Spring flowers at the humpy

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.

Egg-bound quail – Finch

This isn’t a photo of Finch. Just a quail of the same species. We can’t find a photo of her.

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.

Again, not Finch. This Xray shows what egg binding is.

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.

Aloe, cut up and ready to smear
Finch in her heat lamp cage

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.

Finch getting ready for a soak
The prolapse after 2 days, during the soaking process

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.

A new home for Finch’s tough spirit

Sourdough biscuits

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.

Basic Sourdough Cookie Recipe (recipe from The Gingered Whisk)

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.

I also made some pound cake… to use up excess eggs.

Carding bulk wool for spinning

Eli and his glorious wool

I have a big fibre project on the go (really I just started planning it) it is a really long term project that involves a lot of different fibre crafts. To get the ball rolling, I washed a kilo of fleece from Eli. Now it needs to be carded before I can start to spin. To card this much wool with a set of hand carders would take a very long time…hours of carding every evening for weeks. Luckily, I have recently (within a year or two of the current day anyway) bought myself a drum carder and wool picker set. A drum carder is a nasty looking contraption that cards huge amounts of fibre in one go, simply by turning the handle (well…there is a bit more to it than that).

Scouring Eli wool
Some of the fleece spun out and hung to dry

First I need to run the wool through the picker. This is a chute with nails sticking out in all directions inside it. The wool is passed through the chute and is pulled apart and fluffed up in the process. This breaks off any brittle bits, catches most of the short cuts (little lumps of fleece that are too short to spin) and shakes out some of the vegetable matter.

The inner workings of the wool picker
Even after scouring, Eli’s wool has a lot of dirt, vegetation and general rubbish
It looks a little better after going through the picker, there are still a lot of second cuts though.

Next I take tiny bits of the fluffy fleece and pass it through the drum carder, being careful to only put in small amounts at a time. During this I use a brush to push the fleece down onto the drum so I can fit a lot of fleece into the batt (a batt is a big mat of prepared fibre for spinning).

Feeding small bits of wool through the carder
Using a brush to push the wool down on the drum
The batt is full. I can tell because the wool almost reaches the tips of the bristles on the drum carder
Breaking the batt and removing it from the drum

Lastly, I break the circle of fibre on the drum and slowly peel the batt off. I can either put this batt back through to get a smoother finish (or add some other colours to it) or I can go straight to spinning it.

The finished batt. Not very smooth, but better than it was

The drum carder does make it easier to process large lumps of fleece into spinnable batts, but the end product is not as smooth and easy to spin as when I card with the hand carders. The fibre choice probably makes a difference to the outcome as well. This new bit of equipment has helped me process the fleece to yarn more quickly, so has been worth the money (they are fairly expensive), but I think the hand carders will win out for fine fibre or special projects.

I hand carded some for comparison. This wool is going to need washing twice next time I think; it’s very dirty
The batt texture for comparison.


How I got stuck in the kitchen… a cautionary tale

Sourdough waffles, blueberry turnovers, blueberry and chocolate muffins… oh my!

The kitchen has been the centre of my world lately, and not by choice. I have been having some major dizzy spells (not yet sure of a cause, but the results are like drinking three bottles of wine on an empty stomach, without the giggles) and that has left me at home, trying not to drive anywhere. In an effort to do something useful, I have been making soy milk and sourdough stuff more consistently. This upping of the home-made-food-from-scratch game has led to the inevitable increase in secondary yields that need to be used; okara from the soy milk and tofu making, sourdough discard from the always active starter. These secondary yields need to be used up, so I am spending even more time in the kitchen making stuff for the freezer and meals, then more time washing up and sweeping floors. Added to that, it is the start of the Spring egg laying flush, so we are swimming in eggs too. I feel like I never get out of the kitchen at all.

Still… the result is a lot of yummy food, the full use of all the products we produce and buy and I feel like I am at least a little bit useful. The following photos are a sample of my kitchen efforts and are really just a sort of reminder to myself that all this work is resulting in something, not just making washing up.

Scrambled egg and parsley on sourdough bread
Wholewheat sourdough choc chip biscuits
Whole wheat sourdough bread
Chicken soup (Using a friend’s home killed rooster)
Sourdough waffles with blueberry compote
Vegan lasagne
Tofu and vegetable stir fry (satay sauce)
Poached eggs and spinach on white bread toast
Sourdough vegetarian pizza bake
Vegan blueberry cheesecake bites
Vegan spinach and ricotta gozleme
Okara falafel
Seitan sausage rolls

Vegan meat substitute – seitan

I know it’s a bit blurry, but it looks like real meat doesn’t it?

I finally found a meat substitute my family is enthusiastic about (and by enthusiastic I mean they will actually eat it). Seitan is a high protein steamed dough product made from vital wheat gluten. I am so very glad nobody has discovered they are gluten intolerant, we would be hard put to find whole protein sources if we couldn’t eat whole grains.

Making seitan is one of those kitchen jobs that take a lot of time, most of it in the waiting, but it is worth the wait. My daughter requested some sausage rolls today and I am out of seitan (having used the last batch in a meatloaf last night), so I thought I would show you how I make it. I use this recipe from Chef Jana.

