Saturday, December 26, 2009

More on coffee

First of all, I hope everyone has had a joyful Christmas. Everyone around here certainly did.

Emily left a comment and some questions on the topic of coffee that I thought I'd answer as a post.
Six years ago we planted 10 coffee bushes. Three have survived. I think the main reason is that this area is pretty marginal in terms of growing coffee. Firstly, we are basically at sea level, and I gather coffee is happiest at altitude. Second, we often have high winds (due to sea breezes). Third, I'm not sure that our climate in terms of average temperatures and rainfall is quite right.

Of the three, only one has grown to a good size of over 6 feet. The other two are about 3-4 feet each.

Yields are improving every year, but drinking 1-2 cups of coffee per day, we are way short of self sufficiency in coffee, and never will be. Given the labour intensive process needed to get the beans from the tree to the coffee pot, I don't think I want to be either.

Growing coffee is in the "fun to do" category of our garden. We may not be in the ideal position to grow coffee, but we struggle through, and enjoy what we can, when we can.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Coffee processing - Part 2

Finally, Part 2 of How to Process Coffee.
Right, so the coffee has been in the sun for a week or so, and the slimy outer coating has hardened, so it looks like this:

The next step requires you go into a meditation state, or at least find a not-too-engrossing movie, in order to de-husk each and every bean individually. Yes, that's right, individually. No getting around it I'm afraid without some whiz-bang commercial machine. Actually, it's kind of fun a bit like popping the bubbles on bubble wrap. (I started to watch "Rabbit-Proof Fence" and found this movie so moving I forgot about the coffee altogether. Better watch the television news or something). This is what you are left with:

The beans have a papery covering, which you can remove by putting the beans into a tea towel and rubbing the fabric together. You may have to resort to removing the papery covering on some individual beans by hand (after which time you will be an expert meditator).

Here's the payoff - beans in a frypan roasting over a medium heat. It should take about 30 minutes or so to roast.

There you have it - home grown, home roasted coffee!
Although our three bushes will probably yield about a pound of roasted beans, they make the nicest cup of coffee we have all year.
Meanwhile, I apologise for intermittent posting after making such a thing about resuming the blog a few weeks ago. I'm still having trouble with our satellite internet connection. The upshot is that I only post on the occasions when I have a signal . For example, it's taken me three attempts to make this post today, as the signal keeps dropping out.

Welcome to the new followers of the blog, and all of you who have left comments.

Now I'm off to pack for the yearly camping trip to the beach, 45 minutes drive from here, at Jervis Bay. It's cool and raining today, not exactly camping weather, after an absolute scorcher yesterday. Somewhere between the two would be great camping weather. Jervis Bay has the most beautiful beaches ON EARTH, truly. Hope to post a few pics to help me convince you (internet service willing). Meanwhile, I hope everyone is having a peaceful run-up to Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Simple Christmas

NSW Christmas bush

Back in July, I wrote a post railing against the Useless Bits of Crap (UBC) that seem to accumulate in my children's bedrooms, despite my best efforts. Back then, I talked about how I was going to suggest that from this year, my extended family limit the UBC phenomenon by instituting a Kris Kringle for the children (we've been doing this among the adults for many years). Guess what? Everyone's agreed - hooray!

So instead of buying presents for my own children and seven nieces and nephews, we only have to buy for two children beside my own. Less gift buying = less stress.

Simplification has gone one step further, too. The adult Kris Kringle has been terminated. Instead, we are all going to contribute to making a donation to a charity. We just have to agree which one.

You've no idea how this has simplified things this Christmas. Instead of anxiety and stress over what to buy, there is calm. In fact, we are so calm around here, we are going on our yearly camping trip before Christmas instead of after. By the time Christmas Day rocks around, we will be well and truly relaxed.

Wishing you all a simple Christmas, in whatever guise that might take.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A lot of garlic

One of my pet hates is supermarket garlic. I don't know why, but in a country that can grow everything and anything, the major supermarkets insists on selling imported garlic from China. Why? I have no idea.

The only positive about supermarket garlic is that it is cheap (if you don't think about the carbon used to get it here). There are no other advantages. At it's best it is spongy and smells stale. At it's worst it smells rancid and sprouts as soon as you take it home.

Fortunately garlic is easy to grow. Just plant garlic cloves pointy side up and wait six months over winter. That's it.

Here is this year's harvest, drying out outside before being braided and put into storage. Seems a lot, but I'll give some away, keep some to plant next year and ...I love my garlic. I use it a lot. These should last about nine months or so before they too start to sprout. I think I'll investigate preserving some in oil this year to get me through the garlic drought.

BTW, I'm having trouble with my internet connection (satellite dish+tin roof+hot weather = constant drop outs. Remind me I live in a developed economy not 15 kms away from a major town). Anyway, this has meant that posting and uploading photos has become a trial. I'm not even sure this will work. Bear with me....

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Coffee processing- - Part 1

Time to pick the coffee, and start the process of getting it to the stage of roasted bean. Here are coffee beans straight off the bush. Aren't they a gorgeous red? This is the first wave of berries, there are still quite a few to pick over the next few weeks. The first thing to do is to remove the outer red covering. This is easily done with your fingers. The red covering goes to the chickens' bucket (they are quite edible, if a bit sour). The coffee beans inside are covered with a slippery, mucus-y grey substance. They go into a container and just covered with water to sit overnight. After a day or so, the beans are then drained and spread onto a tray to dry. This can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks depending on the weather.

Will post with photos to show you the next stage of the process...

