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Roasted Cauliflower


My caulis are getting away from me.  Only three or four left in the garden now, which is fairly nicely timed because the white cabbage moths are just starting to appear and in a couple of weeks it will become a battle not worth the prize to keep them off the Brassicas.  Fairly nicely. We’re not quite keeping up with them and the last few are being harvested a little late, heads loosening up and florets with longer, light green stems.   I could, I should, harvest them while they still look like perfect supermarket caulis and give the extras away.  But we’ve developed a bit of an addiction to roasted cauliflower, and these slightly blown ones make the best roasted cauli.  And there’s only a few left.  Greedy.


Roasted cauli is a surprise. It is so so so much better than you would think.  The basic recipe is:  just chop the cauli into florets, not too small.  With these ones I cut lengthwise through the florets to leave quite a lot of stem on. Put them in a big bowl, sprinkle generously with olive oil and salt and pepper, toss well to coat, spread in a single layer in a roasting pan, and roast in a hot oven for around half an hour until they are just tender and getting little caramelised browned bits. Best just that little bit undercooked but browning, which needs a hot oven.

Just like that is hard to go past.  We ate this bowl for lunch with fingers straight from the bowl.  But it’s also good hot as a side dish or cold in salads or blended with stock as a soup.  From there though, there are any number of elaborations possible.

  • A s sprinkle of finely grated parmesan and back into the oven till it melts and browns (this is probably my favourite).
  • Or a generous sprinkle of dukkah
  • A squeeze of lemon juice and a couple of cloves of garlic crushed in with the olive oil (or perhaps this is the favourite).
  • With some dried chili if you like it spicy (Lewie’s favourite)
  • Or a spoonful of tomato paste
  • Or a couple of big spoonfuls of tahini

Really though, I think you can easily overelaborate food. Maybe just salt, pepper and olive oil is the favourite.


Pak Choi Three Ways


We ate all the outside leaves of the young pak choi, mostly in won tons but also in soups and stir fries.  Then I left them to flower and the tiny, stingless native bees feasted on the flowers, giving us tiny amounts of absolutely delectable light champagney honey.  (And we stole some of their flowers for salads too). Then I let them set seed before feeding them, mature seeds and all, to the chooks.  Chooks fed canola seed lay eggs that have high levels of omega 3 and I would guess that pak choi seeds are likely to have the same effect.


Chooks in a permaculture garden are wonderful at this capture of yield from down the chain.  Crop plants gone to seed, outside leaves, spoiled fruit, grubs and bugs, kitchen scraps, bones and offcuts, fish heads,  yabby shells, water weeds that are themselves harvesting nutrient runoff – all rotated back through the system into eggs and manure that feeds the garden.  It’s a neat example of one of permaculture’s key concepts: look for flows of energy and water and nutrients leaving a system, and try to design ways to cycle them as resources rather than letting them go as waste.




In a comment about our new bathroom someone asked whether our kitchen design was different too.  I hadn’t thought about kitchen in those terms, but perhaps it is radical – it’s not very much like the kitchens I see in Bunnings.  I do love it though – it would be one of the main things I would miss if I ever moved.

What makes it different?  fridge

We have a tiny fridge. Fridges use a lot of power.  We have stand alone solar power, and although now we have so much of it we’re more often looking for ways to use it than to save it, our electricity use is designed to allow for a weeks of overcast weather.  All the routine electricity consuming things like lights and fridge are very efficient, all the big users like washing machine and water pumping can wait till the sun shines.  And I find eating fresh and minimising waste both work better with a tiny fridge.

The three slide out buckets under the bench for chook food, recyclables, rubbish are also a design that has lasted.  They are just drawer sliders with a piece of timber with a cut out handle and a bucket sized hole.  I can just scrape chook food off the bench into the bucket, and lift the bucket out to feed the chooks.


I love my big central bench that several people can work at at once.  The big solid slabs of grey gum that it is made from (along with all the kitchen shelving) came from a tree that was grown and milled locally.  It’s a hard hardwood that stands up beautifully to wear.  It’s been resanded and sealed once about 10 years ago, after 15 years of pastry and pasta and preserving, hot pots and teenagers chopping bread without a board. I know how lucky I am – timber like that is a luxury these days and it will never go out of fashion.


