Thursday, May 31, 2012

Slow Living Month 5 ~ May

A day early, I know, but as we go away tomorrow I thought I would do the month's wrap up now. Joining up at Christine's Slow Living Month 5 and Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFLGINS

NOURISH: Slow Roast Sunday has become a standard in our home. Around 3pm I will put on a lamb leg, pork shoulder or two chickens to cook slowly for the afternoon until dinner time around 6. The smells of the roasting meat and herbs waft through the house teasing us mercilessly. We add some smashed veg and leafy greens from the garden for a delicious no stress Sunday night meal.

PREPARE: I am preparing to learn to make soft cheeses again from the raw milk that I can get locally. We visited a small local home dairy last week and the owner kindly shared her skills with us. She also gave me enough rennet to make the first cheese.  

REDUCE: This month my younger daughter started her little business of creating useful items from old jeans. We received donations of old jeans from friends and through free-cycle and she has been busy making art aprons for the local Waldorf School. She has made bags from the left over parts which she cleverly sold to older sister who needed a gift for a friend.

I am still in the process of reducing clutter in my home. Anything that I can repurpose is kept but my goal is to stay ruthless and not be such a hoarder. In fact “hoarder” is not a true reflection of my nature, I am very happy to get rid of things, but time to declutter is the issue. What I do not need is taken to charity stores or to the poor community that my domestic worker lives in.  

GREEN: I am almost out of my biodegradable cleaning liquids that I bought at the beginning of the year in bulk. I am determined not to buy them again as they are pricey and I can learn to use homemade products instead. So it was with great aplomb that we started making our own laundry soap again.

This week we also made a batch of this citrus cleaner. Seeing it is winter it makes sense to use the fruits of the season. I also want to make this natural dishwashing liquid, but it will have to wait for next weekend. Soap making was on the agenda again this month. I always make a new batch of soap when we start the first of the previously made one. This way we never run out. When I started soap making I made Rhonda-Jean’s basic soap recipe which is lovely and I will be making a batch of this next. But this month a friend had allowed me to get some of her lavender flowers so I decided to use them in some soap.  

GROW: Sweet potatoes have been planted. In between my now pruned asparagus plants and garlic I have sowed loads of peas. We have also been sowing seeds in newspaper pots. In those we have chives, baby dash spinach and chard.  

CREATE: I have been knitting whenever I can. All my dish wash clothes are now threadbare and ready for the floor stage. I have knitted 3 waffle weave dishcloths for now but will continue to keep some more on my needles. I also found an almost finished boys beanie from 2yrs ago which I quickly finished and sewed up. The funny thing is that it was intended for my little guy and he has grown so much that it is actually too small for him.  

DISCOVER: My plastic free life is a website that I stumbled onto and it has got me really thinking about how dependent I am on plastic as it is all around me, packaging the food I buy, in some of my clothes [gulp], in my cupboards and more. I am going to be making a list of how I can reduce this dependency.  
ENHANCE: I have also knitted some prem baby beanies for two little twin girls that are eagerly expected. The mommy is a recently recovered TIK addict and she is 7 months pregnant with two tiny little girls. We are praying for a safe delivery and really hoping that she will make full term and that she will stand firm in her new found faith in the Lord Jesus. 

ENJOY: You know as I got to this I had to ask myself what have I really enjoyed this month? Well, in a couple of hours I will be leaving with my family and dear friends to a cabin on an apple farm up in the Grabouw Mountains. I know I am going to enjoy the weekend.

But for this month past I have really enjoyed my walks with my dog and son and sometimes a friend. We chat and catch up and share what the Lord is doing in our lives.

I have enjoyed our fires at night now that the weather has turned cold.

I enjoy watching the vegetables grow even though it is winter, with all their promise of delicious meals to be made.

I enjoy my warm bed on a cold night heated by the bean bag my daughter made me. I have enjoyed reading some heart stirring books to my children – in particular “Cry Beloved Country” for the third time.

I have enjoyed and looked forward to our fellowship meetings on Tuesday evenings although we are all tired the next day.

There are so many simple things around me all the time that stir my heart and make me feel so grateful for where I am right now.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Marbled lavender soap

This is the recipe that my daughter and I used yesterday for a new soap. It is quite soft and it should lather well. The oatmeal soap I made about 2 months ago is a hard bar and has a low lather, but the cucumber is glorious!

I dried the lavender heads for a week and they were fully dry depsite the rainy weather.

