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Little steps

August 30, 2010

I’ve always been overwhelmed at the beginning of projects. The task ahead seems enormous and I hover in uncertainty about how to tackle it. When I look back, I realise this has always been a tendency of mine and it only seems to be this year that I feel I’m gaining skills to overcome it. One piece of advice from friend really helped. She says, take time to sit and ponder and an answer usually comes. If you don’t know how to do something now or resolve something now, don’t panic about it but take time to reflect, sleep on it and in time, with peace, clarity comes. I’ve found this very valuable.

The second thing that has been helping me lately is the idea of taking little steps. If the big picture is overwhelming, start with one small part of it. Tackle that and then go onto the next bit. Our garden is rather large and has overwhelmed me since the day we moved here. If it wasn’t for John Palmer adopting us and our garden, we would be spending our weekends pushing the lawn mower (not really kosher in an ecovillage!). Lately, to my surprise, I’ve been enjoying gardening! Once I decided to tackle a small section at a time, I began to enjoy it.

I’ve just created a small garden bed next to our front deck. It was a weedy messy overgrown bed and now it is planted with lovely natives from Michelle’s Native Plants. Michelle kindly came to our house, looked at where I was thinking of planting and put together a group of plants that were suitable for the spot. What satisfaction I feel walking out of my front door every day and seeing the little garden I’ve created.

Wholefood for Children

August 28, 2010

This is my new favourite cookbook that my friend, Kacey, introduced me to. I had been raving to her about wholefood for kids based on traditional diets (and the teachings of the Weston A Price Foundation) for a long time. One day, Kacey said she had found a book that had recipes and information exactly along the lines of the advice I had been giving her. I had a look at the book and just couldn’t resist getting it even though a good portion of it is baby food and Kayo is nearly two.

Wholefood for Children by Jude Blereau is full of practical recipes that use every day ingredients and even though many of the recipes are geared to please a young one’s palate, the recipes I’ve made so far are really tasty! Lots of the recipes include stock. Stock or bone broth is full of really good minerals and so nourishing.

We had loads of bones in our freezer from our bulk organic meat purchase from farmer Paul Graham. My neighbour made this beautiful and tasty gelatinous beef stock (pictured below) and shared it with me. It’s so easy then just to finely dice veggies, throw in leftover rice and any other tidbits you might have. This is an “on the fly” busy day when I really can’t put time or effort into food for the kids. With stock, you know they are going to get a nourishing meal, even if it’s a five minute quickie.

The container on the left in the picture is the fat that was on top of the stock. I use this for sautéing (though it spits with the bits of stock so can be messy). Kayo loves “chippies” so I often make potato or sweet potato chips by just shallow frying them in ghee, coconut oil and/or leftover fat such as this from the stock. These fats are saturated fat and are stable at high temperatures (as opposed to vegetable oil which oxidises when heated). Saturated fats help us to absorb all the fat soluble vitamins (A,K,D,E). They also contain dietary cholesterol which is “vital for gender expression, immune response, memory function and to maintain the integrity of cell membranes in our body” (thanks to Bec Stoneman for this info! Bec is pursuing a Bachelor of Dietetics & Nutrition and is as passionate about this sort of stuff as me – more so probably and certainly more knowledgeable!).

One thing I’ve learnt from the book is adding apple to savoury dishes. Kayo and Taiji often don’t finish apples that they start eating and I end up with mangy bits of apple in the fridge that I don’t want to throw away. Chopping this up finely and adding it to the stew or sauce sweetens it a bit and adds interesting flavour. Both Taiji and Kayo have been eating more of what I’ve been cooking which is a thrill! (I’m rather intolerant of fussy eaters!). Anyway, broth broth broth is my motto at the moment and I am adding it to just about everything.

Honey bee and the wattle tree

August 27, 2010

We have a wattle tree out the front of our house and were surprised in July to find it in full blossom. Spring had come early it seemed and for a while I ignored the tree, feeling too perturbed by the incredibly early arrival of Spring. But one day, heading outside, I could not ignore the loud buzzing sound emanating from the wattle tree. It was absolutely full of bees going about their work collecting nectar.

I thought of old Jack up the road and figured they must have come from his hive. Jack lives just a few hundred metres up the road from the ecovillage and keeps several hives. We’ve been buying his lovely honey for years. Raw honey in the shops has usually been heat-treated so is not truly raw. Jack’s honey is totally untreated. His friend Trish sells it for him from a little road side stall out the front of his house.

