Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Do you know where your food comes from?

I am sure many readers of my blog will be able to anwser yes to this question, but as this promises to be a long rambling post you may want to grab a cuppa and pull up a chair.

My mom said at lunch the other day that people need to know where their food comes from, and I agree wholeheartedly. I don't mean the local Woolworths or Pick 'n Pay (or whatever your chain stores are called where you live) I mean the origin of that food.

When we pick up a loaf of bread from the store, or veggies from the grocer, do you know where that grain is grown, how it is treated, harvested and preserved? Do you know what they have sprayed on your vegetables and whether it is sun ripened or sprayed with hormones for ripening?

Is your beef like one of these poor feed lot cows? Or is it grass eating free range beef?

A couple of months ago Superman and I got hooked on watching a rerun of Jamie's School Dinners. Do you know that the kids in British schools (generally speaking) did not know that carrots grew in the ground?

People have become so far removed from the origin of food that children are growing up thinking that fruit and veg are grown in some sterile environment and that the concept of a carrot growing in "dirt" is just yucky! How sad. Add to this that the parents actually do not know any better and fill their kids tummies and bodies with highly toxic food in the form of sweets, chips and fast foods.

I think the way to correct this is first in ourselves. Reading labels will quickly convince you that "health bread" is not actually healthy! That the corn syrup, instant gratification, highly processed diets of the 21st century are actually the things that will slowly kill us.

A health advisor shared a scary statistic the other day, I wish I had asked him for the source of it, but I didn't - it was to the effect that if this adult generation (you and me) do not address the way we eat VERY quickly, our grandchildren will die from dread diseases BEFORE our children!

2 weeks ago I made two more steps towards getting closer to our food origins. I bought a grain mill and a water distiller. The water where we live is being treated with more and more chemicals to get it clean and they have started to add flouride to it as well. The distiller that we have bought produces the cleanest sweetest water and it is the best we can do for our family's health.

Our grain mill is a superb little machine and makes short work of the organic wheat, oats, barley and spelt that we have stored in our freezer. My son mills 1.2 kg's of wheat every second day which we bake into the tastiest loaves of bread. This makes 2 loaves which last about 2 days. The hard crusts we soak in milk and give to the chooks.

So, back to the origin of food...we can become overwhelmed quickly by all the information out there, the books telling you this and that and 100 other articles on the internet about healthy eating. I believe it is simple - get as close as you can to the raw product and follow it from the source. If a label says that the product it has EA027051 in it, and you do not know what EA027051 is...then DON'T PUT IT IN YOUR BODY!

If on your journey to the source you find something questionable, stop and find out more or walk away from the product. And remember the baby steps...just work slowly through your diet and replace one thing at a time...always keep learning...listening and reading as much as you can so that you can take back control of what you put into your body and not be reliant on clever advertising and manipulation by mega companies whose bottom line is money.

Like I said, long and rambling, hope it was helpful :-) I must just add that I think that the only way to get ourselves and the future generations on board with a food change is by exposure...that's why mine sow and harvest next to me, cook in the kitchen from scratch, do the sprouts, grind the grain and make the bread.

This will not guarentee that they will always make the right food choices, but like most things when it comes to kids, it sows a thought, an idea and then we can water it as they grow so that when they are older they will be equipped to make the right choice when it comes to food.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A wildlife pond

Because it was my son's idea to have a wildlife pond to encourage birds back to our garden, he got the honors yesterday of adding the tadpoles my mom brought from her water feature.

Mom and I had fun today putting in some reeds and other water plants, decorating the edges and surrounds.
We have a pair of pigeons who have spent all day at the feeder and hanging around the rocks around the pond.

Oneday we hope for frogs, more tadpoles (obviously), a variety of birds, insects and any other critter who wants to make our garden their home.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Before and After

Today we find ourselves 99% of the way done with the last area of our garden. Here are some before and after shots.

From our front gate before we started....


Today from the gate...

Looking towards to the gate...before...

Today looking towards the gate....

