new beginnings

So its been 10 months since I last posted anything here, but hey, time for a new start.

Lately I’ve been reading a fair bit about permaculture, a la ‘Milkwood‘ and friends.  And it seems that this lifestyle (or living choice) is exactly what I’ve been trying to achieve, yet didn’t know it!

Think chooks, worms, composting, growing fruit, veggies, herbs and grains… think solar power, rainwater tank, greywater, food forest, a tree bog (!!), bees and mushrooms… and more!

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Food Forest – Wikipedia

Future posts to look forward to, from our little suburban ‘farm’ will be:

- the progress reports on my culture of oyster mushrooms on spent coffee grounds

- conversion of my bike to solar powered electric

- further design of the yard using permaculture principles

- a vertical wall garden aquaponics system, cycling nutrient-rich water from fish pond through plants on wall and filtered water back into fishpond. I can already say that I’ve thought about this one a bit, and I’m trying to find a way to use soil instead of the hydroponics clay (any thoughts, comments or encouragement welcome!)

Well, stay tuned my friends.  I will leave you with a photo of the oyster mushroom mycelium that is quickly spreading through last week’s coffee grounds.

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Oyster mushroom mycelium growing on spent coffee grounds substrate

Tikka Masala’s big day out

This is the story of how one chook single-footedly managed to wreck our neighbour’s entire yard.

‘Twas rather embarrassing to say the least.

We have a good relationship with our neighbours.  You know, they’re the kind of neighbours who say g’day in the morning, and bring back your mail if it ends up in their letterbox.  Not the annoying kind that sing ‘Don’t break my heart, my achy breaky heart’ amplified on a karaoke machine at 3am, or the kind that borrows your shovel and then claims it was theirs all along.

But last weekend Tikka, one of our four chooks, almost ruined this cosy neighbourly relationship.  She decided that the greenery looked a little tastier on the other side of the fence.  While she and her mates were out of the pen roaming the yard she found a little gap in the hedge, made her way through it, and helped herself to our neighbour’s veggie patch.  And his flower beds.  And his rose garden.  She even had a poke around his potted plants on the verandah, and kindly left him a great big messy green calling card.

Imagine if you will, my embarrassment when a few hours later there was a knock on the door, and lo and behold, there was our rather annoyed neighbour to complain about the state of his yard.  I apologized repeatedly, and then he informed me the chook was still grazing in his yard and could I come and collect it please?

Ladies and gentlemen, this was not my finest hour.  Have you ever tried to catch a chicken?  Well.  It is not something that can be done gracefully.  Especially not in pink gumboots.  Although it may have been somewhat entertaining for our neighbour to watch me in my wellies stomping about in his garden beds (finishing off what Tikka had already started), I’m sure he was fuming by the time I’d actually caught the chook.

I’m pretty certain we’re not on their Christmas card list this year.

Don’t look so proud of yourself miss, you’re in big trouble.

There’s no point hiding now, you’ve been a very naughty chooky indeed.
Go to your room, you’re grounded for a week!

Evolution of a tea towel apron

Today I came across some lovely souvenir tea towels that have been sitting unused in my linen cupboard literally for eons (how could anyone bring themselves to use these for doing dishes?  They’re far too cute!)

Sew… (I know, roll eyes if you like), I came up with this very simple pattern for a rather useful apron.  Much more useful than sitting in the cupboard.

The tea towels were 80cm (2′ 7”) x 48cm (19”).  I used some 2cm (0.8”) heading tape for the over-the-head loop and the waistband, about 2.4m (8ft) in length.  In addition, you’ll need some pins, scissors, matching thread and a sewing machine.

First, hold the tea towel against your front and position it like you would want the apron to hang (it’s not an exact science, ok?)  Then, tie a length of heading tape around your waist where you want it to sit on the apron and pin it in place.  My waistband was 18cm (7”) from the top of the tea towel, and I used a length of tape about 160cm (5′ 3”).  Reposition the tape a little once you’ve put it on the table so it is straight across and centred.

Next, fold one of the top side corners backwards over the end of more heading tape.   Put the apron around your neck so you can mark the length of the over-the-head loop (make sure it’s not twisted).  Mine ended up about 50cm (20”).  If that’s clear as mud, have a look at the next photo…

Basically the fabric fold is the width of the heading tape so it hides the tape neatly.  Now, fold back the sides on a slight angle from the top corner down to just above the waistband and pin them to hold in place.

Find the centre of the top of your apron.  This will be the centre of your middle pleat.  Pin this into place.

Now create the pleats to the right and left of centre.  They should be touching the centre pleat, so there is no gap between them.

This is how your apron should look now, all pinned and ready to sew!

