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.

Preparing for the passion fruit harvest

After the bumper crop of mulberries this year, and the joy of having such an abundance of fruit, I decided to prepare in advance for the passion fruit harvest (just in case it is similarly huge). The vine is beginning to flower and if there are any pollinators at all around, we should have piles of yummy fruit to use.

The passionfruit vine is planted on top of the transpiration pit for the biogas effluent, so it gets a lot of nutrient rich water. The dragonfruit is planted on the same bed, I am hoping for a big yield there too.

I plan to store a lot of the pulp by scraping it into ice cube trays and freezing them to be used in recipes at a later date. I also plan to make cakes, slices and passionfruit butter with it. If the yield is large enough, I will make a batch or two of wine as well.

Look out for posts about modified versions of; Dead Fly Slice (you read that right), passion fruit butter, passion fruit self saucing pudding, vegan version of marinated chicken with passion fruit sauce and a good old passion fruit tart.

The earthbag chook house- rubble stem wall

I know… I haven’t finished the bathroom walls yet. It has been years since I had any time or energy to attack the building of the bathroom. We have showered outdoors through another two Winter’s of cold wind and frosty toes. However… the chook house needs to be built, and I really want to build some fire resistant animal shelters. Once it is rendered, earthbag walls are fire proof and roof structures can be made fire safe (if not totally fire proof), so I decided to build with earthbags again.

The basic chook house design criteria is as small a building as I can make and still be functional (I only want to keep a few chooks now we are using fewer eggs). I decided on a curved shape (like half an egg) with a high ‘window’ for the chooks to get in and out of, and a small, tight fitting door on the Southern side (facing the humpy) made from thick, solid wood. I will probably make a space in the wall that can be accessed from the outside as nesting boxes (with a solid wood, tight fitting hatch) and include some pipes near the ceiling with wire mesh covers to act as ventilation. This will be a fairly dark, dim space for the chooks to sleep in and lay their eggs, which is what they prefer anyway, there should be enough light to see when dawn comes though.

I decided to use a rubble/rock stem wall, just because I wanted to see how it will perform with earthbags stacked on top. I spent a few days collecting rocks from our property, then my daughter and I dug a shallow trench in the shape we wanted the chook house to be.

The start of the trench
Loads of rocks on the farm ute
Waiting to become a wall
My daughter has a talent for building rock walls it seems
The trench for the rest of the walls was dug slowly
Ready for walls
Nearly there
Stage one complete

Hopefully the earthbags will lay on the top of the wall, this should be high enough to keep the rain water off the earth rendered walls. The gaps between the rocks will allow mice and snakes to get into the chook house (to be avoided if possible), so I am planning on rendering over the rocks with something that will seal the gaps, maybe a cement based render?

The floor of the house will probably be an earth floor, similar to what we will have in the house. It will give me a chance to play with the concept and learn how to make a good, hardwearing floor.

I am planning on a living roof on the chook house, this will hopefully insulate the chooks inside from heat and cold, be more fire proof and will allow me space to plant pumpkins. I will have to find a way to seal the eaves of the roof so they are less likely to burn, but that problem is in the future. For now, I have finished the stem wall, the bags for the wall come next, then I have to think about how to frame a door, an access window and nest boxes.

Plants in the garden- port wine magnolia

We have a single Port wine magnolia in the garden. Of course it has a story attached; if the plants in your garden don’t have a story, you are missing an essential element of gardens. My eldest daughter loves the smell of Port wine magnolia (as do we all here), when she was young she called them bubblegum trees and would go looking for the source of the delightful smell if we happened to be near one in Spring. A friend started some from cuttings for me many years ago and I bought them home and looked for places to plant them.

My daughter wanted to plant them outside her bedroom window so the smell would blow into the room on hot Spring nights. I wanted to plant them near the gate so I could smell them as I went in and out of the yard. In the end, we planted one under the window and one by the gate. Of course, the one by the gate was eaten by a passing sheep, but the under window shrub is still going strong.

It began to flower this year, while my daughter was at home (luckily)

The poor little thing has managed to live with ducks and chooks running loose under it. The base is mulched with rocks and the position means that any left over shower water goes to it.

This is an example of a shrub we have planted purely for pleasure. In the garden, as in life, pleasure is important to add flavour to life; without things that give us pleasure, life is fairly boring.