Another One Smites the Dust

If we are going to be saddled with extended drought into the future, we are ethically bound to respond in a creative and positive way. We try to avoid being a drain on anybody, any thing or any institution, including government. This is all part of our commitment to a philosophy of living an independent life. Possibly something akin to true philosophical anarchism. It’s not a matter of bringing down any government, but rather a case of being so independent that government atrophying due to lack of need.

So the drought continues and we have ordered 2 new water tanks. The first has already arrived and been installed on the smaller front section of the Old Railway Station roof a few weeks ago. The new, and slightly larger tank arrived today and we installed it on the back and slightly larger section of roof. With 4,500 and now 7,500 litres of added storage, the Old Railway Station building is now adding to our overall commitment to self-reliance in drinking water. Another one smites the dust.

The Old Station is not a very big building. In fact its tiny, but every bit of roof space is now important in the endeavour to catch drinking water when it rains, which isn’t very often these days. Funnily, it starts to shower as the delivery truck arrives, so Janine and I install in the rain. Tragically, it clears up just as we finish, but we are ever hopeful that it will continue over night and for the next few days.

The previous new tank is now half full from the occasional showers that we have managed to now capture. Every bit counts if we are to continue watering our garden plants with drinking water, while we wait for that big storm that must come someday and fill the dams again.

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The new, larger grey tank is down the back on the right, under the bottle brush tree.

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We bake vegetables fresh from the garden for dinner, finished with a bechamel sauce. It’s delicious and uses so little water to prepare.

Thinking Differently, Solar Power and Clay Making

I usually spend a bit of time making clay over the summer when the humidity is low and the air temperature is high. It’s a good time for drying out the clay slip after it has been ball milled.

All my so-called ‘clay’, is actually ground up igneous stones. I crush the very hard ‘granitic’ rocks in the big jaw crusher first to reduce them down to 12mm. gravel size, then through the small jaw crusher to get it down to sand size and finally it goes into the big ball mill for a few hours to reduce it to a very fine slip with water and 3% of Australian white bentonite. It is the only ingredient that I buy in for this home-made, locally sourced, native porcelain body.

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After ball milling, I test the pH and adjust it if necessary, it usually needs to be reduced a little, as the ball milling breaks down the structure of some of the felspars and micas in the stone. This releases tiny amounts of alkali into solution in the slip. The effect of this is to constrain the plasticity of the porcelain and inhibit the ageing plasticisation. Once adjusted to the correct level, the slip is stirred and then put through a fine sieve to remove any oversized particles and any foreign matter that has crept in during unloading. Thick slip is very slow to pass through a very fine mesh, so I resort to using a sieve vibrating machine to shake the sieve while the slip pours through. It’s quite amazing just how fast this process becomes with a little vibrational energy to keep the larger particles moving and not sitting and blocking up the fine mesh. ‘Vibro energy’ a really great focussed use for very small amount of electrical power.

Without the rock crushers and ball mills, I couldn’t make this local ‘native’ porcelain. In the past I always used to feel a bit guilty about using electrically powered machinery, as I was brought up in a family where ‘green issues’ were openly discussed, long before the ‘greens’ were invented as a political movement and ‘green’ came into the environmental lexicon. I’m not too sure what my parents actually called their lifestyle back then. Possibly ‘environmentally conscious’? Anyway, I’m happy to be called a ‘Greeny’ now and all that early environmental awareness has stuck with me. Give me the boy till he is 7! Now I am getting used to thinking differently about electricity as we are slowly becoming a fully electrified solar-powered household.

Electricity was always made with coal here in Australia and most of it still is. You have to specifically request to be put on a green power contract, and then pay a premium tariff for the pleasure of not using coal. 25 years ago, you couldn’t buy green power. Everything was coal, coal, coal, so I decided to make an effort to use the absolute minimal amount of electricity and we were very successful. We learnt to run a very lean electrical household. We have a very modest ‘LED’ screen television. A very efficient fridge that runs on 1 kW per day and a front loader washing machine, also very efficient. All in all we average an electricity usage of around 3.5 kWh per day. Very modest. We have chosen not to buy home theatre,  a dish washer or air con.  We have had solar hot water for the past 30 years, Solar electricity for the past decade and a Tesla battery since the start of the year. To the best of my knowledge, we have completely removed ourselves from the coal economy now.

