Saturday, July 10, 2010

Making butter from cream

Drawing on the brilliance of the Urban Homesteaders, hubby and I recently learned how to make butter.  It's so easy I can't believe everyone doesn't do it, because the end product is just amazing.  It goes like this:
  1. Take a tub of ageing cream (not ultrapasteurised and without gelatine) out of the fridge and let it warm up to room temperature - if it smells a bit sour, that's totally ok.
  2. Tip it into a big, clean jar, so there's lots of sloshing room.
  3. Shake lots and lots and wait for the magic.  Within a few minutes, the cream will separate into butter and buttermilk - it's amazing to watch for the first time.
  4. Pour out all the buttermilk you can shake out of the butter into a clean container (and don't waste it, it's awesome to drink or use in cooking).
  5. Run some cold water into the jar with the butter and keep shaking. Rinse and repeat until the water runs clear.
  6. Put the butter into a clean container that has a lid and press all the water out.
  7. If you want it to keep for a while, add some salt and mix well.
  8. Enjoy!
Both the butter and the buttermilk are totally unlike anything you can buy in a shop.  The butter is more like whipped butter and the buttermilk is... just amazing.  On our first attempt, we made buttermilk pancakes topped with maple syrup and butter and it was honestly the best indulgent breakfast I've had in years.

If you don't usually make pancakes from scratch, here's an easy recipe. (Never buy supermarket pancake mix again!  I'm convinced that pancake shaker mix is exactly what is wrong with the world today).

Buttermilk pancakes
   1 cup buttermilk (or normal milk, or a mix of the two)
   1 cup self raising flour (wholemeal if you have it)
   2 eggs
   1 tbsp caster sugar
   1 tsp vanilla extract (or paste)
Whisk all the ingredients together until combined (i.e. there are no big lumps left).  You want a consistency similar to thickened cream - add extra milk or flour as required to thicken or thin.   Fry in a non-stick frypan so you don't need to add butter.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Inspirational books

A couple of books that I'm infatuated with at the moment:

The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins, which as far as I can tell has spawned one of the fastest growing social movements in the world today.  Transition Towns are all about taking the twin terrors of climate change and peak oil, and instead of despairing, beginning to rebuild local communities and generate a range of local initiatives to increase resilience.


The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen.  Hubby and I are completely engrossed by this book.  Our bookmarks keep leapfrogging each other as we race through the homesteaders' pragmatic and light-hearted approach to living gently and self-sufficiently in a city. Everything they describe I want to try, and I'm constantly amazed at how each new project (making butter, building raised garden beds, harvesting rainwater) can be done easily and cheaply and produce multiple benefits for my family.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Big Blue Car

In 201 Melbourne was visited by a freak hailstorm that left my beloved Corolla pock marked all over, and, according to the insurance company, good for nothing but scrap.  I was frustrated at losing my little car, but completely appalled when I realised how many cars were receiving the same treatment.
In order to have our car assessed, we had to take it to an assessment centre on the other side of the city for a 15 minute appointment on a Saturday morning.  It was the only available appointment, as all the closer centres were busy even though all the centres were working seven days.  When we took the car in to be assessed, it was given a cursory exam, then red flagged for removal on a flat bed truck.  In the half hour that we were there, we saw twenty cars removed in this way.
I can only guess at how many thousands of cars were scrapped as a result of this process.  Apparently, under Victorian law, cars that are written off cannot be re-registered unless they are repaired to manufacturer's specifications - in this case, having all the panels restored.  Since the cost of doing so on any one of these cars would be more than the value of the car (by definition, as they were all written off), all these thousands of cars that were otherwise perfectly functional, will never see a public road again.
This profligate waste is astounding to me. Although I'm assured that there may be rational reasons, relating to the potential for structural damage to the cars by the hail stones, I can't help but be appalled and saddened.
Which perhaps influenced our decision on the replacement car.  We went from a lovely, little Corolla Levin hatchback, to a worn out Commodore station wagon with 360,000 km on the clock, worth approximately half as much. There were very practical reasons for doing this - kids getting bigger and a desire to put some money in the mortgage, being chief among them - but more fundamentally, it signalled a shift in the way we see and use our car.  It's now, very simply a big beast of a wagon that is used only when our feet and our pedals can't manage.
I made a commitment, in buying a big old car, to push the kids around in the pram, or pull them around in the bicycle trailer, wherever possible.  And I've surprised myself at how far my legs will carry us.  My personal best is two round trips in a day with the kids in tow, totaling 25 km in all. We now use the car only to do the weekly grocery shop and to take the family somewhere after dark or more than 7km away. I ride to work, walk the kids to daycare and take the train if conditions are unfavourable.
The big blue car contributes by soldiering on despite being over the hill.  Our low usage means that it will continue to meet our needs for several years if we service it regularly, and it's the ideal vehicle for moving the family around on the camping trips we're increasingly taking  as an alternative to expensive (both in money and energy) flying holidays. It's a far better alternative than us upgrading to a new car that would cost more money, be not much more fuel efficient and waste the embodied energy in our older car that might otherwise be not far off scrap itself.
An elegant solution, really, using a very inelegant car.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In the beginning

Around October last year a long slow burn of foreboding that had been present at the back of my mind for a long time became much more pressing.  A long run of 35+ degree days in Melbourne in early spring could have been seen by most people as nothing more than a brief anomaly - a curiosity for meteorologists and nothing more.  For me it was the proverbial last straw in a mounting wave of evidence that something is seriously wrong.

Around the time that the world was gearing up for the Copenhagen summit on climate change, my sense of foreboding blossomed into a sickening fear that it might already be too late to prevent catastrophic damage to our planet.  In the six months that have passed since that fear has never really left me and nothing I've heard or read has allayed it.  I'm afraid that climate change has already progressed too far, and that sea levels will soon rise above many inhabited areas and that the Great Barrier Reef will die.  I'm afraid that industrial farming practices are killing our prime arable lands and polluting our waterways.  I'm afraid that our reliance on disposable plastics is choking our seas and poisoning both marine animals and ourselves.  I'm afraid that unsustainable farming practices around the world are killing ecosystems and causing extinctions of thousands of species of animal life.  I'm afraid that our reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels to meet our skyrocketing energy and manufacturing requirements is not only polluting our planet, but will also soon deplete those resources past their peak and leave us in a state of diminishing supply and increasing demand without ready alternatives.

Most of all I'm afraid that I'm contributing to these problems.

This blog is about my personal journey to face my fears and to find positive and useful responses.  It's about finding practical changes that I can make in my life and my community to reduce my footprint on the world.  It's about teaching my children the value of the world they're inheriting and how to cherish and protect it.  It's about finding hope for a better future than the one we're creating today.

I invite you to travel with me.