Oranges, lemons, limes…oh and meatloaf

I’ve been given rather a lot of citrus in the past few weeks. Bags shoved into idle hands, baskets left at front doorsteps, ‘do you want some oranges/limes/lemons/grapefruit’ added in at the end of casual conversations.

So where does that leave me? Tickled pink, I tell you as this is M.A.R.M.A.L.A.D.E season, and I need to ensure that I make enough for a year of toast and teas. While also allowing enough spare jars to be popped into hampers and needy hands for those that might like the eating, but less of the making.

With all that in mind, I found myself cooking up 6 kilos of chopped up fruit, water and sugar. Now six kilos is a fair whack to be cooking in one batch, ambitious even.

Why? Because cooking up that amount takes a while, and when ‘a while’ happens, my mind can wander. Wander to the garden, wander to the laundry, wander to the computer, wander to instagram, wander to children with multiple demands of x,y,z etc, etc. Which made the sticky question extra pertinent… Could I keep this precious cargo from,

a) Sticking to the bottom of the pot?

b) Overflowing?

c) Over or under jelling?

Answer? Well as Meatloaf once said (as yes, I know he probably wasn’t singing about his marmalade making) two out of three ain’t bad.

Citrus Marmalade Ratio

2 kilos of finely chopped citrus mixture

2 kilos of sugar

1.5 litres of water

(Everything you ever needed to know about marmalade and jam making, right here.)

Must have gut lovin’ goodness list

We are looking at take two of the ‘viral beast’ coming for a visit round these parts. It’s not an exciting visit, and to be honest I’m a bit miffed that the beast is back so quickly after the last time. Seriously the first round of coughs hadn’t even subsided properly.

However, it is what it is. Long naps, slow days, spluttery nights and afternoon sun snuggles…lock ’em in.

One afternoon when a run for provisions was needed I found myself in a chemist running through the symptoms with a sympathetic ear. A range of suggestions was given, including what I can only describe as a lengthy upsell. Which was all met with a no, I’ll just take the initial product please.

In a last ditch attempt, the sympathetic ear/ upseller went in to a long monologue about how probiotics are really important, encouraging good bacteria in our gut, and in turn ensuring a balanced immune system. I nodded, agreeing. Yes we have a lot of fermented food in our home for that very reason, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, sourdough etc etc. Intially she looked at me blankly, then followed that up with a raised eyebrow that said, sure continue on with your fluffy hippy woo woo stuff lady. When you are ready for the proper stuff come back to the chemist.

(She might be waiting awhile.)

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Must have gut lovin’ goodness list in times like this?

Sourdough– make your own, or buy someone else’s. The basis of every easy meal at the moment.

Sauerkraut– make a big batch and always have it at the back of the fridge. This stuff goes with everything.

Kimchi- this is being eaten twice a day, every day and I credit my not being invited to round two of the ‘viral beast’ because of it’s garlicky, chilli infused fermented goodness. Possibly a placebo effect, but hey, it remains a damn tasty one.

Kombucha– every day goodness, yes please.

Fire Cider– knocked back with an enthusiasm unmatched since shooters in the late 90’s.

Beetroot Kvass– It’s certainly beety, and also up there with one of the easiest to try your hand at if you are new to fermenting.

Ginger Beer-  This stuff will put hairs on your chest.

Lemony Goodness

Tarty lemon cordial.

Soft eating lemon and olive oil cupcakes.

Lemon zest over mexican rice.

Marmalade with chunks of lemon in it to slap onto still warm sourdough.

Lemon in a green ginger wine hot toddy.

Possibilities are pretty much endless for the humble lemon. On a week where our family’s health has taken a smashing, it’s all about the lemons.

I hear there are healing properties in Lemon and Olive Oil Cupcakes…surely.

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What’s your go to lemony goodness?

Pumpkin, a currency of gratitude

Sometimes in life, funny little things happen.

Like organising your parent-in-law’s holiday and accidentally flying them into a different city than stated, booking family accommodation for a stopover night in the wrong town, driving home without your lights on, or maybe driving home with your shoes on the roof etc. etc.

