Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Thrifty School Lunch Treat

I really do hate wasting food, as the numerous leftovers in little glass tombs in my fridge can attest to (I mostly eat them up for lunch the next day.. but there are some that WILL hide at the back behind the condiments.  I think they move around in the night).

However, here is an easy peasy recipe from left-overs that all the children LOVE, and is the closest thing to a successful muesli bar substitute we have found (any alternative muesli bar recipes gratefully received).

The basis of this recipe is all those ground up bits in the bottom of cereal packets, and broken Weet-bix that no-one will eat. I save them all in an airtight tub until we have enough for Left-Overs Slice (marketing needs to get onto that name..). I always make a double recipe because I have hordes to feed, and they are all piggies.

First spend a couple of weeks collecting your left-over cereal. As you can see, we have quite a selection of different cereals there. I originally found this recipe on the side of the Weet-bix box. They suggest that you break up four perfectly good weet-bix for this recipe. On no account follow this flagrantly wastrel advice. Ha, no, we are the Frugal Warriors. We Waste Not! We Want Not!

Left-Over Slice

In a large mixing bowl combine:

90g mixed, left-over cereal
1 cup self-raising flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup coconut
2 Tbsps cocoa

Add 150g melted butter and stir well.
Press mixture into a lamington tin.
Bake for 15-20 mins at 180C (you want the slice to be soft in the middle when it comes out of the oven. It will harden as it cools. When the edges start to pull away from the pan, it is done)

This is the thrifty variation, where you ice it with chocolate icing when it is cool (1 cup icing sugar, 1Tbsp cocoa, sifted, add milk by the tablespoon until you get your preferred consistency).

The original recipe called for a cup of choc chips instead of the cocoa in the slice mix, and it was drizzled with melted dark chocolate instead of iced.

My children feel that it is better to ice the slice, and eat the chocolate separately. Who am I to circumvent the democratic process?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Laundry Cupboard: What Lurks in the Dark?

Another wet weekend, another messy cupboard. Do you have a cupboard which is full of all the bits and pieces and detritus of living, which just gets shoved there when there is no other obvious place to store it? This is my laundry cupboard, and it haunts me. I suspect, when I have one of those bad dreams where I wake up full of dread but can't remember what I dreamt, that it was about this cupboard..

Again, a corner cupboard that has dark, dark depths. I have no idea what is back there.

Oh, yes, there it all is. Oh, and some more..

I confess, at this point I went and had a cup of tea. And some cake. OK, let's crack on. Clean out that cupboard. Dirt, dust, and something that had leaked copiously.

The trick with putting things back in a dire, overstuffed storage space, is to only put half back. Everything else must go. And everything that stays must be stored like with like and must have a function that is pertinent to laundriness. So, what do I want in the laundry? Cleaning. I also store a bunch of garden items here. Cat food and kitty litter.

All right, cleaning. Those untidy piles of rags. I don't have disposable cleaning cloths, so I have a lot of washable rags. The only really useful ones are old flannels, towels, nappies and tea towels. All those annoying T-shirts and cut up bits of pyjamas I send out to the shed for painting rags.

What I have left is one crate of small rags (cleaning)..

and underneath, two piles of large rags (drying and mopping up) and two old towels (floods).

Now for cleaning. I had more cleaning gear in the top of the broom cupboard. Not everyday cleaning gear, that is in yet another laundry cupboard, but all the alchemical potions I have gathered for making cleaning products, and things like the shoe polishing kit, the leather cleaning kit and other cleaning bits and bobs. I have decided to consolidate shoe polishing and leather cleaning in the broom cupboard, potion making kit in the laundry cupboard. And in the process I discovered I had packets of all sorts of ingredients  which I decanted into coffee jars and labelled just like an organised person.