Meanwhile, shhh...don't tell the physio, but I've been working in the garden. I wrote a two posts ago about my ongoing tennis elbow problem, and how that has stopped me doing any gardeing for months. It was all getting too much though. The thought of nothing growing at all, in this the peak season was beyond a joke. I rationalised that a little planting session wouldn't too much...would it? So today I planted lettuce, cucumber, tomato, basil, capsicum and pumpkin seedlings. And the elbow doesn't feel any worse for it....yet.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas Pudding

A couple of years ago, Mum handed me my Nonna's pudding basin and said "How about you make the Christmas pudding this year?" So I did and have done ever since.
I've been waiting for two weeks to find 1) a day where I had six hours clear time to oversee a simmering boiler and 2) a day that was less than 30 degrees C. Yesterday was the day, and here is the result. I'm rather pleased.
It's harder than you think to find a good recipe for Christmas pudding - by "good" I mean one that does not include suet. Here is the recipe I use is my own variation of a recipe from the Australian Women's Weekly book "Kitchen".

Steamed Christmas Pudding

250g sultanas
250g raisins
150g currants
50g mixed peel
1/2 cup brandy
250g softened butter
500g firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon parisian essence (I used this, but have no idea what it is)
4 eggs
150g plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
300g stale breadcrumbs ( I whizzed up stale raisin bread in the food processor for this)
1 coarsely grated green apple

1. Combine the dried fruit and alcohol. Cover and store in the fridge overnight, or up to two weeks, as I did.
2. Grease a 2 litre pudding basin, line the base with baking paper.
3. Beat the butter, sugar and essence until just combined. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating in between additions. Fold in fruit, then stir in flour and spice, then breadcrumbs and apple, mixing well.
4. Spoon the pudding mixture in the basin. Cover with pleated baking paper and foiled. Fold tightly over the rim, the secure the lid.
5. Place basin in boiler on an upturned plate, with enough boiling water to come halfway up the side of the basin. Boil covered for 6 hours, replenishing water when necessary.
6. If not eating straight away, let cool to room temperature. Wrap well in cling wrap (eek!) and foil, then place back in the basin and put in the fridge until needed. Freeze leftover for up to a year.

We always have Christmas at my parents' house, along with my four brothers and their wives and girlfriend, and nine grandchildren, and sometimes one of my brothers' in-laws. Twenty one in all. This is a big change from previously, when up to 50 extended family members would sit down for lunch. It was a lot of fun, but a lot of work. Eventually, Mum decided she was over hosting such an undertaking, so 21 is the pared down version of Christmas - well at least as pared down as we can get.

The likely fate of the pudding is that half will be eaten late in the afternoon on Christmas, a few hours after Christmas lunch. Lunch is always cold - seafood, turkey and ham with salads. The pudding is the only thing eaten hot all day. From previous experience, about half will be eaten, and the other half will be frozen to be eaten on some blustery day next July.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Back to bloggin'

Yes, well.

It's been a while. First it was full-time work. Then we went on holiday for three weeks. Then the computer died. When we got that fixed, the satellite connection for the internet went awry. For the last week or two, I've had no excuses, but have been debating with myself. Start blogging again or no? Part of me was glad not to have the blog demanding my time. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised I missed it. Specifically, I missed the way blogging forces you to look around you and really think about things going on in your life. So, I'm back. If you are one of the small band of readers this blog attracted, thanks for sticking around!

Truth to tell, the title of this blog has become a bit of a misnomer, especially the "spades" bit. The garden is a non starter this summer. Time has been an issue, but the main problem has been tendonitis in my left elbow (aka tennis elbow). I've been battling this for at least three months and it is taking it's time to improve, I tell you (yes, physio, I've been doing the exercises religiously!). This has made digging, lifting and weeding ie. most gardening, impossible. Meanwhile, Action Man is living up to his nickname and has taken up triathlons, and spends half of Sundays with our son playing junior golf (a sport he loves and took up before Tiger Woods visited our shores), so he has been out of action too. There is nothing growing in our veg garden except leeks and silverbeet left over from winter, and rhubarb. That's it. And doesn't our weekly shopping bill show it!

Never fear though. My enforced rest from gardening has meant that I've been busy in the sewing room. Really, this blog could be renamed "Needles and Spoons" if it didn't sound like the title of a blog dealing with nefarious activities involving illegal substances!

Over the last few weeks, I've made some knit tops, and yesterday I muslined a blouse. Last night I made a sample of a collar with a collar band for the first time, and it turned out really well. Slowly, slowly I am getting out of the realms of the beginner sewer into more complicated stuff. The me from twenty years ago would be amazed to think that I would ever get this far, and find it so satisfying, but I do. Having kids taught me patience and being in the moment, both skills I use a lot when sewing. Twenty years ago, I would never have sampled anything before making it. I had to have instant gratification. Then, if something didn't turn out well, I chucked it in a huff. Now, I have the wisdom to know that sampling new patterns and techniques is well worth the time. Still, I get wadders, which don't faze me at all. It all goes down to experience.

As for the "spoons" or cooking and eating bit of life, that never, ever stops around here!

It's nice to be back....

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Too busy to blog

Just thought I'd post to say I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. It happened last year, and again this year. I've been working 5 day weeks, and my blogging time has been reduced to zero.

What time I've had to spare has been spent doing the things I blog about:

Garden: Mainly mulching and spreading compost around. Apart from that, looking a bit neglected.

Kitchen: Still cooking every day, and just about every day am blessing the discovery of my much loved pressure cooker. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - everyone should have one!!

