Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Three simple ideas: Cooking from scratch

Lately I've been sharing with you simple ideas for getting started with simple living.  As many of us have discovered, simple living isn't simple, certainly when you're getting started, there are lots of new skills to learn and its important to find a routine that works.  I've already shared simple ideas for growing your own food, and for saving money on groceries.  Here's a few ideas of things that you can cook from scratch that will save you money and be better for your body.

Simple: Homemade bread
I didn't think that making bread was easy at first, but have got myself into a system and haven't bought any bread since April 2012, so it must not be too hard after all! More here on the bread recipe that I've settled on.  If you have a bread maker (or can buy one secondhand from someone else who gave up on the breadmaking dream), its even easier to make bread.

eight acres: three simple ideas - cooking from scratch


Simpler: Chicken or beef stock
One thing that I have been trying very hard to keep doing is making my own stocks. They are so tasty and good for you compared to the stock cubes I used before. They will make everything you cook taste rich and delicious. The easiest method is to keep various bones and vege scraps in the freezer until you're ready to make stock, then pile the whole lot into a slow cooker and cook for 12-24 hours, then freeze or can the finished stock. If you don't have a slow cooker, a large pot is fine too. I wrote a brief explanation of my stock method here and here too.  The slow cooker certainly makes it easier, and you can pick up a cheap one from Big W for $50 that seems to do the job just as good as my expensive one that broke.

eight acres: three simple ideas - cooking from scratch


Simplest: Casserole or roast in the slow cooker
I really do use my slow cooker a lot and its very useful for cheaper cuts of meat, like rolled roasts and chuck steak.  You can let the meat cook for a long time until its tender, and not use as much electricity as turning on the oven for that time.  Casserole is also a great way to use up left over bits and pieces.  I will throw in any veges from the fridge that are not looking so fresh, bacon or salami, wine, the last bit of sauce in the bottle, leftover dips, rice, mashed potato, its amazing what you can add to casserole!  I don't really have a recipe as such, as long as you add some stock and lots of veges, it will have lots of flavour after cooking for most of the day.

eight acres: three simple ideas - cooking from scratch


What do you think? What are some other ideas to get started with a simple life? I will have more next week....



Monday, October 27, 2014

Raising chickens for meat

There are many reasons to consider raising chickens for meat. The fact that they are small means that they are very easy to butcher, with no specialty equipment required. Even on a small property, you can raise a few chickens, and even better, you can either butcher them all at once, or just do a few at a time as you need them, which is far more flexible than larger animals like beef cattle, which can fill several freezers in one go.

eight acres: raising chickens for meat
one of our cross-bred roosters nearly ready for butchering
 
If you do decide to raise chickens for meat, you have the option of buying “meat chickens”, or simply butchering chickens from your flock. For the second option, it is better if you can keep a dual purpose breed, so that you have larger hens that also lay well. While culling the old hens will provide you with a few meals, the meat can be a little tough. Ideally you would hatch and raise chicks from your flock and cull the roosters at 4-6 months old. Of course this assumes that you can keep roosters.

 I think this is where specific “meat chickens” can be useful. These chickens are bred to grow very quickly and you will cull them before they start to crow, so you can keep them even if you’re in an area that doesn’t allow roosters. Personally, I find them a little creepy, here's a great summary about raising meat chickens. The fact that they physically can’t survive past 3-4 months old makes me uncomfortable, so while we can keep roosters I would prefer the second option.

I also like to know that we are self-sufficient for chickens. We do occasionally buy a few pullets or roosters to add genetics to our flock, but currently three quarters of our hens were hatched in our incubator from our own eggs. If you choose to raise meat chickens you are tied to buying chicks from the meat chicken industry. To me that means tacitly supporting an industry that keeps thousands of barely mobile chickens in barns with no access to the outside world.

eight acres: raising chickens for meat
a rooster with some of our hens in the background, all hatched by us

I haven’t personally compared the meat from “meat chickens” to our cross-bred random roosters. I do know that the meat from our roosters is tastier and darker because the birds free range and are very active. Meat chickens are bred to produce large breasts and are by nature relatively inactive. I have read that while meat from free ranging meat chickens is tastier than meat from confined animal feeding operations (CAFO), it is not as tasty as meat from heritage breed chickens.

