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