You don’t technically need a goose kitchen assistant for this recipe, but it does add a certain something to the process.

The ingredients are simple to find, except possibly the vital wheat gluten. I had to order the VWG (Vital Wheat Gluten) online from the cruelty free store. You can make seitan from whole wheat flour, but it involves a lot of washing of the dough to remove the starch component and I am trying to reduce water use (we are very low on water in early Spring before the rain comes). So I bought a kilo of VWG and decided to shortcut the process. At some point (when we are water rich) I would like to try making seitan from scratch using my ground whole wheat flour.

Ingredients

2 cups Vital Wheat Gluten

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp black pepper

2/3 tsp nutmeg

2 tsp onion powder

2 tsp garlic powder

1 cup of water with 10 Tsp soy sauce

2 TBSP lemon juice

Method

Mix the dry ingredients together well, then add small amounts of liquid at a time. Mix really well between additions of liquid and when you can form a dough ball, use hands to squish the mass together into whatever shape you choose. Simmer the mass in a pot of stock for about 35-45 minutes.

Ingredients for stock

4 cups water

2 vegetable stock cubes

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

1/2 cup soy sauce

Any herbs you choose (I didn’t use any in the mix today, I will add them to the sausage rolls)

The seitan can be stored in the stock in the fridge for a week or it can be frozen (without the stock) for up to 3 months (apparently, mine doesn’t last that long).

Seitan can be used in any recipe in place of meat. Today I am mincing it to use in sausage rolls. I have used it cubed in stir fry and casserole, minced in meat loaf and sliced in sandwiches. I also plan to use it as a steak one day, to see if I can wean my carnivorous partner off his occasional steak indulgence.

The sausage rolls where made by mixing chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, oregano and rosemary) with almond paste and minced seitan, they rolling the meat in puff pastry, brushing with soy milk and baking for 15 minutes in a medium oven.

This is the sausage rolls I was trying to make…
These are the sausage rolls I made.

I still prefer the cauliflower and mushroom mince for minced recipes with sauces as the texture is better, but seitan is great for recipes that need to stick together in any kind of shape (like sausage rolls and meat loaf). I also think that multiple sources of iron and protein (and all those other nutrients we need) is a better way to be sure we get what we need.

Soy and agar hard cheese- still looking for the grail

I found this recipe while cruising cooking blogs (yes, I am officially now that boring). It is supposed to make an American hard cheese… sort of like the processed cheese used to make cheese sticks (for those who went to primary school in the 70s and 80s). The original recipe called for almond milk, and since I didn’t have any almonds soaked to make the milk… I used soy milk instead. I hope that won’t affect the taste too much. The rest of this recipe is straight from the blog I found it on.

Ingredients

2 cup soy milk

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

1 tsp miso paste, any color

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

2 1/2 tsp sugar

1 1/3 cup water

2 1/2 tbsp agar agar powder

Instructions

In a medium size sauce pan on medium heat, add in all ingredients EXCEPT for the water and the agar agar powder.

Whisk together until the miso paste has completely dissolved. Taste, and add any extra flavorings at this time if you choose.

In a separate sauce pan, add in water and agar agar powder. Turn on the heat after you add in two ingredients and stir together on medium heat until the agar agar powder has completely dissolved. This should take 2-3 minutes.

Once the agar is dissolved, pour the mixture into the blender with the milk mixture and blend for a minute or two until it is well combined.Pour the mixture into a mold and put it in the fridge to set. This part needs to be done quickly, because the agar begins to set very fast as it cools.

I decided to not take the ingredient and process photos for this post; they all look the same anyway. There seemed to be a lot of liquid in my chosen mold, but I decided to see if it would firm up in the fridge.

The final cheese took about three hours to set and cool completely. Then I upended the mold onto a lunch box lid and cut the cheese straight away. The results look like processed cheese; it has that particular rubbery look and feel that Kraft cheese sticks had (from memory). It is a bit ‘wetter’ than the real thing, and by that I mean it is sort of … umm… jelly ish. The texture is more of a really hard jelly than a squeezed and squashed emulsion. I put some slices onto crackers and the taste is OK, cheesy and pleasant, but not close to real cheese. I think it will make a good cheese for topping lasagne and toasting in sandwiches, but it is not the grail. On with the search.

Vegan butter batch

I also made some vegan butter for cooking purposes, trying out a new recipe I found. I think I was a bit slow getting this butter into the mold. No problems though, I will use it all for baking anyway.

Bagged up ready for the freezer.

The epic story of the Please-everyone-lasagne

Our story begins with me wishing we could eat lasagne; I love it. We have had vegetarian versions for years, but we needed a vegan option and, to make matters just a bit more fiddly, it now had to be tomato free. My partner has discovered that tomato products give him heartburn, which is inconvenient and made me consider replacing the partner to avoid having to find new recipes. In the end I decided that replacing the recipes was the least work and the lasagne adventure began.

