Monday, February 28, 2011

10 Things I Love About Broome

Nath has been shortlisted for a job in Broome he applied for. His interview is tomorrow, and it is very difficult for me to NOT jump the gun and start packing my bags (although I must admit to having done an inventory of every room, preparing for a big pre-moving clean out!)

The next best thing for me, then, is to spend large amounts of my day dreaming about the next chapter of our life (fingers crossed!) and remembering all the things I loved about Broome when we were there a few years ago, and missed when we left.

1) Obviously, the beaches. Cable Beach is truly one of God's greatest triumphs and every bit as good as the glossy pictures you see in travel magazines.

2) Broome Courthouse Markets: an explosion of colour, smell, sounds.... everything the soul needs! A mecca for a hippy like me.

3) The Kimberley Bookshop: one of the best bookshops I have ever been to. Obviously this will be out of bounds this year whilst I am still on my buying ban, but I am sure it will be visited in the future!

4) The cocktails: especially the mango ones. I dare not try a mango cocktail anywhere else! These ones came from the Sand Bar and Grill (as it was) right on the beachfront on Cable Beach.

5) The Sun Outdoor Pictures: established in 1916, this is a still-operating relic of old pearling times in the region. I love sitting on the old sling-back deck chairs, as uncomfortable as they are, and soaking up the balmy Broome atmosphere.

6) Divers Tavern: not the flashest bar in town but it brings back memories of wilder, younger days and girlie trips with my teaching friends.

7) Fishing at Town Beach: when we were broke and travelling, this beach was a regular spot for us, trying to catch ourselves a free feed.

8) The Waifs 'Take It In' - my all time favourite song from my all time favourite band, about my all time favourite part of the world.

9) The food - of course! Whilst in Broome I ate crocodile and goanna for the first time... and one of my favourite little Italian places - Cafe Carlotta is tucked away in a quiet corner of Broome, waiting for my return!

10) Our best mate Luke who moved to Broome recently - we can't wait to see you and are looking forward to more adventures with you.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Food In The Belly, Food For The Soul

I write about food a lot. Food is something I devote much of my time to, as well as a significant part of our income. Food excites me, challenges me and inspires me (and sometimes defeats me). Much of our weekends are taken up with the growth, preparation, cooking and celebration of food (and by that I mean eating).

Every society has a food culture of some sort. Countries are known for their cuisine; the particular ingredients and cooking methods they employ, the rhythms and routines around meal preparation, the colour and bustle of marketplaces around the world. Early trade was centred around foods, and what was commonplace for some cultures was exotic and sought after to others. Nomadic communities based their movement around the availability of particular seasonal foods.

I believe that, by and large, Western society has lost its food culture. And we miss it, by god, do we miss it. We spend millions annually on the business of food; fine dining restaurants, specialty food stores, cooking schools, food festivals. I believe that, as we have evolved, this disconnection from food and its production that we have created has left our society feeling somewhat... hollow. We make up for it by spending more millions traveling to other cultures to experience their food culture... and when we try to recreate it with our Western tastes, we adulterate and compromise the essence of the food. Food culture is, and should be, entrenched in the soils it was raised up from.

Anyway, I was determined to write a lighter post than the last two, so I wanted to share with you some of ways we try to recreate a connection with the earth and its edible gifts in our space. These are photos from this weekend, a lovely, productive two days of pottering around the house and garden, feeding our bellies and feeding our souls.

Breakfast: fruit and honey damper with the last of my apricot sauce

Our harvest on Saturday

More bottled tomatoes - a pantry staple

Our little garden gnome, Eden

The bed we planted this weekend - tomatoes and rhubarb

Orange and date chutney simmering away - a sweet, spicy smell

Finished product - three more jars for the pantry

The beginnings of beer bottling

A clean, mucked out chook pen - and our reward!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Food For Thought

