From the Sub-Lime to the Ridiculous

Lime Display

My lime tree is pickled in limes; all over. What to do with all these limes? My lime-loving friend always takes a bag or two and she freezes the juice for use in Thai inspired dishes. She also quarters them and freezes for use in vodka and tonic! I froze lime juice two years ago and guess what? It’s still in the freezer! I now tend to make lime cordial and I’ve just given it a new lease of life after becoming the proud owner of a Soda Stream! How 80s is that! I have fond memories of the Soda Stream of my childhood; it was bright orange and we made drinks individually in glass bottles adding whatever syrup we liked. The latest soda stream has just one bottle (you can buy more) which you fill with water and chill and then add the fizz and syrup. I’m going to try it with my Homemade Lime cordial.

Lime Prep

This is how I make my oh-so-easy Lime Cordial. You will need :

6-8 large limes
650g sugar
4 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon citric acid (optional)

Finely grate the lime rind making sure you don’t include any of the pith.

Cut and rind

Squeeze the juice from the limes and set aside.

Juiced Limes

Combine the lime rind, sugar, citric acid (if using) and boiling water and mix well to dissolve the sugar. Add the reserved lime juice and mix through. Leave to stand until the mixture is cool. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve or piece of muslin.

Lime Drink

Pour into sterilized bottles and seal. See my post on sterilizing jars if you need advice on this. Serve one part lime syrup to about 4 parts (or to taste) of chilled water, lemonade or soda water.

Lime Close up

Delicious and great for keeping the bugs at bay (and scurvy too I suppose!)

When it gets Chilly make Chilli Jam

Tucked away quietly in my greenhouse are some little precious gems; glossy, smooth and fire engine red. I treasure my little chilli plants because they are very unassuming vegetables; just quietly growing and chilling out all summer long while I sow seeds, pick vegetables, preserve fruit, water and weed. Then, in Autumn they continue to hang out happily while I rake leaves, compost finished crops, plant winter veg and put the garden to bed. Then, and only then, do they send out their cool chilli vibes….It stops me in my tracks and I amble over to the greenhouse as their shiny coats catch the sunlight and wink at me. Ah yes, I think, time to turn you glossy beauties into your destiny aka Chilli Jam. It lifts my heart because just as the summer vege garden comes to an end there is always chilli jam to warm me up and remind me of those sunny days.

My recipe is that of the lovely Nigella Lawson. It is so, so simple and so, so rewarding to make.

Gather your chillies and feel uplifted!

Just gathered

The ingredients for Nigella’s Chilli Jam are as follows:
150g red chillies
150g red capsicum
1kg Jam sugar
600ml cider Vinegar

Ingredients

Now recipes always advise that you wear latex gloves when handling chillies. I don’t. I never have but then I see chillies as my friends and friends don’t hurt each other. If you harbour concerns that your chillies are looking menacing then perhaps pop on a pair for protection and peace of mind. Start to chop and scrape out the little seeds. I use a tea spoon to do the scraping.

Chillies

Pop the chillies and pepper in a food processor…..

Not chopped

… and whizz until suitably blitzed to little red confetti flakes.

Chopped

Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar in a large pan. It’s important at this point NOT TO STIR. However, it is oh-so-tempting to stir at this particular moment. You will think “Hmmm…how do I know if the sugar is dissolved if I can’t stir it?” I thought that too and had to restrain myself from stirring to check. I ended up leaving it longer than probably necessary but I didn’t want another Greengage Jam debacle circa Summer 2012 when I made three attempts to make this preserve and burnt three saucepans; all because I hadn’t dissolved the sugar properly. Some of my friends were sympathetic; others were incredulous; My husband laughed his head off. I don’t like to talk about it anymore…. Scrape the chilli and pepper mix into a pan and bring to the boil. Nigella then firmly instructs us to leave it at a “rollicking boil” for 10 minutes. I’m not sure if “rollicking boil” is a technical term but I like it. I hope my boil was rollicking; it certainly looked energetic.