Open pantry shelves with everything in glass jars is  a design that I’ve never regretted.  In our rural home, keeping creatures out of things is a challenge.  I could use much stronger language.  Any cupboard or wall cavity or drawer is a hidey hole where an antichinus or a mouse or a rat or a skink or a moth  will take up residence.  I find open shelves and everything in glass jars keeps creatures out.  I can see what I have which encourages me to use it, and it’s easier to avoid clutter.  I keep quite a stock of dry pantry staples – beans, oats, flour, lentils, rice. It helps avoid supermarket trips – I can normally delay it for a long time with what we have on the shelves and in the garden –  which is extra good when the supermarket is half an hour away but I think a good thing anyway – supermarkets are sticky traps.


I love my old fashioned double sink with a draining board either side and no dishwasher. It’s never usually this tidy, or empty.  I actually don’t mind washing up at all – I think it can be a bit of daily mindfulness – some of my best ideas happen while washing up – but I hate drying up and normally leave dishes to drain dry.  I think good systems for washing up is one of those old-fashioned skills that, when you have them, make chores like this quite nice. Whether it is two plates from lunch or a 12 person dinner party, the system handles it. Sometimes we need to be very frugal with water and power and our greywater doesn’t “disappear” so I like a lot of control over what is in it.


The gas stove and the slow combustion wood stove will probably both go in the next five years or so.  With a 4.5kva solar power system, on sunny days even in mid-winter we have power to waste, so I bake bread in a George Foreman electric oven, cook beans in a crockpot slow cooker, make coffee and cook meals on an induction burner.  For summer dinner parties we have a charcoal barbeque.  On wet winter’s days I cook on the Rayburn slow combustion stove and it heats the house and the hot water.  So we use very little non-renewable fuel for anything in the kitchen these days. We picked up the retro “Radiation” brand gas stove about 20 years ago in a roadside throwout.   I like it aesthetically but it is not often used and with non-use, the creatures set up home in the oven insulation. It will probably be replaced with an electric induction hotplate.  The Rayburn slow combustion is about a hundred years old and has pretty well reached the end of its life.  We’ve rebricked it once but it has cracks and warps in the metal now.  I’d love any recommendations you have for replacing it – something that is efficient wood burning with a wetback for water heating and an oven.


I have an aversion to single-purpose kitchen gadgetry and a love for beautiful kitchen tools designed to last generations. But I’m also a coffee snob, specially now we are growing most of our own coffee.  The Little Guy coffee maker was ridiculously expensive even second hand but it does make barista quality cappuccino.  The food processor gets used most every day.  The only other electrical appliances are two old fashioned Crockpot slow cookers, a George Foreman oven, and a stick blender, all sourced from op shops.  The slow cookers get used a lot.  On any sunny day with electricity to spare, there will be stock or beans or chick peas or a rooster in one or both of them. I could probably do with just one but I can’t decide which I like better.  I bake my sourdough and just about everything else in the electric oven these days.


So that’s my kitchen.  Odd or radical?


This year’s coffee


It’s been a good coffee year this year.  We probably, possibly, have a whole year’s supply if the grown up kids don’t claim too much of it.  When I look back, our coffee growing and processing has come a long way in the last few years, since Growing Our Own Coffee parts 1 and 2.  We now have about a dozen mature bushes and another dozen coming on, and that will hopefully be enough to let the grown up kids take as much as they like.  We bought a coffee pulper recently, which makes it really easy to separate the berries from the beans, and we now send our main coffee crop off to be professionally roasted. It saves a lot of laborious work removing the paper shell since professional roasters have a fan that does that as they roast, and it saves a lot of caffeine spins from breathing too much of the volatiles.


And, we bought second hand a Little Guy coffee maker that goes on an induction burner.  It was ridiculously expensive even second hand but it makes real barista quality coffee.

Homegrown, homemade café quality coffee every morning.  This simple life is so hard :)



Soap 2016

making soap

Nine of us made 52 kg of soap today, nine times my recipe at Making Soap in Time for Christmas. It has become an early October ritual – a nice social day at the community centre, making a year’s supply of luxury soap for home and enough to give away as Christmas presents.  We bring a plate and eat lunch together, take it in turns to stir, take home a bucket of soap at trace stage, add our own herbs and essential oils and mould up.  Then there is a flurry of texts and messages – “Mine is ready to mould up”, “Mine too.  Let me know when you cut yours up”, “I just put the sandalwood in and it turned a lovely orange colour”, “How did your lemon myrtle leaves go?”

