Autumnal suspense

We have been out walking in the golden sunshine, now much lower in the afternoon sky and enjoying the space and time outdoors connecting with the woodlands and trees. On one walk we were lucky to see nuthatchers and tree creepers and were told where they like to feed in the coming winter months.

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The music of the far-away summer flutters around the Autumn seeking its former nest. ~Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds  

   It feels like the cusp of change the days soon becoming filled with foraging and preserving.

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Chestnuts are good in pies and risotto. They make a good preserve with rum for making chocolate truffles as gifts

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Eating apples and crab apples for jelly

I enjoy taking the time to notice little changes as they arrive and prepare myself for the coming winter months. I enjoy making the most of what nature is literally bestowing on us with gifts of apples, pears, medlars, berries, nuts and collecting the last of summer herbs before they too fade.

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 Self-seeded borage (and a tiny chamomile) from summer plants. Some of the herbs and flowers still going, roses flowered all winter last year! Life is always pushing forwards and making the most of it.

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medlar and lettuce setting seed in the garden

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Autumn reds doing well

The trees beginning to rush a display of beautiful colours which will be bursting with flaming red and oranges until they eventually become bare and bereft, storing enery and quietly waiting for spring.

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We have been foraging elderberries to make syrups and tinctures for the winter months ahead and we have started foraging mushrooms. This is a new skill I am learning so I am tentatively -and wisely, sticking to the ones I have learned with confidnce and that cannnot be mistaken for anything unpleasant, you can not identify a mushroom without first consulting a couple of books you well trust and examining a specimen closely. It is a perfect Autumn passtime, bringing me close to the earth, to the sustinence nature provides whilst also reminding to me to watch and study with great care and respect.

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edible stump puffball mushrooms

Death is literally hanging in the air along with this abundance

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Orb spider and a honey bee. Usually only the females build webs.

Yet as a flower fades, turns to seed and finally dies back, it may look death and total destruction but we know that come spring a tiny seedling will form and life carries on, in the way we expect and take too much for granted.

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If you stand still outside you can hear it… Winter’s footsteps, the sound of falling leaves. ~Animal Crossing: Wild World (Nintendo video game) written by Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka, and Toshihiro Kawabata

Perhaps it is the most poetic of seasons. Surely as winter comes spring will follow.

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It is the most extraordinary dance filled with energy and stillness. Perfect and miraculous balance.

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How to infuse oils for cooking

You can use dry or fresh ingredients for infusing oils and choose oils with varying properties too for your end use. For culinary use I used cold pressed olive oil. If you use dried herbs your oil will last longer, fresh oils tend be more vibrant and stronger, or may infuse more quickly.  You need to wash and carefully dry the herbs you want to use (it is better to avoid water in your oil!) -you will do this before drying herbs if you’re using dried ones.

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Rosepetals and calendula infusing almond oil

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Oregano infusing extra virgin cold pressed olive oil

1.Add an amount of the ingredient the bottom of a jar and add enough oil to cover and then double over.

2.Leave the jar in a sunny spot on a windowsill, giving it a swirl every now and then, check it every day or two to see when it is agreeable for you. The longer you leave it the stronger the flavour as well as the aroma. It can be anything from a couple of days to a week (for dry ingredients) An oil with fresh ingredients will need using within a couple of days.

3.Strain the oil into a ready bottle or jar for use. Or you may like to pour into ice cube trays for a longer shelf-life -looks very pretty if you add some oregano or basil flowers!

I used herbs and flowers straight fom my garden grown without chemicals, no pesticides or fertilisers

 

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Butternut squash

This year I grew butternut squash for the first time I got my seeds from http://www.realseeds.co.uk/index.html I chose the ‘Waltham’ butternut. It was bred by the Massachusetts Ag. Extension Service in the 1960’s by crossing ‘New Hampshire Butternut’ with a … Continue reading

Types of seeds to choose

I wanted to help make you aware that not all seed is the same and why it is important to know about what seed you buy. It still shocks me and I am surprised that I only recently became aware of it. (I was confused by F1 on so many packets in garden centres.)

