All posts by Rose

Muesli Slices

mueslionboard
As most muesli bars contain nuts and I have an anaphylactic (a severe allergy to nuts) son, Master Rambles sometimes feels left out when other children have muesli bar ‘treats’ in their lunch boxes. Recently he saw an advert for a new range of ‘nut free’ muesli bars and asked if I could buy some for him. I saw them in the supermarket and, without really thinking it through, bought them. It was only when I got home that I read the ingredients and discovered that these ‘healthy’ bars were full of preservatives (which is another ingredient Master Rambles has to avoid). Junior Rambles and I tried them, and they were fairly tasteless anyway, and I wasn’t too impressed with the excessive amount of packaging.
muesliingredients
To try to alleviate Master Rambles’ disappointment I decided to make some of our own and, slightly to my surprise, my first attempt was a success. While it would be fine to use supermarket ingredients, I bought organic and preservative-free ingredients from a local health shop – slightly more expensive than the supermarket but all the ingredients together still cost less than the packaged muesli bars!

So here is my, very simple, recipe for nut-free, preservative-free and packaging-free muesli slices.

    • Melt 100g butter in a small pan with 75g of golden syrup and 50g of brown sugar.
mueslimix
    • Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine 100g wholemeal self-raising flour, 80g of rolled oats, 50g of sulphite-free dried apricots (chopped), and 25g each of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and preservative-free shredded coconut.
    • When the butter and sugar mixture has melted and dissolved, stir through the dry ingredients.
mueslicooked
  • Transfer the mixture into a baking pan (mine is 8″x8″) and cook at 170C for about 20 minutes.
  • Once out of the oven let the mixture cool for about 10 mins before turning out onto a cooling rack.
  • Allow to cool completely before cutting into desired shapes and sizes. It is difficult to cut when hot as it is very crumbly (I have tried, and failed).

 

 

Perfect in a lunch box, or enjoyed anytime with a cuppa!

mueslicut

Dome Sweet Dome

chookjump2

Despite being happy in the dome (they don’t know how lucky they are to have so much room), the chickens love being allowed out to roam and forage in the garden. This is fine when we are around to keep an eye on them, but our garden isn’t completely fenced in, and they don’t understand the difference between our garden and the nature strip along the side of the road. They love wandering out alongside the road where they find all sorts of goodies to eat in the long grass and overgrown weeds.

There are always people walking up and down the road and they often comment on the chooks. However, some people walk past with their dogs, and sadly not all are on leads; we do have to be careful and keep an eye on the hens and generally keep them locked up and safe from predators. Keeping them safe and giving them space was the main reason for building the dome; we wanted them to be able to to flap their wings and explore. When they are shut in the dome, I sometimes tie up some ‘green treats’ hung from the upper struts, to provide some entertainment and make them work for their food. It’s also entertaining for us – watching them jump up for mouthfuls!

chookjump3

The local farmer’s market has a friendly fruit and vegetable seller who lets me take green leaves from the ‘bin’. It is usually full of imperfect vegetables and outer leaves of lettuce, cabbage, and cauliflower along with other ‘rubbish’, (takeaway coffee cups etc.) headed for landfill. I have occasionally been known to sneak some of my reclaimed chook food into our fridge once I get it home (does this make me a dumpster diver?) – one week I scored a bunch of beautiful beetroot leaves which were far too good for the chooks. But don’t worry – the girls do get plenty!

The hens are also partial to plain yoghurt; I guess that they find it refreshing on a hot day. I make yoghurt (kept warm next to the sourdough bread starter) and usually make extra batches during the summer so the chooks can have some as a regular treat. The calcium should help them with their egg production too.

yoghurtchicken

At one edge of the dome there is a pile of loose earth, which I regularly top up with compost and sometimes grass clippings. This provides a good area for the girls to scratch around and to have dust baths. They get very excited when I add fresh compost, as it usually comes with a good snack of worms for them!

I found (saved) an old, slightly rotting, garden bench tossed out beside the road of a neighbour’s house (ready for a rubbish collection) and have put it in the dome for the chooks. It is a perfect spot for them to roost during the day as they like to be able to perch off the ground. I often look out of my window and see all three of them perching there in the late afternoon sunshine, surveying the scenery and looking very content. I haven’t managed to get a photo of them sitting there, as every time I approach the dome they jump down and rush to the door, expecting food or to be let out into the garden. – but, I’ll keep trying.

