Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sometimes you have to read the scary stuff

This BBC article on methane already seeping from the Arctic is more than a little alarming. Especially given the way that the general pattern with climate research updates seems to be - every few months - 'actually it's worse/happening faster than we thought'.

There's more commentary on the new methane escape findings here.

I hate thinking about this stuff. It makes my heart start pounding painfully if I linger on it, or think too deeply about it. So I kind of half-think about it; let it sink in just enough to remind myself that this is important, but not enough that I start having a panic attack in front of the computer.

But lately I've been thinking I'm not thinking about it enough. And I'm not taking enough action. And I've been feeling frustrated that other people aren't thinking about it - the people who reckon that it's okay for NZ to have a conditional 10-20% emissions target because we're just a small nation in the global scheme of things.

(By that logic - every town across every LARGE nation in the world could also say, it doesn't matter if OUR town acts, because we are just one small place and our actions won't make a difference. It's an artificial, illogical, and dangerous way to break it down - to think just in terms of big and small nations.)

I'm trying to spend a bit of time when I can on Transition Towns. (The personal is political.) I've joined Sign On, and I've taken very small actions.

But none of it feels enough. (Although I think joining Sign On, although a small thing, is really important - it's the most co-ordinated and effective public climate action campaign in NZ - and 'signing on' to that campaign is a particularly effective use of your name.)

What else? What else can be done?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Eyes wide open!

Yay for local mother Jo Campbell! She couldn't get along to the big Eyes Wide Open emissions target protest in town (because she was on Playcentre duty) ... so she organised a small protest for parents and children just outside her Playcentre instead.

I was away, but the rest of my family went along, and apparently it was great.

You can see the video here. (If you want to spot my loved ones, just look for the pink bomber jacket!)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Herbal health

After saying I wouldn't blog much, I don't seem to be able to stay away from it!

Yesterday at the Museum of City and Sea, I caught a good half an hour of Donna Lee's presentation on herbal cosmetic and hygiene products - and was very inspired. She even sent everyone away with a sample of her tooth powder, made from baking soda, spearmint essential oil, and stevia powder. I have yet to try it, but it smells lovely.

I've been looking over Donna's beautiful website, and coveting -
a) some of her courses and workshops
b) some of her products
c) some of the resources to make your own products, which she also sells.
(And by the sounds of it, she sells more than what you actually see on the website.)

So far, my own forays into herbal medicine have involved regular lurking and link-following round the Herbwifery Forum, as well as beginning a distance course at the International College of Herbal Medicine, run by the marvellous Isla Burgess. (You can see her in the movie Earth Whisperers.)

By the way, I love the concept of herbwifery and herbwives - 'grassroots community herbalism'. More about it here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

One quick thing!

Tomorrow (Sunday 2 Aug) I'm giving a low key, informal presentation at the Museum of City and Sea on 'Harvesting Without a Garden.' I'll be at a table from 2.30 to 5pm to chat about foraging and fermentation, and blending the two. I think it'll be fun!

Before that, Donna Lee will be presenting on home-made cosmetics (from 11am-12.30) and on natural household cleaners (from 1.30-2.30). I'm really looking forward to seeing her.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My posting will become even more sporadic ...

Infrequent posting is supposed to be the kiss of death for a blog, but I've got so much going on at the moment that I'm going to have to pretty much stop posting for a month or so.

I do hope to be back to it with a vengeance in September sometime! In the meantime I'll still be reading all my favourite blogs ... (nearly all linked to in the sidebars).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pedal power

Wellington sustainable food fan David Stuart has started a blog about his and his family's adventures ... Take a look at their new pedal powered blender!

As an aside, David's wife Charity runs the very wonderful Honeychild cloth nappy business.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Wood Sorrel on National Radio

Today on This Way Up I'm wandering down our street talking to Simon Morton about wood sorrel. It should be on at 1.30pm.

There is nothing so excellent as a plant that's great in savoury AND sweet dishes!

Monday, July 6, 2009

What materials do you have an affinity with? (Or not?)

A few weeks ago, I started thinking about the relationships people have with the materials they work with.

It started when I did a weekend letterpress course with Sydney Shep at Victoria University's Wai-te-ata Press. It was one of the best things I've done in a long time, and I was buzzing for days afterwards.

On the first day, I was talking to one of the other women on the course about why she was doing it. She said she 'loved all things paper'.

I thought a lot about that, and wondered if I loved paper too. I felt like I should love paper. It is an integral part of my life. I live with it and use it in a multitude of ways every day. Sometimes paper threatens to take over every space in my house.

But I don't feel an active adoration for it. No quickening of the heart when I think about it.

The next day on the course I was talking to another woman about how using wood type feels very different from using lead type. Without thinking why it was so, I told her I was enjoying working with the lead type a lot more. She said she was the opposite; she was naturally attracted to working with wood type - and loved its comparative warmth and smoothness.

After the course was over, I wondered more about why I had fallen in love with working with lead type (because that's how it did feel), and why for days afterwards all I wanted to do was hop back into that studio and get my fingers into those lead type cases again.

