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In My Fridge Is…

A container of cooked Madagascar beans.  I cooked them today in the slow cooker while there was heaps of solar power.  We’ll probably have them for breakfast tomorrow as Cheesy Beans or  Chili Beans, or just beans with eggs.

In my fridge is a little packet of goat’s feta.  I don’t have any specific plans for it, but goat’s feta (or even ordinary feta) goes so well with the sweet little cherry tomatoes, basil, red onions, and rocket I have in the garden right now that I add some to the shopping regularly.

In my fridge is a jar of preserved limes.  They make the best cold drink, just a slice added to soda water with some ice.

In my fridge are half a dozen duck eggs. Our ducks – Simone and Daphne  – only lay for a few months but they are worth feeding all year for those few months of duck egg pasta.

In my fridge is a very small container of left-over slow cooked goat shoulder, ethically harvested and slow cooked with preserved lemon, garlic, rosemary, thyme and oregano till it was falling off the bone.  With a tray of roasted beetroots, carrots and red onions and a Greek salad, it was a great dinner party. Thus the very small container of leftovers.

In my fridge is a container of yoghurt.  Necessary for curries, fruit salad, smoothies, and mixing with cucumber and mint or coriander and mint as a dipping sauce.  And for making labne which is what I mostly use instead of cottage cheese or ricotta.

In my fridge is a litre of local, permeate free real milk.

In my fridge is my container of sourdough starter. It seems strange to say but I haven’t once bought bread at home since Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial introduced me to sourdough nearly six years ago. It’s just become a routine part of my life and I cannot imagine going back to fake bread.

In my fridge are a dozen bars of dark chocolate.  What?  It was on special!

And that’s about all.  I’m a big fan of small fridges.

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Australian Game Chickens


australian-game-chick

Isn’t she the prettiest little chick?  She’s an Australian Game, a tall long-legged breed, excellent mums, decent layers, decent meat birds, and very good at foraging for themselves.  They are not the least bit lazy, but spend most of the day scratching in any mulch or leaf litter or ground, finding insects and seeds and larvae.  They are also good at escaping from predators.

We have a little flock of them now, in electric net fencing that we move around the orchard and “Zone 3” area. I still have my other flock rotating around my garden beds, clearing and fertilizing for me but there’s a niche in zone 3 that needs a scratching omnivore to turn over leaf litter, keep ground cover plants down, balance up insect populations, and the Australian Games are proving a good breed for it.

The garden rooster is Mr Fluffy Feet.  He’s a bantam cross, very pretty, with feathered feet.  He has a motley mix of girls, some bantam cross, some ISA brown cross, one Australorp cross.  He must have some Silkie in him, because there are no Silkie hens and yet several of last year’s chicks look like Silkie crosses, and the white babies this year look like they migh turn out the same.  The “Out” rooster is Mr Tough Guy. He’s tall and very elegant and very protective of his girls.  He has a dozen Australian Game hens.  We put a dozen eggs from both pens under this mum, and she hatched ten of them.  Her sister has hatched another twelve out of fourteen eggs.  It will give us roosters for the pot and new hens for eggs, and some very pretty chickens for admiring.

chickens

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Goodbye Brassicas

cabbage moth caterpillar

It’s been a great season.  We’ve eaten cauliflower and cabbage and broccoli and kale and pak choi and daikon pretty well every day for the last five months.  We’ve eaten Okonomiyaki for breakfast a lot of times, and Cheesy Broccoli Omelette has been a regular standby.  We’ve discovered cabbage chopped very fine in the food processor, added to chicken and vegetable soup makes it thick and delicious and not like boiled cabbage at all.  We’ve discovered Cauliflower Cheese Soup doesn’t actually need cheese, or perhaps just a sprinkle of parmesan on top, and that adding a leek makes it smooth and creamy just like cheese.  We’ve had many many Roasted Cauliflower  finger food dinners, occasionally alternated with Greek Crumbed Cauli or Broccoli Tempura.  We’ve had coleslaw or Greens as Themselves as a side dish at one meal or another every day.

And it’s lasted well too.  Here it is, nearly the end of Spring, just about to launch into summer.  I’ve seen the cabbage moths around for a few weeks but the local predators have been knocking them off before they get a chance to lay eggs.  But summer is here, all but, and it’s time to say goodbye.

There are many, many organic remedies for cabbage moth caterpillars (and the web moth caterpillars that will be next to arrive).  There are nets and traps and fake moths and eggshells and trichogramma wasps  and dipel. But the only one I reckon is worth the time and effort for results is timing.