Sewing: Have made myself a skirt and a pair of cropped pants ready for an upcoming holiday.

Apart from that it's work, housework and family. Life's busy, but good.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Lemon cake and bubbles

I do enjoy baking, and like to try out different recipes. Yesterday I made a Chocolate Avocado Cake, for one of Action Man’s vegan colleagues. I can’t wait to hear how it tasted (hopefully there’ll be a slice for me to try!).

Even though I am always casting around for new recipes, I also have a few favourites (Nonna did too - she made Tollhouse cookies, an apricot/almond slice and apple pie ad infinitum, and we never complained).

I love lemon in baking, and this is my favourite way to use it. The method is super easy, and you should have all the ingredients at hand. A no-brainer really.

Lemon Cake

185g unsalted butter, softened (it must be soft)
¾ cup caster sugar
Zest on one lemon
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups self raising flour

Preheat oven to 160ºC. Grease and line a loaf tin, about 12 x 23 cm.

Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat until just smooth. Put mixture into loaf tin and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack place over a large plate. (see, told you it was easy).
Mix together ½ cup sugar and ¼ cup lemon juice, without letting the sugar dissolve. Quickly spoon over the warm cake. The juice will permeate and cake and leave a crunchy topping.

And no, apropos of nothing, really, some photos courtesy of my nine year old, who has just done a photography course and now won’t give me my camera back!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Things that go Bump

“Mum!” my son shouted. “There’s something in the bathroom! I can hear it!”
Sure enough, there was ominous bumping and thumping in the bathroom. What on earth was it?
“Have you had a look?” I asked.
“No, I’m too scared!”
Great. What could it be? A dog, a possum, a feral cat? At least it probably wasn’t a snake (I’ve had a black snake in the house before, but that’s another story). It was making too much noise for that.
I picked up the son’s tennis racket in case it was a feral cat (have you ever come across one of these? Boy, are they fierce!)
Step by step, I approached the bathroom, racket in hand, son behind me. Clatter, clatter, clatter went the noise inside.
I put my head around the door. Here is what I found:

This is Milton, our most idiosyncratic chook, who typically made the most of her opportunities when fronted with an open front door and made herself at home. Note she even laid one of her snowy white eggs for good measure.
Well we were all soon in the bathroom laughing our heads off. It was so comical to see Milton perched up on the vanity, egg beside her. Meanwhile, the look on Milton’s face was something like “And what’s so funny?”

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Yon garden has a lean and hungry look

With apologies to Shakespeare, our garden has entered the lean and hungry period. This is the period when winter crops have run their race, and new season crops are yet to be planted and bear.

At the moment the vegetable garden consists of some cabbages, one broccoli plant that is still producing, rhubarb, leeks and fennel. We have garlic that won’t be picked until November. In the orchard we are coming to the end of our citrus. I’m buying most of our fruit and veg at the moment.

This is how we arrived at this state of affairs:

1. My tactical error in planting pumpkins in the main garden last summer. The pumpkins were taking up space I should have been using to plant spring veg.
2. The winter crops are nearly spent.
3.Anything planted after mid-May has done precisely nothing .
4.To top things off, the Woolly Jumper broke into the veg garden fences and ate all the silverbeet and lettuces that were growing.

Never mind. I’ve learned my lesson. Plus, we’ve fixed the fences.

The extremely warm August we have had has meant that our fruit trees are already flowering, so another season is just around the corner…..

Quince flower

Plum tree in flower

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Going Solar

In Australia, we love to bag our governments, and in New South Wales, we have more to bag our State government about than most. One positive thing they are party to, though, is the rebate programme available to householders who install solar hot water systems. This runs alongside the rebate programme that the Federal Government has.
We've been wanting to take advantage of these programmes for a while. Finally, we had a bit of time to arrange a rep to come and check out our system. Half and hour later, we've signed up to get our ageing hot water system replaced with a solar system.
The downside of the programme is the fact you have to stump up the not inconsiderable cash upfront. For us, this is something like $5000. Quite a sum, and one that I think would put a lot of people off. When we get the rebates back, however, the new hot water system will cost us something like $1200.
I asked the rep who visited us whether they were busy. He showed me the sheaf of cheques he had collected from appointments he'd had over the last two days. The programme is very popular. You have to wonder how long the governments, State and Federal, will support it.
So if you are in Australia, and in New South Wales in particular, and are thinking of going solar I would suggest doing it sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bordeaux mixture

So I've been on the chain gang the past few weeks. Finally, though I have a few days to do something other than eat, sleep and work. I haven’t done anything worth blogging about, and wouldn't have had time to blog about it if I did.
A few days’ grace from work has meant catching up with a few fairly urgent jobs around the place. Number one job has been to spray the fruit trees with Bordeaux mixture to prevent peach leaf curl.
You need to spray the fruit trees at bud swell. Normally I would expect to do this job about the beginning of September. However, it’s been so balmy around here recently that bud swell is happening now. If I left it til the weekend, I reckon I would have missed the boat. (On a tangent - all those tiresome climate change naysayers should get themselves a garden and notice the changes. It’s happening, people. It’s real).
I follow Peter Cundall’s instructions for Bordeaux mixture out of The Practical Australian Gardener. (Jackie French talks about Bordeaux mixture often in her books, but do you think I can find a recipe? It’s probably there somewhere, but the lack of indexes means I give up and look elsewhere)
So, if you have stone fruit trees, and need to spray, here’s what you do.