Rollicking Boil

Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for about 40 minutes. You will see it turn from a syrup to a thick, viscous texture to a jelly-like texture. The little flecks of pepper and chilli will sit on top of the syrup at first and then disperse and sink throughout the mixture as it cools.

Jam settling

Pour the mixture into sterilized jars. People can get a bit overwhelmed by the whole process of sterilizing and worry about poisoning themselves and others. It is right to worry about poisoning yourself and others with homemade preserves but I find that this can be completely avoided if you do the following:

If you are recycling jars then soak in soapy water and remove their labels. If you have a sticky film on the jar use a few drops of tea tree oil and it’ll help to remove the sticky.

Either run the jars through your dish wash cycle or rinse and place on a baking tray (with lids) and pop into a warm oven to dry out.

I often put my jars straight from the dishwasher into the oven as I make my preserve. No germs, no poisoning! Happy days!

Pouring jam

A little jar of liquid warmth. Great in sandwiches, with cold meats or as a marinade for chicken.

Finished Jam  

Two’s company….three’s a crowd?

It’s a funny expression “Are you chicken?” meaning are you scared; so commonly heard in the playground as a taunt. In actual fact chickens are one of the scariest and feistiest birds I know. If you’ve ever introduced a chicken to an existing flock you will know how threatening and down right mean they can be. The game of “chicken” played by school children is also another interesting use of the word. Both come down to the Pecking Order that is prevalent in any flock. This is when each bird has to fight for their place within the flock and every time a new bird is introduced they have to go through the same procedure.

I had a little hen called Slippy; I was very fond of Slippy. She had a gawky face and peevish expression and a wonky, pale pink comb.

Slippy Chick

Slippy was at the bottom of the Pecking Order and it used to break my heart to see her receiving pecks and aggressive shoves around feeding time. She wouldn’t get many of the scraps I threw (despite my best endeavours) and would often be a loner wondering around pecking and scratching in solitude. However, a couple of my chickens moved onto the Big Perch in the Sky and I decided to get another four to make a round flock of eight. I gently manoeuvred the cardboard boxes containing the latest additions into the inner coop and released them into the safe confines to get used to their environment and settle down. Once suitably adjusted I opened up the door and off they went into, what I can only describe as, The Abyss…. Doris The Brave poked her beak out and promptly dived straight for the overhanging pine trees and hunkered down with Ethel-the-not-so-ready following hot on her heels and various furious, feathered fowl in hot pursuit. I turned around to see Rosemary cowering in a corner of the inner coop with an outraged (yes I can only describe it as rage) Slippy delivering a staccato of swift pecks to her head. I watched in amazement as Slippy whirled around like a hen possessed in pursuit of more fresh chicken targets; blood dripping from her gnarled beak (well not quite dripping blood but it was all getting a bit out of hand quite frankly). Slippy? My quiet, meek little lamb? This was my first lesson in the Pecking Order and it was no joke; my husband has been known to shake his head and murmur “If they were human size it’d be like something out of Jurassic Park.”

So, how to introduce new birds to your flock without causing stress and anxiety to you, I mean, to your chickens!

If possible have a separate coop for the new birds. They will seem less of a threat to the existing flock and when you finally introduce them it won’t be so dramatic. If you are handy with a drill, some pvc piping and some wire then you can build one of these fabulous chicken tractors designed by the inspirational Janet Luke for next to nothing. They are ingenious contraptions and, as well as providing extra housing for new birds, you can also put your chickens to work in the vege garden in a chicken tractor. They will do all the hard work by clearing and fertilizing a used vege bed leaving it ready for you to plant up again. Perfect!

Distraction is key – rather like dealing with a toddler! Hang a bunch of silver beet (chard leaves) from string in the coop for the flock to jump at or try a tasty Fat ball. It’ll keep them busy and give the newbies a break.