hanginggreens1

A Rubbish Conversation turns to Compost

While chatting to some friends recently, over a post paddle boarding coffee and muffin, the conversation somehow turned to what we do/don’t put into our rubbish bins. I have read several articles lately on people who are managing to live almost or completely waste free. Although I can’t claim to have anything like that lifestyle, I have noticed that since my composting habits changed last year (Click here to read ‘The Art of Composting’) we are putting very little in our ‘general rubbish’ wheelie bin and, as any rubbish we do have is dry, we no longer need to use plastic bags. (The recycling bins, however, are always full – despite trying to re-use things first – but that’s another story.)

wheeliebin

One friend said she had been inspired to start composting but she still had a full rubbish bin at the end of every week. Without (I hope) sounding too cheeky, I asked her what was going in her rubbish bin; when she started listing a few things, I said, “Oh, I put most of those in the compost”. There was a little gasp of surprise around the table and the conversation steered onto what you do and don’t or can and can’t put into a compost bin. There seems to be a debate on whether some items can be composted, but when I am asked what I compost, the answer is simple – everything that I think is biodegradable goes into my compost bin. I am no expert here, and if other people want to tell me I am doing something wrong then I am prepared to listen, but I appear to make great compost and have a lot less waste. I have read that, amongst other things, you shouldn’t put citrus, onion skins, cooked food or meat in the compost. It all goes in mine. I imagine that if you have an open compost ‘pile’ then cooked food and meat would attract rats but, I have a sealed bin placed on a tiled base so no rodents can get in. I have read that citrus is poisonous to worms; I have also read that this is a myth. I put citrus in my compost bin and the worms are still there and the citrus turns to compost.

dalekbins
With so much conflicting information out there I am happy to just continue with my methods and self-discover what does and doesn’t ‘work’ in my compost bin.

When the waste breaks down into compost I often find some things that need longer to decompose, e.g. bones and fruit stones; I simply toss them into the ‘new’ compost bin (ideally you should have three bins on the go in rotation). I also occasionally find things that are not biodegradable and have found their way into the compost by accident, such as some plastic packaging or other man-made materials, and I simply remove them before using the compost in the garden.

Inspired by reactions to my composting ways, I have decided to start tweeting a list of “things I put in my compost” (#thingsIputinmycompost). Follow me on Twitter (@rose_rambles) to see how many I come up with!

citruscompost

What do you/don’t you put in your compost? – Comments are welcome.

 

Ripening up for Summer

pottedtomatoes
I had so many plans for planting and clearing and learning in the kitchen garden this spring, most of which are still not done. With the official start of summer this week I thought it was time to take stock. Despite not being as organised as hoped, there is some produce appearing in the veggie patch – some intentional, some accidental, and some seeds planted which never appeared. Last year, after a disastrous crop the year before, I decided not to plant tomatoes. But several plants appeared anyway and the (cherry) tomatoes they produced were delicious and prolific.
redtom
This year I didn’t need to think about planting tomatoes; seedlings have been sprouting up everywhere – too many for my small kitchen garden patch to cope with! I have moved and potted up many of them and given some away to friends, but others have had to be pulled up and put on the compost; I just don’t have the space to grow them all. I planted basil seeds in one large pot, but only tomatoes have appeared! So it looks like we are in for a bumper crop again this year. They are beginning to turn red; it will soon be time to pick and enjoy them.

beetleaf
Also in the edible garden I have planted beetroot seeds. Most of them appeared, only to be attacked by the chooks who found their way into the back garden when someone (probably me!) left the gate open. Several of them needed replanting after being scratched up, but most survived, and the chooks had a fun adventure! We have been enjoying beetroot leaves in salads and sandwiches; it is probably time to dig some up and enjoy the ‘roots’. I must plant some more seeds soon (along with a second attempt at basil!).

 

 

Vanilla Sponge Cake with Pear and Cream Filling

This is not actually my own original recipe, I ‘borrowed’ it from Mr Rambles. I have had several requests for the recipe recently, so here it is, reproduced by kind permission. Thank you Mr R.

When Master Rambles was on his strict elimination diet he couldn’t enjoy Mr Rambles’ lemon sponge cake, so I changed it to a vanilla sponge and filled it with cream and the only fruit he was allowed, pears. It was an instant hit, and has now become our family’s favourite cake. For a special occasion, for a not so special occasion, or for when it just feels like a cake sort of day!

