New family member – Melvin

For about three years now I have been trying to tell myself we don’t need a puppy. We have three aging dogs already, and multiple other species. We have jobs and lives and no time to do anything really. We don’t need more bills and vet visits and training and such… oh, who am I kidding. I want to feel the smooth, silky head of a puppy. I want to cuddle the tiny, warm mass of trust while they sleep and I want to get to know a new spirit and watch him/her grow into a confident, happy adult. So, we got a puppy.

I was walking down the street of our local town (on my way to buy some medicinal hot chips after work) when I saw a neighbour sitting on a bench holding a tiny puppy. Of course, I immediately went up and introduced myself to the puppy. She is a mini fox terrier, and so sweet and playful. Of course I fell in love. Upon asking if there were any more in the litter, I was told there was one male left. I asked my neighbour to pass on my desire for a puppy to her mum (the breeder of the litter) and left it at that. I assumed that the last puppy would already have found a home; who can resist that amount of cuteness?

Fast forward to a week later, I was again in town, in the slightly larger regional town waiting for a set of tires to be fitted to my car (that’s another story). I was wasting time looking in shops when I ran into my neighbour’s mother. Of course I asked about the puppy and found out that she still had him. I left her company with the knowledge that we were expecting a new family member.

My neighbour picked up the puppy from her Mum for us and in return we ferried both of the pups to the vet for their first check up and microchipping. The two siblings played well together all day and I managed to get a lot of blankets and toys with their scent on them for when we took our boy home all alone for his first night in a new family. The theory being that the scent of his sister would help him feel more at home in a strange new place.

They both got bills of good health from the vet and I delivered the little girl to her home and took our boy to his new home. We had been busy (mostly my daughter’s work) setting up all the requirements of a new puppy. He has a crate beside my bed for night time sleeping and a playpen in the lounge room for day time play. He has multiple blankets and cloths for cuddling up to at night , he has toys and the all important teething ring. We bought specialised puppy food and milk because he is very young and probably still needs a milk source. He slept in his crate at night from the first night, with frequent trips outside for toilet breaks (no sleep for us at all), our other dogs sleep on the end of our beds and he will be allowed to sleep there too when he is older. For the moment, he is too small to sleep on the bed, because he could fall off or be rolled on in the night. He still has multiple cuddle sessions with us throughout the day, and it is just as addictive as I remember it to be; holding that warm, snuggling little body safely against my side (or neck) while he snoozes with such perfect trust and love.

He follows us around for a large part of the day and we take turns walking him up the driveway with Val (my daughter’s dog) to tire him out throughout the day.

He loves to play (what puppy doesn’t) and will spend hours with his favourite toys.

If I sound besotted, it’s because I am! Although it could be partly sleep deprivation and hysteria bought about by picking up ‘accidents’ and trying to beat the bladder in the trinightly dash outside for toilet breaks. He is a lovable little burden and I am not sorry he is now a part of our family.

Oh… by the way… we called him Melvin (via popular vote). He has already become Smelly Melly to my daughter.

Repotting a family member – Big/paw paw

When Big the rooster died, we buried him in a large pot with a dwarf asexual paw paw planted on top (as we do for all our family). He grew very fast with all that nutrient and soon grew out of his pot. Dwarf paw paws are supposed to grow to about 2 metres tall, but Big has grown to around 3 metres, so Big needed a new home.

We had some truck tire guards that a friend gave us (thanks Judy). I had the idea of bolting them together to make a garden bed some time ago and when Big needed a larger pot I thought it was time to act on the idea.

My sometimes present partner and my daughter screwed the truck guards together for me while I was at work one day and I came home to find the big pot (or garden bed) together and placed ready to plant. I filled the base with sheep compost and bought potting mix (it took a lot more soil than I thought) and re-potted Big the rooster and his paw paw into the bed along with a hen named Burger that had conveniently died the previous night. Now Big and Burger can grow amazing paw paws and enjoy their next incarnation as a tree.

The paw paw is beginning to flower, I think. I have never grown paw paw before, so I’m not really sure if the little buds are flowers or more leaves. Either way, the tree is growing really well in it’s new pot.

