Friday, May 25, 2012

Carefree Cooking - Porridge for Breakfast

Warm, comfort food on icy winter mornings fills the tummy and satisfies the soul. Hot porridge is an economical breakfast choice. I serve it to my family three times a week.

Versatile oats porridge can be livened up in many different ways. I usually enrich the oats by cooking them in a milk and water mixture and then we eat it topped with honey and cinnamon.

For each serving I cook together 1/2 c rolled oats, 1/2 c milk, 1 c water and a pinch of salt in the pot.
Bring it to the boil and simmer for a few minutes until it is creamy and thickened. That's it.

But that doesn't have to be it. Oats porridge welcomes all sorts of toppings and additions.....

- Cook it up with a handful of raisins and chopped apple before topping it with honey, nuts and cinnamon

- Add a dollop of apricot jam as a topping, or any other preserve.

- Serve with berries or stewed rhubarb and yoghurt.

- Sliced banana included with the honey and cinnamon is delicious.

- Chopped dates and cardamon cooked into the porridge is sublime.

- I saw a swish restaurant in Johannesburg serving oats porridge decadently topped with strawberries and cream.

- A really healthy option is to add a little bran, oat bran and a ground seed mix to the porridge.

Another breakfast porridge that we have been enjoying lately is good old mieliemeel or maize meal porridge. This is a traditional African staple food. The commercially produced maize meal has been stripped of most of its goodness and overrefined. So I add our own home ground yellow maize to the white mieliemeel for a healthier alternative.

Maize is grown on this farm. What fun to play in a shower of corn kernels as they pour out of the combine harvester into the waiting truck.

Last winter we gleaned the field for leftover heads of mielies after the combine and before the cattle got to it. We picked a few crates of the dried maize. For days we sat in the evenings and shucked the corn kernels off the cobs, later using the dried cobs as excellent firelighters. We collected two buckets of dried corn.

My generous husband blessed me with a grinder earlier this year which noisily turns those kernels into meal. 

I usually sift the coarse bits out to be cooked up for a different meal as polenta. I also mix the meal into bread that I am baking to make yellow cornbread.

To make porridge, I mix the lovely yellow meal 1:1  into commercial white maize meal which is more refined. This makes a smooth, tasty, healthier porridge than the standard version.

When I cook it for my family of four, I boil up half a large pot of water with a pinch of salt, sprinkle over two cups of maize meal while stirring rapidly. It bubbles like lava and spits hot porridge out the pot, so I cover it quickly with a lid  then simmer the porridge at a very low temperature for about ten minutes.

This is delicious served with a tiny pat of butter and a drizzle of honey. 

Traditionally it is eaten with milk and sugar.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pinching Pennies - Planning Ahead

Elastic Mom-ness is an art that requires resource-stretching skills in many different areas of life. From making the available food in the home work for me, to using every last edible green thing in the garden, to careful wardrobe planning and more, it is all ultimately limited by the money on hand and how we use it.

At the beginning of every month I discipline myself to sit and tackle the dreaded budget. Yes, I know the B-word is a swear word in many homes, sometimes including my own.

Many years ago, I was taught a simple, clever tip that I always try to use when I plan my budget.

It is a PLANNING AHEAD tip so I can relax and enjoy the trip!

I take all my annual or quarterly expenses, such as children's extra lesson fees, school books, or memberships and licenses and divide the amount over the appropriate number of months. This monthly amount is then put in  separate savings account. When the lump sum is due to be paid, I simply pay from the funds in the savings account.

Managing my money in this way helps to even out the monthly expenses to a similar amount each month and takes the impact out of large, infrequent payments.

Area's where we have found this helpful over the years are:

# vehicle maintenance and tyre replacement
# school books
# annual licenses
# subscriptions and membership fees
# provisional income tax
# quarterly music and dance lessons
# extra courses
# family holidays
# unexpected doctor visits that are not covered my medical aid
# veterinary expenses 

It's simple advice really, but really helpful to me.