378g coconut oil
250g palm oil
350g olive oil
151 g caustic soda
385ml rain or distilled water
15ml evening primrose oil
15ml lavender essential oil
15ml mauve pignment
2 handfuls dry lavender flowers

The key to making soap is to have everything ready. You need a pot for the oils, a scale to weigh them, 2 wooden spoons, 2 thermometers, 1 large plastic bowl, stick blender, greased mould.

Cover the counter with newspaper as well to stop messes. I am a bit negligent with gloves and eye protection, I used to wear them but have found that I am more adept at not messing now.

Measure the oils and place them in the pot on the stove at a low temperature to melt.

Place the quantity of water in the bowl then measure the caustic soda and add to the water. I do this outside. Stir gently until dissolved then set aside.

Check temperature on oils. You want both the water and the oils to be at the same temperature. I use 50 deg C.

When they are the same temperature add the lye to the oil while stirring. Then use your stick blender to bring to light trace. Add the essential oil and Evening Primrose now. Pour out 1/3rd of the mixture (back into the plastic bowl) and QUICKLY add the pigment. Stir.

Pour the uncoloured soap mixture into the mould. Then pour the purple ontop. Take a skewer or the back of the thermometer and do large figures of eight through the two layers.

Lastly press the flowers into the gooey surface of the soap. Cover with towels and leave overnight.

In the morning turn the mould over and the soap should flop out. Cut into desired size. Our yield was 22 generous bars.

This needs to cure for 4 - 5 weeks.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dodging raindrops

After a lie in until about 8 and a breakfast of scrambled eggs I decided to do a spot of gardening. We had so much rain last night that I thought I would manage to get it all done before todays showers hit.

Doing the sweet potatoes was fine, a bit chilly, but dry...then I started to weed the garlic and the sprinkles started.

By the time I had weeded the bed and planted some peas between the now strong garlic plants, I was dripping wet and Lucky was not charmed at all that the Mother Person was keeping her outdoors. She is always my companion in the garden and it just didn't occur to her that she could go inside.

The chickens enjoyed all the weeds and grass that I had taken out.

I decided that I had been brave enough so headed indoors.

My girls had made newspaper pots and laundry soap for me so all I had to do was make Lavender soap. I will post the recipe tomorrow if it was a success.

I just had a little peep at the soap which is cooling slowly and I am glad the mauve pigment has taken. The goal is to have a marbled effect...we will wait and see tomorrow.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Rain, Milking Goats & Cheese

Alarm rings at 5.30am and with a groan I force myself not to hit the snooze button. Stumbling to the kitchen I hit the switch for the coffee, turn the stove on for Chai and then rub my eyes and start making muffins. For you see, today we were going to visit a goat dairy and we need to be there at 7.45am. Kids are stirred at 6.30, warm with sleep, to dress warmly as the rain is bucketing down. Fetch a friend at 7.15 and her two children and battle the early morning traffic over Ou Kaapse Weg to Imhoff Farm.

The sign made for much amusement as they pronounced it [loud] CHEESE [soft] handmade.... The first group of nannies had already passed through the milking by the time we get there, but the next ladies are ready and waiting, all knowing their place in the stalls.

Denise started her herd with 17 and she is now up to 53 girls. Most of them are pregnant at the moment carrying up to 3 kids.

One of the Billy goats who cover the flock.

Inside the dairy away from the cold we are hit with the pungent smell of milk and maturing cheeses.

The cold room houses loads and loads of different flavoured ones.

We are taught how to make mozarella. Denise kindly held back some of her unpressed cheese from the previous days cheddar making so that we can watch.

Full of tasty morsels of cheese, we head home with our own stash...chilli cheddar, fynbos cheddar, goats milk gouda and mozzarella. I also have 5mls of rennet to make my own mozarella this week....can't wait.

Mmmh is that a mouse that has been nibbling at my cheese? No, I think it's a Superman.

Frugal winter season tips

Knit your own scarf/gloves/socks.
Winter is a warm cosy inside time around the fire, with mugs of tea, and it’s the only time of the year I knit. The demands of the garden are less and that makes more time available for other things.
Here are some wonderful free patterns to get started on.

Make your own firelighters
We all love a fire in winter. As we save our newspaper for seedling pots or use it in composting we don’t have a lot for firestarters. A few years back we were introduced to making our own firelighters. Save your used teabags and let them dry out completely on a rack. When dry put in an old glass bottle with a lid. Pour over a little paraffin. These work like wonders.

Collect pinecones/wood
We have massive pine plantations nearby and one of our winter habits is to collect dry pine cones for the fire. We used to keep our eyes peeled for trees being cut down on the pavements and collect the wood too. We have so much wood from our own tree clearing that collecting wood won’t be necessary for a few years.

