One of the things my daughter misses most from the animal protein world is yoghurt. I admit, I love it too and often keepa litre of homemade yoghurt in the fridge (torture for her when she’s home). I have been wanting to try plant based yoghurt for a long time and now I have.
I was online shopping for soap nuts (my latest soapnut tree seeds have yet to sprout by the way) on the Biome shop site and I happened to see a listing for plant based yoghurt culture. Yes, I know that is nowhere near the laundry section. Yes, I know I’m trying to spend less money. What can I say? I’m easily distracted. I bought the culture (and some soap nuts) and when it came I followed the instructions and stored it in the freezer and promptly forgot I had it.
It wasn’t until a month or so later that I overheard my daughter talking to a friend on the phone saying she really misses yoghurt and remembered I had some starter.
Immediately I began planning to make some yoghurt for her. I made a big batch of soy milk and set some aside to cool in a yoghurt maker container.
The first batch is a success. It is firm and creamy, but there is a lot of liquid around the yoghurt. I have just drained the liquid off as I use it. It doesn’t affect the taste at all.
I discovered a new staple crop!!! It’s amazing how many plants we eat as a species, and how many plants we don’t know we can eat as individuals. I had only heard one reference to tigernuts in my life before (that I can remember); an old Woody Allen movie I watched as a child, where he asks for tiger milk for breakfast on being woken from cryogenic slumber in the distant future. I remember being puzzled at why anyone would risk milking tigers when goats are so easy to find. I dreamed of this scene one night a week ago (don’t ask me why, my mind is an enduring and deepening mystery to me) and I decided to google tiger milk. What I found has sent me on a whole journey of discovery.
Tigernuts are closely related to what I have always known as yellow nutgrass. I have spent years trying to get rid of this plant from various gardens, only to now discover that their relatives taste great and crop hugely. I have planted some seed in pots in the garden to see if I can grow them in captivity.
My first experiment with tigernuts is to make kunnu aya (a traditional nigerian drink) or tigernut milk. Woolworths sells tigernuts, so I bought a small packet to play with. I put a cup of tigernuts to soak overnight, then rinsed them off.
I put the tigernuts and some dates into the blender with just enough water to cover them. I then blended the lot until it was soupy.
I strained it through a nut bag into a jug, then I returned the pulp to the blender with a bit more water and blended it all again. The second lot of milk was not as rich and creamy as the first, but it did boost the yield a lot.
The resulting milk is smooth, creamy and refreshing. The flavour is slightly nutty and a little coconut like. I do love it as a drink. The left over pulp was spread out on a baking tray in a low oven and dried to make tigernut flour.
This little tuber has real potential as a crop here at the humpy. I hope my plants grow and produce in their pots, so I can process my own kunnu aya from tigernuts I grew. The flour is useful as a gluten free option in baking and as a thickening agent. The nuts can be ground as a base for vegan cheeses and creams (in place of cashews) and they can even be boiled and served as a vegetable or added to soups, casseroles and stews. What a useful little plant.
The potatoes are starting to come up! I have one peeking it’s head above the mulch.
I have been dragging triple used hay up to the potato patch for a month in an attempt to tidy up the sheep feeding area before fire season (not very successfully) and watching every day to see when the potatoes would pop up… and now one has.
The potatoes I planted in the yard garden have been up for ages and have just been mulched for a third time (and need more already). These potatoes get more water than the ones in the patch, and I think that has made a huge difference.
The green tree frogs are back!!! We haven’t seen them here for years. First the extended dry period then the massive fire season seem to have knocked the population down so much that spotting a tree frog is cause for excitement.
Green tree frogs were once so common here at the humpy that we had invasions of froglings hopping through the humpy some nights as they left their spawning dam and went out into the world in search of adventure. After finding a tree frog on the pillow at bed time once or twice, we invested in mosquito nets for the beds that were tucked under the mattress to keep them out. In recent years we have missed seeing them around. I am so pleased that we have a few popping back up.