I have bleach ( I know it's nasty, but diluted 1:10 with water it is brilliant for cleaning mould off outdoor furniture and umbrellas), vinegar, methylated spirits, washing soda, ground soap, bicarb soda, borax and cloudy ammonia. I think with that arsenal I will be able to whip up a cleaning solution for just about anything. And some of those ingredients were a real surprise. It's amazing what appears from the back of a dark cupboard.

At the back is my collection of empty bottles. I have been saving them to create cleaning solutions. Stay tuned.

And a lovely rustic storage solution for the seeds. They were quite pleased to get out of that common old icecream container. I have decided to store the rest of the gardening bits and bobs on my gardening bench in the porch downstairs, but seeds need to be cool, dark and dry.

Space left over! The very last of the bulk dishwasher powder. It will be used up soon, and there will be more space. I moved the kitty litter out of the cupboard next door ready for another project I have in mind. I will need to move my other cleaning bucket in here. Posy took it out to the cubby house in autumn and it is, erm, still there.

So here we are. I can see everything. As my mother-in-law used to say, a place for everything, and everything in its place.

Oh, and then there was everything else still left on the bench. Bin, recycling, op shop, shed. And now, there is room for the lemon grass plant to sit on the laundry bench. I had been attempting to overwinter it inside, but on the back porch floor where I never remember to water it and it gets no sun. Maybe here it will survive until spring.

The cats now eat on the bench. Their food and water used to be on the floor, but we kept stepping in it and dropping the clean washing in it. Here they eat their dinner then pose artistically while gazing pensively out of the window. It is important to incorporate cats into the interior decoration.

And the rest of the laundry, clean and happy. It's dark now, and The Girl is making dinner, bless her.

Broccoli cannelloni and dark chocolate sponge pudding.

House rule: if you make dinner you don't have to do the dishes.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bread Dough Variations

Today I made rolls to go with our pumpkin soup. I have been buying big, whole pumpkins to avoid the plastic wrap they stick on pumpkin pieces at the green grocer's. I HATE chopping up big, hard pumpkins, so I take them outside and throw them on the courtyard paving stones as hard as I can. That cracks them into a few pieces and makes them easy to chop up. And it's SO much fun.

Following Gretchen Joanna's encouraging comments yesterday, I made these rolls with half white breadflour, half wholemeal organic stoneground. Perfect! Chewy goodness, with that fine 'crumb' of truly excellent bread. I am still inordinately excited about my discovery of breadflour, and will be making bread continuously for days, and we will all get tremendously fat.

Here are two variations of the basic bread recipe I shared yesterday:

Pizza Dough

So easy - exactly the same as the bread dough. The secret is in the cooking.

We make about five pizzas from the basic dough recipe. This is just enough for our hungry family of six. If we have extras I double the recipe, and we eat any leftovers for lunch the next day.

I shape each pizza base in the air after I have stretched it out a bit on the bench. It really is the easiest way. But I don't toss them in the air. I'm not that co-ordinated. Then I put the bases on squares of baking paper sprinkled with semolina to stop them sticking.

Heat oven to 200C while the children make an enormous mess covering the pizza bases with toppings.

Slide pizzas off the bench onto baking trays on their paper squares (baking trays held at bench level, slide pizza on. You will slide them off onto a board when they are cooked. This means you can cook more pizzas than you have baking trays).

Now I have a setting on my oven which is fan forced, with a heating element above and below. This enormous blast of heat, plus extra heat above and below, really crisps the base and grills the topping in about 15 mins. In an oven without this setting you may need to shift the pizzas from the bottom shelf to the top during cooking, to make sure the base is thoroughly cooked. Aim for golden brown base for optimum crispiness. Turn up the oven to 210C if you don't have a fan forced setting.

In the summer we put the pizzas on pizza stones on the barbecue, put the lid down and cook for 10 minutes or so for a really crispy crust. This is a brilliant way to cook them perfectly. It's also useful to use the baking paper squares on the pizza stones to stop the dough sticking and slide them on and off easily.