With a lot of help from friends and neighbours, we are beginning to get on top of the work around the humpy again. Both myself and my partner have had some health issues lately, but we are healing now. I feel so lucky to live in a community where people help each other, we have so many friends who are willing to lend a hand.

Passionfruit harvest update

I am still waiting for a tsunami of passionfruit; it can’t be much longer. The vine has flowered, and flowered, and flowered until at last it is FULL of fruit.

The fruit has grown to a huge size, but it is still green. This morning I noticed a slight change in colour, but it could just be wishful thinking… what do you think?

In other news; a pumpkin vine has popped up outside the yard fence and continued to defy the sheep, geese and wandering mower to produce it’s first male flowers. We may yet harvest some pumpkins this Winter.

Growing coffee

Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

Recently I watched a news piece about an impending world coffee shortage due to climate change. This got me thinking about how much I depend on coffee (a lot) and how I would be unable to function for a few days (maybe longer) if I had to give it up. I gave up coffee once, years ago, and the detox is hard and unpleasant. Because I like to do something instead of just worry about it, I decided to grow some coffee trees (the other option was give up coffee again, and that isn’t ideal). Growing coffee trees gives me an interesting learning experience in the future when it comes time to process the harvest. I went and had a look at our fairly local nursery for all things interesting (garden related); Daley’s Fruit Tree Nursery their online shop is amazing. They had a dwarf coffee variety called Catuai; so I ordered 2 plants.

While I waited for them to arrive, I did some reading about their care and growing.

Coffee is a rainforest edge species, meaning it likes to have a lot of sun, but protection from the hot Western afternoon sun. It likes to be watered regularly (who doesn’t?) and it is a fairly heavy feeder. The variety I chose is small enough to live in large pots, but I want to see how they grow in the ground in my garden too, so they will need some improved soil to get growing in and a fairly sheltered position.

We recently had one of our old ducks die (she had a good long life and died fairly peacefully), so I buried her in an old cement laundry tub next to one of our geese. I decided that this was the place to plant one of my coffee trees. I hope the pot is big enough and that the nutrients from Puddles (the duck) is acceptable to this little tree. We will see where the other tree ends up.

Mulberry/blueberry apple muffins

I was looking for a way to use up the seemingly endless supply of blueberries and mulberries we have this year (no complaint at all, I feel rich!) and thought about making muffins that I could freeze. I also wanted to use up some okara or some sourdough discard in the process. Since my daughter won’t be eating these muffins, I think I will try to use maximum eggs in the recipe too (abundance can be such a chore… joking).

Ingredients

  • 1 cups  plain flour
  • 1   cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup okara or sourdough discard
  • ¾  cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅔ cup oil
  • 2 egg
  • 1 cup soy milk (may need to add a little more milk if using okara)
  • 2 cups mulberries/ blueberries or a combination
  • 1 chopped apple 

Method

Mix all dry ingredients together in a bowl, then add wet ingredients except berries and apple. Mix well to combine, but be careful not to overmix. Add fruit and stir to combine. Spoon mix into greased muffin tins and bake at 200 degrees C for 20 minutes.

You can sprinkle some granulated sugar and cinnamon over the muffin tops before baking if you are feeling fancy; it gives the muffins a nice crackly top.

These muffins freeze well, but they don’t last in the cupboard for long as the moist berries become mouldy fairly quickly.

The blue/green/purple hue is from the mulberries and blueberries combined. I actually love the colour. The muffins taste light and soft and fruity; just the way they should taste.

Mulberry butter

A tart made from mulberry butter.

I grew up eating lemon butter, made from our own lemons when the hens were laying prolifically, at the time I didn’t think any other fruit could be used to make butters, but I was wrong. In my teen years I was introduced to passionfruit butter and thought this was the height of creativity (at least in the culinary field). In the present I am looking for ways to use the huge mulberry harvest that has been stored in the freezer, and in honour of the fine tradition of using excess eggs to make butters, I went looking for this recipe. Of course, I will change it a bit to suit what I have to hand.

Ingredients

  • 400 g (3 cups) mulberries
  • 2 Tablespoons wine vinegar
  • 175 g ( 3/4 cup) butter room temperature
  • 100 – 150 g (1/2 – 3/4 cup) sugar
  • 4 large eggs approximately 225ml (1 cup)
  • You will also need some sterilized glass jars with lids.