There are a few odds and sods to sort out and the last 2 trees to plant but for now we are resting.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Growing ginger

I love ginger for many reasons. This season I have decided to grow my own...I mean - if not why not? I also plan to grow garlic later in the autum, but ginger can be planted now.

Ginger is great for my curries and Thai cooking that I love, but is also good for any sort of digestive complaint from nausea to indigestion. Add to that list that it is good for fungal infections and intestinal parasites! Ginger is a super healing food when it comes to colds and flu too.

I bought a nice root of it from the grocery store and then snapped it off at the necks. Keeping it out on the counter for a couple of days dries the open ends and also stimulates the growth of buds. You can see the pinky green one in this photo.

Later today I will dig in lots of compost in the chosen spot and plant the root (tuber). As ginger is a tropical plant it needs lots of moisture and filtered light. I have just the spot.

Then it should take about 8 - 10 months before harvesting. I will gauge this by the foliage which should die back towards harvest time. I can't wait :-)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Water water everywhere...

The other day I was standing watering my now vast vegetable garden and I thought: "What if we had water restrictions? How would I keep this all going?"

To be honest I had a little shiver up my spine :-(

Keeping veggies growing well in a drought time is no joke.

Where my mom lives, they have had a long standing drought and she has successfully run her home and garden on very little water. I asked her to send me a list of things she has done to reduce water usage, but also how she kept her garden thriving in this tough time.

1- Train your domestic worker if necessary as to what changes you are going to make.

2- Keep a plastic basin in the sink and wash basins to collect the water from hand washing, vegetable rinsing which can then be used to flush toilets or water pots and garden. Make sure they are the right size to fit in the basins and sink without restricting water flow. Obviously can also be kept in basin throughout the day for regular hand washing.

3- When bathing, shaving, showering, turn off water while soaping, brushing teeth or shampooing etc.

4- Keep buckets in bathroom to collect water from basin, bath and shower for garden and toilet.

5- If doing the "yellow/brown thing". Keep the lid down to dissuade flies.

6- Hygiene is most important at this time.

7- Cut down on electrical usage.

8- The water used for cooking veggies is also good on the garden.

9- I do not agree that showering uses less than a bath. Depends on how you do it. My bath is 2 buckets max and washes everything necessary, using a hand shower every 3 days for hair washing.

10- Mark the bath at 10cm and dont fill any higher. As the children get older they may prefer to have individual baths and this way you will still use less.

11- Catching rainwater from the gutters is the greatest help for me. Aunty R has now got a large tank and Uncle D has connected a pump to the outlet tap so she can use a hose and doesnt have to carry buckets. The tank is obviously on a plynth to enable all this.

12- Use a steamer (3 tiered) for vegs as this uses less water and electricity.

13- Use a plastic cupful of water per person for cleaning teeth instead of running water.

14- Get 2 sink strainers that rest over the plughole to catch all debris. This helps the water purification plant use less water in the cleaning process. We must all think beyond our own immediate area of use.

15- Fill a 1litre plastic milk bottle with sand, clean exterior and seal. Place in toilet cistern to reduce amount of water used to flush.

17- Report any leaks seen when walking or driving around. the council really appreciates this.If nothing is done nag, nag, nag.

18- If you have taps with the lever type handle wrap an elastic band around the handle and tap which then forms an automatic shutoff while soaping etc.

Other water saving ideas are here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


After a week of no school I am beginning to feel like some sanity is returning. We have not had a real away holiday for about 3 years and miss our long annual camping trips. But as Superman says:"No work, no pay!" Being self employed is like that, I suppose.

The other night Superman and a friend, who is also self employed, came up with an idea to be holiday makers in our own town. Cape Town is one of the premier holiday making destinations in the world. We really have everything here from beautiful beaches to majestic mountains, fauna and flora, shopping and experiences.

Last night we had a picnic at the gorgeous dam at the top of our mountain...the water is safe to swim in and deliciously cool on such hot summer days. The kids love to catch and release the fish that come to eat bread out of your hands. The grown ups like to bob about in the water...we make the little ones stay on boogie boards for safety.

