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3 July 2015

Weekend reading

We've done some work in the garden this week and it's looking beautiful out there. The weather has been cool but not cold, although the August winds seem to have started a month early. I'm slowly getting back into the rhythm of my home and the work I do here. I think I'll start baking bread again next week. Winter is the best time for baking because it gives that extra warmth, and the feeling of warmth, to the house.

I hope your week has been productive and rewarding. What have you been doing?

The most common cooking mistakes
Homemade organic spray to keep flies off animals
Ten BBQ foods dangerous to pets
Five daughters and a simple dad
Back porch swing how to
The best ways to store fabric
Recycled rug
What's the secret to happiness in life? The answer lies in the statistics
Oatmeal Walnut Bread with Poppy Seeds

1 July 2015

Our garden cart

We bought a new garden cart last week and I think it's the best thing we've bought for a long time. I have trouble lifting and balancing a wheel barrow sometimes so I've been looking for something I can use in the garden that will allow me to load up a pair of loppers, a bucket, watering can and secateurs, and still have enough room for prunings and rubbish that has to be moved.

Of course it will give a ride to grandchildren. Above you can see Jamie seeing the sites with Opa at the helm. What is it with grandchildren and carts?  Put them together and there is always fun to be had. We have a lot of pot plants on the front verandah and when they need to go to the green house for repotting or for a rest, I need a safe way of getting them there. Loading them into the wheelbarrow is just dangerous and they fall over when I lift the wheelbarrow. This garden cart has a flat bottom with flip down sides so it's easy to load pots, even the large heavy ones. Incredibly, the cart holds 450kg or 1000lbs. 

It will hold a fair bit, which you can see in the photo above. On the day after we bought it, I loaded up the cart to transport all the grocery shopping inside. Usually it takes a few trips in and out to the car to unload it but this simplified it all.

I wonder what form of backyard transport you use in your home. Maybe I'm late to notice these carts and they're all over the place. :- )

29 June 2015

Starting a dripping pot

At the risk of sounding ancient, which I'm close to, or old-fashioned, which I often am, I want to write about dripping today. I know!  Scary stuff in these fat-free times. But a little bit of fat won't do you harm.  All things in moderation, so the saying goes.  Dripping is what we used to call the fat that rendered down off roasted meat. Dripping is beef or lamb fat and pork or bacon fat is called lard. Dripping and lard were a valuable ingredients in many pre-1970s homes. Most households had a dripping pot which was usually aluminium, pottery or an old china bowl.  Most dripping pots had a lid and a well fitted strainer to collect bits and pieces from the cooking. These were discarded or kept in the fridge until the next stew.

Tricia and I never had it but our mother, father and grandmother all talked, with affection, of eating bread and dripping. It was quite common pre-world war 2 to use dripping instead of butter on bread. I have fond memories of my mother's dripping pot, usually full, sitting in a dark cupboard, although I think she would refrigerate it now. And although I've never eaten dripping on bread, I still use dripping in cooking and I hope I can get you to make up a little dripping pot to try it yourself.

This is a little dripping pot I've just started - it's an old jam jar used for preserving, so the glass is toughened.  I'm on the lookout for a proper pot and when I find one at the second hand store, I'll grab it, give it a good scrubbing and use it for the dripping I save.

I only have a fraction of the dripping my mother collected. Meat is leaner now, we don't eat meat everyday and often I make a sauce with the dripping and don't collect it. But I do save the dripping from our roasts and also from bacon. I strain off the dripping through a strainer or sieve and store it in the fridge until it's needed. After you've saved dripping from a few roasts, you'll see a small dark layer under a lighter colour layer of fat on top. The dark layer is full of flavour but when I use the dripping, I dip the spoon right down the bottom and take some of the dark layer too. Although you can turn the pot on it's head until it's set and have the jelly layer on top.

Dripping can be used to cook roast vegetables or to make delicious gravy. Whatever it goes with it give a lovely flavour to because it has the concentrated flavour of the meat in it. If you brown your meat in dripping when you're making a casserole, it will add an extra level of flavour to the meal.

To make gravy, I take two tablespoons of dripping, add 1½ tablespoons of plain flour, salt, pepper and a small sprinkling of paprika (for colour). Stir the dripping and flour together over a medium heat and let it brown while you stir.  When you reach a good rich brown colour, add enough water to make a gravy to the consistency you like.  

If you're raising your own beef or pork, you probably know more about rendering fat than I do and you're might be using it in your soap as well, I'd love to hear from you to know how you're processing that fat and what you're using it for.  But if you have a small amount of dripping left when you cook and usually throw it out, try this and see if you like the extra ingredient and the ability to use as much of the animal as you can.