Meat chickens are bred to convert food to meat as quickly as possible, and as such, they are ready to harvest earlier and will not cost as much to feed over their lifetime as a heritage breed chicken. However, I consider that while our heritage roosters eat more in their 6 month life, they also provide us with other “services” including lawn mowing, pest control, fertilising eggs, distributing manure over the paddock and generally providing hilarious entertainment as they chase and dance in an attempt to attract the hens.
eight acres: raising chickens for meat
a couple of our hens

There are perfectly good reasons to keep meat chickens, so if that’s what you want to do, go for it! But I hope I also made the case to incorporate chicken meat in your overall chicken strategy and become self-sufficient for chickens in the process if you are lucky enough to be in a position to keep roosters.

What do you think?  Do you raise chickens for meat?  Have you raised "meat chickens"?  How do they compare?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Our wedding anniversary

Pete and I got married on the beach four years ago yesterday (23.10.10).  I wrote ALL about it one our first anniversary, so if you're interested in simple wedding ideas, here are the links:

A simple wedding in several parts - location, guest list and invitations, accommodation

A simple wedding part 2 - the dress and flowers

A simple wedding part 3 - the ceremony

A simple wedding part 4 - the reception


Any simple wedding tips to add?


eight acres: our simple wedding



eight acres: our simple wedding




Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hand sewing - hems of skirts and trousers

Hand sewing is an important skill and the ability to mend garments by adjusting hems, sewing on buttons and darning small holes, can be a good way to save money by making clothes last longer.  I was lucky to learn to hand sew by doing cross-stitch as a teenager, which involves learning to make small neat stitches.  My mum taught me to hem when she got sick of adjusting my school uniform skirts as fashions changed.  Since then, I have been able to adjust hems as required.  I'm tall, so I often extend hems on trousers, and skirts can go either way.


eight acres: hand sewing - adjusting a hem


First step is to unpick the hem (or as often happens in cheap clothing these days, it will come apart before you have a chance to unpick) and decide what length hem you want.  Then iron, measure and pin the hem.  (Ironing is a pain, but its worth the effort for a neat finish).


eight acres: hand sewing - adjusting a hem
Here's a hem that came apart ready to sew back together

Next, choose some thread as close as possible to the colour of your garment.  Thread a needle and tie a knot in the end of the tread (I make a knot in the fabric, but I couldn't find that on youtube, so it might be just my weird way of doing it, maybe I need to assume that you have a basic sewing ability here, if not, go and practice some cross-stitch first!).  Start at a seam (so that you can hide the knot) and work around the hem in "blind stitch".  The idea is to pick up a tiny stitch on the "good" side of the fabric every half inch (centimetre) or so, and create a large stitch on the inside.  Work all the way around and tie off the thread where you started.

eight acres: hand sewing - adjusting a hem
If you have a full skirt, you will need to make a
small tuck as you work around so that you get a smooth finish.

eight acres: hand sewing - adjusting a hem
These trousers were too short, so I had to make a very narrow hem

This isn't the easiest technique to explain in a blog post, so you might want to also watch this excellent youtube video, particularly from about 2.30 minutes onwards.



Do you hand sew?  Do you adjust hems to suit your height or fashion?  Any tips?






Monday, October 20, 2014

Valley Bee open day - learning about bee keeping

Last Sunday we travelled to Kandanga, near Gympie, for an open day held by Valley Bees.  It was a wonderful day, I was surprised by the professional and informative displays.  We learnt about solitary bees, Australian native stingless bees and top-bar hives.  We bought a couple of books, but no bees yet!

Why keep bees?  Pollination, honey, wax and another addictive hobby!

eight acres: bee keeping open day
honey!

eight acres: bee keeping open day
wax for candles and making salve

eight acres: bee keeping open day
Here's a couple of the books we bought

Overall, we decided that the easiest thing to do would be to encourage solitary bees in our garden.  This should help with pollination, but we won't get any honey!  Here's a good post about solitary bees.

