Monday, August 30, 2010

Garage sale chair

Check out my new chair that I got at a garage sale on the weekend for a whole $5! Right place at the right time... I spied it out of the corner of my eye as a flew past on a busy road. I quickly did a U turn, bundled a screaming Jonty under my arm and (trying to hide my excitement as I handed over the surprise total of $5) picked up the chair and got it in the back of my car half expecting the man to run after me to tell me he had made a mistake!
The cushion is from a new range that I am doing for Rummage Style. They are now in my friend's store Little Shop of Handmade and I will be adding some to my on line store in the coming weeks.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Camberwell market

Every Sunday morning I get up at 5am, say goodbye to my boys and drive to the Camberwell Market to peddle my wares. I arrive at about 6am and head straight to the regular cafe and sit with my first (and much needed) coffee for the day. My friends Bec and Jon from Little Shop of Handmade arrive soon after and we sit and chat about our week. Then we head out to the market to see what goodies we can find. Because we are there so early we get the best pick and always manage to pick up great bargains. Everything is secondhand or handmade and it is where I mostly get all that I need. I can buy a few things for little money and not feel guilty about spending.
We shop for a bit, making sure that we cover all aisles, and then we have breakfast...the same thing every week. It is not until about 8am that we finally set up our stalls and trade until 12.30. This Sunday ritual is something that I look forward to. It is my time where I don't have to worry about Jonty and I can just relax and completely enjoy myself.... and the bonus is that I find great buys in the morning and then I make some money from my stall selling the clothes that I have made during the week!

I bought this vintage dress for $10 and the fantastic green enamel jug for $6.50... I've wanted one just like it for a long time!

I also picked up all this fabric for $20 which will be for Rummage Style and will save me some time during the week not having to search the opp shops.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cooking with toddlers

People often ask me where I find the time to do all this cooking and gardening. I run my own business and am a stay at home mum with a two year old little boy. Some days it is hard and I can't get done all that I wanted and it can be frustrating, but most days we plod along doing all the chores. I decided a little while ago that the best way to entertain an active toddler is to just try and do everything that you need to do with them alongside. They love to "help" and get a kick out of doing grown up things and feeling useful. Jonty loves to have a go at vacuuming, sweeping, etc, and he especially loves cooking. Yes, it takes about five times as long than if I did it alone and it can get messy, but things do get done and Jonty learns and has fun.

I also find that when he cooks with me he is more likely to eat the food! Anyone living with a fussy toddler knows what a mission it is to get them to eat so I found that I have more success when he does the cooking with me. This all makes for a happier little boy which equals happier Mamma!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Soap Making

After a long time thinking and reading about soap, I finally got up the courage to make it myself. This is my second batch and I was a bit more adventurous with this lot and experimented with different scents. I made plain olive oil but also one with added oats (a request from clever husband) and a cinnamon and poppy seed. The cinnamon mixed with the poppy seed gave me a nice pink colour which I didn't expect. I am not interested in artificially colouring or scenting soap but if I accidentally make some pretty ones then all the better!
It really isn't that hard and took me about half an hour. I now have enough soap to last us a good few months or so. Good soap has always been a luxury for me but it can be expensive to get the good stuff and I decided that the way to get the very best is to make it myself! I haven't done the figures yet but I got about 18 bars for about $5. (That's what it used to cost to buy just one bar)
I found the best tutorial here from one of my favourite blogs. Her instructions are great, just follow them step by step and you will have soap! I found that her soap calculator didn't come up so I found another one that is good and easy to use here.

I'm also making my own laundry powder. Again, I haven't done the figures but it would be heaps cheaper and something that you have to add into all of this is that you know exactly what is in your final product. All that is in there are the ingredients to do the job. There is no added super stain fighting this and that, but just what is needed, and with a toddler that seems to be sensitive to harsh laundry cleaners (he doesn't have the years exposed to all those nasties that we adults do) I feel that I am doing the right thing on a lot of levels.
I have a front loader and have been using this for about a month and have noticed absolutely no difference to the quality of the wash and I have a tradesmen husband and messy toddler. I also use cloth nappies and have definitely had no problems with it.
It's easy, takes about 10 minutes and you can find all of the ingredients in the cleaning isle of any supermarket.

4 cups grated pure soap or soap flakes (you can use a grater but I find I get the best results and it's much quicker by chopping the soap and putting in a food processor until in powder form)
2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda

Just mix it all together and use about 2 tablespoons per wash. If you have a really dirty wash then add some nappisan or something but I haven't found that I needed that.
I am going to try and replace the pure soap soon with some of my homemade soap and see how that goes, I will let you know!