28 June 2015

Ecoyarns in new hands

One of my favourite sponsors, Ecoyarns has changed hands. Vivian, who started Ecoyarns when she was a medical student, recently sold the business to Salihan and Richard. My best wishes go to Vivian as she takes up her medical career. Salihan and Richard have a young family and have moved themselves and the business to Canberra, which must be high on the list of places that need good supplies of warm wooly yarns.  I hope their new business will thrive.

Salihan knows all about Ecoyarns because she used to work for Vivian. She is now running the business from home while she looks after her two daughters, aged two and three. Salihan is an experienced crochet and knitting pattern maker and I'm sure that experience will stand her in good stead at Ecoyarns. Her patterns are still available on her own blog and Ravelry.

I asked Salihan about herself and what her plans are for Ecoyarns. She said she has been a stay at home mum for the last few years and before that was working with Vivian part time. 

"I was packing orders, providing customer service, and also doing the graphic design and photography for Ecoyarns," she said.

"The new changes that we would like to announce first is that we are now on several social media outlets.  We hope more people will follow us and keep in touch whichever way they prefer.  Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest |  Twitter

"We are also shipping orders within 1-2 business days and replying to emails promptly. We hope the faster turnaround would be noticed quickly by customers who might have be turned off by orders being shipped out only once a week in the past.

"We also just added our first new stock to our shop - Australian Organic Wool WOOLganic 8ply  We will be stocking more from their range in the future. We are looking at ordering the 4ply and undyed wool hanks when they become available.

"We will be stocking more Ashford tools too. This will include the ball winders, skeiners, niddy noddy, swift and drop spindles. There will also be quite big changes to the EcoOrganic Cotton range in a few weeks time. I will keep you posted on these in the future," Salihan said.

I'm looking forward to working with Salihan and Richard. I've been using Ecoyarns for all my knitting for the past few years and I'm very happy with the quality of the yarns and the ethics of the producers.  Don't forget to follow them on whatever form of social media you use.  I've followed them on Pinterest and Twitter.  Thanks for your continued sponsorship, Salihan and Richard.  Happy knitting and crocheting, everyone.

ATTENTION: Salihan has just told me that there are details of a $10 discount on your order on Facebook. Check it out here

22 June 2015

Getting value for your food money

It's always good to get value for money, no matter what your income level or age bracket. However, if you're in a low income group or on an average income with high costs, getting value for the money you spend in essential. I think you have to get into the habit of always looking for ways to save and not wasting what you already have. When you develop that habit, there is a long list of things you can do.

For most of us, apart from rent/mortgage payments, food is our biggest expense. So it follows that if you can save money on food, you've been making a real difference to your own budget. I'm taking it as a given that we're all cooking from scratch, even though there will be some who don't, it is the best starting point for all of us - for our finances, our nutrition and our health. This is one of the ways I use to stretch a chicken so that it not only gives us meals we enjoy, the meals are easy to make and instead of a small chicken feeding us for one meal with leftovers for lunch the next day, this one covers our main meal for three days.

I started off with a small free-range chicken, of 1.5kg/3.3lbs. On the first day I made a stuffed roast chicken with vegetables. The stuffing was stale bread, a small onion with sage, parsley and an egg from the backyard. It was delicious and satisfying. The following day I had one half of the chicken left, still on the bone. I removed the leg and breast, then chopped the carcass in two and put it in a pot with about 1.5 litres/quarts water, salt and pepper and with the lid on brought it to the boil and simmered it for about an hour. The herb stuffing seasoned the stock perfectly and gave it a real boost. For about the last 5 minutes of the simmering, I put the chicken in the stock and warmed it up. Two teaspoons cornflour in the stock thickened it slightly and on the second day we had skinless chicken mashed potato with onion and parsley, some pumpkin from the previous say, peas and a little of the chicken gravy made with the stock.

On the final day of the chicken, I noticed the chicken stock was set like a jelly in the bowl because so much magnesium, collagen and glucosamine had leached out of the bones. A truly nutritious broth. So, all the meat was stripped from the bones, the thick gelatinous stock reheated with the chicken pieces, parsley, salt and pepper added and boiled with a hand full of small shell pasta - a delicious satisfying soup on a cold winter's day. And that was the end of the chicken. It was only a small bird had it been a bit bigger it would have done us for four or five days, but then I would have frozen a couple of meals for later.

It's a simple thing to stretch out food like this. It doesn't take any extra time but you have to have the idea to do it and know what you're doing. Making a list of ideas to stretch out chicken, fish, beef etc. is a great way to start. There must be a hundred ways to serve a chicken but I hope you add this to your repertoire because it will give you value for the money you spend on the chicken and you'll know you're providing healthy and nutritious food, with no waste. How do you stretch your food dollars?

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