They eat mostly insects, but have also been known to gobble up the odd gecko and sometimes baby mice. In return, a lot of creatures eat them, black snakes love the taste of tree frog, as do brown snakes and pythons. Our ducks will chase them if left to their own devices too (we have rescued more than one big frog from the duck pen). They are mostly seen at night moving from their day beds to the hunting ground, or around the dam when it is raining, looking for love in the karaoke bar.
I love the sound of tree frogs calling from hidden places in the afternoon, it always predicts that a storm or rain is coming. They call in the rain; singing a song of joy and coming fertility until the rain has no choice but to fall on them (and us).
We have plenty of places a tree frog can hide and stay damp in the humpy garden. If you don’t have any place for them to hide outside, they will find a way into your house and look for a place there; they are particularly fond of flush toilets (everyone wants a house with a pool), behind paintings and under pot plants. Outside they like plants that have big leaves, damp pots and piles of rocks or old wood.
I find tree frogs charming and quirky, I know some people are afraid of them and find them ugly, but I can’t help but see the stoic joy they find in settling into the perfect place for the day, the glee they exhibit when they find a huge moth to eat and the self satisfaction of their measured hop…hop…hop on a tin roof at night. Welcome back Australian tree frogs, we missed you.
Recently the biogas started to smell a bit, it had the particular odour of sewage when the burner was lit. This is not what you want to smell when you put the kettle on for your morning coffee. The smell means it is time to change the gas filter, luckily I had ordered a kit months ago. The gas filter is a plastic pot filled with activated charcoal, the pot has holes in the top and the sides so gas can travel through it. A rubber seal around the pot makes sure the gas has no option but to travel through the charcoal filter. They are fairly easy to change, having been designed that way, but there are some important things to note when doing this routine maintenance.
All you really need to do when changing the gas filter is;
remove the stickers from the new filter canister.
lever the lid of the gas collection pipe up until you can open it.
pull out the old gas filter using the handy rope handle.
place the new filter in the gas collection pipe.
replace the lid of the gas collection pipe.
open the old filter and add the charcoal to the compost pile or the worm farm.
However… I made several mistakes that led to us having no gas for several days and smelled fairly bad too.
My first mistake was not looking to see which way up the rubber seal on the gas collection pipe lid went. In fact I mistakenly threw the seal out as I thought it was from the old canister at first. This seal stops the filtered gas from escaping into the atmosphere, so it’s pretty important. The seal is contoured, so it needs to face the right way.
My second mistake was to try changing the filter when the balloon was full of gas. Nobody wanted to use the burner because of the smell, so the balloon was very full of lovely methane (and sulphur compounds). I levered off the gas collection pipe lid and got a face full of smelly gas as the balloon deflated entirely.
Other than those two mistakes, the whole process is fairly easy and no fuss. Next time I will change the filter as soon as I get a tiny whiff of smell and make sure to use all the gas before I change it. I wish I had taken photos of which way the seal goes in the lid, but I didn’t. Instead I took a screen shot from the assembly app to remind myself which way the rubber seal goes.
This system is so easy to assemble and maintain that I wonder why everyone doesn’t have one. It needs a little bit of maintaining now and then, but what system doesn’t? The benefits far outweigh the inconvenience.
The toilet is going to need a new water pump seal soon and the chlorine filter for the effluent needs replacing too, I am hoping those go as easily (but with less mistakes) as the gas filter change.
We have social native bees at the humpy. They have been visiting the garden since we moved here. I do love to see them busily picking over flowers or having a drink at the rock tray in the garden, they remind me that life holds a lot of joy. They always seem so happy in their work.
We see many species of native bee in our garden, both solitary and social. The species I am talking about today is Tetragonula Carbonaria (the Sugarbag bee). These little beauties build a spiral shaped hive and have an irritating bite, but no sting.