Are we facing a global food crisis? We take our food for granted. Supermarket shelves groan with an incredible variety of produce, but in 2008 as food riots swept the world, we saw that the international food system is not as stable as it looks. Is this just the beginning of a new era of food? Travelling to different parts of the globe, this two-part documentary unravels the complicated web of links that binds the world together, and asks what needs to happen to avert a major global food crisis. (Blurb for SBS documentary 'The Future Of Food'.)
I watched a very interesting documentary on SBS tonight, called 'The Future of Food.' It was very a interesting examination into the forecast of the world's food production and how different countries are preparing (or not) for inevitable food shortages over the next few decades. It introduced me to three connected terms: food economy, oil economy and food security. The overall premise is that as the world becomes affected by oil shortages, industrialised agricultural methods will become unsustainable, which will decrease the supply of food and increase its cost. Countries with a larger 'oil economy' are already looking to poorer countries with land availability (eg Kenya) to produce food for their people, thus giving them 'food security' as the world moves into more uncertain times. (This does not mean, however, that the economies of the poorer countries are boosted, as the food is still too expensive for the average inhabitant to afford... it just reduces the land availability for these countries to grow their own food and increases their dependance through employment - albeit on excessively minimal wages - on Western food corporations who own and/or run the farms.)

The documentary examined the 'globalisation' of food - the fact that 'fresh' produce can be sourced from foreign countries, resulting in consumers becoming accustomed to eating a wide variety of foods year-round. How many people are able to identify when certain fruits and vegetables are seasonally available in their region? This globalisation has put small, local farmers and markets under pressure to be able to meet their customers whims for big, juicy mangoes in the middle of winter. This has many implications - money is taken out of the local economies, fruit and vegetable quality is compromised and the transport, refrigeration and chemicals (to keep the produce looking fresh) required to get your bananas from California to your table significantly increases the environmental impact your eating habits have.

A cattle feedlot (image courtesy of a google search!)
And that's just fruit and vegetables. What about meat? Reducing our red meat consumption is one of the 'greenest' things we can do. I read a quote today that went something along the lines of 'A vegan in a Hummer has a smaller carbon footprint than a red meat eater in a Prius.' Am I a vegan, or even a vegetarian? No, not even close. But as a family we have significantly reduced the impact of our meat eating.... by reducing how much we eat, as well as being aware of where our meat comes from, and what was involved in getting it to our table.

And this is why. Cattle are traditionally field raised (in Australia, this means they roam the large stations in the vast North of our country) until the few months of their life. Then, they are placed into feedlots and grain fed - including corn and soy products, not naturally a part of a cow's diet, and often GM foods. Cattle across the world are annually fed 700 million tonnes of cereals. They account for around 10% of the world's water usage, and 1/3 of land usage. Cattle are responsible for 1/5 of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. During their feedlot months, they are penned in concrete enclosures and fed growth hormones and antibiotics to speed up their growth ready for sale. Buying 'organic' isn't always enough, either. Barbara Kingsolver, in her book 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle' (an American book, but this is irrelevant, greed is global) writes,
'Certified organic' does not necessarily mean sustainably grown, worker-friendly, fuel-efficient, cruelty-free or any other virtue a consumer might wish for.
It is up to us to decide what our food values are, and, if it is important to us, do the research into the very foods we eat. Nath and I have decided to buy only local, grass fed beef, local free range pork (be aware that 'free range' may mean that the enclosure the animals are kept in has a door, not necessarily that they are ever able to use it) and anything we kill ourselves. Eventually we hope to eat only what we kill or catch ourselves. For us, this is the most sustainable way of remaining carnivores. Obviously it may not be sustainable if everyone were to acquire firearms licences and start killing animals for meat, or overfish the oceans and rivers, but as it is relatively infrequently done in our culture, it has minimum impact for us to do so. We also only eat red meat, on average, twice a week. It is only in recent decades that red meat every night has become the 'norm'.

As an inhabitant of a world on the brink of a potential food crisis, though, I can't help wondering what will come next. Food prices are sure to rise exponentially in years to come. Some items will simply disappear off our shelves. Where will this leave us? What skills do we need to learn before dietary variety becomes a luxury that few can afford? How many of us know how to grow, cook and preserve seasonal fresh foods?

Food for thought.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Story of Stuff

I wonder about the TRUE COST of a $6.84 camping chair.
I went to a shopping centre today. One of those huge ones that sprawl across a suburb and contain hundreds of little shops, each with hundreds - thousands - of products, all loudly proclaiming their justified place in our lives.

