1 August 2014

Weekend reading

Kathleen, one of our Frizzles, displaying her magnificent hat of soft feathers.

I hope you've had a good week. Mine has been a bit hectic with a few bundles of bad news coming my way. The weekend should fix that though, for all of us. Sunny and Jamie will share Saturday lunch with us, the rest of the time I'll be working on my patchwork quilt.  Keep smiling, friends.

=== ♥︎ ===
Irish food and retro recipes
Son-in-law eggs
How to make ... comfort foods
Then and now in pictures
Australians embracing the internet
The baby boomers at 65
Sew a simple circle skirt
Make some cami tops from old T-shirts
How to save seeds - video
10 reasons to be hopeful we will overcome climate change  We bought a hybrid car (Camry) a couple of years ago and we both think it's the best car we've ever had.
How to make your own plant food
Debt-free living in your dream home
Free garden insects guide ap - America/Canada Mother Earth News
Happy birthday to our horses. When I was a little girl, my mother used to remind Tricia and me that August 1 is the birthday of all thoroughbred horses in Australia (and the Southern Hemisphere).
Carrot cake  ; - )

31 July 2014

Slow cooked chicken

Last week I said I'd write about a chicken meal for the slow cooker, so here it is. I cooked mine in a cast iron pot in the oven because I left it too late for the slow cooker - it needs at least four hours and  I only had two. The recipe is the same though and I hope you enjoy it. It will serve four to six adult portions and, as usual, you can use whatever vegetables you have in the fridge. I've given the oven cooked and the slow cooker instructions, so watch out for the points of difference as you read.

Get yourself a free range or organic chicken, or better still, one of your own meat birds, and make sure there is nothing in the cavity. Wipe the skin dry and place the whole bird in a lightly oiled pot to brown. Don't skip this step, it's what gives the chicken the depth of flavour it will develop during the cooking.

While the chicken is browning, chop up one onion, one clove of garlic, two carrots, three sticks of celery and some mushrooms. When the chicken is brown on both sides, remove it from the pot and add all the vegetables.  Brown them for five minutes.

While the vegetables are browning, organise your spices.  I used cumin seeds, dried chilli and paprika as well as finely chopped flat parsley from the garden.  If you have to grind the spices, do that now. 

You can use any vegetables you have in the fridge - but do use onion as it gives the meal a good foundation. You can choose your own spices and herbs too. Use what you have on hand. If you enjoy curried chicken, this is a good way to make it when you don't have a lot of time. Add your favourite curry paste or spices, let them toast for a while, then add the water. Chicken is a very versatile meat and will team up well with many flavours.

When the vegies have developed some colour, add the spices and stir them around with the vegetables to toast. This will bring out their natural flavours. Add two dessertspoons of plain/all purpose flour and stir in. Add one litre/quart of water and stir. When that's done, add the chicken back to the pot, season with salt and pepper and mix it all together. If you're using the slow cooker, this part of the cooking is now done.

If you're going to cook this in the oven, it will need more water than the slow cooker version so pour over another litre/quart of water.  You don't need to use stock for this - the water will turn into stock while it's cooking the chicken and vegetables. Mix it all together.

You can prepare everything to this point the day before and store it in the fridge. You don't have to but if it will be easier for you to do it in two batches, this is where you end the first batch.

If you're cooking it in a slow cooker, pour the contents of the pan into the slow cooker and start it on the low setting. It should cook for at least four hours but it will bubble away nicely, developing flavour, all day.

If you're cooking it in the oven, put the lid on the pot and place it in a medium oven, around 165C/320F for about two hours. If you only have an hour, set the oven to 200C/390F to cook it faster.  Slow cooking will develop more flavour.

When it's finished, add two spoons of sour cream (optional), and serve it with potatoes, or rice if you made a curry. The meat should just fall from the bone.

Please note: if you use chicken pieces or chicken breasts for this recipe, don't cut them up. Slow cooked chicken will dry out if it's in smaller pieces. If you need to serve smaller pieces, cut them after cooking.

This is a good hearty family meal and just right for a mid-week meal when you're working throughout the day. If you can manage to do the preparations the evening before, you just pop  it into the slow cooker before you go to work. I hope you enjoy it.

29 July 2014

What I've been part of

Every so often Hanno and I leave our chores behind and go out for the day. We like to take the back roads, we stay away from crowds and shopping centres and we usually end up at a quiet spot where we look around, have lunch and a cuppa and then travel back home again. Yesterday we went to Tin Can Bay and we took Jamie with us. :- )

Looking after small children on an outing doesn't change much. There is generally a basket containing a water bottle, juice, sultanas, fruit, a hat, a little bag of favourite small toys and a set of spare clothes, just in case. The other things that don't change are the little songs, the questions and the tiny fragments of life that might seem so ordinary they aren't all that special. But looking at it all from a grandma's eye, it's all extraordinary, charming and the stuff that melts even the coldest heart.

