I think I’m back

Wow, it’s been ages since I disappeared off-line. Nearly a month! And no, I’ve not been without a laptop that entire time but it has taken some time to get things up and working again. Not that we’re there entirely yet either. 😦 Continue reading

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Some photos from the last week or so

I finally found my iPhone cable so I can download the photos which means I have a few to share. 🙂 Continue reading

The last week and a bit

The last week has been one of the most intense in a long time. It’s been a week of sadness, of joy, learning and sharing and most importantly, a week of family. Continue reading

Surprises, an early start and partly harvest home

The alarm went off at 5:30am. It does every morning now. I am beginning to relish more and more the peace and quiet to get stuff done or just sit and read emails uninterrupted or just research and read. It’s wonderful. When the alarm went off this morning I debated rolling over and going back to sleep. I’d not made it to bed until after 10:30pm (late for me now) and I’d spent the afternoon with a fairly severe headache so some extra sleep was a fairly viable option. I dozed off whilst I thought about it. I woke with a start ages later. 5:38am. I got up. 😀

This morning I decided to get stuck into getting the last of the current harvest (which we’d bought through our local co-op direct from an organic farmer) safely away for the coming months. Corn is the word of the day in this case. Corn, sweet corn or cobs of corn littered my coffee table and I was over them. Yesterday afternoon had been spent shucking 60 or so cobs, then cutting off the kernels to pressure can them as they can’t be safely processed with water bathing. Sorry Fowlers Vacola. This was a job for the big guns.

Canning is a bit of a confusing term as far as understanding how to can at home. When we buy canned goods at the supermarket they come in a metal tin or can, completely sealed and requiring cutting open with a tin/can opener to access the food inside. Home canning is also done under high pressure, although likely not nearly as high as commercial canning but it’s done in glass jars. Ball Mason jars are the standard jars that most canners are designed to use, usually in pint or quart amounts although other sizes are available. They are a 3 part system with glass jar, lid seal and then the screw band for the jar. Sadly, the lid seals contain BPA or so my reading and research (and a friend who has also done reading and research) inform me. 😦 The seals are a one use only although there are other lid accessories out there like Tattler lids (made of plastic but BPA free). In Australia, with our Fowlers Vacola bottling system being the most common and readily available system it is indeed fortunate that the Fowlers Vacola bottles can also be used in pressure canning. 😀

So, back to the corn.

I filled up all of my remaining #14 vacola bottles which hold about 350ml I think (1lb), and a few of my #20’s which are about 1.2 US pints/ 600ml , close enough to the size of a standard 410g can from a supermarket. Fill your pressure canner with water as per the specifications and get it boiling whilst you prepare everything else. Otherwise you end up waiting for the silly thing to boil whilst your bottles sit and wait. To can corn, fill your bottles or jars with corn to within an inch of the top and then cover with just enough boiling water to cover the kernels. This is cold packed corn. Hot packed corn involves bringing the corn to just under the simmer and making sure it’s heated through before spooning into jars and then making sure the kernels are covered with boiling water. This is considered the safer option by the powers that be as you guarantee your corn is heated through but given the preserving time and pressure I’m not concerned about it not heating through so I cold packed my corn. Once your bottles are full, carefully load your canner using the necessary tongs and put your lid on. Again, follow your canner instructions (seriously, don’t muck around with guesswork with canning. A mistake can make you very sick or worse). Mine requires bringing back to the boil then venting steam for 10 minutes before starting the pressure building. Processing time varies depending on your altitude so you will need to know your height elevation. I processed my corn high just to be sure (it’s a riskier food than some) at 15psi for 85 minutes which is the pint processing time and pressure. The #14 bottles are less than a pint but better to over-process than under. I am very generous with my processing time too as I go and do something else whilst the pressure rises so as soon as I see it’s at minimum pressure that’s when I start counting from but adding on some extra time. Mine got at least 90 minutes last night although it may be closer to 100 minutes depending on when the 15psi was preached. 🙂 As I said, better to over-process. 🙂 Once the canner has processed the full amount of time (if the pressure dips beneath the processing pressure you must start timing again) turn off the heat and leave it to cool and lower the pressure. Don’t lift the pressure regulator or do anything to hasten the pressure dropping. In my case, I turned off the stove and went to bed. 🙂

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Home canned, locally farmed, organically raised corn. #14 jars at the front and #20’s at the back.

This morning I opened up the pressure canner and removed my still steaming hot bottles. One of my #14’s broke (this can happen if there is a crack or chip or flaw in the bottle – ah well) so I cleaned off the resulting corn floaties and set my bottles on a folded tea-towel to cool. I’ll remove the clips in the next few days.

