Local insects and animals- Eucalyptus tortoise beetle

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This little beetle rode into the house on my tracksuit pants leg. I saw a shape clinging to the fabric and, when I put my glasses on, it was revealed as a tiny beetle. She looked a bit disgruntled to find herself in a humpy and not on a tree, so I snapped a few photos and let her go outside. Then I set off to find out what kind of beetle she is. At first I thought she was a kind of Lady beetle (I was thinking shape and size here), so I googled Lady beetles in Australia.

None of the pictures matched my little visitor, so I went to the an online insect identification key, which eventually…after many entertaining side visits, led me to the right family of beetle. She is a Leaf beetle.

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The closest match I could find was the Tortoise Leaf beetle; a kind of beetle that eats eucalyptus leaves and is fairly common in this region. I have not noticed these beetles before, maybe because the Bell Miners (Australian Bell Bird) have moved further away from the humpy in the last year or so. Bell Miners eat all sorts of insects that inhabit the bush.

No matter how she came to be clinging to my pants leg, I was glad she came and introduced herself. Yet another member of the huge community that shares our niche.

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Plants in the garden- Madagascar beans

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There are a lot of plants in my garden (not as many as my mother’s garden, but still, a lot), and these plants don’t often get to be noticed by anyone other than me. So I thought I would start a series of posts that introduce the plants I manage to grow in my garden, despite animal depredation, insect attack, serious neglect and outright attack with a mower or whipper snipper.

First in the line up is the Madagascar bean; a perennial , sub-tropical lima bean. I planted 5 seeds in toilet paper rolls in the Summer and planted out the sweet little seedlings about three weeks later. I chose a spot in the Hugelkultur garden that would let the beans climb on the fence and would eventually give shade to a couple of beds for planting lettuce and silverbeet in the hot summer months. Little did I know that the plants grow like Jack’s beanstalk and look likely to take over the whole vegetable garden roof area. I think that I will be doing a lot of pruning next Spring to keep some growing areas in the sun.

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Somewhere in there are 5 little bean seeds

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Planted out as young seedlings

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I have created a monster

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Apparently the seeds can be eaten when young as a broad bean substitute (steamed or boiled) and the dried beans can be used anywhere dried beans can be used (soaked, cooked and put into soups, stews, burgers, casserole, etc). My vines have pods, and I am now waiting around impatiently (checking my watch, sighing, pacing a little) for them to form beans so I can try to trick my partner into believing I have grown broad beans for him (he doesn’t know what the plant looks like anyway). I am becoming a big fan of perennial vegetables, I think I will seek out a few more.

Making margarine

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We have been trying to find more vegan alternatives (daughter’s and friend’s delicate stomach) so we have been using more plant based spreads (or margarine for us old school people). That stuff can be expensive, and it seems to have some hidden animal products; my daughter’s animal protein detector (aka, dodgy stomach) is set on sensitive. She had digestive trouble whenever she eats any animal protein at all; no cheese, no butter, no eggs, certainly no meat and even no animal based rennet used in soy cheese making. Some margarine brands have been making her feel sick and since we use a lot of margarine, I thought I would have a go at making my own. As usual, I researched it all online and found some alternatives.

It seems that it is basically an oil of some sort, whipped with water and an added emulsifier to stop it all separating. I found many recipes, mostly with fancy ingredients, and finally settled on one that looked fairly simple.

First I had to find some sunflower based lecithin (which is not that hard to find online), this was found and ordered in about 15 minutes. This is the all-important emulsifier, that keeps the oil and water components in suspension. In the case of my chosen recipe the water part was actually a mixture of soy milk and apple cider vinegar, but the principle still stands. After a three week wait, the lecithin finally arrived and I could have a go at making margarine.

The recipe below is modified (slightly) from the original (to see the original, just click on the title).

