Super Quick Anzac Slice

I love ANZAC biscuits, so even though we’re well past ANZAC day, here’s a recipe for a really quick ANZAC slice.

The base recipe is from Kidspot and I’ve adapted it to use spelt flour and some unrefined sweeteners.

ANZAC SLICE RECIPE

Ingredients
125g unsalted butter
2tbsp maple syrup
1 cup spelt flour
2tsp baking powder
1 cup oats
1/2 cup rapadura sugar
1 cup desiccated coconut

Method
Melt butter and maple syrup on the stove for 1-2 mins until combined.
Place all dry ingredients in a bowl, then stir through the butter mixture.
Press into a lined slice tin and bake for about 20-25mins at 180c or until golden brown on top.
Allow to cool and enjoy.

Rammed Earth Floor

A few weeks ago we had a slight crisis moment in our building plans.

Some quotes came in for the Waffle Pod slab and it was almost $30,000. In short, we can’t afford it.

So we have been working through a few alternative solutions so that we can afford to build our house. We have already paid for the posts (which are enormous and weigh about 150kg each) to be cut. This means that there are some serious constraints on what we can and cannot do.

We had been thinking about the option of joists and bearers on piers, but the issue there is that the posts would need to be longer. This would mean a large increase in the cost for the posts, which are already really pricey.

Then our neighbour dropped in and recommended we reconsider a rammed earth floor. We would need to have our whole house plan re-engineered, but in the long run, it could be about a $15,000 saving. The other advantage is that it is completely DIY, so the only costs to factor in are materials and excavation labour. I think it will really work with the aesthetics of the strawbale walls too.

A rammed earth floor consists of layers of road base, sand, gravel and clay that are compacted to create hard surface. We then have the option of troweling a wet layer as the final layer so that it’s completely level (like a concrete floor would be). This is then coated in linseed oil to seal it. As a result, it’s not dusty or ‘dirty’.

Some of the advantages of a rammed earth floor are that it is softer under foot than concrete, requires less concrete (only an outline of the shape of the house to hold the compacted layers), has less embodied energy and we can do the majority of it ourselves with a plate compactor.

Our plans are currently engineered, and then they will go through the council process so that we can be issued a construction certificate so we can officially start building. Can’t wait!

 

Rainbow over Providence Hill

I love rainbows and today’s was an absolute stunner.

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Rainbow over Providence Hill

The photo doesn’t quite capture the amazingness of it – I’ve never seen both ends of a rainbow before, but one end was at our bottom gate and the other was on the rise behind our property.

For us rainbows are extra significant as they are are a reminder that God keeps His promises.

From Genesis Chapter 9: “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you. I’m putting my rainbow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth”.

My Recent Garden Mistakes

As February was coming to an end I started planning for our Autumn garden. There was a lot of work that needed to be done creating new garden beds and clearing out Summer veg, but I was a bit over zealous on the clearing out front.

I hadn’t quite thought through how to cross over between Summer and Autumn veg to ensure we had enough to go around until the Autumn crops were established and ready to be picked.

I pulled out pumpkins and zucchinis, corn and kale, beans and peas and all manner of other things, and while we did enjoy eating all this produce, what I really should have been doing was planting more of these in late January and February. This would have meant that with the warm weather we still could have been eating a lot of these veg now. Instead we have been relying heavily on buying fruit and veg at the shops.

So next year I will be planning more thoroughly to make sure we have food to eat in that trans-seasonal period. January and February will see me planting more things like beans, corn, zucchini, beetroot, carrots, silver beet and other greens to get us through until the early Autumn plantings mature.

I think I have my head around going from Winter into Spring. I will just be continuing to try to plant a lot of the suggestions from the Gardenate June/July lists, then creating a cold frame and/or mini-greenhouse in August in preparation for giving things like capsicum, cucumber, chilli, eggplant, tomato and melons a head start.

 

September should see us eating a lot of the winter plantings of snow peas, sugar snap peas, podded peas and lettuces, as well as the May-June plantings of broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbages, but I’m hoping that we can minimise what we have to buy at the shops with some better forward-planning.

 

 

Essential Oil Perfumes/Colognes

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The other day Papa J asked me whether I could make him some sort of cologne with essential oils. I did a bit of looking around on the internet and found some great resources and recipes.

I wanted something that would be relatively easy to concoct, and something that didn’t require alcohol or spray bottles. The easiest recipes seemed to be essential oils in a base of carrier oil in a little bottle with a roller ball. You can get these pretty cheap from places like New Directions Australia.

The Hippy Homemaker site had a whole lot of fragrance blends for men so that they might “feel rugged [and] smell amazing”. Papa J liked the sound of the “Mountain Man” blend (peppermint, juniper, fir and cypress), so we went with that.

