Been Out Back at the Outback House

I have now returned home after going out to Dubbo in western New South Wales to visit my grandmother once again. While I was out there I had the opportunity to visit the Outback House. Ever since the series was shown on ABC a couple of years ago I have been wanting to visit the area, but it is privately owned and was only opened on long weekends and special occasions.

The television series depicted participants from modern day heading back in time to a working homestead in 1861. The property, named "Oxley Downs" was 'built' as a replica of the homesteads of the day. You can see more about the series here I was really drawn to the series because it is very close to where my grandparents built a homestead in the 1930s.

What struck me straight away was the self sufficiency of life. Exactly how my grandmother had described to me. They raised and killed their own meat and grew all their own fruit and veg. My grandmother also grew wheat and took it to the mill to swap for bags of flour.

The homestead was so simple yet so beautiful. It had a hallway that went straight through the building with rooms off to each side. First door on the left was the dining room which doubled as the classroom and office.

The first door on the right was the parlour which has comfortable chairs and small tables and a piano.

The last two rooms were the bedrooms.

I was so intrigued by the kitchen. So primitive, yet highly functional with a separate storage room or larder.

The garden was a huge area that really grew everything, all in together. It was magnificent. There were no neat little rows, it was more a permaculture style. The owners told me to take what I wanted and although I wanted to dive in with a wheelbarrow, I respectfully took a few things that I thought I would be able to continue the heirloom breeds from by saving the seeds.

What really struck me was that in comparison they did it so tough, although they knew no different. They baked and made EVERYTHING. They grew EVERYTHING.

When I arrived home I went to make some rock cakes and suddenly realised how lucky I am. I have refrigeration. I can freeze my vegetables and meat, I have a microwave if I want the butter to melt faster, I have an electric oven. So a more self sufficient lifestyle would be so EASY in comparison. It is so easy to bake bread, make pasta, make jam. Yet..... it seems that we have been tricked into a consumerist lifestyle where even baking a chicken is too much work when it is far more "convenient" to get a pre-cooked chook from the supermarket!

So, my perspective has certainly changed......... I rose early this morning and made strawberry jam. I then had it on a slice of home baked bread from the bread maker, toasted in my electric toaster and I had a cup of tea boiled in my electric jug. Being more self sufficient is suddenly so easy is comparison.

I sat and thought joyful thoughts......


Strawberry Picking

Yesterday the boys and I went with some friends to Ricardos strawberry and tomato farm near Port Macquarie, about 45 mins from home. We got to pick as many strawberries as we liked and then just paid for them by the kilo.

They gave us all buckets and a pair of scissors to neatly cut them off the plants.

The plants were growing in a polypipe frame about seven feet tall and were very healthy looking.

We finished off the day by going to a nearby park where the kids had a swim in a sheltered area just back from where the river meets the ocean. A lovely relaxing day for all....... now...what to do with a huge load of strawberries.........minus the 50 or 60 we ate last night!



On Monday I was down in Sydney again and had the opportunity to visit the Maritime Museum. We were lucky enough to be able to board a replica of The Endeavour, the ship of Captain James Cook who is credited with mapping much of the southern hemisphere around the 1770s.

As children in Australia we were taught for many years that Captain Cook "discovered" Australia in January of 1770. Our history books completely missed the fact that the land was already inhabited by people who had lived here for thousands of years and has seen many explorers, be they Dutch or Portuguese, traveling in the area. I was interested to read in Cook's journal that he regarded the native people as living a better way of life in the natural surroundings than the Europeans of the time. Unfortunately his respectful view was not to be followed as history progressed.

Even though the ship was a replica, it was a totally moving experience. The cabins of Cook and Joseph Banks ( a botanist travelling with him) were so small yet they had all of life's necessaries. A bed, a small writing desk, a shelf, hooks for clothing, and a chest into which all their belongings fit.

The feeling I had when I was on the ship reminded me of the sense of simple satisfaction that I often get when visiting historic houses and museums. They had so little, yet they had everything that was needed for life. One plate, one bowl, one pair of boots. To read more about it you can visit here and look at the self guided tour.

Then, of course, my mind starts racing..... what if everything that I personally owned was to fit into a beautiful sea chest ? How would it change what I brought into my life ? I would only be able to keep things that were sturdy, long lasting or extremely precious! How many 'things' have I brought into my life and house which do not fit into these categories?
There is such a sense of peace inside me when I think of having less.....maybe John Lennon was right......Imagine no possessions................


Time For A Banana Cake

Sometimes the state of the bananas dictate when it is time to make a banana cake. These ones are perfect! Because I only had two bananas that were at this stage I added in a good handful of
blueberries that I had.

Cream 125grams of BUTTER with 1 cup of BROWN SUGAR. Add a lightly beaten EGG some VANILLA and 3-4 BANANAS ( or 2 bananas and a good handful of blueberries!) stir in 1 teaspoon of BI-CARB soda.
Then stir in one and a half cups of SELF RAISING FLOUR alternating with 3 Tablespoons of MILK.
I baked mine in a loaf pan for about 45 mins at 180 degrees.