Spreadable Olive Oil Vegan Butter Recipe

¼ cup + 2 teaspoons soy milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
4 grams salt (if you don’t have a scale, use ¾ + ⅛ teaspoon salt)
¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon refined coconut oil, melted
¼ cup + 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon liquid sunflower lecithin
½ + ⅛ teaspoon psyllium husk powder

1) Curdle your soy milk

Place the soy milk, apple cider vinegar and salt in a small cup and whisk together with a fork. Let it sit for about 10 minutes so the mixture curdles.

2) Mix your Vegan Butter ingredients

Melt the coconut oil so it’s barely melted and as close to room temperature as possible. Measure it and add it and the olive oil to a bullet blender. Making smooth vegan butter is dependent on the mixture solidifying as quickly as possible after it’s mixed. This is why it’s important to make sure your coconut oil is as close to room temperature as possible before you mix it with the rest of the ingredients.

3) Transfer the Vegan Butter to a mold so it solidifies

Add the soy milk mixture, lecithin and psyllium husk powder to the food processor. Process for a count of 15, then shake the container, process for another count of 15, continue this for approximately 3 minutes. This allows the salt to dissolve completely. Pour the mixture into a shallow jar or other container and place it in the freezer to solidify with the lid removed so it solidifies as quickly as possible. The Vegan Butter should be ready to use in about an hour. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month or in the freezer for up to 1 year. Makes about 1 cup.
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Ingredients gathered and ready to go.

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Soy milk with Himalayan pink salt added

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After I added the vinegar it curdled and thickened a bit

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I didn’t have any unflavoured psyllium husk powder, so I used some orange flavoured stuff, hoping the orange wouldn’t come through (it is only a small amount after all)

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pouring ingredients into the blender cup

 

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Everything blending nicely

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Poured into a container and ready for the freezer

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Looks good

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Spreads easily

The resulting spread has a great texture, is very spreadable and apart from a faint orange flavour (I was wrong), tastes like any other margarine. I will be making this again, once I can get hold of some unflavoured psyllium husk powder.

I also found a recipe for hard vegan butter on the same site. I have included the recipe and the link below (click the title).

Regular Vegan Butter Recipe – Coconut Oil Base

Yield: 1 cup (215 grams), or the equivalent of 2 sticks

¼ cup + 2 teaspoons soy milk
½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon coconut vinegar (if you can’t find coconut vinegar, substitute with ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar so the total is 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar)
¼ + ⅛ teaspoon salt

½ cup + 2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (130 grams) refined coconut oil, melted
1 Tablespoon canola oil, light olive oil or rice bran oil

1 teaspoon liquid soy lecithinorliquid sunflower lecithinor 2 ¼ teaspoons soy lecithin granules
¼ teaspoon xanthan gum or ½ + ⅛ teaspoon psyllium husk powder

1) Curdle your soy milk

Place the soy milk, apple cider vinegar, coconut vinegar and salt in a small cup and whisk together with a fork. Let it sit for about 10 minutes so the mixture curdles.

2) Mix your Vegan Butter ingredients

Melt the coconut oil in a microwave so it’s barely melted and as close to room temperature as possible. Measure it and add it and the canola oil to a food processor. Add the soy milk mixture, soy lecithin and xanthan gum to the food processor. Process for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides halfway through the duration.

 TIPMaking smooth Vegan Butter is dependent on the mixture solidifying as quickly as possible after it’s mixed. This is why it’s important to make sure your coconut oil is as close to room temperature as possible before you mix it with the rest of the ingredients.

3) Transfer the Vegan Butter to a mold so it solidifies.

Pour the mixture into a mold and place it in the freezer to solidify. An ice cube mold works well. It should be ready to use in about an hour. Store Vegan Butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month or wrapped in plastic wrap in the freezer for up to 1 year.

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Vegan scones made with the vegan butter recipe. Just ignore my little mishap with the baking paper being too close to the oven flame, it was very exciting

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Served with vegan margarine and jam, very yummy

Make your own knitting needles

 

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This has got to be one of the easiest projects I have done so far. Of course I used some bought materials and some found materials, which happened to fit very well together.

I decided to make some knitting needles to go with my little felted knitting bags that are designed to hang on your wrist.

