Monday, July 29, 2013

Grow your Own Bath Sponge

Here's a fun idea for kids of all ages.

Grow a loofah vine. They love a long summer. 

If, like us, frosts arrive before your gorgeous fat loofah fruit dry on the vine, pick them after the first  light frost and dry them under shelter.

When they are completely dry peel off the brittle outer skin. Shake out the seeds. While you are at it, let your quizzy dog have a good sniff at this weird vegetable thing.

Give your beautiful loofahs a good wash.

And there you have it, natural washing sponges for your family. BEAUTY ON A BUDGET at its best.

Now comes the fun part:

You can use them as is, 
or cut them up and attach them to wooden handles to make back scrubbers,
or put pieces of loofah into your home made soap to increase the scrub factor,
or cut them and use them for scrubbing dirty dishes

I think I will try all these ideas. 

These three loofahs gave us plenty of seeds for sharing. Anyone in South Africa want to swap some seeds?
I would welcome good butternut, celeriac, florence fennel, swede or other interesting seeds.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Growing Greens - Preparing for Summer

Putting food on the table usually costs either time or money.

How to provide free food for your family next summer:

*Collect newspapers, free local papers if you can.

*Roll and fold those papers into little pots. I was given a gadget for doing this, but you can just as easily roll the paper around a straight sided glass tumbler.

*Mix up some seedling soil using river sand that you have collected, your own home made compost and vermiculite from the attic. A 1:1:1 ratio will do.

Fill the paper pots with your soil.

Search through your seed collection, some saved from last summer, some harvested and stored and some kindly given by loved ones.

Select seeds according to your garden plan, drawn up in the free 30 day trial from Jane's Delicious Garden Planner. So far over a hundred pots planted, many more to go.

Carefully place seeds into pots at the right depths, place in a warm spot indoors, spray with water twice daily and keep them covered until they germinate.

Uncover and place your baby seedlings under a light until they are strong enough to harden off gradually outside.

As the weather warms, plant up the modular seed trays that were kindly left behind by friends who left the country. They should germinate faster outdoors. The pic below is from last summer. Labelling the rows of seeds is vital. Trust me, I know. I still have a few unknowns growing merrily in the tunnel.

Plant them out into prepared beds in the garden.

Love them and care for them long enough and they will reward you with food for harvesting, enough to share and more.

Cost: R0, nothing, zip, not a cent.
Time and effort: plenty of time, effort, energy and patience
Rewards: Food for your family and some wonderful, free garden therapy. 
Gratitude: Immeasurable 
Sense of wonder: Priceless

Friday, July 19, 2013

Back to Basics : Use-It-Up Stir Fry and Breakfast Bake

Yesterday I was pondering and pottering in our mesh-covered vegetable tunnel when I spied four or five rows of miniature bok choi plants, all glossy and green, some of them prematurely shooting lemon coloured flowers in their distress at our unseasonably warm, dry weather. That evening, while scrabbling frosted fingers amongst icy packets of summer vegetables trying to retrieve a packet of sausages, I found a bag of crisp Chinese long beans.

Mmm the makings of stir fry suggested themselves to me as I went about the mundane tasks of my day.  Yes, perfect. I want to dramatically diminish the contents of our freezer, and those bok choi plants are growing where I plan to plant potatoes in springtime.

A little bit of this and a little bit of that and tonight we had a delicious Thai stir fry topped with strips of omelette.  This stir fry meal is a basic recipe - BACK TO BASICS - that I often rely on. It's wonderful for using up leftovers, surplus garden produce and as a freezer clearer.