You may or may not be aware of something called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and it’s relevance to seed production. Under this partnership is the proposed seed regulation ‘EU Plant Reproductive Material Law’. This legislation would have a hugely negative effect on the rights of farmers and other growers (in its first drafting even gardeners!) to use, save and exchange their seeds. It will also allow full and unfettered access to our food production, from multi-national corporations, such as Monsanto with their GMOs

Some of the open pollinated seeds growing in my unheated conservatory

The longterm effects of GMOs are unknown, we do know however that the greater the genetic diversity in nature, the better natural things do. GMOs fly in the face of that knowledge and reason. What happens if we ‘put all our seeds in one high yelding basket’ and at somepoint it falls foul to any number of future unforseen diseases or possibilites? or we do as a result of what we eat? Different technologies are being used to create “hidden” GM crops, which are being rushed onto the market by seed corporations before the Commission decides whether or not they should be classified as GM. Our choice as consumers is again being limited. We simply do not know what we are eating

red crab apples for jelly

Chestnuts for preserve and pies

Edible field blewits

Edible field blewits

Foraged foods.

It is argued that large agra-business likes these seeds, they will pay slightly higher prices for the seeds to get a better yield BUT once their land is infected with this seed they can no longer grow the alternative true seed; it will cross pollinate with the GMOs and so future seeds become useless. Monsanto sues farmers who have had their land unknowingly infected through cross pollination from other farms because they have patented that genetic material -material from seeds bread through biodiversity and by selection over decades, even centuries, by local traditional farmers who know what grows well. It is deeply troubling to say the least. We also know that the price of seed once farmers have used it begins to rise. Everything which is a product of that food chain is then subject to these companies and their prices.

Homemade rosepetal and homemade lavender lemonade from the garden.

The only people who had any input into drafting this law were large multi-national businesses who supplied ‘technical experts’ to ‘help’ them write the law, this is why it completely ignored the needs of small farmers and home growers. Due to large amounts of public objection the MEPs realised that something was wrong and it was sent back to be re-written. The already existing seed laws are not without problems and may still allow for the worst if something isnt changed so it is hoped the law will be renegotiated, to account for the needs of all rather than abandoned altogether.

It gives us a chance to stop the worst case scnario. We need to keep up the pressure and remind the EU that not all growers are the same or have the same wants and needs. We must push for exemptions for home gardeners if these laws are to be passed. If we dont do this and the UK is forced to ensure all plant matter is regulated strictly because of the TTIP we will loose our choice. Even the large scale producers of seed can not afford to register their more unusual varieties so we currently do not enforce the stricter EU laws here in the UK. This will change if this legislation passes. A wide choice of different types and varieties of grown produce (fruit flowers vegetables and grains) will disappear.

The small holdings homesteaders and other small businesses from who we buy open pollinated, traditional, or ‘heirloom’ true seeds will not be able to afford the cost of registering their seed varieties (nor anual fees of keeping them registered)  the result is that all of these local, traditional, natural seeds could be lost forever. In the first draft it is illegal to trade and even swap seeds from your own garden! If the ideology of these corporations is succesful, you will only be able to buy the same seeds as the largescale farmer, high yeilding sterile seeds.

Cornflower and sunflower seedlings

Many farmers no longer keep their own seeds as it needs to be checked for patented genetic material (remember Monsanto will sue them) This becomes an issue when governments allow secret trials like those in Spain where organic farmers have had to abandon growing maize for fear of cross-pollination and being sued. Checking seeds needs expensive technology which is inaccessable to most farmers so they have to buy seed from producers who can afford to, and have already, checked it. Again limiting choice for the consumer, and limiting genetic diversity, compared to when farmers can keep and use their own seeds.

In nature we know that everything does better the greater its genetic diversity. We know that restristing genetic diversity i.e the inbreeding of honeybees can be diasterous. For them and for us. We need to care for our pollinators and we need to ensure that they have something to pollinate! Seeds are literally the buidling blocks of life. It is unjust and insidious to patent or own mother nature.

Ladybird in the garden they keep aphids down

Peacock butterflies in the garden some overwinter in my little summerhouse/potting shed.

Sparrowhawk in the garden. These were in dangerous decline due to garden pesticides but numbers are recovering well now due to successful breeding programmed. This one caught one of our collared doves.

Robin eggs in the hedge. They lost two clutches last year hopefully they do better this spring.

Our choices, our lifestyles, our traditions, our culture, our freedom to live naturally and how we wish are at risk if we do not keep our eye on proposed regulation and legislation. Or on who drives those proposals. Knowledge is power. If you know what is happening you can make informed choices and take action.

If you want to get growing, real, safe and healthy food for your family there is no better time to start than now.

Wild buttercups

Cowslips that grow in the lawn/everywhere 🙂

1. Open pollinated seeds.

These are the most natural seeds pollinated by nature, bees, insects and the wind. Occasionally by us too as we brush up against flowers and accidentally get pollen on our clothes, carrying it to another flower and so on. Sometimes we can help Mother Nature a little by gently brushing the pollen from one flower to another. This is commonplace in organic seeds and perhaps has become necessary to ensure authenticity. Organic seeds are becoming harder and harder to come by because the big seed companies are busy buying up the small seed companies, again, restricting choice.

