Sunday, May 30, 2010

A little bit of T~L~C

We have a sick chicken. Amber is probably the ugliest most stupid chicken of the bunch but she is dear to me for a few reasons. She came in the second batch of chickens we got and arrived without any feathers on her back. She was obviously the object of much rooster attention at the farm where she was :-)

She came to us very skitish and it has taken her a long time to trust us when we are in the garden while they are out. It has also taken her a long time to figure out the routine of getting in and out the coop.

Last week I noticed that she was looking very bedraggeled and thin. Today she didn't move out the coop and hasn't shown any interest in food or water.

So we have hospitalized her for a while. Our chook hospital is a small gray crate which is big enough for them to stand and turn. I place it in a warm spot and leave water and seed in there for the sick girl.

We have nursed a failing chicken back to health before and it really is just a little bit of TLC that I think she needs. If she shows no interest in food and water by this evening we will feed her water with a dropper and I will scramble and egg for her.

If it is nothing more serious than a bit of dehydration and lack of food (these chickens can be quite mean to one of the flock sometimes and keep them from their food and water) she should be back with the flock in a couple of days.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

5 Vegetable Lasagne

Last night I just had to have some of this spinach....our bright lights chard is growing so well.

I didn't have time to do much other than a quick lasagne. Getting my elder daughter to make the pasta sheets was a huge time saver and being able to take out a ready made tomato pasta sauce from the freezer cut the cooking time even more. Now, count with me to see how many veggies I snuck in for my youngest child and a very reluctant veggie eater.

The sauce contains tomatoes (1) carrots (2) celery (3).

Once the beef mince was cooked in the sauce I added 3 grated courgettes (4) and when cooked put a small layer to the bottom of the oven dish. Then a layer of fresh pasta. Then all the spinach (5) which had been rinsed and chopped really fine. I crumbled 2 rounds of low fat feta cheese onto the spinach then added another layer of pasta.

The rest of the beef mince went on top then a nice layer of grated cheese and (for those who have cholestrol problems don't read any further!) I poured over 250ml of cream.

After baking for 30 minutes it was deliciously rich and creamy with a yummy flavour from all the veggies. It got a thumbs up from everyone.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The need for a TO-DO list

Either as a running list during the week or by taking a couple of minutes on Saturday I like to make a to do list before Sunday hits. Sunday is our big garden day and the kids and I always like to know how much work we have to do.

I allow them to put their initials next to the jobs to "book" the job, but they can't take all the easy jobs, they have to think about their younger siblings so that the workload is shared.

Today my elder son and Superman replaced all the fences that we used to stop Big White Dog from killing the lawn. BWD had learnt to now jump those fences and in the process had knocked over many.

This triangular bed houses our chillies, rhubarb (which has just been cut) and sweet potatoes. It is unfortunately in shade for most of the day in winter but we should get a decent crop in early summer.

Our asparagus is doing well and we have just repotted the oldest plants for their 3rd and final time. We will have to have decided on a spot for them by September. We have some ideas in mind but we cannot move on them right now.

We are still spending lots of garden time sweeping up the leaves which make such a mess in the garden, but I try to stay optimistic and remember what my mom said that they are good compost material...

It gives a person such a sense of achievement to walk around a cleaned tidy garden in the evening after all the work is done. I think that is one of the big motivations for getting through the to do list each week.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A little more canning

This past Sunday we picked all our chillies and rhubarb and canned them. I made a green chilli sauce that will test anyones manhood! I simple chopped the stalks off, and put them in a pot with onions, a couple of tomatoes and some sugar. I then cooked until soft and then used my stick blender to smooth.

Then I tried a recipe from Balls Book of Canning for my rhubarb. A very interesting Rhubarb and Orange Chutney was the result.

Then on Tuesday we bought 5kgs of delicious ripe tomatoes and I made pasta sauce which I use as a base for many dishes. This is made simply by chopping the tomatoes, adding some onion, garlic, celery, basil and grated carrot.