Instructions

To make the mulberry puree

  • Wash the mulberries, then place the wet mulberries in a small saucepan.
  • Simmer on a medium heat for 5 – 10 minutes, or until the mulberries have softened and are starting to fall apart.
  • Push the mulberry pulp through a fine sieve with a spoon into a bowl. This will separate any seeds and stalks from the puree. Reserve the puree and dump any solids left in the sieve into the chook scrap bucket.
  • Allow the puree to cool before proceeding. This is important as the puree will curdle the eggs if it is too hot.

To make the mulberry curd on the Stove Top

  • Place the mulberry puree, vinegar, sugar, and butter in bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water.
  • Stir until the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved.
  • Whisk the eggs until frothy then pour into the mulberry puree. Stir in gently.
  • Stir continuously until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to boil or it will curdle.
  • Let the mixture cool slightly then transfer to glass bottles, put the lid on straight away and store in the fridge.

Mulberry butter can be used to make flan or tart, it can be used as a topping for pancakes and waffles, it can also be used as a filling in layer cakes or to serve with cake. This stuff is yummy, but it does taste very buttery, which is not something I am used to these days.

The butter coats the back of a spoon, this means it will solidify somewhat when taken off the heat.

I am not sure if it can be frozen, but I am going to find out.

Making a scoby hotel

So it is time to take a break from making kombucha for a few months; I am not drinking as much as I was, and the batches are getting a bit too vinegary for my taste because of the heat and longer time between batches.

The vinegary large batch in the brewer can be used as cleaning vinegar, so I just bottled it up and left it to mature. Apparently it can be used to make salad dressings and in cooking just like apple cider vinegar.

The scoby was checked into the new scoby hotel. A scoby hotel is a clean jar with some sweet tea and a cup or two of starter kombucha. The only care it needs is a top up of sweet tea every month or so. I store the jar in the fridge and hope that the room service bill won’t be too high.

I know, scoby looks disgusting!
The new scoby hotel

I will start making kombucha again in a couple of months, hopefully the scoby will survive until my enthusiasm returns.

Vegan fried chicken with seitan

My daughter came home from work with a craving for KFC, which would put her in hospital if she ate it, so I decided to have a go at making a vegan version. What is it that we all remember about KFC? For me (and my daughter) it is the crispy, oily outer coating, so that is where I will start.

I found two videos on YouTube to guide my thinking; the seitan recipe and the coating recipe. Of course online recipes are just a jumping off point for me (we all know I can’t follow instructions), so this is what I actually did;

The seitan chicken

Wet Mixture (Should make about 1 ½ cups)

1 tsp Soy Sauce (or miso paste)

1/2 Cup Chickpeas

1 Tbsp Bullion

3 Garlic Cloves

2 Tbsp Onion powder

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

several pieces of sundried tomato

1 Cup Water

fresh oregano, thyme, mugwort (about 2 tablespoons)

Dry Ingredients

1 Cup of Vital Wheat Gluten

¼ Cup of tapioca and coconut flour

2 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast

Dried rosemary, nutmeg and black pepper

1 tsp Sea Salt

Method

Mix the wet ingredients in a blender or food processor and the dry ingredients in a bowl. Then gradually combine the wet with the dry in a bowl. Knead the dough until it is firm, but can be pulled apart and re-kneaded. This part takes practice, it is easy to under or over knead and either have a too soft or too firm result). When the dough is firm enough for your liking, tear off pieces and squash the dough into vaguely chicken piece shapes, make the pieces flat as the dough swells up to about double when boiled. Mine made seven pieces.

Dry ingredients.
Wet ingredients.
Making chicken pieces.
They smell lovely.

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and add 2 stock cubes (or equivalent) and a bay leaf. When the water is simmering, just below a rolling boil, put the chicken pieces in one by one and simmer the pot for about 20 minutes.

The pieces will sink to the bottom, and won’t rise until they begin to cook.
After 20 minutes the pieces are all floating on the surface of the water.

Once the pieces are cooked, they can be taken out and drained on a paper towel until you are ready to coat and fry them (I put mine in the fridge).