Make soups and bread
Soups and bread…that sums up winter! Soups, made with lots of veggies and good stock, are a wonderful quick frugal way to feed your family. Here are some recipes to start.

Cook ahead
Double up those meals that keep well, like soups, for a day when you are short of time. Instead of finding yourself at a check out line at 5.30pm you can make some fresh rolls and reheat a meal.

Collect leaves for leaf mould
At the beginning of winter there are still lots of leaves around. Collect them in bags and put them in a suitable place to make leafmould for your summer garden.

Plan your spring garden
Don’t be caught unawares in a few month’s time when the weather is suddenly warmer and you haven’t planned your garden, bought your seeds and are ready to plant.

Use the library
Buying new once read books is becoming a thing of the past.  With ebooks and Kindle you have all sorts of books at your fingertips. However, I am a page-turner-kinda-gal and the library is my answer.

Sundry clothes
Clothes can still dry without electricity in winter. Use clothes racks near your fire or move it around the house with the sun during the day. It may take longer to dry but you will save yourself loads by not using the tumble dryer.

Learn one new skill
Make use of the extra indoor time to learn a new skill. Have you always wanted to make soap? Give it a try. What about crochet? Sour dough bread? Whatever takes your fancy, give it a try!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Holes in my spinach and chewing the cud...

I don't mind holes in my spinach. I would rather have holes that perfect spinach that has been made toxic with pesticides. So when I went to get spinach tonight I picked a lot of it and we enjoyed it with our Thai chicken after washing it well :) While picking the spinach I could see the promise of things to come...

Sweet potatoes trailing their way across the soil.

Beets full of life after the weekends rain.

Broadbeans starting to flower.

And the garlic, bedded down for winter. I really need to weed this area!

I was also chewing the proverbial cud about my latest decision to be made...our backyard. I happened to watch these videos again on a couple who produce about 250kg of food in summer off 90sq m. When I made the connection that our paved backyard is about that space, my mind starting ticking over.

Our backyard has some strawberry baskets and barrels which I plant with seasonal veggies. Sometimes its tomatoes and peppers but now I have just planted peas in them. Two of the barrels have asparagus in them but as they die down in winter I can plant surfcae crops, like peas, for winter. We also have our potato planter prototypes there as we experiment

This pot is covered to prevent the chickens getting in there and scratching everything up while they wander about during the day.

Our backyard houses Superman's business premises and the kid's music room. It also has the pool and the dog kennel. Our washing hangs here everyday and it's where we braai with friends. Right at the back is the chicken coop and workshop. But even with all these things there is plenty of space for a well planned container garden.

The great deliberation is:
1. do I have time to add more food growing
2. how to protect the plants from the chickens
3. the cost involved in container gardening

Well, no resolution as yet...the jury is still deciding...but just sharing my thoughts. What are yours?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

And the week flew by....

This week passed by as they do with highlights and low moments but at the end of it I feel a deep sense if fulfilment in my home. Let's start outdoors shall we?

Shade spreads over a 3rd of our growing area in winter.
Peas spiralling up the spiral.
Asparagus which will be cut back this week and mulched now that its turning brown.
A new way to do soldiers for dippy delicious.
A cleaned countertop with my current favourite cookbook. Superman moved a small hi-fi into the kitchen for me so I can play my music off my iPhone while I cook.
Lavender picked in a friend's garden, drying, to be used in soap making tomorrow.
Last pumpkins from summer harvest used in a delicious soup.

Citrus and honey roast pumpkin soup:
I had one large and one small ghostrider pumpkin left from our harvest and used it this week to make a delicious soup with my homemade chicken stock. Slice the pumpkins into wedges and remove seeds.

Melt enough butter for basting and add to it zest of one orange, 1 tablespoon of cumin, 2 tablespoons of honey and then brush over pumpkin pieces. Roast these at a high temperature until soft.

In the meantime, melt some butter in a pan and fry two chopped onions and if you have some sweet potato.

Add 1 liter of chicken or beef stock and simmer slowly until pumpkin is cooked.

When the pumpkin is cooked, remove the skin and add to the stock.

Use a stick blender to smooth. Add 250ml cream and mix well. Serve with croutons or whatever you wish.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Simple Steps to Frugality and Green Living #7 ~ Grow your own herbs

Simple Steps to Frugality and Green Living #7 ~ Grow your own herbs

No matter where we have lived, from small apartment with no balcony to where we are now in suburbia, I have always grown fresh herbs. I know you can buy a bottle of dried herbs and use them all year and now you can buy fresh herbs at most grocery stores, but having your own fresh herbs really gives a cook a good feeling.

