Sunday, 19 May 2013

Moving to NZ - The Planning Begins

We are headed over to New Zealand for a few weeks so I will be absent for a bit.

We are headed over to celebrate my Mums 60th and to check out the land we have purchased.  While we are away we have house sitters coming to look after the animals.

We will be making some plans about building a house and setting up the property.  It will be another year or so before we move but we are starting to plan for the move.

At this stage we are looking at building a straw bale home and I have been working on some plans.  Hubby's dad is a retired architect and he and my mother in law are coming over as well.  They will spend a few days  with us then heading off to do some sightseeing on their own.  Hubby's dad will help us design a house so the stage we are at now is working out exactly what we want.

I would be interested in hearing about your experience if you have built a house before.  Any tips for us in this early planning stage?

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Glorious Quinces and Making Quince Paste

I think Quinces are the most glorious fruit.
Admittedly they look like a lumpy misshapen pear with peach fuzz all over them.  The can also be quite astringent so really have to be cooked to be enjoyed.  But what I love most about them is the smell.  If you have never smelt quinces then I would describe the smell as a sweet spicy and musky smell.  Imagine pears poached in a spiced syrup and you get the idea.  Historically quinces were used to fragrance rooms (as well as all the other uses) and if you place a bowl of them in a closed room for the day you come back to a spicy scent that you can not quite identify until you remember the quinces.
Just like their cousins apples and pears, quinces are in season during Autumn.  I asked my green grocer to order some in for me and they were only $3.99kg.  Quinces store well so I ordered a few kilos.  I use quinces in a few different ways.  I use them in tagines when cooking Middle Eastern and North African dishes, in deserts and I also like to make a big batch of quince paste to last the next 12 months.

Quince paste is really quite easy to make and in comparison to buying it it is also very cheap.  Quince paste keeps well so you can easily make a years supply when they are in season.  Quince paste is also one of those thing that is always appreciated as a gift especially by cheese lovers.  You need to set aside a day where you can make this as it cooks long and slow.

Quince Paste

2 kg Quinces
1.2 kg Sugar
Juice of 2 Lemons
2 Vanilla Pods

Wash the fur off the quinces, peel and discard the skin.  Quater them and cut out the hard cores placing the cores in a large saucepan with 300 gms of sugar and 2 litres of water.  Bring the cores to the boil then reduce to a simmer for 2 hours.
Coring the fruit
The pot with the cores

In another saucepan add all the flesh from the fruit with the remaining sugar, vanilla pods, lemon juice and 3 litres of water.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 hours or until the fruit is soft and pink.  Then discard the vanilla pods.
Cooking the flesh
During cooking the fruit will turn pink
Remove the soft fruit from the liquid and set the fruit aside.  Reduce the liquid over a medium heat until you have a very thick syrup but do not reduce to a caramel.
Meanwhile remove the cores from their liquid and discard the cores.  This liquid is full of pectin and also needs to be reduced to a thick syrup
The now pink quince flesh

Once both liquids have been reduced they need to be tipped into one pot.  Tip the cooked fruit back into the syrup and use a hand blender to blend to a smooth purée   Return to the heat and stir occasionally until the mix is very thick.  The aim is to remove as much moisture as possible.
Heat your oven to 200 degrees then once the mix is very thick spread out on an oven tray lined with baking paper or any heat proof dishes.  Silicone bake ware is great for this.  Place your tray/s in the oven and turn off the heat.  Leave in the oven until it is completely cool.  Once cool slice into portions and store in a sealed container in the fridge.
I think I made about $100 worth of quince paste for less than $10.

What are your your thought on quinces?
Do you make your own quince paste.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Using Worm Castings

Recently I added another tray, tray number 3, to my worm farm.  This meant I had an empty tray on top, a full tray of castings and partially eaten food scraps, and a tray absolutly full to the brim of pure worm castings.
Because I had waited until I had 2 full trays there were no worms living in the lower tray at all.  That made it really easy to harvest the castings.  I plant to add most of them to my garden beds but I also like to use them for planting out seedlings.
Lovely worm castings, you can see on the right that the castings were packed all the
way to the base of the next tray.  I dug out half a bucket full and they were packed so
tight you could hardly tell I had even taken any.
The way I use my worm castings with seedlings helps give them a nutrient boost, helps protect to roots and makes them easier to plant out as there is more mass to hold onto and push the soil against.
First of all I take a handful of worm castings and I flatten it out to be a flat disk and lie your seedling on top and wrap it with the castings disk.
Once you have your seedling wrapped in the castings it makes it much easier to plant.
I find that the seedlings I plant this way do really well.

Do you use worm castings? How do you use them?

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Wood Expo

Last weekend I went to a local wood expo with some of my colleagues that I work with running our community festival in October.  The car show I manage is held in conjunction with a larger festival, the Kilcoy Wood Wine and Art Festival.  This year I am also working on the larger festival so my colleagues and I went to the wood expo scouting for new and interesting stall holders.
We saw some beautiful hand made furniture and homewares.
My friend Marg testing out a swing chair.
There were lots of instrument makers showing off their craft.  There was everything from violin makers to didgeridoos.
We also spent time listening to this duo who play and make cigar box guitars.  They were fantastic and we hope to have them at our festival.
There were timber milling demonstrations and even some beautifully made canoes and kayaks.
It was a great day out with lots to see try and buy.

We came away with lots of great contacts for new stall holders but are still thinking about other types of stalls we can invite.

What type of stalls do you look forward to seeing at festivals?

