Saturday, June 30, 2012

Burning Down the House

The difficulty with my project to save electricity is that almost everything in the house runs on it - our heating, hot water, cooking, as well as appliances. Our only alternative energy sources are bottled gas for the stove-top, and the open fireplace in the living room. Now I know that an open fireplace is particularly inefficient for heating, but every couple of years when the chimney sweep comes he is impressed anew by the design of our fireplace and chimney, and says it ought to heat up the house better than most. I am glad there is some aspect of our house that is well-designed!

We don't use it every day, maybe a couple of nights a week during Winter. It is nice to know that we won't freeze if the power goes out. We mostly use it because we have a source of free wood to use up - the house. It sounds slightly cannibalistic, but we have saved most of the wood that we had to remove from the house during renovations, and we are burning it up to keep warm. So far it has kept us going for about three Winters. That's a lot of the house we are burning down...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Waste not...

I have been thinking about waste recently, both in the context of my project to reduce our electricity consumption, and in regard to our food. I have been reading Little House in the big Woods to Posy (again). I find as an adult I read these books a lot differently than I did as a child. Then it was about the story, now it's more 'And Ma is doing what now?' I can see now that they lived absolutely on the edge, that if they didn't do the myriad jobs they undertook well, efficiently, and consistently, they would have starved. They didn't make cheese because it was a personal food choice, they made it to preserve the cow's excess milk, because every single resource had to be carefully husbanded so they would survive the Winter.

Obviously we have so much more in the way of resources than a nineteenth century pioneering family, and I am extremely grateful for that, but the enormous incidence of waste in our society just seems morally wrong in the face of the millions upon millions of families all over the world who need to husband every resource just as carefully as Ma and Pa, merely to stay balanced on a knife-edge of survival.

In regards to electricity, Tasmania, until recently, produced all of its electricity via a hydro-electric scheme, because what we have a lot of here, is water. Then, about five years ago we had to start importing electricity from Victoria, from their coal-fired electricity stations. A retrograde step in my opinion. What I have found in our house as I have been watching our electricity consumption, is that we are wasting quite a lot, just by heating the house when we are not awake for instance, or with windows open, or lighting rooms that we are not using. So I think (hope) that we will find our usage has gone down, not because I have banned everyone from taking hot showers, or declared that we all have to wear parkas in the house, but just by cutting out the waste, which no-one actually notices (I may have to work up to the parkas idea..).  Just maybe, if everyone in Tasmania tried to cut out electricity waste, just waste, not actual use, we could stop importing electricity from unsustainable coal, and just use that nice cold water.

And food, well, I tell you, that however annoying it is to waste food that has been bought from a shop, it is so much worse to find food that you have cooked, or even worse, grown then cooked, uneaten and mouldy in the back of the fridge. The investment of time, creativity and hard work is added to the money wasted, and it just becomes unbearable. Of course, waste is so much easier when your children are not going to starve if you do not preserve every single food stuff your garden produces (thank goodness). But there is an ethical line to be drawn there somewhere. Food that isn't wasted represents income that can be used elsewhere - in our case, we want to go solar, and we want rainwater tanks. Food that isn't wasted means less oil used in transporting more food to us, and garden food that isn't wasted means a huge reduction in food miles in our diet. And that is what I am aiming for this year. Less waste = more solar panels.

Practically, it involves planning (aaargh), a rather large time investment, and eternal vigilance. And also tricking the children. My children aren't terribly keen on anything that looks like a left over. They will walk past the last mandarin in the fruit bowl for days on end, even if they like mandarins, because it looks like a sad leftover. Ditto the last couple of anything plated up in the fridge. I have learnt never to ask if they would like these leftovers, because the answer is always no, instead, I just serve it up without comment in an easy to eat format, and they go for it every time. Yesterday I wanted to get rid of the last mandarin and two leftover choc chip pancakes from the fridge. They love choc chip pancakes, just not when they are left. over. Refused my requests to finish them up. So I chopped up the pancakes into dainty little triangles, added the peeled mandarin and a handful of frozen blueberries, and served up morning tea. Well, it was so yum, apparently, that it was polished off in two minutes flat. It's all in the presentation.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Local as Anything

For a number of years here at Chez Blueday we have been growing food that doesn't always make it to the plate. Apples, pears, cherry plums fall to the ground and end up in the compost bin, lettuce and greens go to seed, the tomato harvest seems impossibly prolific, and cooking chutney on a hot Summer's day seems less fun than, let's say, reading a book under the pear tree... In short, because I have the green grocer's as a backup, it is possible to ignore the bounty all around me that I have spent more than a decade planting and tending. I am waging a war on waste now though, and I want to use all the resources I have, learn some more skills in preserving, and just become more observant and thoughtful about what is available to eat in my own garden, and spend some time thinking how to use it.

This week has been all about the apples which I finished picking a few days ago. Due to my neglect a lot of them are affected by codling moth, so I have to slice around the bad bits and stew those ones and freeze them. The whole ones get dried or refrigerated for eating. This week we have had apple pie, apple crumble and stewed apple and rhubarb. Luckily, we like apples!