*intermission to make banana smoothie for obviously starving husband*

Iron in all your folds and pleats so its easier to sew.  Don’t forget to fold over and iron the ends of the heading tape on the waist band so you can sew them neatly later on.  Thread your machine with a matching colour thread.

(1) Sew along the edge of your apron starting from just above the waistband on one side all the way up, (2) over the top and carefully over the pleats, and (3) down the other side.  (4) Sew across the bottom of the waistband, (5) up the side bit, (6) then across the top of the waistband.  You will sew in a straight line along the waistband, my arrows look wonky because of the crinkles in the material in the photo.

Now you just need to neaten the ends of the waistband ties (fold over a small amount twice to tuck in the end and zigzag to hold it there).

And thats all there is to it…  Go forth and make aprons!

He doesn’t look fresh out of his nostrils

Dutch Clogs by Petr Kratochvil

Well, it doesn’t sound as good in English as it does in Dutch (Hij kijkt niet fris uit zijn neusgaten).

My Oma had all these wonderful Dutch sayings, and I distinctly remember her talent for using them at just the right moment.  If one was not looking too fresh out of the nostrils, she was referring to a particularly unsavoury character.

I can remember a handful of the Dutch sayings quite clearly, so here they are.  The direct translations to English are from the online Bing Translator and the meanings are in brackets.

Nu komt de aap uit de mouw.  Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve.  (The truth comes out).

Zo dood als een pier.  As dead as a worm.  (Very dead, like a worm on a hook).

Alsof er een engeltje over je tong piest.  Like an angel pee-ing on your tongue.  (Something very tasty).

Een kind kan de was doen.  A child can do the laundry.  (Something very easy).

Onze lieve heer heeft vreemde kostgangers. Our dear Lord has strange guests.  (The world is full of strange and interesting people).

De lakens uitdelen. Handing out the bedsheets.  (Taking charge).

Een blind paard zou er geen schade doen.  A blind horse would do no damage.  (A shabby interior).

Lange tenen hebben.  To have long toes.  (Easily offended).

Lastly, my absolute favourite…

We zullen ze eens een poepje laten ruiken. We will let them smell a fart.  (We’ll do something that will dazzle them).

Rain, rain, come again

I love it when the skies open up and the first autumn rains come down, it is such a refreshing relief after the long dry summer, and it always makes me feel a sense of joy.  Little T is learning about rain too, dancing about in his wellies and pointing to the cloudy sky “up up”.  I’ve changed the old nursery rhyme somewhat to be more appropriate for our dry continent:

Rain, rain, come again, stay with us another day!

With the change in season comes a whole new list of keeping-your-toddler-amused activites {otherwise known as avoiding-a-tanty}.  At first I thought we would be confined to the pay-through-the-nose indoor play centre, but after some thought and inspiration, we’ve had the loveliest day without it costing a cent!

Bunnings.  I needed a couple of bits and bobs for the garden, so we quickly picked these up and then Little T played on the indoor play equipment inside Bunnings for a while.  For a toddler, this was at least as exciting as any other playground/playcentre, and I am convinced he couldn’t tell the difference.

Image from safeplay.com.au

Better Pets and Gardens.  Next I needed to pop over to get some more chook food and I discovered at the store they have fish tanks wall to wall, parrots, hermit crabs, bunny rabbits and guinea pigs.  Wow! this was better than a trip to the aquarium and the zoo combined!  Little T was very impressed.  He talked to the parrot (who answered back), oggled the crabs, and I simply could not drag him away from the fish tanks.  Everything was at his height, and the length of time we were there suited his attention span.

Images from betterpetsandgardens.com.au

Library.  Our local library just happens to have story time for toddlers on the one day of the week that I have off work.  It is free to attend, and the lovely ladies at our library do stories, rhymes and {very messy} craft activities with the little ones.  Little T gets quite overwhelmed by the excitement of seeing all those books (he takes after me!) so the activities are a good way to focus his attention.

Lunchbox picnic.  We finished the morning with an indoor lunchbox picnic (so much more exciting than sitting at the table).  I got the bento box from Laptop Lunches years ago (whilst going through my vegan phase… more on that another time), and found it is exactly the right size for Little T and he likes the compartments and colourful boxes.  I filled his lunchbox with (clockwise from top left) homemade yogurt + berries, carrot sticks + peanut butter to dip, orange + plum fruit salad, cheese, pickle + tomato on homemade bread.  Incidentally, I made Pirate Pete a few weeks ago; will post the sewing pattern online soon-ish.  Argh, me hearties!Playdough.  After Little T’s nap {he was exhausted} we made playdough.  Its WAAAAAY cheaper making it yourself, turns out exactly the same as the bought-stuff, and keeps just about forever.  Mix ½ C salt with 1 C of boiling water (to dissolve).  Add this to 1 C flour, 2 Tb cream of tartar and 1 Tb oil.  Stir to combine, then knead with your hands.  Split into portions, and add a few drops of food colouring.     