2. High yeilding. Hybrid seeds.

These include the F1 varieties. They sound quite convincing on the packet with quite a lot of reasurring information. You cannot save seeds from these varieties they will be sterile or will not grow ‘true’ they will cross contaminate with true seed if you grow both. In my opinion they are a bit of a con for the home gardener and not as good for  the environment as more bio diversity is. Also quite expensive!

3. GE seeds GM and GMO.

These are the baddies of the seed world sterile and patented by biotechnolgy companies such as Monsanto. Under US law you can be sued if your crop is infected by them. The genetic material they cointain was not invented by Monsanto or biotechnology. It was already there through evolution/god and selective breeding by traditional farmers over decades and centuries. These seeds will eventually lack genetic diversity compared with natural and open pollinated seeds. They will become compatitively weaker to future disease and environmental changes.

http://landworkersalliance.org.uk/2014/01/reclaiming-farmers-rights-to-seeds/ INFO ABOUT PROTESTS AND SEED SHARES

http://www.realseeds.co.uk/seedlaw2.html INFO ON THE EU LAW AND MEP ADRESSES TO WRITE TO AND SEED SHARES. YOU CAN BUY OPEN POLLINATED SEEDS HERE AND MANY NEAR EXTINCT TRADITIONAL VARIETIES.

If you do decide to read the proposed regulation and legislation be aware that the first 5 pages which may sound ok are an executive summary. Not the actual proposals which read quite differently.

Why infuse oils?

We have all seen those fancy bottles of olive oil with a sprig of rosemary or a dried chili in them, so it may already be obvious to you that they are useful for cooking and for salad dressings. You may not have realised that its pretty easy to make your own beauty products and even oils with medicinal properties using what you may already have in your garden.

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Almond oils infused with rose petals, calendula, viola, honeysuckle, lavender and chamomile. Olive oils infused with basil, oregano, roemary, and lavender.

This is interesting to me, and others, wishing to minimse the destructive impact we have on the environment when we purchase products loaded with chemicals. Often these products sold to us by the beauty/personal care industry use a lot of unnecessary packaging which may not be recyclable either. I have found as a mother, that baby products are often the worst offenders. I have also found my children and I have very sensitive skin and an ‘overload’ of chemicals/perfumes seems to act as an irritant if anything.

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honeysuckle is an extremely useful plant for us with medicinal preoperties and provides great nesting material for birds.

Everything we need we can find in nature. Nature provides well for us. I would like to avoid products that dont benefit me a great deal but casue a lot of detruction, products like palm oil (usually just labelled ‘vegetable oil’) The palm oil industry is linked to deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced, as the land and forests must be cleared for the development of the oil palm plantations. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction, and findings show that if nothing changes species like the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years, and Sumatran tigers less than 3 years.

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I dont think any beauty/hair/luxury product is worth that! so I want to do what I can. Especially when its easy and the alternative benefits me so much more. I am a happier person if I focus on what I *can* do and I make efforts, than if I feel I have no choice but to be a part of something that makes me feel so terrible. Making my own gives me a bit of relience to a level of consumerism that feels more and more ‘forced upon’ us. Its fun, I like to create, experiment, explore and learn. Especially with my children. I like to create beautiful things for myself as a treat to enjoy and as gifts for family and friends. I know that what I make does not have those undetermined infinte effects. I know I have grown the flowers and herbs from open pollinated seeds that can be saved year on year from my plants. Without chemicals, no fertilisers, no pesticides. I have created an expensive luxury hand crafted organic product for virtually no cost at all. It feels good. It works too.

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Good quality almond oil infusing wiuth chamomile and viola for eczma and dry skin patches.

Uses for the infused oils I make: (Some of these stay as oils and some I am hoping to make into creams which I will be blogging about here. You can grow all of these things very easily if you dont have some already.)

viola infused oil -eczma

chamomile infused oil -soothing dry skin and eczma

rosepetal infused oil -reduces inflamation and eczma acts as an emollient for dry/blemished skin

calendula infused oil -regenerative properties, very soothing helps reduce dry and blemished skin

honeysuckle infused oil -sore throat, fever, skin & scalp issues, antibacterial & anti-inflammatory properties

lavender infused oil -conditions skin, soothes rashes.