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These ones

All I did was buy some 4mm thick dowel pieces (at a local $2 shop) and glue some wooden beads on the end as a stopper. The pointy end was achieved by using a pencil sharpener to give it a point then sandpaper to smooth the whole thing out. I was lucky enough to find a few beads with 4mm holes in them, which made the whole process much easier. In the end I also used some of my beeswax and olive oil furniture polish to give the needles a smooth feeling.

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I made some short needles too. Kids often have trouble with long knitting needles and find it much easier to manipulate short, thin needles. The traditional method is to give a beginner really thick needles to allow them to see the stitches clearly, but I have found that children have difficulty with the heavier needles and don’t usually have sight issues anyway. The wood is also a bit more ‘grippy’ so it holds the stitches on the needle better; there is nothing more frustrating for a new knitter than dropping stitches.

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I like that these little needles have been made by me and so will give my knitting kits a personal feel. I am selling them at our local market, with a free knitting lesson (on the spot) if needed. Maybe I will list them on Etsy too (without the knitting lesson). Maybe I can find a way to give remote knitting lessons? I will have to think about that.

Local insects and animals- Yellow footed antechinus

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Whenever I mention antechinus everyone goes (and I quote) “huh?”. The next reaction (upon being shown a photo) is usually “Ewww, a rat”. These furry little animals are not rodents, they are marsupials. In fact they are a special type of marsupial called a dasyurid (a carnivorous marsupial). There are ten species of antechinus, most of which live in Australia (some also live in New Guinea).

Antechinus eat insects and will eat lizards and baby mice. In the humpy they do a great job of keeping the mouse numbers down and I have never seen a cockroach inside (we also have geckos and huntsman spiders to help with insects). They spend their days sleeping, hunting and playing in the roof space and climb down the posts to watch us from time to time. They will also raid the chook scrap bucket if someone forgets to put the lid back on; which is how I got the photos.

I had dumped half my sourdough starter out into the chook scraps because I didn’t have time to make anything with it, and must have absentmindedly left the lid off the bucket. My daughter text me later that day to say she had found an antechinus stuck in the dough in the bottom of the bucket. She put the poor, crusty little creature in a cage with water and a place to hide and left her to clean herself off. We were a bit worried that the dough would play havoc with her digestive system, but we had no choice but to watch and hope.

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She tidied herself up gradually over the next few days and her poop looked fairly normal by then so we decided to let her go. We had given her a couple of dog biscuits to eat and a mush made from insectivore mix and rice powder. She was remarkably quiet and calm the whole time, which worried us a little (they are usually very fierce fighters) but I think she knows us very well as she has spent her whole life in the humpy and probably knows we don’t mean her any harm. That was when I discovered something new (to me anyway); antechinus blink their eyes individually. Watch the video below; you can see that she blinks each eye individually, and seemingly without any pattern to it.

This little observation fascinated me for about five minutes or so, until I suddenly remembered that I could video the behaviour. She patiently displayed her astounding skill for me while I fumbled with my phone and eventually got it working. Then she hopped gracefully out of the cage and darted away into the shadows, hopefully to rejoin her peers.

Antechinus have amazing mating habits; the males live for 11 and a half months, raised with their siblings by a single mother. During the late Autumn, early Winter the females come into heat and the males literally kill themselves chasing tail. They mate every female they can find (and at this time of the year the females make themselves easy to find) for about a week then they die from the stress of it all. The females mostly go on to raise the litter alone, without Centrelink benefits or anything (they can have as many as 14 babies with many different fathers) . Some females do not survive mating and die when the males do. The mating period in the humpy is loud and busy, with fights and make-up sex happening in the ceiling and under cupboards everywhere. The following month is very quiet though, as the surviving females rest and come to terms with raising their children alone. The noise and activity begins again a month later when they give birth and, after a few days have to find a lot of food for themselves and their young. Even the geckos try to stay indoors at this time of year as the new mums will eat just about anything they can catch. If we notice a female really struggling we will leave a few dog biscuits out for her as this is a quick, easy meal for a working mum to take home (sort of like Maccas night). When the young ones are feeding themselves at last (after a whole five weeks or so) most of the mums die from exhaustion, leaving between 20-50% of females to mate again the next year, no females survive more than two litters.

