Archive for August, 2012

Worms + chooks = bigger eggs

August 29, 2012

More protein means bigger eggs.

And this was discovered by a Year 5 student.

Only problem is…my chooks don’t like worms!

Aaaaaaarrrrgh!

Novel foods

August 27, 2012

Sharon Astyk over at Causaubon’s Book has a short post about foods most of us don’t normally eat, or know it’s OK to eat.

Mention of broccoli stems and how delicious and useful they are made me think of a sign that some greengrocers put on the broccoli, to the effect that if you break off the stems you’ll be charged for them! That always makes me laugh! Although to be fair, home-grown broccoli stems are much more tender than their shop-bought counterparts.

Since trying to become a more self-sufficient foodie, I’ve learned about a whole slew of unusual edible things that other people turn their noses up at. Things like dandelions (leaves and flowers), chickweed, calendula flowers (really attractive in a tossed salad), nettles (nettle & potato soup is yum!), and so on.

I was at a neighbour’s recently and their rather neglected veggie garden was covered in chickweed. We really must get the weeds out, she said. I said you can eat that, it’s chickweed, it’s rich in iron; they grow it by the acre in the US to extract the iron for iron tablets. Her jaw dropped quite a bit.

One day, I will make a list of all the edible ‘weeds’ and similar plants I can find info on and start an edible weed garden.

Sustainable houses & yoghurt

August 21, 2012

Green Gavin has just written about Sustainable House Day on Sunday September 9th, and it looks like his home will be open.

I’d love to go and meet Gav and see what he’s doing. But Melton is on the other side of the city from me and I make a regular Sunday trip in the other direction anyway. Too far away to do both.

I’ll keep up with the SHD site (they’re still posting locations) and see if there’s anything in my area. I could manage an afternoon visit locally and it would be interesting to see what others are doing and get some new ideas.

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In the meantime, I’m really pleased with my yoghurt-making efforts. I’m using the method of Sandor Katz in his book Wild Fermentation, which I bought recently.

For Katz’s method you need a litre of whole milk and a tablespoon of fresh, live-culture plain yoghurt. (I’m doing two 500 ml batches a few days apart). For my first few batches I used el cheapo Coles milk ($1 per litre) and then switched to a brand called Great Ocean Road, which is more expensive and which Coles also stock. It made thicker yoghurt and I’m wondering if this has something to do with the permeate issue.  I still buy Coles milk for other things and get the Great Ocean Road brand just for yoghurt. I could also try Pura Milk (see link).

You only need to buy the yoghurt starter for the first batch. After that, you simply use some of your previously-made batch. Buy your favourite brand but make sure it contains live cultures.

Heat the milk in a saucepan to 82 C. (you’ll need a thermometer). Pour it into the container you’ll be making the yoghut in and cool to 43 C. Put a lid on it while it’s cooling to keep out any stray microbes floating round in the air.

When it’s cooled, add the starter culture and stir in. You’ll need to keep it at 43 C for at least 8-12 hours for the lactic bacteria to multiply and do their thing. If you don’t have a yoghurt maker, you’ll need to work out some sort of insulated container with hot water to do this. I make mine first thing in the morning and put it in the Excalibur dehydrator all day and into the evening. By the end of that time it’s thickened, but just to give it a bit extra, I put it in an insulated container overnight, standing in water at the same temperature (for fellow Thermomix owners, the Thermoserver works a treat. Just make sure the container will fit in the Thermoserver with the lid on). So my yoghurt gets about 24 hours maturing time:

Sandor Katz says the milk doesn’t need to be preheated, but it makes for a thicker yoghurt. He also says it’s important not to add more starter than what’s recommended. It can give a watery sour product. More is not better. I can vouch for that. I did that before I started following his method and he’s right…I got watery & sour.

I’m more than happy with my yoghurt. At less than $2 a litre what’s to complain about?

That’s more like it Girls!

August 10, 2012

I love opening the fridge and seeing this:

It’s just over a couple of  weeks since the Girls started laying again. So far they’ve laid 20, about 3 every two days.

I don’t know why, but when I was buying eggs, they could sit in the fridge for days, weeks even, and it didn’t worry me. Now that I have my own, I write the date on each one as it’s laid and when they’ve been there over a week, I start worrying and thinking I’d better DO something with them. The human mind is a strange thing! Anyway it’s nice to be able to take a half dozen to a friend each week or so. Permaculture is about sharing, after all.

Speaking of permaculture, I must really put in a plug for one of my favourite permie sites Milkwood Permaculture, and a couple of recent posts there about nutrient accumulators….comfrey and azolla.

I’m growing both of these and the comfrey post was a reminder to dig up and divide lots of comfrey roots for springtime planting. I’m planting it at low points on the edge of my food forest so that it will pick up nutrients on their way down the slope. I use it to make nutrient tea and as a compost activator, and if there’s any left after that the Girls will gladly take up the excess.