Ready to go in the fridge. I am trialing the ‘If You Care’ brand of kitchen sponge (washable) for food draining, I will let you know if it works.
A closer view of the texture. It is juicy and tender if looks are anything to go by.

Now it is time to make the coating…

Wet bowl

1 cup soy milk

11/2 tablespoons vinegar (I used my home made mead vinegar)

Dry bowl

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour 

1 tablespoon rosemary and nutmeg

1/2 tablespoon paprika 

1/2 tablespoon mustard powder

1/2 tablespoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon black pepper 

Method

Mix the dry ingredients in the dry bowl and the wet ingredients in the wet bowl. Don’t be surprised if the wet bowl goes all lumpy and curdled, it is supposed to, just mix it back in.

Dip the pieces of chicken in the wet bowl then put it in the dry bowl and cover it with the flour mix. You may have to repeat this a few times to get a good cover.

Then fry the chicken pieces in a frying pan or a deep fryer until they are golden brown and crispy.

We ate these with chips and they were satisfyingly crispy and oily.

Accidentally making the lettuce last longer in the fridge

Some of the lovely greens in the trailer bed

The trailer bed is bursting with greens, it is so easy to stroll out and pick a salad base. Of course, I prefer to pick every few days and keep the leaves in the fridge. I’m lazy that way. The problem with keeping the leaves in the fridge is that they go slimy and bad by the second day, and then I need to pick more. That is a problem I may have accidentally found a solution for.

Let me explain… The lettuce and other greens are watered using washing water (the used water from the washing machine) and the remnants of the duck and chicken water pots when we refresh them. This means that the greens have a lot of unsavory bacteria on them (and silt), so the leaves need to be washed well and disinfected somehow.

The day’s haul of fresh lettuce leaves

I wash the leaves in a tub of water (which is then poured back onto the garden) to remove any dirt and silt. Then I soak them in a water and vinegar solution (1/2 cup vinegar to 5 litres of water). I use my home made vinegar for this, and it seems to work.

Soaking in vinegar solution

I use vinegar for all my cleaning; in a spray for kitchen surfaces, in the washing, as a floor spot cleaner, as an emergency bath addative (when I’m really smelly), as a medicinal additive in the animal waters, you name it. Using it to clean bacteria off food is a logical step.

Draining out the excess water

Then I discovered that the vinegar rinse keeps the lettuce fresh in the fridge for a week. You have to be sure to dry as much water off the leaves as possible and line the bag or container with a paper towel though (I keep trying to think of a washable version of paper towels for this).

Chopped lettuce ready for the fridge

I am so happy with this little discovery that I wanted to pass on the tip. A vinegar soak not only makes sure the lettuce is safe to eat, it also makes it last much longer in the fridge, and it is another use for my home made vinegar.

Lots more to pick

Making smudge sticks

There are a lot of herbs in the garden at the moment and I the need to use them (of course). I have made a few tea mixes (made by drying herbs and crumbling them together) and dried some culinary herbs, but there are still a lot of herbs I haven’t used… enter smudge sticks.

Smudge sticks can be used as part of a ritual cleanse of a space or person, they can be used to encourage sleep, or dreams or even love, but the smudge sticks I felt moved to make are for protection.

Herbs have many layers of use to humans; they can be used as food, as medicine, in the production of other things and most also have a magical use, it is the magical use I am tapping into to when making smudge sticks.

I wandered around the garden harvesting herbs… today I was drawn to the mugwort (or cronewort), lavender and rosemary. I looked these up in my handy magical herbal to find that all three can be used in protection spells.

I used three leaves or sprigs each of the three herbs to make a total of three smudge sticks. Three is a special number, and it gives me a nice sense of completion to use three of everything.

I stacked my bundles together and tied the ends with cotton thread.

Then I wrapped the string around the bundles from bottom to top and from top to bottom again. The wrapping needs to be fairly tight and the end knot is tied using the loose tail of the first knot.

The neat little bundles are then dried by putting them on a tray in the griller of the stove (not going), so that when I use the oven, the heat rises up into the griller and dries the bundles. It only takes a night to dry herbs for tea making, but I think it will take two (or maybe three) days to dry these little wrapped bundles.

Finally the bundles are used to burn and waft smoke around the humpy while I hold the image of our home being safe from all things harmful.