Nature is amazing isn’t it? I love discovering new things about the beings I share my space with.

 

Sourdough vegan cheese bread sticks

6D60AB77-44EC-4320-8B11-EC8E00E32247Just another thing to do with left over starter. Since my eldest daughter is vegan (because of medical imperatives) I have had to find more recipes that don’t include animal products, in a vain attempt to get her to eat sourdough anything. I found this recipe for cheesy bread sticks on a vegan cooking site. It calls for nutritional yeast flakes, so I found some online at Affordable Wholefoods

Here is my sourdough version of the vegan, cheesy bread sticks.

Ingredients

1 small onion (chopped)

3 cloves of garlic (chopped)

4 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1 1/2 cups plain flour

1 cup sourdough starter

1 teaspoon vegetable stock

 

Method

Fry onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Let onion cool a little then add other ingredients and make a dough. You may need to add more flour or a little warm water to get a good dough. Knead dough for a few minutes then form into bread sticks or buns (I did both).

Let buns or bread sticks sit in a warm area until they double in size.

Bake for 10 minutes (bread sticks)

or 20 minutes (buns)

in a 200 degree C oven.

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Onion and garlic chopped

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Dough ready to go

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Buns and bread sticks rising

 

 

Do they taste cheezy? Yes they do! I love the little buns with lots of butter (well…olive oil spread) and a good cup of coffee.

Playing with online teaching

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Lately I have been learning a lot about making online lessons for my class. My favorite app at the moment is Nearpod, an app which lets anyone build interactive lessons.

For a long time I have been playing with the idea of making simple, online lessons for all sorts of things that I can offer from my blog. Today I am trying out the idea.

The following link should take you to an open lesson on Hugelkultur (sort of), it is very simple and fairly interactive. This is a test lesson so I have not included all the information I would normally add; just enough to try out the app. I would be very grateful if you would try out the link and have a play with the lesson so I can decide if this is a good platform for me to use.

https://app.nearpod.com/?pin=MHCPR&he=true

 

Let me know what you think?

Sourdough pasta

Yet another use for left over starter.

I have been wanting to try making lasagna in the thermal cooker, but so far I haven’t been brave enough. I also have a lot of sourdough starter that needs to be used, why not combine them and make sourdough pasta sheets for a vegetarian lasagna. Today is the day…

First to find a how-to or a recipe I can almost totally change; I found several at;

Ceara’s Kitchen

The minimalist baker

Korena in the kitchen

They all seemed to be just a combination of flour, egg and water, with a few added bits. So I decided to go it alone and make it up as I went along.

Sourdough pasta

Ingredients

1/2 cup plain flour

1/2 cup rye bread flour

1 egg (I used a duck egg)

1 cup sourdough starter

water

Method

Plop everything in a bowl and mix together.

Form a dough that can be kneaded by hand.

Rest for an hour or so on a kitchen bench.

Roll out onto a floured board until you have a sheet that is about 3mm thick

Cut to desired shape and either dry on a rack or use fresh in cooking.

Now for the photo tutorial;

Gather all the ingredients together.

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Resting the dough while I make tomato and vegetable sauce (with fake chicken mince)

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Rolling the sheets out flat

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About this thick

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Beginning to make layers

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Cheese sauce layer

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Oops, I made too much tomato sauce

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Layers of yum. The pyrex container is for the oven and the stainless steel one is for the thermal cooker

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Ready to cook

According to my internet research, a lasagna (or other solid type foods) can be cooked in the thermal cooker by placing a tin of said food in a bath of boiling water for a really long time. So that is what I did.

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Boiled the kettle and poured in some water

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Put a bowl in the bottom of the cooker as a trivet

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The pan is sitting on the trivet and has boiling water to about half way up the side

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First lid on

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All sealed up and cooking

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This one gets popped into the oven for 45 minutes (until it went brown)

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Cooked lasagna in the thermal cooker

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From the oven (yes, I forgot it was in there)

Both were delicious, I think I will make more of these. The thermal cooker is definitely the way to go for me; you may not get the hard, cheesy crust on top (or browning), but the food won’t burn when you forget it and go out chasing interesting birds in the garden.