When it is reduced I use my stick blender to make it smooth. I prefer to freeze this rather than can as I have more space in my freezer than in my cupboards.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Curing olives

In years past I have cured my own olives. The first time with a friend which was a great social event as we stood with the kids and slit each olive and put them in brine.

This process was then a 6 week long changing of water each day until the bitterness left the raw olive. Thereafter you place them in a vinegar, oil and water mixture with herbs and garlic.

However, when my gorgeous olives arrived yesterday I looked at all 20kg's and thought "No way, there has to be an easier method!" I found this lovely method to try this year which seems much easier. So after getting rid of 8kgs to friends....

I had a packet of Kosher salt in my cupbaoad thankfully which I thought would be enough but I ended up using my sea salt too while trying to get the right salinity.

The recipe calls for one quart of water - here was my first life is measured in liters! So I filled a quart ziploc bag which I had with water and went to work this way...not very accurate I know and I am sure the more math inclined could have worked out the millilitres for me, however....:-) So then the girls and I decided to give the "egg floating test" a go.

The recipe says that the right amount of salinity is achieved when the egg floats showing a diameter of 2.5cm above the water. After 9 heaped spoons of salt to 1 quart of water it floated!

Then it was simple a matter of filling the jars with olives and placing a weight on them to keep them immersed and then putting on the lids. So there you have it 12kg's of olives in brine for 3 months...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Two exciting things today...

Our raw olives have arrived from Paarl. I had hoped for Calamata but these are Black Mission which are almost as good. In the raw state they are much cheaper, but I can also make sure that only the purest ingredients are used to cure them.

I will post tomorrow on how we are curing them this year as I am going to try a different recipe this time around. I ordered 20kg's, but only used 12kg's and them roped some friends in at 2kg's a time to give it a try.

Then the second exciting thing is that I asked on Freecycle Cape Town if anyone had any wool for me and someone did! This also came today...what a wonderful stash of colors to make into squares for our project this year. Thank you, Mignon!

We are 20 squares into our goal with 80 left to go. I now knit when I wait at sports, in front of the TV, when my children read to me actually anytime I can.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cooking with Gordon @#$& Ramsay

Gosh! It's been a week since I last posted...but with our internet connection being down, a friends 40th and a bad dose of sinus I just haven't got to my blog. However lots has been happening in our home.

This past week was the Good Food & Wine Show in Cape Town. Superman offered to book me a spot to cook with Gordon Ramsay as he was visiting the show. My more frugal nature couldn't justify the cost of it and then I was also doubtful whether my poor ears could handle the swearing.

The thing is I love watching BBC Food and recently watched Kitchen Nightmares. It was through this program that I actually decided that I liked "the bad boy in cooking." Anyone who watches BBC Food will know that he has an unfortunate tendency to swear at every second word.

But there was something else that we learnt about this chef...he has a BIG heart! He didn't only fix dirty kitchens and failing businesses, he actually cared deeply about the people he was working with.

Hence the offer that Superman made which I lovingly refused. BUT...I did get myself a new cook book and have been trying some recipes this week:

For Sunday brunch we had buckwheat pancakes with salmon, sour cream, capers ad basil leaves. Outstanding!

Last night I made his coleslaw...our mayonnaise! Sublime.

Healthy seeded bread...made two loaves and ate one with butternut soup at lunch today.

So far these have all been winner recipes definately to be repeated.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why loofahs?

I have mentioned before that we live on 900sq metres. With our home and pool taking up at least 1/3 rd of that, there is not much space left for garden. When we decided to turn our plot into a food producing garden we didn't think of vertical spaces initially. It was in the long term plan, but at first we went with traditional beds.

Our second area that we created had been set aside to more of a rambling space but the goal was to grow as much as we could up the walls on trellises. Still the space is why grow loofahs which are not really edible?

Growing loofahs was our choice for two reasons. The first being a frugal idea of finding a way to not use shop bought sponges for dishwashing and baths. The other was a green ideal of finding a way to not place an additional burden on the environment by using man made or sea sponge. Loofahs are ideal for this as they are a source of vegetable sponge which when spent can be placed on the compost heap and breakdown there.