I spent this morning blanching the rest of the corn to remove the kernels for freezing and also some half cobs (they snap in half really easily) for corn on the cob for the kids. I now have a freezer full of corn kernels (5 sandwich sized snap-lock bags) and about 20 half cobs too. We bagged up the cauliflower florets too so I have officially processed all my fruit and veggies from this round. There are plenty of white nectarines for munching though. Yum!

I like surprises. Well, not entirely true. I don’t like surprises like lifting the chickens water bowl to find a breeding ground of millipedes. Nor do I like finding caterpillars on the cauliflower or corn. I definitely don’t like finding surprises in nappies (although my sense of smell fortunately prevents them surprising me very much). I DO like surprises like finding bees gorging happily in my pumpkin flowers. I do like finding that we have 6 pumpkins growing (although it’s not a huge surprise given that I made sure they were fertilised). I most particularly like the surprise I got this morning though. I usually glance in to see if any of our chickens may have deigned to lay us an egg and to my surprise this morning there WAS an egg! it’s been a LONG time. 😀 As I picked up the egg I wondered who may have lad it. Our pekin bantams don’t lay eggs as large as this one and I didn’t think our Dorkings were quite ready to lay (getting there but not yet) but as I picked it up the culprit was revealed. Miss Mandy, or Muscovy duck (as opposed to Milly and Molly, our Muscovy drakes) has finally reached maturity and has gifted us with an egg. 😀 Oh happy day!

As for the garden, I have 8 pumpkins that are growing, green tomatoes everywhere, including 1 in the greenhouse and rocket and spinach ready to harvest in the greenhouse too. My corn is still growing and some zucchinis are too although they’re both struggling for lack of both sunlight and water. Not a good location for that garden and I shall move it once the corn and zucchinis are finished. If they finish. Something has been digging in that garden bed.

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The mad scramble for lids, a hot day and procrastinating.

Let it be known… I am not the best at making decisions that bring together ALL the elements. Not my strongest area, not even remotely close to it actually. I’m not very good at planning things at all. I’m better at coming up with harebrained schemes or dreaming about things for ages but putting things into action with forethought and direction? Naaaa.

I decided Monday that I wanted to pressure can some chick peas. I stuck them in my stock pot to soak as I am following the instructions from this blog and they soaked overnight. Yesterday morning I remembered that the forecast top temperature was 32C. Probably a little warm to have the stove on all day but not much I could do by then. I’ve ended up with 11 of the size #20 Fowlers Vacola jars (about 11 pints – the #20’s are pretty close to a pint and close enough for working out pressure and time 🙂 )  but of course, whilst I’m filling up and putting on lids I discover that I’m 3 lids short. I’m just sooooo good at planning ahead. 😦 A mad scramble finds me 3 jars of which I can pilfer the lids and we’re good to go. Then I discover that the canner fits 9 jars, not all 11 so the remaining 2 are waiting to be pressure canned along with the 5 #31’s of pumpkin soup ingredients (the #31’s are 900ml and I pressure can them as quarts – again it’s close enough. Please note, NEVER puree the pumpkin soup before canning. It’s too thick to can safely, yet as partially cooked ingredients it is safe. 🙂 ) I’ve followed my own pumpkin soup recipe but the canning information is here and also in my canner instruction manual. 🙂 At least I had the lids and rings and clips all ready for the #31’s. 🙂

So I now have 5 jars of pumpkin soup ingredients and 11 jars of chickpeas all cooling and settling and ready to go as convenience foods which I know all the ingredients. It’s exciting. 🙂

Pumpkin and potato soup ingredients. If you blend it then it doesn't get hot enough int he middle to kill the bugs as it's too thick. So, open can (bottle), heat and puree in Thermy, with blender etc and serve. Easy peasy. :D

Pumpkin and potato soup ingredients. If you blend it then it doesn’t get hot enough int he middle to kill the bugs as it’s too thick. So, open can (bottle), heat and puree in Thermy, with blender etc and serve. Easy peasy. 😀

Chickpeas!

Chickpeas!

