Thursday, December 13, 2012


Way back in August, when I was immersed in holiday life, I posted about food. I talked about how my body reacts negatively to certain foods, and how hard it is to wade through what to eat, and why, and how. Food is a very personal topic, and everyone has their own set of values relating to it. You only need to take a glimpse into people's shopping trolleys to see the diversity in what people eat. Sometimes people's food choices are influenced by cost, sometimes by convenience, sometimes by taste. For some people it's more important to eat organically, while some choose to avoid additives. Some choose low fat foods, some choose foods that are unprocessed. Some people have food intolerances, and some are committed to eating ethically and humanely; others choose to eat local foods wherever possible. Usually, it's a balancing act between one or more of these factors.

It can be very difficult to prioritise your values around food, deciding, for example, whether it is more important to keep the weekly grocery cost low or to buy organically, which can cost more. These priorities will change often, depending on what is going on in your life. When I was pregnant, and horribly morning-sick, we bought more convenience foods than we were comfortable with, because I was unable to face cooking and the bulk of it was left to Nath (who is a wonderful cook, by the way, but rushed off his feet during those months!) I used to be a big believer in buying low fat foods, and now I only buy full fat foods, including cream, butter and good animal fats. The points-counting me of years gone by would be horrified.

Our loose priorities at the moment are as follows: unprocessed and additive free, low in sugar, local, ethical, organic, affordable, gluten-free (for me), protein-rich. We assess our shopping list based on these values, and it is far from a rigid set of rules. Some items may not be organic, but are local, for example.We do the best we can within our constraints.

Learning to listen to my body has also been very significant in determining what we buy and how we cook. I am becoming sugar free, after realising the negative health impacts of sugar. I say becoming, because this is proving to be a hard nut to crack!! Similarly, I have learned that it is gluten that makes me feel bloated, sore and lethargic, so I am staying away from gluten at the moment. I find it hard to resist my own cooking (I know, it sounds so conceited, but when you have put love into baking something, its very hard not to take that first, straight-from-the-oven bite!) but I have noticed that when I eat things that my body doesn't 'like', I hurt. I get cramps. I bloat, noticeably. My weight can rise by up to three kilos in a day. I get very, very tired, often just lying on the couch in the afternoon. I play less. I yell more. I have headaches and restless legs. I don't sleep well. My motivation disappears. I get cranky, and flat. I fart more (sorry!) and my skin looks awful. 

When I eat well (for my body), I have so much energy. I feel fantastic. I move easier, my stomach is flatter, I have motivation to get moving and do things. I don't get the 3pm slump, I sleep better at night and my mood is improved (just ask my kids).  I still falter (often, actually) but at least now I can examine how I am feeling and know that it is not normal, and it is because of what I put in my mouth.

My heroes are still my heroes. Sally Fallon, and her 'bible' Nourishing Traditions - what a resource this is. Jude Blereau, the wholefoods queen. Quirky Jo, a fellow Thermomix user who eats gluten free and largely sugar free - her blog is a go-to often for me.

There is always someone who will tell you, don't eat that, this way is better. Your food journey is yours and yours alone. Try things out. Make mistakes. Learn from them. Decide what your priorities are, and hold on to them. Nourish yourself. Food is more than a fuel, it is an expression. It is a gift from you to your body.

Preserving Seasonal Produce

One of the things I love most about summer is its seasonal produce. Fresh, sunny-day fruits, cool cucumbers and an overload of shiny red (and yellow, and black, and striped!) tomatoes... peach juice dribbling down your chin, onto your hands and leaving sticky, sweet-smelling trails down your arms.... berries included in all manner of meals and snacks, and discovering exactly what mix of berries you need to make light pink, dark pink and purple... scoring a criss-cross pattern into fat, juicy mango cheeks and sneakily scoffing them down before the children see and you have to share.....

Every summer, we spend a few weekend days preserving some of this fresh produce, to use later in the year when it is out of season. We freeze mangoes and bananas, blanch and freeze beans and peas, dry and braid our garlic crops, make liqueurs out of stone fruits, turn apricots, plums, figs and berries into jam, make sauces, paste and passata out of trays of tomatoes, and dry trays of fruits and tomatoes in the oven. We preserve in salt, oil, vinegar and sugar syrup.