The soap itself is one thing – a lovely way to neatly sidestep the mad commercialism of Christmas without grinching. But the way that projects like this create community is even more valuable to me.  The Men’s Shed organisation is based around the idea that men talk shoulder to shoulder – solve problems and share insight and support while working together – but maybe that is true of people of both genders.  I know I look forward to soap making every year as much for the day as the soap.


Come the Zombocalypse


Yeah, you think you’re so on top, strutting around in the pecan tree that shades our verandah and overlooks the garden.  Stealing chook eggs, stealing pawpaws and bananas and pumpkins and taro, scratching up the mulch, even getting into the bread dough proving on the verandah table.  You wait. Come the zombocalypse, you’re dinner.


Spring Fruit Bowl


Back in June, I posted a picture of my new very beautiful Yule gift of this fruit bowl, filled with mid-winter fruit – lemons, limes, mandarins, oranges, grapefruit.  Yule bowl

Now it is strawberries and pawpaws in my part of the world.  They make my very favourite breakfast smoothie.  (Maybe I lie there.  I have many favourites – custard apple and orange is a strong contender too, and our mango trees are laden with babies, so no doubt at New Year I’ll be telling you it is mango and yoghurt, or maybe mango and pomegranate).  If you are keeping calories down, paw paws and strawberries both have the added advantage of being surprisingly low.


And they make the best fruit salad, especially if you can find a late orange to add too.

Paw paws don’t travel well, so if you are not in a tropical or sub-tropical region, you will probably be as disappointed with any you buy as I am if I ever make the mistake of thinking I will find good apricots in northern NSW. But up here, we are in paw paw heaven this time of year.


Happy Equinox!

Happy equinox everyone. For us in the southern hemisphere, it is ostara, the spring equinox, celebration of babies of every species (and rabbits and eggs). Celebration that life renews over and over, generation begatting generation into not just the 7th generation but forever. A good moment to reflect that this is sacred and our sacred duty to protect.


The Rocket Stove Bath


OK, so in The Bathroom Worth the 30 Years’ Wait, I promised the Rocket Stove Bath story. For Siobhanne and others who have asked, here it is.

For many years we had a star bath – a cast iron bathtub out in the open with a wood fire underneath it.  It had its charms, great charms – a clear view of a starry sky, a bath that stayed warm as long as you like, hot water from renewables even in the depths of winter.  But it also had drawbacks – the need to light the fire several hours before bath time, a fair consumption of firewood, no bath in the rain, or even after rain with a fireplace that got very wet, smoky fires, a bath that needed a deal of cleaning at the start of winter.

So the idea was to claim all the charms without the drawbacks, and the rocket stove bath has pretty well aced it.  It is under a roof and has walls most of the way round  but still a view of a starry sky.  Many of my best ideas happen while considering that sky.  It has a chimney that goes all the way along under it, which means the bottom is warm and stays warm for as long as you are willing to add a few sticks every half hour or so.  It is very frugal in its use of wood – a bundle of sticks that I collect from under gum trees along the roadside on my morning walk.  And it burns remarkably clean.

Rocket stoves are a classic design.  The essence of the idea is a vertical combustion chamber that is very well insulated.  Being insulated, it quickly becomes the hottest part of the system, and since heat rises, flame is drawn into it.  Being insulated too, it gets up to very high temperatures and burns all the volatile gases and smoke that cooler fires let escape.  The efficiency makes them ideal for cooking stoves in places where firewood is scarce and for space heating with wood fires in cold climates.

Being a classic design, there’s quite a bit of information around the internet about the basic principles but not much about using them in this application.  So this is my rundown on how we did it, and the things I think might be optional and the things that might be critical.

Step One:  The design

The critical dimensions for a rocket stove are critical.  There is a good explanation  at Design Principles for Wood Burning Cook Stoves that uses research by the lodestars of rocket stoves Dr. Samuel Baldwin and Dr. Larry Winiarski setting out the reasons.

For our purposes:

This is a diagram of the basic design.