This morning at 8 we headed down to the beach to pull white mussel from the sand. After a while your hands and feet get used to the icy water as this ocean is on the side of Cape Town where the cold Benguela current runs up from the south.

The pickings were slim and hard going...so we turned our attention to the black mussel on the rock rather. I am not fussy when it comes to seafood, I love it all. White mussell is delicious when cleaned fried in a light batter and eaten as is with lemon juice, made into a white wine and cream sauce and served on rice or made into a soup. Black mussel is great in garlic, cream and white wine too.

They take a couple of hours to clean themselves left in a bucket of sea water and then you steam them before cooking in your sauce. Besides for these sea creatures there was a lot of other beauty there.

Please note: You need a fishing permit to remove any seafood from the oceans.

Aaah...holidays...I wonder what Superman will think of next?

Monday, December 20, 2010

A pond update

After work on Saturday and today our pond is looking good.

All the offcuts from the fences we used to make a border. It took a while, but we got a little production line going and measured and cut the pieces to 40cm, next one marked two wholes 10cm apart, the next one drilled the holes, then we thread them onto two lengths of wire. This used up all the uneven offcuts and made a bendable border for these curvy edges.

I took all the pot bound plants that were in the back paved area and planted them around the pond. Not quite water plants but my budget is spent and we must make do. I also planted some marigold and sunflower seeds around the pond.

My mom will bring me some of her tadpoles next week...then I want to get 2 plants to put in the pond.

These are the last two beds that we completed on Saturday while the boys laid the gravel. I have planted a grapevine to grow along the fence in the first along with salads. The tripod has cucmbers planted at the 4 corners.

The right hand bed in the picture has celery, beans, leeks and beets and butternut to grow up the tripod. Right at the fence I have 2 loofahs planted.

And now, the beds are all full...so we wait.....

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Making your own...

For me, a large part of this "green" journey was training myself not to run to the shops for a meal, but to rather look at the raw materials I have in my cupboard and make my own. For the last three years I have been getting closer and closer to my goal but every now and again I do trip up and fall into old habits again.

But that's ok too, because I know that I will soon get myself on track again and I don't beat myself up too much. If I look back over these last years I am happy with where we have got too, I know there is still so much to learn and master, but I am really into babysteps so I have a list of things I work through.

Some of these things are easy for me - like learning a new recipe of something I like in a shop or resturant. Others are harder for me - these are mindshifts I need to make. I have to think certain things "to-death" before they become part of my life.

One recipe that I have mastered recently is pickled fish. My daughters, Superman and I all love it but I don't like the tinned kind and the Woolworths brand is crazily expensive for a tiny container enough for 1.

Here is my pickled fish recipe:
3kg white firm fish (I use fresh hake)
Oil to fry

Coat the fish in milk then in flour. Fry until golden brown and cooked through. Set to drain on wax paper/kitchen towel.

6 onions, sliced
30ml fish masala
5ml tumeric
1ml cloves
1ml nutmeg
10ml cornflour
5ml brown sugar
6 bay leaves
1 small chilli, chopped
salt to taste
6 black pepper corns
1 small pieve of lemon peel
350ml cider vinegar
250ml water

Fry onions, add spices, add vinegar and water. Cook for 20 mins.

Place fish in wide shallow dishes if you will use it soon (1 week) or put it into sterilized canning jars. Pour the sauce over.
Store in the fridge for 2 days before eating with fresh bread. Very delicous.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What's done, what's not done...

Ever heard of the saying: "Biting off more than you can chew"? Well, I think we have almost put that old idiom into practice with this new area. But all the beds are finally finished and filled with good manure and compost.

We have even begun to plant them up. The fist bed is growing corn, the second tomatoes, the third marrows. We planted potatoes in the 4th bed on Thursday.

Superman and Son made the last two raised beds which are going to have a variety of plants. I am thinking of marigolds as a border, cucumbers climbing up the tripod, tomatoes around the rest fo the bed.

The pond needs attention...we have had some dragon flies visting there much to our delight and I have been reading up on what oxygenating plants we can put in the pond. Today I am scouring my container garden to see what I can plant as a border around the pond too.