When we did buy power from the utility, up until last year, it was always a battle to buy ‘clean’ green energy. They just hadn’t thought about it and weren’t prepared for the transition. It was a dinosaur industry. People like us wanted to buy clean energy, but they hadn’t put any plans in place to create any. It was all about business as usual. As the requests grew louder, some clean energy was slowly introduced, such that you could buy just 10% of your electricity as so-called ‘green power’, but it turned out that it was only hydro power from the Snowy Mountains Scheme. This was electricity that was always being generated since the 50’s and sold into the grid as part of the usual mix. But then the bean counters and ‘The Men in Suits’ got involved and thought why don’t we sell Steve Harrison the electricity that he is already buying, but sell it to him at twice the price. If he is silly enough to pay for it!  I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

We waited a long time, until the first wind farm was built just South of here. Then there was an offer that you could buy 20% of your power bill as wind energy, so we did, and continued to increase the percentage every year or so as more clean energy was built and made available. I remember that we were early adopters and had to go on a waiting list to get a higher percentage of clean energy. However, the energy company kept sending us supposedly attractive offers to change back to a cheaper dirty black power contract. This just reinforced to me that the market for green power was stronger than that for coal power. Apparently they had too much coal power and couldn’t get rid of it all.

Then there was government intervention to support the coal industry and then privatisation that was supposed to make every thing more efficient and cheaper. And what happened? The price went up about 200% here. A complete failure of market forces and competition.

Today I check in on our power usage on my phone app. I see that we are making about 5kW of solar power, not too bad, seeing that we are just a month off the winter solstice. We are only using a few hundred watts intermittently, that’s the fridge compressor switching on and off. There is a spike at 8am. That’s the toaster and electric jug for breakfast. It’s probably hard to live any kind of normal life and use significantly less power then this on a regular basis.

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Back to my clay tests and I pour them out onto the drying bed to stiffen up. Again I’m using solar and wind energy in this very passive way now to remove the excess water from the slip and reduce it to a plastic state. The sun shines for free every day. The wind blows most days, slowly the water is evaporated from the slip and it becomes stiffer and plastic. It’s gentle, it’s energy neutral and it’s free!

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Nice.

I’m very lucky to be able to live this rewarding, creative life in carbon constrained times. We are preparing ourselves for a creative, energy passive future, but it’s funny that trying to live a simple life gets quite complicated at times.

Chillies

Even though we are just two weeks away from winter, we are still managing to harvest a small bowl of little ripe tomatoes every few days. There are loads of chillies too. The chickens are still laying an egg each, almost every day, so we decide to have tomatoes and eggs on toast – with some chilli.

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Tomatoes with chilli simmered in a little olive oil has to be the best accompaniment for fried eggs. It’s so aromatic and tangy. It has to be one of my favourite winter breakfasts, and the pan juices are just crying out to be mopped up with some nice bread.

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Chilli seems to make so many dishes sing. We grow a range of chillies and capsicums each spring, but they are quite slow to grow for us and don’t decide to fully ripen the whole crop until autumn. I decide to look them up in my favourite plant book, “The Oxford Book Of Food Plants”. We were given our copy as a gift from the late John Meredith in The seventies and it has been an invaluable guide to information on the origins of food plants. I google this book and find that it is still available 2nd hand;

Oxford Book of Food Plants by S. G. Harrison (1970, Hardcover)

Pre-owned: lowest price

 $5.04
+ $2.99 Shipping
  • Get it by Tue, May 22 – Wed, May 30 from South East, United Kingdom
  • Good condition

With an authoritative name like S. Harrison, it would have to be a good read!

Pages 128/129 are all about peppers and chillies, including black pepper.

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Capsicums or sweet peppers (Capsicum Annum) are described as an annual plant grown from seed and originated in tropical America. This spices includes all the larger fruited kinds and are often picked while still green. These ‘peppers’ vary greatly in their pungency. In General, the larger the variety, the milder the flavour. In some parts of Europe, these fruits are called ‘Paprika’, while in Spain they are called ‘pimento’. The fruits  can be very high in vitamin ‘C’. Although often quite round in shape like the ‘bell’ pepper, they can be long and pointed. I don’t know what they are called in Korea, but there were huge quantities in the street markets, sold by the sack full. I believe that they were the hot variety of the annum family. They were quite large, long, tapered and pointed, and ripened to a very dark mahogany red colour.