Bordeaux mixture

Dissolve 100g of copper sulphate in 3 litres of hot water in a non-metal container, and stir to dissolve. Leave for a few hours.

Dissolve 100g of hydrated lime in 3 litres of cool water. Stir for a few minutes to dissolve the lime as much as possible.

Pour the copper sulphate into the “milk of lime” (the solution certainly looks milky) and stir for a few minutes. Pour into your sprayer and top with water to make 10 litres of solution.
Spray on stone fruit trees. We also spray it on the grape vines.
You need to use this solution pretty much straight away so don’t make it up ahead of time to use later. It won’t work.
Lastly, a photo of our newest lamb, born to the sheep we call the Woolly Jumper (she is the Houdini of sheep. She is the only sheep who has figured out how to get out of the temporary paddocks we have around the place).
This little girl is the Woolly Jumper's first lamb, and honestly, she doesn't have a clue about mothering. The poor little thing is lucky to feed for 10 seconds at a time before WJ decides she's had enough and walks off with a slightly desperate lamb after her. Still, despite this, the lamb is doing reasonably well, so she have become a highly efficient feeder.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back on the Chain Gang

You know how in the last post I wrote about my two day a week Science teaching gig? That's out the window, as I've been asked "pretty please" to take on a class full time for the first few weeks of third term. Being a casual, and never knowing when and where the next job is coming from, I've said "yes". This means, though, that everything not involving work and family goes on the backburner for a while. So I will be back to weekly posts for a while.

I like teaching, but I really don't enjoy doing it full time. Even though I think it is a hackneyed term, the "Work-life balance" goes straight out the window. I get that mouse on the spinning wheel feeling, as AM and I juggle two jobs, children and their needs, and the jobs that need to be done around here. Things like exercise just don't get done. Social life, that's a laugh. I spend most of my time mentally and physically exhausted.

If I had to pinpoint one area of life that needs addressing it's this. I would love to find permanent part-time work (hard to find in this high unemployment area of Aus), so that I didn't feel the need to take whatever is offering, and I can get more control of what happens, both for my own sake and for the family.

Enough of the whingeing!

We've just had some houseguests from the UK for the last few days, two young girls, distant relatives of AM who have been travelling around Australia. The last few days have been spent showing them around the natural delights of the South Coast. It's great to do this every so often. It really makes you appreciate where you live.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Teaching kids to care

My current teaching gig is teaching primary school science two days a week to students between preschool age and Year 6 (12 years). For the last few days, I’ve been preparing the teaching programme for Term 3 (and doing experiments like the electrolysis of water, and using a plastic sheet to gather water. Great holiday entertainment!).

Kindergarten and Year 2 are doing units of work with their “normal” teachers on Communities. Immediately, I thought this would be a great opportunity to do a Science unit on caring for the environment, specifically teaching kids the rudiments of reducing, reusing and recycling the waste we make.

I’ve really enjoyed writing this programme, and have lots of great ideas about starting a compost heap (provided I can find a safe place for it) with the classes and doing a campaign in the school about keeping the environment clean etc. One thing I would like to do is a “design and make” activity reusing a common piece of rubbish to make something useful eg. using cereal boxes as magazine holders. I need more ideas, so any ideas for reusing common household waste to make useful things that is within the reach of 5-8 year olds would be appreciated!


Sad day yesterday. I started using the last head of garlic, harvested last November. True, it’s not too perky, but it hasn’t sprouted and it tastes all right. So, for the next few months, until we can harvest the current crop, I’ll be on the lookout for Australian-grown garlic, not my pet-hate Chinese imported garlic. The spooky things done to this stuff doesn’t bear thinking about.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I was listening to a discussion on ABC Local Radio yesterday about cats, specifically the problems cats cause when they stray, and occasionally go feral. Toward the end, someone rang and said everyone should get rid of their cats and replace them with chickens, which are production and not destructive.
Given the problems we have with feral cats in this neck of the woods, I can only say hear, hear! (Apologies to cat lovers, I don’t really think you should “get rid of” your cats).
Chickens make great pets, even if they are a trifle standoffish.

At the moment, we have three ducks, 2 roosters and 6 hens. We get about two-three eggs a day, because most of our hens are advanced in years, and don’t lay every day. {Sigh. The dilemmas of elderly chooks. They don’t talk about this in chook books}.
Because of the feral animal problem around here (cats and foxes), the poultry is enclosed most of the day. We let them out for a run in mid afternoon to have a scratch, and then lock them in again at nightfall.
They are fed with kitchen scraps, pellets and whatever they get out of the garden. One particular chicken always hops up onto the kitchen window sill and eats the spiders that live in the corners. My nonna used to give her chickens layer mash porridge made with hot water. The chickens loved it.
We love the boys and girls, not only for their eggs but for their presence in the garden. Life without chooks: can’t imagine it.

Monday, July 20, 2009


The kids have held the giveaway draw, so I now I can announce the winner of the latest edition of Backyard Farmer....(drum roll)....and the winner is...Tricia from littleecofootprints. Tricia, email me at, with your postaldetails and the book will be on its way!

Thanks to everyone who made a comment this week. Few in number, but all very much appreciated. At the very least, I know I'm not talking to myself.

BTW, I found my scissors, but now I've lost my EFTPOS cards. I was at Aldi this afternoon, and put through a shop only to realise I didn't have them with me. Embarrassing! Luckily Action Man works only up the road, and came to the rescue, card in hand. Now...where are those cards??

