Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Simple Christmas cooking

We take a simple approach to Christmas and that extends to catering for our Christmas lunch. Christmas day here in Melbourne was 36 degrees celsius and I personally didn't want to spend hours slaving away in the kitchen on such a hot day to cook a big hot meal.   

For us, Christmas lunch means sharing a good meal with loved ones, not stressing out in the kitchen. So we take a relaxed approach to lunch....

Christmas lunch....and what a festive tablecloth!!

Our vegetarian Christmas menu this year consisted of:

(There might have been a few G&T's that snuck in there too)

All of the above recipes are simple and straightforward and leftovers store well in the fridge for several days.  Perfect!

How did you celebrate Christmas day?

Monday, 19 December 2016

Homemade Christmas decorations

While we love seeing those homes who really go for it in terms of Christmas lights and decorations, our own approach to Christmas is pretty low key. A branch from a pine tree at our block serves as a little Christmas tree, and one of our few decorations was found on a local hard waste pile. 

This year though I decided to up the ante a little....while keeping spending to a minimum.

First off I decided to get a little fancy for our Christmas lunch and make some Christmas napery. In the week before Christmas I noticed that Lincraft had reduced the price of their Christmas fabric by over 50%.  For $30 I was able to buy enough 100% cotton fabric to make a tablecloth for a table that seats up to 8 as well as 12 napkins.
Christmas fabric - why go for subtle when you can be bold?

It was quick easy sewing, made even more fun as I made them in the company of my good friend and sewing  buddy, who was  busy sewing Christmas things of her own.  I was pretty pleased with the results. It will certainly add a festive touch to our lunch and it's something we'll be able to use year after year.

completed napkins and tablecloth

While I was buying the fabric I also spied some coloured felt. For a couple of bucks I got enough felt to make some garlands of little Christmas trees:

Christmas tree garland production line

Finally, as I've mentioned in earlier posts, I like knitting socks.  I often have bits of yarn leftover after making a pair, so rather than chuck it out, I used it up to make a garland of little socks.  Strung up over the fireplace, they look sort of Christmas-y. Okay, well maybe you'll have to use your imagination here folks, but they remind me of Christmas stockings 😊

And here's the wooden Christmas pyramid we scored for free from the hard waste:

Not bad, eh?

So don't get sucked into spending heaps to decorate your home for Christmas.  With a bit of imagination, some time and some basic sewing skills you can add a touch of Christmas to your home without spending much at all.

Hope you all have a happy Christmas!

Friday, 16 December 2016

Sustainable Living weekend workshop at Hazelcombe farm

A few months back we headed up to the Totnes Valley to attend the Sustainable Living Weekend Workshop at Hazelcombe Farm, run by Dan Power and Nicole Schmid Power.  The Totnes Valley is 40 km north east of Mudgee - all in all a 950 km drive from our home in Melbourne.  At times we didn't think we'd get there - torrential rain and flooded roads meant we had to take an alternative route, so when we finally arrived at the farm we were pretty happy!

Hazelcombe Farm holds sustainable weekend workshops a couple of times a year.  Experienced people with a wide range of skills come to share their knowledge - from blacksmithing, green woodworking, scything, horse-drawn ploughing to food related workshops on bread making, fermenting, cheese making and sessions on biodynamics, soil health and beekeeping - the list of things on offer over the course of the weekend is a good one. We'd been wanting to go for some time.  

The shed, which housed the kitchen, dining area and many of the talks and workshops

Dan and Nicole are the people behind Sycthes Australia and, as we have a scythe, getting some hands-on experience in the correct scything technique was definitely on our list of things to do. First thing in the morning I joined Dan's scything group and after some expert instruction, spent an enjoyable time practising my technique in the orchard.  I can't say I'm a very fast scyther (is that a word?)  but at least I now have a better idea of how to go about it.

