Thursday, July 29, 2010


This is Jonty on his new rocking horse that I picked up at an opp shop the other day for $10. He loves it and I love it and the concept that it was some other child's (or children's) toy at some point is not something that he could even comprehend at this age and even if he did I don't think that he would mind. He is still at the blissful age of not being affected by societal pressures to have everything that is new and shiny; preferably bigger, shinier and more than the kid next door. He thinks the rocking horse is cool and that is all that matters. And really, when you think about, that should never change. But, unfortunately, I know that there will be a time in the future that the marketing will get him. He will be convinced that he will not be happy until he has something that some kind of advertising tells him he needs to have.

I too have been caught in that vortex of the shopping centre, mesmerized by the bright lights and secret messages that tell me I just have to have that pair of canary yellow flat shoes, that they are on sale and that they really are a bargain price and, well, I just won't be able to live a happy life without them. I then purchase those shoes and whatever other crap I got sucked in to, leave the shops, get in the car... and wonder what the hell just happened. I end up less happy than before I bought the shoes. This is why I avoid large shopping centers. There's just something about them that make us leave our sensible selves at the door. If I do, for some unavoidable reason, need to go to one, then I prep myself beforehand with messages of senseless consumerism, etc, and I race in with blinkers on, get what I need and race back out again. This seems to work for me anyhow.

I still shop, but pretty much everything that I have bought for the last few years has been secondhand. I have to be in opp shops continually to source fabric for my business and while I am there I keep an eye out for anything that I need. I always find it eventually. And,instead of the empty satisfaction and guilt of buying something new impulsively, when I pick up something that I had wanted for virtually next to nothing, I get such a high and congratulate myself for some good shopping! By buying secondhand I am being environmentally responsible and then if it comes from an opp shop I am also donating money to a charity. It's a win, win situation really. A much, much better feeling than the OTHER kind of shopping.

And really, why the hell do people keep buying more and more new stuff?? Especially when it comes to kids stuff the opp shops are packed with good quality clothes that have hardly been worn and toys that would be way more expensive than I could afford new. Why wouldn't you? I don't understand the aversion some people have to second hand stuff, once you take off the tag and wash it for the first time it's secondhand anyway. People just seem to be working harder and harder to have more stuff that doesn't satisfy them anyway, then they think they are unhappy because they don't have enough and so the cycle continues. Well, I choose to get off that tread mill and I choose to have less stuff, I choose to work less and spend more time with my son and husband and in my garden because these are the things that make me happy. Instead of working harder to get more money to pay people to make things for me which I then buy from a shop, I make them myself, buy them second hand or just go without. Once you get into the mindset it's fun trying to spend as little as possible...more fun than spending as much as possible!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Day of Baking

Today was the day for baking. Sometimes the mood just hits and I cook in a frenzy all day. Because I buy in bulk, cook in bulk and then freeze down individual meals and half prepared food I am able to cook only when I feel like it and I also only need to buy seasonal produce. This has many benefits; fruit and veg that is in season is cheap, good and generally local.

I had bought a lot of apples recently for under a dollar a kilo so was needing to use them up. I made three apple and cinnamon cakes using a butter cake recipe. This is one of those recipes that I use as a base and then add whatever flavouring I like. It's really simple and I just throw it all in a bowl, bung it in a tin and cook it! Here is the butter cake recipe for 1 loaf cake, it is just plain and it's up to you to add whatever you want... add lemon or orange zest; replace a little of the flour for some cocoa powder; fold some stewed fruit through it; lay some sliced apples on top, etc. I just peeled and sliced the apples and sprinkled some cinnamon and brown sugar on top.

Butter Cake - 3 eggs
150gms sugar
150gms SR flour (or plain flour with a tsp of baking powder)
150gms melted butter (cooled)

Mix, add your flavouring and cook at 210 degrees celcius until a knife inserted comes out clean..about 40mins.

My rhubarb has suddenly sprung to life and I thought that I would try a new recipe that I saw on a blog that I follow. Its Red Wine Stewed Rhubarb and you can get the recipe here.

It turned out beautifully. It has a mulled wine feeling to it and the smell that comes out of your oven is worth it alone! It's very rich and I think I served myself up too much and you need a serious helping of cream or ice cream to go with it. I had it with my home made ice cream, I'll post the recipe for that at a later date.
So it was rhubarb and ice cream for dessert tonight and for main we had bubble and squeak with grilled veg, snowpeas from the garden, a fried egg and homemade mayonaise.

Bubble and Squeak is again one of those base recipes that I use a lot. It's just mashed potatoes with anything thrown in! Tonight I pulled out of the freezer some sauteed cabbage and some left over ravioli filling of pumpkin and parmesan. This all went into the potato with an egg. Make sure you season it with a good amount of salt and pepper. I formed large spoonfuls into burgers, dusted them with flour and slowly pan fried them. Easy peasy! These little patties are great on their own with some kind of cheese like ricotta on top and with any kind of relish. They also work well under a panfried piece of fish, meat or chicken. They will soak up all the juices and taste delicious.