Garbage Auto Pilot

Here is the under sink system I worked out yesterday.

Very Simple.

 Bin with no liner for rubbish that I just can't do anything with.

Compost for food scraps and paper and a tub for recycling.

When I was cleaning out drawers in the bathroom today I was thinking about the proper place for plastic. I am not a person that will reject plastic as total evil and weigh every ounce that comes in/ heads out the door.

 I am not that disciplined.

 I thought today that the idea is to KEEP plastic things ( that aren't rubbish as such). After all, it was designed to be a durable, non breakable, long lasting replacement for a lot of things.

Therefore I will KEEP all the plastic no rubbish things I have.

This includes tubs, containers, Tupperware and the like. The theme for me will be to simply not acquire anymore and not dispose of any more. I am not going to go through the house and replace everything with an 'eco' product, after all, it is the disposing of these items that is half the problem! If I do need to downsize I will donate not dispose.

Thanks to all the people who commented on the previous post. It seems to be an issue that lots of us are thinking about. I think for me success will come when I can break habits - things that we do without thinking. One way I thought to break the habit of using particular items is just not to have them in the house! It often amazes me when we go camping or away on holidays just how little we get by on because we become RESOURCEFUL with what we have.

Habits which immediately come to mind are things like reaching for the Glad Wrap to cover leftovers, half an onion, to wrap the cheese etc. I will now simply reach for a Tupperware container. The bin liner was an automatic thing, but really, there should be no wet rubbish in the bin. Food scraps should go in the compost and leftovers to the chooks.

Today we made our own bread which is always a good thing because it does away with the plastic bread bag but I still had to buy some things that had plastic packaging. Milk, which I bought in a three litre bottle, Sao biscuits as a back up for when home baked supplies are low or for times when I am totally disorganised and brown rice - for which there was no alternative. Basmati rice comes in a 5kg cloth bag and I often go halves with a friend in this, but brown rice? I have never seen it packaged in anything but plastic.

 I dream of a large store where I can go in with my own containers and scoop out flour, sugar, rice, then pour out my shampoo, honey etc. I know this happens in some health food stores but we don't have anything like that around here. Maybe I should approach the local store and tell them of my interest. Perhaps there would be other people that would shop in this way as well.

But for now..... small baby steps. Auto pilot habits. The goal is once a month for the rubbish bin. I wonder when/how/if we will get there.


A Load of Garbage on My Mind - Eco Challenge

Garbage has been on my mind for some time.

It really got me thinking when I saw the Gardening Australia presenter Josh Byrne talking about how in permaculture there is a belief that nothing should leave the block. It got me thinking. If I didn't have a garbage man come and take my rubbish "away" what would my property look like ? Where would I store all the rice cracker wrappers, drink bottles and used glad wrap. What would the pile look like after one year ? How about after 13 years ? I am embarrassed to think that every plastic bag I have ever used it sitting a couple of kilometres out of town in a big pile. Add to that the plastics of every person in my street, and every person in my little town. Whoa!

Slowly but surely I have been reducing the plastic input. It is still no-where near enough, but I began with the shopping bags and it really raised my awareness. Now I am conscious of what I throw into the garbage bin and it has started to affect what I purchase. Mind you, If i want something I still get it, particularly if I am not organised with an alternative.

Since coming home from holidays and digesting the trillion thoughts I had swirling around my brain I really feel the need to embrace the idea of 'nothing leaving the block'. Today I set up a little garbage system under the sink. I removed all the cleaning products that had been hiding under there and made some space for a garbage sorting system. I have the garbage bin, which now has no plastic bin liner, a recycle box, a compost box and a chook food box. I try and equally distribute scraps between the chooks and the compost because we badly need to build up good soils.

I have been tearing up paper and putting it into the compost bin. It breaks down really well. I love that it returns to the earth. Then, I pick up a piece of plastic and continually harp on to hubbie about how I cannot do a thing with it. I can't bury it, I can't put it in the compost, feed it to the chooks or any other thing except place it in the bin to be taken "away" ( to the spot out of town where my pile is growing by the day)

The more I embrace the idea of nothing leaving the block, the more my passion will assist me in making wise grocery purchases

One thing that will really help is the idea of only consuming things that were around in my Grandmothers' day. It seems that these items are not packaged, or are packaged in paper. Things like flour, sugar, butter are all in paper and I can avoid packaging on fruit, veg and meat.

So tonight the garbage bin goes out, full of plastic. Little by little as I work through this transitional period I hope that it will go out less and less. My first goal will be to get to the point where I only put the garbage bin out once a month. That seems so difficult from where I sit at the moment, but I think before too long it will be as natural an act as baking bread. Considering that my Grandmother didn't have a rubbish collection, I think the least I can do is make a conscious effort to do my best!


In Defence of Food - Michael Pollan

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was so challenging I read it in a day and a half whilst taking notes. There were many 'oh, of course' moments - I like that in a book.