I know Jamie won't remember that trip for more than a few days but I'll remember it until I take my last breath. I'll store the memory away with all the others I have of Shane and Kerry, of Alex, of Sarndra and Sunny, of Jens and Cathy, of Tricia, my nephews and their babies, and my mum and dad. All those memories are the precious articles I take out to examine in the wee small hours of the morning or when I'm sitting in the garden and it looks like I'm gazing at a kookaburra or a far off tree. Those are the times when I'll see Jamie on his bike again, and I'll hear him singing and calling me grandma, surely the sweetest sound I know, and it will remind me of how well I have lived and what I've been part of.

28 July 2014

How to make soap - new recipe

This is the soap made last week using calendula-infused oil.

I love making soap. It's another piece of the self-reliance puzzle and it makes sense to me to put time into this very old craft. Hanno and I both have dry, sensitive skin so we make sure we use soap that nourishes our skin. The soap I usually make has four ingredients, commercial soap contains many more than that. Shower gel is no better. The trouble with most commercial soaps is that they use man-made ingredients instead of natural ones and they remove most of the glycerin from the soap. Glycerin is the moisturising part of soap but it's removed in the commercial soap making process and then added back in much smaller amounts. Glycerin is more expensive than soap is so it's often sold as a separate product to make a greater profit. What's in your soap?  A list of soaps and their ingredients. This list is from the USA but it would be very similar in Australia and Europe.

Your skin is your body's largest organ. What you put on your skin has the potential to heal or harm. I want to use products that at the very least, don't hurt me, and at their best, provide nourishing care for my skin and make me feel clean and cared for.

I hope I can encourage you to make your first batch of soap. But I have to start off with a warning. It can be dangerous because the caustic soda/lye you use will burn if you spill it. If you make soap when you're alone, with no children or animals around, you'll be able to focus all your attention on it and if you have the capabilities and intelligence of the hundreds of thousands of people who made soap before you did, you'll be fine. The danger point is mixing water with the caustic soda - the combination of those two elements will cause the mixture to heat up, even though it's not on the stove. Fumes will come off the mix so you must carry out that stage with doors and windows open. When the caustic soda/lye is mixed with the oils, the danger period is over, although the soap mix will still be slightly caustic.  It sounds like something to be wary of but if we were together in your kitchen making soap, I'd simply say to you to be careful and I'd watch to make sure you were. Before and after that mixing of the caustic soda/lye, it's simply a matter of measuring and mixing.

Those who know me well know that once I happen upon something that works well for me, I almost never change it. Well, I'm not exactly changing my tried and tested soap recipe, but I am adding one ingredient to it. It's something I grow in my back yard - organic calendula petals. I add them in the forum of calendula infused olive oil. I am making a couple of batches of it because I like to use the fresh petals. I'll store that oil in the fridge to be used when I make soap again. I have no doubt that I'll dry some petals too, probably when it gets closer to the end of their season, so I'll have my own petals on hand and don't have to buy them.

Making calendula infused oil is quite simple. Early in the morning, after the dew has dried on the petals and after the bees have visited, but before the sun is high, pick the flower heads. This is when the oils in the flowers are at their best. Picking calendula flowers stimulates the plant to produce more so you can repeat the picking process every week until you have enough petals. Healing properties of calendula.

This is my new soap recipe:
450 mls/15.2 liquid oz of rain water, spring water or distilled water * 
172 grams/6.06 oz caustic soda/lye 
750 grams/26.5 oz olive oil
250 grams/8.8 oz calendula infused olive oil
250 grams/8.8oz copha or coconut oil

* If you don't have rain, spring or distilled water, collect enough tap water the day before you make the soap and leave it on the bench to sit. That will allow the chlorine in the water to evaporate off.

All the instructions and equipment you'll need to make soap is listed in this post. Please read the entire post before going ahead, then come back here for the new recipe. Or if you have no infused oil, use the old recipe until you have time to make infused oil.

When the soap mixture progresses from being liquid to a thicker consistency which holds a shape on the surface, the soap is ready to go into the moulds. This stage is called trace.

When the soap is made and poured into moulds, it needs to be kept warm for as long as possible. This (above) is how I do that. I place the moulds on a large board and cover the tops with plastic wrap, then cover that with a towel and wrap the entire thing in a woollen blanket. It sits on top of my freezer until the following day when I take the soap out of the moulds.