I began to remember other times when I had enjoyed working with metal in one way or another. For a time, when I was about 19, I even spent several days a week at a metalwork school in Warkworth, before coming back to Wellington and spending a year trying to launch a career as a craft jeweller. For reasons that seem hazy now, I gave it up before I got properly off the ground. I think I got sidetracked by writing.

As I remembered all this I found myself hankering to start metalwork again. My memories of working with metal are powerful and visceral: the gentle roar of the gas torch, the way the solder almost seems to burst before it runs, the satisfying work of filing and sanding away seams.

I realise I simply love metal. And it fascinates me that other people seem to have similar affinities for other materials - paper, wood, clay, fibre, stone, ...

And you don't know until you work with something how you will feel about it. I once thought I would love glass. But then I did a leadlight course and found that I despised it; its cold, brittle nature, and the splinters that invaded my body and life.

If materials were humans, my relationships with them would be along these lines:

Paper would be a familiar old friend that I have grown up with, that I rely on, but probably take for granted too much.

Glass would be the alluring individual who turned out to be a *&%$# when I got to know it.

And metal would be - inexplicably really - my beloved one.

What about you? I'd love to hear what sorts of relationships with materials you have.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

If you've come here from 'This Way Up' ...

... you're probably after the info about chickweed, which is on my other blog Wild Picnic. :)

(Or if you're reading this on Sat morning, I'm talking about chickweed to Simon Morton on National Radio's This Way Up - shortly after 1pm today.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Independence Days Challenge update 3 (or is it 4?)

I haven't done much towards food independence over the past couple of weeks ...

No planting or harvesting at all. (Although I've done a lot of looking at my garden and pondering which things are coming up and which are not, and why ...)

Preserved: Got together with a friend, Nadine, and while our children played she made a bowl of kimchi and I made a bowl of sauerkraut, then we swapped a jar each.

I think I overdid the salt in the sauerkraut. Sorry Nadine - if you are reading this! Nadine's kimchi is, however, delicious and I have to use all my willpower to not eat it before it is fermented properly.

Eat the food: Does picking at the kimchi count? Maybe not ... Apart from that, I've been working my way through the quince syrup I made. (It was meant to be quince jelly, but I didn't boil it for long enough.) It's delicious on porridge.

I've also been making tea from the oat straw I dried, and it's lovely. Definitely going to plant a lot more oats.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Sugar beet and old women's magazines

My Mum sent me this lovely and fascinating email the other day, and I asked her if I could repost it here.

By way of background, my mother has a popular (among spinners) NZ spinning wheel site, and a book in the pipeline.

Here's her email:

I spent much of yesterday going through World War 2 issues of the New Zealand Countrywoman, the newsletter of the Women’s Division of the NZ Farmers’ Union (now Women’s Divn Federated Farmers). Didn’t find much on spinning wheels, but it was interesting and would make a great research topic for someone (not me).

There was a Mrs Cocks-Johnston, for example, who seems to have spent most of the war travelling from place to place giving demonstrations to branches on home gardening and preserving.

There were lots and lots of little branches, as villages were very isolated. The organisation couldn’t afford to provide her with a car, and there wouldn’t have been enough petrol anyway, so they bought her a bicycle and she mostly cycled from the nearest train station or from one little village to another, over what must often have been bad roads, with a big pack of samples for her demo.

I’d love to find out more about her if I didn’t have other interests. One could go through the reports from the various branches and note where they said they’d had her and track her across the map!

There were lots of articles about coping with shortages. Here is one, from April 1944, by M.E. Annan, Dunstan Orchard, Clyde:

I wonder how many of our members know what a helpful substitute Sugar Beet is for sugar in cooking fruit for immediate use. Unfortunately it cannot be used for preserving fruit as fermentation sets up within a very short time.

It is very easily grown, requiring little attention, and every household garden would do well to have a small plot to help out the sugar ration. Planted in the early spring, the beet should be ready for use from January on, and in the autumn can be stored in pits like mangles for winter use.

The method of using is to peel and cut the beet up into small pieces, put on in cold water, and boil for 30 minutes, strain off the liquid and put back in pot. When boiling, add the fruit to be cooked and simmer until tender... I find it more convenient to make enough syrup to last three days, but in very warm weather it is not wise to keep it longer...

(presumably it’s the liquid you put back in the pot)

I also had occasion a few days ago to skim through a few issues of the wartime NZ Women’s Weekly. There are lots of things in there that could stand re-publishing now.

Made me realise just how unthinkingly dependent we now are on gadgets and having things pre-processed.

Friday, May 29, 2009


The first in a monthly series of little foraging radio pieces is on Radio NZ's This Way Up tomorrow at about 1.10pm.

I won't be able to listen as I'll be on a letterpress workshop up at Vic Uni's Wai-te-ata Press. I've wanted to start learning about letterpress for a long time, so I'm very excited about it! It's the start of my own personal journey to book independence ... Yay. (And thanks for recent feedback and inspiration from those who have been on this journey already for a long time!)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ugly Duckling Presse

On the Quiet World Project I've interviewed Matvei Yankelevich from Ugly Duckling Presse.