One of my favourite ways of preserving is using my aunty's old Fowlers Vacola electric preserver. I was given this unit and boxes and boxes of Vacola jars, lids and clips, all wrapped in newspaper from the 1970s, and I haven't looked back. The internet is a great resource in starting out with bottling (or canning, as they call it in the US).

Last weekend, we were given a tray of kumato tomatoes, a lovely, shiny, little brown variety. We peeled them by scoring them then immersing them first in a pan of boiling water, then in a bowl of cold water. The peels then slide off easily. We then pack the sterilised Vacola jars full, add a bit of citric acid (about a quarter teaspoon to 500g of tomato) and fill with water. The seals, lids and clips are put on, and the jars are processed in the electric unit for 60 minutes.

A note on sterilising jars:
My method of sterilising is to wash the jars and lids thoroughly in hot soapy water, and dry well. I then place them into a cold oven and heat the oven to 160 degrees celsius, and leave jars in there for 10 minutes after temperature has been reached. Make sure the jars are not touching each other in the oven, and be sure to keep them hot until your preserved product is spooned in, as hot foods being put into cold jars will cause the jars to crack.
If using screw top lids, I boil these in a saucepan of water until needed, and use tongs to lift them out and place onto jar. Seal immediately, because as the food cools, it will cause the lids to 'pop' inwards, creating a full seal.
To remove labels from jars easily, I soak all jars in a tub of hot water with some eucalyptus oil, then use a soft scourer to scrape labels off. Make sure jars are then thoroughly cleaned, dried and sterilised as eucalyptus oil is toxic.

Six more jars of whole, peeled tomatoes for the pantry. No preservatives, no BPA.

We also laid out a rack of tomato halves and dried them slowly in a very low oven. When they were dry, we dipped them in apple cider vinegar and placed them in a jar, topping the jar up with olive oil and herbs. Home-dried tomatoes are so full of flavour, and it is so satisfying to eat foods that we have prepared ourselves, for a fraction of the price of the supermarket version.

Do you preserve seasonal foods?
Any favourite preserving recipes/tips/tricks?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Peace For Yuletide

A very big welcome to my new readers, and thank you to Rhonda from Down To Earth for sending them my way. I feel very honoured as Rhonda is such a big influence in the world of living simply.... it feels a little bit like royalty popped in for a visit! I've enjoyed 'meeting' new people here on my little blog - I hope you have enjoyed being along for the ride.

Today, however, I am being a bit lazy, and semi-recycling an old post from an old blog of mine, with a few little updates.


I was researching today the origins of the word 'Yuletide'. Tide was easy... this means season, or time. Time for what, though?

The word 'yule' has contested origins. Most sources merely state that the meaning of 'yuletide' is 'the Christmas season' or 'the period extending from Dec 24 to Jan 6'. It seems that the 'christianisation' (and commercialisation) of this festival has resulted in a loss of meaning, not just of the event itself, but even the literary roots of its name. In fact, the Oxford dictionary reportedly will only accept the meaning of yuletide that relates specifically to Christmas, despite the fact that the winter festival that Yuletide originates from predates Christ by a few centuries.

Traditionally, yuletide marks the festival of the winter solstice, when the sun reaches its southernmost point. Some believe that the word yule has its origins in the Nordic jol (wheel), which may be derived from ancient Indo-European word meaning 'to go around', the assumption being that yuletide refers to the turning of a season, or the time at which the year is at its low point, ready to come round again. Yule has been a time of significance for pagans across Europe for many centuries. It was a time of great festivity.

The celebration of Christ's Mass (Christmas) at this time of the year originated in the fourth century, and pagan Yule rituals were, over time,  incorporated into the Christian tradition. Since the Christianisation of the Yule festivals, the celebration of Christmas has undergone many adjustments and debate, according to the prevailing political and church leaders of the time, including the banning of observing Christmas on more than one occasion, amid fears that it was too pagan and unbiblical. Today's Christmas celebrations are a mix of ancient traditions (evolved and altered over the years) and newer practices.