Another highlight on the schedule were the fermented food workshops held by Christine Corner of Crave Natural. As someone with fructose malabsorption, my interest in fermented foods stemmed primarily from their reputed health benefits and I was keen to learn the basics from an expert.  Christine and her family grow the organic produce used in her products on the family farm, Broombee in Mudgee.  In the sessions we covered the making of saukerkraut, kombucha and keffir.  According to organicfacts.net, "Sauerkraut contains high levels of dietary fibre, as well as significant levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and various B vitamins.  Furthermore it is a good source of iron, manganese, copper, sodium, magnesium and calcium, in addition to contributing a moderate amount of protein to your diet"  Sounds pretty good, huh? Hearing Christine talk about how she got into making fermented foods and the health benefits she experienced was really interesting. I was inspired to have a go and purchased a ceramic crockpot from Dan and Nicole to take home with me to make my own sauerkraut.

Christine making sauerkraut

One of the traditional skills that really fascinates both Mr PragSust and I is green woodworking. Roy Davi, the Leura Bodger, had set up his bush pole lathe at the farm and was at work, turning out sauerkraut mashers, honey drizzlers and other items during the course of the weekend.
Roy at his pole lathe

Turning out a sauerkraut masher

He was very happy to let people have a go on his shave horse and pole lathe and I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours learning the basics of green wood turning with him. Roy is a lovely bloke and a very patient teacher - I could have spent the whole day watching and learning from him.

On the shave horse

Learning to use the pole lathe

While we enjoyed fine weather over the weekend, due to all the torrential rain in the weeks leading up to the workshop, as the weekend progressed things got more than a little muddy at the farm. Muddy enough for the original campsite to be under water and a second option sorted quickly before the guests started arriving on the Friday. Muddy enough for cars to get bogged in the driveway and in the paddocks. One of the real highlights of the weekend was Queenie the draught horse - star of the horse-drawn ploughing sessions - and her owner Donnie pulling a bogged 4wd truck out of the mud with what appeared to be a great deal of ease. Accompanied by small children chanting "Go Queenie go!", everybody stopped what they were doing as we all watched Donnie and Queenie calmly pulling the truck out of the mud. Lots of cheering ensued and Queenie became the well-deserved hero of the day.

The food provided throughout the course of the weekend was terrific. Nicole, Christine and their helpers did an amazing job of feeding a big group of people, many of which were vegetarians like me. The food was absolutely delicious.

Food preparation underway in the kitchen

Full details regarding Hazelcombe Farm and the sustainable workshop we attended can be found here. Big thanks to Dan and Nicole for hosting such an enjoyable event!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Tamatar Kasaundi (Tomato oil pickle)

It took a little while but here's the Tamatar Kasaundi recipe.  It's totally delicious.  As you can see from the number of chillies in the recipe it is quite spicy ... so a little goes a long way.

Tamatar Kasoundi (Tomato Oil Pickle)

1 1/2 tablespoons black mustard seeds
1 1/2 cups malt vinegar
3/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
20 cloves garlic
20 fresh green chillies
2 kg (4 lb) firm ripe tomatoes
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1/1/2 tablespoons ground turmeric
4 tablespoons ground cummin
1-2 tablespoons chilli powder, to taste
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt

Soak mustard seeds in vinegar overnight and grind in electric blender.
Peel ginger and garlic, chop roughly and add to mustard and vinegar. Blend on high speed until pureed.
Cut chillies in halves lengthways and remove seeds. 
Peel and chop the tomatoes.
Heat oil in large, heavy saucepan until smoking hot. Allow to cool slightly, then add the ground turmeric, cummin and chilli powder and fry, stirring for a few minutes.
Add the tomatoes, chillies, blended vinegar mixture, sugar and salt. Simmer until tomatoes are reduced to a pulp and the oil starts to float on top.
Taste and add more salt if required.
Bottle and seal when cold.
Leave pickle to mature for a week before using.

Recipe from "The Complete Asian Cookbook" by Charmaine Solomon

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

It all adds up

Being interested in sustainability, simple living and permaculture, we read a lot of blogs on those subjects. It's both inspiring and instructive to read about the different things that people do to in order to live more sustainably. There is so much helpful information out there.

We've made many sustainable changes to our home - including adding solar hot water, PVs for electricity generation, water tanks, switching to efficient wood heating (using waste wood) and creating an organic fruit and veggie garden. Alongside all of this, we've also been making continual small changes to how we live, and learning new skills along the way.  

