Monday, 6 June 2011

Seasonal eating: cooking on the wood burner

We're having a cold snap, with strong winds and snow in the mountains. It's cool enough to want the fire burning on low if you're in the house during the day (the wood burner is my only form of heating in this house).

If you're going to have a heat source running, it makes sense to use it for food, right? Many of our favourite recipes as a culture evolved to be cooked over a long period over a low fire for the simple reason that was the only source of heat available. Casseroles, roasts, soups, stews. I've often felt that in many ways it's a waste to try to replicate that long-lived heat source using eletricity for long periods of time. Fortunately, although not a cooking stove, my slow-combustion wood burner has two removable grills at the front which allow a cooking vessel to come into contact with the iron of the burner box. Or sit just above it if it's slightly too wide, as is the case with my bean pot.

The meal in question this time was a Mexican fava bean soup, spiced with mint and pasilla chillies. In some places you can buy the fava beans skinned but here I have to buy them whole and skin them. First, I soaked dried fava beans overnight and removed their skins. This is a fiddly process but the end result makes it worth it.

Next I put a small saucepan of water on the woodburner box and brought that to the boil. The water, when boiling, was added to the beans and over the next few hours various seasonings were added as well.

By dinner time I had a lovely delicious filling soup, with no input of elecricity required. Added satisfaction.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Sunday update

The garden, such as it is at the moment

I'm recently back from a period of time spent mostly at sea. There's very little sustainable about life at sea! Everything you need must be taken with you. It's nice to be home and able to move a little further down the path to self sufficiency.

Because I've been away so much, I've done little gardening, or cooking, around the house in the last month, although I have achieved two things of note: I've managed to enjoy the last of the summer courgettes, a gift from my neighbours. I'm eating the last one tonight to commemorate the end of summer: there was snow on the mountains around my house yesterday. The other thing I've achieved is to cook an entire meal on top of the slow-combustion woodburning stove. It's not designed for cooking, but by removing the grates on top I've manged to cook a delicious pot of Mexican fava bean, pasilla chilli soup with coriander and mint.

The one thing I have been doing the few days I've been around is to haunt the garden centres to snap up any plants on sale, as they wind down their summer stock. In this way, I've managed to amass the lush offerings you see in the photo above. I've been focusing on hardy plants that will make it through the winter. So far I've managed to collect, all at half-price or less:

Standard bay tree
Four avocado trees - two bacon, two hass
Two lemon trees - one Meyer, one Lisbon
and lots of herbs.

The rest of the pots you see contain asain stir fry greens, broccolli and leafy salad greens. Plenty for me to graze on. And the odd flowering plant, as they're food for the soul. My bathroom, having a skylight, contains a kaffir lime tree, a curry leaf tree and the non-hardy chilli plants, which have still-ripening chillies. I'm starting to feel like I can make a meal from my garden again.

I'm at the end of my very busy time now, so I'm going to be around more frequently from now on.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Sustainability Mondays: back, if only briefly

I got back from the UK last week, after a wonderful week of seeing Mr G and doing the rounds of visiting friends and family. I have a week at home before leaving again, but the rare occasion of an entire weekend at home with no external plans (the first in months!) allowed me to make some steps forward on the grand plan. A week's absence really made a difference to my meagre little garden as well, with the summer garden starting to blush and show rewards.

1. Plant Something -
  • I built an autumn veg garden! I used an existing framed-but-not-full garden bed, dug over the soil, lined the base with removalist's paper from the move, then filled with the contents of my two Bokashi buckets and topped with potting mix. I've planted this and four pots with eight punnets of veg seedlings bought from a local small-family herb growing business.
  • Asian green seedling: tatsoi, bok choy, mizuna and mixed asian greens
  • Lettuce, mixed pick-by-leaf varieties
  • a mix of green-sprouting, purple sprouting and romanesco broccoli
  • Purple violetta cauliflower
2. Harvest something - (including buying local food)
  • Wild apples from the roadside near my place
  • Nashi from a colleague's tree
  • Lettuce leaves and spring onions from the summer garden
  • tomatoes from the potted tomatoes
  • Habaneros: about 10, from two plants in pots, and lots more ripening
  • Curry leaves from my curry leaf tree (now ensconced in the bathroom)
  • Lots of purchased locally-grown garlic
  • Asian greens, spinach and courgettes bought from the local market gardeners.
3. Preserve something -
  • I had plans to make a fruity HP-style sauce from the apples and pears but it hasn't happened yet. I might try to get to the during the week.
  • Lots of sourdough bread baked and stored in the freezer
4. Waste Not (reducing wastage in all areas)
  • Used the compost and spent tomato plants to make the fertile base of a garden bed.
  • Recycled the tomato pots to plant asian greens into.
5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)
  • Nothing this week.
6. Build Community Food Systems
  • Supporting local people who are growing food.
7. Eat the Food
  • With my own tomatoes and habaneros, lettuce and spring onions and locally grown fresh garlic, what else to eat but Mexican? I've made lots of fresh salsas and eaten that in various ways. With home-made sourdough tortillas and my own bread.
8. What I bought:
  • Baking stone and pizza peel
  • Plastic utility trug, to act as a washing basket/general tote
  • A new computer: the old one has been increasingly unreliable and crashed on Saturday.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A hiatus already!