Mixing it up took me all of about 30 seconds. I dropped in the correct amounts of essential oils and Vitamin E, then filled up the little bottles with grapeseed oil.

Feeling inspired by just how fast it was to mix up, I had a look for a more feminine fragrance for me. I loved the Moontree candles I had burning when Master Wolf and Miss E were born, so I looked for a similar blend.

The base perfume recipe from Wellness Mama was an easy place to start, so I just picked a base (ylang ylang), middle (lavender) and top note oil (grapefruit) and mixed those quantities of essential oil with the same grapeseed carrier oil and Vitamin E used in Papa J’s. I didn’t really want to bother with rum and homemade vanilla essence (but I’m sure it would be great if I had more time).

Below is a table of base, middle and top notes which makes it easier to understand which blends would work.

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Table from Dean Coleman

I’m going to do some more experimenting with other blends of oils. If you do some experimenting or have favourite mixes of essential oils, I’d love to hear about it. Next on my list is a variation on this recipe from Mountain Rose Herbs:

Refreshing Perfume

Rejuvenating, uplifting, energizing, and stimulating. This blend is good for mental clarity, lack of focus, and fatigue.

Drip all essential oils into a glass bottle and roll between palms to evenly mix the oils. Add Jojoba oil and roll again. Add additional essential oils if you desire a stronger perfume.

 

Providence Hill Is Getting Sheep

Growing animals for ethical sources of meat is one of our self-sufficiency goals. We have already started eating through our surplus Light Sussex roosters, but until our girls start laying and we can produce more little chickies, our home-grown meat supply is limited.

We have been wanting to get sheep but this would require a fairly large investment in some internal fencing, so the decision was made that our small-scale sheep farming goals would have to wait until we have a house.

But then our neighbours gave us a fairly irresistible proposal – we could keep sheep on their property if we were to do all the maintenance and day-to-day care. The benefit for them is that their grass stays mown and they have a nice sheepy view from the lovely house they are building.

They have generously offered to do some fox-proof internal fencing on their property for safe lambing, and we have worked out a water source and a breed/breeder we are looking to use.

I had already done some research and decided on a breed of sheep that I felt would really suit our small-holder/mixed-farming/self-sufficiency needs. Dorper Sheep are a hardy breed that originate in South Africa from Dorset and Persian breeds. They have a number of characteristics that make them ideal for our situation:

  • they shed their fleece, so they don’t need shearing or crutching and they are not prone to fly strike
  • they are non-descriminate grazers, so they will eat things like blackberry as well as pasture grass
  • they are very fertile and have a continuous breeding season, meaning we can facilitate lambing at a time that suits us
  • multiple births are common, with lambing rates of 150% not being uncommon
  • they are good mothers, producing a large quantity of milk and being very protective of their lambs

So with that in mind the search was on for a local Dorper breeder. Last time I went out to the Bathurst Farmers Market, I had seen a sign for a Dorper breeder on the highway. This led me to Tony Galea of Glanmire Dorpers.

On the phone he was really helpful and seemed to understand some of the constraints of keeping sheep for small farms (such as not wanting to buy rams every year to keep breeding lines pure).

He offered to work out a package for us whereby we would have a few lambing seasons before needing a new ram to prevent interbreeding. So at this point we’re looking at 1 ram and 7 ewes who are already pregnant to another ram. This will mean that the first season’s lambs are not related to our ram and can start breeding when they are ready.

When we went out and visited the farm last week, the sheep were lambing so there were lots of little lambs frolicking around. This also means that it will be approximately 6 weeks before we can get our sheep as they need a bit of time with the other ram so make sure they come to us already pregnant.

I am really thankful for our neighbours and how keen they are to see this happen. Their generosity in fencing and keeping them on their property is a huge blessing. We would not have been able to do this without them. I am looking forward to many years of Providence Hill lamb, and being able to gently care for our animals in a way that is so different to the mainstream meat industry.

More Dorper Information

Glanmire Dorpers

Dorper Sheep Society of Australia

Worm Tunnel

While researching hot composting this morning, I became a little side-tracked when I saw some pictures of in-ground worm farms, or ‘worm tunnels’. I had seen these on the Milkwood Permaculture site ages ago, but had not had a chance to give them a go.

Worm farms are a great system to use in organic gardening. If you have 1kg worms they can process 1kg kitchen scraps, vacuum cleaner dust, hair and stuff that gets caught in the sink strainer every day. In turn, they produce invaluable worm castings and ‘worm wee’ that will help the garden to thrive. We use our worm farm mainly to get rid of waste that the chickens won’t eat.