eight acres: bee keeping open day
solitary bee hotels

eight acres: bee keeping open day
more examples of how to attract solitary bees

The next step would be a hive of Australian native stingless bees.  These are relatively easy to manage because they don't sting!  They also make a little bit of honey and wax.  At the open day we saw how one full hive can be split to create two hives.  In this way you can expand the number of hives and spread them around your property.  The bees only travel 500 m, so you can keep them in your garden to help with pollination.  There are a few different varieties of bees and if we can find some wild ones on our property we might be able to persuade them to live in a box....


eight acres: bee keeping open day
an Australian native stingless bee hive

eight acres: bee keeping open day
Houses for Australian native stingless bees

eight acres: bee keeping open day
Australian native stingless bee hives

Surprisingly there wasn't much information about conventional bee keeping!  But we did get to see a "top bar hive", which I had heard about, so it was really good to see one up close.  If we do eventually get European honey bees, I am interested in using this type of hive, or at least understanding the concepts of natural bee keeping.  


eight acres: bee keeping open day
a top bar hive

eight acres: bee keeping open day
alternative hive design

eight acres: bee keeping open day
here's a job for Taz is she doesn't want to herd cattle!


Overall, it was an excellent day out, and enjoyed by many others, the hall was packed!  We have some books to read and lots more to learn, so this gave us a good overview.  If they run the day again next year and you're anywhere between Brisbane and Maryborough, I recommend you try to go along.

I have started a pinterest board "keeping bees" to keep track of all the bee posts I find.  I'm thinking of running another series of interviews on bee keeping.  Email me on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com to volunteer.

What do you think?  Do you keep bees?  Or attract solitary bees?  Any good resources you can recommend for new bee keepers?





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Friday, October 17, 2014

Sustainable soap - 100% tallow!

We don't use much soap, so I haven't been able to experiment much lately.  My last batch was a disaster that had to be rescued by a hot-process rebatching, so we have had a massive excess of soap to use up from what turned into a triple-batch.

When we had our last steer killed we asked the butcher for all the kidney fat, so we were both keen to try making some more soap using the tallow (how to render the fat).  Pete helped me to make a batch of bath soap using tallow, coconut oil and olive oil, so get my confidence back after the last disaster (caused by not measuring properly).  When we saw that batch was a success, we decided to finally try 100% tallow.

eight acres: 100% beef tallow soap
our 100% beef tallow soap!

The reason that we hadn't tried 100% tallow before was the higher temperatures required to keep the tallow liquid during the mixing for cold-process soap.  I was nervous about it and wanted to practice using coconut oil and olive oil mixtures first, at lower temperatures.  I modified the bath soap recipe that I published earlier to use 100% beef tallow.

100% beef tallow soap
1 kg tallow
6% superfat
132 g caustic
300-330 mL water
lavender essential oil

I melted the tallow, while Pete prepared the caustic.  When both mixtures were at 55 degC we added the caustic solution to the melted tallow and essential oil, and mixed using a stick blender until the mixture reached "trace".  Then we poured the mixture into one of Pete's stainless steel moulds.

When we saw the mixture starting to enter gel phase we both panicked that it was going to get too hot and volcano out of the mould.... so we put the mould in the bath, in luke warm water and positioned a pedestal fan over the soap mould..... maybe an over-reaction!

While gel-phase had been very breifly mentioned in the soap book I read originally, it didn't really explain the details, it was explained better here.  Now I can see that the centre of our soap "gelled", but as we cooled the edges, it was a "partial gel phase".  Would it have volcanoed if we didn't cool the soap mould?  We will never know.  But next time I would like to mix the soap at a lower temperature, as suggested by this blog.  And we might let it go through gel-phase, just to see what happens.

The soap hasn't finished curing yet, so we haven't used it in the bath, but I will be interested to see if it smells like tallow.  And if I care that is smells like tallow!  Our goal with soap-making has always been to create a sustainable bar of soap, and using 100% tallow is about as close as we can get.  Next step is to try to make our own lye....

Have you tried to make soap from tallow or lard?  What temperature do you use and have you ever ended up with a volcano!?!