Somethings that I have learnt in this first year of growing loofahs -

Plant them early! They have a long growing season and need warmth.
Do not overwater them! They are hardy plants and won't like wet feet.

We harvested the first 5 big ones today as we are having loads of rain and I don't want them to rot on the vine.

These are going to dry slowly on a sunny windowsill and hopefully we will have a stock of them to see us through a long period as there are about another 10 on the vine although much smaller.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sage and lemon grass soap

Besides for opening my first attempt at canning after a few months of sitting on the shelf, I can think of no other scarier moment that when it came to making soap.

My first problem was the horror stories I had heard of fumes and burns. The other thought was "What if it doesn't work". The ingredients are expensive if you use oils and I hate to waste.

Well, for all those who want to try soap making, do give it a go. I have now made 7 batches of plain soap and we could never use anything else again unless hard pressed. This weekend saw the first batch of herb soap. It has turned out well.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Smells of Motherhood

Yes, there are truly smells of motherhood.

I remember the smell of my grandma's toffee she used to make....and her fudge. I remember the smell of my moms meatballs, Sunday roasts and cornish pasties.

Today my home smelled of sage drying on a low heat in the oven, lemon grass essential oil, fresh bread, apple sauce and fresh basil as I busied myself in the kitchen. Superman and the little Super Heroes have taken on the normal meals today which have been a great blessing so that I could spend the time on other kitchen tasks.

In a break in the rain I quickly harvested almost all of our basil to make into pesto.

Then I cooked up the last of our gleaned apples into applesauce to use in baking this week.

While this was happening I set bread dough on to rise - enough for three loave for the week to go with some soup and to be made into pesto-mozarella toasted sandwiches.

I also made two batches of soap. One batch was the original recipe which I have made before, the other was a new recipe from Slow Living Essentials. We have so much sage that the sage and lemon grass soap that Christine made seemed like a good idea. I will post photos of that tomorrow.

Tomorrow I will cut up the soaps and leave to cure for 5 weeks, just in time too as our first batches will soon be used up.

Lastly, to all moms out there, well done on your nuturing traditions, the smells from your kitchens, the produce from your gardens and the love from your hearts poured out on your children.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Comfort Food

The other day I heard pasta being described as "glue paste" only useful for children's craft projects. While I must say that pasta does not have huge health benefits - I just love it! One of my favourite meals is a traditional spaghetti bolognaise.

But if I have time I love to make speciality stuffed and baked pastas. Last night I made spinach and ricotta ravioli...all I had to pay for was the flour and parmesan. What a bonus.

First step:
Cut some spinach from your spinach patch. We have bright lights this year and I love their red and yellow veins.

Rinse, chop and steam the spinach and combine with ricotta (or homemade cream cheese works just as well), a handful grated parmesan, salt, black pepper and 1 egg.

Second step:
Collect 4 eggs for your faithful chickens and make your pasta.

Third step:
Take out your prepared tomato pasta sauce from the freezer and defrost. Then heat in a pan.

Fourth step:
Make the ravioli, boil it and then serve with a generous helping of sauce and grated parmesan.

Nothing like it! Child's glue paste or not, I call it comfort food!

Friday, May 7, 2010

For the love of Mexican food!

There are a few things that really get my tastebuds all fired up. I love love love coriander and I love love mild chillies - Superman does the "burn-and-sweat" ones. About 3 years ago we watched a movie called "Tortilla Soup" which you have to watch with things to eat. As this "chef-dad" prepares the most delectable feasts each night for his daughters, your own tastebuds start crying out for food.

Thus began my journey into Mexican food. I taught myself to make a killer tortilla soup and this is our families all time favorite doubt here! But I also learned how to use chillies and coriander in many other dishes.

I have taught myself how to make killer frijoles...want to know how? Well, soak and cook your red beans (you can also buy canned ones) then fry some onion and garlic and a little fresh chilli. Then add the beans and cook until soft. Mash them with your wooden spoon as you stir. Then add two heaped tablespoons of cream cheese and voila!

