Weekend reading

Gracie, our beautiful Scotch Terrier, will be one year old soon. It seems like only yesterday when we picked her up from the airport after she flew up from a farm in New South Wales. She's really keeping us on our toes because like all Scotties, she's devilish, independent and intelligent. She runs through the house, skidding on the floor and crashing  into doors and walls when she turns a corner. But late at night and early in the morning, when she's sleepy and quiet, she's like a tiny baby who just wants her bed and a cuddle.

Yesterday, the groomer came to wash, clip and fluff Gracie. She doesn't mind being washed, or the hair dryer, but she yelped when she had her nails clipped.  After the groomer left, Gracie didn't talk to us and she refused to come inside. A few hours later, when it was getting dark and cold, she relented and slowly walked in. We've returned to normal - for now. 

Thanks for your interesting comments this week and for the support and encouragement you give me and your fellow readers. I'll be back again early next week, I hope to see you again.  Have a lovely weekend.  

Understanding Cat Tail Talk

How to substitute potatoes

Potatoes are a very popular vegetable in Australia. Those of us of European descent who cook our traditional family food often use potatoes in the food we cook and there are many potato-based foods that are commonly known, not just here in Australia, but in many other countries too.  I'm thinking of mashed potatoes, potato salad, hot chips, baked potatoes, potato bake, colcannon, potato and leek soup, wedges, frittata, shepherd's pie, cottage pie, fish pie, potato pancakes and many others. Surprisingly, to me at least, China is the world's largest producer of potatoes. The top five producers are China, India, Russia, Ukraine, USA. We grow very good potatoes in Australia, and a lot of home gardeners plant them every year, but Australia isn't in the top 25 potato-producing countries.

There was a time not too long ago when we used to grow a lot of potatoes.  Like many home grown vegetables, they taste much better fresh and just out of the ground.

Potatoes are one of the "good carbs" so they're frequently featured in family meals as a side dish, as a ingredient in frittata, salad or soup, or they're the main feature in vegetarian and vegan food. But one of the problems with this popular vegetable is that it's subject to price fluctuations because they're susceptible to rot after prolonged rain and prone to quite a few diseases. I thought it might be helpful for all of us, especially younger and new cooks, to discuss how we can replace potatoes with other common foods. After all, our job as homemakers is to not only cook nourishing food when we have all the ingredients we want but also when times are tough or we need to substitute ingredients to stay on budget. Don't forget to have packs of rice, pasta, polenta or couscous in your pantry. They'll sit there on stand by for a few months and you'll know you have that backup should you need it.

A sweet potato putting on shoots before being cut into chunks ready for planting.

 Purple sweet potato above, orange sweet potato pie topping below.

Sweet potato is the easiest replacement vegetable when potatoes are too expensive. You can mash, bake, or fry them and I think that they could easily slip in to replace potatoes in almost every potato dish. I prefer sweet potato as a pie topping and as a baked vegetable. If you have some room in your backyard, sweet potatoes are fairly easy to grow and usually produce an abundant crop.

Rice and salmon salad

Rice and pasta are obvious potato replacements in stews, curries, soup and salads. Both can be served in a stew or soup or on the side of a curry or stew. Rice salad and pasta salad, made with a variety of vegetables, is a good substitute for potato salad.

Dumplings are also great in a stew or soup if you don't have potatoes or are saving them for the Sunday roast.  They're easy to make, being very much like scone dough. Make them up about ½ hour before your stew or soup will be served.

Beef stew and herb dumplings.

  • 65g cold butter, cubed
  • 1 ½ cups self-raising flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chives or green onion tops, chopped
  • 150 mls milk or cold water
Rub the cold butter into the flour with your finger tips so they look like course breadcrumbs. Add the salt, pepper and herbs and mix to combine. Add the milk or water and make into a dough. Divide the dough into 6-8 small balls, remember, they'll puff up when cooked, and place the balls on top of the simmering stew or soup. Put the lid on the saucepan. They'll be cooked in about 20 - 30 minutes.

Sweet potato, pumpkin or any root vegetable can be added to frittata.