  • The diameter of the chamber that the hot gases flow through has to be the same all the way through the system.   Not necessarily the same shape, but the same size.  So the horizontal fire chamber, the vertical rocket chamber, the hot gas drop chamber, the chimney, all have to have the same area for the gases to flow through.  If you “choke” the gas at any point, it doesn’t work.  For example if you use a 6 inch pipe, it has a cross sectional area of 30 sq inches. All exhaust pipes, flues, etc after that can’t be less than 30 sq inches ( or it will throttle the gas trying to escape.)  You can use bigger, or smaller pipe in the burn chamber, and you then need to calculate the cross sectional area and make the flue pipes or exhaust pipe match that size.
  • The length of the vertical rocket chamber (the long vertical bit) has to be greater than 3 times the length of the feed chamber and greater than twice the length of the fire chamber. So a vertical rocket chamber that’s is 900 mm high for example from top to bottom, can have a feed chamber that is less than 300 mm from top to bottom, and a horizontal fire chamber (the horizontal bit) that is less than 450 mm long.

We got a specialist plumbing supplier to make up our rocket, burn and feed chamber out of heavy stainless steel.  It was expensive, but since we were planning to concrete the whole system into place, we didn’t want to risk it ever burning out, and the temperatures get very hot.  We made ours 6 inch (150mm) diameter.  We debated it.  Lewie was barracking for 5 inch (125mm).  I couldn’t conceive of a smaller pipe taking enough wood to heat a bathtub of water, but in retrospect he may have been right. If anyone has tried smaller, let us know!


The plumber did a little design modification on his own, and made the burn chamber go horizontally for 6 inches then at a 45° angle, I think just because it made an easier and stronger weld.  In retrospect, I don’t know that it was a great idea. I would probably insist on it being horizontal if we were doing it again.

Our rocket chamber is 32 inches (81cm) tall.


Over the rocket chamber is a sleeve of galvanised 10 inch (25cm) pipe, and the gap between the sleeve and the rocket chamber is filled with rock wool.  In Version 1, it was filled with perlite.  We lit it up to try it out. It worked beautifully for a couple of baths then stopped working.  Giant frustration.  Took a while then we figured out that the perlite had all settled and compacted and wasn’t up to the job of insulation.  Vacuuming out the perlite to replace it with rock wool was interesting.


After the insulated rocket chamber the gases drop between the galvanised pipe and the bricks, and go out through a galvanised chimney pipe (the curved pipe on the left hand side in this picture).  At the bottom the pipe turns at 90°to the centre of the bath, then turns again and travels under the centre of the bath to come out at the head.  The bit under the bath is rectangular guttering stuck to the bottom of the bath.  Under the bath is filled with perlite and bricked in.  (We had a stack of old bricks put to good use on the project).

At the head of the bath, the chimney turns 90°again and goes up through the rock gabion wall (later filled with rocks).  It has a little cap on top, mostly just to look pretty, and above it the alsynite roof is shielded with a small sheet of metal.  A little smoke comes out when the fire is first lit, but after that not much comes out the chimney, not as heat or smoke.


Version 2, with rock wool insulation, worked beautifully most of the time.  And sometimes just refused.  For no good reason.

We never have totally figured out why. It’s one of those things where you make several changes and can’t tell which one worked, or if they all did.  But three modifications later, the system is working perfectly and perfectly reliably.  Mod 1:  we installed a small fan recycled from a computer in the chimney as a suction.  The idea came from some camping rocket stove designs we found that incorporated a fan. Mod 2:  We built a little semi-circular shovel to be able to remove ash from the burn chamber while the fire was going.  We found that ash in that chamber tended to reduce its area and choke the fire if you have it going for more than one long bath.  Mod 3:  We found a pudding basin that fits very neatly in the open end of the burn chamber – if you look at the first photo in this post you will see it.  We found that letting any air at all in that way made the fire more likely to burn up the sticks rather than horizontally as it is supposed to.

So, the final system.  We can fill the bath with warm water from the solar system, or cold water if it has been really cold and overcast.  With warm water, the bath is ready in half an hour.  With cold a little longer.  It probably doesn’t get hot enough directly under the bath to crack the enamel (as it would with the star bath) but I haven’t wanted to test that.  We fill it first and have a boogie board we put in the bath while it is warming so as to insulate it.

There is a big urn  lives beside the stove with sticks for the fire. We use eucalypt sticks about one to two inch diameter (25 to 50 mm).  Light a small fire in the bottom of the feed chamber, stand four or five sticks in it, and the flame burns horizontally through the burn chamber and roars up the rocket chamber.  The top of the rocket chamber has a big pot with a tap.  This gets very hot and can be added to get the bath to toasty, and refilled from the tap above it.

The hot gases flow along the chimney under the bath keeping it warm.  The sticks drop into the fire as they burn.  If you intend staying in more than half an hour or so, a bath wallah to add more sticks is very helpful. And to bring more wine.