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On the other hand, ‘Red pepper’ or ‘Chilli’ (Capsicum Frutescens) is a perennial plant or can be in the tropics, but the frost kills it here. It has less vitamin ‘C’ than capsicums. Pungency is described as being variable, but in general, it is much greater than in the capsicums. There are two main forms. The short spiky variety where the fruit often stick upwards. Sometimes called ‘birds eye’. These a smaller and smooth skinned.

The other main variety is longer and narrow with undulating skin and the fruit hang down. S Harrison in The Oxford Book Of Food Plants describes the longer gravitationally influenced variety as ‘red peppers’ while the short spiky gravitationally resistant variety he calls ‘chillies’. We grow them both and call them both chillies – long or short.

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I like the flavour of chillies , but I’m not any kind of masochist, just hot is hot enough. once I break out in a sweat, that’s hot enough. Two of our small hot chillies is about my comfort level in a meal.

Last night we had steamed capsicums stuffed with both red and green chillies, along with brown rice and some other condiments! Keeping it all the family!

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Another Little Portable Wood Fired Kiln Leaves the Workshop

We have been keeping busy rolling out the latest batch of little portable wood fired kilns. Another little wood fire Gem leaves for a new life of fun and fulfilment for another potter. All the remaining kilns are set up with gas burners for dual fuel firing.

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I spent most of last week making the burners and fitting them to the kiln on removable mountings that slide into place when needed.

These are the last of the first batch and while I wait for collection of these first orders, I start on the 2nd batch. There isn’t enough room in my small kiln building workshop for more than seven kilns at a time and still be able to move around safely and engage in productive work.

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I go to the garden after work and pick a load of vegetables for dinner, do a quick bit of weeding and do a little watering, as it is still incredibly dry with no rain storms to speak of for 14 months. The dams remain dry.

I cook a fresh snapper for dinner, steamed on the stove top in a big frypan with a little garlic, lemon juice and white wine.

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Wood Cutting Working Bee

We have recently had 3 big dead eucalypt trees removed by our local arborist. One was struck by lightning, and the other two were killed by mistletoe. We paid the minimum, to just have them dropped to the ground. We took it on our selves to cut them up and remove all the blocks to storage and seasoning.

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We spent several days cutting up al the logs into small sizes, such that we could manage to move them. Janine and I spent a week whittling away at the big number one log and   finished the first tree by ourselves, but then had the wonderful assistance of some friends and pottery students for a day.

We have been so lucky to have these people volunteer their help for a day and come along to give us a hand in shifting all the logs that Janine and I had spent the week cutting up. It’s a huge task to lift and load several tonnes of wood and then shift it and stack it for seasoning.

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This is all very vigorous work and we sweat copiously in the heat. The larger, straight pieces were all cut to kiln size ‘hob’ length, while all the scrappy, small or bent pieces were all cut to 200mm. length for splitting for the house kitchen stove. The main central log was over 600mm dia. So it was too big to manage at ‘hob’ length of 700 mm. So I cut it to 200mm. just so that we would be able to manage the lifting and stacking. I rigged up a couple of planks , so that we could roll the bigger lumps up onto the truck to be carted to the wood shed and splitter.

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This should keep us going for a few years in the kitchen stove.

All the smaller dia. logs were cut to ‘kiln hob length’ of 650 to 700mm to suit the fire-box of the kiln, and then stacked for seasoning. A year or two should do it.IMG_0752

There is about 7 or 8 tonnes in this load of 19 stacks about 1200mm high.

 

Mid Autumn and the Chilis are Ripe

Up until last week we seemed to be in a perpetual summer. The temperatures were holding up in the mid 30’s and everything is so, so, dry. We haven’t had any meaningful rain storms since the March before last, that’s 13 months ago. so now we are using our drinking water from our rain water tanks to water the garden.

This extended ‘Indian summer’ has brought on the chilli crops. We now have many more chilis than we can eat, so we are starting to give them away to neighbours and friends,  and hang them up to dry for use later in the year.

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One row of plants is quite enough for us. They seem to bear quite heavily, all culminating now in autumn. We’ve been picking them steadily all summer, from when they were quite green and only just big enough. Now they are fully ripe and have developed their full heat. We have grown 3 varieties this year.