Chickpeas MUST be pressure canned. A Fowlers Vacola won’t process them at a high enough temperature to make them safe to eat as they are a low acid food. PLEASE be vigilant with this if you want to process your own foods. 🙂

Now, if I am to be perfectly honest, I had no absolute need to can those chickpeas. They’ve been sitting snug and dry in their jars for several months and will happily sit there snug and dry for probably a lot more than several months more but the real reasons I wanted to can them was because I am having a ball canning things and I love seeing all the jars lined up nice and neatly in my pantry. I also love the convenience of grabbing a can from the cupboard and hey presto, dinner is served but as many cans are lined with plastic containing BPA and I have no idea just how many or which brands (this article states it’s as high as 92% of cans) I made the choice to avoid canned food as much as possible. Yes, that means my kids have not had the pleasure of canned spaghetti nor of baked beans very often (although they did the other night) but once I get some navy beans and tomatoes I can make my own tomato sauce (tomatoes have been ordered)  and then my own baked beans. I can’t wait!

MUST get more lids and rings before then though. AND more jars. 😀

It’s not easy being green

Kermit the Frog is on the money. “It’s not easy being green.” It’s challenging when you want to go the whole way. When you want to be so eco-friendly that trees come past and thank you. It’s also challenging, occasionally expensive and extremely educational and rewarding. It can also be a very difficult balancing game sometimes.

I’m a mum to 3 children under 4. We live in inner Melbourne next to a major freeway but we’re lucky enough to have a good sized house and enough garden space to truly play when we get the time. We have Jasper who is 4 in just under a month. He is a high octane boy with a LOT of curiosity and is definitely an out doors kid. Then there is Allegra. She will be 3 in December. She is definitely a tom-boy, getting out there and getting mucky with her big brother. At the moment she is all about attitude as only a 2 year old can be. Then there is Orik. He was our little home-birth baby and has been our all natural baby in so many ways. He’s nearly 1 which I am finding very hard to believe and he’s giving this walking gig a good go too. He’s a complete snuggle bug and has been my healing baby too. He’s the first child I’ve had where I haven’t been plagued with ante-natal and post natal depression.

Our green journey has been a gradual awakening. My husband, Martin, is mostly happy enough with what I decide if it’s financially viable. This isn’t his pet project, it’s mine and although he agrees with what I’m doing and is all for it, I don’t think he’d have gone down this path if not for me. I think it’s starting to become more personal for him now though. Me, well, I never wanted to be one of those hippies, urban or otherwise and was adept at turning a blind eye to non-vaccinators, organic eaters and non-chemical. I mean, the government won’t sell us poisons will they? But it’s been a slow process of realising that they may not sell us poisons but they will turn a blind eye to those that do and they will make it easy for companies to hoodwink us. Some of it is semantics, some is downright bullshit but I am slowly learning.

I think one of the first things we changed when we moved in to our house (I was 6 months pregnant with Jasper) was deciding to use cloth nappies. I did little research, bought some that looked pretty and were cheap and we went from there. Being lazy I immensely disliked the more frequent changes and the washing required and we soon converted to eco disposables which soon changed to non-eco disposables.

By this time I was using a natural SLS free shampoo and conditioner (Babyscent)  and loving my super soft and silky hair. I was also drinking organic fair trade coffee. Allegra came along and due to rising expenses we tried cloth nappies again with somewhat more success. We love the range from Eenee and although microfibre is man made it does dry super quickly and it was one of the first times I had to sit down and make a conscious compromise. We try to use their cloth nappy range, occasionally with the pad inserts and we have their 100% compostable nappies on standby for back-up. We are using environmentally unfriendly disposables right at the moment though but every day the guilt eats me. I just can’t physically handle the washing at the moment with 2 kids in full-time nappies and 1 at night. If it wasn’t for exploding poo and the fact we are soon moving…

Using cloth nappies led to other green changes. We clean with vinegar and bicarb, use homemade washing powder, softener and my house and clothes smell fresh and lovely because of it. My bathroom is just about chemical free with natural toothpastes, eco toothbrushes, homemade hairspray and natural soaps and it’s the room I’m proudest of aside from my laundry. But it’s been a process to get there. It came down to the “I am using a toothpaste for sensitive teeth because my teeth hurt but every time I use it I worry about its ingredients. What do I do” kind of choice. Then there’s the “I’m using a so-called eco dishwashing liquid but just discovered SLES is an ingredient and I know it’s bad but I don’t have a replacement ready to go so what do I do”. This has now been replaced with Castile soap which works a treat and I KNOW it is safe.