Silverbeet Silverbeet 2

Make sure there are places for new birds to hide within and hunker down to feel safe. My chickens seek solace in these low hanging evergreen branches.

Evergreen hideout

Dump a big load of weeds, soil and leaves for the flock to scratch through.

Make sure new birds are old enough to stick up for themselves

Put out a big array of feeders and water troughs to avoid wings bumping at the table. Don’t buy expensive ones; use ice cream containers, large plastic lids or even an old reflector post.

Reflector Post

Any super aggressive bird should be removed. Let her free range and eat away from the flock until things settle down. When re-introduced to the flock she’ll be taken down a peg or two as she will be seen as a “newbie”. Don’t worry, she’ll be fine!

If you have the means, let the existing flock free range in the day. The new birds can spend time getting used to their new environment and when the existing flock return they’ll be too exhausted from their adventures with the bugs and worms to want to pick a fight.

Free range 2 Free range

NEVER introduce one single bird to a flock. There is wisdom in the old adage “safety in numbers” after all.

Make sure you offer extra protein for all birds during this stressful time; even a dish of pro-biotic yoghurt  to prevent weight loss and feather loss will be well received.

Above all use your common sense and there’s no shame in sitting in your coop all day protecting your new hens (sorry, my husband just murmured something…crazy chicken woman what??!)

Being Green and Squeaky Clean

Laundry Basket

I never thought I’d be the kind of person who makes her own Laundry powder; but I am. I’m at a point now where I don’t mind admitting it and I even tell people apropos of nothing, “Hello my name is Sarah and I make my own Laundry Powder.” You’d be surprised by the reactions I get; usually can I have your recipe? It seems that the Hippy-ness of embracing a green life style is now considered chic and well, rather sensible actually.

My reasons for making my own laundry powder are purely based on a desire to reduce the chemical load on my family. If I can limit the amount of harsh chemicals in the house then that can only be a Good Thing. It doesn’t take too long either – honest! My recipe is a mish mash of lots of different recipes found in magazines, books and the internet and they all contain all or a mixture of the following :

Soap: Cleanses
Washing soda or Soda ash: It’s a mineral that cleanses, fights grease and stains and softens water
Baking soda: Stain and odour remover
Citric acid: Water softener and colour brightener
Coarse salt: Colour stabilizer (helps prevent fading) and fabric softener.
Vinegar or salt – reduces soap sud build up in machine
Essential oil : lemon attacks stains and lavender is anti-bacterial

Dr Bronners Soap

I like to use Dr Bronner’s Liquid soap. It is made from organic extra virgin coconut, hemp, jojoba and olive oils and pure essential oils or unperfumed. You can use the solid bar soap and grate it but the liquid soap takes that extra effort away. If you can’t get hold of Dr Bronner’s then make sure your soap is a good quality pure soap. I discovered that Citric acid makes the powder clump together and go really hard so I leave it out now. My whites still look pretty white to me without it. I didn’t feel the need for vinegar or salt; vinegar does leave a vinegary smell and I thought that was just Taking The Whole Green Thing Too Far. Keeping my family in clean, non-toxic clothes is one thing; making them smell like last Fridays hot chip supper was another!

Powder Ingredients

This is hardly a recipe really but this is what I do :

2 cups Soda Ash
2 cups Baking Soda
1/3 cup Dr Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap (or a coconut oil soap, grated)
a few drops lemon essential oil

Simply add the  two powders to a large bowl and gently stir with a whisk to get rid of any big lumps. Sit the bowl on a folded t-towel to stop it moving about and trickle in the liquid soap and essential oil whilst whisking gently. Make sure the soap gets evenly distributed.

Adding Soap

Decant into a container with a tight fitting lid. I use a tupperware box and a scoop (about a tablespoon) per wash. No need to add fabric softener.