I use a lot of what I call base recipes. I find that it really works if you want to buy and cook with seasonal produce. Instead of shopping with a set shopping list which often means that you spend too much trying to get the exact things that a recipe requires, you can just buy what is cheap on the day (which means it's in season and good) and then just incorporate it into your base recipes. I always buy my dry goods in bulk so don't have to shop for them often so when I go to the grocery store my list will have about 5 things on it that we need and then I just spend the rest of my grocery budget on what looks good. Sometimes this will mean I only buy one or two kinds of fruit and veg but I buy them in bulk, cook up large amounts and then freeze the results. I then mix and match our weeks meals with what is bought that week with bits and pieces in the freezer, jars of preserved goodies and as much from my garden as I have. My goal is to work towards not having to buy any fruit and veg at all but growing it all myself.

My base recipes have not consciously been collected but have evolved over time and have especially become part of my everyday cooking since we have started living a life that is as sustainable as possible. Because I was a chef for 13 years I know that it is easier for me to just adapt and play around with recipes on a whim, but I do have those base recipes that allow for a little experimentation whilst still containing the ingredients that will make it work. To be a good cook you need to experiment, go out on your own, stuff things up and learn what went wrong. You need to understand what flavours work and what don't. Taste as you go, trust yourself and your taste buds!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chickens on loan

We got our first chickens three months ago from our friends that were going overseas for a few months. They are just on loan and will be going back home in the next week or so. It has been a great trial run to see how things would go and we have decided that we definitely need chickens in our life! Jonty has had a great time with them as well and loves visiting them everyday where he feeds them from his little scoop of grain (in between having some himself!).
There have been a few issues to iron out along the way. We have had trouble with the local birds also having a free feed and sometimes we have huge amounts of Indian Minors down there that I am not happy about at all. I have found that the best way to deal with it is to just put out the daily amount of grain each day, instead of filling the feeder all the way up. This way the chickens get in there first and have their fill and when they go off scratching and eating the scraps and weeds I give them, there isn't too much left for the other birds. We were considering completely closing in the run, but as it is quite a large space I don't really want to do that. I think that we have the problem mostly sorted now anyway. The chickens are fat and healthy so are obviously getting enough to eat. Another problem has been the lack of eggs and then the condition of them when we did get some. A lot of them were very soft shelled and would collapse once laid... we would find the remains of eggs in the house that didn't look like they had a shell at all. I though they weren't getting enough shell grit so I started adding that to their feed along with a constant supply in a separate bowl but this didn't seem to help. Then I stumbled upon an article in an old Earth Garden magazine that I had borrowed from the library. Someone had written in to the poultry expert with the same problem from the same breed that we had; Isa Browns. It turns out that they are not a pure breed but a hybrid for the egg industry which means that they are prolific layers for the first year but after that they really drop off and by the third year they don't lay much at all. (The industry would just cull them after their first year I guess.) Not really suitable for backyard purposes unless you are raising for meat as well as eggs. So I have done my research and when the time comes for us to get our own chickens I am going with a pure breed and probably an Australorp which is an Australian breed. I also might get a little Silkie for Jonty to have as his own pet as they are meant to be great with children and very affectionate.
Having chickens has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl and they haven't disappointed me. I could watch them for hours and I love the way that they not only give us eggs but act as great composting machines! All of my weeds go into the run where they have a good time scratching around. After about a week I rake out the house and run and either add it directly to my no dig garden beds or put it in the compost bins already with a head start to becoming beautiful black compost. They are also good at eating up some of my noxious weeds that I have here which I can't add straight to the compost bins or else I spread it even further. They like onion weed and a few others that I don't know the name of, and seem to kill them enough to not grow in the compost. They are very useful little birds!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Where we have been the last two years!

Two and a half years ago on the week of our wedding, my husband and I bought a house. We were living in our one bedroom apartment in inner city Melbourne and this new house was 45 minutes out of the city in the Dandenong Ranges. On over half an acre and completely dilapidated this was a big job for us but it was cheap and the only way that we were going to be able to get the space that we wanted to build the life that we knew would make us happy. Luckily my husband Dave works in the building industry and is very handy! But when we found out that I was pregnant and that we had 9 months to make the house livable (which included completely gutting the inside) we knew we had our work cut out for us. But we made it and a few years now down the track we have our dream place where life is very good! We still spend almost all of our spare time working on landscaping and renovating and have a long way to go, but that is where we love to be and I have found that the one place where I can escape from everything and truly relax is in my garden. I have planted a cottage garden and herb garden that are going well and now I put most of my time into building up a vege patch that can sustain our family and hopefully some friends as well in the not too distant future. Here is a photo of the house when we bought it...
This is Dave working on the weatherboards

And the house as it stands today!

Our latest project has been to clear a useless and overgrown piece of land down the side of our house and turn it into a flat playground for Jonty, a native garden and the chicken run. This is what the space looked like about 2 months ago...

And what it looks like today. This is Jonty's playground with the level below the beginnings of the native garden and below that the chicken run.

Today is one of those perfect sunny winter days so Jonty and I are off outside to do a spot of gardening and to hang out with the chickens!