Lemon and Lime Marmalade

Isn't nature great? Just as I am dredging the last bits of fig jam out of the last jar, it gives me the wearwithall to make my second favourite breakfast toast topping, marmalade. Here's the recipe:

Lemon and Lime Marmalade

6 lemons

6 limes


About 1.6kg white sugar

Wash then cut the lemons and limes into eighths. Finely slice each of these pieces, pith and all, and tip into a large bowl.Save any pips, put them into a little square of muslin, tie it up with kitchen string and stick that in the bowl too. Add about 2 litres of water, and leave overnight.

Next day, put everything into a large saucepan, bring to boil then lower heat and simmer for about 2 hours. Measure the lemon/lime mixture, and for each cup, tip 200g of sugar into the mixture. I had 8 cups of mixture, so I used 1.6kg sugar. Discard the muslin bag of pips. Put about 4 saucers into the freezer at this point. Put the marmalade mixture back into the saucepan stirring to dissolve the sugar.Bring to the boil, then simmer. I set the timer for 15 minutes once it is at a simmer. After 15 minutes, I drop a tablespoon of mixture onto a frozen saucer. If it wrinkles when you drag the end of a spoon through it, it has set. If not, set the timer for 5 minutes, and repeat the process. [My last batch set after 20 minutes, but I've had batches not set until 40 minutes. You just have to be vigilant for this bit].

I sterilise my jars by washing them in soapy water, then I stick them into a very slow oven for 15 minutes or so. Put the marmalade into the hot jars, and seal. Done!

Meanwhile, I've been busy in the sewing room making a pair of pants, and wouldn't you know it? I've mislaid my fabric scissors. I'm one of those people who can remember to the date of some obscure occurrence 25 years ago, but can't remember where I put my scissors yesterday. It has really stopped my sewing in its tracks.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pruning grapevines

A few posts back, I wrote about facing the task of pruning 100 grapevines, which seems to fall to me each year.
So far, 72 down, 28 to go! The task has been helped by the investment in some decent secateurs.
Anyway, for those of you who might have a grapevine or two, this is how I prune a grapevine:

Your usual grapevine suspect

1. Assess your grapevine. Decide where you want to cut it at the ends and do this first. I try to cut adjacent to a upward facing bud.

All these branches emanating from the end of the vine get cut off
2. Cut off all the long, whippy trailing vines.

3. Cut off the small twiggy growth at the main branch.
4.Cut off any branches that are growing downward or off to the side at the main branch.

Small twigs and downward growing branches are pruned off
5. Cut upward facing branches, so that there are two buds on the branch.

6. If you have two branches coming out of the main branch next to each other, cut the weaker branch at the main branch and cut the stronger branch with two buds.

Ta da, one grapevine pruned. Bring on the other 99
7. Repeat until your grape vine is pruned.

Repeat, ad infinitum....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why cooking is important

Well as you are aware, we’re on holidays around here so we are doing things we just don’t get time to do in term time.
Both my son and daughter are well into baking, and are at the point where I can leave them to it in the kitchen. They can make Anzacs, muffins and lemon cake pretty much without my help.

Daughter whipping up a pancake batter

I thought that they needed to expand their repertoire to include “real” dinner food, so I asked them what they liked to eat best for dinner. Meatballs, they said, so last night they were in the kitchen with me while we made my Meatball recipe, adapted from a recipe from Nigella Lawson. I’ve blogged about it here.
So last night they learned to use the food processor, make breadcrumbs and peel carrots. I gave them knives for the first time (eek!) and gave them a lesson in chopping vegetables. Then they formed the meatballs, put the rice cooker on and prepared some broccoli from the garden. When I sent daughter to the garden for some parsley she came back with the right stuff. Not a bad effort. And they want to do it again tonight.
I don’t remember being interested in learning as a kid, unlike my own children. The main thing I developed as a kid, though, thanks to my mother (and my nonna) was an appreciation of “real” food, that is, food cooked freshly with real ingredients. So, by the time I left home, although I wasn’t a great cook I quickly realised that if I wanted to continue to eat well I’d have to learn quick smart, which is what I did. I bought a copy of the Australian Women’s Weekly Basic Cookbook, and a remaindered copy of Delia Smith’s Complete Illustrated Cookery Course, and slowly worked my way through them. I rang mum a lot for her recipes. And since then, I’ve cooked every day slowly becoming better and better and until I can say today I’m a darn good cook.
It all seems such an obvious and simple thing to do, but from what I read and witness amongst the children I teach, it seems that life skills like cooking can’t be taken for granted these days. The key to my learning to cook was being cooked for as a child, so I knew what real food was, and seeing someone cook every day so I regarded this as normal. I wonder about children in families where cooking is regarded as another chore best outsourced, and where fast food is regarded as an acceptable alternative to real food.
I’d even go further about the importance of appreciation of real food and cooking. When I think about it, my interest in growing and nurturing things, and the pared back life stems from my interest in feeding my family well. Once you are interested in real food, you become interested in real ingredients which leads to growing your own, and everything associated with that. In fact, I’d argue that if we want people to start caring for the environment, we should start by getting people to care about what they feed themselves first. From that, everything else flows.
What do you think? Got a cooking back story to share? I’d love to read about it! (and you have a chance to win a copy of Backyard Farmer).
BTW, knitting injury still not healed (aloe vera notwithstanding), but New South Wales won the State of Origami! Yay!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Knitting injury

