Monday, June 30, 2008

Bin Night Again

Tomorrow is bin night - again, where do the days go? Seeing a week's worth of rubbish make its trip down the driveway to be collected by the council rubbish truck makes you think. How can four people generate so much rubbish in one week?!

Our council supplies each household with one rubbish bin and a much larger recycle bin. Generally our rubbish bin is about half full each week and the recycle bin close to full but that is emptied every two weeks. I've been trying to cut our waste down but still fall a long way short of the ideal.

We have chooks (chickens) who happily eat most food scraps and rabbits who like carrot peelings, apple cores, cabbage and broccoli stems. Some food is still thrown out but not much. The biggest waste contributer in our house is packaging. I try and avoid it but somehow it still makes its way in. I regularly refuse to buy over packaged food products much to my kids frustration. Off the shopping list is anything that comes in a single serve cup or bowl (instant noodles, pasta dishes etc), anything wrapped individually and then rewrapped as a multi item package (some soaps, multi bags of chips, biscuits etc) and anything where you seem to be opening layer after layer of packaging to finally get to the product inside.

The next step to make use of some of our household waste is to build a worm farm. I already have an old bath tub and some bags of horse manure. I haven't decided where to put the worm farm. It has to be close to the kitchen or no one will bother to make the trip out to the worm farm with the scraps. The worms will also need shelter from the sun and rain. A bit more thinking is required.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Knit one, purl one

I have a new obsession - I'm learning to knit. The emphasis here should be on LEARNING. I'm getting there but it is a slow process. I have knitted before, I did the obligatory sewing course in year 8 at school and had to learn to knit. My baby booties were not a thing of beauty.

Recently I was in an op shop and saw a big container of knitting needles. I grabbed a pair for 50 cents and took them home to give knitting a go. Casting on was easy and I even remembered how to knit and purl, wow! maybe that year 8 sewing course was going to be handy after all. My first project was a dish cloth because it is simple, quick to knit and it doesn't matter if you make a few oops. I had no idea how to cast off so I searched on the Internet and found a site which explained the process, it wasn't even that hard.

Next project was also a dishcloth which looked better than the first so I figured I was ready for something more challenging. My daughter now has a new scarf knitted by me and surprisingly she likes it (teenagers are the fussiest creatures I know). Now its on to bigger and more complicated projects.

Two of my knitted dishcloths

One of the best bits of knitting is going to the shops and seeing all the beautiful yarns and dreaming what you could make from them. So many colours and so many interesting yarns. I love the yarn with the bobbles on it but haven't come up with an idea for it as of yet.

Next step is learning to crochet!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Volunteers are Vital

On our recent trip to the country we attended a community event - dinner and a show. It was a major fundraiser for local groups and was all put on by volunteers. An enjoyable evening was had by all. The next day ,once we had forced ourselves to climb out of our warm beds, the conversation turned to community involvement and volunteers.

Country people have always been volunteers, many organizations including the CFA couldn't function without volunteers. Sadly though it is getting harder and harder to attract volunteers. Fewer and fewer people are doing voluntary work and those that are are aging. I am a volunteer and recently at a meeting the topic of the aging volunteer was brought up. At 40 years of age I was one of the youngest sitting around the table, many were considerably older.

Volunteers are vital - we've all heard the slogan but there is a lot of truth behind the words. Think of all the work volunteers do each day in Australia and image how much poorer our lives would be without volunteers.

Volunteers provide essential emergency services - the CFA (Country Fire Authority); SES (State Emergency Service); St John's Ambulance; Red Cross; Salvation Army and the list goes on.
Volunteers give young people a chance to play sport - sport coaches, umpires, committees of management who organize the competition and provide equipment.
Volunteers serve on committees who organize local events - community fairs and fetes, fundraisers
Volunteers work in clubs and associations to provide activities and educational opportunities for community members - Girl Guides, Scouts, RSL, Neighbourhood houses, community visiting schemes, garden clubs, walking clubs.
Volunteers help the environment - Clean Up Australia Day, Tree Planting Days, Earth Care, Friends of groups, community gardens.

Why volunteer? Volunteers provide a richer life for others but they are rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing they have made a difference, meeting new people and making friends and learning new skills. Sometimes these new skills can be used to obtain employment.