We have to transplant the strawberries from the ground to baskets along the wall. The wall is very barren and there is no reason why we should use up ground space when the strawberries grow very well in baskets.

There is also a fig and avo tree to be planted...somewhere! Well, I suppose I had better get off my computer and go and get started....

Friday, December 17, 2010

Little powerhouses!

We have a new "toy"...my Kitchen Garden is now on my counter top and in full production. This little kit makes growing food accessible to everyone no matter where you live. It's food growing on the smallest scale and it works!

Benefits of sprouting:
"A sprout possesses all of the energy, vitamins and nutrients and power that enables it to be transformed from a small seed into a strong plant. At this stage its nutritional value is at its highest for instance, sprouted seeds can contain 400% more protein than lettuce and over 3900% more beta-carotine." from www.energizeforlife.com

There are other ways to grow sprouts besides this kitchen garden, but I really like this set up and the colors look so cheerful on my counter.

We have alfafa, wild peas, fenugreek, mung beans,canola and black urad producing at the moment. I have lentils and wheat waiting to go next.

We are having them on crackers with humus, on salads and in our sandwiches. Power food, quick and simple.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

One of life's pleasures

Today while Superman and I were working in the garden my oldest daughter made fresh bread and 8 jars of jam. We bought the apricots, but the strawberries are our own.

What a delicious treat to come back into the home to smell warm bread and warm jam...and not having had to make it myself.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The time has come!

Yesterday evening in a howling Cape Town wind I decided it was time to plant.

A lot of the corn I planted in newspaper pots were ready and the patty pans that I got from Living Seeds were standing tall.

I turned over the lucerne into the earth and while it is not as full bodied as the soil in the rest of the garden I believe that this soil can grow these plants to maturity.

There are 12 patty pan plants and 32 corn planted, and there are still more corn to go in when they are ready. I also planted 10 tomato plants. Today I want to plant my seed potatoes too.

And then a thank you...a little bird left a gift in my postbox yesterday. I know it has to be someone who reads my blog and who is local, so I just want to say thank you...it is lovely and I will enjoy using it. Hugs to you!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Marrow tart and cake...delicious!

On Sunday I grated and froze 5 huge marrows for use later but one of the portions went into the following cake. The recipe is from Down To Earth Forums and was delicious. However, my one kiddie deleted my photos so I have nothing to show you!

Chocolate Marrow Cake
1 cup butter
3 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teapsoons vanilla essence
1 cup milk
5 cups plain flour
8 tbsp cocoa powder
2tsp of bicarb
1 tsp salt
1 - 2 tsp cinnamon
1tsp salt
4 cups grated zucchini
choc drops - optional

Simply mix the wet, mix the dry, mix together and bake. This makes enough for 2 loaf tins and takes about 40 minutes to cook.

I was also inspired to try this Zucchini and Ricotta Galette but I had to make some adjustments.

I did not have ricotta, parmesan or mozarella so I used Feta and Cheddar and it was superb!

I also did not have time to make my own pastry so used shop bought puff pastry. It was so more-ish that by the time we took our last mouthful we were wanting to start all over again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Chickens

When we pulled up the, albeit struggling, lawn in the last area to be converted to veggies I did feel a twinge of guilt for my chickens. We do give them lots of greens and pick grass for them but there is something lovely seeing them wandering around on lawn.

Today I decided to let them into this area where the lucerne is growing around 5 cm high. I figured we could handle a loss to some of it and give them a chance to get some tasty new greens.
They in fact bypassed the lucerne and headed straight for a pile of sand and had the most wonderful time sandbathing and sun tanning.

I love the way they lie half on their sides and stick out their one leg to sun tan :-)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A special dinner

There are two things that when I prepare them I feel like we are having a special dinner. The first is a really good pasta, salad and bread. The other is a roast with ALL the trimmings. Last night our garden obliged and gave us a nice little harvest...we couldn't use all of this but we ate the beans and gems with an organic pork shoulder roast.

I made sage and onion gravy as well as apple sauce to go along with the meat, rice and veggies.