I used to love shopping. It was therapy, entertainment and ritual. I could (and did!) spend whole days trawling massive centres, dragging my kids in and out of every little shop, budgeting and re-budgeting in my head as every absolutely necessary purchase drained my finances further. I would return home with aching feet, a busy mind, an empty purse and two very tired, very overstimulated toddlers who had seriously compromised the 'relaxing' aspect of my beloved shopping trip.

Then I watched 'The Story Of Stuff' online. This twenty minute film absolutely revolutionised the way I see shopping centres and challenged me to my core about my shopping habits. It was a huge factor in us deciding to spend a year buying only secondhand.

Obviously now, because of this pledge, I don't spend a lot of time inside shopping centres. Today we needed puncture repair kits so we could repair our bicycle and pram tyres. We felt this was a far better compromise than buying new tubes, and we scoured the shelves to find the kit with the least 'bits' in it. As soon as we walked into the centre, we were bombarded with subliminal messages telling us how we absolutely must buy Product X, and my, my, weren't we terrible parents if we didn't rush to the checkout with Product Y, and look how much easier life would be with plastic-fantastic Product Z. I am no longer sucked into these messages, I have completed my detox, and Nath and I walked through the shop with wide eyes and pounding heads, wryly laughing at the sheer obviousness of some of the marketing tactics employed by the major centres who spend billions of dollars finding better ways of fooling us.

I implore you to click on the link below and watch 'The Story Of Stuff'. It's twenty minutes long, and narrated by an American woman (if you are like me, and find the accent somewhat... overwhelming, persevere, it is definitely worth it.) If you are inspired, their website also contains short films about the manufacture of cosmetics, electronics and bottled water. (And for the record, we left the shop with only a tyre repair kit. And avoided being mistaken for terrorists taking photographs of busy shopping centres.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How To Make Yoghurt

Sounds a little like a Paul Kelly song, doesn't it?

Well, unlike the gravy the talented Mr Kelly sings of, anyone can make homemade yoghurt... providing you have a thermos or other temperature controlled capsule to keep it in while the cultures do their thing. I first started making yoghurt myself after reading Julie's post on it at Towards Sustainability - and I do love it when other people have done all the research for me! I played around with her methods, and have perfected my own method to come up with a consistent yoghurt of just the right texture and flavour for us.

I use an Easiyo thermos. I used to use the Easiyo sachets, but wanted a recipe that was more sustainable and contained less additives. Here is how I do it.

Ingredients (for first batch)
1 litre UHT milk
4 tablespoons powdered full cream milk (this thickens the yoghurt - I like mine thick and pot-set)
2 - 4 tablespoons biodynamic plain yoghurt (make sure it does not contain gelatine; most biodynamic yoghurts don't. I used Jalna - with the yellow lid)


Mix the yoghurt and the powdered milk together with a bit of the UHT milk until smooth. Add the rest of the UHT to the mixture in an Easiyo container and mix well. Pour boiling water into the Easiyo thermos to the recommended point and insert the container. Seal and let it sit for 14 hours (overnight). If set in the morning, refrigerate.

For continuing batches of yoghurt, keep two to four tablespoons of the previous batch to 'seed' a new one.

Scientifically speaking (and this is not a strong point of mine) using an Easiyo themos and UHT milk negates the need to meticulously pre-heat the milk to a particular temperature in order to kill off the 'bad' bacteria. UHT is already heat treated, and the thermos keeps the temperature steady for long enough for the yoghurt to form.

3000 Pageviews And Another Giveaway

Healthy Earth, Healthy Me has reached 3000 pageviews and, as promised, it is now time for another giveaway.

So, if you would like to play, please comment below on this post, and you will be in the draw for a handmade bracelet similar to this one....

....made entirely from repurposed material, beads and buttons. I will the winner tomorrow (Friday) night at 8:00pm WST. (If you are a guy and it's really not your thing, I am sure there is a lady in your life who would very much appreciate being given some jewellery for no reason whatsoever. Trust me, I'm a lady, and I know these things.)