I enjoyed the history lesson it contained. The steady removal of food from our diets, replaced with 'food like substances'. Margarine being the first example of a non-food or imitation food being introduced. Margarine, said to be 'healthier', actually ended up, according to the author, containing trans fats which were more unhealthy than the fats that were trying to avoid in the butter. Pollan also describes margarine as able to include whatever the latest trend may be - 'now with vitamin A and D' or the latest one ' omega 3'. Whatever the trend, it can be added to your marg! I also enjoyed the idea of society being more overweight than ever in a 'low fat' world. I had to laugh at the idea of instead of eating a breakfast cereal that is 'now full of antioxidant' in the form of processed blueberry extract - just eat the blueberry!

Here are the principles from the book that we will take into consideration.

1. Don't eat anything your great grandma wouldn't recognise.

2. Avoid products containing ingredients that are: unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than 5 in number, have high fructose corn syrup.

3. Avoid products that make health claims. ( usually an indication that it's a non-food. e.g the blueberry)

4. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle because this is where the 'food like' substances are. The real food tends to be around the edges.

5. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. I love this idea - use the fruit shop, butchers, local deli etc.

6. Eat mostly plants, grown well from healthy soils.

7. Consider what what you eat eats.

8. Eat wild when you can

9. Be more French, Italian, Japanese, Indian or Greek in your eating style.

10. Regard non-traditional foods with scepticism.

11. Pay more, eat less. ( quality vs quantity)

12. Eat meals not snacks. ( remember when between meal snacking was a sin? LOL) How we have changed - or marketers have changed us!

13. Do all your eating at the table (Pollan says 1/5 of meals are eaten in the car! )

14. Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does. ( food sold at petrol stations isn't real food!)

15. Try not to eat alone.

16. Consult your gut.

17. Eat slowly ( as in the Slow Food movement)

18. Cook and plant a garden.

What do you think of the principles ? Are they something that you could consider implementing?
I think, looking at the principles, it would make a huge different to our budget and also the amount of packaging coming into our house. Considering that we are attempting to drastically reduce our 'outputs' this year, I think this list will be a great focus tool.


Getting Ahead Again.

With the last visitors waved goodbye yesterday morning I turned my mind back to 'getting ahead'. It was terribly hot the day before so in order to be able to bake up a storm I had to get up really early and turn the oven on before it got too hot. I woke at 5.20am ready to start the day. By 9am it was game over, just too hot for cooking!

The lamington recipe that keeps incarnating into different things has done it again! From lamingtons to slice, to cake and now to muffins. I just stirred in some blueberries that a friend gave me from her recent 'pick your own' adventure.

I also made a huge lot of crackers to replace water crackers, Saos and Saladas. I adapted the lavash crackers recipe I have used before. I roll the dough out with the pasta maker to make it quite thin which is fine for a cracker to use with dips but for something more like a water cracker or crispbread style I just fold it over. To speed up the process I roll out the dough, lay it across a baking tray and slice it with the pizza cutter.

They come out of the oven crisp and golden brown. Now I need to harvest some sweet basil and make a great dip to go with them.

Yesterday was the first day that I let the girls out to roam. I had been told to leave them in their enclosure for a while so that they learn where home is before I let them out. They were a little hesitant at first but soon began enjoying their surroundings. I noticed how they picked the bugs off the cucumber leaves. We don't use any sprays or pesticides and generally run with the philosophy that there is enough for us and the lady bugs, as well as the fact that they seem to only munch on the leaves. But the chooks, well they had a picnic feast! I will let the girls wander around the garden beds. I know that the benefits will outweigh the fact that they will scratch around. I will protect anything that I don't want destroyed by them.

They must have loved their little romp in free range land, because....... they rewarded me with my very first egg!!! ( ***tears of joy*****) We proudly showed it to hubbie who replied 'it's a bit small - you might have to give them some steroids!'. Hmmmpph. I replied with ' if you want bigger eggs, go and get yourself an Emu'. lol.

It's a mighty fine start girls, don't listen to him. Bigger is not always better. You will get there!


Turning The Page...

Time to hang up my antlers for another year.

BlinkBlink... that was Christmas and New Year. Gone so quickly. Full of fun and family!

Now it's time to turn the page, crease down the margin on a beautiful new notepad and think about today forward. Isn't it funny that we have to wait for some externally imposed date to be able to start afresh. Truth is, every day is a new beginning!

We arrived home yesterday from our holiday up north. Every week throughout the year we save our pennies in order to go and have a lovely relaxing holiday after the hustle and bustle of Christmas is over. It is so nice to just do nothing! ( except swim, play tennis, drink chardonnay on the balcony at night!)

I return, refreshed and ready to continue on this journey of simplicity. I realised how much we actually love what we are doing when within an hour of arriving home we were mowing lawns and digging half a bucket of potatoes out of the ground. In just 9 days of being away we have cucumbers the size of drain pipes!

I have so much to write about. All that time lazing around, reading greats books filled my head with so many thoughts that I had to start a notepad. I will work through it with some posts over the next few weeks.
But for now.... just logging on to say welcome to new subscribers and welcome back to regular readers. I look forward to chatting with you throughout 2009!

April Theme: Re-organise and Transition

In the Southern Hemisphere, April is in Autumn.  The days here are still warmish, but there is a sneaking whisper in the wind. That whisper ...