Already our worm farm has provided valuable ‘worm wee’ for the garden, but it makes sense to have the worms right where the nutrients need to go. That may sound lazy, but I’m all for making things easier and simplifying systems.

Garden Drum outline some other good reasons for having an in-ground worm farm:

  • “Unlike above ground worm farms the body of the worm farm is insulated from temperature and moisture fluctuations leading to a more stable environment for the worms that can save them from extreme heat and cold.
  • Unlike above ground worm farms and most alternative composting methods the nutrients and humus created goes straight into the ground either by washing into the soil below or by the worms carrying it out through the holes in the worm farm that are below soil level.
  • As the worms move in and out of the worm farm they cultivate and aerate your soil, largely alleviating the need to cultivate.
  • An in ground worm farm never needs cleaning out because if it ever reaches capacity you simply extract it from the soil and move it to a new position. Any uncomposted material left behind will continue to break down without any further intervention. It is a good idea to transfer some of the worm rich material under the surface (that will also likely contain worm eggs) to the re-installed worm farm in its new position.
  • Apart from adding the food they are virtually maintenance free as the worms can carry most of the organic matter out into the soil around them thereby creating a ‘self-cleaning’ system”

I loosely followed the instructions in the Milkwood article “How to Make a Worm Tower” as they were pretty straightforward, however instead of using PVC pipe that I would have had to buy, I upcycled a large bucket that was lying around. If you use a tall bucket, make sure you drill the holes before cutting the bottom off – I did it the other way which weakened the bucket and made it more difficult to drill the 19mm holes with the spade bit.

From start to finish the worm tower only took me about 30 mins. It was so quick and much cheaper than buying a worm farm from the hardware. If you don’t have a bucket or PVC pipe at home, other designs I’ve seen use black recycling tubs, PVC pipe or large plastic pots.

I am already considering making some more worm towers. I have another bucket ready to be re-purposed and many more garden beds that need some nutrients.

If you’re in the Blue Mountains area and are wondering where to buy worms, we bought ours from Hartley Harvest. They were great value and they even deliver to your door.

Below are some of the sites I checked out while working out which style to do:

How to Build or Renovate a Worm Farm

How to Make a Worm Tower

What Worm Farm is Best for You?

Build a Worm Tunnel Vermicomposting System

In-ground Worm Tunnels for the Time-Poor Gardener

 

Spicy plum sauce

Last week Master Wolf, Miss E and I were staying at my Mum’s house in the Southern Highlands while Papa J was renovating his dad’s bathroom in the Kangaroo Valley.

As I was walking around the local fruit and veg shop I saw plums on special. I mentioned this to mum and she suggested we make some spicy plum sauce.

It is always lovely cooking with my mum, and it’s a shame we don’t get to do it more often. Last time we were down at her place we made some beetroot relish and an eggplant and tomato chutney with eggplants from our garden.

Plum sauce is pretty versatile. It goes really well with pork and chicken and you could use it as a stir-fry sauce or a marinade. Once you’ve had homemade plum sauce, it’s hard to go  back to the supermarket stuff.

We had a look at a couple of recipes and settled on an adapted version of the Plum Sauce from The Australian Women’s Weekly Book of Preserves.

Note: Usually we try to eat refined sugar free, but I didn’t mind too much this time as we don’t eat a lot of sauce and we don’t eat it regularly. If I was making this at home, I probably would have just substituted the brown sugar for Rapadura sugar.

Spicy Plum Sauce

Recipe adapted from the Australian Women’s Weekly Book of Preserves

Ingredients

3kg plums, pitted and chopped
3 cups brown sugar or Rapadura sugar
4 cups apple cider vinegar
1.5 tsp whole cloves
2 tsp peppercorns
4 cinnamon sticks
5 star anise
1 long red chilli, cut into pieces
10cm fresh ginger, peeled and bruised

You will also need some muslin to make a little bag for the spices to save you picking them all out at the end.

Method

Combine plums, sugar and vinegar in a large saucepan, stirring over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Tie up the spices and ginger in a double layer of muslin and add to the pan.

Bring to the boil and cook for about an hour or until a good sauce consistency. It may take longer. Stir often to stop it sticking to the bottom of the pan. The recipe makes a large batch, so if you just want to make a few jars worth, cut the quantities in half.

Babywearing

This week has been a reminder of why I love wearing my babies.

Miss E has been sick and has just wanted to be close and snuggled. Not only has she somehow caught strep throat, but she has been teething as well.

While I thought babywearing was wonderful with one child, I have found it essential with two. This week babywearing has allowed me to nurture my miserable little girl while still be able to engage and have fun with Master Wolf.