The happy coincidence last week of being on holidays, and the First Ashes Test and the Tour de France has seen me ensconced in front of the television knitting away furiously.
Normally I don’t watch sport on television. Don’t have time. I follow the cricket in summer on the radio. Apart from Ricky Ponting and maybe Michael Clark, I wouldn’t know an Aussie cricketer if I fell over him in the street. As for the Tour de France, I put it on the other night for the very first time, and fell in love with the views. Of the scenery, I mean.
Lots of sport watching has meant lots of knitting. This is where my rug, started in April is up to so far:
As an aside, I started taking my knitting to my daughter’s netball matches on Saturday to distract me (daughter had complained about barracking from the sidelines. Too embarrassing). Unfortunately, it was useless as a diversionary tactic. I ended up unravelling most of what I knitted at the netball. So now, no knitting and I have to use my self control to shut up.
Back to sport on telly. Fortunately, the First Test finished on Sunday, and Monday night was a rest day on the Tour, because I’ve sustained a knitting injury. The skin on my middle finger between my two knuckles, where I wrap the wool, has been rubbed raw. I’ve had to take a break from knitting for a couple of nights to give it time to heal. It’s looking better, so it looks like I might be fit to knit in time for the State of Origin tonight (or the State of Origami, which I heard it described as on Radio National this morning). AM is a Queenslander, so the tension is high.

Meanwhile, our little lamb is now 12 days old and is growing at a great rate. This morning AM got close enough to pick her up and brought her down for us all to say hello.

Don't forget to leave a comment before next Monday, to be in with a chance to win a copy of the latest Backyard Farmer magazine....

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Useless Bits of Crap

You'd think, wouldn't you, that in a home where the adults are trying to embrace what I call the "pared back life", that the kids would be right in step. Wouldn't you? {Heavy sigh} Not the case, I'm afraid, specifically in relation to their incessant collection of what I call "tiny bits of useless crap" or UBOC. (Apologies to those offended by the word "C**P").
What has brought on this foul mood? Well, it's the holidays, and every holidays I set aside a few hours to tackle the kids' rooms. And we've just done the job. And as ever, despite my vigilance, there were bagfuls of UBOC to toss. And as ever, I get into a sour mood.
I honestly can say that the origin of most of this stuff is not me or AM. Most of it is given to them by well-meaning friends and relatives for birthdays and Christmas, or handed down to them by older cousins. Some of it they buy themselves with their pocket money, despite my constant banging on about using their money to buy things they know they will value and will last (as opposed to stuff that ends up in dark recesses of cupboards to be forgotten ever more).
It seems that despite my best efforts with the kids to set a good example, to talk about the why and how of spending money, to eschew commercial electronic media, stuff insinuates itself into my home. I feel powerless against the onslaught, I have to admit. No wonder I get cranky.
I can report a recent win though. After the agreement to limit Easter Egg giving this year, I lobbied my family to institute a kris kringle for Christmas for the children (we already do this with adults), in an effort to limit the amount of UBOC bought. Despite some protests from some quarters (I'm not just the Easter Grinch, I am the Grinch full stop) , it looks like we will be doing this this year. Hooray.
Anyone out there winning the war against UBOC? How? Please share! Don't forget that any comments on this blog before next Monday 20 July will be in with a chance to win the latest edition of Backyard Farmer.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Two good things about this week: we're on holidays, and the latest edition of Earth Garden's Backyard Farmer, in which I have an article on establishing a vineyard, has just been published.

[Lots of good reading in Backyard Farmer, as ever. After reading the article on beekeeping, AM is gungho to try it out. I'm not so sure.]

To celebrate, I'm going to give away, to anyone anywhere, a copy of Backyard Farmer to someone who makes a comment on any post on this blog in the next week. Even if you have nothing in particular to say, just introduce yourself. Go on, it's easy!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


One of the nicest things about growing things is that you can give away lots of good stuff. We give away lots of produce, seeds and cuttings to friends and family, and in return we get lots of stuff given to us.

Over at Julie's blog a week or two ago, she wrote recently of her ginger harvest. I thought "Mmmm, I wouldn't mind growing a bit of that", especially when stale ginger is on sale for $15 a kilo.

Well, wouldn't you know it? A work colleague of AM's was telling him how he was pulling up heaps of the stuff that had gone rampant in his garden, and knowing AM is into growing things, would he like some. Answer: YES. Yesterday he delivered enough ginger to fill the back of his station wagon. Here is just one of the clumps:

Now I need to research the best place to put these things. Any ideas out there?

Coincidentally, a friend rang us to ask if we would like some shiraz vines. His backyard just wasn't suitable for grape growing (not enough sun) and he was going to pull six advanced vines out. We already have 100 of the things, but we couldn't let goods vines go to waste, so we've added another six vines to the collection.

Both of our friends were given pumpkins and citrus in return. One of the nicest interpretations of "what goes around, comes around", or karma, or whatever you like to call it...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kudos to the Council

On holidays, yippee, says one tired teacher! Time to sew, garden and socialise, and rest! Standby for a few more posts on the blog this month.

It’s not often you are moved to give your local council a wrap, but my local Shoalhaven Council certainly deserves one. Over the last few months, the council has been advertising free composting workshops. If you register and attend, you not only get a lesson into how to compost, but you get a free compost bin and a small kitchen bin with a lid to collect your kitchen waste. How about that?

Here’s our shiny new bin, getting to know our current heap.

AM went to a workshop this week (I was at work, alas). He said there were about 50 people there, and it was one of three workshops being held that day. All up, the Council is running series of workshops all around the council area for the next few weeks. We’ve been composting for a while now, so a lot of what was discussed was familiar to AM, but you always pick up a tip or two that helps you improve your practice at these things. For example, we’ve never paid much attention to the nitrogen:carbon ratio, but this was emphasised, so we thought we’d better give this more thought. So now I am using our paper shredder to turn the paper I would recycle into compost bin fodder.