Maybe with escalating fuel prices and the cost of living soaring we will be forced to find our entertainment closer to home and community groups will grow. We are losing our sense of community, volunteering helps to bring it back. Find some time to help others - you'll be glad you did.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Weekend on the Farm

Last weekend my husband and I were lucky enough to spend some time away on a friend's farm. The farm is located close to Bendigo and at the moment the hills are green and the lambs play happily in the winter sunshine. Time has stood still at this farm, many things are still done the old fashion way. The only stove in the house is a wood stove and it heats the hot water as well. There is a sense of history and of peace in the little farmhouse.

The lady of the house still cooks for the shearers, makes cream sponges for the church fete, biscuits for the CWA meeting and still have time to feed the chooks, horses and sheep. I am in awe and just a little envious.

The photos below were taken last time we were at the farm. It was September. We were too busy chatting to take photos this trip.

You don't see workmanship like this anymore. The frame is made without any nails.

go Slice
1 cup water
1 cup sultanas and currants
4 oz butter
1 teaspoon Bicarb Soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups plain wholemeal flour

Boil water, butter, fruit, spices, bicarb soda and sugar in a saucepan.
When cooled add egg and flour.
Place in greased 11x7" tray and bake in moderate oven 20 minutes.

When cold ice with lemon icing and sprinkle with cinamon.

Note: freezes well but will keep for approx 5 days in an airtight container. Its great for school lunch boxes.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Oat Chocolate Bars

With two teenagers in the house we always seem to need snack food and lots of it. A 17 year old boy eats a LOT. Its pretty astounding how much he can eat and still stay slim.

I buy very few packaged snack foods, they are in aisles in the supermarket I simply don't go down. The occasional packet of chocolate biscuits does come home though but not often.

One of my favourite recipes is Oat Chocolate Bars. It is simple to make, everything goes in one bowl and gets mixed together, you can adapt it to whatever is in the cupboard, it freezes well and fills the teenagers up.

Oat Chocolate Bars

3 cups rolled oats
3 cups wholemeal plain flour
1 cup castor sugar
1 1/2 cups nuts - walnuts or pecans are both good
1 1/2 cups dried fruit
1 1/2 cups choc bits
360g melted butter
1/2 cup golden syrup

Mix dry ingredients together, add melted butter and golden syrup and mix well.
Press into greased 20x30cm lamington pan.
Bake at 180C (350F) for about 40 minutes. Bars are cooked when golden brown on top. They will firm up when cooling in pan.
Cool in pan.
When cool cut into bars.

Notes: This recipe makes a lot, you can halve the amounts and cook for approx 25 minutes. It is better to under cook than over cook the bars. If over cooked they become crumbly and fall apart easily. If you have under cooked them too much simply return them to the oven.

I change the nuts, fruit, chocolate to whatever I have in the cupboard. You can add coconut in place of any of these ingredients as well if you wish.


I'll make some this afternoon and add some photos - at least that is the plan.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What's in the Fridge?

Making the best use of what you have is very important when trying to spend less and have a smaller environmental footprint. Food is one of the things we seem to waste quite a bit of. It takes a lot of energy to grow, harvest, store and cook food so it seems a terrible waste to throw it away. Thursday nights are leftovers nights in my home. There are usually only three of us home for the evening meal on a Thursday as my husband has a regular dinner engagement. Thursday morning I check through the fridge and decide what needs using up. There is usually something that has been shoved up the back and forgotten. The microwave is great for heating up small amounts of leftovers.

Leftovers include bread products that need to be used. Bread rolls can be turned into garlic bread, toasted with cheese on top, toasted and used as a base for 'pizza' or leftovers on toast. Bread gets a similar treatment to rolls or used to make bread crumbs or even bread and butter pudding.

Leftover rice can be used to make fried rice, thicken a soup or used to make baked rice custard. Making soup is a good way to use all those vegetables that are getting close to their use by date.

When we do the dishes on Thursday night I use the hot soapy water to give the inside of the fridge a quick wipe down. Any spills are cleaned up and the fridge is clean and ready for the week ahead.