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My soaked dough bread recipe

I haven't shared my bread recipe before, I think because I was still refining it, and then I memorised it, so I didn't really need to write it down!  Also, I'm hopeless at following recipes, so I forget that other people want to use them.  This bread is a "soaked" flour recipe.  This means that you add some kefir or yoghurt to slightly ferment the dough before baking, but it does not rely on wild yeast or a starter like sourdough.  It takes longer than a standard bread recipe, but does not require any "dough conditioners".

eight acres: a soaked dough bread recipe


Soaked flour bread in a bread maker

3 1/4 cup flour (wholemeal wheat, spelt etc, it will rise better if you add some white flour due to the gluten content)
about 1/2 cup seeds - sunflower, chia, hemp etc

about 370 mL of water (this is why recipes are a problem for me, you just get used to what the dough needs to look like, this will vary with the flour you use and the amount of seeds)

1 Tbsp (i.e. a splash) of kefir or yoghurt

1 tsp of honey (to taste, this was originally more, but I don't like my bread sweet)

1 tsp of olive oil

Mix all of the above 4-24 hours before required, and leave at room temperature (this is the "soak" time that allows the microbes and enzymes in the kefir or yoghurt to break down the proteins and carbohydrates in the flour).  This also depends on your room temperature too!  I the middle of summer, it probably only need 8 hours.  In winter I put the bread maker next to the woodstove to stay warm.

When ready to bake the bread, add 1/2 Tbsp of commercial yeast and 1/2 Tbsp of salt (to taste).  Knead (20 min on the bread maker, possibly shorter by hand!) and leave to rise for about an hour.

Then you can either bake the bread in the bread maker, or tip it into another bread tin (we don't like the size of the bread maker tin), allow to rise again to desired size, and bake in the wood stove or Webber BBQ for about an hour.

This bread doesn't always work perfectly, it depends on the ingredients and the temperatures, maybe I need a more repeatable recipe!  But when it does work, you get a lovely tasty loaf.

I'd love to know if you try this recipe and what you think!  Do you have any other simple bread recipes to share?

Here's my previous bread post, with more photos and thoughts and instructions....

Overcoming the breadmaking challenge
The home-made bread compromise
Homemade bread - so far so good after 4 months
Still baking bread - using the BBQ over summer

And for more about fermentation, see my posts about Nourishing Traditions:
Nourishing Traditions review - Mastering the basics
Nourishing Traditions - from start to finish
Nourishing Traditions - more chapter reviews
Nourishing Traditions - Grains and Legumes
Nourishing Traditions - Snacks, desserts and "superfoods"


Monday, October 13, 2014

Milk Cow Kitchen - book review

I know I keep saying this, but if you want to get a house cow, you need to read every book you can find on cows.  Even if you don't agree with everything in every book, the more you read, the more you will understand what your options are.  And some books cover different topics in more detail.   Milk Cow Kitchen has excellent step-by-step photos and discusses topics that I haven't seen in other books at all.  Its definitely worth adding to your house cow reading list.

Read the rest of my review over at my house cow ebook blog.












Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on ScribdLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com to arrange delivery.







Reviews of "Our Experience with House Cows"





Gavin from Little Green Cheese (and The Greening of Gavin)




Friday, October 10, 2014

Three simple ideas - Saving money on groceries

Last week I wrote three simple ideas for growing your own food, because I wanted to start a discussion about ways to start living a simple life.  There are lots of options and the path you choose will depend on your priorities and abilities.  I've been thinking about some good (easy and cheap) places to start, based on my own experiences.  This week I'm thinking about saving money on groceries (apart from growing your own veges, see previous post!)

Simple: Make your own yoghurt from powdered milk
A 1kg bag of milk powder costs about $7, and will make about 10 L of yoghurt, so it is a very cheap way of making yoghurt! I use an easiyo thermos, which costs around $20, but if you have a small eski or drink cooler that can fit a jar, you can use that to make yoghurt too. I see easiyo thermoses at markets and op shops all the time, I bought a second one from the dump shop for $2.  Look out for one, buy it and make cheap yoghurt!  See my posts about yoghurt here.




Simpler: Use natural cleaners
I usually don't clean with anything much more than hot water and a cloth, but if I need something stronger I use vinegar.  If you using expensive chemicals at the moment, you can try making cheap and natural cleaning mixtures instead, see here and here.



Simplest: Soap nuts
Soap nuts have worked out to be so easy to use and better for our greywater than using laundry powder, and about the same cost as laundry powder, read more here.

What do you think? What are some other ideas to get started with a simple life? I will have more next week....





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