This soap can also be used for washing your hair and you don't need to use hair conditioner with it. I've used it for years and it's always made my hair shiny and healthy. Homemade soap is also a great gift. A bar of soap and two hand knitted face cloths is a beautiful gift that most people would love to receive. But I think the biggest benefits to making your own soap is knowing how few ingredients go into is and experiencing the nourishing qualities of the soap on a daily basis. And if you doubt that is a benefit, have a look at the list of ingredients on any supermarket soap.

I hope you take some time to learn the skill of soap making. Buying commercial supermarket soap will give you a lot more chemicals than it should and buying natural soap is expensive. Making your own from scratch is a natural progression in your simple life journey, so when you're ready to take that next step, I encourage you to dive right in. Here is a thread on the forum about this new recipe. If you have any questions, go there and I, or one of the other soap makers, will be sure to help you.

25 July 2014

Weekend reading

We have an abundance of wildlife here. I was working at my computer yesterday when a kookaburra swooped down to drink at the water bowl. The things I see from my window!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend.  Take some time to slow yourself and take some deep breaths. See you next week!

Reclaiming our real lives from social media  and this includes blogs :- )
I'm in love with New York but I know how lucky Australians are
Leisure time on an average day
Getting over procrastination
Giant knitting
Crocheted fruit shoes  :- )
Make a rag rug
DIY skills to pass on
How to run a craft business
Top tips for selling craft online
Building up a healthier pantry


23 July 2014

Bread - a five minute loaf

What's not to love about bread? Well, maybe I should clarify that statement somewhat - what's not to love about good wholesome bread. The common, plastic-wrapped, supermarket loaf does not have any part in this post. I'm talking about homemade rye bread today and the common supermarket loaf is about as far away from homemade rye as it could be. This rye loaf will give you good nutrition, complex carbohydrates, high fibre with a low glycemic index, as well as many vitamins and protein. There are a few types of rye bread. My favourites are pumpernickel, which is 100% rye, and this loaf which is 75 percent rye flour and 25 percent unbleached white flour/wholemeal wheat flour. If you're buying bread flour for the first time, buy it in small quantities until you find type of bread you like, then buy flour for that type of bread. If you're buying rye flour, look in the shop for caraway seeds too and get 15 - 30 grams if they're there. Caraway is the traditional seed used with rye and it's a marriage made in heaven.

Many people are put off making bread because they believe it is difficult and time consuming. This bread is called five minute bread because you'll only be working on the dough for five minutes. Making good bread is certainly a skill, but it's just a matter of learning how and then practising enough to perfect it. This bread is a very good loaf to start off any new baker because there is almost no kneading and there are few ingredients. Here they are:

  • 2 cups rye flour
  • 1 cup white or wholemeal wheat flour
  • ¼ teaspoon dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups warm water If you have to add slightly more water to get a moist dough, do so. The amount water you use will depend on the type of flour you use, and your climate. Flour is affected by humidity so you'll use less water in humid weather. 
You can make this bread using all white bread flour or any mix of bread flours, just make sure it's three cups in total.

  • large mixing bowl
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • Dutch oven or covered cast iron casserole pot. This provides the ideal conditions for cooking the loaf.
Time frame:
You'll need to make the dough about 12 hours before you want to bake the loaf. I usually make my dough late in the afternoon on the day before I want to bake it.

Your time periods will be:
Making the dough - about three minutes, at least 12 hours before you intend to bake the loaf.
Shape the dough - one minute, one hour before you intend to bake.
Place the dough in the pan to bake - less than a minute.

Baking will take about 30 - 35 minutes.
  • Late in the afternoon on the day before you want the bread, take a large bowl and measure in three cups of flour, ¼ teaspoon of dry yeast and a teaspoon of salt. Mix the dry ingredients together. Add 1½ cups water and mix the ingredients together with your hands until all the flour and water have mixed together completely. This mixing (not kneading) will take less than a minute. Just continue mixing the dough with your hands until all signs of dry flour have gone.
  • Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and leave the bowl on the kitchen bench overnight.
  • The next day, about an hour before you want to bake the bread, sprinkle a small amount of flour onto your clean kitchen bench. Tip the dough out onto the floured surface. At this stage it will look like a sloppy mess.
  • Take the top portion of the dough (at 12 o'clock) and fold it down onto the bottom portion (6 o'clock) and push in with the base of your hand. Turn the dough slightly and repeat the folding from top to bottom for about a minute or until the dough is smooth and you can shape the dough into a smooth round ball - see below.
  • Move the dough ball to a clean tea towel sitting inside the mixing bowl, cover the dough with the tea towel and let it sit there to rise for about an hour - see below. If you have caraway seeds, or want to add seeds, oats or polenta to the top of the loaf, wet the top of the dough and sprinkle it on.