Babywearing has been a big part of our parenting journey. Both Papa J and I were wearing Master Wolf in a ring sling or a stretchy wrap from the first week of his life. It was just so easy. He would just have a feed and then settle down to sleep in the carrier and we still had two hands free, while he felt nurtured and close to us.

Now with Miss E in our lives, babywearing has meant that while she can rest and be snuggled, Master Wolf and I can still have times of connection and play.

Once I even managed to get down to our dam with Miss E on my front and Master Wolf on my back to solve an animal crisis. I wish I took a picture, but I was too tired after walking back up the hill.

Babywearing lets us:

  • facilitate sleep
  • provide comfort
  • get meals made
  • feed the animals
  • work in the garden
  • go for walks
  • get the shopping done
  • help toddlers emotionally regulate
  • involve little ones in daily life
  • breastfeed on the run
  • get through airport without a pram
  • read the bible up the front at church
  • go to a conference with 4000 people at Hillsong
  • keep kids safe
  • provide rest when little legs get tired and
  • go out for our 5th wedding anniversary dinner last night with a sick bub and still enjoy ourselves (it was lovely. She didn’t fall asleep until mains came out, but it was nice to be out together. Master Wolf got to have a movie night with Nana).

 

Knife Sharpening by Papa J

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Sharpening at the kitchen sink.

I had heard the adage “a blunt knife is a dangerous knife” many times so a while ago I set out on the journey to discover how to get a knife scary sharp. At the heart of this quest was a simple matter of safety. Knives that require a lot of force to cut = higher risk of loss of control and increased injury.

We were given a set of knives and ceramic sharpening jig for our wedding and for those years it did the job. But as I looked online there were knives that were actually sharp and I knew that our knives were no comparison.
As with any new skill I want to learn I check out YouTube. Why? Because free information is preferable to paid information. Also, I am somewhat skeptical of ‘quality’ workmanship nowadays, so if I can do it myself I can guarantee a high level of quality. But despite the searching and trying to model the most popular techniques I was unable to get the same level of scariness.
That is until I came across Murray Carter’s YouTube Channel which made a strong case that this guy knew how to sharpen knives. Reading his bio at Carter Cutlery reveals he is a 17th generation Yoshimoto bladesmith and rated a Mastersmith by the American Bladesmith Society. His hand forged knives are truly works of art and a testament to the above credentials.
I decided to purchase the digital download “Blade Sharpening Fundamentals” and a 1000/6000 grit combination water stone.
Without a doubt, it is one of the most useful purchases I have ever made. The video is close to 3 hours in length, covers his 7 step procedure and includes real time sharpening on a variety of knives. The video ends with him shaving his arm with a knife he sharpened on a cinder block and cardboard!
On my first attempt I was able to get a better edge than ever before and since then have become more proficient and efficient.

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A sliver of paper cut with a freshly sharpened knife.

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Setup – 2 boards of ply glued and screwed together. The top board is about 20mm longer than the sink at both ends. The bottom board fits snugly into the sink. When they are fastened together they wedge snugly into the sink and the longer board stops it falling into the sink. A tea towel to reduce the stone moving. And the 1000/6000 grit combination water stone on top.

My wish is not to outline the technique, rather give credit where it is due and recommend you purchase the digital download for yourself. It is currently $25US. However, this video does outline the process but does not go into detail or have the same production value as the download. And there’s this more in depth article by Murray that explains all the steps and techniques.

Here’s 3 key things to consider:

1: How do you know if your knife is sharp?
Murray uses the 3 finger test of edge sharpness. It is the best test I have ever tried. It allows you to find individual spots on the edge that are dull or sharp. And it’s free! I will say I was apprehensive the first time but it has proven accurate and safe every time. The key is keeping your thumb on the spine as a ‘safety.’

2: Why not just use a jig?
A jig assumes it knows the best sharpening angle for you, but most importantly, jigs do not grind the secondary edge.
Below is a picture of a blade and as your can see, if the secondary edge does not get a grind, the the primary edge becomes more obtuse as the blade gets thicker. This means a blunter knife for each progressive sharpen.
By regularly grinding the secondary edge you can maintain the same blade geometry indefinitely.

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3: Why use a water stone?
Firstly they are relatively cheap. My combination stone cost about $50. Second, unlike an oilstone that uses oil to flush the stone, water stones use water. Last time I checked water was significantly cheaper and more readily available at home than oil.
The last reason is that they are easier to unclog than ceramic and some diamond stones. Just a rub with your hand and they are flushed clean.

Here’s some other links that were most useful before the purchase:

Getting a knife scary sharp! – Murray Carter
How to Sharpen a Knife on a Wet Stone  – How to Get an Extremely Sharp Knife
Ray Mears – How to sharpen a knife at camp, Bushcraft Survival

If you do purchase Murray’s download let us know how you go.