Sweet Dough

This is the recipe I use for fruit buns, hot cross buns, fruit loaf, or leaving out the spices and fruit, pain au chocolat or fruit danishes.

Make the basic bread dough with white flour. Add two tablespoons sugar, two teaspoons of cinnamon and two handfuls of dried fruit to the dry ingredients.
Replace the glug of oil with a beaten egg. Replace the two cups of water with two cups warm milk.

Glaze the shaped rolls with melted butter or beaten egg.

Pain au chocolat: Small squares of sweet dough. Two squares chocolate in the centre. Fold dough across chocolate. Glaze with butter, sprinkle with sugar.

Fruit Danishes: Stewed fruit in place of the chocolate.

How could breakfast get better?

Does anyone have other simple variations on their basic bread dough recipe?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Brilliant Bread At Last!

People, a revelation! I have been cooking bread for over twelve years. I am not a bad bread baker. I make fantastic pizza bases, yummy hot cross buns, but everything else has always been a bit... stodgy. Scrolls, rolls and loaves, a bit steamy and cakey on the inside. I have always used organic plain flour, sometimes with a third or so wholemeal. I make beautiful dough, I love to knead, it rises beautifully, but then it doesn't cook so well. I've tried all sorts of techniques, spraying with water, cooking on terracotta tiles, varying the temperature...then..

last week, I bought... bread flour. Not organic, probably bleached, all the things I generally avoid. But the bread is WONDERFUL! Light, puffy, dry, everything you could want in a loaf of bread. After all these years. I can buy it at the local flour mill in giant paper bags. It's super cheap. Maybe I'll keep the organic flour for cakes.

Up above is tonight's pull apart herby scroll loaf. I can now offer you my bread recipe, which now makes perfect bread every time. Of course, most of you reading this will already be fab bread bakers, but maybe someone hasn't tried it yet...

Jo's Basic Bread

4 cups flour (I sometimes use 2 cups plain, 2 cups wholemeal. This makes the whole recipe incredibly easy to remember. Two of everything. If you use wholemeal, you will need to add an extra couple of Tbsps water)
2 tsp dry yeast
2tsp salt

Stir these ingredients in a large bowl.
Make a well and add:

Glug of olive oil (2 Tbsp if you want to measure)
2 cups of warm water

Stir with a metal spoon. When it starts to cling together in a shaggy mass, start kneading it together in the bowl. I always do this with one hand to keep the other one clean. Sprinkle flour on the kitchen bench with your clean hand, then pop the whole lot onto the bench and knead for about ten minutes. Add a few sprinkles of flour when needed. The dough should become satiny smooth, and not stick to the bench. When it is ready it will have a sheen to it, and you will be able to take a small piece and pull it out into a square that is so thin you can see through it, without the dough breaking. This is called the baker's window.

Wash out the mixing bowl with warm water (I find fingernails most effective for getting dough off the bowl. Hate dough on my dishcloth). Pour another glug of oil in the bowl, pop the dough in then turn it over to oil it all over. This prevents a crust forming on the dough and helps it rise evenly. Tea towel over the top, let it rise for an hour and a half. It doesn't need to be particularly warm. Even in winter it just sits on the kitchen bench.

Next, take the dough out (I always punch it down because it is fun, but not really necessary). Knead again for a couple of minutes. You shouldn't need any more flour. Now, shape your rolls, scrolls or loaf. My pull-apart loaf is scrolls laid on top of each other which helps them to pull apart really easily. These scrolls have melted butter brushed on, herbs sprinkled (dried oregano today), cheese sprinkled on top. Whatever shape you choose, let them rise for another half hour while you finish dinner.

Today it is cauliflower cheese. Cauliflower lightly steamed, some left over pasta, a bechamel sauce with cheese and smoked paprika, topped with bread crumbs, more cheese and paprika. We will have greens tomorrow.