Thankyou for reading my humble little blog. I thoroughly enjoy writing it, and am glad that there are people who enjoy reading along.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Shopping Trolley.

I love shopping day. I get so swept up in the colour and flavour of fresh fruits and vegetables, which make up the bulk of what I buy these days, and love the challenge of shopping more consciously every fortnight. I get asked a lot about the cost of buying organically, and whether my food bill has sky-rocketed.

Well, here's the deal. My food bill is 75% of what it was before I started on my journey of local/organic/close to the source eating. It is true that often, organic products cost more than non-organic. This is not always the case, though. Also, when you eat natural foods that have not been processed and over-packaged, you are not paying for the processing and packaging. My food bill has gone down largely because my trolley does not contain pre-prepared, convenient foods. You pay for convenience. This includes jams, sauces, snacks, breads, yoghurts - things you can make at home, but that people often don't. As a society, we are time poor, this is true. We are also nutrient poor.

Here is a photo of what I would put into my trolley for a standard-ish fortnight. There are some things here, such as vinegars and bread mix, that would bump up my bill, but that would last me a good month to six weeks. The contents of this photo cost me $300. A more 'standard' fortnight, without these bigger items, would probably cost about $250 for the fortnight. We used to spend $400. Much of the fruit and vegetables is organic. It is ALL Western Australian grown. Most of it comes from within 200-odd kilometres. The flour is local, biodynamically grown. The meat is local, organic and free ranged. (Actually, the meat was bloody expensive. That bumped my bill up somewhat. I can't wait to be up North and shooting my own meat again.)

There are a lot of arguments against buying organic foods. The cost is the most common I come across - I shop for a family of four on a single social worker's income... this argument doesn't wash with me. Another is the science behind organics - this is a whole other post, but to my mind, it comes down to what we are prepared to put into our bodies. I would rather my children eat fruit that has not been sprayed with pesticides, or meat that has not been pumped with preservatives. I would rather know exactly what is going into their bodies - real, wholesome food, not a bundle of numbers on an ingredient list that reads like an algebra exam.

This is why I shop the way I shop.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Spicy Plum Sauce

This sauce is a gorgeous, flavoursome alternative to tomato sauce and a great way of using up excess plums. This is another recipe from Thane Prince's Jams and Chutneys: Preserving the Harvest. The pages of my copy of this book are becoming quite dog-eared and have spatters all over them.

Spicy Plum Ketchup
 (I doubled this recipe)

2kg plums
175g chopped dates
115g raisins
1 large onion, chopped
4 plump garlic cloves, chopped
5cm piece of fresh ginger (about 60g) grated
1 T freshly ground coriander seeds
1t freshly ground allspice berries
good pinch of cayenne pepper
1 litre malt or wine vinegar
1T ground turmeric
1/2 nutmeg, grated
300g light muscovado (brown) sugar
60g salt, or to taste

Halve and stone the plums, and chop if large. Put in a large preserving pan with the dates, raisins, onion, garlic and ginger. Add the coriander, allspice, cayenne and 500ml of vinegar.

Bring the mixture to the boil, then simmer for 30-40 minutes until fruit is very soft.

Allow the mixture to cool, then rub through a mouli or a sieve.

Return the puree to the cleaned pan. Add the remaining vinegar, turmeric, nutmeg, sugar and salt. Bring the mixture to the boil. Simmer for 30-45 minutes until reduced to a thick, pouring consistency, stirring frequently.
Pour into hot, sterilised jars, cover with vinegar-proof seals, store in a dark, cool place for at least a month before use.

With doubling the recipe, it made me about two litres. This is going to be a welcome addition to our winter larder.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bottlin' It Up!

Peeled tomatoes, waiting for preserving

As summer comes to a close, I am enjoying bottling some of these glorious summer fruits before they disappear off the shelves for another winter.

Last weekend, Nath and I sorted the bottles we had been given or collected over the past couple of months. We ended up with four boxes of Fowlers Vacola preserving bottles and one box of Fowlers Vacola ginger beer bottles, as well as an assortment of reusable jars for bottling jams.