Polenta can be fried, grilled, baked or creamy. Creamy polenta is an excellent replacement for mashed potatoes so it can also be used as a pie topper. Simply make it up according to the instructions on the packet. When making creamy polenta you'd add butter and cheese to the final product, if you want to fry or grill the polenta, make it up according to the instructions, pour it into a flat tray with sides and refrigerate overnight.  The following day it will be set and can be cut into chips or squares for frying or grilling.

Couscous can be used to add texture to a thick soup.

Couscous can be used in salads, with curries or stews, with roast meats, as thickeners in soups and stews, as part of a stuffing for poultry or vegetables or as the starch component in fish cakes or meatloaf.  Homemade breadcrumbs can also be used to bind fish cakes and meatloaf so never throw out your stale bread.

So now it's over to you. I'd love to know what you replace potatoes with when you don't have any or want to save them for something else. 🥔


Ecoyarns sale a success

The weekend 10 percent discount sale at Ecoyarns for Down to Earth readers was very successful. Salihan at Ecoyarns asked me to pass on her thanks to you all. She said there were many first time customers and plenty of hemp and cotton was sold.  

I'm sure your dishcloths will be fabulous. If you post photos of your dishcloths on your own blogs, let me know so we can all have a look.  

Checking our electricity usage

We've been busy here the past week or so. We had plumbers in looking at an ongoing problem, which they finally fixed. A few visitors dropped by and Hanno and I had lunch with the lovely Nannachel  and her son last Thursday. I took advantage of the Down to Earth get-together at Caloundra on Saturday to declutter and sent some of my knitting, crochet and simple living books on to people who would use them. On Friday we found a worker on Airtasker to help us in the garden and clean up the mess after Hanno pulled down the wisteria arbour. The garden is looking good now and in a couple of months time, I'll take a photo of what they did.  At the moment it's very small tube stock, pine bark mulch and little else.

 This was my favourite little knitting book which is now in someone else's library.

Yesterday we met some of our family for lunch at the Cooroy Hotel, about an hour north of here, to  celebrate Shane and Alex's birthdays. Jens and Cathy have just returned from two months in Europe so I enjoyed seeing everyone and catching up with the news. Jamie had a wonderful time with his cousins and I was reminded, again, of how fast they're all growing up.

I gave Gracie a bone to chew on while we were away. She loves bones and protects them like a baby, even when all the meat has been eaten.  She sometimes buries them or hides them in her little outdoor house. But when we came home yesterday after our lunch, the picture below will tell the story.

And the culprit was ...

Now we have a few weeks ahead with no appointments or visitors so the gate will remain shut for a while. Hanno and I will be actively relaxing, gardening and wandering slowly around our yard, while we carry on with getting the garden how we want it, before the hot weather starts again.  I have a few plants to pot up and some to repot, as well as mulching and tidying the bush house. There is still a bit of not so heavy work in the vegetable garden and I'm looking forward to that.  I'm pleased to tell you I picked the first of our large tomatoes on Saturday.  They're still green but starting to turn pink and they'll continue to ripen in the kitchen.

Last week in the comments, Dollie White asked if our electricity usage had increased since we bought our dishwasher two years ago.  I didn't know and had to look it up. Generally our electricity usage is below average. In the year before we installed the dishwasher, and since, we registered:
  • June 2014 - 6.2 kW
  • Sept 2014 - 8.8 kW
  • March 2015 - 8.2 kW
  • June 2015 - 7.7 kW
New dishwasher in July 2015
  • Sept 2015 - 10.21 kW
  • Nov 2015  - 8.81 kW
  • Feb 2016 - 8.22 kW
  • June 2016 - 6.77 kW
  • Nov 2016 - 7.89 kW
  • Feb 2017 - 10.72 kW
  • June 2017 - 8.08 kW
Dollie, as you can see, we had a slight spike when we changed service providers and again at the beginning of this year when we had a long hot summer, but otherwise our usage remained the same.

We have a solar hot water unit and solar panels which earn us between $70 and $80 per quarter. We use our washing machine and dishwasher at night when the rate is cheaper and we always turn off lights and appliances we're not using.