Heat oven to 200C, pop in bread and dinner. 15 mins for rolls and scrolls, half an hour or so for a loaf. Bread should sound hollow when tapped, top and bottom. Tip it onto a cake cooler immediately. No soggy bottoms!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Parenting Dilemmas, and How to Make Big Box Stores and Other Nasty Shopping Environments Magically Disappear

Sometimes I think the hardest thing about parenting multiple children is that when one child is having a crisis that demands attention, sympathy, wisdom, advice, action, the world just doesn't stop, and all the rest of them still need to be delivered to their activities de jour, need to be taken to the dentist, need new shoes, demand to be taken to the snow:

and if they are Posy, wake up in the morning with the day's activities fully planned.
'Today I will make a very big cake and carve it into the shape of a car,' she declared this morning approximately three seconds after waking up. Changing Posy's mind is like changing the direction of the Titanic. It is so much more relaxing to go with the flow, we have found, icebergs notwithstanding.

Conceived, planned, executed, eaten. Tick. That child is a force of nature. Hope she continues to use her powers for good...

So this week, it has been all about juggling needs of children, and my need to get through this very large pile of books:

What I love doing with non-fiction books is dipping between half-a-dozen at a time. It is such a luxurious feeling to have so many books to read, and not having finished any of them. Most of these are library books. I am excited to have discovered the call number 640, which appears to feature books about domesticity past and present, greener ways to live at home, and experiments in domestic management. I borrowed A Long Way Home from a friend because I heard the author on the radio. I am re-reading my copy of Nurture by Nature in the hope that there may be some clues in the Meyers-Briggs personality profiles which will shed some light on the personalities of a number of my peculiar children.

The Dirty Life and Mobilizing the Green Imagination I ordered from my local bookshop, The Dirty Life because I got it from the library and loved the glorious craziness of it. I think there is a tiny corner of me that really wants to go out and start an organic farm and live like Almanzo in Farmer Boy. A very small corner. Because indeed I wouldn't get to live like Almanzo at all, but like his mother, and like her, never get to sit down except when spinning, or like Kristin who married a crazy man who didn't like plastic and wanted to start a farm with no money or electricity, but lots of cows and some draught horses. Fun, fun, fun. I think I am more a reader than a doer, farm-wise.

Frances recommended  Mobilizing the Green Imagination, and because I trust her book recommendations implicitly, I rang up the bookshop straight away and ordered it. More later when I have finished it. But I am perking up already. It really is an antidote to environmental depression.

Do you have a local bookshop? I never, never order books on-line. Well, once I started an on-line bookshop, which is still running two owners later. I am immensely proud of that achievement, even though it was never really financially viable, because it turns out I am not much of a business person, but that beautiful site? I love it. I helped design it, because I wanted a calm and beautiful on-line shopping environment. I was homeschooling at the time, and lots of homeschoolers are geographically isolated, far from a bookshop, and needing good books for their kids. I do still buy books from Leatherwood Books, because it is an independent bookshop, on-line. But those giant behemoth book sites? They are like big-box stores, but on-line. And they are ruining the High Street of every small town that now doesn't have a bookshop. What kind of a world doesn't have a bookshop in every town? How is civilisation to continue? Do these giant book behemoths hire local literary teenagers in the summer? My bookstore does. Is there a lovely gracious lady on your shiny lap-top screen who chats to your children and finds them books that they will love, and recommends the perfect gift for your godchild? If there is a problem with your child's textbook order, does the bookshop owner contact you personally, and tell you how much he regrets the error, and give you a hefty discount to make up for it?

Sometimes.. let's face it, most times, the books from my local bookshop are more expensive. But what kind of a world do we want to live in? One where there are local, independent stores, with book readings and employment for your kids, and you can afford five books a year in your budget? Or one where you can buy a dozen books a year and have no bookstore in your town? If you buy a dozen books a year, you will just end up decluttering them later anyway. Makes much more sense to buy quality, buy your kid a job, and not overfill your bookcase with bad books.