From June till October, sometimes if I’m lucky like this year all the way through to November, I can grow brassicas and do nothing to control cabbage moths at all.  From November till April or May, I can do everything in the arsenal and I still don’t get brassicas that can compete for a place on the plate with tromboncino and beans and squash.

It’s been lovely, but I need the space now for the capsicums and curcubits.  So goodbye Brassicas, till next year. It’s been very nice.

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In Season: Berries

wild-raspberries

Teo made his first cake.  The cake was not bad at all for a two year old. The wild raspberry topping was the highlight. He and Grumpy (Lewie) went hunting and found all the wild raspberry patches nearby. Only a small proportion made it back for the cake.

Berries are only in season for a short, spring season.  My strawberry patch this year is a victim of a very determined bandicoot all winter, so it’s not the big bowlful a day of some years, but still enough for strawberries and pawpaw and orange fruit salad for breakfast, with toasted macas and yoghurt.

strawberries-for-breakfast

Strawberries should be a luxury food.  A couple of months of indulgence a year, sweetened by a whole year of waiting.  There’s this thing with seasonal luxury foods, that they start out expensive and the price encourages every kind of scammy hereticism, pushing them to grow until you get something that is cheap and very very nasty.  Like salmon.  And turkey. And strawberries.  Strawberries are one of the “Dirty Dozen“, and the best way to stay classy is to let them be what they are, a late spring treat.  From your garden, or buy organic farmers’ market ones now, for a month or so, and remember how good they should be.

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Very Inauthentic Okonomiyaki

okonomiyaki

My cabbages are getting away from me now too, the last of the winter crops colliding with the first of the summer ones.  We’re just about to pass Beltane, the point on the calendar when the day length curve flattens out into the long hot days of summer.  From now on, leafy greens are hard. Those big green leaves are adapted to catching every bit of scarce sunlight, not to avoiding sunburn.  The grasshoppers and cabbage moths are getting active.  And everything wants to reproduce.  As fast as I harvest them, another makes a bolt.

So we are eating a lot of cabbage. Okonomiyaki are a Japanese cabbage pancake, and if you are conjuring up images of British boiled cabbage or bubble and squeak, you’re on the wrong track.  Okonomiyaki are comfort food, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, not very cabbagey at all but a vehicle for the toppings, nothing at all of acquired taste about them.  I’d be willing to bet you could get them past the pickiest of non-vegetable eaters.

Proper Okonomiyaki have several special ingredients that are hard to get in my little country town.  But inauthentic Okonomiyaki are fast and easy with just what I have in the garden and in an ordinary pantry.

The Recipe:

Makes two large, dinner sized Okonomiyaki, or four small ones.

The toppings make it, so start with them.

Proper classic okonomiyaki have a whole range of toppings including Japanese mayonnaise and seaweed and bonito flakes.  I never have the right toppings in my pantry, so I make do with homemade mayonnaise with a little honey added, Worcestershire sauce mixed half and half with tomato sauce, chopped spring onion tops or chives, and toasted macadamia flakes.

Have the toppings ready because the okonomiyaki are best topped and eaten straight away while they are hot and fresh.

  • Finely shred a couple of cups, packed, of cabbage, and two big spring onions (the whites and some of the green)
  • Put in a big bowl and tip in half a cup of wholemeal flour and a pinch of salt.
  • Toss the cabbage and spring onion in the flour so that they are coated. (I just use my hands for this).
  • Beat two big or three small eggs till they are frothy.  Tip into the floury cabbage and mix until it is all just combined.  Don’t overmix it – you want the gluten undeveloped. (Again, I find this easiest with hands).  You want the flour to be all wet and the mix to stick together if you squeeze a handful.  If it is too thick, add a little water.
  • Heat some light olive oil in a pan. Spoon the cabbage mix in and flatten it with the back of a spatula (or your hands) to make a thick pancake, or a big, thin pattie.
  • Fry for a few minutes until it is browning and crispy on the bottom  and the top is more or less set.
  • Now comes the tricky bit.  I find it easy to turn by putting a plate over it and flipping the pancake onto the plate, then sliding it off the plate back into the pan.  If the top is not set enough, you can flip it again onto another plate, then into the pan. I think you would have to be very skilled to flip big ones with just an eggflip without breaking them.
  • Cook until the other side is brown and crispy too, then serve hot with toppings.

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Roasted Cauliflower

roasted-cauli

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.

cauli

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.

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Pak Choi Three Ways

native-bees

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.

feeding-the-chooks-pak-choi-seeds

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.

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Kitchen

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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.

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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.

shelves

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.

sink

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.

gas-stove

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.

little-boy

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.

crock-pots

So that’s my kitchen.  Odd or radical?

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This year’s coffee

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.

coffee-pulper

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 :)

little-boy

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