Finished Powder

You might find you miss the heavily perfumed smell of your old powder but keep persevering and your nose will adjust! I know I’m sounding a bit crazy here but after a few washes with the homemade powder I started to smell a lovely, fresh “clean” smell on my clothes as I hung them out to dry. I now struggle to walk down the Household Cleaning aisle in my supermarket as the chemicals are so over powering. I much prefer the natural smell of “clean” than that of fake oriental lotus flower or a spurious spring meadow.

Give it a go and let me know the results. Perhaps we can have our very own Green Laundry Powder Challenge! You never know, you too might start waxing lyrical to strangers about the wonders of the homemade laundry powder. Go on….spread the word!

Vege Garden Pottering in June : My To Do List

IMG_1613

Plant Garlic : it’s traditional to plant garlic on the shortest day of the year and harvest on the longest but you can plant garlic as early as April. Don’t be tempted to sow supermarket garlic as these have all been fumigated. Buy lovely plump seed garlic from your local Garden Centre or Farmer’s Market where you’re guaranteed a good healthy bulb and one that grows well in your area. Garlic is so easy to grow and so much tastier; just remember these simple rules:

  • Only plant the fat cloves on the outside of the bulb; eat the little skinny inner ones.
  • Plant in a sunny spot just 5 – 7cm below soil and about  10 – 15cm apart in well drained, good soil. Add some sheep pellets or compost. If you plant them too close together they won’t have room to grow.
  • Don’t grow garlic in the same bed that’s just been home to onions, shallots or leeks; they are all from the Allium Family and may spread disease. Do grow it with or near carrots; garlic repels the pesky carrot fly and other naughty insects hell bent on creating havoc with your crops.
  • Keep them weed free – they don’t like competition.

Don’t hold back on the garlic; you can plait the stems and hang in a cool, airy position and enjoy your very own garlic all year long!

Plant Strawberries : Summer seems a long way away but now is the time to get the strawberries started. This year I’m planning on making a Pimm’s No 2 bed from James Wong’s HomeGrown Revolution Book and some of my strawberries will grow here.

James Wong

Its such a cute idea to grow tiny little cucamelons over the subtly cucumber flavoured  Borage herb. Unfortunately I can’t find cucamelons so I’ll have to adapt. I’m going to grow the variety Cucumber Mini White up and over a wigwam in the middle of the Pimm’s bed and plant some of the borage that has self seeded in the herb bed around the base.  I’ll then underplant with strawberries and mint. If you’re going to try this too and worry that mint is too invasive then simply plant the mint in a little pot and bury the whole thing to contain the roots.

I have already planted little seedlings of cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, pak choi, New Zealand spinach (you can never grow enough spinach) and a variety of winter lettuce. I wasn’t going to plant cauliflower as they are usually infested by little caterpillars which puts me off but my Husband snuck them into the basket so in they went! Make time to plant coriander and dill. They love the cold of winter and will reward you with pungent smelling herbs for winter cooking.

Dill Coriander

I’m also going to try and sow  peas and snow peas  too. Some people may think peas are too fiddly to grow and have a low yield but I can’t resist that fresh pea flavour; no pea has ever made it into my kitchen! We just eat straight from the pod in the vege garden. Doesn’t get much better than that.

I like a bit of height in the vege garden to create scale and a bit of drama. I do this by growing some veges vertically (cucumbers and squash, runner beans) and by growing dahlias and sweetpeas. June is a good time to sow sweetpeas. I sow them direct into the soil and I choose the most fragrant variety possible. Picking the first bunch of sweetpeas is a great pleasure for me.

Sow sweetpea

Spread comfrey leaves around the base of your fruit trees. Make sure you leave them out in the sun to wilt for a couple of days otherwise you’ll have loads of extra comfrey plants!

Comfrey

Stuff as many autumn leaves into a black bin bag as you can and throw in a handful of lime. Tie up and leave to turn into lovely seed potting mix.

Leaf Potting Mix

Hmmmm I’ll be quite busy then!