Chalk art.  Lastly, we finished off the day playing under the verandah (it wasn’t that cold outside even though it was raining).  Little T decorated every surface with his coloured chalk, and he even tagged the worm farm!    

All in all, a lovely rainy day and a happy worn-out toddler!

GFC yummies

Here we are, another little recipe I make rather a lot these days!

Very economical, tasty and seriously quick.  I prepare these in the time it takes the oven to pre-heat, and they’re out of the oven and ready to eat about 18 minutes later.

Just enough time to prepare for world domination.. mwahahahahahaha…

Actually, they are versatile as well.  I often make them with a savoury filling instead, something like cheese and chives, or chilli salsa and cream cheese, whatever I have hanging about the fridge really!

What you’ll need:

  • 2 frozen sheets of puff pastry
  • 1 C sultanas
  • 2 Tb brown sugar
  • zest of ½ a lemon
  • pinch each of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg per sheet

What to do:

  1. Fill and boil the kettle.
  2. Lay out the sheets of frozen puff pastry and cover with a damp cloth.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200°C (~400°F).
  4. Put the sultanas in a bowl and cover with boiling water (add a slice of orange if you happen to have it lying around like I did!)
  5. Grease an oven tray with a smidge of olive oil or use baking paper.
  6. Crank on some tunes (Jimi will do fine), make a cuppa and wait till the pastry has defrosted (about 5 mins).
  7. Drain sultanas (discard orange slice, or eat it if you’re that way inclined) and sprinkle them on the puff pastry sheets.
  8. Sprinkle on 1 Tb of the brown sugar per sheet.
  9. Grate a little lemon zest onto each sheet.
  10. Sprinkle on a pinch each of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg per sheet.
  11. Roll up each puff pastry sheet (not too tightly, as it puffs up in the oven… surprisingly).
  12. Slice each roll into 8 even rounds and spread out on the greased baking tray with the cut sides facing up.
  13. Bake for 18 minutes (or until nice and puffy and brown).
  14. Take them off the baking tray while still warm before the sugar hardens on the tray and makes them impossible to remove.

Bon appetit!

Spicy chickpea curry with couscous

The first time I encountered couscous was in a recipe book when I was about 15.  I had never heard of it before, and at first I thought it was some kind of marsupial.  Couscous is actually made of semolina, the coarse particles of durum wheat, just like in pasta and brekky cereals.  I must have ignored the preparation instructions completely that first time because I put the couscous in a pot on the stove with water, and started stirring.  The couscous absorbed all the water instantly, so I kept adding more water, and it just got bigger and bigger.  By the time I decided it must be cooked, the couscous bits were about the size of marbles (only a slight exaggeration) and bounced on the plate when served.  I think it was the first time ever that my dad politely declined seconds.

Years later I learned that couscous is a cinch to prepare.  You just add 1.5 parts boiling water to 1 part couscous and cover it for 5 minutes or so.  I like to add a bit of butter, sometimes a handful of sultanas or chopped dried apricots, sprinkle on a pinch of paprika, and season to taste.  Fluff it with a fork and you’re good to go.  Easy, peasy!

Chickpea Curry

  • 1 Tb olive oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 Tb ground corriander
  • 1 Tb ground cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp hot chilli powder (more or less is fine, adjust to taste)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cans chickpeas (give them a good rinse)
  • 1 can diced peeled tomatoes (or a few fresh ones, but make sure you blanch and peel them first)
  • 1 Tb garam masala

Use a nice tall pot for this, you don’t want to be scrubbing little red spots of curry off your stovetop for hours afterwards.

  1. Put the pot on medium heat and add the olive oil and the mustard seeds.  Hold a lid over the pot because they will start popping!
  2. When the seeds have popped, add the chopped onion.  Cook until the onion looks translucent.
  3. Add the crushed garlic and the rest of the spices (all except the garam masala) and stir for a minute.
  4. Add the drained chickpeas and the undrained diced tomatoes and simmer on low heat, partially covered to stop it splattering on the stove, for at least 30 minutes (any longer is a bonus).  If it looks a bit dry just add a splash of water.
  5. Add the garam masala and simmer for another few minutes or until you’re ready to eat.

Serve the chickpea curry on a bed of couscous with a nice dollop of homemade natural yogurt, some fresh mint and a wedge of lemon, then dig in.

Bon appetit!