Ugly Duckling Presse is an innovative small publishing collective in Brooklyn, New York, and it was exciting getting to talk to Matvei about their ethics and processes.

I've also editorialised about how freeing it must be to create art (including writing) without any regard for earning money from it, and without any preconceived ideas about what 'publishing' should be.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Independence Days update

The sugar beets aside, this is what I've managed to do over the last couple of weeks ...

Plant something: More peas and snow peas. Lettuces. Leeks. Red bunching onions. Plantago. The peas and lettuces are looking good so far. Nothing else has popped its head up at all yet.

Harvest something: Chamomile flowers (the more you harvest, the more they produce). Self-heal (starting to take over the herb garden). Wild red clover flowers. The last green tomatoes. More dandelions for cooked greens and coffee.

Preserve something: Dried the chamomile flowers, self-heal and red clover flowers. (The clover I'm going to send out in little packages to some people by way of a token apology. A few weeks back I was meant to give a foraging presentation - but for various reasons, at the last minute I couldn't. I still feel crap about it.)

Eat the food: Made a new recipe for lambs brain curry with my son. We are ever trying to build up our repertoire with cheap cuts and offal ... The lambs brain curry is a good one because you add the lambs brain at the last minute. That means you can take out some of the curry before adding the brains and reserve it to serve to those who don't eat offal or any meat at all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

101 ways with sugar beets (well, okay, six)

I only planted a tiny patch of sugar beets this year, as an experiment. (Most of my gardening has been experimenting really - it's all pretty new to me - although I'm lucky enough to have a Dad who is something of an expert, although he's too much of a perfectionist to see himself that way ... He was the one who suggested I try growing sugar beets one time when I was off on a wishful thinking tangent about growing maple trees ...!)

I was thrilled to bits by how well the sugar beets grew. That's our harvest above - not alot - but enough to try a few different things with:

1. Leafy greens
The sugarbeet greens were enough to meet all our green vege needs for a week. They are a bit thicker and more leathery than other beet greens I've tried - so I treated them more like kale.

2. Raw beets
I thought they might be nice grated raw in salad, like beetroot is. One taste of a few gratings was enough to put paid to that idea. Raw, the sugar beet was very bitter and, worse, burned my throat as it went down.

3. Roasted beets
Again, treating them like beetroot, I tried roasting some chunks in oil along with some other root veges. Success! The texture was like roast beetroot. The taste - very similar but even sweeter than beetroot. Because of the strong sweetness, I wouldn't eat them roasted on their own. But mixed in with other veges - yum.

4. Fermented beets
I have some grated sugarbeet lacto-fermenting in brine on a shelf. I put a bit of carrot in there for colour, too. It's fermenting very slowly - because of the cold weather I suppose - and I'm not sure how nice it's going to be.

I tried a taste yesterday and it reminded me of old dishcloth smell. (I haven't had much luck, taste-wise, with fermenting beetroot either.) Still, I think it could be improved with a bit of onion and spice. I might try adding some.

5. Beet syrup for lemon cordial and water kefir
After I'd tried all those other things, I peeled and finely sliced all the rest of the sugar beets and boiled them to make an enormous batch of sugary syrup.

I started out using the method here. At first I didn't boil the mixture down as much as the recipe says. I left it fairly watery (it was still very sweet)and tried using that for a couple of things:

I fermented some water kefir grains in 50/50 water and sugar beet syrup. The kefir grains seemed to like it! And the result was nice. A slightly more interesting taste than kefir made from just cane sugar and water.

I also used it in some lemon cordial instead of sugar - and both children gave it their stamp of approval.

6. Beet sugar crystals
I really hoped to be able to boil the syrup down and crystalise it, as the recipes said. But for whatever reasons, I didn't seem to be able to get the crystalisation to happen. Maybe I just didn't boil it down enough.

What I ended up with was just a thick syrup - super sweet - and quite bitter. I noticed though, that it loses obvious bitterness when diluted, so this doesn't seem to be a problem.

I froze this very reduced syrup in ice cube trays to chuck into the blender for smoothies instead of honey - and use for whatever else.

I'm really happy with the sugar beets, and hoping to grow more of them this year, and try a lot more things with them.

Maybe I can even power our car with them. Or maybe not.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Energy independence, food independence ... book independence?

No, I don't need another blog in my life - but I did so want to do this one.

After many weeks of picking other people's brains, and mulling it all over, I've set up the Quiet World project for booklovers.

I'm hoping to update it every Sunday.

And my next post here really will be about sugar beets!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Independence Days Challenge round-up

I have to remind myself that the point of Independence Days is to celebrate what you have achieved, rather than feel bad about what you haven't.

With that in mind - I wont even bother to count up whether I actually have done one thing a day ... and I won't think about the boggy soil that has stopped me planting seeds I'm dying to plant ... and I won't think about that bag of figs that is sitting accusingly waiting for me to do something with it, and attracting fruit flies ...