Last Sunday, we went to buy some more honey from Trish as we had run out. Taiji commented that the honey was darker than usual. I didn’t believe him at first until we got home and I had a proper look. Sure enough it was much darker and it even tasted different. Then it dawned on me. The bees had feasted themselves on all the wattle trees in the area, including our garden and so had made wattle honey! How nice to be eating honey made from the nectar of trees in our own garden.

Our castle

August 14, 2010

Last night I watched Grand Designs, a British program which follows the progress of people building their dream homes. This episode followed a family who bought an old ruined castle which was virtually a pile of mossy rubble and over several years and several hundreds of thousands of pounds, restored it back into a castle. The build went way over budget and they ended up with a huge mortgage which they managed to pay by turning 9 rooms of the castle into guest accomodation. Living in a castle was the husband’s boyhood dream and for all the pain, frustration and money, every time he visited the building in progress, his dream was revitalised and he fell in love with his castle all over again. Despite everything they succeeded but the final message of the program was that the challenge didn’t finish with completing the build as they had had to compromise their lives by working really hard to meet the mortgage payments.

Our own castle was made possible by the discovery of two old army buildings for sale from the old Wacol army base near Ipswich.

We purchased these two lovely old weatherboard storehouses for $5000 for the pair and had them transported to the Ecovillage on two trucks with a police escort. We had faced many many challenges leading up to their delivery and there was many a time when we were on the verge of giving up. I will never forget the thrill and sheer delight when these buildings arrived at 3am and were delivered to our block.

Once in position, it was a long path ahead to turn these two old shells into a liveable home.

The larger building on the left, we called the Living Pavillion and the smaller one on the right, the Sleeping Pavillion. Then we joined them together with an entrance.

Over time, a home gradually emerged thanks to the help of many willing and generous friends and future neighbours.

During the build, I was working full time plus a weekend job and Kosuke was working 6 or 7 nights a week and between us, we took care of Taiji who was still a toddler.

Taiji grew out of babyhood into childhood walking gang planks, climbing ladders and helping us paint.

The Living Pavillion had no floor, so we put in a suspended concrete slab. From a shell….

… to a home. Our house isn’t fancy and it isn’t a show home but we love it. It’s a long cherished dream come true and it’s our castle.

Sourdough success! (well… sort of…)

July 20, 2010

I’m certainly not the Sourdough Queen and that’s really because I’m lazy. I don’t want to knead my bread and I don’t have the patience for traditional hand made sourdough – although I do love to eat it!

Being someone who likes to potter in the kitchen, I really wanted to crack this sourdough thing and decided the “wet method” of sourdough making that I learnt at Sandra Frain’s workshop was for me. This is a method where you don’t have to knead the bread! It’s very easy – you just take your “starter” out of the fridge, dump 2/3 of it in a bowl, feed it with flour and water and put it back in the fridge for next time. Then to the bowl you add flour and water and leave it to sit (ferment, rise) overnight. In the morning you add fat (e.g. coconut oil), acid (e.g. apple cider vinegar), molasses, salt, and more flour, mix it and put it in the tin to rise for about 4 hours. Then you bake it. No kneading!

I wouldn’t say it’s the most delicious sourdough bread I’ve eaten and I’m sure it can be improved but it passes. Mine is a bit doughy inside still which is possibly my ancient oven (30 year old commercial Waldorf, such a furnace we have to cook everything on low) or it’s the cooking time. Meanwhile I continue to dream of a programmable breadmaker as a friend once showed me how she makes the most divine sourdough bread in her breadmaker! Yes, I’m a technology girl, I confess. If it makes it easier, quicker and more efficient (but still healthy) then I’m into it! (I hate microwaves though).

Bread is pretty addictive so at least with this very rich rye sourdough, we don’t eat too much of it! I did succumb to temptation and order a Middle Eastern fruit loaf in this week’s Food Connect delivery though.

The best thing about bread is the butter…. real butter and lots of it! We get beautiful creamy yellow yellow butter made from cultured cream from the farmers’ markets in Brisbane. Oh boy, once you’ve tried real butter you can never return to the poor excuse for butter that you buy at the supermarket (even organic) and margarine? Don’t get me started! My lovely mother grew up on a farm and she says that our butter tastes just like the butter her mother used to churn when she was a girl.