We have a tray filled with rocks in our garden on a low pedestal which is regularly topped up with water. This is our insect watering station, for bees and other insects that need water during the dry months. The honey bees love to gather here and have a cool drink; they buzz and struggle to be the first to the water. I often sit nearby and listen to the buzzing and squabbling. The native bees are quieter and more patient; they can be seen earlier in the morning, in the cool of dawn, having a quiet drink before work. They do make a noise, but, like so much of Australia’s wildlife, they are understated and require a bit of work to notice. If you are still and silent yourself, you can sometimes hear the subsonic vibration that is the native bee buzz.
These little bees pollinate tropical crops such as macadamia, mango and watermelon. Something that was surprising to me when I first started learning about different species of bees, was that individual species are better at pollinating certain flowers. Some species are evolved to pollinate a certain flower shape (or is that co-evolved?) efficiently, for example; solenaceae family (potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum, chilli, etc) plants are best pollinated by ‘buzz pollination’ which needs the bee to be heavy and rounded and a little clumsy to get the best effect. Honey bees, Blue banded bees and Bumblebees are all good at buzz pollination. The small, delicate and gentle social native bee is not so good at pollinating tomatoes, they are designed to get their small bodies into narrow and deep flowers, like the mango or macadamia flower. That small fact is why we need the many species of native bee to survive and thrive; without all those different pollinators, we run the risk of losing fertilisation of many plant species (some we eat and others that support non-human species).
We grow some annual flowers in our funeral forest, to encourage insects and to enjoy the colour and joy that flowers bring. We also grow as many vegetables as the season and our time limits allow, to make use of those insect pollinators we attract.
Consider putting a tray of rocks out for insects to drink from, in long dry periods, it could be the difference between surviving and dying for many insects in your garden. We need all the species around us to survive, I am not equipped to pollinate flowers all day, are you?
Kugel is basically a mix of a starch (like noodles or potatoes), oils and egg. It began life as a way to make a side dish by floating a lidded pot in the stew or soup over an open fire and filling said pot with a pudding mixture to steam. Now they are mostly baked in a shallow dish in the oven. No matter where they evolved, they use a lot of eggs and other fairly cheap and filling ingredients. I decided to give a potato kugel a go. I followed this basic recipe.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 medium to large potatoes, peeled and grated
1 medium onions, peeled and grated
6 eggs (I used a mix of duck and chook)
⅓ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Optional (grated cheese, herbs, etc)
Preheat an oven to 175 degrees C. Grease a 9×13 inch pan with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Heat up the pan in the oven while you prepare the mixture. This helps to give the bottom of the kugel a crispy, well cooked taste.
After grating the potatoes and onions, squeeze as much moisture out of the mixture by dumping it into a colander and squashing it down a bit.
Combine the potatoes and onions in a large bowl. Mix in the eggs, 1/3 cup of vegetable oil, salt, and pepper. This is where you add any optional extras too. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.
Bake in the preheated oven until the top is golden brown and crisp, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Since my daughter can’t eat eggs or cheese, and my partner doesn’t like onion, this dish is my comfort food. It tastes lovely and fills you up fast, as well as using a lot of eggs in one go, what’s not to love?
Lately, I have been forced to slow down and look at the ground more (to avoid falling over a lot), that has led to noticing a lot more of the small and unnoticed flowers that grow here. I don’t have any idea whether most of these are native plants or not, I don’t know what they are called at all, but they are beautiful. I thought I would share the beauty with you. If you know the names of any of these little beauties, leave a comment.
And a few from my garden (I know what these ones are).
In some ways, I am grateful for my dizzy spells; they have let me slow down and really see all the beauty that surrounds us again. On the other hand, it will be wonderful to be able to move around fast without falling over again too.
We have a quail named Finch (don’t ask, we had a lamb named Kitty too), she is a King quail (confirmed with a quick call to my daughter) who lives in our aviary. She lays eggs in the Spring despite not having a partner at all. A few days ago, my daughter discovered that she was egg bound and probably had been for several days (it can be hard to tell with aviary birds).