We get to choose the kind of world we live in, every time we spend a dollar. I had this revelation the other day while standing in the shower. Which is why I need long hot showers. NEED them. Here is my thought:

I never need to go to a shopping mall, giant department store or supermarket EVER again if I don't want to. And I really don't. They are just nasty and soul sapping. With some determined planning, I could avoid them entirely and pretend they aren't there. And maybe, we could all stop believing in them, and then they would just .. cease .. to .. exist..

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I Run Out of Gumption

Fear not, fair readers, we are not sinking into a state of moral turpitude here at Chez Blueday, we have merely run out of our favourite bathroom cleaner.

Back when Posy was a newborn, and I was attempting to homeschool the three older children, I had a lovely, lovely cleaner who came once a week for two years. It was blissful. Adele was a kind, wise granny who gave really good advice, and taught me how to clean house properly. She also told great stories about her childhood. Her dad worked on the hydro-electric scheme in the Tasmanian Highlands. Adele walked to school in the snow, and looked after her brother while her Mum did everything Ma did in Little House on the Prairie. They lived out of the vegie garden, and on what her Dad shot - rabbits, wallaby, feral deer. She got married at sixteen, raised her kids on the smell of an oily rag, and supported her sick husband for the last dozen years of his life.

If anyone was ever an advertisement for gumption, it would be Adele, and the first week she came, she instructed me to go out and buy a tub, because it was cheap, worked well, and didn't have nasty ingredients. I don't know about the ingredients, because they're not listed, but I have used it ever since, because who could go back to using anything else after having cleaned with Gumption?

Until this week, when I ran out, and decided it would be a propitious moment to experiment with homemade cleaners. I had borrowed a book from the library which featured this bathroom cleaning paste, and I had all the ingredients on hand, which is the usual criteria for me to try a new recipe. I used eucalyptus oil instead of peppermint, and added more water. I used 60mls, which makes me think that the listed 5ml might be a typo.

Here is the finished product. It is not as 'pasty' as Gumption, and tends to drop onto the floor a bit, as bicarb mixtures do, but that's OK, because Adele taught me to always wash the walls before the floors. It cleans the grout as well as Gumption did, that is, it is not a miracle cleaner, but it does the job. It needs to be rinsed well because it is a bit gritty, but rinsing is something I am all about anyway. I used it all over the bathroom, and hardly needed my expensive bottle of eco-bathroom-spray.

It rubbed the rust ring off the kitchen bench that had been left by Rosy's can of hairspray, and it WAS magic on the taps. They have never been so shiny. And the bathroom smelled so clean. And although Gumption is cheap, this is much cheaper. So I think we have a zero waste replacement for Gumption. It just needs a brilliant name...

Update: I have now been using this for a year, and it really is fantastic, even though it still doesn't have a brilliant name. I have fiddled the recipe a bit, so here is the slightly updated version:

Bathroom Cleaning Paste

1 cup bicarb soda or baking soda
1Tbsp cream of tartar
10 mls (2 tsp) liquid castile soap
40-50 mls water
10 drops clove oil.

In a bowl, mix the baking soda with the cream of tartar. In a jug mix the soap and water. Pour the liquid into the powders. Mix with a fork and add clove oil.

I find this amount fits perfectly into a salsa dip jar. Leave the lid off for a few hours because this mixture reacts and bubbles up like a sinister chemistry experiment. It will settle down within a day and become merely a boring but effective cleaning agent. The clove oil keeps mould away, as some of my commenters noted. It's true, it really does! I still have old mould stains in my grout, but I have had no new mould at all since I started using this paste, except those couple of times where I didn't clean the shower for three weeks at a time (sssh! Don't tell...)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Surfaces, Surfaces

This is Phase Two in our Clean Up the Children's Bedrooms Campaign. Posy now has a clean surface on top of her bookcase. And it is going to STAY clean. That is only one surface. Can she do it? Wherever she puts stuff, it has to be somewhere other than this surface.