I know that it all sounds hard and it's nice to dream about doing all these things ( I used to) but it really is easy and after you do it once it is so easy. I don't even see it as a choice now to go back to products that are full of all sorts of rubbish and when I see the adds in TV I feel so satisfied that I have seen through the marketing and don't get sucked in to crap products that don't do anything except cost lots of money.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Meet Our Chooks

Our friends whose chickens we were chook sitting have come home and we have since returned their lovely ladies. I hadn't realised just how much I had enjoyed having them until they were gone and I decided that I had to have some of our own straight away! After a little ringing around we discovered that it was the wrong time of the year to purchase any purebreds and that they wouldn't be ready for another four months! There was no way that I could wait that long so we went for some crossbreds in a few different colours. After some research I learnt that it is the Isa Browns that lay for the shortest period of time, about two years, with the others laying for more like three years. They will all pop out the odd egg after that but they can't be relied upon for a regular supply. We have decided on trying out a system where we introduce new chickens every year so that we have a good supply of eggs and some chickens always in their prolific years. After that they are still useful for composting and just to have as pets. We are lucky to have the space to be able to keep them.

We love our new girls and have spent lots of time watching them sorting out their pecking order which, thankfully, hasn't been at all violent. The white one is Dora. She is at the head of the pack. She has knock knees, a large floppy comb and we think, attention deficit disorder! The creamy coloured one is Brulee and a delicate girly girl. The brown/orange one is yet to be named but her likes include a whole lot of eating! And Priscilla is the black one and my favourite. She is the friendliest one and gives off lovely clucking sounds when you give her a cuddle. In the light she is very glam with purple, orange and green highlights on her black feathers.
They came having just started laying so we don't have to wait at all and have already had about seven eggs, all a very cute little pullet size. They will get bigger as they get a little older. Dora popped out the first egg about two hours after arriving and since then it has felt like receiving a present every time we go down there to pick up the eggs left for us!

My very clever husband has also rigged up some special feeders that seem to work better than the regular feeders that most people use. Made out of recycled pvc piping, elbows and caps they are great at holding a few days of feed and stop some of the birds eating it all and they spread less on the ground.
Clever husband is also working on another project which I will share with you in a few weeks when it is all finished!

A Productive Day

Some people are horrified by the time that Jonty wakes for the day but as I am an early riser too it suits me. What is even better, however, is that because he only sleeps about 9 hours overnight, he has a massive 3 or more hours of sleep in the afternoon. This means that lots can be done during this time and today I think I just about broke my record with how much I produced during Jonty's sleep! I made .... a large batch of bolognaise sauce to be frozen down in portions (and also for tonight's dinner), a batch of fresh pasta, a loaf of bread, two pizza bases, a batch of ricotta cheese, a batch of fresh mozzeralla and a couple dozen coconut macaroons.

I have only just started making our own cheese after much reading and research and also after ordering the necessary cheesecloth, thermometer, live bacterias, etc. The first and easiest cheese to make is ricotta and as long as you have milk and either lemon juice or vinegar you can make it too. It's easy and it tastes heaps better than what you can normally buy from the supermarket. I got 800gms from 3.8Lts of milk which cost me about $4.00.

Making mozzeralla is a little more tricky but like anything, with practice you get the feel of it and work it out. I'm not going to post the recipes because there are lots of good ones if you just do a quick search on google. I think that it is best to just look around and find the one that you find the easiest to read and understand.
I have wanted to make cheese for a long time and, like all of our homemade produce, once I have started I will now make it part of my normal week and that is a few more products that I can cross off the grocery list! That is my aim; to reduce my shopping to just the bare basics where everything else is grown and made at home. I already don't have to buy very much and I hardly ever buy preprepared foods, but still when I go to the supermarket and am loading those groceries onto the conveyor belt I am figuring out how I can replace those items with something that I can make or grow myself... it's my personal challenge! It's not just about reducing my carbon footprint, but also about saving money, eating food free from all sorts of nasty unfood like ingredients and most of all, for me it is the independence from others to feed me and my family. I want the freedom to make the choices about what goes into the belly of my little two year old son. I want to know exactly was is in the food he eats. Not to mention that it's also a whole lot of fun!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Day Jonty Ate A Snowpea

