouble is, that by using the wrong sort of fuel for our souls, we are constantly looking for more and so the problem continues.

So, what can we do to address this issue?

Well, I garden and try to grow as much of my food as possible, even though it would undoubtably be easier for me to buy it in the supermarket (especially with my current work/study/home juggle). The reasons I try to grow much of my and my family's food are many - I
  • enjoy eating good quality food
  • like to know where my food came from
  • want to reduce my "food miles"
  • believe that those to whom much is given (and we in Australia have truly been given a lot!) have a responsibility to look after those resources
  • wish to preserve and develop the knowledge-base of sustainable living skills
  • want to show others they can do the same
  • love the connection it gives me to Mother Earth, nature and spirit
Apart from this, consciously choosing what we consume has led to a reduction in consumption. I am not content to mindlessly shop for things I do not really need. I am not happy to leave lights or appliances on merely for convenience and I choose to handwater my garden and re-use as much water as possible, rather than use convenient systems which consume much more water.

I am by no means perfect and still have a larger environmental and economic footprint than is sustainable - we live in a residence that might house a few families in other parts of the world and I still enjoy indulgences such as chocolate and television.

But I will continue on this journey. Once you start on a journey like this there is no turning back. Once your consciousness has been raised, you cannot become "unconscious". There are many of us taking a similar path - thank you for your company on this journey.

love and light

Monday, 6 October 2008

Solar Food Dehydrator

Many of you are dehydrating food in order to preserve it. In a conversation recently with the Shibaguyz, I promised to post pictures of my solar food dehydrator. I bought it about fifteen or sixteen years ago from an advertisement in Earth Garden or Grass Roots (I can't remember which). It is called a Solar Safe and is manufactured in Euroa; the address is RMB 2317 Euroa, Vic 3666. I do not know whether or not they are still in production nor how much they would cost.

I'm thinking that a handy person could probably construct one of these. In deference to the intellectual property of the person(s) that designed it and also because they have a "Patent Pending" sign on the side, I'll just list a few of the measurements. You'll need to work out a detailed design for yourself if you want to make one. There are plans for various solar food dehydrators on Mother Earth News, but all are different to mine, so I thought I'd add it to the melting pot.

Here is the front view. The cover appears to be polycarbonate (laserlite) sheeting. It is held down by battens on the top and sides and by capped screws along the bottom. It seems to be pretty good at keeping any moisture out. There is an overhang of a few cm at the bottom, which shields the bottom vent.

As you can see, the bottom of the drier and the back panel are covered internally with black plastic.

This is the side view. Again, the side is covered with polycarbonate sheeting. The height of the side panel is 24" (61cm) at the apex and it is 28" (71cm) long on the base.

Because of the triangular side design, shelves are staggered and so each shelf gets a bit of direct sunlight. Food placed on the top shelf tends to dry fastest, so I often shuffle the food upwards, as the top layer dries.

I forgot to take a photo of a shelf, but they are basically rectangular wooden structures with plastic mesh attached. The bottom three measure 22" (55cm) x 12" (30cm). The top shelf is 22" x 8" (20cm). The shelves rest on wooden runners and are easily removed or fitted through the open back door.

Here is the back panel. It is 24" (61cm) high and 25" (64cm) wide. It consists of a top meshed part (the back vent), a door and a bottom support. The back vent is about 2.5" (6cm) high and extends across the entire back.

The door is held in place by wing-nut type catches. There should be a knob in the centre top of the door, but mine has fallen off (note to self: replace knob before next drying season!).

Here is a close up of half of the back vent.
Here is a close up of half of the front vent. It is about the same size as the back vent, only positioned at the lower front, under cover of the polycarbonate sheeting.

The principle employed in this drier is that the air is heated by virtue of the sun and the black plastic. Because warm air rises, cool air is drawn in at the bottom, warmed, and expelled at the top. This creates a nice air current for drying the food.

The dehydrator is virtually vermin proof, as everything is fairly tightly fitting. The only issue I have ever had is with ants, but that was solved by having a moat around each leg, so that the ants can't crawl up. The way to do this is to get four average sized tin cans (or similar) and turn them upside down inside larger tins cans (or ice-cream containers or similar). Rest the dehydrator on top of the four smaller tins and place water in the larger vessels. This way, you have water which the ants cannot cross and the wooden legs (which are about 6" (15cm) long) are not sitting directly in water.

Hopefully this is enough to get you started on your own solar dehydrator project. I like this design because it is simple and compact and can be carried by one person. Food dries in a day or two (depending on original moisture content, thickness, etc) and of course, it uses free energy and lowers our impact on the planet.

love and light

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Some Meditations

I receive daily emails from the Australian Meditation Society. Here are a few recent ones for you:

Tuesday, 30 September 2008 - Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. - Martin Luther King Jr

Sunday, 28 September 2008 - Live simply and take life more easily. Happiness lies in giving yourself time to think and to introspect. Be alone once in a while, and remain more in silence. - Yogananda

Saturday, 27 September 2008 - The value of life does not depend upon the place we occupy. It depends upon the way we occupy that place. -- St. Thérèse de Lisieux


love and light

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Happenings in the Garden

After surviving (cross fingers!) two exams today, I wandered out into the garden to clear my head late this afternoon. Here are some of the things happening . . .