A final comment about butter before you start sucking in your waistline and feeling for palpitations: A friend was telling me the other day that his grandparents used to put thick thick slabs of butter on their bread. And guess what? They lived to 100! Now isn’t that saying something? Kayo, my little almost 2 year old, loves butter. Forget the bread, just give her a little bowl of butter and a teaspoon and she’s happy!

sourdough workshop with Sandra Frain

May 22, 2010

Phew! Time has flown by and there has hardly been a moment to stop, let alone blog. Below, some photos from the wonderful sourdough workshop held at a friend’s house in the Ecovillage a couple of weeks ago. It was so nice wandering down the greenway, through Berniece’s garden and in the backdoor of her lovely rammed earth house to attend the workshop.

Sandra Frain, our sourdough teacher, was just magic and created such a special atmosphere I had tingles in my spine. This is a woman who is full of joie de vivre, passionate about what she does and what she creates. We learnt about grain and the importance of fermenting grain to improve digestibility. We admired her sourdough cultures which were literally bubbling over with life (far left in the first picture), about wet loaves (which don’t need kneading) and dry loaves (which do). In this picture, the dry loaf is at the back and the wet loaf in front of it.

Kayo thoroughly enjoyed the workshop too, especially the kneading of her own piece of sourdough.

At the workshop, we also made butter from real cream, passing jars around the room and singing “Come butter come, come butter come. You’d better hurry up or you’re gonna be late. I’m gonna beat you to the garden gate”. And it was oh so yummy to eat freshly baked sourdough bread with real home made butter!

The next day, we had  a 30 minute journey over the mountain to visit friends in Murwillumbah. I decanted some cream off the top of our milk and put it in a jar. We spent the car journey passing the jar between us and singing the song and by the time we arrived at our friends, we had real butter to share with our friends.

John Palmer – garden angel and patron saint of the valley

April 22, 2010

I’ve just come across some photos taken in 2008 and am inspired to write about John Palmer. I often talk about this beautiful man whom Kosuke and I hold in such high regard and who is so adored by our children. We call John our garden angel. He is the patron saint of many people’s gardens and indeed of this valley about which he is so knowledgeable. Kosuke and I are such black thumbs – famous for killing even pot plants – but John never gives up on us and I know he believes that one day, we will become green thumbs and we will start to grow our own food. Plant by plant, he shows us what is edible in our garden, what to pull out and what to protect. He turns up here week after week and year after year with stuff foraged from the side of the road and slowly we are covering up the grass and, with his help, creating garden beds from nothing and with no money.

For me, the garden is overwhelming and intimidating. Others, like my dear friend and now cherished neighbour Kacey, take to it like a duck to water. My mother loves gardening and her father was a wonderful gardener creating a lush vegetable garden on their farm in the Hay district in NSW even in times of serious drought. My mother finds computers and technology rather daunting and difficult whereas they come quite naturally to me. My father is a technology man so I guess I inherited some of his genes. I would love to be a gardener though – I think it’s such a nurturing and health-giving past-time – much healthier than computers!

What is also beautiful is to see the relationship between Taiji and John. Taiji sees John’s car and goes running out calling “John Palmer! John Palmer!” and together they explore the garden. Taiji now knows more of the plants and edibles in this garden than I do – African lettuce, south american spinach,…  – so many plants considered weeds that really are nourishing foods. Sometimes I feel as though part of why John is gently and patiently teaching us about weeds is so that one day, if we ever had to, we could survive on the food that grows abundantly all around us that we are still so ignorant of.

John usually finishes up with a quick song, singing about what he and Taiji have created together that day. One day, we will make John proud of our new found passion for gardening. In the meantime, I am reminded of a story in the Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff in which she describes the culture of the Amazon Indian tribe she lived with. Each family has a garden and grows their own food, except for one man who was raised in town away from his tribe. He’s lazy, sour-faced and always complaining. Jean is surprised by how tolerant everyone is of this man and how they provide him with food grown in their gardens. His neighbour laughs and comments to Jean that the man doesn’t realise that he is unhappy because he doesn’t have his own garden or grow his own food. One day – after many years – the man asks his neighbour to teach him how to make a garden. He starts to grow his own food and he becomes a much lighter, brighter and happier man.