In my garden azolla grows (maybe floats is the correct word) on two second-hand baths and one fibreglass garden pool that a friend was going to send to the tip and fortunately was diverted in my direction:

The Girls love azolla too, and have their own supply right next to their playground:

I’m always on the lookout for new foods, especially wild foods and usually watch Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on River Cottage with a pen and paper to hand. He talked about Sea Kale on one occasion and I’ve just sent for seeds from Phoenix Seeds in Tassie. There’s  a good photo and growing info at this site (looks a site worth bookmarking, too).  I’ve just put the large (pea-sized) seeds in water to soak overnight, as per the instructions provided by Michael at Phoenix, and will sow them tomorrow, probably in pots in the polyhouse as the ground might still be too cold.

I hope I can get it established. I like the way it’s growing in a mulch of stones and coarse gravel in the photo at the linked site and might do that here. It would look stunning  in an ornamental garden:

Freezing tomatoes & making relish

August 9, 2012

Following a comment from a reader about drying tomatoes, I replied that I usually dry cherry tomatoes and freeze all the others.

Cherry tomatoes are easy to dry, out in the hot sun, on a wire screen. Like this:

At temperatures over 30º C, they’ll dry in a couple of days and I prefer this way since it saves power. If there’s an intervening cool snap and they’re not dry, I put them in the dehydrator to finish them off:

The larger tomatoes take longer to dry and it’s easier to freeze them. Once they’re frozen they clack together like so many cricket balls. I freeze them in a single layer on a tray and once they’re hard, transfer them to plastic bags or a large plastic tub at the bottom of the freezer. Throughout the year I use them to make pasta sauce or tomato relish or any other tomato product.

Since I just had an interesting experience with the frozen ones, I thought I’d pass on what happened.

I wanted to make another batch of tomato relish. I love it. So much so, that I’d just about put it on ice cream (I’ve put the recipe below; needless to say, I make it in the Thermomix now).

I took out a kilo of tomatoes from the freezer and put them in a bowl on the bench. Normally I’d chop them up straight away and use them as is. Something more important came up and I didn’t get round to doing it that day, so the bowl of tomatoes sat on the bench overnight.

Next morning, there was a bowl of saggy red bags sitting in a sea of clear liquid. It had just a slight tomatoey tang and taste. I realised that probably most of the nutrients, flavour, and certainly all the colour, were intact and all I’d lost was most of the water, as the cells damaged by freezing thawed and released it. I tipped the water off.

What it meant was that I wouldn’t have to cook the mixture as long to get to the desired consistency and that would preserve more of the colour and nutrients. It took only 2/3 as long as the previous batch I’d made, in which the tomatoes hadn’t been defrosted overnight.

I was delighted. Now I have a whole new way to use frozen tomatoes with much less cooking.

OK, here’s the recipe. It’s written for cooking in the Thermomix, hence the references to times, speeds and temperatures, so you poor deprived people without one  😦  will have to do all your chopping in a food processor and your cooking on the stove. Note that ‘ripe tomatoes’ means fresh tomatoes, so you’re going to have all that extra water to cook off. If you do use frozen tomatoes, use the same weight as fresh tomatoes and pour off the liquid after defrosting.

Tomato Relish

800 g ripe tomatoes
300 g onions
1 tsp salt
300 g sugar
40 ml Wild’s Ezy Sauce (available in most supermarkets)
2 tsp mustard powder
2 tsp curry powder
20 g plain flour

Place onions and tomatoes in bowl. Chop  5 seconds on speed 6.

Add rest of ingredients and cook 40 minutes at 100º C on speed soft or 1.

Check consistency and if necessary cook a further 10-20 minutes.

Bottle into pre-heated jars and enjoy (on ice-cream, if you want).

Rainy Wednesday

August 8, 2012

I know God hates me because I’m an atheist and when he sees me out in the garden, he sends it down.

He must have been otherwise occupied this morning because I actually got a lot of weeding done before he woke up that I was out there.

I had a coffee while I caught up on other blogs and (for me) had a stunning idea.

I’ll go shopping.

Wait a minute! I hate shopping! And I hate to drive in the rain (to be fair to God, though, it wasn’t heavy).

Friday is my usual food shopping day. I go to a small local centre where there’s a supermarket, PO, newsagent, bank, hot bread shop, butcher and a chemist. It’s about a 12 km return trip. My record for getting there, getting the groceries and getting home is 40 minutes. Not bad for an anti-shopper (and without speeding).

There’s a bigger shopping centre about twice that distance away, where I only go when I want something they have that the small centre doesn’t.

I’d almost run out of chicken stock and there’s a chicken place there that sells 3 chicken carcases for a dollar. Can’t get better value than that.

There’s also an el cheapo bookshop where everything’s $5 and an el cheapo greengrocer (although I prefer to shop for fruit & veggies at a Sunday market where the stuff is local).

So, later…..

Three chicken carcases in the stockpot (note: rainwater only, don’t want toxic fluoride in my system):

Two books, one on beekeeping (I will, one day) and a risotto recipe book. Since I made the mushroom risotto so easily in the Thermomix, I’m sold on risottos:


A couple of leeks, a dollar each (better than I can get at the Sunday Market):


They were destined for the dehydrator:

Five litres of delicious chicken stock. I can’t understand why anyone would want to buy the dishwatery stuff in a carton:

So not a bad outcome, eh God? Can’t keep a good atheist down, even on a rainy day!