1) Start by gathering and prepping all your ingredients in advance. For me this means picking, washing and slicing veggies, gathering spices etc beforehand. This meal is fast to make, so have your table set and plates ready. If you are serving your meal on rice, it needs to be almost cooked before you start cooking the stir fry. If you use instant noodles in the dish, there is no need for rice.  (Tonight's choice of ingredients is shown in brackets)

2) In a very large, hot wok or frying pan, heat up your oil of choice (coconut oil for me tonight)
Sitr fry sliced ginger, garlic, sesame seeds if you have them and whatever oniony item you have  Lemongrass is great here too. (spring onions from our tunnel)

3) Stir in Thai spices or thai paste and a dash of soya sauce and/or fish sauce. (I used thai seven spice, soya sauce)

4) Add sliced leftover meat and/or nuts of choice e.g. bacon, white fish, chicken, pork, beef, cashew nuts. Stir rapidly. (I left this out and rather used the egg strips at a later stage)

5) Add a large quantity of veggies, in order of cooking time eg carrots then beans then spinach. (Our own frozen grated courgette, sweetcorn, mange tout and Chinese long beans were dumped still frozen into the pan, then once they were softened I added the fresh bok choi)

6) Sprinkle over some stock powder to complement your protein and the flavouring sachet from instant noodles, or not. Optional: Break up some instant noodles and stir into the pan. I use two spoons to keep everything in the pan. ( chicken stock and 1 packet of chicken flavoured 2 minute noodles)

7) Pour in a can of coconut milk if you have any, alternatively use a little water and a dollop of tart jam like plum or apricot jam or a dash of sherry if needed. Season to taste. (coconut milk for us tonight)

8) Place a lid on the pan while the noodles cook.  Top with egg strips if you like. (I did - Beat and cook an egg or two in a small pan without stirring, flip over like a pancake to ensure it is cooked through. Roll up and slice into strips).


In a similar fashion, the ideas for the other two meals of the day came together in my mind as I pondered various items that alerted me from garden, freezer or pantry. The most frequent question in my mind when entering my personal grocery store is, "What is begging to be used first?" This mindset ensures that there is minimal wastage.

Frozen apricots that escaped my daughter's smoothie-making frenzy last summer were calling the loudest from the freezer. So last night I used these apricots and a recipe from my sister to prepare breakfast for today: First I smashed the solid hunk of apricot halves onto the concrete floor to separate them inside their plastic bag. Half a packet of sweet frozen peach chunks were added to balance the tartness. Then my mind switched into FOOD FAMILY mode. Pecan nuts and peaches, the slightly bitter nutty crunch complements the soft sweet fruit. I whisked an egg, then stirred in the nuts, two handfuls of rolled oats, some oat bran, cinnamon and honey. I spread the mixture over the still frozen fruit in a casserole dish and popped it all in the fridge to defrost overnight. This morning all I needed to do was pop the dish in the oven to bake for half an hour while I showered. The oats soaked up the juices that oozed from the thawing fruit, then crisped up on top as the dish baked. We ate it alongside dollops of warm yoghurt drizzled with honey. Delicious. "Where's the recipe?" you may ask. Well it's simple

1) Place sliced fruit of choice on the bottom of your dish
2) choose nuts and spice to match eg apples and walnuts, peaches and pecans, apricots and almonds
3) mix (2) with 1 or 2 beaten eggs and a few handfuls of oats, oat or wheat bran, and a little honey/sugar mixed to a moist consistency
4) In the morning, bake in a moderate oven until bubbling and golden. Serve with plain yoghurt.

All those frozen vegetables needing to make way for the next season also inspired me to rustle up an Almost Mexican Vegetable and Bean Soup for lunch, which needed a crusty bread. So we turned cream into butter just for the buttermilk, a key bread-making ingredient around here. The butter went into the freezer and the excess buttermilk went into the soup pot. And the bonus was using up some frozen sweetcorn, green beans, mange touts and patty pans from summer. The mexican part came from the pantry - baked beans, a little tomato sauce, cumin, garlic and oregano and chilli sauce on the table. Oh and I used some of the ubiquitous leeks from the veggie tunnel.

