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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Remote Aboriginal Community Visit

My eldest daughter recently won a fully paid sponsorship from her work place to go to a remote aboriginal community in the Northern Territory with the Red Dust programme. They spent the week with kids at Yeundumu teaching within the school and participating in culture day.

Here is a video 
made by the children (also featuring my daughter) with the help of The Travel Bug guys

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Boy's Own

There is not much on offer for cards for men and even less for boys in that middle teens bracket. This is definitely an opportunity for a make your own. Using a collage approach means you can be far more personal. 
I know an inspiring young man turning 18 today. He is funny, passionate, intelligent and a sharp dresser.
He is in his final year of school and hopes to study international law. He is currently studying French, won a music scholarship a couple of years ago and is passionate about opera and classical music. Choosing the components of this card for him was very easy and have come from bits of scrap card, an old book about the war years, some old music sheet, buttons and a piece of tape measure.
It is so him!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Elderberry Time

Just a little reminder that it is time to pick elderberries. The heads will be drooping with weighty ripe dark berries. Don't forget to leave some for the birds too. Remember it is very important at this stage to remove the berries from the stems. The stems and bark contain purgative qualities and are best left in the hands of an experienced herbalist.
I have made mine into a tincture for use as a cold and cold remedy this winter. Warming the berries helps them to release their juice so I place them in a pot with only very little water till they soften and run (similar to the first step in making the rhubarb cordial). A potato masher also encourages the process. I then placed the pulp into two wide mouthed bottles and topped with alcohol. These will steep for two weeks then be strained from the pulp and used for coughs and colds. Adults 1 tablespoon children 1 teaspoon  as required or every 3 hours.

For more information about elderflowers and elderberries I would recommend purchasing the e-book "
An Elder Gathering"
from here (look in the side bar) for $5. Well worth it. 
You could also read more here on the Common Sense Homesteading blog about Elderberry syrups.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Tables Turned

You've seen plenty of photos of my table but never like this, this is a very rare sight.
My old pine table is one large entire slab of timber and I bet it has seen plenty over the last 100 years. It is one of my vital "tools" in the kitchen. 
Craig has his grandmother's table and it is almost identical to this one. He remembers it in his grandmother's laundry/larder room where it was used for damping down the clean linen and rolling before ironing. It was where she made her pickles and stored her pumpkins. She kept it scrubbed clean and pale.
My table is commonly covered with drying preserved peel, fresh soap wrapped in blankets, drying herbs, cooling preserves and drying pasta or some sort of sewing project. I've bathed babies on it and clipped dogs. We've even butchered sheep on this table. It's a complete work horse compared to other more formal tables I know. There are indentations from someone doing their homework and a clamp mark, perhaps from a bean cutter or a mincer. It is a warm honey tone and I lovingly run my hands over all it's scars. When I see modern tables for sale in shops, I don't think all these activities are what they have in mind for them, they are purely "dining tables". 
It was Wendy's visit last month that got me pondering this vital "tool" of mine. You may remember that Wendy is currently doing her Phd and researching the relationship of house and garden design to urban sustainability and I'm sure she would find your comments useful.  How about you? Is your kitchen table like a best friend? Do you remember kitchen tables from generations before you? How about those classic hard wearing laminex topped chrome bound ones? They took a pounding too. Or have you confined your activities to the kitchen counter tops?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Heirloom Varieties and the Supermarket Hat

This is a Turks Turban pumpkin and it is an heirloom variety of pumpkin from the 1800s. It's not commonly seen on the supermarket shelves and I want to share with you a discussion we had recently at our Living Better Group.
Once upon a time....
there were many varieties of vegetables but the scope has been narrowed considerably and that has been partly due to consumer demand but mostly due to supermarket requirements.
So why do varieties fall from favour?
Someone growing the Turks Turbans might say they would never grow them again because they were full of seed and not as much flesh as a Jarradale or a Jap, but we have to look at the whole fruit.
The Turks Turban does have a lot of seeds but they are delicious. In fact I grow this pumpkin precisely for the seeds. I eat them raw and straight from the pumpkin. The seeds are high in iron, magnesium, protein, zinc and Vit K. They also contain a substance that paralyses and expels intestinal worms. The skin is very hard making this a long keeping pumpkin. 
The supermarket buyers aren't interested in keeping qualities and just want to present an easy to cut fleshy pumpkin and that is what a lot of buyers want too but growers can be far more discerning. 

You might grow some fleshy golden nuggets for their golden soft flesh. They cut so easily and are always round and symmetrical. These would be the first to eat through autumn. Great for cut wedges to bake in the oven with roasts.

As autumn progresses to early winter you might start cutting into these golden giants that you grew. The skin is a medium thickness and they are not terribly fleshy but these giants contain melt-away pumpkin ideal for soups. Their giant proportions are suited for big batches of warming soup.

Then towards the end of winter, you would start cutting your Turks Turban or the Queensland Blue. Their incredibly tough skin makes them keep for months and months, providing nourishment in the hungry time when not much is growing. 

Some people are disappointed with heirloom seeds but I think you have to ask yourself, are you looking at ALL the characteristics of the plant and the produce? Am I judging the plant on it's full merit or just what the supermarket man wants me to see?