I think we spent wisely buying an energy efficient Miele dishwasher.  I'm glad we invested our money that way because even though electricity costs have risen quite a lot in the past couple of years, the two of us (and many visitors) are still consuming less that the average for one person, which is 10 kW in this area.

What is your power bill like?  


Open weave cotton dish cloths

I used to be known as a bit of a dish cloth obsessive.  If the real truth is known, I still am. 🙂 How can you not love something you can make yourself in a few hours, that can be used over and over again, is easy to wash and dry and can help you with your daily household tasks.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are talking about our friend, the knitted cotton dish cloth.

When I started knitting these many years ago, I used whatever needles where suitable for the cotton I was using. Now I use oversize needles because it produces an open weave instead of a tight weave. I believe open weave cloths are better because they often dry out between use, if I hang them on the tap, and that means it's harder for bacteria to build up in the cloth. Bacteria need moisture to multiply and if you've got a constantly moist dish cloth, the bacteria are probably multiplying.  This happens on all dish cloths, sponges and scrubbers. The combination of water and food is an open invitation to bacteria. 

Dishcloths need to be washed regularly. Sometimes I do mine daily, sometimes every second day and every so often, I soak all of them in oxy bleach. I hang them over the side of the laundry basket until I'm ready to wash them in cold water and homemade laundry liquid, then they hang in the sun to dry. The open weave allows the sun to hit more of the yarn as it dries. Line drying cloths in the sun helps disinfect, bleach and deodorise them. When they are placed back in the kitchen drawer, they're germ-free and ready to rock and roll. I don't use dish cloths to clean up any floor mess. When I have floor spills, grease or burnt food, I clean up with my recycled cotton rags.

Below: A closeup of the cloth above made using 15mm needles.

I don't use microfibre cloths anymore because it's been discovered they are the biggest pollutant in our oceans.  Read the report here.  Every time microfibre is washed, thousands of microscopic threads go down the drain and often end up in the ocean. It's killing marine life.

I like to knit in garter stitch - just plain knitting, repeated every row until I reach the size I want the cloth to be. It's the easiest stitch, it gives a good texture for cleaning and I can motor away, knitting these cloths while I'm talking to people or watching TV.  How to knit garter stitch.    If you'd prefer to knit a more complicated pattern look at these: Dish cloth knitting patterns. I hope you feel encouraged to try knitting these. It doesn't matter if you make a couple of mistakes, I know that with each dishcloth you knit, you'll improve.

The only difference in the knitting now is that I use larger needles and that creates the open weave.  For example, all the photos here today are cloths knitted on needles larger than those recommended for the yarn. The red cloth that I cast on in the car the other day is 8ply organic cotton from Eco Yarns on 5.5mm needles. You can't see it in the photo but when you hold it up, you can see through the cloth.  The brown and pink cloths are 8ply from Spotlight on size 10mm needles. The green and white cloth is a 5ply organic Japanese cotton from Eco Yarns which is not stocked now. I used size 15mm needles for that cloth and knit using one strand of green and one of white. 

Knitted dish cloths are the fibre equivalent of our homemade laundry liquid.  Both only take a short amount of time to make up, you do it every few months to top up your supplies, they save a lot of money, are environmentally friendly and a pleasure to use. If you haven't tried making your own dish cloths yet, take the plunge now and see how you go with it.  I think you'll like them.

ADDED LATER:  I just received an email from Salihan at EcoYarns.  When she read I was doing a post about dishcloths she organised a special sale for us.  