I like the idea that Yuletide, or Christmas, or the Winter Solstice is a time of reflection at the turning of the season. In a more modern interpretation, I look at it as being a time of slowing down after the craziness of end of school years, holiday fun and Christmas preparations. It is a time to mark the passing of a year, thinking back on its ups and downs, and look forward to the coming year.


Our family is spending Christmas and New Year camping with friends. To me, this is the ultimate way of slowing down and reflecting. Holidaying in the outdoors, spending time with friends, long lazy days in the sun, with only the bare necessities to get by on. I encourage everyone to put some thought into how they will unwind when all the gifts are opened, all the Christmas dinner dishes are washed and all the guests have returned to their homes. Another busy year is just around the corner, why not take some time to rest before it gets here?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cheery Christmas Creating.

It is such quintessential Australian weather here at the moment.... hot and steamy one minute, dark and stormy and humid the next. I love sitting at my sewing table watching the summer storms roll in over the hills, bringing the hint of a cool breeze with them. I know that very soon, this pattern will even out to long strings of very hot and dry days and we will long for the relief of a summer storm or two!

Sitting at my sewing table is something I have been doing a lot of lately. Our handmade Christmas preparations are going swimmingly and we are all well into the swing of all things festive. I have enjoyed creating things for our home that we will love pulling out of the Christmas box year after year, and I love getting the kids involved in making things, too. They are little for such a short time, and I know it will be very special for all of us to look back on the things they have made during this time, in years to come.

Some of our makings:

The kids' crafting table!

Putting up the tree.

The 'holly' the kids made... from leaves out of our garden and old baubles.

Christmas lanterns we made as a family.

Mary and Baby Jesus

Together with Joseph, under the tree.

Peace bunting I made at my sewing night last night.

Joy bunting, hand stitched onto hessian flags.
We hope you and yours are having a merry, meaningful lead up to the Festive Season!

Monday, December 3, 2012

We Want Less Money

I guess we are a bit strange, because you don't hear that everyday! But Nath and I have been talking a lot lately about our goals and values, and what we want our lives and our children's lives to look like, and what our passions are, and what we would love to be doing with our lives if money and work wasn't a restricting factor.

We feel that the balance is wrong. Nath works five days a week, and is at home for two. I'm sure that to his line managers it may seem like sometimes life gets in the way of his work, but, to us, it sure feels like work gets in the way of our lives! Nath would love to be at home more, spending his days with the kids, in the garden, in the community. We don't want to be hermits. Far from it. We want to have the freedom to do things in our community that feed our souls, and other people's souls, and contribute to life in our area. It's very hard to do all of these things when you only have two days of 'free time'.

We also want to get to the point where we are growing, hunting for, foraging for or bartering most of our food. This would obviously mean that Nath wouldn't HAVE to work as much, but, to get there, one of the biggest resources we need is our time. It takes time to turn half an acre's worth of garden beds into food-producing spaces. It takes time to create new garden beds, and to plant, water, harvest, repeat. It takes time to develop hard gravelly clay into rich, fertile soil. It takes time to build chicken pens, sheds, repair things, make changes to things and learn the skills we will need to keep doing this. It takes time to meet local people, find like-minded neighbours, develop bartering/trading relationships, find places to hunt on, or forage for bush foods. These are all things we are squeezing into our weeks, sometimes to the detriment of family time.

So, our goal is to get to the point where we don't rely on most of our income. We are working towards reducing our outgoings to the bare minimum, so that, at some point, it will be completely viable for Nath to only work two days, three days max, per week. Obviously, we will need some income, and I don't plan on going back to work, but we are doing lots of thinking and talking around what Nath's 'work' (outside of the home) may look like over the next few years.

I'm pretty sure most of my readers are family (hi, family!), and we are raising up your little ones too. So we would love to hear your thoughts on this. Even if you are not family, drop us a line and tell us what you think. Is our plan doable, or totally insane? (Insane is ok.... sometimes I think we are at our best doing things that most people think are insane...) Do you have similar dreams? How is your work/home balance?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Weekend Home Happenings

Another weekend is wrapping up, and thankfully it has not contained the wild weather of last week! Instead, we have had two perfect days to get some things done around the house and yard. Some weeks, the chores just build up and rolled over to the next week, especially the outside chores, so it is nice to be able to tick things off the list.