Nope. I won't.

What I have done is -

Plant something: Peas and snow peas. (I think two shoots have come up, and so far they seem to have survived this morning's hail storm.)

Harvest something: Chamomile flowers, lettuce, overgrown mesclun salad, and our pride and joy - sugarbeets! (I can't find the camera, otherwise I'd post a pic.)

Preserve something: Dried chamomile flowers, started lacto-fermenting some sugarbeet and carrot, made quince jelly (although it turned out very runny - I was so sure I took it off the stove at the right time, but obviously not.)

Reduce waste: Changed our wheelibin collection to a tag system, so they only come pick it up when we ask them to, instead of regularly. Keen to see how long I can go before filling the bin, even while on another decluttering binge ...

Preparation and storage: Bought some more bulk rice for our supplies, and a few other bits and pieces.

Build Community Food Systems: Nothing really, but I did pop something into the food bank ...

Eat the food: Well, I suppose I have been trying to make sure all leftovers get eaten ... and there is this new fig ice cream recipe from the DomPost I have been meaning to try with those darn figs in the bag ...

Sharon Astyk has written more about the different Independence Days Challenge categories here. (They turn out to be a bit different from last year's, which I listed earlier.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

And a good Jim Salinger story link ...

This Nature article seems to lay out the situation quite well I think.

Curiouser and curiouser ...

Jim Salinger's sacking

There are many murmurings on the Wellington grapevine about managers on powertrips ... It seems to me right now that this may be the most likely reason for JS's sacking. (Although I remain open to changing my mind.)

Nonetheless, it's a very bad look for NIWA management politically. Given the current political context, they are going to have a hard job quelling talk of similarities between 'our Jim's' predicament and that of the other outspoken Jim in the United States.

The reasons for the sacking aside, perhaps an important question to ask at the moment is - will the net result of Jim Salinger's sacking be to reduce the quality or quantity of information on climate change that the general public receives?

If it does, then in some ways it doesn't matter
whether that's what the people who sacked him intended or not.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine flu corrections!

Okay, it seems that even once I thought I had sorted out the semantics of flu I still had it wrong!

H1N1 is a subtype, not a strain, and has been around for a while. This new one they are worried about is a strain of H1N1 - and seems currently to be just being referred to as 'swine flu' - even though there are many other swine flus ...

I think!

(Thanks Mum for the corrections. lol.)


This morning's news worried me.

First of all there's the sacking of climate expert Jim Salinger from crown research institute, NIWA. There's also another article about it here.

At a time when the new National government is doing away with all sorts of projects (and positions) that relate to environmental stewardship, this looks kinda bad.

I hope someone gets to the bottom of this.

Oh, and then there's the swine flu outbreak. What's really bugging me at this stage is the quality of a lot of NZ reporting on the subject. If you just skim-read the articles on Stuff this morning, you could be forgiven for thinking that we actually already have confirmed cases of the H1N1 strain of swine flu here in NZ - which of course we don't. (Although a few days will tell.)

Stuff even ran a headline on their front page screaming 'Swine Flu is Here!' - and the ensuing article was hopelessly disorganised, making little distinction between flu, swine flu, and the specific strain of swine flu that's causing concern at the moment - H1N1.

I noticed when I looked at Stuff an hour later that the headline had at least been changed to something like 'Swine Flu Fears Grow'.

The outbreak of a new and lethal strain of flu is obviously not to be taken lightly, but I hope the reporting gets more accurate and organised soon.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Independence Days Challenge update

Am keeping up with the challenge so far. On days 1 and 2, I preserved things - dehydrating apples from our tree and making chutney with figs from my mother-in-law's tree.

On day 3, I cooked something new - making a caffeine-free coffee substitute from dandelion roots. I had done it before as a teenager, but the result was disgusting. This time I followed Euell Gibbons' instructions - cooking them on a very low temperature (around 100 celsius), for almost 4 hours. It wasn't too bad this time!

(First I tried doing it in the popcorn maker like we roast coffee, but the dandelion roots were so light they kept flying out onto the bench and floor.)

Then on day 4 (today), I recorded another show on foraging for National Radio's This Way Up with Simon Morton. I'm thinking maybe that counts as 'work on community food security'?

As before, I got tongue tied and said silly things, but at least I now have faith that they will edit it so that I magically sound more coherent than I really am! I think it goes to air in a couple of weeks and it will be the first in a monthly series.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Independence Days Challenge

Right, I'm going to start doing this. (Nikki has been doing it already for quite a while.)

It's a challenge set by Sharon Astyk to spur people on to make greater positive progress towards preparedness for economic difficulties and peak oil issues.

So, my goal is each day to do at least one thing that fits into one of these categories:

* Plant Something
* Harvest Something
* Preserve Something
* Store Something
* Manage Reserves
* Cook Something New
* Prep Something
* Reduce Waste
* Learn a New Skill
* Work on Community Food Security
* Regenerate What Is Lost

An explanation of each of the categories is here. (I like 'Prep Something' - it's a good catch all for anything that doesn't fit into any other category!)