The discount code to use is DISHCLOTH and it will give D2E readers 10% off the following dishcloth (and facecloth) friendly yarns. The discount code will expire on Sunday night (16 July):

Eco-Organic Cotton Virtues:
(highly recommended as it very durable, naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal)


Working on the basics - gardening, food and knitting

We're in the middle of our winter work at the moment.  Now that we're older, it's easier to do most of our garden and outdoor maintenance while the weather is cooler. This year that's meant replacing the wisteria and rose arbour in the front yard which was about to collapse.  It's been up for 20 years so we got our money's worth out of it.  Hanno waited until the wisteria shed its leaves and cut it back along with the Cecile Brunner rose that stands on the opposite side. When this arrangement is in full flower, we had a delightful mix of green foliage, curly tendrils, pale mauve flowers and tiny pink roses dotted throughout.  But now that it's all down, the wisteria and rose are just stumps in the ground, I'm wondering if we should erect another wooden arbour, buy a metal one or leave it open.  I think I'll have to look at the space for a few more days before I know which is best.

Along with that work, which has all been done by Hanno, we're renovating the driveway garden. I found a online business near here with tube stock of native Australian and exotic plants.  I put in an order on the weekend and instead of it costing a lot of money for established plants, we can plant up the entire driveway garden for under a hundred dollars.  We'll add a soaker hose to get them established, pour on some mulch and that area should look good and keep improving while the plants grow and fill in the spaces.

Out the back the vegetables are still motoring along in this fairly mild winter. Gardening is a bit of a gamble at times and often, at the beginning of a season, you have to flip a coin to decide whether to take a risk on certain plants.  We usually plant out tomatoes a couple of months later but the coin flip paid off this time. Had there been a harder winter, I wouldn't be waiting for tomatoes to ripen as I am now.  I had the first cherry tomatoes during the week and I can hardly wait for those larger Rouge de Marmande, a French heirloom, to be ready for our sandwiches.

I'm making vegetable and beef soup today and will probably make a few tiny herb dumplings to go with it. I doubt there has been a winter in my life when I didn't have this soup bubbling away on the stove. During the week we also had little cherry cakes, corned beef and cabbage, and sushi that Sunny sent over.  All of it was delicious. What have you been cooking?

I wonder if you take your knitting with you when you go out. :- )  Below is the view from the car park when I looked up. 

I took Hanno to his eye specialist this morning. He can't drive after the consultation because of the eye drops they use.  I didn't go in, just sat in the car and started casting on another dishcloth.  I'll do another post on dishcloths on Thursday so we can discuss the pros and cons of open weave cloths.  I love them and hope to convince you of their worth. So until then, happy knitting and gardening.  🤓


Weekend reading

Thank you for visiting me this week. It's always great to see increasing visitors. I'm hoping that with more visitors here, that means more people are living like we do.  Welcome to all the new arrivals. I hope you find what you're searching for here.

Fridays come around faster than any other day.  I wonder if you've noticed that too. Monday is my favourite day now because I can see a week ahead with so many possibilities.

It probably won't surprise you to know that I've spent some time this week watching the bears at Katmai National Park in Alaska.  The bears have been back for three weeks now and every day, the water gets warmer, more fish swim up stream and more bears arrive. They gather at Brooks Falls to feast on the sockeye salmon, increase their nutritional levels and weight, and in October/November, they'll be ready to climb nearby Mount Dumpling to hibernate.  These photos are some of this week's highlights.

I hope you have a lovely weekend. 🌞

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Countryside online
A Glimpse at Simple Homesteading Life in the 1800s

Family food traditions

Good food doesn't have to be expensive or fancy. Given half a chance, I would gladly live on stew, soup, sandwiches, a few Italian dishes, fish and salad. What could you live on?  One thing I'm looking forward to when our backyard tomatoes are ripe is a simple tomato sandwich on rye bread. I'll add salt and pepper and dash of malt vinegar and I'll be set. Another favourite sandwich is our backyard eggs, boiled, with a sprinkling of parsley, crisp shredded lettuce and a teaspoon of mayonnaise on fresh warm homemade bread.  If I could drink icy lemon cordial or a cup of black tea with my sandwiches I'd be happy.

Here is some of the food we've eaten here recently. It was all cooked from scratch, some of it was grown in our backyard, all of it was very tasty.

This is a simple and easy chicken meal. I cut a whole free range chicken into eight pieces add a little extra virgin olive oil to a baking tray and place the chicken on the tray.  I add a selection of vegetables, they could be any vegetables you have in the fridge or cupboard, sprinkled on salt, pepper, fresh thyme, lemon juice and finish off with homemade chicken stock.  Slowly baked in the oven for about an hour, it makes its own broth and is delicious.