Herbs are simple to grow from seed, but if that is too much of a bother buy a selection of herbs at the plant nursery and grow them onwards from seedlings. Herbs will grow anywhere providing they get sun during the day and that you do not over water them. They hate having "wet feet"!

If you are in an apartment with only a sunny windowsill you can successfully grow your culinary herbs right there. Make sure that you have the seedling replanted in a pretty pot standing in a saucer so that when you water then you do not have a waterfall going down your windowsill to the floor!

If you have a sunny balcony, then transplant your herbs into suitably big containers and keep them in the sunny spot. Remember not to over water them, three times a week in dry times and twice or less in wet/cool times. Certain herbs can also be grown in hanging baskets or ones that fix to the wall. Shallow rooted salads also will grow like this. Coriander, chives and thyme will all be happy in baskets, or even the new trend of "gutter" gardening.

Of course if you have a small garden and want to grow herbs then you can use your walls like mentioned above or you can make a herb spiral. My herb spiral turned into a herb tower but it works very well. The idea is to plant sun loving herbs that like less water at the top of the spiral/tower and ones that enjoy moist soil and less sun at the bottom. My herb tower is in sun all day in summer and only afternoon in winter. Today it contains mint, celery, majoram and origanum.

This is not the only place I grow herbs. I have all my culinary herbs right outside my kitchen door so that I can get them quickly for a meal. I do however plant lots of celery so that is interplanted in other veggie beds too. In summer I give big sections to basil so that also flows into the vegetable garden. At the moment the raised bed has borage (flowers for bees and salads, leaves for compost), bulbinella (for burns and stings), majoram, sage, chillies, celery and coriander.

I also have more sage and rosemary and nasturtiums planted at the base of my lemon tree outside the kitchen. I have recently learnt to love sage in cooking, but I do grow lots of it for sage and lemon grass soap.

There are not many instances that I have to buy fresh or dried herbs, unless coriander is out of season and while its not a huge savings on a grocery budget that is well, rather big, it is something. For me its more about the smells of fresh herbs, the beauty of them and knowing they are always ready for me. I have lavender planted in pots around our courtyard and I love it when I can brush my hand over them and get the smell. My mom always planted penny royal between her stepping stones and that is a smell I remember from my youth.

If you only have a little space, I suggest that you grow only culinary herbs like:



Bay (plant in a big container, not in the ground.)
And then only the ones from this list that you know you will use.

Here are two recipes that I made this week which called for bouquet garni (which is just a French term for "a bunch of herbs!"). Traditionally you would tie it up in a muslin bag or in a parcel form, but I don't bother. I take the leaves off the twigs and I remove the bay leaf, which is big enough to see, before serving. You can use different combinations of herbs for different meats and vegetables.

For red meat use bay, rosemary and thyme. You can add oreganum to this aswell if you want an Italian flavour. For chicken use sage, fennel, parsely, thyme and bay. For stock I always use celery, thyme, bay and sage.

End of week soup with sour dough bread.

This is such a cool meal as it uses up veggies about to go over, contains nutritious beef or chicken stock and barley.

Melt a good knob of butter, then sizzle a very generous bunch of your chosen herbs. I used sage and thyme in our soup today. Then add any washed, peeled or chopped veggies that you need to use up. I used carrots, celery, baby marrows, 4 tomatoes and 2 red onions. Let these sweat for a bit in the herbs and butter. Then add 1 litre of homemade stock - either beef or chicken - and one cup of barley. Bring to the boil and then turn down to simmer for 2 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

We served it today with the sough dough bread, the starter I nursed through the week. So nice to have bread after many weeks away from it.

Ratatouille, my style.
I know that this traditional vegetable stew is meant to be made with Aubergine, but none of us really like that veggie. I don't mind it, but it does make my lips itch! Again you can make this dish with veggies that need to be used up in a hurry, and is even better cold the next day. Here is how I make it:

Slice in lengths: 2 bell peppers, 8 baby marrows (courgettes) 2 red onions and 4 tomatoes.

The tomatoes need to be skinned first by pouring a kettle of boiling water over then and the puncturing the skin once. The skin will fold back and then you can drain the water and peel them easily.

Heat a drizzle of oil in a wide pan and fry up your chosen herbs. Sage, bay and thyme are great. You can substitute thyme for oregamum or majorum. Fry your onions until soft then place in an overproof dish in a layer. Add another drizzle and fry your marrows, putting them ontop of the onions when done. Then do the same for the peppers and lastly tomatoes.

Place this at medium heat in the oven for about 1hour. The recipe can be doubled for a main meal, but these portions are for a side dish.

I hope you are now inspired to try your own herb growing!