Kombucha, Gardening and Santa's Workshop

I've had a busy last few weeks as I'm sure most of you have had. I've had lots of sewing to do for our home made gifts, all of the usual Christmas and end of year stuff for the kids, and on top of that our laptop died suddenly.

This morning I was bottling up last week's kombucha and it prompted me to post a quick update here to tell you how we're getting on with it.  We've been making kombucha since the end of September and since then we've gone from drinking 1L per week to 4L per week.. and we're still running out! The kids absolutely love it, which is a surprising bonus. I've had a play with flavoured teas and we've settled on a favourite - cranberry and pomegranate (1 cranberry and pom tea bag and 1 black tea bag per 1L of water). You can read all about my entry into the world of fermented kombucha tea including my recipe here.

As for the health benefits.. well, we haven't had any 'die off' or negative side effects at all. I do limit the kids to one glass per day but they've been known to sneak more. Jemima in particular is mad for it.  Both kids have been pretty healthy lately but I think the real test will be next winter when the bugs start lurking. One thing I have noted is that both kids have been exposed to a rampant tummy bug repeatedly over the last month through friends and school/preschool and neither of them has caught it.

These bottles will go into the cupboard for a week to further ferment and fizz up a bit and then they'll be ready to drink. I was only leaving them for three or four days but we found that by leaving them longer the kombucha mellowed a bit and the taste was fresher.

As for the taste.. if you're unfamiliar with kombucha you may be wondering what it's like. The bottles above taste like an iced tea mixed with berry, a bit fizzy and really clean and refreshing. It's yum honest!

And the bonus of making lots of bottles of kombucha is that you end up with lots of SCOBY's. When you make a batch a new yeast pancake forms on the top which you can separate when it's big enough and use to make a new batch of tea. Since we're away for Xmas I've put my SCOBY's in a jar covered with kombucha tea, they'll sit dormant in the fridge until I come home.

 So how's the balcony garden doing?

Thai pink egg tomatoes almost ready!

Zucchini and capsicum (looking a bit hot).

Legend tomato - just starting to form fruit.

Two heirloom Diggers tomatoes.

Cucumbers which are growing along the wire nicely. 

And lastly.. Christmas. I had a goal this year of making Christmas as simple, ethical, and home made as possible. Now that my shopping and making is done - how did I do?

My first challenge was to make gift bags rather than buy wrapping paper. I've done pretty well. All but three or four presents from us to the kids and each other are in bags. I ran out of time at the end so we have a present or two for the kids in paper. Next year I'll make a couple more and we should be sorted. Jemima and Ben made their own using stencils and stamps and I sewed them up.

As far as gifts go, most of them were hand made by me. It's a cheap way of doing things but it does take planning and a lot of time. I made Jemima some clothes and a beach bag out of a vintage towel, and I made Ben an explorers satchel and a quilt for his bed. My nephews are all receiving home made presents too. For the bought presents I used the Oxfam shop for one person and I bought lots of books. The kids have one toy each under the tree that isn't particularly eco friendly or educational but it was what they'd asked for.. and it is Christmas after all! So while I wasn't 100% on track with my goal, I was definitely more mindful when buying things and I think it helped to distance myself from the mad consumerism and craziness out there at this time of year.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas season, I hope it's a special time with your family full of fun and good things.

x Becs

And then we went foraging

Down by the Nepean River lie a row of tall mulberry trees.  Each summer we picnic underneath their canopy of blousy lime green leaves taking refuge from the sun. Lying on your back looking up it's possible to see a few of the last mulberries hidden from the birds and more recently, the foragers. I always seem to leave my mulberry picking too late. But not this year.

At the Crop & Swap on Saturday there was talk of ladders, climbing trees, making jams, and rocky road, and it all had to do with mulberry season. This morning we took Ben down to the river with a bucket and we foraged for berries. It was so fun. Ben quickly became our scout - running from tree to tree calling out "Over here guys! I found a goodie!" before taking a rest in the shade with some leaves and a pile of sticks.

J went up the tree and when he couldn't reach the outer branches I did something I haven't attempted in many, many years. I climbed onto his shoulders and balanced there picking berries while trying not to shriek like a little girl.

As it turns out, fruit picking is really hot hard work. Our 500g of berries took about an hour to collect and was made into just one large jar of jam. For a brief moment it seemed like a lot of effort for not a lot of food - but then I remembered Ben's little face as he wove in and out of the branches and how silly and young I felt wobbling about on top of my husband's strong shoulders.