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Preparing For Winter

It is starting to cool down at nights enough to make us want to light the fire.  In this old wooden house with great ventilation timber floors that allows for strong winds to blow up under the house lifting the rugs off the ground and timber walls that cannot be insulated a fire is necessary from about May till September.
Before we light the first fire of the season we like to do a day time trial run.  This way is there are any issues or the fire is a bit smoky we can a) try and work out the issue in the daylight with out our teeth chattering and b) you have time to leave all the doors and windows open to let any smoke out so you are not setting your smoke alarms off all night.

So on the weekend Hubby set about lighting the fire for it's test run.  But try as he might it would not light, even the paper would not stay lit.  Not only would it not light but the smoke was not going up the chimney it was coming straight out the door.  The whole house was filling with smoke and there was clearly an issue.  The smoke could not get up the chimney.
So we started to check all the possible areas that could be causing the issue.  We knew the chimney itself was clear as it had been cleaned out last year, so hubby climbed on the roof to check that there were not any critters somehow blocking the top chimney cap.  It was clear too.
The last place to check was inside the fire itself.  Once it had cooled down we were able to work out that this is where the problem was coming from.
The way the fire works can be seen in the picture below.  A heavy metal plate (top plate) stops the flames from shooting up the chimney and the smoke is sucked in at the front and back (the picture is a side view)
A side view of the fire working as it should
However over time there is a build up of resin on the inside of the chimney.  As the hot smoke rises it cools and all oils from the timbers condense and either cling to the inside of the chimney or fall back down.  The more sap or oil in the timber the more this happens.  Over time all of this sooty resin builds up and can block the gap at the bottom of the chimney, as in the picture below, this can also happen if the person who cleans your chimney does not clean out the top plate after cleaning.  This build up is what was preventing the smoke from escaping up the chimney, hence our house full of smoke.
A side view of a blocked fire 
Below you can see a picture of what was sitting on top of our top plate.  Ours has a triangular catch are that the chimney sits into but not touching the plate.  And as you can see it was full of an inch of soot.
It was just a simple matter of scrapping it all out and then we were right to go.
It was not a difficult job and yet if you did not know how to fix the issue you might be inclined to pay someone to come out and look at it.  It is however really important that you get your chimney cleaned regularly as they can cause house fires if left.  So if you are not able to do it your self the you should absolutely invest in having it cleaned or see if you can track down a friend or neighbour to help you with it.

Now that we have that sorted we are set for a nice cosy winter.  We will probably not have to do this for another 2 years now but it is worth checking every year and the fire is more efficient once done.

What fire maintenance do you do at your place.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Slow Living April 2013

Linking up with Christine again this month.  Although running a bit late.

Nourish -Make and bake as much as possible from scratch. Ditch over packaged, over processed convenience foods and opt for 'real' food instead.
There has been some creative meals this month as I tried to use what we had on hand as part of my stockpile challenge.  Most meals contain what we have lots of in the garden.  Beans, Parsley and a late flush of cucumbers.  Every second day these meals can be followed with a desert of home grown raspberries and yoghurt.

Prepare - Stockpile and preserve. Freeze extra meals or excess garden/market produce. Bottle/can, dehydrate or pickle foods to enjoy when they are not in season.
This month we have had a limited budget due to our stocktake challenge.  However I was able to dry some rosellas and freeze others to enjoy over the coming months.

Reduce - Cut down on household waste by re-using, re-purposing and repairing.
We re purposed some bits and pieces to make fencing standards for our cows this month and they are still being used to great effect.

Green Start (or continue!) using homemade cleaners, body products and basic herbal remedies. The options are endless, the savings huge and the health benefits enormous.
I have been trying a new recipe for a home made body scrub made from coconut oil and sugar.  I have not perfected it just yet but it is getting better.  I will post more about it when I am happy with the recipe.

Grow plant/harvest. What's growing this month? What's being eaten from the garden?

The self seeded Jap pumpkin that is set on world domination is starting to bear fruit  I just hope they are ready before it gets too cold..
Jap pumpking taking over
Create - To fill a need or feed the soul. Create for ourselves or for others.
I am still practising my knitting when I can find time and have been doing lots of scrap booking and card making.

Discover Feed the mind by reading texts relevant to current interests.
I am still reading lots of books.  I am currently reading  the Game of Thrones series and really enjoying it.

Enhance Community
Planning for this years Classic Car Show is well under way again and will be keeping me busy for many months to come.  I am also in charge of organising all of the stall holders for the festival so it is a huge job.  This will be our third year and hopefully even more successful that the last two.  Over the weekend I spent time at another festival scouting for new and interesting stall holders.
I also participated in this years show and had a few wins as well.
Enjoy - Life! Embrace moments with friends and family. Marking the seasons, celebrations and new arrivals are all cause for enjoyment.
I had a great day out op shopping with my best friend this month and picked up some real bargains   We also celebrated a friends birthday where he indulged in the biggest burger I have ever seen.  Of course Hubby had to have one too.  I opted out and was very glad.
Giant Burgers with our friend trying to work out how to tackle the monster.
After lunch we all went for a bush walk although I am not sure it was enough to work off even a fraction of those burgers.
Bush walking with my friend and his kids being scary monsters in the forest.

What have you been up to?

Thursday, 2 May 2013

To Sow Or Not To Sow

Last year I planted out some Queensland Blue pumpkins.  I have been told they are lovely eating so I thought I would give them a go.  Also my mother in law mentioned she liked them so I though I would grow a few plants and give some to her.
I ended up planting out 3 plants and nurtured them including hand pollinating   But then it rained and rained and rained and the vine rotted away.
In the end I got one pumpkin.  It better be bloody good.
Mean while over in the compost bin a common jap pumpkin sprouted with no assistance from me at all and it is growing so big that it is taking over our yard.  It is covered in baby pumpkins and all going well we should get a great harvest.
Maybe in future I will just wait and see what pops up in the compost.  They always seem to do the best.

Is this a familiar story at your place?