Oregano is also great for skin I find it quite powerful for my face and prefer to use a water infused with oregano as a gentle toner/astringent

Culinary oils can be frozen in ice cube trays for when you need them, you can make them with fresh or dry herbs. Dry lasts longer than oil with fresh herbs if you want some ready on the counter for sald dressings etc. Fresh needs to be used fairly quckly.

The idea

I have a long term aim to build and open a pay as you find cafe using sustainable practises and permaculture principles wherever possible. I aim to renovate, repair, re-use and recylce wherever possible. The cafe will provide healthy fresh food from local sources and have a minimum environmental impact. It will become a space for use by community groups, providing a safe haven for chat and support, as well as providing inviting comfortable surroundings for passers by in need of a bit of a rest and a beverage.

You may have heard of Transitions Cafes in various towns and cities of the uk. Such as this http://pembrokeshireherald.com/3884/staff-events-transition-cafe/ Providing training and volunteering opportunities, making use of food destined for landfill and cutting carbons emmisions by the tonne compared with other cafes.

Watch this space and get in touch if you would like to be involved in getting this project up and running. In the mean time I have registered my own kitchen as a food business and Im waiting for the all clear from the council so that I can make/sell/gift/donate from home. I am trained and qualifed food tech teacher, our aim is to assist those most vulnberable from the ideological cuts, and to provide support, opportunities to build self-esteem, skills sharing, passing food hygiene certificates, learning to grow food, fostering reslience and independence. The cafe will also provide a drop in point of contact and meeting spot.  https://elysiandaisies.com/2014/10/14/permaculture-in-community/ this might help give an insight into some of the things I do generally in a week, and the skills developing that would also help. In there (at the end, as it was on the sat night) is a little bit about our dinner club meetings where we provide a meal for each other from free/excess food. I hope you will make a brew right now and sit and share some ideas/suggestions/inspiration in the form of links. Please get invloved you have something we need 😉

From my journal

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Some recent digital recipes to share

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How to make Kombucha and Kefir

How to make Kombucha and Kefir

I came across Kombucha and Kefir through friends. When they described what they were making and and how they were using it I was fascinated. SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast (lovely pro-biotics.) This is what both Kombucha (kom-boosh-a) and Kefir (keh-fear) are made with, though different types with different ingredients. I was intrigued, science experiments, food products, knowledge and creativity all in one go, excellent. It doesnt get more interesting than that for me (except maybe using the SCOBY from Kombucha to make into shoes and clothes! more on that later.)

 

Some my Kombucha brewing in jars (you can see the SCOBY)

 Some of my Kefir ready to use



KOMBUCHA

Kombucha is expensive as an organic healthfood drink. I have to also point out that success rates using the bought ones as a starter tea are low. It seems there isnt enough of the good stuff in what you can buy. More reason to make it. It starts out as a sugary tea, which is then fermented with the help of a SCOBY that is very close cousins to the mother used to make vinegar. The scoby bacteria and yeast eat most of the sugar in the tea, transforming the tea into a fizzy, refreshing healthy beverage full of probiotics with low sugar. Lets take a moment to imagine carbonated sodas..

The SCOBY

The cool stuff that floats on top, it’s rubbery and slightly spongy, brown stringy bits hang from it. My 12 y old boy thinks its weird and fascinating. So do I. It would seem the bacteria and yeast form this jelly-like layer of cellulose at the top of the kombucha to protect the fermenting tea from the air and help maintain a very specific environment inside the jar and shield it from unfriendly bacteria. It has been around for a very long time -before our modern disinfectants and anti-bacterials 😉 If the SCOBY is healthy then the Kombucha will be. It is a living thing and changes are normal and will usually reflect changes of the environment (your kitchen) It will smell nasty and cheesy rather than vinegary if something has gone wrong. If you see signs of mold, throw it all away and start from scratch. If the scoby becomes black, or develops green or black mold, it is has become infected or is past its life span and will also need to be thown away. Look after your magical weird and friendly SCOBY and it will look after you. Make your tea carefully and peel off the bottom (or oldest) layer every few batches. You could give it to a friend to start their own along with enough brew for a starter tea. Failing that you can purchase them online, be sure to validate their quality. You can also make your own starter tea using cider/unpasteurised white vinegar. Starter tea is acidic and keeps out the unfriendly bacterias during early brewing.