You can add extras like garlic, chilli, or cream in the final sauce, but it doesn't need much more than what is there to be a wonderful dish. I could drink that broth in a cup.

These last two are very similar, just cooked with different cuts of beef and vegetables. Both follow the recipes for my other stew and casserole meals. On a cold winter's day with the wind picking up, there nothing better that having the house filled with these aromas and then sitting down to a meal that is warm and nourishing. These stews are meals that my parents, grandparents and great grandparents would have recognised immediately. I love cooking them to share with my family.

I cook in a very similar way to my parents and grandparents. I think they were taught by their parents and they by theirs.  I often cook for Jamie when he's here and he's always eaten what we eat.  It's only now that he tells me he likes what I cook and that gives me hope that along with all the fine foods his chef parents cook for him and all the food he'll enjoy in the future, he will hold a place in his heart for this simple food too. Carrying on these family food traditions feels right and although I eat and enjoy what my family serves up, including sushi from their shops, it is this food that I have a strong connection with and return to time and time again.


Meanwhile, in the world of the outernet

I've had a nice mix of work and leisure these past few days.  I spent time writing an online blog course, I've been lingering in the garden, reflecting, thinking about the future and the past, reading, cooking and breathing in the fresh winter air. I enjoyed "meeting" and talking to the wonderful group of women who attended my blog course on Skype.  We could all see each other, ask questions and speak of our own experiences while being separated by thousands of kilometres. There is a feature in Skype that allowed me to share my screen so I took the ladies behind the scenes on my blog and I was able to demonstrate a few practical issues before we discussed the ins and outs of writing. Writing is such a solitary pastime and often writers don't know other writers, so having this group right here in my computer was inspiring for me. I came away thinking about developing an online course for writers who hope to have their work published. I'll think about it some more and work out if it's possible to present a worthwhile course online, and if I'm the person to do that.

By the way, I'll publish links to our new bloggers in about a month's time. That will give my ladies time to create and refine their blogs. I'm sure you'll all support and encourage them as they develop their writing and blogging talents.

Meanwhile, in the world of the outernet, I'm enjoying spending my days doing what I want to do. I love having time to spend in the garden watching the diversity of creatures living in our backyard. It looks like 2017 is a good year for tomatoes. Ours are growing well in the warm sun we have most days. How are your tomatoes and vegetables going this year? All our oranges have been picked, we still have a ton of lemons to harvest and juice, the daikon, turnips and lettuce have been harvested and I've planted out some sprouting broccoli.  Roses are in bloom, tomorrow I'll divide and replant my Serbian irises and if I think of it, I'll plant up a tray of lettuce and bok choy.

This is a recent basket of fresh produce I made up for Sunny to take home.  The bottom layer was the last of our daikons, the largest ones yet, that Sunny will probably use in her kimchi.
Fresh strawberries from our local farm.

Jamie will be back with us tomorrow so we'll take him and Gracie over to our local strawberry farm to buy more of the spectacular strawberries in season right now. The owner of the farm tells us that it's the best strawberry season they've had in 45 years.  In these times of crazy weather, isn't it wonderful hearing news like that.

Yes, here she is in all her sweet cuteness. 
(Below) I was working on the computer late one night and heard soft snoring. I looked down beside me to see Gracie, tummy up and teeth showing, lost in sleep.  Do you think she's relaxed enough?

And speaking of HRH Grace, I got up in the middle of the night recently and she was running around the house in a frenzy with my wool and knitting cotton!  She'd already tied the coffee table in several layers of my best organic cotton and there where knitting needles and crochet hooks spread over the floor. She'd also started chewing on the end of my wooden ruler. I was not happy!  But what can you do. I'd never hit a dog, or any animal, and if I scold Gracie, and I suspect most Scotties, they sulk and cut communication with you for a few days.  So I just picked it all up, glared at Grace so she knew she did something wrong and we became friends again the following day. Now all my knitting paraphernalia is out of harms way, where it really should have been all along. Puppies are such funny and cute creatures, until they're not. 😲

I forgot to tell you that I've been asked to write a couple of articles for PIP the Permaculture magazine; first deadline next week. I'll let you know when the magazine is in the shops.  Yes, Mr Homemaker, I can hear you from here. 🙄 You and Hanno were right.  LOL  Have a great week everyone. 