When there is a fairly lengthy supply of funny little things like that happening on a regular occurrence, well the day you throw your keys up on top of the roof of the house. It just feels like another day.

It was another day. Another day without my house keys.

When I asked a few people if by chance they had access to, say, maybe a cherry-picker? Most people followed that up by what the hell? How on earth did that even happen??

Mysteriously, that’s how. It was like a tiny winged elf grabbed hold of the said keys and whoosh, up they went. Right up to the top of the roof of the house.

Thankfully I had a spare set. (Which mind you, is only a new edition as I had got them cut after losing the same keys that were now on the roof. Where were they that time I hear you ask? Well to keep a ridiculous story brief, after 24 hours, lets just say they were under my nose all long.)

However they weren’t now. They were definitely 8 metres off the ground in an unseen guttering system attached to a questionable roof in the dark, with heavy rain now predicted.

I sighed.

The kids yelled in excitement and then we proceeded 10 different fairly useless methods of getting them back.

The keys weren’t budging. I couldn’t even guarantee they were there. I couldn’t hear them, or see them, but surely there was no other option right? For them not to be there, would be as crazy as arriving into a town for the night with all your tired family only to find out you had actually booked somewhere three hours south.

Of course that’s where the keys were. Which is how my lovely inventive neighbour managed to get them the following day. I’d asked for any suggestions he might have in retrieval. He assessed the situation, then disappeared into his garage for a time, rigging up a far more solid contraption then my broom-wire-coat-hangers contraption, and after 20 or so minutes of poking?

Jingle jangle.

I hugged him with glee, pocketed the keys carefully and then gave him my current currency of gratitude. A pumpkin. While there are many currencies in which to say thank you so much for your time, thoughtfulness and energy. Home grown pumpkin is my current numero uno. They have been prized possessions, something grown with a lot of love and contentment over the summer months and are now sitting in storage ready to be eaten or passed onto with basketfuls of thanks as deemed warranted.

And boy was it warranted. As along with being able to access your own front door, you can’t put a price on wonderful neighbours who show unending kindness now can you.

Educating your ears

The last couple of months it’s been all about the podcasts. And I mean ALL about the podcasts. Sure I’d listened to some here and there before but not quite at the rate I’m flying through them at the moment, (on reflection, it’s probably something to do with having three kids at school for the first time, yes ever- my ears are ready!)

Now, if I missed something interesting on the radio, I can catch up. If I have a particular subject I’d like to get to know a whole lot better there are generally oodles to choose from.

While there are some fantastic podcasts to choose from there are some eye crossing ones that simply don’t work for me and generally I’ll find the stop button fairly quickly. I’m all for giving most things a fair crack, but there is no point in listening to something that doesn’t resonate, I value that time and want to make sure I’m using it wisely. Educating my ears has been very enjoyable.

A few favourites in the last few months.

Conversations with Richard Fidler: so many varied topics in here.

A Small Voice: interviews with photographers.

Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert: creativity and all her shades.

Chat 10 Looks 3: Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales talk about art, books, politics and everything in between in an intelligent and funny way.

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What are some of your favourite podcasts to listen to at the moment?

Contemplating Cumquat Marmalade

Making a large batch of cumquat marmalade is a perfect time for deep contemplation. Not so much of the fruit themselves, but using the opportunity to completely dissolve into the task of cutting the flesh open, separating the pips, and cooking it up.

It’s a long labour of love if you have cumquats like mine, with small balls of juicy tart fruit that are filled with those pectin producing seeds. You need them out, but you also need them to set your marmalade. Cut, separate, simmer, stir stir stir, test, and bottle. While there’s not a lot of room for nodding off here, you do still need to pay attention, there’s also room for having a good think.

And so the wonderful dissolving process begins.

With hands busy, the task of making marmalade that tastes like sunshine in a jar begins, and with that, like many creative and repetitive tasks- the mind is set free.