 

cakepearslices
  • Cream together 125g softened butter and 220g castor sugar with a teaspoon of vanilla essence
  • Add 2 eggs to the mixture and beat
  • Add 75g of self-raising flour and mix until smooth
  • Add another 150g of self-raising flour and a pinch of baking powder
  • Mix until smooth
  • Pour in 125mls of milk and mix until smooth
  • Divide into two lined 8″ cake tins and cook at 150C for about 40 mins (until a knife comes out clean)
  • Carefully remove from tins and place on a cooling rack
    cakeready
  • When the cakes are cool enough, add some whipped fresh cream to one half, and top with sliced pears. I use very ripe or tinned ones.
  • Place the other half on top
  • Enjoy. Goes down exceptionally well with a cup of tea!
    eatcake2

Garden Inspiration

Last year I went to the inaugural Australian Garden Show in Centennial Park, Sydney and really enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to going again this year. It was all planned; Mr Rambles kindly agreed to work from home on Friday so I could go. This also meant I could head off early and not have to rush home in time for school pick up.

Annoyingly, on Thursday, I came down with a cold. I was still determined to go, so dosed myself up and headed off, in the rain, (we’ve had a lot of rain recently), wearing my new full length rain coat.

umbrellas
After arriving at the show I had a quick look at the feature gardens. There were plenty of umbrellas around, the rain hadn’t scared everyone away, but it was far from being crowded, which meant I could get a close up look at the plants. Then I wandered around the Inspiration Gardens, which showcased a selection of horticultural and landscape designers.

Costastour
A sign caught my eye (Costa ‘Rambles’ too!)  For those of you who don’t know him, Costa Georgiadis is a landscape architect and tv presenter on the ABC’s ‘Gardening Australia‘. He is passionate about sustainable living, and has his own chickens and veggie patch. I couldn’t resist a chance to meet him, so waited near the sign in the rain. There were only a few of us; I thought we were about to get a really personalised tour, but then the rain stopped and hoards of people appeared out of nowhere. By the time Costa arrived quite a crowd had formed.  
costascrowd
His 25 minute tour of the Inspirational Gardens lasted for nearly an hour and the sun stayed out the whole time. He was very entertaining and full of energy and enthusiasm and pointed out things about the gardens which helped us to view them from different perspectives. At the end of the tour Costa was answering questions and posing for photos, but I was fading fast, so slipped off and found somewhere to eat my lunch and drink a coffee.
treadlightly

Feeling fortified I went to have another look at the Inspirational Gardens. I spent some time looking at, and photographing, details to help get ideas for my own garden.

Islandhome
A couple of years ago, we had an extension put onto the house and the main garden still hasn’t recovered from the builders who treated it like a rubbish tip. I am slowly turning it back into a garden, and trying to establish new plants, but still find lumps of dumped concrete and old drink cans as I dig. It really needs some more landscaping and redesigning.

pavillion
The gardens at the show were all very different from each other. Some were concerned with their environmental impact, others with affordability in mind, some fun and playful, and some stunning architecture. There were a few pavilions and some with quiet ‘hide away’ places. I would love to try and make a space like that in the Rambles’ garden. I would like to incorporate some fun places in the garden for the children and for the chickens!

Cache
As I walked around I found myself chatting to some of the gardens’ creators who were all very friendly and happy, despite the fact they had to prepare their gardens during a week of heavy rain.

ediblewall
Another section of the show featured city and balcony gardens, with creative ideas for gardening in small spaces, and inspiring ideas for edible gardens. 
pallets
There weren’t as many reusing/upcycling ideas as last year’s show. It would have been great to see a veggie patch incorporated in one of the Feature or Inspirational Gardens; maybe next year!

There were many plants for sale at the show, including the edible variety but, as I was travelling by bus, it wasn’t practical to buy any. Instead, I stocked up on a few packets of organic seeds and some elephant garlic which I am looking forward to planting!

Up-Cycling on Op-Shop Week

Last week was National Op-Shop week, founded by the charity Do Something. The aim of the week was to help stock up charity shops with quality donations from those of us who enjoy a great op-shop bargain. We were asked to spring clean our wardrobes and donate those items that we haven’t worn or used for a year or two but to make sure those items were good condition. I know I have been guilty of donating some dodgy stuff in the past, especially with some of the children’s ‘worn out’ clothes. I am now determined to mend my ways (and perhaps some of the clothes!). From now on I will make sure my clothes’ donations are clean, and good enough to wear ‘off the peg’. That’s the standard I expect when buying something at a charity shop, so that’s how I should donate.

raincoats
With Op-Shop Week in mind, I felt inspired to have a Spring Clean and get rid of some more ‘stuff’. Unfortunately, with the amount of rain that fell in Sydney last week (I don’t know how much, but it was ‘a lot’) it wasn’t the best week for the task. I did wash some of the clothes that I had found for donating (including a couple of rain coats) but the gap between rain showers was short and not much dried on the washing line. I have, however, made a start and will continue to sort and get some clothes ready for donation this week.