In the matchbox lies Dead Margaret. Every summer since she was four, Posy has collected a series of dead bumblebees and named them all Dead Margaret. Dead Margaret used to accompany us everywhere, but nowadays she generally stays on the bookcase.

Every couple of weeks we will add a new surface to keep clear. The other girls have surfaces to keep clear too. One has a mantelpiece, the other has her piano. Clean, clean, clean.

Our previous efforts at cleaning the rooms, which involved making beds, putting PJs and clothes away, are going... OK. The jobs are mostly getting done before school, and any time where improvements are happening more often than not is a success in my books.

We have spent the first few days of the wintery and arctic school holidays with builders in the house, removing old windows, and (eventually) replacing them with new. Icy winds blew through the house constantly, but the upside was that the girls had to clean a lot out of their rooms so the builders could reach the windows.

The recycling bin is full of old school projects, the wardrobes are more or less cleared out, and I gave Posy a choice... she could help me clean out all her 'treasure' baskets, or I could clean them out by myself while she watched a movie. Which one do you think she picked? I had a peaceful hour and a half throwing away a lot of, um, treasures. It is much easier to find things in her room now. If only I could persuade the other girls...

And now, the house is full of plaster dust and dirt from partial wall destruction... so the next few days... cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Because what are school holidays for after all?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Broccoli Tree

My first ever 'proper' broccoli is ready. As big as the palm of my hand, it looked just like a bought one! And tasted divinely green, cruciferous goodness on a plate. And harboured only one caterpillar.

I have attempted to grow broccoli before, with limited success. I have learnt from my failures though, which is the wonderful existential reason for making mistakes. Broccoli needs a LOT of feeding. The best broccoli I have ever seen grown in a home garden was a patch sown on the site of a recently demolished chicken pen. It loved that ntirogen hit, and grew into a veritable forest. I planted mine in rich compost with pelletised chicken manure, plus blood and bone, plus lime. Broccoli likes a sweet soil. I watered every fortnight with seaweed extract and fish emulsion (well, nearly every fortnight).

Broccoli likes space. I planted three seedlings in this space, one of which keeled over from slug damage. Then there were two.

This is early April (planted as seed in early March). Soon after this photo was taken I decided these two would crowd each other out, so the heartbreaking decision was made...
Then there was one.

Now it is quite huge, and there are about a dozen 'mini' broccolis growing on the side stem. There is room for some small, shallow-rooted lettuces and baby snowpeas as well. And a couple of caterpillars. For biodiversity.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Garden Mystery

Mountain Pepperberry, Tasmannia lanceolata. A pepper bush native to the rainforests of Tasmania and southeastern Australia. High in antioxidants and vitamin C, with antifungal and antimicrobial properties, and in great demand by gourmet foodies, both the berries and the leaves can be dried and used as a pepper substitute, and a zingy addition to curries, game, cheese and even hot chocolate. In colonial times it was used like echinacea - to ward off winter colds and flu. It can be infused in vodka to make a useful, ahem, medicine. Super useful edible garden plant in a cool climate (you might find it in the UK advertised as Cornwall pepper leaf).

So where, you might ask, is the mystery? Is there a body? Has Miss Marple been called in? Well, here is the thing. To get berries you need a male and female plant, like kiwi fruit or hazelnuts. I bought a plant several years ago at some market, not realising the need for two. It grew, looked pretty, but no berries. By then I realised I needed another one, but couldn't work out which one I had, so typically did nothing for another couple of years. Then last year, it mysteriously produced berries. And this year, the same. With no partner. A sensible friend suggested a neighbour must have one. But no. No other pepper plants anywhere to be seen along the street, which is not surprising as it is hardly a common garden plant.

I have a horticultural wonder in my garden. And I will never have to buy pepper again.