When you're working towards living more sustainably I think that sometimes the smaller steps you've made towards that goal can be forgotten.  Probably because doing these things just becomes part of normal life.  However the other day I had a little reminder.  I was putting together a few homemade things as a gift for a friend. When I stopped and looked at what I'd gathered I realised that these items were the result of some of the smaller steps we have taken to live a more sustainable life.  

Here's what it contained:
  • Honey from our backyard hive. You can read about how we extract our honey here, here and here.
  • 100% cotton reusable knitted dishcloths (or face washers). I've been having fun making these using cotton yarn from my stash.
  • Preserved olives collected from our backyard trees. See the recipe here.
  • Homemade Tamatar Kasaundi (Tomato oil pickle). From "The Complete Asian Cookbook" by Charmaine Solomon. This is absolutely fabulous stuff - very spicy!  I'll post the recipe soon.
  • Homemade laundry liquid.  From the book "Down to Earth" by Rhonda Hertzel.

That little lineup of home produce made me stop and think. Those little things do make a difference - we are a more sustainableresilient and healthy household as a result of being able to produce more of what we eat and use at home 

It would be great to have more free time to tackle lots more sustainable projects. There are lots of things we'd like to do.  Right now though, life is busy with full-time work, after-work activities, volunteering, and time spent planting trees on our country block.   Given the time that we have, continuing to make small changes in order to live more sustainably is something that works for us.

I think little things do add up and small changes can make a difference.

What do you think?

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Garden raiders

Our loquats didn't have time to ripen this year before these garden raiders were back....

Our garden is definitely on their spring calendar.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

The Green School

We were recently in Ubud, Bali for a well-deserved 2 week holiday (my first overseas trip for 16 years!). While we were there we heard about the Green School and decided we had to take a tour.

The Green School, located along the Ayung River not far from Ubud, is a private school for children from pre-kindergarten to high school.The curriculum, school site and infrastructure have a strong emphasis on sustainability. The school has been designed using renewable resources such as bamboo, mud and local grass. Several buildings are amazing examples of large scale bamboo architecture and is worth visiting for that reason alone. Even some of the furniture is made from bamboo.  

our guide (a former student) showing us around

Learning takes place in the natural environment - some buildings have no walls and coexist among the trees and productive gardens, with some trees becoming incorporated in the buildings themselves. 

The curriculum focuses on educating for sustainabilty and has a strong focus on the environment and community, encouraging the children to be creative and share what they learn through entreprenurial joint projects with local businesses.

The school is expensive, costing up to around USD11k for later years. The school says there is a scholarship program for local students.

Permaculture in action can be seen throughout the school in the productive gardens, the aquaponic system, compost station, water filtration system, biofuel generation station and composting toilets.
Food for the students is grown on-site

Aquaponics greenhouse

Fish tanks in the greenhouse floor

Compost station

Water filtration system

Used cooking oil is collected and turned into fuel

Recycling centre

Composting toilets

As it was school holidays when we visited, there were no students on site so we had a really good look around.  I think I'll let our photos tell the rest of the story....


close up view of roof construction

beautiful yoga studio

another classroom

amazing covered bridge over the river

Friday, 23 September 2016

Recent crafty activities

Recent crafty activities at Prag Sust HQ....

These socks:

A moss-stitch cushion cover - for a cushion that was missing a cover

And some knitted dishcloths

I'd heard about knitted dishcloths but always wondered if they actually worked.  After reading Down To Earth and learning of Rhonda's love of knitted dishcloths, I decided to knit us up a batch to try. I had some 100% cotton yarn in my stash which was just right for the job. 

We'd been using something akin to 'Chux' cloths bought at the supermarket for wiping up in the kitchen. They got washed in the machine along with the regular washing and re-used until they fell apart. They actually lasted for quite a long time. But definitely not the 5 years that Rhonda's knitted dishcloths last her.  I decided it was definitely worth giving them a go. I used Deb's waffle weave pattern which is a quick and easy project. If made in a nice quality cotton, this pattern can also double as a face washer.  Just make sure you colour-code your dishcloths from your face washers so you can tell them apart when they come out of the wash :)  

I'm looking forward to trying out my knitted dishcloths in the kitchen and seeing how they work out. I love the idea of making something so sustainable and long-lasting that does the job and looks nice too. And they'd make a lovely gift with some homemade soap ....