Home Biogas system – a BIG step forward (part one)

We have been trying very hard to move away from using gas to sustain our daily life. We have historically used gas for running the fridge and for cooking and heating water on the gas stove. Recently we have upgraded our gas fridge to an electric fridge (solar powered) and now we are adding a biogas unit to the mix. This means that we will no longer have to buy gas bottles (yay!!), this is the final step away from using bottled gas.

Bottled gas or LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) is produced during oil refining and given the temporary nature of our supply of oil on this planet, we need to be looking at ways to move away from our reliance on it (not to mention the huge environmental cost of using it). LPG contains propane in Australia, in other countries LPG can be a mix of propane and butane.

Biogas captures methane and carbon dioxide (methane mostly) as a result of decomposition of organic matter. That is why the discovery of methane on Mars was such an exciting thing; where there are dead things there were once live things (usually, although not always and probably not in this case). I became interested in biogas many years ago (after watching an episode of The Good Life) and decided to work towards setting it up in our humpy. The idea that we could use our waste (of all descriptions) to generate some of our energy needs was very exciting.

The idea has been sitting on a dusty shelf at the back of my mind for years. Other, more attainable, goals have been on the work table of my mind. Six months ago (approximately) I stumbled upon a post advertising a biogas system designed for home use and the idea suddenly moved to the front of my mind again.

We eventually decided to go with a Home Biogas unit from Quality Solar and Plumbing

They are the only company selling these units in Australia and they are relatively close to us (only about three hours drive way). We saved up (in tiny increments) and finally, with a windfall of back pay, we ordered the unit. We also managed to add a toilet unit to the order. As soon as this unit is set up we can start to generate our own cooking gas (although the Year three student who lives in my head can’t help making jokes about cooking with farts).

As soon as the order was placed we realised we needed a site for the future toilet/gas generation unit. Then we need a shed or some kind of building to house the toilet and a pad for the gas unit to sit on.

A gratuitous ocean shot from our long journey to Mullumbimby to pick up our biogas system.

The first part of our biogas adventure was picking it up and touring a working unit while we were there. The very helpful Brian at Quality Solar and Plumbing gave us a tour of the biogas unit he has set up at his house.

This is the working unit. It was really exciting to see one working.
You put the food scraps or animal manure into the black pipe at this end…
and gas and fertiliser come out this end. How amazing is that?
This is the stove unit that comes with the kit. There is no smell at all to the gas and this burner obviously gets a lot of use.

We have our unit home. It is sitting in it’s two little boxes, waiting for us to make it a home and set up the toilet. I can’t wait to get it going.

The two boxes in the car constitute the entire kit. I was amazed at the small size of the whole thing and how light it was to haul around. It will be much heavier once the bottom of the digester is full of water.

The kit is supposed to include everything we need to put it all together. We will see…

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Lentil meatless loaf

I have been enjoying having my eldest daughter around the place to look after animals (mostly hers I might add) and cook dinner. She is a vegan, so our meals have been entirely animal free for quite a while now. My daughter suffers from MMA (or the alpha gal allergy); she has an allergic reaction to almost all animal products, so we try not to use them.

The recipe below is a simple meatless loaf that fills a hollow tummy and tastes pretty good on sandwiches the next day too. I made this on one of my rare forays into the kitchen.

This is the recipe I followed (I followed it all the way through, for a change)-  recipe

I didn’t remember to take photos until about halfway through the process.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup brown or green lentils
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 3/4 cup bulgur or toasted cracked wheat for gluten-free version, use certified gf steel cut oats (I used oats as that’s what I had in the cupboard)
  • 1 cup water boiled
  • 1/4 cup natural ketchup
  • 1 cup rolled or quick oats ensure gf certified for gluten-free
  • 3 tablespoons tamari use wheat-free for wheat/gluten-free version
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons ground white chia or can use flax meal
  • 2 tablespoons vegan Worcestershire sauce see note for gf version
  • 2 tablespoons tahini or sunflower seed butter
  • 2 teaspoons blackstrap molasses (I skipped this ingredient)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground fennel optional
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Topping:

  • 3-4 tablespoons natural ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce OR 2 tsp vegan bbq sauce optional, optional

Instructions

  1. Combine the lentils, vegetable stock, 1⁄3 cup of water, and bay leaf in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until just about tender. Once done, add the bulgur and boiling water, cover, and cook on medium-low heat for another 8 to 9 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil an oven-proof glass loaf pan and line the bottom of the pan with a strip of parchment paper to cover (place it in to protrude along the short ends of the pan; this helps for easier removal of the veggie loaf from the pan). Combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl.
  3. Once the bulgur is cooked, remove the bay leaf and add all the remaining ingredients (except topping). Stir very well. Transfer the mixture to prepared pan and pack it in. Spread the topping mixture over the top.
  4. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 to 28 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes or so, before cutting to slice and serve. Serves 5-6.