Who else is doing this challenge? Would love to hear from other NZers doing it.

Backyard grains

Buckwheat and oats - yay - two experiments that worked, albeit on a miniature scale ... Now to see if I can grow them in slightly greater quantity this year!

Buckwheat was something I'd hankered to grow for ages. I love buckwheat pancakes and buckwheat noodles, and so do certain other members of the family. I can't get them to eat stuff made with wholemeal wheat flour very often, but buckwheat combined with white flour goes down a treat, and must be way more nutritious than the white flour on its own.

I scattered some buckwheat seeds amongst our zucchinis in spring, and they grew fantastically. (Better than the zucchinis, which suffered from various ailments this year.)

After the buckwheat had flowered, I picked the groats, and pummelled them up in our big mortar and pestle. The white starchy insides turned to powder, while the hulls stayed mostly in big pieces.

I shook it all through the sieve to remove the biggest bits of hull - and you can see the end result above. It looks just like the buckwheat in the shops! :)

Granted it's only a few spoonfuls, but it's MY few spoonfuls, and I bet those pancakes will taste really good.

I've kept the hulls too. Can you make buckwheat pillows out of those, does anyone know? I'm unsure whether buckwheat pillows are made from the whole groats, or from the empty, broken hulls. Any info gratefully received.

Now onto the oats. I just grew a few in our potato patch after most of the potatoes were dug. It was only a very small amount, but I wasn't really growing them as a grain, but as a herb.

The end result was this bag of dried oatstraw (for tea) ...

... and this tiny milky oats tincture. (There was more, but I've used some of it. It's supposed to be good when you are feeling stressed and depleted ... I feel like it's working, but I'm not ruling out a placebo effect.)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Taking apples for the food bank

I went along with my Mum to the City Mission today, to drop off some surplus apples from my Dad's orchard.

The woman at reception was very pleased and said that fresh produce was a 'luxury' that they don't often get. It made me think that when we have enough in our garden, I'll try and make regular trips down there to donate stuff myself.

If anyone's interested in donating their produce I've given some more details about the wheres and whens at the Slow Food website.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Our suburban honey adventure

This is the closest to from-scratch honey I will ever get I think! (I just don't have it in me to keep bees.)

At the end of last year we bought an entire frame of honeycomb from Windy Bottom Farm (through Naturefoods).

I think these frames are now selling for around $30, but I'm not completely sure. Hopefully Deb or Ian from Naturefoods will read this and correct me if I'm wrong.

Sadly I seem to have lost all my pics of my son and daughter having a glorious, sticky time processing the honey! Well, you'll just have to use your imagination ... :)

Lost picture 1: Shows the children carefully using knives to cut bits of honeycomb from the frame - to eat as is.

Lost picture 2: Shows the children cutting MORE bits of honey comb from the frame, to eat as is. (It really was particularly delicious honey.)

Lost picture 3: Shows me trying to get organised to extract the honey from the comb, while the children ditch knives and dig out blobs of honey comb with their fingers - to eat as is.

Lost picture 4: Shows the children squeezing cut-out bits of honeycomb in their fists, and collecting the drips in containers, to extract the honey from the wax. (This is how it's done in some places sometimes apparently.)

Lost picture 5: Shows us scoring one rather ravaged frame of honey all over with a knife.

Lost picture 6: Shows the scored frame left to drip over a bucket, to extract more honey from the comb. This method was suggested by Pip in Kerikeri.

Lost picture ... Oh! Actually somehow this picture managed to survive! This is how much honey we got. The honey collected in the bucket using the score-and-drip method is on the bottom. The honey collected by squeezing is on the top. It amounted to over 1 kg. Note that the honey collected by score-and-drip is clearer and purer looking!

I think we could have collected more in the bucket if we'd scored it a bit differently. Next time I would use a finer blade (probably a craft knife) - and make more scores, closer together.

Anyway, after the comb had stopped dripping into the bucket (the next day) there was still quite a bit of honey left in the comb, so ...

Lost picture 7: Shows my children at it again with the squeezing ... I tried to keep track of how much extra honey we got doing this but lost my scribbles. It might have been another 150g?

Lost picture 8: Shows the empty frame (good for kindling) and the crumbly looking remnants of wax after all the scoring and dripping and squeezing was done.

And then this was interesting to me ... I saved those remnants of wax for ages. They sat in a bowl on the kitchen bench for a good three weeks, frequently eliciting from visitors an, 'Ew, what's that?!'

Well, I told them - it's wax. And when I get around to it, I'm going to melt it down to separate the last bits of honey out from it, and then I'll use it to make balms or lotions.

Finally I did get round to melting it down, and lo and behold - it produced only the thinnest crust of wax on the top. The rest was actually still honey! I'd say around 300g of it!

So the lesson I learned from that is that there's a lot MORE honey and lot LESS wax in a honeycomb than I thought! (The wax was fun for the kids to play with, pouring it over ice-cubes, dipping things in it, and making a couple of wax stamps for envelopes, but there wasn't enough for more than that.)