Shoalhaven Council is the first council in Australia to offer a programme like this. If you live in Australia (heck, even if you don’t live in Australia), and you like the sound of this, tell your local council about what Shoalhaven Council is doing. Tell them they will be doing something positive for the environment, and if that doesn’t move them, tell them they may even save a buck or two in developing landfill sites.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Lambing season

To date, I haven't mentioned our sheep on this blog, although I've included a photo of one of them skulking in the shadows of the plum tree in the blog sidebar.

We've had a troupe of sheep for about 5 years now, mainly to keep the grass in the hilly back section of our property down. We have a ram, a trio of ewes, and once a year, we have lambing season. The joke around here is to check out the weather report around this time of year, and at least one ewe will lamb on the coldest night forecast.

So it proved this week. Our merino ewe had her lamb on a cold blustery July night. As ever, the lamb is extremely cute! These photos were taken when she was only a matter of hours old. You have to get in quick if you want to take close-ups. After a day or so they are fast and it's difficult to get near them. The mothering instinct on the part of the ewe, and the independence the lamb shows so quickly never fails to fascinate me.

Sheep are much maligned as being dumb, but to my mind, that's simply untrue. They do however have a strong instinct to stick with the flock, so if one sheep gets spooked and runs, the others will follow. They also show distinct personalities. Some friendly and calm, some neurotic, some are excellent mothers, some not so good.

The main thing we have to worry about with this lamb is foxes. Last year we lost one of a set of twins to a fox. We have put mother and lamb into an area that is fenced off with barbed wire, and they will stay there for at least a couple of weeks.

Keeping sheep is pretty straight forward. In our humid coastal area, the main concern is worms. We have to drench the sheep regularly, and move them around different areas, to give feed paddocks a rest. They live mainly on grass, although we give them a couple of handfuls of sheep pellets every day which they stampede for.

Once a year around November we call up a local shearer, and he comes and shears the sheep. He keeps the wool as payment, and when he has accumulated enough fleece from other small acreage sheep, he takes a trip to Goulburn and sells it at the market up there. People ask me whether I spin the wool. The answer is "no" and will stay "no" for the foreseeable future. There are so many other things I would like to do before I learn to spin.

We really enjoy having the sheep, although I don't think the kids are so enthusiastic when I give them gloves and a hand spade and send them out to pick up sheep manure for the compost bin. They get $1 pocket money, but to their mind this is no compensation whatsoever.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


A healthy coffee bush

Continuing today what has turned out to be a series of posts in vice self-sufficiency. Previously, we had wine and liqueur. Today the subject is coffee.
When we moved here 6 years ago, Action Man happened to meet a man through his work who had a small coffee plantation in our area. Although we didn’t have plans to do so, we decided to plant ten coffee bushes just to see what happened.
Well, it wasn’t an overwhelming success. Of the ten we have planted, despite lots of love and tenderness (ie. mulch, compost and water), three survived. I’m not sure the wind in the area (we are close to the coast) did them a great lot of good. Que sera sera.
Coffee bushes are slow developing. It took four years until we were able to harvest any beans. Over the last two years, we have harvested a small amount of beans, enough for 8 or so pots of coffee. Per year. Sadly, no where near self sufficiency around here.
Coffee bean close-up

This year looks to be the best year yet. Our bushes have loads of beans on them, much more than 8 pots of coffee worth, so our fingers are crossed. We have at least another 5 months to go until I expect the beans to change to a deep red colour which indicates they are ready for picking.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Lemon tree, with an orange and mandarin in the background

When we moved here, the only productive plant on the whole property was one lemon tree. One.
It’s not a big tree, but it’s incredibly productive. This year the tree is laden with enormous lemons that I have to make sure are kept separate from the grapefruit we pick, because it’s very easy to mistake a lemon for a grapefruit, and vice versa.
What to do with all these lemons?
Well, when life gives you lemons, make limoncello.
Limoncello is a lemon-flavoured liqueur that is yummy straight or on ice as a digestive. It’s also nice on ice-cream. I make it with grappa, an alcohol made from the wine pressings, but you could use vodka. Here’s how you do it:


8 lemons, fully ripe with bright yellow skin
1 litre grappa
400g sugar

Peel the lemons, leaving behind any white pith. Place it in a sterilised jar with the grappa, and leave it at least two months, even more if you can.
Then place the sugar in a saucepan with 2 cups water and over a high heat dissolve. Once it reaches boiling point, lower the heat to medium and let the sugar and water bubble away until it becomes thick and syrupy. Let the sugar syrup cool completely and add to the jar. Leave it for another couple of months. Strain into sterilised bottles and drink.

While we’re in the orchard, here are some of the other trees. All these trees were planted in spring 2003, so they are six years old.

These mandarins still have a way to go until they are ready. This tree has been developing slowly. This is the best crop we've had so far.

Blood oranges. Hmmm, pretty small. Maybe we should knock some off next year, so they can grow to a bigger size?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The winemaker's notes

Yesterday we were at the local produce market, when AM steered me to the wine tasting stall.
“Taste this” he said, handing me a tasting glass of chambourcin from a local commercial winery. So I did.
“What does that remind you of?”
“Your wine”, I replied.
“That’s what I thought”.
Yes, after the debacle of last year’s wine, this year AM is one very satisfied winemaker. The 2009 wine is a beauty.
This weekend, AM has been “racking” wine in between bouts of activity on the chicken tractor. This process gives us an opportunity to taste the wine, and it is definitely tasting well, although I think it needs about another 6 months until it is fully ready for quaffing.