The storms this week left us with leaves and twigs and debris all over our yard, which meant we had lots of raking to do. Raking half an acre is hard work! The bright side is, it gives us good leaf matter for the compost bays.

With the rest of it, we will lay out some new garden beds and leave them until the leaf matter breaks down a bit, ready for Autumn planting.

We have been nurturing tomato seedlings, quite a few heirloom varieties of them, and they were ready for planting this weekend so we popped them into the spaces in our existing beds, then we prepped one of the backyard beds that previously had daisies in them and planted out some leafy greens and herbs. I plan on replacing the daisies we have ripped out with other kinds of flowering bushes to keep our bird and bee life active in the garden.... but I can't stand daisies when they aren't flowering! We will probably plant out more lavender, rosemary and bottle brushes.

Our Plymouth Rock mama and her eleven babies are rapidly outgrowing their little coop and as the weather warms up they will need more space to make their dust baths to cool down, so it was time to extend their pen. Also, right near their pen are two apricot trees, just young ones, and the early ripener was picked clean by the 28s (parrots), so we wanted to protect the late ripening tree from the same fate. We spent most of today building a large run for the chooks and within that, closing off the young tree with chicken wire to keep it covered. The hen and her babies are most grateful to be able to stretch their wings and scratch and bathe!

Our blueberries are ripening beautifully on the bush, and I can't wait to pick them off and make myself a smoothie!

The quails are laying, we think we have at least four girls on the lay so far. They really are the most beautiful eggs! I am tempted to sell them off at a premium as they are sought after by fancy restaurants, but I think we will just eat them!

We finished drying our garlic crop out, and picked out the biggest ones to save as seed for next planting season, then braided the rest. This should keep us in garlic for a long time, and they really are the most beautiful, fat, fragrant garlic heads!

The next door neighbour invited us over to raid her overstocked, bursting-with-fruit apricot tree today as well. We came away with a bucketful AND a bagful, and will make jam, sauce, liqueur and bottled apricots for the year to come. Her peach trees are ripening now and she would like us to pick them before the parrots get to them too. Feels like Christmas!

Lastly, the girls had a lovely time yesterday going for a pony ride on our good friend's old pony. Miya was very wary to begin with, but once Miss Eden blazed the way, she suddenly found her courage!

We hope your weekend was as enjoyable as ours!

Making Christmas Fun!

December is finally here and we have well and truly got our Christmas on in this household! The 'Creativity Room' (the argument about whether it is our music room or our sewing room is ongoing....) is a hub of activity (and mess) and we are churning out Christmas projects, gifts and decorations. We still have Eden's birthday to go (in eight days - eeek!!) and probably should be sorting that out first but we have sort of been swept away by all things Christmas.

As a lot of the things I have made are gifts for people who may be reading, I won't post about them until after Christmas, but I can post about our decoration-making!

I made this wreath after going to a friend's house and flicking through her Christmas Better Homes and Gardens-y type mags. Being the cheapskate I am, I took photos of all the ideas I wanted to try and this wreath was one of them. I can't remember which magazine it was in, but that's ok, I'm about to tell you how to make it!

Take a wire coathanger and either snip off the hook part with wire cutters or bend it round on itself, then form the rest of the coathanger into a circle.
Tear strips of Christmas-y (or any colour, really!) scrap material into strips of about 3cm by 20cm. Tie the strips onto the wire circle, bunching them up really tight to make a nice fluffy, full wreath. Snip the ends of the strips off quite short, as long ones will make the wreath look a bit droopy. Don't throw the snipped bits away! I'll show you another thing to make with them in a minute.

When the wreath is full, tie on some string (and maybe a couple of bells) to hang it up with.

Now, for dealing with the snipped bits. I threaded mine with a very large-holed needle (one of the big blunt darning needles is fine) onto some twine, with a few beads along the way. The material sits quite snugly on the twine so you can space it out as you please. It makes a lovely fabric Christmas garland!

We have also been doing quite a bit of Christmas craft with the kiddies, including the 'craft swap' that my friends and I organised between ourselves. I'll fill another post on that in a few days.

Hope your Christmas planning and preparing is going well!
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