It was a bit of fun. And a good way to spend one of these precious last home days with our Ben before he starts school next year. And it's got me thinking - what other fruit trees are out there waiting for an unlikely gang of foragers to discover them?

Balcony veggie patch update

We've added to our balcony garden after a trip to the school festival where we found lots of cheap seedlings. We added another row of rain guttering and at the moment it's free for new lettuce seedlings (apart from some basil). The zucchini is growing really well in it's storage bucket thanks to worm wee provided courtesy of the worm farm.

This is what we have happening at the moment- the weather is heating up so I expect some good growth in the next month or so. Hopefully we'll be making a salad from here soon!

Balcony Veggie Patch

In every house I've lived in I've always wanted to grow something in the ground. Even in rentals knowing that spending money on a garden was foolish, I've gone ahead and planted out. In our last house J and I spent a long weekend hauling railway sleepers and planting capsicums and lettuce before being told on the Tuesday that the owners needed their house back and we had 6 weeks to be out. Every time that happens I promise myself that I will shovel and bag my nicely composted soil and I'll take it with me to the new house. It never happens. After moving boxes and doing the final clean who has the energy to worry about dirt?

At this house we are blessed with a large sunny backyard. Perfect for vegetable beds. Maybe the disappointment of not seeing the fruits of my labour at the last house still stings, or maybe I'm just tired.. either way I just could not find it in my heart to get excited about planting in the garden this spring. 

I said I wasn't going to plant anything. Then I remembered the feeling of popping outside at dusk to grab some leaves for a salad, and the taste of a home grown tomato still warm from the sun. Just a few lettuces and one tomato plant then, or maybe just the two. 

Given my state of mind about planting in the ground, this garden needed to be close by and above all, portable. Thus, our balcony veggie patch was born.

Here we have one 2.3m length of zinc rain guttering and some concrete blocks that we found on the property.

J drilled some drainage holes into the bottom of it and we used the concrete blocks to hold it up above the ground.

Next we filled it up with some good quality potting mix and worm casings.

Jemima and I planted some Diggers heirloom spring onions and lettuce seedlings.

This is what we have so far. Two tomato plants (one Legend, and one Thai Pink Egg), two cucumber seedlings that I hope to grow along the wire at the front of the deck, one courgette plant, and some herbs. And the guttering garden of course, which we hope to expand with another length of zinc soon.

It's not my dream garden by a long shot, but we will have something home grown and fresh this summer, and that's always good thing. I'll update you in the next few weeks so you can see how this works out. I hope it does!

The Grapefruit Wars

When we moved into this house a few months back I did what I always do when checking out a new place. I took a tour of the garden. I always hope that I'll find something useful - abandoned vegetable gardens would be great - established fruit trees would be awesome. On this occasion I spotted a large healthy citrus tree from a distance and as I approached I was delighted to discover that it was covered with plump green balls. An orange tree! My kids love oranges. Orange juice! Orange cake! Orange ice blocks for the summer!

I waited patiently through autumn for my oranges to turn orange, keeping a careful eye on the leaves of the tree for any infestations or viruses. There was no need to worry, this tree has been here a while and she's a healthy old girl.

Then one day I was chatting to the landlord about the property and she said "You know, down there by the grapefruit tree". Ummmm... the what now? The grapefruit tree? Out of all the fruit trees one can inherit the grapefruit tree is surely the booby prize.

Nobody can eat a tree load of grapefruit, except perhaps my sister and I when we're 6 months pregnant. My kids are good eaters but they won't touch a grapefruit. My husband hates them. And as it turns out, so do most people. I couldn't give them away. Every time I presented a friend with a bag of grapefruit I got the thanks, but no thanks.

Now one thing I really hate is waste, and food waste is the worst. Every day I'd see bright yellow globes dropping from the tree onto the grass where even the cockatoos wouldn't touch them. It was playing on my conscience a bit, seeing perfectly good fruit rotting away like that.

So this week I declared war on the grapefruit tree. I decided to make as much marmalade as I could stand to make, and then I followed that up with grapefruit jelly.

Marmalade is the easiest jam in terms of setting, but it sure is a pain to prepare. All of the cutting and slicing the peel. My peel is always too chunky because I can't ever be bothered to cut it finely enough. Nevertheless, the other morning I went down to the tree and collected the best looking fruit. I added some organic oranges to the lot and gave it all a good wash. Then I cut, and diced, and deseeded, and cut some more. For two hours. Then the marmalade was made in the usual way - cooking the fruit before adding the sugar and cooking until the setting point is reached. At the end of the afternoon I had 7 nice jars of marmalade, some for us and some to swap at our community crop & swap meet (that's if anyone will want my chunky jam).