We are steadily eating our way through the available lettuce supply, but we will run out this week, and will have to buy lettuce for a few weeks until the next crop is ready. I procrastinated for a couple of weeks in early Autumn, which means a hungry lettuce gap. I have also been throwing various other greens in salads - new pea leaves, calendula petals, wild rocket, to eke out the lettuce supply.

We have a million or so lemons. Three years ago I planted a lemon hedge against our back fence.

You cannot buy a commercially produced local lemon in Tasmania because it is too cold to grow them in a field, but they do well against a fence or wall - another triumph for the suburban gardener. I have six lemon trees, two each of Meyer, Eureka and Lisbon, so I get lemons almost year round, with the peak of the season now, so we are putting lemons in everything, giving lemons away, and juicing and zesting lemons and freezing them. I have been coddling the trees all year with compost, lots of organic fertiliser, and actually weeding around their bases so they have no competition, and they have rewarded me with an enormous crop.

The Boy has perfected a Thai chicken curry that requires lots of lemon juice and zest, we have made lots of lemon curd, lemon delicious pudding, lemon and poppy seed muffins and lemon tart. I want to try lemon cordial and lemon marmalade next when I get a minute, and I have book-marked some cleaning solutions that also require lemons.

Yesterday The Girl made lemon cupcakes with lemon icing for a girls-only afternoon tea, and we extended our use of garden produce by topping them with edible flowers - forget-me-nots, rosemary flowers, violets and a tiny single, pink dianthus. I don't imagine that it is possible for anything to more resemble a story book 'fairy cake'.

Except if we made them with acorn flour.

There are oak trees at the end of the street....

Monday, June 11, 2012

Reading Books To Please Dead People

I haven't been writing this week, because it is SCHOOL HOLIDAYS, and children, like puppies, need to be taken out for a run every day, and taken to the orthodontist, and to buy new school tights, and to days on end of dance competitions...

Yesterday the girls all decided simultaneously (as gaggles of girls will), that they needed to hang branches from their bedroom ceilings to attach origami/craft projects/assorted bling to, so we went down to the river to forage. We enjoyed blue sky, swans, cows, ducks, blue wrens and egrets. We contributed to the spread of the common bulrush (no doubt a noxious weed), by running very fast with the fluffy ones that were going to seed and tapping various sisters on the head with them (not me, I strolled sedately). Then, in a scene reminiscent of  the childhood of a certain Old Testament patriach, we found a little, shivering, wet puppy in the bulrushes. He wasn't in a basket, but I was certainly accompanied by a bevy of princesses, who all went to pieces at the sight of him. He was frightened and limping, a well-cared for silky terrier with a darling hair cut, a muddy collar, but no phone number. The girls were all for adopting him at once, and calling him Moses, but I am mean and we took him to the RSPCA instead, where luckily the nice man discovered he was microchipped, and he got to go back home where he belonged. So we returned home, sans puppy, but with branches for bling, which are now living outside the back door so we can trip over them whenever we go outside.

When I have had a minute this week I have been rereading Jane Austen, because that is something that has to be done every so often - it's a hard job, but someone has to do it. I have started with Emma, possibly my least favourite Austen novel. I think it annoys me because I am so like Emma, not in that I am young, beautiful or rich, but that I like to think I know everything, and to interfere in my friends' lives. Hopefully, like Emma, I will be a better person by the end of the book.

I also read the mini novel Farenheit 451 this week. Its author, Ray Bradbury died a few days ago, and The Girl, with her usual prescience had borrowed this from the library last week, and said I would really like it. I have always avoided Ray Bradbury because I detest science fiction. I mean, why make up other worlds and futures when there is so much in this one that is wonderful and extraordinary? But the man is dead, so I made the effort, and The Girl was right, I really, really liked this book. It is all metaphor of course, published in 1953 at the very beginning of McCarthyism. Its protagonist is a fireman, 300 years in the future, when firemen don't put out fires, they start them. And what they burn is books. Books are banned, but hardly anyone cares, because they are absorbed by the wonders of reality TV on their giant screens in their own living rooms. Their country is at war, but they hardly notice, because they are being  constantly entertained...  silly plot really. Could never happen...

In between running children about and reading books to please dead people, and keeping the house clean(ish), and teaching Rosy how to cook dinner so I won't have to one day, I have been doing jobs in the garden that I should have done in Autumn, but didn't quite. I finally picked all the apples, and made apple pie, which only leaves three baskets full on the bench to stew and freeze. I planted next year's garlic crop, and red chard and cos lettuce seedlings from a friend's garden. I have weeded and weeded, and now need to sweep autumn leaves from all the paths and put them in my lovely new compost bins. I also need to save my blueberry bushes from an onslaught of... strawberry plants. I neatly outlined the blueberry beds with tiny strawberry plants in Spring, and they grew like triffids, took over every inch of space in the beds, and are threatening to overwhelm the poor little blueberries, so I will be pulling out strawberry plants like weeds tomorrow. Who would have thought? The other plant I literally pull out from between the pavers is wild rocket. Saw it at the garden centre recently for $8.99 a pot in the herb section. Buying plants. Daylight robbery.