Rice Pudding
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 1/2 cups cooked rice

Combine milk and vanilla in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Stand 5 minutes.
Whisk eggs and sugar in medium bowl and gradually whisk in hot milk.
Spread rice into greased 6 cup oven proof dish.
Gently pour egg mixture over the rice.
Place dish in large baking dish and add hot water so it comes half way up the sides of the pudding dish.
Be very careful, this can get heavy and hot water can burn.
Place in oven 160C (325F) for about 1 hour or until set.
Serve warm.

Notes: Although I have used brown rice for this recipe white rice does give better results.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Feeding the Dogs

I didn't quite get around to making those scones on the wood stove, mainly because there were already home cooked muffins, biscuits and slice waiting to be eaten. I thought the scones could wait. What we did cook on the stove top was two batches of home made dog food.

We have two dogs. One is elderly with arthritis and the other a very energetic 6 year old. They are both fed a home cooked diet. Actually we are in the transition phase from shop bought to home made. Currently the dogs get home made food at night and commercial dry dog food in the morning.

Why home made food? It was recommended the elderly dog, Bonnie, be fed a grain free diet as apparently the grains aggravate her arthritis. Our other dog is a Labrador and apparently grains can cause problems in Labradors. A commercial grain free product is pretty expensive so I got a homemade recipe from a vet.

The homemade food is easy to prepare, it just takes a bit of time. We cook a week's worth of meals at one time and measure individual serves into plastic storage containers and freeze the meals.

Home Made Dog Food
2 kg dog mince - try and vary the type of meat, don't use the same week after week and include some organ meat (liver, kidney etc)
1.5kg vegetables - grate the vegetables (I use the food processor) DO NOT use onion
1 tablespoon Vegemite - can be omitted but our dogs love the taste and it adds extra vitamins

Cook the above in a large pot. When the vegetables are soft and the meat lightly cooked spoon into individual serving containers. Our elderly dog gets 500g of this food each night and the more energetic dog 600g. Refrigerate food. I make double the above quantity for two dogs for one week.

Before serving add bonemeal or a calcium tablet, omega 3 oil tablet (optional but great for arthritis) and a dog multi vitamin tablet or powder. Follow the directions on the packet for the quantity of multivitamin.

Is it worth the effort?
Well the dogs love it. The food disappears at an astonishing rate. After about 6 weeks on this diet the elderly dog does seem to be moving better despite the cold weather. Its about the same cost as buying tinned food but with a lot less waste. Instead of throwing out a tin dog food can each night we simply wash and reuse our plastic containers.

mince - currently I am paying $1.50/kg at the local butcher or $3.00/kg at Coles.
vegetables - I use any vegies at home that need to be used up - wrinkly apples, celery tops etc. Vegetables from the vegie garden even about to go to seed parsnips and carrots as they are fine when grated and cooked just discard the center if very woody. I pay no more than $2/kg for vegetables by buying what is in season.
Vitamins etc - I can't recall what I paid for these. Fish oil is cheap from a chemist when its on special, we pay $12 for 400 capsules containing 1000mg omega 3 each.

A week's worth of meals for one dog would cost approx $7.50 compared to $6.00 for commercial tinned food (special diet food is more expensive). Of course it is cheaper if the vegetables come from your own garden (about $5.50 per week).

The big advantage is a healthy diet for the dogs and very little waste compared to all those dog food tins.

We are intending to move from commercial dry food to home made but its one step at a time. A dog's diet should be changed slowly especially if they are elderly.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A day to light the wood stove

Its cold and foggy again this morning so I've lit the fire in the wood stove. I don't often use the wood stove, its far more convenient to use the electric one next to it. Each time I take the time to light the fire and get the stove going I wonder why I don't do it more often.

The wood stove heats the kitchen beautifully, allows us to cook on the stove top and bake in the oven. All this for a few pieces of firewood. It doesn't use much firewood compared to the slow combustion fireplaces. This is partly because the firebox on the wood stove is rather small so you can't fit much wood in at any one time.

A cup of tea tastes so much better when the kettle has been left on top of the stove to boil. You do have to be careful of not letting it boil dry though. Cakes taste wonderful cooked in the oven and the oven stays hot long after the fire has gone out.

The plan for today is to take advantage of the wood stove and spend some time in the kitchen. I might even make those scones I've been planning to make for days!