You can see AM’s winery operations here. Most of the equipment is second-hand, but still expensive enough to wonder whether making your own wine is a money-saving proposition. Five years in, it probably is not. When the cost of setting up the vineyard and the winery is amortised over a longer period, say ten years, it may be.
Then again, the point of making our own wine was never about saving money as such. It floats our boat, and we have chosen to afford the equipment. It’s how we choose to spend our time, and to our mind worth the expense. That’s what budgeting is all about, isn’t it? Making sure that you spend your money in the way that maximises your satisfaction (or utility) level. (Stop me now before I go all economist on you.)

The next task on the list is winter pruning of the grapevines. That’s my big contribution to the wine making cause (apart from being chief taster and critic). Last year I pruned all 100 vines myself. Each row took about 2 hours, and there are 8 rows so it’s a 16 hour, or 2 day job. I’ll post a grapevine pruning how-to when I start this year’s session

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sew what's been happening?

Since I brought my sewing machine back from the repairman, I haven’t done a tonne of sewing due to work commitments, but I’ve managed to slip upstairs to the machine on occasion. I love to get up there in my loft, put some music on and fiddle around. I may not produce much, but I enjoy the process.

This is a denim skirt I made from Burda World of Fashion 01-2009 Pattern 105. I’m really pleased with this skirt. It fits great, feels great and I like the quirky pleats and deep hem (a bit hard to see here). I did away with the exposed zip on the tummy (I do not need to draw attention to this part of my anatomy after two children) and cut the front on the fold, putting the zipper in the back. I struck this pose after my daughter who took the photo said to me "look like a model Mum".

For the last few weeks I have been working my way through the Build a Pants Muslin course offered through again. This has been more challenging, especially as I have only had limited time to work on them and my pants on my body seem to need a lot of alterations (twelve and counting..) , but I am slogging on because perfectly fitting pants are my holy grail. Perfectly fitting pants - how good would that be? If I can crack this, I can crack anything.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A chicken tractor

We've had poultry for nearly six years, ever since we moved into this place (six years this Saturday). We've housed them in an enclosure the previous owners of this house had used for their dogs. The enclosure has fitted the bill well, but we have really wanted a chicken tractor, so the chickens can do what they are meant to do all around the backyard. Research showed some ready made chicken tractors for about $500 each. Action Man reckoned he could do this for a fraction of the price.

Well, it's never too late to get around to things, right? This week Action Man got busy on the internet, and located some plans for our own chicken tractor. It has been a long weekend here and he got busy in his shed. Not quite finished yet, but getting there, a brand new house for the girls and boy.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Years ago, Action Man was contemplating a career change, and did a course in Aquaculture, with the idea of starting a fish farm.
Fortunately, the main thing the course taught him was not to become a fish farmer. Personally, I was relieved. When I heard that fish farming is on par with dairy farming for time commitment, I admit any enthusiasm I had for the idea went straight out the window.
When we moved into this place 6 years ago this week, one of the first things Action Man did was stock the small dam with yabbies.
We bought them at a yabby farm north of Newcastle. We spent that night at my parent’s place, with the yabbies safe in buckets in the kitchen, or so we thought. Next morning was spent rounding up the yabbies from every nook and cranny of the house. Talk about fun.
The yabbies went into the dam, and have basically been left to their own devices. Every so often we put out the nets to see what is in there. A great activity when our children have friends around to play.
Here is the haul from our dam yesterday. The yabbies seem to be thriving. Lots of little yabbies, and a couple of nice sized ones as shown in the photo. They all went back into the dam. Occasionally we do cook a few, but the meat-to-body ratio is so small it scarcely seems worth the effort.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pressure cooking - the love affair continues

It's a month or so since I invested in my Pressure Cooker. I've used it at least 20 times in that time.
Why did it take so long to walk (or quietly hiss) it's way into my life?
If you have read this blog in the past, you could surmise that I am a girl who likes my tucker. You would surmise right. Because I like my tucker, I also like to cook. Unfortunately, life often conspires to keep me from the kitchen. If I don't cook, I don't get a decent feed. And then I get cranky.
The pressure cooker has released me from all that "I don't have time to cook" stuff. It means I have time to cook, and do other things too. Take this morning, for example. While we were hanging around the kitchen for breakfast, I put together a Pumpkin, Potato and Chickpea curry which will be my lunch for the next few days. Total time, prep and cooking: 20 minutes.

Here's the recipe:

Pumpkin, Potato and Chickpea Curry

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 knob of chopped ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 tablespoons tomato paste
400g pumpkin
300g potato (these are approximate measurements, just use whatever you have)
1 tin chickpeas
½ cup boiling water
Salt and pepper

Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat, sauté the onion until lightly golden. Add the garlic and ginger, stir for a minute or so. Add the spices and tomato paste, stir for another minute. Stir in the pumpkin, potato, chickpeas, water and salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 45 minutes.

If using a pressure cooker, bring to low pressure over high heat. Once at pressure, turn down the heat and maintain pressure for 6 minutes. Release pressure using natural release method.

Why else do I love my pressure cooker? It's clean! There is no way your simmering food can short of water, so I haven't had to scrape food from the bottom of pots. And because the food stays in the pot, with a tight lid, there is no splattering on the stove.

Me and my pressure cooker - it's official. It's love!