It's a special day for me today. This morning while Jonty and I were doing a spot of weeding in the vege patch he showed interest in a snowpea that I had picked off the vine and was about to eat. I offered it to him and, surprise, he actually had a go at eating it! He spat it out after a little chew but the game was now started and we spent some time picking and eating snowpeas together. This was a special time for me as this was the image that I had always dreamt of when I decided to grow my own vegetables. I had a dreamy, romantic vision of Jonty and I spending our days in the garden digging in the dirt and eating fresh crunchy peas. Well, this is actually what we did this morning... a dream come true really!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bread Making

For the past month or so I have been making all the bread for our family. It was something that I have wanted to do for a long time but had never managed to incorporate it into my daily routine. But, I made the decision that this is what I wanted to do and stopped buying bread, forcing myself to find the time.
It really doesn't take long at all. The entire process takes hours but that is just the proving. The actual handling is probably only 10-15mins, it's just a matter of working out the right proving temperature and how it should look at each stage. These are not really things that a recipe can tell you, it's about feel and that only comes with practice. You will have disasters and there will be little bread like rocks that will make you want to give up. That has all happened to me but it is the only way to learn. Figure out what you did wrong and don't do it again.
For some reason people think that making bread is something that is out of touch. Maybe that is because it is something that we see probably every day, we buy it without thinking that someone, somewhere made it. It could have been made in mass quantities in a factory or from an artisan's bakery, but we think that it is so specialized that it is not something that we can make at home in our kitchens. You can make it, and you will make the kind of bread that is at the top end of the market, something that would normally cost five or so dollars a loaf to buy. That's the funny thing about making things at home, you save stacks of money but you also end up with a far superior product than what you would probably normally buy. AND... you get the smell of baking bread wafting through your house!
I don't use a recipe anymore, I just go by feel but here is a recipe to start with, and, it is again one of those base recipes. Practice with this one, get it right and then start to experiment with it. Add flavourings, use different flours, add seeds, etc, whatever you want.

30gms fresh yeast
30gms sugar
625ml tepid water
1kg bread (or strong) flour
30gms salt

mix yeast and sugar into water. Add salt to flour and then mix in the yeast water. Get it to stick together a bit and then tip in onto a floured surface and start to knead it to get a nice moist dough. You will need to add a little more flour or water to get it right.
Put dough back into bowl and cover with a tea towel, place in a nice warm place until it doubles in size. Then tip out and knead for a few minutes. Now you can shape the dough into whatever shapes you want or put into loaf tins to about half full. Again prove until doubled in size. Cook in a very hot oven (as hot as your oven will go) until brown and hallow sounding when knocked on with a fist, about 15-20mins depending on size of loaves.

Ok, so that is the method, now if you want to save yourself some learning mistakes, read my tips below.... these are the things that I have learnt over my bread making time and they are important!

* Your water needs to be tepid, this means body temperature. If it is too hot you will kill your yeast and it won't rise at it should. If not warm enough the yeast will not activate.

* Use bread or strong flour, not ordinary plain flour and not what they call bread mix with bread "improver". I don't know what this is but it is not necessary and I don't see the point of making your own bread if you are going to just add artificial ingredients. I also make a point of buying unbleached flour.

*When you first make the dough the recipe amounts will need adjusting as all flours are different, so don't just think that your dough seems too dry or wet without doing anything about it, trust yourself and add what you need until you think that it is a nice dough consistency.

*Proving is very need to find a nice warm place to allow this to happen. I sit it on my wood fire top in winter and in warmer seasons outside on the balcony in the sun. Failing either of these the other option is to put your oven on the lowest setting.

*Patience! If your dough hasn't doubled in size then forget about touching it...leave it until it has. Depending on your proving temp. this will take varying amounts of time but it will happen if it's warm enough.

*Your oven has to be up to temperature before you cook, this is tricky if proving your dough in the oven. If so, take your bread out once it have proved enough, put in the warmest place you can and get the oven up to the highest setting asap. If you are proving elsewhere turn on the oven when you go to prove for the second time, this way it is ready to go when your dough is.

*Be careful with the dough at the final proving, if you bump it the air can be knocked out and you will end up with a deflated flat bread loaf! This can also happen if you over prove...there is too much air and it will start to collapse.

*Cook until nice and dark brown, don't aim for the pasty white loaf look that comes sliced in a plastic bag!

*I think that it is best to start with making loaves in a tin, it is easier for some reason, after you have that sorted, start to play with free form shapes if you like.

So...I know this all sounds complex but like I said the trick is in learning the feel and look and I can't teach you that from here...practice, practice, practice! Don't be disheartened and trust me, the rewards are worth the effort!