It's about perception and convenience.

Take for instance tomatoes. How often we hear people complaining that supermarket tomatoes don't taste like tomatoes did. 

Be honest.
When you go to the supermarket, do you buy the green stripy ones, the black/red ones or do you expect your tomatoes to be rich, post-office box telephone booth red?
Did you realise that after much market research, there is actually an "acceptable" and "desirable" size of tomato? It is the right roundness and right size for sandwich slices. That is the public perception requirements. Then there are the supermarkets requirements. They need a fruit that can be transported and shelved for a period of time. It needs to be robust enough to pass through several hands. They don't want the thin skinned varieties that might mark on the vine and worse, show wear and tear from harvest. They want thick skins that will pass from hand to hand and survive the shelving. They will sacrifice perfect roundness for flavour and they will sacrifice flesh/seed ratios over colour. 
You will not find the Amish Brandywine tomatoes in the supermarket because their skin is too soft and their shape too pendulous and in fact they tend towards a lurid pink rather than a red-red. But my word they are a flesh hearty tomato for bottling and they are easily cut and cored.

So when you are considering the merits of the vegetables you are growing, take off that supermarket hat and those mass buyers goggles. Consider the growing habit and the storage merits. Judge the flesh and the seed and choose a variety of produce to suit your needs, not what the wider perception is. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Devilled Eggs

Youngest daughter was having a retro Tupperware party and asked me to bring devilled eggs or also known as savoury eggs. I thought I would look up a couple of recipes to get some inspiration for a couple of different sorts....
and I have quite a few cookbooks spanning great ages. If I had time I would have contacted my good friend Kylie at Lucy Violet Vintage
she is a retro food queen and do check out her reproductions and challenges, they are a crack up.

There may be a recipe in a Margaret Fulton cook book somewhere but it occurs to me that perhaps each family just had there own way of doing savoury eggs. For those who have never made them, boil your eggs till just hard and allow to cool and peel. Slice the eggs in half very carefully placing the yolks in a bowl.
When I was little I remember my grandmother using a couple of knobs of butter and Keens curry powder.
For mine I mashed in some butter and a little home made tomato relish, mixing to a smooth paste.

You could simply spoon the yolk mix back into the white halves but for something a bit flash pipe them.
I bought this professional piping bag about 20 years ago when I was working in homewares and it was a terrible price, at least $20-$30, but so worth it. It is made of a special coated fabric which is easy to handle, fill and clean. The nozzles simply slip into the end. This type of piping system is for piped mashes, choux pastry, meringue and cream. This is a forever product. Be sure to rinse the nozzle straight away because the sulphur in the egg yolks reacts with metal.

You can see the that the mixture is easy to pipe, not too stiff and not too soft and holds it's shape. I remember people from my childhood decorating them with a few balls if fish roe or simply parsley pieces or like in the top photo, sliced stuffed green olives.
Does your family still make savoury eggs?
What is your families version?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

End Of Summer - Arboretum

(botanical tree park) was started in 1984.

Lots of wildlife but you have to be quick for the native hens.

It's a slow business growing trees (Gondwanan section)

This is how weary shearers visit the arboretum!

Unlucky, no platypus.
had THE best ice-creams locally made.
If you are down that way also stop in and visit Spreyton Cider. A new cider business providing lots more opportunities for the local apple orchards. They brew in the bottle.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What Was Your First LP?

Let's take a break from gardening and just for fun take a trip down memory lane and think back to your first record. Here in Australia on SBS there is a show called Rockwiz and as the name suggests it's a quiz show a music albeit a bit grown up and off beat. The host Julia Zemiro asks players and guests alike 
"What was the first album you bought with your own money and the first concert you ever went to?"
So let's play.....

I didn't buy Top Of The Tots with my own money but it was certainly the first album I ever "owned" and featured songs such as:
Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, Yellow River, The Pushbike Song, Sugar Sugar and the one the one that always made me cry, Two Little Boys (you know the Rolf Harris one) Still makes me cry every time I hear it. I was about 4yrs old.

We had a few albums through childhood but this is the first one I bought with my own money.

Yep! Screamer! What can I say...
I was no way near the age of the young ladies on the front cover so had not been caught in the "pluck your eyebrows into pencil thin semi-circles" fad but I did own some powder blue and powder green eye shadow from a pantomime I was in the year before. I was 12 and I wore tops like that young lady in the extreme top left of the shot. 
Songs included;
The Love Game by John Paul Young (had no clue what that was about), Bay City Rollers (so popular at the time), Rodger Whittaker's Last Farewell...really!? What was with that? Hardly Screamer material. High Voltage by ACDC, now you're talking. I think this record also included I'm Not Lisa and that used to make me cry too. What can I say, I'm a bit of a cryer.

So Julia, thanks for asking and my first ever concert I went to was Festival Hall in Brisbane to see Australian Crawl when I was about 14. I went with a friend from school and I have to admit that I don't remember much but I had an overwhelming feeling that I was too young to be there without a parent. When they sang "Boys Light Up" everyone in the crowd held their cigarette lighters above their heads and flicked them on in unison and in time, that was pretty speccy.