I added some stick cinnamon and nutmeg which filled the house with a delicious fragrance.

A little later today I am going to grate up the 5 huge marrows we picked and freeze almost all of it. The one will go into a chocolate zucchini cake...if it's a success I will post the recipe here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Leisure time...

Like most homeschool moms, I do not have much leisure time during the school term. My days are long and full. Teaching my the children takes up the majority of the day, from around 8a.m. until 1 or 2 depending on the day.

Then it's time for food preparation and on most days this accounts for a couple of hours. I love cooking, so it is never a bind, but it does take time.

During term time there are sports for the children too. Ballroom dance, swimming, gym, art, tennis...and then our walks in the early morning.

Somewhere around 8 pm at night I collapse onto the couch beside Superman and try to watch a bit of TV with him. We enjoy the History Channel, some cooking and travel programs and the odd movie.

But in the time that I can count as "my own" I like to read. I am not a big fan of novels but there are 3 authors I love: Maeve Binchy, Francine Rivers and John Grisham. These I call my holiday reading.

This year I have read some other books that are relevent to this blog in that they teach me something new about a green lifestyle or about furthering my homesteading goals are:

Animal Vegetable Miracle by Babara Kingsolver

Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes

Living the Good Life (again!!) by Linda Cockburn

Cookbooks are also reading material for me...sometimes hard to read in bed at night when you look at all those delicious recipes and you are all tucked up in your jammies and cannot go and whip up something in the kitchen. This year I enjoyed these two books:

Jane's Delicious Kitchen

Healthy Appetite Gordon Ramsey

On my wishlist is Jamie At Home

I also found two really old ebooks that I am dipping into here and there...I will tell you in a moment how I happened on to them...but they are:

Eliza Acton Victorian Cookbook

The Family Save All from 1861!

In my minimal leisure time I have 3 blogs I read regularly, a couple more that I check out once a week.

My buddy moved away 2 years ago to a farm with over 100 Appaloosa horses and I love hearing what she is up to. She has also started another budget busting blog which promises to be full of tidbits!

I love Rhonda Jeans blog for inspiration and then my friend Nadene's for homeschooling inspiration.

Now, about those Victorian ebooks...I need to say with a warning, what follows is addictive! On the Down to Earth forum (my one forum I belong to!) there was mention of a YouTube series called the Victorian Farm. This is a reality TV show where a group of 3 people live as the Victorian farmers did for 1 year. I have learnt so much and is just a wonderful way to pass 10 minutes. There are however 36 episodes, so pace yourself. Here is the first:

Well that's it for today. Yesterday was the last day of school so we are on holiday for 5 weeks. There is a long to do list to get through but also lots of fun planned.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

More Marrow Munchies

Here are two more recipes for those who need things to make with marrows, or zucchini like the American's call it.

Marrow Muffins (I hope you can notice all the m & m's)

1/2 large marrow grated
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup oil or melted butter
1 cup wheatergern
1 cup cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
1 1/2 cups nuts (walnuts or pecans)

Mix the dry ingredients, add grated marrow in bits and mix. Mix wet ingredients and add to dry. Don't overmix! Spoon into geased muffin tins and bake at 180 deg C for about 20 minutes. You can ice them with cream cheese icing, but we like them as is.

Then last night I used my summer squashes to make Delicious Jane's salad. I am sure she won't mind me sharing one recipe from her book...it may make you rush out and buy it! I find myself reaching for it often these days as the summer gluts of veggies hit. I didn't use the pomegranate pulp or mangoes. I used peaches instead.

Mix together:

1/4 cup pomegranate concentrate
1/4 cup mango juice
2 T olive oil
1 T whole grain mustard
Salt and pepper
1 thinly sliced red onion

Into bite size pieces:

5 courgettes
5 patty pans
1 small cucumber

Steam squash and then cool.

Mix cucumber with:
1/2 cup shredded basil leaves
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 mango (cubed - I used peaches)
1 fresh red chilli sliced.

Mix squash into salad, pour over dressing and lightly toss til covered...simply divine!