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Small smooth round Thai chilli, crinkly hot cayenne, and mildly heated paprika  capsicums.

Mustard Pickles

Mustard Pickles are an odd thing. You need cucumbers from the heat of summer, and cauliflowers from the dead of winter to be flowering and bearing at the same time. I have no idea how this might have originated in history. I can only imagine that it is a modern invention. Sometime since global transport was invented, so that food stuffs could be hauled from warm to cold climates and vice versa.

I can’t make this kind of pickle to the traditional recipe. I choose to only make from what I can grow, so this is the time that we have our first early cauliflowers coming on. We have had our first plantings of cauliflower roasted, stir-fried, steamed, gratin’d, and as cauliflower soup, but still they come. So it’s time to pickle the last of the first plantings. When I think of cauliflower, I think of that thick, yellow, acidic/astringent/sweet/salty mustard pickle.

Cucumbers are listed as an essential engredient, But the cucumbers have all shrivelled and died in the hot and dry summer, weeks ago. So I do what I always do on these occations and I do what I can, with what I have. I have the last of the zucchinis, yellow, green and black. They will replace the cucumbers. I have capsicums, long and bell, both green and red, some sweet and some hot peppers, yellow, lime-green and red. Chilli  and onions, the last of the tomatoes, round red, pear shaped yellow and not quite ripe green. Plus some small carrots and a small celery plant. The last few items are not usually included in mustard pickles, but this is what I have. So this is what I will use. I decide to leave out the beetroots. I have lots of them, but I want the pickle to turn out yellow-ish, not red! This is not the usual blend, but its my own home grown autumnal blend. Zucchinis will work fine instead of the cucumbers.

Pickling has been used since the most ancient of times to preserve food from the summer harvest bounty, well into the winter and salting was always the preferred mode. If you add 2.5 % of the weight of the veggies as salt and massage it through the mix, the vegetables will sweat out their juices and then pickle themselves in their own brine over night, while at the same time setting up a natural ferment of lactic acid that consumes the sugars and stops any bacteria from growing in the acidic, low pH environment over the next few days.

Modern mustard pickles however, use a mix of salt, sugar and vinegar to preserve the vegetable mix. I wash and then chop up all the vegetables into small bite sized chunks, place them all in a 5 litre pot and add a good handful of salt. The mix is left to sweat out its juices overnight.

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After sitting in its own brine over-night, I pour off all the salty liquor and rinse a couple of times. When rinsing, I fill the pan with water, just to cover the vegetables, I pour off the water into a measuring jug and measure the amount water needed to fill the gaps between the veggies. This tells me that the 3 litres of chopped vegetables in the pan leaves 1.12 litres of gaps that need to be filled with the pickling liquid. So that is how i know how much pickling mix to make, as I’m not using a recipe with exact volumes of vegetables. I’m just making something by the seat of my pants and improvising. It doesn’t matter, it always tastes good, and I don’t want to make up too much or too little to cover the vegetables. Having rinsed all the salt off the vegetables,

I prepare a pickling mix of ;

1/2 cup of flour

2 teaspoons of mustard powder

1 table-spoon of Tumeric

2 teaspoons of black mustard seeds

2 teaspoons of white mustard seeds

1 teaspoon of curry powder

1/2 teaspoon of home-made dried cayenne pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon of home-grown and dried hot chilli granules/flakes.

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I add Just enough cider vinegar to make a thin paste, that when heated, thickens, while being constantly stirred. Add a spoonful of salt and another of sugar to taste. This is then poured over the vegetables and the whole lot brought to the boil and simmered for just a few minutes to complete the thickening of the sauce and vegetable mix.

Pre-heat glass jars in the oven and simmer the lids. Spoon the thickened mix into the hot jars and seal with sterilised lids while still hot. Perfect! Don’t worry if the liquid seems a little bit thin. It will thicken when it cools.

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Serve as a condiment with a well aged cheddar style cheese or with cold meats. My own particular favourite cheese is 32 months aged, ‘Epicure’ Cheddar style cheese from New Zealand. Bitey and flavour-some. An excellent combination!

Sterilised in this way, these pickles will last all year, till the next cauliflower glut. If you don’t eat them all first!