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Just out of the oven

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A close up of the texture

This is a fairly quick to make meal which leaves some left overs. I will be making this again.

Sourdough scones

 

 

Against all possible predictions and probabilities, the sourdough starter is still alive. It has been used regularly and is now kept in the fridge between baking days. I have been making a loaf of bread every week or so, as it is only me who eats it; my partner says it gives him heart burn and my daughter doesn’t enjoy the taste. I have also made the odd other thing with it; muffins, brownies and pikelets, even doughnuts. Now I thought it was time to try scones.

The usual caliber of scones I create ranges from inedible to…interesting as a building material and possibly bullet proof. I am hoping that these will be different. I found a recipe that looks good on this blog; Passion fruit garden.

Basic recipe

Scones:

  • 1½ cups sifted all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda (bicarb soda) (The recipe said ½ tsp if starter is quite sour.  For my first batch, I used the ½ tsp because my starter was well and truly dead!)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 cup starter.

 Method:

  1. Sift all the dry ingredients together.
  2. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. Add the starter and mix.  As mentioned above, I had to add some milk as my dough was too dry.
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board.
  5. Knead only long enough to form a smooth dough.
  6. Press out dough to about 2 cm deep.
  7. Use a scone cutter to cut out scones.
  8. Put scones onto a tray lined with baking paper.
  9. Brush scones with milk.
  10. Let scones rest for one hour.
  11. Bake for 12 minutes at 200°C.

 

Of course with my daughter being almost totally vegan now I decided to substitute vegetable oil for the butter, other than that I just followed the recipe. It made six large scones, I think I will make a double or even treble batch next time.

 

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The resulting scones taste good but they look like flat rocks. They crumbled as I tried to cut them too. I think that is because of the oil for butter substitution. Next batch I will use the vegan spread we use for butter.

Update; I tried a batch with real butter, just to see how it would go. They turned out ok, but nothing spectacular. I think I need more practice at this…my losing streak when it comes to scones continues.

Sourdough chocolate zucchini muffins

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My zucchini patch

Having stated that I really don’t like to cook, I thought I would do another post on how I use left over sourdough starter. While I don’t enjoy cooking and spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen grumbling in a very unbecoming manner and wishing I was outside, I do like to eat and if I don’t make it I won’t eat. Also I hate to throw out that magic starter, it seems truly amazing to me that you can mix flour and water together and end up with bread (after a bit of neglect). I have a fair few zucchini plants busily producing the famed glut in the garden, so what better way to use up spare sourdough starter and too many zucchini than to turn them into chocolate.

I found the original recipe for these muffins here. I found a recipe for zucchini brownies while I was searching that looked good too.

 

Sourdough chocolate zucchini muffins (makes about 12)

3/4 cup honey

Sourdough starter

1/3 cup of vegetable oil (the original recipe calls for butter but I couldn’t find any)

2 eggs (or 4 bantam eggs in my case)

1 tablespoon of vanilla

a pinch of salt

1 1/3 cups of plain flour

1/3 cup cocoa

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 grated zucchini (it doesn’t matter too much whether it’s a big one or a little one)

Method

Mix all the liquids together until the sourdough starter is combined then add the dry ingredients slowly until they are combined. Add the zucchini and mix through well. Spoon into muffin cases or a tray then pop into the oven at 180-200 degrees Celsius for about 20 minutes.

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The wet ingredients

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Mixing the wet ingredients together

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The dry ingredients

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Mixing the dry ingredients in

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The daily zucchini harvest

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One grated zucchini

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The mix ready to bake

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When you run out of muffin papers half way through…just make some from baking paper and keep on spooning

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They came out OK

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Even the ones in make-shift papers

I am sure this cooking thing is just a passing phase born from having so much produce in the garden, bear with me, it will be over soon.

Making pesto

I don’t usually post about cooking or food preparation. The reason is really simple; I’m a TERRIBLE cook. I don’t enjoy cooking and I avoid it as much as possible, but I have had a few successes in the kitchen lately and I like to document my wins so here is my latest triumph.

While I was messing around in the garden I picked a bunch of basil that is starting to flower. When you pick basil, you have to make pesto…it’s in the rule book. I didn’t have pine nuts or olive oil (or fresh garlic) but I made pesto anyway.

My modified pesto recipe

2 cups basil leaves (about)

1/2 cup rice bran oil

1/2 cup roasted macadamia nuts

2 teaspoons powdered garlic

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My bunch of fresh basil

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The ingredients I managed to find to make impromptu pesto

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Basil, oil and garlic in the bullet blender

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After the first blending of the basil and oil mix I added the macadamias

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I love the texture of this pesto

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It turned out really yummy