To wonder at will, delving deep into ideas that often few other tasks in any given day allow. You need these kind of activities now and then. Busy hands creating something, but also time to slow it all on down, contemplate the intricacies of life, ponder on the importance of speaking up, our moral values as a society (or maybe just how good that sunshiney marmalade is going to taste with a few squares of dark chocolate tonight.)

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This cumquat tree was originally planted as a Tree of Life.

The marmalade was loosely based around this recipe.

Bee B&B Hotels in School

Weleda Bee B&B Hotel || cityhippyfarmgirl

While there are many benefits to encouraging native bees within the home, and the surrounding area. Setting up a hive or an insect hotel in a public space and school is in many ways even better. Why? Because you are encouraging that conversation to continue, the education to spread and that beautiful enthusiasm to snow ball, running further than just your immediate household.

And who better to do that than our pint-sized enthusiastic future generations. Welcome to keeping and encouraging native bees at school.

Whether it’s an inner city funky-vibe school or a relaxed red-dirt outback playground, you are pretty much guaranteed to find room for a bee hotel.

 

bee hotel- best for your solitary native bees

bee hive- for your social native and honey bees 

 

While you can easily set up a bee hotel yourself within your school (or home.) The organic skin care company Weleda has recently started an initiative to get primary schools set up with a ‘bee B&B hotel’.

The project is aimed at teaching our primary school kids, the super important stuff like biodiversity, the role of pollinators, and with a starring role…our native solitary bees.  Doing this by building their own Bee B&B Hotel.

One dollar (A$1) from every product sold goes towards funding the project (until June), and with 70 schools involved already, they are looking at expanding that to further schools over the next few months, (this initiative is free.)

The company offered to send me one to make up with my kiddo’s, and help spread the word. While I’ve made an insect hotel before and also have a native bee hive, I’ve also got a soft spot for our native pollinators, and love nothing better than trying to encourage that amongst others…especially school kids!

 

Weled infographic 2016_V7

“Primary schools across the country are building a nationwide network of bee hotels to help conserve our native bees, improve education about the importance of biodiversity and ultimately, increase Australia’s food security.

The Weleda Bee B&B Hotel initiative has now launched with more than 70 schools on board, and registrations are now open for more schools to get involved.

The project gives schools an opportunity to turn their kitchen garden into a place for native solitary bees to take shelter and rear their young. The ‘bed’ is the bee hotel and the ‘breakfast’ is the school garden.”

bee hotel 1 || cityhippyfarmgirlbee hotel || cityhippyfarmgirl

If you would like to build you own, give it a go, and get creative. There are oodles of designs out there to play with. I whole heartedly believe that every school should have one or several of these. It’s incredibly multi-faceted in terms of education, while providing a practical use as well.

If you have a school that you would like to be involved…have a click here Bee Hotel Weleda

If you would like to read a bit further on native bees in general, jump back here.

Bee B&B Hotel || cityhippyfarmgirl

Lessons in Pumpkins- 10 top tips on growing and storing

Pumpkin growing lessons arrived thick a fast, starting from the multitude of pumpkin seedlings that shot out from anywhere I plonked compost. To the cutting into that first perfectly formed all rounded pumpkin body. Everything in between was all part of the ‘Pumpkin Education’.

Lesson #1 Pumpkins are EVERYWHERE

These little ladies popped up well and truly everywhere. Anywhere I put compost. There was pumpkin seedlings ready to go. Far too many for the various garden beds so I was selective and only kept the most robust looking ones to continue growing. They are heavy feeders, so keep them going in a good amount of that compost, they’ll love you for it.

pumpkin-02-cityhippyfarmgirl

Lesson #2 Pumpkins need SPACE

While their root system isn’t particularly extensive their runners are. They will keep reaching out, and will gently root where ever they’re running along the ground. That’s all good. Just let them do their thing.

 

Lesson #3 Male or Female FLOWERS?