I considered all the elements that make up a lasagne; mince and tomato sauce (with vegetables added), a bechamel sauce of some description, lasagne pasta sheets and a hard (or semi hard) cheese for melting. I also considered the order these things need to be made in so as to have everything ready in the appropriate time frame.

First thing to make is the vegan mince substitute. There is a separate blog post explaining how to make this stuff here. I made up a large batch and put several meals worth of vegan mince in the freezer for future meals.

Vegan mince

Then I made up a simple vegan lasagne sheet batch using this recipe. The pasta needs to sit and chill in the fridge for a little while before being used, so it made sense to make the batch early in the day and have it ready.

The vegan mozzarella almost done

Instead of the bechamel sauce I decided to use the vegan ricotta cheese I already know how to make. I added just a touch more lemon juice to the recipe and a splash of soy milk to make the results more sauce-like. Of course I needed to make tofu for that; this time I used my emergency stash of carton soy milk to make it up.

Soy milk becoming tofu

The tomato-free part proved harder than I thought. I needed a red sauce that could be used on the mince to add that signature colour that stains all the plastic storage containers (otherwise it just isn’t lasagne). I went looking, and eventually found a recipe that I could live with. I didn’t take photos of the sauce, but it ended up as an orange goo, that tasted fairly good, but wasn’t tomato at all. It didn’t help matters that the tin of beetroot I was remembering being in the back of the cupboard proved to be a tin of pineapple. I think the beetroot is added to make the orange into a closer-to-tomato red.

I made a quick vegan mozzarella cheese that could be sliced up and ‘melted’ on the top of the lasagne and whipped that up. I have been making mozzarella using the Mad Millie recipe for a little while and it is reliable, if not really cheesy.

Vegan lasagne ready to go in the oven

Making this lasagne took me most of the day, with two extra rounds of washing up. It tasted fairly good, but not good enough to justify that length of time in the kitchen. I will have some of the elements prepared in the freezer for next time though.

I do like the vegan mince recipe though. It is fast and makes up enough in one batch to make the mess worth it. I think we will be swapping over to this mince for at least some meals.

Vegan meat substitute – cauliflower mince

I am always on the lookout for a cheaper way to make meat substitute for our family. We buy Quorn meat substitutes from the supermarket at the moment and that stuff is expensive, so I continually look for other high protein, high iron plant based meat substitutes. I found this recipe recently and thought I would give it a try.

It is basically a mix of cauliflower and mushrooms grated into fine pieces with 1/2 cup of blended nuts and some flavourings.

I used;

1 medium cauliflower, grated

4 cups of grated mushrooms

1/2 cup macadamia nuts (blended)

1/2 red capsicum

1/2 cup tomato paste

1 teaspoon Pink Murray River salt

Black pepper

1 tablespoon paprika

I blended and grated up everything then stirred it all together until it looked like mince. Next I spread it onto two baking trays with silicon sheets on them and bunged the trays into the oven on a medium heat.

Blended macadamia nuts
Mushrooms
A cauliflower head
The added flavourings ready to mix

I had to set my phone alarm for 10 minute intervals so I remembered to turn the mixture and stir it up somewhat. The goal is for the ‘mince’ to brown and get a little bit crispy in places. It really helps to develop the meat-like texture. The total cooking time was about 50 minutes; a long time for me to maintain focus in the kitchen.

On the trays ready to cook up

When it was ready… eventually… I made a lasagne out of it and had just a bit left to freeze for another recipe.

The vegan lasagne I am fairly proud of.

I really like this recipe; it tastes good, is high in whole proteins and iron (thanks to the mushrooms) and it is reasonably cheap to make. The down side is the long cooking time, but I think I will just make large batches so I don’t have to do it often.

The funeral forest – sort of gardening

In the front yard of the humpy is my funeral forest. This is the place we keep the memories of our lost family members close. When a family member dies, we either bury them directly into a pot with a memory plant in it or we send them off for cremation and bury the ashes into a pot (in the case of large family members). For example; Sid the sheep weighed in at 71kg when he died, too big to put in a pot, so we sent him off to be cremated and when he returned we planted him in a big pot with a dwarf mandarine tree. All our lost family are here in these pots, and I love to sit at my little table, light a fire in the fire pit and visit with them.

This little oasis of green is sanity for me. There is a sprinkler on a pole in the middle of these pots. It is designed to spray water over the walls of the humpy and the garden beds and pots if a fire is close. We have set aside a 24000 litre tank to spray the humpy and animal shelters, which leaves us a little short of water for day to day living, but it may help when the next fire threatens.

As you may have guessed (or possibly hoped), the family members we bury in our funeral forest are our feathered, furred and scaled members. I wish we could include the human members as well (not right now, but in time), but there are rules about where humans can be buried.

In Western Australia there is a new innovation; a memorial forest where you can bury your human family’s ashes under a tree. This seems like a great idea to me; these funeral forests will be considered sacred by just about everyone, the trees will never be cut down for timber or dozed out because they drop limbs or to build a house. They will provide homes for a multitude of native animals and a seed bank for local plant species. Why don’t we have one of these in every council area? I would love to be buried under a tree, to become part of that tree and it’s ecosystem.