But then comes the question of what to do with the stuff that I shouldn’t donate. I don’t think anyone will want Junior Rambles’ old underpants and Mr Rambles’ worn-out black jeans can’t be donated because they have a big rip in them.

rippedjeans
I don’t want to chuck them in the bin, adding to landfill, so my mission is to ‘reuse’ them. The underpants have gone into a rag-bag and will be used for cleaning/polishing. The jeans material, where there are no rips, is really good quality. Last year I covered an old office chair, whose seat was worn out, with an old pair of Mr Rambles’ jeans and it looks great. So I decided on a similar project.

rippedstool
Our piano stool has had a rip and cut in it for many years now. After its journey from England the removal men unpacked it with a sharp knife which went through the packaging and the seat cover. I have been meaning to repair it for years, and this weekend I found the inspiration and the material to do it.
finishedstool

A quick unpick, some sharp scissors and a staple gun was all it took. It’s not perfect, but it looks a lot better than it was. I am not sure of the correct terms, but I feel I have ‘reused’ the jeans and ‘up-cycled’ the stool. Junior Rambles has given the new seat cover his seal of approval!

juniorat-piano

Pear and Oat Muffins

A couple of years ago, Master Rambles was on a special elimination diet and the only fruit he was allowed to eat was pears. This humble fruit was tried, tested, and re-invented in many of our recipes. Pear and oat muffins were the most successful and proved popular with the whole family. They have also become a firm favourite with my fellow Thursday morning Stand Up Paddle group.

I have had a few requests for the recipe, so here it is, enjoy!

cookedmuffins
  • Cream together 150g of softened butter and 80g of brown sugar with 1tsp of vanilla essence
  • Add 100g of rolled oats and stir through
  • Now add 225g of self-raising flour (I use wholemeal) with
    2 beaten eggs and 3-4 pears (peeled and chopped into small chunks) and stir through
    Note: extra/over ripe and juicy pears are best.
  • Divide the mixture evenly between cases in a standard 12 hole muffin tray
  • Sprinkle the top of each muffin with a little brown sugar
  • Cook at 190C for about 25 minutes
  • Check that they are crisp and nicely browned on top, then remove from tray and cool on a rack

papercut
You can use pre-bought muffin/cup cake cases, but making your own (out of baking paper) is cheaper and the finished cases can go straight into the compost. Cut 12 squares out of the baking paper.

paperfold
Next, fold the squares in half twice, then open them out and push them into the holes. Carefully spoon your muffin mixture into each one.

The Art of Composting

The Eco House and Garden, at my local ‘tip’, Kimbriki Resource Recovery Centre, is a fantastic education centre. It comprises a large building/office and edible garden made almost entirely from reused and recycled materials rescued from landfill. From there a team of eco gardeners run various, free, courses on sustainable gardening practices. Last year I attended ‘The Art of Composting’ course.

compostplate

After previous failures and frustrations with composting, I am now managing successfully to produce usable compost from our kitchen and garden waste. I am not, by any means, claiming to be an expert; however, I hope I can help and inspire others to give composting a go. These are the best 7 tips I learnt, enabling me to produce compost efficiently and quickly in a compost bin.

1. Cut up your waste

cutlemonpeel

The smaller the pieces of waste, the quicker they can breakdown. This includes both garden cuttings and kitchen waste. It doesn’t take too long to cut and makes such a difference. I have discovered that certain scraps take much longer than others to breakdown, these include citrus peel and egg shells. I cut up peel into small pieces before putting it in, and I crush egg shells up into tiny pieces.

2. Add worms

My neighbour gave me some worms from his compost bin, but I also discovered that when I started a second compost bin the worms just appeared. (If you build it they will come?) The worms help breakdown the waste and are an essential part to successful composting, so if you don’t have any, you need to get some. You only need a few as they breed very quickly. Apparently they stop reproducing when there are enough worms for the space they have, so it isn’t possible to become overpopulated with worms. Clever fascinating creatures! A quick internet search for ‘composting worms’ will help you buy worms (apparently they can be sent by mail – amazing!) so if you are not lucky enough to have an obliging composting friend or neighbour, this might be the way to go.

3. Add equal amounts of ‘green’ and ‘brown’ waste

freshcompost

I keep a pile of dry leaves next to the compost bin so whenever I chuck in my kitchen scraps I add the same amount of leaves. If you put in too much of one type of carbon (eg grass cuttings) it doesn’t breakdown as well and can get smelly; a good balance is really important.