Egg binding is really serious for birds, it kills a lot of them. Basically, the egg gets stuck in the oviduct and can crack and rot inside the bird. It can be hard to spot in the early stages, the bird might be just a bit slower than usual and off her food a little. Usually, they quickly progress to fluffing up, then death if nothing is done to help them.
We got Finch out of the aviary and gave her a warm soak in a salty water bath (think Sitz bath, for those of you who have had kids), then dried her off and put her in a quiet cage with a heat lamp and a soft towel. She didn’t manage to pass the egg, so we decided to see what we could do.
We turned her over and saw that the egg was ‘crowning’ and was unusually large (poor girl), so we greased her bottom up with lots of fresh aloe and tried to encourage the egg to pass (very, very gently). Eventually I used a razor blade to cut the part of the membrane that seemed to be over the egg, thinking this would clear the egg and let her retract the prolapse. It took a while, but we were able to work the egg out by greasing her with aloe, soaking in warm salty water and gently moving the egg back and forth to make the dried up membrane let go of the shell. The egg had a crack in it when we eventually got it out. The crack had been there for a while as the egg had started to rot. We immediately got worried; this is usually a death knell for egg bound birds. Another look at her behind showed that the prolapse was still swollen and sore looking. Under the lamp, we could see that she had another egg in there. This is not a good thing, and usually leads to a quick death, but I managed to encourage her to gently push the egg out by massaging her abdomen (the bit behind her hips, but under the wings). The fact that she had two eggs in the tubes, and one of them was cracked mean’t that we fully expected her to die within hours. We had given her a single drop of Meloxicam (a painkiller and anti-inflammatory for birds and other animals) before we began the operation, but we gave her another drop, thinking at least she would die in comfort. We put her in her enclosed cage with heat and water and some chicken crumbles (easy to digest for sick grain eaters) and left her to decide her own fate. Two hours later, she was still alive. She still seemed strong, so we added some oral antibiotic to her water and hoped for the best.
That was two days ago, and I wish I had taken photos of the operation, because she is a miraculous bird. She has sucked all but a tiny part of the prolapse back inside and is shedding the dead parts of her oviducts. She is eating small amounts of crumble and canary seed with pain killer added to it. We are soaking her bottom in salty water once a day to clean off the gunk and slathering her up with aloe twice a day to keep infection down and help with the inflammation too. She may still die (it’s hard to tell what’s going on inside there), but she has survived beyond all expectation and proven herself one tough little bird.
Afterword; Finch died at day 5. She probably had an infection inside and damage to her oviducts. She hung on longer than I thought possible and has my respect for how tough she was. She is now a part of the funeral forest.
Because I am always looking for ways to use up sourdough discard, I found the recipe on this blog; Sourdough surprises.
I thought I would share this quick and easy recipe with you. Of course I substituted the butter in this recipe for vegan butter and the egg for a flax egg, but otherwise I managed to follow instructions… except for adding M&Ms that is.
1 cup butter, melted 3/4 cup sugar 3/4 cup brown sugar 1 egg 1 cup sourdough starter, 100% hydration 1 tsp Vanilla 3 cups flour 1/4 tsp baking powder 1/4 tsp baking soda 1/2 tsp salt 1 cup toasted chopped walnuts (or other nut of your choice) 6 ounces chip (chocolate, white chocolate, butterscotch, whichever suits your fancy) 1 cup dried fruit (Cherries, cranberries, whatever you have…)
Preheat oven to 200 degree C. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of your electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars. Turn the mixer off, and with a wooden spoon gently mix in your starter until combined. Add the egg (you can turn your mixer back on now) and the vanilla. Slowly add the flour mixture into the mixer, until just combined. Fold in your nuts, chips and fruit. Place by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes, or until starting to turn golden brown around the edges
I whipped up the biscuits while I was waiting for the kettle to boil for the washing up, they were so quick and easy to make. I added some left over M&Ms I had in the fridge, some dried cranberries and the left over bits from a packet of walnuts in the cupboard. Not bad for a morning’s work really.