I'd estimate that overall we got about 1.5kg of honey from the frame, plus all the comb my children ate! But the money we spent on the frame was worth it for the children's experience alone.

If I did this again, I'd probably be more methodical:

First cut out some tidy blocks of comb for the children, and also to give as gifts to people who like honeycomb.

Then do the score-and-drip thing, with a finer knife so as to get as much raw, unheated honey from the comb as possible

Then melt all the rest down at the gentlest heat I could manage.

I'd probably dispense with the squeezing altogether (although it was fun!)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Earth Hour, and getting ready to go fridgeless

We will do Earth Hour tonight I think, yes. But Keith Ng makes some very good points about it on his blog at Public Address.

I'm getting excited about the challenge of going fridgeless, and heard from a friend last night that she is thinking of doing it too.

Also, I have really appreciated some comments from Kate about it, containing great ideas and advice. I'm especially interested in the Nigerian invention of zeer pots, and the cooling possibilities of evaporation.

But the first step is to start using up everything in our fridge's freezer box, in preparation for switching off. (I recently started stocking up on frozen stuff, so this is a bit of a reversal and it'll take some time to get through everything that's stashed in there ...)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Powershop update

We've now officially switched over to Powershop. The range of electricity packages and products you can choose from is not as huge as the advertising might lead you to believe, but I think there's enough choice to make it worthwhile. (Well, any choice is an improvement on the alternatives.)

What I like about Powershop best, though, is being able to keep track of and micromanage our power use. In fact I think I feel a new obsessive compulsive disorder coming on.

Almost hourly I'm on the Powershop website checking our meter reading against the Powershop estimated reading for us, seeing how much of our paid-for units we've used up, and running round turning things off to see if it makes any difference to how fast the units get used up.

I guess the novelty will wear off soon ...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More fridgeless living links ...

... for the doubters, much as I love them!

Little Blog in the Big Woods whose writer 'Greenpa' has been fridgeless for 3 decades.

'Don't Fight Room Temperature'
- an Economist article ensuing from the discussion Greenpa started on his blog.

'Trashing the Fridge' - the New York Times gets in on the act.

Sharon Astyk asking - how necessary are fridges and several other appliances?

Robyn M's blog post pondering fridgeless living.

Or just google fridgeless ...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fridgeless and fancy free ...

Ruth has written a great post about going fridgeless, which we hope to do this winter ourselves.

I think we would need to make some kind of outdoor cool store as we will have meat and milk ...

I wonder too about how much we would add back onto our powerbill by turning off the fridge, but getting a chest freezer instead. Apparently chest freezers use quite a bit less power than fridges, but I'm not sure exactly how much less ...

Friday, March 13, 2009

solar cooking - a few last lessons

Alas, the best solar cooking days are nearly over for the year. I thought I'd do a last quick update of things I learned this summer.

1. When solar cooking meaty, casseroley dishes (bolognaise sauce etc.) - add way less water than you normally would.

For solar-cooked bolognaise sauce I use tomato paste completely undiluted. The only extra liquid I add is a little balsamic vinegar. The mince releases loads of liquid as it cooks and it doesn't steam away.

2. Osso buco is great solar-cooked. No risk of too much bubbling - therefore no risk of the marrow falling out or getting lost in the sauce! It stays perfectly in place as it cooks.

3. I still can't get the hang of solar cooking pasta. Not wheat pasta anyway. Even fresh, home-made wheat pasta. I think it's because I can't get the water quite hot enough to cook the flour properly

Nikki did some great rice noodles in her cooker though. I tried them at our solar cooking get-together, and they were perfect. Maybe the rice flour just cooks at a lower temperature than the wheat flour???

4. You have to make an effort to stay in the habit of solar cooking.

This is probably the most important lesson I learned. Although we had some great solar-cooked meals this summer, we could've had a lot more if I'd made more effort to get a routine going. For me, solar cooking is one of those things that the more I do, the more I do. But as soon as I stop for a few days, it's hard to get going again.

Wellington is a bit problematic that way, with its unpredictable weather. Just when you're on a roll, the weather packs up for a few days and it's easy to get out of the habit again.

Next summer, I won't let the weather beat me!

Meanwhile, we have to prepare for winter, and our next power-saving venture will be attempting to go fridgeless. Not sure we could manage it in summer, but winter should be possible.

I'll probably be picking Ruth's brain's alot, as she is an experienced fridgeless dweller ....

Monday, March 2, 2009

Powershop replies ...

Oh well, that was nice. Ari Sargent from Powershop replied to my conspiratorial speculations about their new company.

I think he's on a mission to win over the public, one conspiracy theorist at a time. (It's kinda working ... I'm a sucker for personal attention!)

Well, 'they shall be known by their deeds' and all that. I'll wait and see how Powershop turns out ...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Calling all eco-brides, grooms, and civil union partners!