Transforming vinegar and lemon juice

We have so many visitors here that sometimes it feels like we're camping in the middle of Central Station. I'm a solitary soul and while I thrive with my family around me, I need silence and solitude as well. Hanno and Jamie went to the movies yesterday so I took the wonderful opportunity for some alone time. I spent some time in the garden pottering around and planning future projects and when I came inside again, went straight to the kitchen and made up two quick liquids that we'll enjoy in the coming days. I feel refreshed and full of beans now, so watch out. 😊

When I make salads, I prefer a no-oil dressing. I grew up long before the days of bottled salad dressing and olive oil. If we dressed salads at all, it was with vinegar. I remember my grandmother making salad by sprinkling a teaspoon of sugar, salt and pepper over the salad and then pouring in some vinegar. By the time the salad was eaten, the dressing was a mix of tomato, cucumber and onion juices mixed in with the vinegar and sugar. Grandma drank it straight down and taught the habit to my sister, Tricia. I drink it now too and have discovered there is nothing quite as bracing as a mouth full of vinegar juices.

I often have flavoured vinegar in the cupboard. I make it up ahead of time so it can develop flavour and add extra depth to potato salad, coleslaw, fish and quick pickles. If you add two tablespoons of this vinegar to mayonnaise, it cuts the creaminess back nicely and gives it a little kick.  I've been using flavoured malt vinegar recently so I decided on an apple cider vinegar this time.  It's a simple process that takes less than five minutes. All I do is place vinegar, sugar and spices in a saucepan and bring it up to a hot, but not boiling, temperature.  You can use any spices you fancy, I tend to use the traditional pickling spices of mustard seed - I have yellow and black here, celery seeds, pepper, chilli flakes and salt. I used two small fresh bay leaves too. I'm not giving you any set amounts because this is one of those things where you throw the recipe out the window and rely on your own taste to guide you. When it tastes right, it's right.  But as a little hint, I used 400 mls of cider vinegar and ½ cup raw sugar.  If the taste is too sharp and it's already sweet enough, add a little water to mellow it. When you have the base liquid to your taste, start adding the spices you like.

White vinegar will result in a clear liquid, cider vinegar will go cloudy.

Pour it into a jar while it's still hot and let it sit on the bench while it cools. Stir it occasionally to bring in the flavour of the spices even more.  If you don't like the floating seeds in the vinegar, strain them out after a couple of days when the flavours have completely developed.  I always store this in the fridge. I'm not sure of the acidity level of the vinegar, it needs to be 5% to be stable in a cupboard, so it's safer in the fridge.

A great use for this is to do a quick pickled cucumber. Three to fours hours before using it, slice cucumber and some onion and place in a bowl. Sprinkle over about a tablespoon of salt and let the cucumbers sit for 45 minutes. This draws water from the vegetables so you don't get watered down vinegar when you fill the jars. Wash the salt off before placing the cucumbers in a jar. Pour over just enough vinegar to cover the slices and allow it to sit until you use them.

We're still working our way through the citrus. The orange tree has been picked, we have a jug of fresh orange juice in the fridge and the last bucket of oranges waiting to juiced.  There are still a lot of lemons on the trees and I had about 1500 mls of lemon juice in the fridge waiting to be used. I made more 100ml portions of lemon juice ice blocks and used the rest of the juice I had to make a small amount of lemon cordial.  It will give us a nice boost of vitamin C over winter.  This is my usual recipe for cordial.   It's delicious made up as a cold drink but you can also add it to hot black tea in winter.

Such simple liquids, but they both transform any food they're added to. Do you have a favourite vinegar or juice recipe?

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