My chilli plants are still dripping with chillies and even though we prefer to eat them fresh, we may have to can a few more bottles. We have 9 chilli plants of different varieties and strengths, so I just pick and pickle them together.

A simple easy Mexican meal that I whip up at least once a week is spicy mince served with frijoles, homemade quacamole, grated cheese, flour tortillas, lettuce and tomatoe. This takes no longer than 20 minutes to get to the table, especially if I have lots of hands to help.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Of all the things we have done...

It is storming outside, a real wild wet Cape winter storm. I woke at 5.30 with one thing on my mind - my chickens! They are safe in their coop and for the most part dry unless the wind blows rain in from the front of the coop.

Having looked in on them they are still on their perches and seem fine, so here I sit early in the morning with a blanket on my knees and a lovely cup of organic coffee to drink.

Of all the things we have done in the last 2 years - can you believe it will be 2 yrs in June! - I think where we have experienced most savings and joy is from our chickens.

We have had two moments where we were very worried as two of our chickens got sick, but we nursed then back to health by hand feeding and watering every hour. Besides for that we have felt so excited each evening when we go to feed them their dinner and find eggs.

Who could think that something you can buy so cheaply in a store could bring someone so much joy? Even now in winter we are getting 4 - 6 eggs a day. Is this signs of happy chickens? I think so.

A delicious vegetable and bacon frittata.

I do anticipate the laying to slow down some now that we are having short cold wet days but this only make a small adjustment to our meals. One of our favourite uses for our eggs is a frittata. We like to have an easy meal for Sunday dinner and this is one of those meals that go a long way with a nice loaf of freshly baked oat bread.

A fresh salad of baby spinach leaves, radishes, nasturium and sugar snap peas.

We find that we use our eggs everyday for baking, pasta, gnocchi, breakfasts and more, but we save our eggs from Friday to Sunday for our Sunday supper. There used to be an advert on TV here for Farmer Brown chickens which said :"They taste so good, cos they eat so good." I don't think we will ever eat one of our chickens even when they go off the lay, but the chickens eggs sure do taste so good, cos they eat so good.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Seasons come and seasons go

Despite my plans for today, I woke up with a very sore back from my rock climbing this week. Because "Why I Went Rock Climbing" is a long story and not relevant to this blog I will not go into it, suffice to say that my back is sore!

That meant no heavy work in the garden and a rather reduced TO DO list for the day. As I was repondering my list I was thinking about seasons. We are heading into winter and autumn has left its mark. While I love the beauty of the autumn leaves, I find autum a very messy season. Then comes winter with all the snow and frost here, just days of wind and rain. Spring comes with promises and beauty and summer with heat and work.

If you will allow me a little analogy, I feel like I am in autumn right now. My life is a little unorganized and messy but not without hope. Busy-ness is really an enemy of organization but I know that I cannot continue to keep my fingers in all these pies if I don't get back into the organized state I was in a while back.

This is not a revelation, just a thought that has been running around my head for a few weeks. So today I decided that we would do a little organizing of cupboards. Yesterday I did a big grocery shop as I have eventually gotten my head around stockpiling and have a plan.

My mom was here this week and gave the vine a good prune.

As a tree has to shed leaves for winter dormancy I had to shed some clutter to make space for the new. I am not going to be adding shelves to my home to carry my stockpile just yet as all I want to do is have enough for three months and I feel we can make do with what shelves we have.

The three areas we organized were a little alcove that holds my sewing, scrapbooking, knitting and odds. Most of the odds were set aside to give away and the other things sorted. There will now be plenty of space for our toiletries and non perishable stockpile here as the floor is now clear of all items and has lots of space.

Then we sorted our grocery cupboard and got rid of anything that was too old to use. I hate wasting, but there were somethings that got hidden behind new things and forgotten.

Then we sorted the baking centre. As the girls bake they often hurriedly put things into this cupboard and it was a shocker. It still needs more decluttering but has to do for now.

Perhaps tomorrow we will truly sort this last area, but for now, I need to rest my back.