Does anyone know someone who has recently had, or is in the throes of planning an eco-wedding - or civil union - of some sort? And would be willing to be interviewed?

I'm planning to write an article about eco or DIY weddings/civil unions for World Sweet World. I *may* have to focus on brides (for the pure and simple reason that grooms so far seem to prefer not to be featured!) ... But that's open to revision.

An eco/DIY ceremony could mean - utilising 2nd hand clothes and other resources; making a lot of the necessary stuff yourself (or having friends make it); serving organic and/or local food; asking for ethical and sustainable gifts ... and a host of other things.

The wonderful Ruth has already agreed to be interviewed - she is busy making all sorts of cool things for her upcoming wedding.

Does anyone know anyone else? If so, I would love it if they could contact me at johanna dot knox at gmail dot com ...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Think about the implications ...

I've joined the Internet Blackout - protesting against the new law 'Section 92A' that would allow an individual's internet to be disconnected based on accusations of copyright infringement without a trial.

This is due to come into effect on February 28th unless immediate action is taken, and has been somewhat snuck through to date.

There's also a protest on Parliament steps at midday today.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Last week I was thrilled to bits to find a purslane plant had decided to make its home in our garden.

It planted itself next to a luffa plant that was growing in slow motion and was never going to fruit - so I pulled that out to give the purslane more room.

I'd been hoping I might find some purslane this summer. So far this is the only one I've found though. I wonder if I can propagate it?

I've put an entry on purslane up on Wild Picnic, as well as (finally) one one flax. Have also been tinkering with some other entries there.

I put a new recipe up on Wild Concoctions too.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Foraging on a tiny scale

With some wild plants in urban areas, it seems difficult to find enough of them at any one time to do anything useful with.

Still, if I can store little bits at a time and gradually build up a supply, that feels quite satisfying.

Blackberry leaves, for example.

We have only little patches of blackberry where I live, and the leaves that make the best-tasting tea are the newly sprouting ones. (I've tested this out - drying new leaves and old leaves separately, making teas out of them side by side, and comparing the smell and taste. The new leaves are fragrant and delicious. The old ones are a bit gross.)

At any one time, there are usually just a few tiny sprigs of suitable tea leaves on the blackberry bush nearest us. Whenever I go past, I pick those ones, and lie them in the permanent spot I now have for them by a window to dry flat. After a couple of days I add them to the jar in the pic above.

The level of the jar's contents fluctuates as I build the supply of dried leaves up, then use or donate some. (Blackberry leaf tea is good for upset stomachs.)

I've been using a similar principle with nasturtium seedpods as well as onionweed bulbs - which my daughter often finds little clusters of in the soil. (See above!)

I've made a pickle of 50/50 water and cider vinegar, with a fair bit of added salt, and I keep it in a jar in the fridge. Whenever we find nasturtium pods or onionweed bulbs I just drop them in. Although before pickling the onionweed bulbs, it's best to soak them in water and rub off the papery outside skins.

It's like a mix of capers and mini pickled onions.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Coffee and the crisis

The two reasons I've just started home-roasting coffee are:

1. It's way easier on my wallet - even taking into account electricity use.

2. Green beans keep a lot longer than roasted beans. (I've read that if stored well, green beans can keep for 2-4 years with little loss of quality.) I'm keen to start storing coffee in case imported supplies become unreliable. Given how long they keep, it makes a lot more sense to store the beans at the green stage.

Of course I could solve all the issues in one fell swoop by giving up coffee, but I'm not quite ready for that!

I used this website's instructions to get started.

I buy green beans - Ethiopian Yirgacheffe - from People's Coffee.

I roast them in our little old electric popcorn maker.

The first time I did it, it took eight minutes.

Now I've got it up to nine.

Dan, one of the lovely People's Coffee barristas, says the ideal amount of time (for a dark roast I think) is about 16 minutes. If you roast too fast it doesn't taste as good.

Apparently electric popcorn makers can sometimes roast coffee much, MUCH too fast, but Dan seemed to think that 8 or 9 minutes was pretty respectable for one of these appliances.

A few notes:
I was relieved to find that the smoke produced during the process wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

As the beans heat and puff up, they crackle and pop a bit. I put a bowl under the popcorn maker just like I do for popcorn, and during the roasting, when any beans come flying out and land in the bowl, I quickly drop them back into the popcorn maker.

The husks that fly off have to be cleaned up afterwards, but it's really not that bad.

I'd like to try roasting beans in our cast iron frying pan. That way I could do it over the woodburner in winter and avoid electricity use. I think I'd get a more uneven result, but I might be able to control the overall speed of the roast better.
Ultimately I'd love a proper stove-top popcorn maker to use.

I've just found out that Sharon and her family roast their own beans too - have been doing it for ages. Hopefully I can pick up some tips and ideas from her.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Flax seeds again

In my travels round our suburb, I've so far found only one flax bush out of many that has really delicious seeds. Mostly they are quite thin and black-coated and bitter. But this particular bush has pods that are shorter and fatter than the others ...

And most of those pods seem to contain very sweet, white, meaty seeds ...