It’s pretty easy to tell a male and female flower. One clearly has a small pumpkin forming beneath the flower, the other is just an elongated flower. The flowers are open for 4-6 hours generally early in the morning. With our garden beds there was ratio of 1:10 girl, boy flowers.

pumpkins-cityhippyfarmgirl

Lesson #4 Female flowers are DROPPING OFF

For a variety of reasons this can happen. Too hot, not getting pollinated, not enough water? I despaired watching every single one of the small baby female pumpkins drop off. What to do? I couldn’t control the weather, I did the best that I could with keeping water up to them, and having a multitude of bees obviously circulating the garden they should have been doing the job of pollinating. But where they?

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Lesson #5 How to HAND POLLINATE

Oddly, it looks like they weren’t being pollinated. As since I started hand pollinating, I had 100% success rate with pumpkins continuing to grow past flowering stage. How to hand pollinate is easy. Take a stick, gently scrape the stamen of the male flower and rub the pollen against the female. (Or simply pluck off a male flower.)

pumpkin-01-cityhippyfarmgirl

Lesson #6 Watch them GROW

With consecutive days being ridiculously hot over the December and January, I’m sure if I squinted a little, I could see them grow. As I didn’t know what variety I was growing initially, due to having come out of the compost, we had to hazard a guess. They looked like Kent (otherwise known as Jap) pumpkins though, which meant that approximately 100 days needed to pass until harvest time.

Lesson #7 Time to HARVEST

The pumpkin vine will start to visibly die off. The stalk around the pumpkin will harden, the colour of the pumpkin skin might change a little and if you tap the pumpkin it will sound more hollow than solid.

pumpkins-cityhippyfarmgirl

Lesson #8 How to CURE and STORE

Make sure there is at about 5-10cm or so of stalk, when you cut it from the rest of the plant. You now need to cure it, which means leaving it out in a well ventaliated spot, where the skin will harden and be a natural protective layer. Gently rotating the pumpkin round a bit every few days for thorough air flow. I did pick one a little early in my eagerness to

Lesson #9 Favourite Pumpkin RECIPES

Surely the pumpkin recipe possibilities is pretty much endless? (Say that quickly 10 times!) The old favourites Pumpkin and Fetta Sausage Rolls are still, well favourites. Pumpkin dhal an easy frugal dinner, pumpkin scones and winter staple, pumpkin soup. All recipes that are simply far too hot to even contemplate at the moment (still hot, damn hot.) But the good thing is the store beautifully.

pumpkin-seed-cityhippyfarmgirl

Lesson #10 How to SAVE and STORE SEEDS

Scoop out the seeds, rinse out the gloopy bits and let them air dry really well over a couple of weeks. How you dry and store them is really important, as you don’t want any mould on them. More info on all the how’s on storing, is in a post I wrote over at Milkwood last year.

 

 

 

Voluntary Simplicity: In the Garden

voluntary-simplicity-cityhippyfarmgirlvoluntary-simplicity-1-cityhippyfarmgirl

Simple living, or voluntary simplicity isn’t a new concept in this household, but it is one that gets constantly edited, it evolves and gets reassessed as needed. It’s also something that while my children have always grown up with it, as this stage of their lives I’m finding I’m explaining more of why we make certain conscious decisions, and the longer term effects of those decisions. The why we do things and not just because.

Sometimes I can feel like I’m all over it and other times it feels like I’m floating in mini version of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The good thing about that though, is despite occasional overwhelming feelings there’s always something that shifts and then counter balanced by a complete sense of fully bodied satisfaction, (and that is always a good thing.)

Just over 12 months ago we swapped small apartment inner city living for a house in a smaller city, and surrounding suburban area. It’s close to shops, schools, transport and health caregivers when needed.

Another important choice for us was to be able to grow things. So now with the multiple neighbours that I know by name, there came a fairly blank canvas space of a backyard.