Today I tackled the rest of the grapefruit on the tree. I decided to make jelly, partly because I wanted something different but mostly because it's so much easier. I washed and chopped the fruit including the peel and pips and boiled that for about 20 minutes with some water. Once it was all pulpy and soft I strained it through an old cotton pillowcase over a bowl.

You can use a jelly bag for this, but I don't have one and this works just as well. It looks a little odd...

If you try this, don't squeeze the bag (it'll make your jelly cloudy).  Once I had the juice I measured it back into the pot, added sugar and boiled it until the setting point was reached (scraping off the scum/froth as it cooked). Ta - da! This is easily enough for our family for a year, with a few jars left over to swap for some fruit and vegetables. So if you find yourself with a heavily laden grapefruit tree don't despair - there's always marmalade :)

Ben's UFO Party

About ten months ago (yes, ten!) Ben announced that he would like aliens, slime, and UFO's for his party in October. I was unsure. How could I make that cool and retro and well, awesome? I had those Toy Story aliens in my head and I couldn't figure out what direction to take with it.

After a bit of thinking an image from the movie E.T popped into my head. You know that part where they take poor old E.T and stick him that research lab and it's all quarantined? Believe it or not, that was my starting point. I decided to go for the science/research side of aliens and away we went.

My idea was to have an early evening party with a fog machine and glow sticks, and to try and recreate a UFO lab in our room downstairs. That was until Ben gently told me that he didn't want a big party, and he didn't want lots of people there. In his four year old way of course. I think his exact words were "You know Jemima's circus party and rainbow party? NOT like that." Gotcha.

So today we had an alien themed BBQ in the park with some close family friends and two kids from Preschool. It was relaxed and fun, and totally stress free. The kid is on to something.

So here we go, my UFO party on a budget....

The invitations were home made on the computer and the envelopes were cheapies bought at the local art shop.

At this party you had to work for your party bag. We set up a scavenger hunt for 'Alien Specimens' all over the park.

Alien gems.. these glass beads were .99c a bag (I bought two) the kids loved them. Ben and I made patterns with them all over the rocks at the park for the kids to discover.

Pieces of UFO spaceship.. my husband found a big silver coated piece of polystyrene on the side of the road and picked it up knowing that an alien party was in the works. He cut out shapes and drew designs on them and then I hid them in the trees and under bark.

One of Ben's alien patterns of gems.

Alien eyeball lollies, we're lucky that Halloween is almost here, there were lots of spooky sweets in the shops.

Alien Goop - lime shower gel in some craft storage canisters from a junk shop with some alien writing on the outside.

Decorations were cheap - we bought this yellow and black hazard tape from a hardware shop for $5.50 and some green and black balloons. A few days before the party I saw these alien head balloons for .39c each so I grabbed a few.

I wanted some kind of specimen looking thing on the science table so I made these out of some Fowler jars, a piece of yellow polypropylene, and the alien head balloons squashed inside.

 I picked up these specimen jars from a pharmacy for $1 each and added the stickers onto the lids. These were the containers for the slime that they would be making.

We copied an Area 51 security pass and made our own ones specific to the park and the party. We handed them out to each child before they set off on their scavenger hunt.

I think the science was the best part of the day, the kids were amazed when fake snow appeared from nowhere, and they were so excited to see slime forming in their cups. Then we went over to the grass and set off some rockets made from water and effervescent tablets. I loved seeing their faces when we were doing these experiments!  All of the supplies were from the Prof Bunson online store.

I don't have many shots of the table to show you, and to be honest it wasn't that flash. The sausages were ready and the kids were charging, and we missed our photo op. Here you can just about see the ice cream alien brain cake I made. The table cloths were lime green plastic, the plates were silver and we had green cups from IKEA. I made some alien head chocolate lollipops using a mold I bought online and I stuck them into a round piece of the silver polystyrene around the edge. It was all pretty simple really, which is just how my boy wanted it.

And then there was the alien pinata that we made out of a balloon and some paper mache. It took a long time but it was worth the effort to see them having fun bashing it up and scrambling for the treats inside.

It was a really fun afternoon and definitely one of the best parties we've done.

Happy Birthday Benny! 


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