KOMBUCHA RECIPE

Im going to start you off with a small amount because I assume you only have one or two SCOBYs from a friend and a couple of jars. Most online recipes have double this.  Dont use antibac to wash your hands 😉

  • You need around 3 pints of water and boil this for 5 mins to purify it
  • Add 3/4 tea bags (or a tablespoon of loose tea)
  • Stir in 100g sugar til dissolved and leave it to cool (you can try green or oolong too, but avoid flavoured. Earl grey is said to be difficult as it has a higher oil content.)
  • Wait until room temperature before adding the SCOBY and prepare your jar as you would for a preserve (in the oven on a low setting for 10 mins is fine.)
  • Add to your jar when cool then add the starter tea or vinegar (should make up around 10%)
  • Slide the SCOBY onto to the top (do not wear gloves) cover with cheesecloth or paper towels and secure with an elastic band. It needs to be breathable but able to keep out fruit flies.

I now have a ‘Kombucha cupboard’ The scoby multiplies with every use and you keep a continous cycle going.

  • Place somewhere warm and preferably dark (certainly not in direct sunlight or a draught) and where it wont be knocked. for around a week to 10 days check on it occasionally, you should see the SCOBY growing and the stringy bits forming. It may be positioned anywhere in the jar. You can taste it once it smells vinegary, if the SCOBY has formed use it now if you like it or leave it til it has a more appealing flavour.

    When it is ready to bottle you can prepare your tea for the next batch and have it ready for your SCOBY Which will have made you a baby, so now you have 2! Remember to save your starter tea’s from this batch before bottling. Bottling creates carbonation, and adds the fizz. Be aware of the lids you choose if you carbonate, I use the swing top bottles.To carbonate bottle up to the top and leave on the work top for 2-3 days then refigerate before use. You can flavour kombucha with freshly squeezed fruit juice or pieces of fruit/herbs in the bottle or you could add flavouring ingredients and leave with the cheesecloth cover for a day or two, then strain and bottle so it has no bits. It tastes better cold and this stops carbonation (and fermentation if you go on holiday)

     This is an Oolong tea brew that is carbonating with orange

     

    If you ever forget a batch and leave it brewing too long it is still useful (dont believe the wiki how on this and throw it away!) It makes kombucha vinegar which can be used in home made hair and beauty products, cleaning products, salad dressings and marinades 🙂
    Almost forgot. This is really cool. Remember one scoby will make whatever size batch you require. You could make a bathtub full and it will make a bath sized scoby! If you dried that out what could you do with it? well this lady made a bit of an interesting breakthrough in the textile industry with shoes and a skirt! 😀 http://blog.ted.com/2014/02/05/the-skirt-and-shoe-made-from-kombucha/ Are you getting ideas for patchwork scoby’s? or you could just compost them.

    Kefir

    You’ll be pleased to know this is a bit easier. You will need a friend to donate a little with some grains in, the Kefir grains are the SCOBY. Milk Kefir (you can get water kefir too) is a lot like the expensive yogurt drinks you can buy but they are a lot more expensive and less effective. Kefir also has the added beneficial yeast as well as beneficial bacteria. It also reduces the lactose content of the milk by quite a bit. Add the grains to your prepared jar and add your milk to the jar, you could experiment with how much to use, the grains will grow and multiply over time. Then leave the jar in a warm spot in the kitchen until it thicken, typically a day or two.
    The flavour changes over time and becomes more tart and thick when it begins to seperate into curds and whey, at this point or just before you should stir the jar again and strain the grains to use again. The liquid is your lovely creamy, tart, probiotic drink. You can make it into fruit smoothies or even leave the kefir to a point where you can make cheese my straining through a cheesecloth and pressing. My grains are still multiplying but when I have enough I want to have a go at this! You could flavour kefir cheese too with fruit or herbs. Store unused grains in the fridge or pass on to friends 😉 You can also eat them or compost them.

Kefir can be used just about anywhere that buttermilk, yoghurt or cream cheese may be used. Other great ways to use kefir are:

  • In smoothies
  • To tenderize meat instead of yoghurt
  • Served with fruit
  • In a cold soup
  • In an ice cream recipe
  • Poured over cereal
  • Used instead of yoghurt to make
  • In a healthy milkshake recipe
  • As a leavening agent
  • In place of buttermilk in baking
  • As a starter for a sourdough recipe
  • To make a herbed cream cheese, or a fruit-flavoured cream cheese
  • To ferment grains or flours
  • To help dephytinize grains, cereals, nuts and seeds
  • In a salad dressing
  • In a pasta sauce

I have to link to this mans blog and Kefir crusade. It has anything and everything else you might want to know about kefir 🙂 http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html

Acrylic and mixed media on canvas

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