Jars, lids, rings and clips... all collected secondhand, most free

Ginger beer bottles, wrapped in paper from 1977

We dropped in at the fruit and veg market yesterday and picked up some bulk lots of fruit (apricots, plums, lemons and tomatoes) to bottle over the weekend. I had run out of apricot jam, and also wanted to preserve some whole peeled tomatoes and make spicy plum sauce and lemon butter.

Sealed jars in the preserving bath

These 'tinned tomatoes' cost me $1.50 - total

During the last week I had begun some peach schnapps and cherry liqueur, which will be ready as we come into the cooler months.

Summer fruits steeping in alcohol

Beautiful apricot jam
I am loving preserving and bottling. There is a lot to learn (and a lot that can go wrong!) but our trials seem to result in more successes than errors, and it is such a flavoursome way of eating seasonal food all year round - not to mention the money we are saving and the additives we are avoiding!

Friday, February 4, 2011

I Think It's Time For Another Giveaway...

I just noticed Healthy Earth, Healthy Me is rapidly approaching 3000 page views. This calls for another giveaway. When I hit 3000 page views, I will be offering a handmade bracelet similar to this one....

.... made from repurposed material, buttons and beads. 

So, spread the love, keep reading, share with your friends, and keep an eye out for the giveaway post so you don't miss your chance to win something as cute as this!

If you are a regular reader, don't forget to become a follower and subscribe to updates on new posts. Click 'follow' on the right hand side bar and follow the instructions.

It's been nice having you all along for the ride so far!

The Things Our Children Teach Us

There are some things that words are never enough for. Being a mother, I find, falls into this category.

I can never find words big enough, or eloquent enough, or raw enough to adequately describe the kaleidoscope of emotions we daily feel as parents... the awareness of the tension we walk between being our children's everything and being their downfall... the terrible burden of knowing that the decisions we make on the fly, everyday, have such far-reaching impact on the people our children are and will become... the intense joy, delight and awe they inspire, as well as the pain, stress and exhaustion they seem to create.

Yesterday, in our house, was a big day. Miya went to three year old kindy for the first time. She has ached for this moment for many, many months, and despite my concern that the day's eventual and much built-up arrival would overwhelm her and send her back into her shell, she handled it with great poise and excitement. (so did I - no tears!)

This is the point in the story that I come unstuck. I'm not sure how to write about our afternoon without painting a picture of my daughter that I know is not true of her nature 99% of the time. We had tears, we had tantrums and it was incredibly difficult to find a way through them. Miya was so overwhelmed by her tiredness, her emotions and all the new things she had taken in during the day, she became almost volcanic. Reason flew out the window, and calm did not prevail.

Tantrums are not a new thing in our house. I wince when I look back on my childless self, observing children throwing tantrums, and remember all the sentences starting with "When I have children..." that I naively preened myself with. Tantrums are a normal part of development for many, many children and a rite of passage for their parents.

Yesterday, though, tested me.... and I failed. For so long, Nathan and I have disciplined in a kind of 'colour by numbers' way... we had our formula and we stuck to it. It involves a hierarchy of 'consequences' and we thought it worked for us. Friends were impressed by our consistency, members of older generations approved of the strictness of our methods. But if it truly worked, why were the same behaviours reappearing, sometimes many times a day? Why did I feel as though I was letting my children, and myself, down? Why did disciplining our children feel like constantly engaging in battle?

Miya is three. Just three. I expect so much from her, as my eldest, and forgot about the things she needs from me. I am her mother, a safe place for her, a nurturing presence in her life. When I 'engage in battle', however,  I am none of these things. When she is challenging, it is because she is challenged - by learning something new, feeling things that overwhelm or confuse her, by boundaries that are just made for testing, by learning where she fits in. It is my place to help her navigate these things, learn alternative ways of dealing with things, seek sanctuary when she needs it. I am doing her no service by reinforcing unhealthy ways of relating or expressing herself (by smacking in response to violence, by yelling in response to rudeness, by isolation in response to testing limitations.)