I'm taking a few weeks off from Sustainability Mondays. This week, because I haven't done anything much new in terms of being sustainable other than slowly using up the veg in my fridge (but nor have I bought anything!), and for the next two weeks because I'll be travelling to and from the UK. My life will remain busy and full of travel until mid-May.

Happy sustainability to you all!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Seasonal eating: zucchini, halloumi and harissa tagine with couscous

This is a recipe I came up with to use up one of the giant zucchinis the neighbours gave me, in addition to a number of leftovers in my fridge from a housewarming and guests. It's a good way to make a spicy, wholesome meal out of a zucchini and would be vegan if the halloumi were omitted. The halloumi in this case was a ewe's-milk version, made by Grandvewe cheeses.

Zucchini, halloumi and harissa couscous
Would feed 4, or 1 for many meals!

3/4 cup couscous

2 tbsp olive oil
50 g halloumi, cut into dice
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic and 1-2 chillies, minced together (I used a jalapeno and a Thai chilli in this case)
1 carrot (I used a purple one), finely chopped
1 large or 2 small zucchini, cut into small dice
3 roma tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tbsp ras el hanout
2-3 tbsp harissa (or more, I used about 1/4 cup as mine was home-made and mild)
2 tbsp each chopped fresh mint, coriander and parsley
1/2 vegetable stock cube, or 1 cup vegetable stock
1/4 cup olives (optional: I used lemon-garlic marinated green olives and tossed in the lemon slices as well)

Add the couscous to a cup of boiling water, cover and allow to sit while preparing the rest of the meal.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan or wok and fry the halloumi until crisp on the edges. Add the onion and cook until softened, then add the garlic, chilli, carrot and zucchini, frying over a medium-high heat until the zucchini starts to brown. Add the tomatoes, stock cube (if using), ras el hanout and harissa along with a cup of water or stock and cook for 10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly and the tomatoes have softened but not disappeared. Taste and season with salt to taste, adjust spices if required. Toss the mint, coriander and half the parsley through the dish. YOu want there to be quite a bit of liquid still in the dish as this will be soaked up by the couscous

Fluff the couscous with a fork and tip into a serving bowl. Pour the tagine over the couscous and garnish with the reserved parsley. Eat piping hot.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Sustainbility Mondays: the house full of guests edition

I've had a house full of family for the past week, which has made this week's sustainability Monday post late (I dropped my visitors off at the airport this morning). Considering we had a busy holidaying household this week, I think that some of the following isn't bad!

1. Plant Something -
  • Struck some rosemary cuttings.
2. Harvest something - (including buying local food)
  • As much local cool-climate fruit as we could find to buy from farmgates, much to the delight of the visiting Queenslanders
  • Veg from the farmers market and roadside stalls, particularly the last of the summer's broadbeans, some more garlic and local unheated honey
  • Wild apples and blackberries from the roadside near my place
3. Preserve something -
  • Blackberry jam and bottled blackberries. None of which made it into my pantry, preferring a life in the warmth of Queensland instead.
4. Waste Not (reducing wastage in all areas)
  • After having a house full of people we only had a single shopping's bag worth of rubbish for the week. Buying locally really reduces food packaging which is part of the challenge.
5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)
  • Nothing this week unless you count the absconding jam
6. Build Community Food Systems
  • Supporting local people who are growing food.
7. Eat the Food
  • Every meal we ate was made of locally bought or foraged food, which made us happy.
8. What I bought:
  • Nothing this week, aside from an awful lot of petrol. There was a lot of touring around!
  • My visitors bought local jams and honeys to take home.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Sustainability Mondays: starting again

This is about all there is of my veggie garden at the moment: a few tomatoes,
chillies and herbs in pots, along with a treasured curry leaf tree.

This is a bad day to be starting sustainability Mondays, because I've achieved a big fat fail on many of my resolutions in the past week. But it's a good place to record beginnings.