I wrote this blog post to show how I plan my meals based on what needs using the most - true Elastic Mom Style, but meandered into sharing recipes. Both the stir-fry and breakfast bake are favourites in our home. I hope you adapt my BACK TO BASICS recipes to what's in your garden/freezer/pantry and give them a try.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Slow Living in June

Considering it's all about slow living, maybe a late post for June is perfectly acceptable. I am travelling in the slow lane for sure this month. Our late frosts hit hard in June, even destroying my pretty flowering pot plants deep under the verandah. Come and meander with me as I attempt to remember the highs of June, following along with Slow Living Essentials 

In spite of the chilly winter weather, invigorating salads still feature regularly on our table. We eat what is available seasonally as much as possible. So there are no iceberg lettuces or summer cucumbers, rather more robust, even bitter flavours. We make our salads from a selection of just picked chicory leaves, rocket, oak leaf lettuce, baby spinach, bok choi, mizuna, chinese cabbage and beetroot leaves which have a fresh earthy flavour. Then I add in the flavour families to suit the salad, either picked from our vegetable tunnel, or taken from the pantry.

For example:
 pickled peppers, sundried tomatoes, our own feta, sliced spring onions and olives if we're lucky
walnuts, chopped bottled apples and sliced celery tossed with yoghurt, lemon juice and olive oil
boiled eggs, pickled peppers, toasted sunflower seeds, sundried tomatoes, bits of crispy bacon in a vinaigrette
chickpeas, garlic, onion, sesame seeds, sundried tomatoes and pepperdews

 I also did Patrick Holford's 9 Day Liver Detox which was wonderful, clearing my brain fog and energising me. 
Another regular feature on our table was leek pie. It's a popular favourite. I will post the recipe separately.

Rather than put up food from the harvest, this is my resting season where I get to enjoy the hard work from summer. I am loving the smoothies and crumbles made from frozen fruit chunks; the honey and bottled fruit on porridge and flapjacks; jams and jellies on toast; and all the frozen veggies in soups and stews. 

Oh, but I did make some wild melon preserve, I couldn't help myself - Use it ... Don't Lose it

I am collecting up our candle stubs for a mammoth candle making session. I keep all tiny containers for seed storage as well as those little silica sachets that come with vitamins. They will keep the stored seeds dry too. 

Epsom salts in solution made an excellent ant deterrent in my veggie tunnel. Crushed egg shells kept the slugs off my baby broad beans too. 

Our winter tunnel looks so barren, but if you look, there is still so much to harvest - the greens that I mentioned already, leeks galore, onions, beetroot, turnips on their way, black radish, celery, spring onions, broccoli, kale, a few carrots, herbs and some tiny brassica seedlings.

After the first hard frost I cut off the tops of some leaf chicory and planted the roots in a pot, covered it and put it in a dark place. The plan was to force the chicory to make endives. In their dark spot, I promptly forgot about them. The last time I checked, they could have made endives, but they look a bit too mature. I don't have a final pic to show you. 

We planted alfalfa and mustard spinach as green manure. There is also a fair bit of farm manure going into next seasons potato beds. Heavy frosts sadly killed the carrots that had just germinated. 

We have another new hanslammetjie that we are growing, So now we have Baby Lamb and Fat Lamb. Rosie's belly and udder continued to grow larger and larger through the month of June, full of promise of a calf. 

My husband spent quite some time away from our home creating wooden beauty in a faraway friend's home. 

I read the Michael Pollan book, Omnivore's Dilemma. This book is a must read for everyone who eats meat. I found it extremely challenging. I went on to watch some inspiring YouTube videos on Joal Salatin at Polyface
farm. I want to make so many changes here as a result of these discoveries, however, most of those changes will need the help of a very busy husband, so for now they are merely dreams. The book and video clips are however well worth an online search.

Does hosting different groups of family and friends during the school holidays count? I am sure we enhanced their holidays. 

The best of June was connecting with visiting family and friends. We had Grant's cousin and her children from America and his aunt,

my sister-in-law and my 2 year old nephew, 

my namesake and bff from school that I haven't seen for over 6 years with her family, 

my eldest sister and to top it all, my mum. 
Sadly I was so busy enjoying my mum's company that I forgot to photograph her.

Some of their visits overlapped, but it was a crazy wonderful time filled with excursions to a frozen stream to play on and with the ice; 
as well as cow milking sessions; bottle-feeding the lambs; horse rides;

 walks up the koppie; heart-to-heart connections; laughter and reminiscing and plenty of good food.