As a teacher, I would have felt that I was doing a poor job if my 'time out space' was in constant use, or if a particular child was always 'in trouble'. It is my job to diffuse, to gently correct, to support, to teach. Why is this different now that I am a parent? Somewhere along the line I have fallen into the trap of believing that 'negative' behaviours must be punished, rather than investing time into showing my children different ways of coping with their experiences and expressing their needs and wants.

Once again, I read back on this and feel that words have not been enough. I can't describe the pain I have felt since yesterday - pain at every punch my beautiful baby landed on my throat, chest and arms; pain at every thud as she threw herself at the closed door of her bedroom; pain at the sound of her hoarse little voice, her throat sore from endless screaming; pain as I unloaded my feelings on Facebook (I know, I know, how silly and selfish of me) and realised that all I had done is misinform people that my child is a monster; pain as I recall the look my child gave me when I reacted in anger, as if I was a stranger that she was wary of; pain as I realised that she is seeking something from me that I have not been giving her, and that after all the fighting, after all that, she still just wanted to curl up in my lap and be held. Why had I not done that from the beginning?

Gentle, slow, simple. This is how I live my life. This, now, is how I intend to parent.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Some Thoughts On Stockpiling

With all of the weather-related events that have unfolded across the country since the New Year, there is much discussion occurring in Blogland around 'preparedness'. Gavin from 'The Greening of Gavin' has put together a four week challenge around this topic that is informative, both in its rationale for preparedness and its tips for becoming 'prepared'. You can read it here.

Preparedness is the act of ensuring that in an event that would limit our access to goods and services outside our home, we are able to provide for ourselves and our families, stay safe and see that our basic needs are met. A family that is prepared has the survival skills they need to exist without reliance on outside sources. They also have a stockpile of food, water and first aid supplies, among other things, to see them through an extended period of self-reliability. Julie from Towards Sustainability has a great article on stockpiling - you can read it here.

There are many reasons people decide to engage in preparing for such a time. Some are concerned about natural disasters, such as storms, floods and fires. Others are concerned about long term climatic changes and the unknown conditions that they will bring. Still others worry about events that have a more 'man-made' origin - a period of unemployment, war, or a peak oil event. (If you are not sure what this is, google 'peak oil'... and be prepared to read through some intense debate, polarised views and sobering opinions)

While the nation watches with great concern as Cyclone Yasi approaches the Queensland coast, residents in the path of this enormous system are engaging in their own last-minute preparations. The Queensland floods a few weeks ago reminded us that the days after these ravaging events can be just as dangerous as the events themselves. Whole regions left with no power or fresh water see rapid spread of disease, dehydration and hunger. Today, Queenslanders are being urged to seek shelter, but not before gathering enough food, water and first aid supplies to see them through the aftermath.

It has started me thinking. I'm not about to dig myself a shelter in my backyard, but having been through a cyclone some years ago that took us by surprise (only us... we hadn't been watching television that week!) and having no supplies in the days following when shops remained closed and power remained shut off, I know how inconvenient, at best, being unprepared can be. I have done some reading on Peak Oil, as well, and to me it seems logical that as we use oil and petroleum based resources faster than we can find (and fund, thankyou world governments) alternative power sources, we will reach a point where our consumption dwarfs our supply. This will have significant, if not catastrophic, impact on the way we live our lives.

I have the skills to be prepared. It is really an extension of the way we already live. I can stockpile, I have multitudes of bottles and jars, and it would not be a strain to put aside one or two jars from every batch of preserving I do. I can store water, tinned foods, first aid supplies, long life milk. I can buy bulk lots of dry goods to securely stockpile. I can box up blankets, old clothes, candles, batteries, personal hygiene necessities, chook feed, personal documentation, windup radio and the like.

This may seem extreme, and maybe it will never be necessary for me to have gone to all of this effort. But what if it is? Will it kill me (or you) to think along the worst case scenario lines... if only to ensure that if ever the need arised I (or you) would have the means to ensure our families' safety and wellbeing in difficult times?

Hell, in this, I'm willing to be made a fool of.

I wish the residents of the parts of Queensland bracing for Cyclone Yasi all the very best. The whole of Australia has our eyes, and our hearts, on you.
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