Greening my Fingers - Nourishing the Soil

Nowhere more than in a vegetable garden to we see the principle of what you give is what you get.

After feeding our family all summer, the soil in our veggie tunnel needs nourishing. I want to spend as little cash as possible, using what I have to return goodness into this soil. Here is how I do it:

 Mulch, mulch and mulch again. Mulch keeps the goodness and moisture in the soil, suppresses weeds and also decomposes slowly to enrich the soil over the long run. I use old dried out grasses that are grown here. Mulch could be anything from leaf litter to wood chips and sawdust, to straw. Whatever you can find, without paying for it, is perfect. When we lived in the city and had one little raised vegetable box, we visited a sawmill and collected sawdust for mulching.

Living mulch, or green manure is wonderful for beds that are lying fallow over winter. If you look carefully below you will see the oats that I have sown a month ago. The bed is now covered with the lush green grass-like oats which will be dug into the soil to feed it before the oats go to seed. I might first cut some for my chickens.

 Worm farms are popular and provide excellent nutrients for the soil. Why go to the expense of buying a commercial worm farm when a homemade setup will do the job just as well? The open barrel is covered with a dry mulch to protect the worms from our chickens and to keep them moist. The new vegetable scraps go in at the top end of the barrel. As it becomes compost, the worms move out of it into fresh scraps of waste, leaving fewer worms in the rich compost at the lower end of the barrel. The open drainage hole at the bottom drips rich black 'worm tea' into the bucket. From there it is diluted and fed to my seedlings. The black bucket on the left contains comfrey leaves which decompose in water to make a smelly, but excellent potassium-rich fertilizer, especially good for tomatoes.

We have three compost heaps. The first, well decomposed, is being hauled onto the beds in barrow loads before they are covered in mulch for the winter. Below is the second compost bed in an old rusty feed trough. It was built up in summer with lots of garden refuse, manure and kitchen waste and topped with cut grass from the lawns. Now it is maturing, hopefully to be ready for springtime planting. The plank makes a great wheelbarrow ramp.

Our cows, Rose and Joy provide lovely manure pats which are collected and tossed into the newest compost pile that is growing in their nighttime pen. It helps to keep the compost as close to the source of manure as possible and also close to the vegetable tunnel.
 This new compost pile is quickly growing  as we clear spent plants and fallen leaves from the garden. We also throw wood ash from our winter  fires into the mix.
 Once a week, the chicken house is swept out and their dropping are also added to the pile. Back in the city, certain stables allowed gardeners to come in and collect manure and old stable sweepings for free, others sold bags of manure for a minimal cost. It all helps to enrich the soil.

So there you have it, wonderful soil nourishment that costs nothing except a bit of effort. 
USE IT - DON'T LOSE IT is my motto.
Every possible available thing is used to enrich the soil that in turn nourishes us. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Beauty on a Budget - Keeping it Natural

My hair is streaked with silver. 

This does not fill me with feelings of delight and pleasure. Aging is something we would all avoid if we could. However, I have chosen to keep my hair colour natural as it slowly turns to shades of grey.

 My reasons for doing so are varied:

* Natural hair colour is free, and freeing.
*Colouring hair costs a lot of money if done in a salon, money that an Elastic Mom could put to better use elsewhere.
*I know that I can buy home hair-colouring kits and colour my hair myself, or get a willing friend to colour my hair, but that also requires a regular outlay of money. However, it still is a cheaper option than going to a hair salon.
*Once you start coloring, you have to touch it up every six weeks or risk looking cheap and nasty.
*Every time that I have coloured my long hair in the past, I have ended up cutting it drastically a few months later because it turns brittle and damaged no matter how gentle the product was supposed to be.
* Hair colorants have made my scalp tingle and had me nauseous for the next 36 hours after application. This made me question the toxins in commercial hair colourant.