Making that move meant initially we didn’t have a lot of things that we would need (like) to embark on growing a lot of our own vegetables. Wheelbarrows, spades, pitch forks etc weren’t items that I had needed to access with a previously small shared concrete city courtyard.

voluntary-simplicity-2-cityhippyfarmgirlvoluntary-simplicity-5-cityhippyfarmgirl

To get started with our growing, somethings we bought straight up, (I knew there would be an initial outlay of items as our number one aim was to get things growing. We wanted to eat from our back door step!) Somethings were given to us, somethings passed on to us as were no longer needed by the original owners. Somethings we bought second hand, and some the things we simply borrowed.

Ultimate Goal? To be growing as much as possible utilising the space we have, keeping costs down and equipment to a bare minimum.

How did we set about it and how do we continue to manage it? (As I mentioned it’s a constantly evolving process.)

Gumtree- either bought second hand or freebies, also been great for selling things we no longer needed to keep clutter to a minimum and redirect $ to something else more useful.

Borrow- lawn mowers we borrowed two before buying our own push mower. I still get a smug sense of satisfaction of hearing virtually nothing when mowing the lawn. As more grass gets turned over for edible growing space, I’m hoping the lawn mowers use will gradually decrease.

Trade- Somethings I refused outright to get, and a whipper snipper was one of them. Borrow one sure, but I didn’t want to buy one. (Actually we never did end up borrowing one either.) Living in an area where people pride themselves on their grass care. I asked a neighbour if he would trade the occasional edging out the front for baked goods. He could sleep easier knowing our edges were looking less scruffy and my conscience was clear knowing we didn’t have a garage full of implements that might be used once in a blue moon.

Hire- And if we do change our mind on using that whipper snipper, or anything else for that matter. Well I can hire one from a household a couple of km’s away at an hourly rate from Open Shed. (Another awesome example of the share economy.)

voluntary-simplicity-4-cityhippyfarmgirl

There will always be a juggle between keeping/finding/sourcing things that might be useful in the future, (but have no immediate use) and keeping our gardening gear to a minimum, (that’s our reality and the way we’ve chosen to do things in this period. While tools are a fairly easy decision. I’m finding more and more discarded wood finding its way in as it has the potential to be made into something else entirely. I’m ok with that, as mentioned in the beginning, it’s an evolving process. Choices are made, as opportunities present themselves.

Conscious decisions over unthinkingly just taking… this is our version of voluntary simplicity, in the garden.

Helpful links

Gumtree

Open Shed

 

 

Seasonal Eats: Mango Salsa

mango salsa || cityhippyfarmgirl

It being the height of summer here in Australia at the moment, it’s hard to imagine any day that doesn’t involve hot, or at least a variation of hot. Sure I know it will eventually, it usually does but for the moment it’s all about the heat and how to get through it all without melting into a puddle.

Swimming helps, and oooh yes indeedy it does help. Swimming is divine. Feeling the silken flow of water over your body is one of the greatest things in life. I can wax lyrical on that topic from now until eternity…however it’s not about the water today.

So how else do we cope with the regularly accompanying heat of an Australian summer? Well, I’ll start by doing as little cooking as possible. Sure I still bake sourdough. It’s a baking standard round here. But if I can stretch out the days in between putting the oven on in an already hotter than hot kitchen I will.

Filling bellies is the thing though. If I don’t want to use the oven, and am trying to steer clear of any stove top cooking as well, well that leaves a little less food options when cooking from scratch.

Mango salsa, is thankfully something that doesn’t involve either the oven or stove top. Sure you probably don’t want it accompanying every meal time…but you could certainly give it a crack!

mango-salsa-recipe-cityhippyfarmgirl

Mango Salsa

2 mangoes, peeled, seed taken out and flesh chopped evenly

1 small spanish or brown onion, finely diced

1 small chilli, deseeded if super fiery hot, and finely diced

1 squeeze of lime

1 grated small radish

a generous handful of roughly chopped mint

pinch of salt and black pepper

Add all ingredients together and serve with chickpea pancakes if you don’t mind using the stove top, or a bowl of corn chips, and a cold drink with as many ice cubes stuffed in as possible.

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What’s your favourite way to stay cool over summer?