And plastic! I was willing to allow plastic in my home because it’s just too expensive to do otherwise but since the Bisphenol A (BPA) disrobing and the untrustworthy Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) I have learned not to trust the government and there is way too much evidence for ME to be comfortable using BPA products, no matter what the FSANZ says. And if this plastic is bad then who’s to say the others are safe. We have decided to try to nearly completely de-plasticise our house. This has been a tough call in many ways as we had to throw out a LOT of toys and replace them. We scour 2nd hand shops, markets and eBay for wooden or metal toys. And we have found them a metal shopping trolley, wooden trains, my old dolls bed which my dad made for me 30-something years ago, metal cars, etc. It does mean that they outlast the 1-2 weeks lifespan of plastic toys though. There are some things we have allowed though. Duplo, dolls, and later on, Lego, Barbie (eek)­­ and other such toys. Plastic, I know, and it makes me cringe, but I feel there are some things that are just necessary in childhood and I don’t want my kids to be the nerds at school who don’t have anything “cool”.

We’ve almost completely cleared out the pantry and storage container cupboard of plastic including original and vintage Tupperware which I got from my grandmother, (some contain BPA – 2nd last FAQ), other plastic containers, and other sundry plastics. Some are special but to me, not as special as the safety of my family. They went to my mum who was warned what contained BPA, and what she didn’t want she passed on to a friend of mine who was also subsequently warned. The other non-BPA plastic food storage containers (recycle code 5 etc) have also been passed on to a friend who is in the know so I know she is also safe. In their stead I have spent quite a bit and bought glass containers. They do have plastic lids but all are confirmed to be BPA-free. The lids aren’t heated either which reduces the amount of plastic toxins released to what I consider acceptable levels. My pantry is full of glass jars with stainless steel lids, home preserved pasta sauce and tomato puree and I am almost rid of the cans in there. I am constantly looking for ways to replace canned food with homemade and I’m nearly there. I even bought a vintage stovetop Fowlers Vacola preserver and jars and am as proud as punch of the 12 jars of pasta sauce gleaming redly back at me. I’ve also preserved nectarines, peaches, apple and in large amounts, tomatoes. I’ve also recently bought a canner which, when we move I will break out so I can safely can vegetables and legumes etc. It’s not safe to preserve these using the waterbath method. Only pressure canning will do.

Going green with our food has been the easiest part of our journey surprisingly. I am lucky enough to own a Thermomix which is pretty much every possible kitchen appliance rolled into 1 with a few other bits thrown in for good measure. Rarely a day goes past where I don’t cook with my Thermy. He (yes, in our house he is a member of the family) allows me to make my own of so many things. I make my own bread, butter, sauces, spreads and can cook delicious meals like Butter Chicken in about 30 minutes without using a jar of paste or sauce. It makes me feel good knowing I am also serving up nutritionally superior (it cooks at a much lower temperature which doesn’t destroy all the nutrients), low or no preservative food that tastes divine. I take no credit for my cooking skills either. I enjoy baking but I really hate cooking so Thermy is my lifesaver.

I still feel guilty not using certified organic all the time but at the moment we need work out how much we are saving on our food bills with bulk and raw buying and then we can consider organics. I do buy organic where I can – herbs and teas are a great place to start. It is a bit dearer than non-organic teabags from the supermarket but the extra taste is well worth it. We also live near a market where we go probably every 2 weeks and buy up dried fruits and nuts in cotton and calico bags so no plastic wrapping. Gladwrap and foil sit in my draw and grow dusty and I have some reusable tin liners which replace baking paper, and we also make our own yoghurt and ice-cream from scratch. And I make both with Thermy’s assistance now so I can reduce the carbon miles and packaging there too. Our local farmers market is a big deal for us too.  It’s such an important family outing for us all. I also dry my own fruits, vegetables and I’ve even made beef jerky and yoghurt roll ups. Homemade fruit roll ups, home dried banana, apple, apricots, peas, the list really is endless as to what I can do. I’m so excited!

If I sit and look around my house I see so many things I still want to change. I’d love to wear organic and natural fibre clothing, avoiding cotton for its water-hungry properties, buy local produce only and keep our carbon miles low, reduce our rubbish low (this has improved but not enough for my liking), lower our power reliance and bills, get our veggie gardens going, fruit trees producing and so many other things. Many of these are earmarked as urgent jobs for once we’ve moved. It’s overwhelming and it’s constant. But, I’m learning that compromise is ok when you’re starting. I’m learning that it’s a step by step thing and that if you try to do it all at once it’s not sustainable to mind or wallet or lifestyle. I’ve learned that sometimes it is ok to fall off the wagon (like our current disposables phase) and that you need to forgive your lapses and sometimes necessary choices. I’ve also learned that there will be setbacks, like Sunday when I found that my deep freeze containing nearly 1/2 an organic lamb had been switched off and unplugged and the entire lot was off. Heartbreaking! However, the environment understands that in today’s society there is a LOT to change and that it’s not easy starting to be green and she is grateful for what you ARE doing to help.