 

4. Diversity is the key to a good compost recipe

Adding a diverse amount of materials into the compost bin means the compost will contain more nutrients. Egg shells are good for adding calcium, but you may not realise that you can put human hair and nail clippings into the compost bin. Animal manure is also good, I put our chicken droppings in when I clean out their coop, and I often add some cow manure (which can usually be bought from garden centres).

5. Keep it moist

watercompost

Compost needs to be kept moist to remain active and for the worms to stay alive. I usually add a watering can of water every time I top up with waste.

6. Turn your compost regularly

compostturner

I used to ‘layer’ the different waste and occasionally empty the bin and ‘turn’ the compost with a spade before putting it back in. This was hard work, time-consuming and I didn’t do it often enough. The best, and by far the most useful, tip that I got from the course was to buy and use this compost turner. Turning and aerating the compost is one of the most important jobs, and should be done at least once a week. This brilliantly designed turner makes the job easy and quick. It can reach down to the bottom of the compost to really give it all a thorough mix. The team at Kimbriki Eco House make and sell these stainless steel ones. They have a stall at my local farmer’s market, where they give free advice to help inspire people. They also sell the turners and a few other useful composting and gardening supplies. I know that hardware shops sell a similar compost turner, which would probably work fine, but it may be made from a softer metal and may bend out of shape. turningcompost1I have no idea if these turners are sold outside of Australia; there are probably some similar ones out there. If you can’t find one, perhaps try asking a blacksmith to make you one! There is no comparison between this and a spade.

7. Keep your compost covered

hessiumsack

Your compost bin should be sealed with a lid, to stop unwanted predators, such as rats, from getting in. If you find they are burrowing in from underneath you may need to place your bin on concrete, or place a metal sheet at the bottom. To help keep it dark and moist (which also keeps the worms happy) it is a good idea to place some cloth material on top of the compost. I use old hessian sacks which I can buy from my local garden centre. But and old tea towel or old cotton jumper would work just as well. Be warned though, they will eventually need replacing, as the worms enjoy munching their way through them too!

Good luck with your composting and please let me know if any of these tips have helped you.

More composting stories coming soon!

Under the Dome

Although the chicken coop was great, we wanted to girls to have some freedom so I was letting them out of the coop during the day. To start with this was fine, they didn’t wander far, but we don’t have a properly enclosed garden and after a few weeks they became more adventurous and decided they liked visiting the neighbour’s garden. That wasn’t too much of a worry, the neighbours didn’t seem to mind, but our concern was that they were walking along the roadside. We decided they needed a bigger enclosed area so they had more room to move about in when we weren’t at home to keep an eye on them.

chooksondome2
We didn’t want an ugly looking run in the garden, and so Mr Rambles decided he would take up the challenge of building a geodesic dome, with the idea it would look like a garden feature as well as a practical home for the chooks. I trusted him with the design and was on hand to help with the labour. It was difficult to find the right materials, but we ended up using conduit piping.

After several days of cutting the right lengths and squashing the ends of each piece to make it possible to screw together (and acquiring many blisters on our hands) we were ready to start constructing.

chooksondome
The chickens were very interested in the proceedings and enjoyed perching on the dome from the beginning. It wasn’t easy and we weren’t too sure it was going to hold together, but it did. It looked fantastic. Wow, thanks Mr Rambles.

chooksndome
Now all it needed was some covering to stop the chickens getting out, and wild birds and other animals from getting in. After another trip to the local hardware store we came home with a netting which claimed would keep birds from getting through. I think it is designed for protecting edible plants from birds (veggie patches, fruit trees, grapevines etc.). Being an unusual shape it was tricky to cover the dome but we finally managed it, finishing parts off with a needle and thread to bring the seams together. Fantastic!

dome3
We let the chickens out of their coop and into the dome. We happily left them and went out. When we returned home they were happily free ranging in the garden, outside the dome!! I picked them up and put them back inside, turned around and they were back out again. A friend who was with us was in hysterics as I desperately searched around the bottom of the dome to find where I hadn’t sealed it properly, only I hadn’t noticed where they had pecked an enormous hole in the netting which they were happily jumping through! And so we learnt what ‘chicken wire’ is for. We purchased a roll and covered the bottom half of the dome with it. Job done.

dome2
It was a labour of love but well worth it. We have had so many positive and admiring comments from friends and neighbours, even inspiring some of them to get chickens and build a dome themselves. Not sure if anyone else has yet, but we will be happy to give them advice and help them learn from our mistakes.

The chickens are now happy in the dome, we do still let them out for forages in the garden when we are around to watch them, but in the dome they have space. They have room to flap their wings about, and enjoy sitting on and jumping off the coop. They also have a place for dust baths and an old bench to perch on. Lucky chooks.