  • Fifteen minutes before baking, place the cast iron pot and lid in the oven and turn the oven on to the top temperature - I use 230C/445F. 
  • Just before you place the dough into the baking pot, clip the top of the dough with scissors or slash the dough with a very sharp knife. 
  • When the pot is extremely hot, carefully place the dough in the pot, put the lid on and close the oven door.  Leave the temperature on high.
  • Twenty minutes later, take the lid off the pot and turn down the temperature to about 200C/395F.
  • After another 10 - 15 minutes, when the loaf is golden brown, remove the loaf from the oven onto a wire rack.
All our ovens are different, if you think the bread needs more time in the oven, leave it in. Check the loaf when you cut it and if it's slightly doughy in the centre, it will need an extra five minutes next time you bake it.

This bread is not sour dough but it's similar to sour dough. When the loaf is hot, the crust will be crusty and chewy like sour dough. The inside of the bread has a slightly chewy texture, also like sourdough. The bread can be eaten fresh or toasted.

This is one of the easiest loaves of bread you ever bake so even if you've never baked before, try this and see how you go. You never know, you may love baking and this might be the beginning of that. If you do bake the loaf, please take a photo and put it on your blog, then leave the link to the photo here so we can all visit and see your bread. If you don't have a blog, post the photo on the forum.  

Good luck, bakers!

22 July 2014

The wonderful possibilities of a simple life

Housework is boring!  Hmmm, yes, it might be. If I resented having to do housework, rushed through it so I could have time online or with my friends, or if I'd rather be out shopping, I'd think housework was irrelevant and holding me back. But I don't think of my home or the work I do here in that way. I see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to create the home I feel comfortable in, the home I want to raise children and grandchildren in; the home where I feel content just doing this and that and wandering around in my slippers. It's really all about the mindset. You either see your home as just a place to sleep and keep your belongings or you see it as your project - a work in progress. Taking control of a home can help you feel self-confident and strong, and if you get it right, it will give you a slow, sustainable life, full of wonderful possibilities.

All of us have to work. Not too many of us are born into wealthy families that allow us to do what we want to do every day. We learn very early to trade our life hours for money and to use that money to pay others to prepare food or us, to make our clothes, to produce the products we use in our homes. As the years roll on, many of us find a partner, have children and try to find a balance between what we have to do and what we want to do. Depending on circumstances, some leave work to raise their children and make their home the productive place they know it can be, while others continue working outside the home while treasuring those home hours and homemaking after work and on weekends.

When I left work many years ago, there was no emphasis on simple life. I didn't know what simple life was then, I just wanted to survive. My focus was in putting food on the table every day and saving money by changing the way I shopped for food. It didn't take me long to realise that the best use of the time I now had at home was to self-produce a lot of the things I used to pay for. If I could do that I'd have a very good chance of not only saving money, but supplying healthier food for my family.  So I was like a woman on a mission. I taught myself how to make bread, soap, laundry liquid, cleaners, jams, sauces, preserves, pasta and pickles. When I went shopping, I examined everything before I bought it. If there were too many chemicals and additives in it, I made it myself. Along the way I discovered there were quite a few things we didn't need at all. Doing all that saved a lot of money and I skilled myself to supply my family and home with much of what we needed. While all that was going on, I was smiling more, slowing down and learning to appreciate this calm and quiet safe haven I was living in. I had taken control of my home, turned it from a passive to an active dwelling and changed myself in the process. Doing the housework changed me and my life.

As I worked towards making my home more productive, I turned myself from a fairly sad, overworked, self-employed woman into a happy, energetic and fulfilled homemaker who brought real life back to my home. I felt powerful doing it too. I learned many basic skills, worked hard to improve every day, and every night I went to bed tired. And after a good night's sleep I jumped out of bed early the next morning, eager to do it all again. When Hanno retired and joined me we divided up the house and yard work and both settled into blissful contentment.  Mind you not everything went well.  When I made a mistake (and there were many), particularly when I was trying to learn something new, it made me stop and examine what I was doing, work out where I went wrong and then think about how to make it right. That kind of analytical thinking helped a lot and those lessons were the most valuable because I never forgot them. Mistakes might be annoying but never waste the opportunity to learn from them.