What was your first album that you bought with your own money and the first concert you ever went to?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Inspiration's Seeds

Our second guest speaker last Thursday night at the Living Better group was David Kenyon from 

These seeds are developed in Tasmania particularly for home gardeners in cool districts. Years and years of trials have gone into sourcing and securing vegetable seed that perform well in our short growing season.
David says a lot of people will blame fail rates on bad weather years and fickle climate over summer but he maintains that most of the time it is simply growers not choosing the appropriate variety for their growing season. 
We talked about cross pollination and stable and unstable genes, that is how conforming the produce is to subsequent seed saving and sowing. We talked about hidden genes (the genes responsible for the intangible traits like mildew resistance) and visible genes (the obvious visible characteristics like colour and size) and touched on the politics of seed and big companies and seed ownership. David also spoke about the fashions and fads of home growers. Twenty years ago his seedsmen put a lot of trial and research into cereal crops only to abandon and loose much of the work when it proved unpopular with the home gardener. How things have changed, there is a marked increase in interest now for cereal and grain crops amongst home gardeners such as quinoa.

David also brought along a couple of tomato varieties to taste and the smell was divine. This was my favourite called "Santa" a bright red and very round 4cm fruit that really has that tomato flavour and smell from the good old days. It's great to be able to taste and see and plan for next summer.

Something else that I have never tried is the Black Spanish Radish. David got us all excited by this variety. It grows to the size of a swede and is available to harvest in that hungry time of winter. David recommends peeling it and grating it for salads or adding it to slow cooks. 

So what do we plant now?
 David advises brassicas and silverbeet as well as onions, lettuce, asian style greens, beetroot and carrots.

Here is the best bit...
David brought along seeds to buy and they normally retail for $3.50 but we were able to purchase on the night for $2.50/pkt. I am very sorry for those who missed out and couldn't come on the night but boy did I enjoy myself. 
You can purchase Inspiration's Seeds on line and you will be especially impressed with their range of bean varieties. I am going to have some fun with those next summer for sure.
So if you are in cool districts, now is the second biggest planting time of the year so get cracking.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Domestic Dwelling Design and Food Sovereignty

Our first guest speaker at last week's Living Better meet-up was Wendy Fountain.
Wendy is currently completing a Phd with the University of Tasmania and undertaking a study of the design of dwellings and gardens and the relationship to food systems and practices. Coincidently our group touched on this very subject in January when we discussed the inadequate design of kitchens for food preserving purposes. Wend's study aims to identify designs that better support local food practices and compliment growing, producing, preserving and storing of food with an eye to the future and the implications of increasing urban population density.

More and more people are embracing food sovereignty and this includes those living in apartments and flats. They have unique challenges again because of the paucity of space. ( Have you read about Izaac's garden in the series "Gardening In Small Spaces")

What I would like you to do if you have a moment is think about the way your house and garden is designed.   How your garden is placed, is it easily accessible to from the kitchen. Do you have unique systems in place for compost, watering and animal husbandry. 
What about the kitchen and the utensils you use. Have you noticed your equipment is different from your friends kitchens. I'll be you could even find a different definition of the role your kitchen plays.

Some would define their kitchen as a meal preparation area where as others would define it as a food resource centre or a small food processing plant! What is your favourite piece of equipment? What is your vital tool? How do you store those "tools of trade" let alone store all that food? There is a whole process at play from growing the food and sourcing food in season locally, then preserving and storing that food and even the management of the resulting waste.
Thinking of all of that....
now see it in relationship to how your house and garden is designed.
Interesting huh?

I would like to relate to you one interesting story that came from our discussion.
One of our group had moved to an old house and wondered why the kitchen was placed at the back of the house and lamented that it was dark and segregated so they decided to open plan and incorporate it with the lounge dining, open it up and cheer it up. The renovation was very successful and provided them with just what they wanted, a bright warm sunlit area that brought everyone into the one space.
It wasn't until they had lived with this new layout for a season or two that they realised the original kitchen design was actually cleverly suited to cool food storage and preserving. The new layout has meant that they have had to apply lots of extra insulation to pantry and walls and they are also investigating some passive air flow methods to vent hot air from the cupboards.

And so it is that we realise many modern homes and renovated homes have swapped functionality for fashion. They have become great spaces for "entertaining" in a society that is eating out and "doing coffee" at an ever increasing rate. They are suitable for meal assemblage but not so much for food preservation. I suspect I am not alone trying to store umpteen large boilers and funnels of various sizes, never mind the bottles and jars. Heck, my stove struggles to accommodate the Fowlers pot on the hot plate!

Wendy has sparked quite a bit of food for thought on the home front. Her goal is to also take these ideas to the wider community too with small local groups. Her research will also encompass the sharing within the community of resources and ideas and knowledge. It embraces the make do and adapt and re-purpose methods. 
A great topic and full of ideas. Thanks to Wendy for coming along and "sowing some seeds"
So has it got you thinking? What are your thoughts?

Definition of Food Sovereignty
Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation.
From here 

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