Pasta is a great way to get rid of that extra sourdough starter, I wonder if I can make it without egg now the chooks have stopped laying for the winter?

A day at a small town market

Recently I have been going to our local markets again, after years of being away from them. The Tabulam Farmer’s Market is much more to me than a way to make a bit of extra cash from my hobbies (I actually don’t sell a lot of stuff); it is a place I enjoy going. I like to be at home, I enjoy my own company and I definitely don’t like crowds, but for some reason I feel at home here.

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It is hard to describe the relationship I have with markets; on one hand there is the early starts (even earlier than my usual start), the weeks of making stuff to sell and having to fit a shelter and tables and other decorative stuff into my car with the little box of actual stock to sell. On the other hand there is the feeling of belonging; the lovely ‘in’ feeling of being there, where I know so many people and they know me (I don’t get that often). The joy of watching the very special ‘pop up’ community that develops.

Early in the morning, when everyone is setting up tents and tables, I watch stall holders rush to help each other set up tents or supply  pens, tags, cloths or any number of small items forgotten by other stall holders. I watch as people share a morning coffee from the coffee stall, or from a thermos packed for the occasion. When friends and strangers greet each other with smiles and encouraging words. The musicians start up and everyone can have a go at the open mic’; men, women, kids (and every now and then a dog joins in). Later in the day I watch as kids run wild between the stalls while parents and other adults look on happily allowing them to indulge in childhood adventures. Customers browse slowly among the wares and are greeted with smiles and conversation (whether they are buying or just looking). Conversations bloom and drift like mist among the gathered people, never really finishing but spiraling out to encompass others. Deals are struck and arrangements made in fleeting meetings carried out in passing. At the end of the day, some unseen signal is given and stalls begin to pack up, everyone lends a hand getting stock and tents packed and stashed in cars. Until the market area is still and silent once again.

 

Community markets are a great way to meet people and make friends. I am not a very social person in the normal scheme of things, but I do enjoy the magic of markets. Maybe I should go to more of them.

Lining the ceiling with corrugated iron

We had a surprise visitor a while ago; a male possum. He was sleeping peacefully in the roof space above the office area, rolled over in his sleep and fell almost two metres onto a padded chair (luckily). I heard the crash and raced out to see what it was, only to find a surprised, half asleep possum sitting on a chair in the office blinking at me. I called out to my daughter to get her phone and take a photo but he had climbed up onto a cupboard by the time she got there.

Our ceiling is lined with sisalation, which is sort of like a heavy duty tin foil. The purpose of sisalation is to reflect heat either back into the living space or back up into the roof space. In the humpy it also serves as a barrier to dust and dirt (somewhat) and as a lovely hammock for possums, feathertail gliders, micro bats, antechinus, carpet snakes and various lizards (oh and spiders). With the weight of all this life going on above us on this very thin membrane it is a miracle we haven’t had someone fall through the ceiling before.

After we tied up the dogs and escorted the possum out of the house and back up a pole into the roof (still mumbling about civil action and giving us a bad review on Facebook) it was decided that we have to do something about it.

There was a lot of discussion about possible answers ranging from;

  • replace the sisalation with new sisalation
  • replace it with something more rigid
  • burn down the humpy and start again

It was decided to go the middle road and replace the ceiling with something rigid, but what with?

Ply sheets are expensive and would be eaten by white ants as fast as we could put them up, plaster board is much the same. Hessian or fabric are cheap but would not last any longer than the sisalation and is not very rigid. Then corrugated iron was suggested; it is rigid, white ants don’t eat it and it is relatively cheap if bought second hand. It is also easy to work with. I know it would make the inside look like the outside, but that is a small price to pay for not having a possum land in your coffee at breakfast.

I don’t think it will look too bad either, as these photos from google images show;

 

Now we just need to find some cheap iron for the job.