Here is the first purple asparagus spear of the season. It may just find itself being eaten tomorrow night! This is the fourth season for the purple asparagus in our garden. Given how much it produced last year, I'm already thinking of preserving some.

And here is the first Greenfeast pea flower of the season. The Red Flowering Peas are yet to produce any blossoms, but when they do, I'll post a pic.
Some beautiful broad bean flowers . . .

And the first of the Solomon's Seal rhizomes that I planted a while ago is off and running.

Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) is a magic herb. Its tincture, made from the root, can be used to heal ligaments and tendons. Somehow, this amazing plant knows how to shorten stretched ligaments and tendons and lengthen short ones, bringing the body part (eg, ankles) back into perfect alignment.

Some people refer to Solomon's Seal as the "herbal chiropractor". Matthew Wood calls it the Indispensible Muscular and Skeletal Remedy.

Some blackcurrant cuttings I took a few weeks ago (from the prunings off the blackcurrant) now have little roots attached to them. I'm hoping they'll develop further and I can obtain some more big blackcurrant bushes.

Marshmallow seeds I planted back in Autumn have sprouted when I had almost given up on them (shame on me!). Here are some of the little darlings I hope will soon grow into rampant plants.

Marshmallow (Malva sylvestra) is great for treating dry irritating coughs and as a mild astringent for gastroenteritis.

Happy Gardening!

love and light

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Herbs to Plant

Many of you are looking at being self-sufficientish, so thought you may be interested in hearing about some basic herbs to plant in your gardens you can use to treat simple ailments.

Borage - for the worn down person with just too much to do (sound familiar? :)); include chopped leaves and flowers in salads and drinks for a refreshing cucumber flavour, but don't eat too much!

Calendula - such a gorgeous sunny plant, great for burns, cuts, grazes and nappy rash. The petals are also great in salads. Essential if you have children. Will post soon on making ointment of this - really I will :).

Aloe Vera - use the juice for burns, especially sunburn. Again, great when there are children around.

Thyme - fantastic for sore throats and chest colds. In some cultures, they drink a cup of thyme tea every morning during autumn and winter to strengthen their bodies against lurgies. To make the tea, simply place 3 or 4 sprigs in a small tea pot, add boiling water and let steep for 5-10 minutes. Delicious with juice of half a lemon and a teaspoon of honey, especially Manuka honey.

Sage - also great for sore throats. Make an infusion with thyme and gargle to aid a sore throat. And you can swallow this gargle if you like. Breastfeeding mums may want to avoid sage, though, as it will dry up your milk.

Parsley - chock full of vitamin C and iron, a great pick me up for everyone, especially those with heavy periods or anaemia.

Rosemary - great for soothing furrowed brows and aching muscles and for aiding the digestion. Also good for memory and a bee food in late winter.

Garlic - fantastic to eat whenever your body is struggling with an infection, it may also help some people during times of hay fever. Slice up fresh cloves and add them to your cooking in the last couple of minutes - this gives you the great healing properties of raw garlic, while reducing the breath and body odour. Don't ask me why, but it really seems to work.

Elder - see recent post.

Dandelion - don't pull them out, let them grow (well at least some)!! Use their leaves in salads as a bitter herb to aid digestion, brew up a tea of the leaves for fluid retention and dry and roast the roots for a coffee substitute, which is also good for your liver. Just make sure you have positively identified the plant as dandelion and it is not something that merely looks like it.

Chamomile - the flowers are great for soothing teas for people who find it difficult to relax and good for helping babies and children during teething; great for babies of all ages.

Feverfew - if someone in your house gets migraines, this may be the very herb they need.

Basil - a good digestive aid, it is also very effective at relieving some headaches. I combine it with lavender and peppermint to help reduce the severity of migraines.

Lavender - as well as being beautiful to look at, lavender oil is great for healing burns and the flowers can be used in combination with basil and peppermint for migraines.

Peppermint - great for colic and digestive upsets, but don't use for someone who gets oesophageal reflux; helps cool and soothe hot heads.

Yarrow - magic for deep cuts and wounds which are bleeding freely. Stuff some leaves into the wound to stop or slow the bleeding, while you seek further medical attention.

Melissa (Lemon Balm) - lovely soothing tea to help those "busy bees" in life calm down and relax.

Marjoram - as well as being a culinary herb of merit, some marjoram oil on the temples, a cup of marjoram tea or even a generous sprig under the pillow will help people get a restful night's sleep.

These are just a few of the wonderful healing herbs suitable for a domestic garden. As always, this information is intended for general interest only and is not intended to be medical advice. Please consult your health professional for assistance with any health issues.

love and light