*Mostly though, I believe in accepting myself as I am, and presenting my true self to the world. Something in me rebels against the facade of pretending to be younger than I am, or someone I am not.
* The peer pressure to colour my hair is enormously strong. So many well meaning people have suggested natural ways that I could enhance my colour. When in public, I am amazed at how many women colour their hair, last count was 95% of the women I saw. I am not afraid of being different.
*God designed our hair colour to fade as we age as a mark of splendour....Proverbs 20:29 says:
 "Grey hair is a crown of splendour..."
* Lighter hair as we age is softer and more flattering than dark hair which highlights wrinkles.
*I am secure in my husband's love and acceptance. I do not have to pretend to be younger than I am to maintain his attraction to me. My confidence in who I am makes me attractive to him. Anyway, he is balding, so we are aging together. When we were dating, we would often sing the Beatle's song, "When I'm Sixty-Four" to each other, and mean it. What a privilege to still be securely in love after 20 years of marriage and on right into old age.
* Although I can fight the natural process of aging, I choose to embrace this new season in my life.

There is more beauty in an inner smile than any amount of external adornment. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Slow Living in April

Autumn has well and truly painted the farm in her russet hues and painted our lives in cozy shades of abundance. I love the Autumn landscape here as the grassland fades, the poplars yellow  and the last of the thunderclouds darken the sky.Take a moment with me as I remember the past month of April, inspired by Slow Living Essentials

The maize harvest is coming soon, and I still have a bucket of kernels from last year, so out came my grinder and in went maize to almost everything - polenta, corn bread, my own maize porridge, and more.
Brinjal paté has been a hit, and so has turnip mash served with venison. We have eaten  lots of just picked salads made from the various green s still thriving in the vegetable tunnel.

Our cherry tomato plants started dying off after our first frost, leaving a lot of tiny green tomatoes on the vines. I discovered Nigel Slater's Green Tomato Chutney recipe online, and made a few jars. It is delicious served with cheese. We strung up our sunflower heads to dry the seeds for our chickens. Lots of walnuts have been picked and stored too.

Reduce and Reuse
I used old tin cans and prettied them up with paper scraps to make strawberry pot plants for sale at our local farmer's market. I also set up labelled crates outside our back door to encourage more recycling. I repurposed glass drink bottles into vases filled with chrysanthemums all in a row on the sideboard. Old towels were cut up to make milking rags. They still need overlocking though.

The girls and I made a batch of orange and lemon soap using lovely natural oils. Now the decision is whether to keep and use them, sell or give them as gifts. I have been scrubbing basins and baths with bicarb on a cloth. It works quite well.

My kind husband bought me a bay tree which I have planted in a half barrel in a new circular herb garden I am making. We sowed turnips, radish, beetroot, spinach, garlic and onions. We planted broad bean, red cabbage, celery and cauliflower seedlings. We are still harvesting a few green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and marrows as well as turnips, lettuce, rocket, bok choi, spinach, brinjals, piddly green peppers and herbs. Best of all, we picked our pumpkins., including an enormous bright orange giant.

The first frosty weather inspired me to knit winter hats for two of my nephews. I am still forging on with the stripy granny blanket for my daughter.

Living on a farm, our community is tiny, but I have been able to mentor a bit of soap making for my daughter and her friend. I also helped my farm friend by babysitting her adorable two year old for a day and night.

I have been rereading portions of John Seymour's The Complete Guide to Self Sufficiency book with the intention of making apple cider. I have also found it very helpful in planning my vegetable garden. His system of preparing the beds in blocks for rotation appeals to my sense of order.

My sister and brother in law visited us for a long weekend while my husband was away. It is always wonderful to get together with them. This time we reminisced about our childhood, had a waffle feast, watched Courageous, set up her new blog Be Creative and just enjoyed being together. My daughter spent time photographing the beaded African jewelry that she sells.

Our farm friends from Ethiopia have been visiting this month and it's been great to catch up with them again. It warmed my heart to see my daughter reading aloud to the girls as they snuggled in bed together.