I don't know what this means though. I don't very well understand the taxonomy of flax. From what I've read there are two native species growing in New Zealand - and within those species there are many subspecies and varieties, and an enormous amount of genetic variation.

I keep hoping to find another flax bush around my locale with delicious seeds, but so far no luck. My sister has suggested I break off a fan of leaves from this particular plant, and try to grow it in our backyard.

I would have to ask the owner's permission ... The only reason I could get these particular seeds was that a big stalk of seeds had broken off and was lying across the pavement.

Changing the subject a bit - one thing we tried doing with these seeds was dry-roasting them. Flax seeds must be a bit tricky to dry roast I think, because they are so mucilaginous. We did two batches. The first turned out quite okay. The second, not so good.

Would be interested to hear from anyone else who's tried this.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The economics of urban foraging

I'm doing a show-and-tell about foraging for the next Wellington WAPF meeting. Then a few weeks later I'm going to lead weed walks during a Farm Day at our CSA.

Both organisations are keen to focus on the 'free food' aspect of foraging. And yet - I'm not sure if many of us in urban areas could manage to save more than a few dollars a week out of our food budget by foraging. (Although of course in tough times, even a few dollars are vital.)

Maybe even more to the point, I'm thinking that if lots of people in urban areas started foraging for any economically significant quantity of food, then supplies would rapidly deplete.

Still - I do think there are important economic benefits to foraging. The main one is that it keeps you out of other more expensive and consumerist mischief.

Although foraging is a bit of free food, it's better than that. It's a free hobby. It's as solitary or as social as you want to make it. It's educational. It gets you out of the house. It's family friendly. It can be challenging, or meditatively relaxing, or both.

Such endlessly absorbing free activities are in short supply in the city, and frankly I think it helps me save more out of my entertainment budget than anything else.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

And now for some fluff

My children say they have outgrown fluffies. Meanwhile I seem to have grown into them. Lately, in an effort to reduce my caffeine intake, I've been drinking frothed-up milk flavoured with rose or lavender.

To make the lavender fluffies, I heat up milk in a lidded pot, along with with a sprig of lavender from my daughter's flower garden. When it reaches scalding temperature I add a bit of honey and stir it in. Then I take out the lavender, pour the milk into the coffee plunge-pot, and plunge the plunger up and down till the milk has frothed up.

I LOVE lavender as a drink. (A spoonful of lavender vinegar in chilled water is strangely nice too.) Lavender is supposed to help with focus and metal alertness, so I've convinced myself it makes a good substitute for coffee.

I like fluffy milk with a dash of rose-petal tincture as well. My parents have some beautiful dog rose bushes, and a few weeks ago I collected a bagful and tinctured them in vodka.

I collected a second batch of petals a couple of weeks later, strained out the old petals, and put the new ones in for a couple more weeks, to make a double tincture - so it's strongly fragrant.

And speaking of white fluffy things flavoured with rose - I was really pleased with the rose and chocolate chip meringues I made a wee while ago. I just added a couple of spoonfuls of rose petal tincture instead of vanilla to the meringue mix and folded the chocolate chips in.

I think it would also work well to put the rose flavour into the whipped cream instead of the meringues.

I guess to come full circle I need to make lavender meringues now ...

Friday, January 9, 2009

New foraging finds 2: fresh flax seeds

Jane, a friend we stayed with in Feilding, introduced me to flax seeds fresh from the pod.

Pick a flax pod, break it open, and take out the little flat seeds carefully. It's fascinating the way each seed tastes different - some very sweet, others more bitter. It partly depends on the ripeness of the pod and the variety of flax, but even within each pod there is some variety.

Since coming back from our short holiday I have been sampling flax seeds from plants (with pods in varying stages of ripeness) all round Newtown and Berhampore.

I'd like to collect enough to sprinkle on a green salad.

Apparently people have also roasted them to make a coffee substitute.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New foraging finds 1: Beach spinach berries

We went away for the weekend to stay with two different families - each of whom introduced me to a new foraged food.

First, at Tangimoana, Lynda and her lovely daughter took me to their favourite beach spinach spot - where a particularly lush crop of the stuff grows. Lynda noticed that it was in berry.

We are both fans of the leaves, but neither of us had read that you could eat the berries. We wondered whether we should try them.

Lynda is more intrepid than me, so she offered to go first. She took a tentative nibble, and said they were quite nice. I was still a wuss, so I just picked a few and brought them home to photograph on a bed of their leaves. (Above!)

Today, a good three days later, Lynda is still alive and well ;) - so I finally tried one of the berries. It was mild, salty, sweet and juicy all at the same time, with a texture a bit like watermelon.

I wonder if anyone else has heard of eating these berries? (Those of either beach spinach or its very close relative NZ spinach?) If so, I'd love to hear about it. In all the books and websites I've checked, the only use I can find for the berries is as a colouring.

Beach spinach is in the same family as iceplant, and certainly iceplant berries are known to be edible ...

I'll write about our other find tomorrow.