1. Plant Something -
  • Nothing this week.
2. Harvest something - (including buying local food)
  • lettuce and salad greens
  • herbs from my garden and that of a friend
  • two courgettes from the neighbours
  • ...but I did manage to buy all of my veg from the local market gardeners
  • Bought locally-grown dried chickpeas, puy lentils and garlic
3. Preserve something -
  • Harissa
4. Waste Not (reducing wastage in all areas)
  • I really failed here. Bad: I hosted a BBQ on Saturday which has resulted in a lot of empty glass bottles (which I will take to the recycling centre in due course), and also bought several bottles of softdrink to have something to offer the drivers. I never drink softdrink so I was taken aback at how expensive, bulky and wasteful of plastic it is.
  • Bad: I have bought quite a bit of bedlinen, all of which came wrapped in plastic. Most of which is now in the bin because it can't be recycled even as bin liners: fail.
  • Good: But at least I've purchased a second-hand washing machine which is very water and power-efficient.
  • Good: purchased a second-hand BBQ grill plate and old recycled colonial bricks with which to make a bookcase, from the tip shop.
5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)
  • Bought 10 kg of potatoes from a colleague's garden, which will probably last me through the winter
  • Used the BBQ to lay in a few small drygood supplies for variety.
  • Otherwise, nothing much this week. Money earmarked for the stockpile has gone to other household essentials this week.
6. Build Community Food Systems
  • All of my house guests were intrigued by my lifestyle, and many are fellow souls (this being Tasmania!)
  • Blogging about it
  • Supporting local people who are growing food.
  • Exchanging goods and favours with my neighbours. I gave them travel tips and coffee, they gave me zucchinis and helped me build the frame for my bed.
7. Eat the Food
  • Herbs and lettuce leaves from pots
  • The local potatoes, in potato salad
  • Local butternut squash, puy lentils and red onions, turned into a warm salad over harissa, lemon juice and olive-oil dressed salad leaves
8. What I bought:
  • Way too much!
  • Plastic: a vacuum cleaner and a dustpan and brush. Plastic around pillows and quilt covers. Softdrink. And veg which I'd rather be growing.
How was your week?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Self sufficiency goals for 2011

It's mid-February, but I think that any day is a good day to make resolutions. Actually I rarely make conscious resolutions, but these ideas have been coalescing in my head for a while and I think it's a good idea to write them down to check progress at a later date.

A warning first: I've been working very hard lately and haven't had a day off in weeks, so I am very tired and I'm probably going to ramble. Part of what has inspired this post is a fortnight spent away doing a course to update a certification, and living in residential halls eating cafeteria food while doing so. The lower quality of the processed food compared to what I'm used to and the waste I saw set my brain in motion (that's not to complain about the cooking, which was fabulous considering what the cooks were given). It's the quantity vs quality of food debate.

My thoughts went thus: it's all very well to boast about how far one is down the path when they've gone a long way towards self-sufficiency, but when you've imposed the kind of setback I've imposed upon myself by changing country and starting all over again? I may be immodest to say so, but that could be interesting. Most people who start down the self-sufficiency road from a standing start do so from scratch. What difference doe it make if you do so with the accumulated knowledge of spending 15 years living the lifestyle? The concept of having a clean slate in terms of possessions appeals to me. So I've formed the following goals for myself for 2011.

As a beginning, I eat no processed food, I eat no meat (because that's how I like to live), and try to buy food as locally as possible. I bake all our own breads and we tend not to eat sweet stuff or snack foods. Our weaknesses are booze, salt and spicy foods. And travel. In some ways, it doesn't matter how much I live a sustainable lifestyle, my life dictates that I will fly around the world 2.5 times this year and from a carbon viewpoint you could view any efforts at sustainability as futile. But that's missing the point: every lifestyle choice we make counts. Most carbon generation comes from industry, and that is fuelled by the expectations of consumers.

The goals:

  • Chart my progress more assiduously. To that end, sustainability Mondays will restart next week, allowing myself weeks off for the times I'm at sea.
  • No plastic is to enter the house unless absolutely necessary. This is particularly salient in a household that does not yet own basic cleaning items, like toilet brushes or brooms.
  • Until a vegetable garden is established, limit food purchasing as much as possible to locally sourced items. Again, a big point at the moment as I'm in what is a temporary household. Exceptions to that which I'm going to allow myself are avocados, lemons and passata.
  • Build an emergency store. I've felt vulnerable, knowing I don't have food in the house.
  • Minimise food packaging. I'm going to accomplish this, inn juncture with the previous three points, by buying dried foods in bulk and storing them in glass.
  • Find some decent land to buy, and on which Mr. G can build a house. This won't be a forever home, but that's all part of the grand plan to live debt free.
  • I should probably also add: import Mr. G, who is not here yet but will come here later in the year.
  • Everything that is to enter the house must be purchased in as sustainable a manner as possible. This is not too difficult because we do live a fairly frugal lifestyle, except for certain luxuries. (*cough*wine*cough*)
  • No clothing from China, especially if it's made from cotton (now guaranteed to be GM). In fact, GM nothing.
  • Increase the amount of our own clothing that is home-made as much as possible. This includes wearing existing clothing until it is worn-out.
  • Learn better how to sew and more about dressmaking and shirtmaking. I already spin, weave and knit. Learning to sew will capitalise on the ability to make fabric.
  • For now: finally start brewing beer.
  • For winter: collect seawater and make salt over the wood fire. In the meantime, I'm buying Murray River salt, which uses oversaline water and makes salt from that. It's yummy, gives us minerals and combats soil salinity, all at the same time.
  • Conserve water. I suspect this one will be easy because this house is on tank water, and every time I touch a tap a pump audibly kicks in in the attic. It makes you think twice about your consumption.
It's going to be interesting to see how these goals change over the rest of the year.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Sustainable eating and the greand plan

This photo is just to make yarninmypocket jealous. Yes, that's a woodburner in the corner (actually, it's the only heating in the house!).

Despite the fact that I've been living in a small flat for the last couple of months, I've scored well on the sustainable living front. Of course, it's easy to do so when you move to an area that has a strong primary produce industry, thriving markets and people who make their living growing market gardens. Most of the food I've been eating has been bought from the market gardeners and grown locally: luscious summer berries, green veg and lately, local tomatoes. Even locally made goat's milk yoghurt, which is absolutely luscious. I'm proud that in six weeks I've only visited the large supermarket twice. I've also been baking my own bread after buying a mere two loaves from local artisan bakers. It's going to sound dangerously like boasting, but I didn't like their bread as much as my own!

As most people will know, Australia has had a devastating series of floods in the last couple of months. The areas that have been hardest hit have been the rich, fertile vegetable-growing areas which are, of course, built on the immensely fertile flood plains of large rivers. There is already a shortage of many fresh veg in the country, and prices will rise. Something that shocked me in the media coverage is how many households ran out of food withing just a day or three of being cut off from shops - despite being warned that the flood was coming, they are so disconnected from their food supply they failed to prepare adequately. This kind of thing makes it even more important to take control of one's own consumption. My household could live for at least a month (and possibly more based on how much I failed to run my UK pantry down) out of the normal contents of my pantry, although that's not the case at the moment.

Which brings me to the plan to set up our sustainable lifestyle anew here. Obviously there's going to be a certain initial investment required, but I intend doing it in steps. Our new rental house is a good start: it's on tank water with a septic sewage system and its only heating is from a woodburner (something that is sustainable if managed properly on a highly forested island, controversial as logging is). That's a good start for keeping our consumption on the property.

The next step will be to get veggie gardens set in. As I know this will be a short-term property, obviously we don't want to do too much, but we want some food in the ground. I've just missed the major summer planting time, but I'm just in time for one or two late-planted summer veg and the autumn planting. I'll post more about that over the next week or so.

The next step is to set up the food reserves. One of the reasons I do this is because it's cheaper to buy in bulk, and it can make it easier to buy staples from local producers who may only sell wholesale. But it also means there's a food reserve that can get you through the lean times. Things like rice and beans can be hard to buy from local sources - these are often imported - but I can at least work on growing my own beans. I've heard of a windmill in the nearby area which grinds grain, and I intend checking them out as soon as I have some free cash, with the intention of laying in flour for baking.

The important thing is to do this in little steps and pay attention to what's going on around me. I know effectively nothing about the property I'm moving to yet. I don't know where the light falls, what the soil is like, and how many local critters are likely to eat every seedling I put in the ground. I'm almost certainly going to have to protect seedlings. It's a matter of watching and learning before rushing in.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

New starts

Otherwise known as "why I no longer call this blog backyard self sufficiency".

This blog started life as my attempt to track efforts in maintaining a self-sufficient lifestyle while stuck in the city. As a result of my move, that's no longer the case!

After two months in temporary accommodation, I'll be moving this week to a small rural property in the Huon Valley region of Tasmania. This is the view from the front verandah. There are even a couple of promising-looking wineries just down the road. The house is on a 1-acre block and we'll be living here for a year or so, which is enough space and time to relax and enjoy the wildlife and get to know the area while looking about for an acreage to buy.

I'll be camping in the empty house for the first 10 days, before the furniture arrives. But the veggie garden starts in two day's time. Watch this space!