This way of life is very personal. It's all to do with family and what we eat, drink, sleep on, wear, wash, grow and love. Whatever we do here affects and benefits all of us. It's the opposite of a mainstream kind of life that is concerned with shopping and acquisition.  Mainstream life is more about being influenced by what is outside ourselves and our homes. It is rarely personal, it focuses on possessions, status, popularity and living large in a public world.

If you're at a crossroads and not sure how to change your life, start with something that you're currently concerned about. If you're worried about money, start with a budget and re-think how to do your grocery shopping. Paying off debt is key to this way of life. If you want to eat healthier food, start by learning how to cook and bake from scratch. If you want to grow food, start learning how by finding a community garden or a neighbour or friend to teach you. Doing these things for yourself will bring you back to your home and all the goodness that flows from that. I promise you that once you take that first step, life will open up and it will be quite obvious what your next step should be. Just follow that path. It will be long and windy, there will be hills and quite strolls in the park, but it will always be an interesting journey. A journey with no end.

I am a vital part of our home life, I know that. I feel valued and appreciated. I feel the same about Hanno and the work he does. We back ourselves, we're self-reliant and independent. Our work helps make the life we've both decided we want to live and as we slowly transition into older age, this kind of home is ideal for us.  Of course we'll have to modify a few of the more strenuous things when we see the need, but I can see us both living here for many years to come. And bored? Nope, I'd have to be bored with life to be bored with living as we do and I can't see that happening. 

21 July 2014

Changeable, seasonal and creative

We had lunch with Kerry, Sunny and Jamie last Friday when we invited them to join us at a German restaurant up in the mountains. It was really cold, with a cruel wind, but in that restaurant, perched on the mountainside looking out over the range below and the Pacific Ocean beyond, we had a fire blazing, hot food and good company. It was a delightful lunch and a good way to celebrate Kerry's birthday. He'll be back at work for his birthday next weekend, so we got in early.

There was a time when we always had two Airedales in the back yard. Now I only have this one little one, a gift Hanno bought me when we lived in Germany. He's a Steiff Airedale.

Our weekend here was a pleasant mix of work and relaxation. I have been knitting a mitten for Hanno's damaged right hand. He nearly cut that hand off with a chainsaw a couple of years ago, and although he has almost the full use of the hand, the circulation is quite poor and his hand is always cold. This mitten, knitted in double strand baby alpaca should keep it warm on even the coldest days. I've also made a little rice bag to slip into the mitten.

Wool scarf knitting from a couple of weeks ago. This is New Zealand pure wool and organic red fine wool.

My weekend cooking was really quick and easy. I made a five minute loaf on Saturday to have with the vegetable soup I made. That bread is so delicious and it takes next to no time at all to make. If you're new to baking, I'll go over the recipe later in the week and hopefully encourage the young readers out there to put on their aprons and bake some bread. Baking is one of those simple life skills we all should have.

Hanno didn't share the soup because he cooked his German speciality gr√ľnkohl und schweinefleisch - kale and pork (above). No doubt there are many different ways to make this recipe. Hanno does it the way his mother taught him, which was probably what she was taught by her mother. It's a mix of smoked pork sausage, pork knuckle and bacon, cooked with onions, kale and potatoes and thickened slightly with oats. He makes a big pot at least once a year, in winter, and it takes him about four or five days to work his way through it. He tells me it gets better every day. :- )

My soap from yesterday, just about to be poured into moulds.

Sunday morning had me back in the kitchen again, this time making a batch of soap. I changed my recipe, slightly, this time. That's big for me. I'm a plain and simple woman and usually when I find something I like, that's it, it's mine forever; I see no need for change.  But both Hanno and I have sensitive skin which seems to be worsening as we age. We need our daily soap to be wholesome nourishing soap, containing only natural ingredients. The bulk of my recipe is Australian extra virgin olive oil, with a smaller amount of olive oil infused with calendula petals, and organic coconut oil. I have to leave it to cure for a few weeks but I think I'm on to a winner.  It looks and feels very creamy. I'll go through the recipe with you next week.

It's satisfying and comforting working in my kitchen, producing what I need for my family and myself. There seems to be a view that women who work at home have no power and their work is monotonous. I think the opposite is true. There is true power in taking control of a household and running it to suit the exact needs of the people who live there. The work we do here helps us live an unorthodox life that is enriching because it's so changeable, seasonal and creative. I doubt you get that in most jobs. Most paid occupations are a set group of skills that must be performed to a set standard over and over again. I was thinking about that while I worked on my various tasks on the weekend. Tomorrow I'll be writing about the powerhouse we can all create in our own homes but in the meantime, what did you do on the weekend?

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