Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The first week or so with our solar cooker...

A bit over a week ago we purchased a Tulsi solar cooker from the Rainbow Power Company and it arrived in the post within the week - how exciting.  We chose the Tulsi solar cooker primarly becasue it looked like it would be sturdy enough to take it camping and it was half the price of another well known solar oven on the market.  It only has a single reflector panel at the back and not the angled deflectors around the entire oven - but so far seems to be working well for a range of things...  here is a picture of the solar cooker from the LB Healing Products Grain Mills website which also has the specs on the Tulsi solar cooker.

We place the solar oven in the wheelbarrow so that we can chase the sun around the back yard.... it sits over by the chook pen in the morning and moves toward the lemon tree to chase the afternoon sun.  For most bakes in the solar oven we have to move the whellbarrow and oven only two or three times over the course of the day (mainly to avoid the shade from a tree in the yard).  It has proven to be a great break from my working on the computer in my home office.

It is also well insulated... so if I have cooked a meal in the oven during the day and I have to take the kids to soccer or music I simply close the cooker... disappear for and hour or two and come home to serve up a hot meal.... how good is that.  It has certainly taken the stress out of preparing a meal for hungry kids after their afterschool activities...

Here is a selection of the spoils produced in our first week or so with our solar oven. 

Our tomatoes before and after a couple of hours slow baking in the solar oven.....

... then baked further with some rissoles for the evening meal along with a pot of rice...

..a simple fruit cake... not quite as crunchy on the top as in the fan forced electric oven but nonetheless eaten quickly by the family..

... next an Indian meal for 4 adults and three kids.... all cooked in the solar cooker during the day... simply prepare and put in the oven, no stirring and no burning or catching on the bottom of the pot..

I baked (in the electric oven) some homemade ricotta and Naan bread to accompany the Indian food.. along with some yoghurt and cucumber dip... what a feast we had!

.. and finally... some apple and rhubard cobbler..... rhubarb is a great treat from the garden at the moment..

We have had heaps of fun with the solar cooker over the first week or so... it is cloudy and raining at the moment so the solar cooker is sitting out the back waiting for the sun shine again. 

With the Easter break approaching we are looking forward to packing our solar cooker on our camping trip to see what meals we can create....

What do you cook in your solar oven/cooker?  Or do you have a favourite recipe we could try in our cooker?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Trying to green up Dads coffee habits...

Today I had to go down the street to meet Dad to sort out some bank stuff.... so we agreed to meet outside the coffee shop across from his work.  As he was about to go in and grab a take away coffee in a disposable cup I took the chance to walk him down a few more shops to A Slice of Orange and we bought a Keep Cup and got it filled for the first time, hopefully many more refills will follow.  The Keep Cup unlike many other travel mugs comes in a range of standard barista coffee cup sizes.

At a price of $14.95 to purchase the Keep Cup it will take about 75 refils at the discounted price of 20 cents off that A Slice of Orange offers before you would expect to break even on costs... but at one coffee a work day that's only 15 weeks 'til Dad should just be getting discounted coffee.  Not a bad outlay I think. 

According to the environmental footprint calculator on the Keep Cup website through the life of a Keep Cup (4 years) you should expect to save (based on 5 cups of coffee per week) 1,040 paper cups, 0.1 trees, 3 kgs of plastic lids, 14 kgs of landfill and 1 gJ of energy...... you could also add the 20 cent saving of refills at the local shop over the 4 years of having your keep cup and you would save personally nearly $200 on your coffee costs.  Here's a link to some more detailed information on the research that went into Keep Cups.

Wouldn't it be great if all his fellow coffee addicts in his office could use Keep Cups as well!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cooking with dandelion leaves...

Dandelion - a plant often considered a weed particularly in lawns, it has a worldwide distribution and is often present in grasslands and on roadsides and through lawns.  But it is also a uselful plant, with leaves that contain generous amounts of vitamin A, B1 and C.  The flowers and roots are also used  for making dandelion wine and a dandelion tea.

I have noticed since our move to the cooler wetter climate of Orange that we have the true dandelions in our lawn - not the more drought tolerant Cats Ear (which is also edible). 

With a warm wet season in Orange our lawn, particularly in shading areas become dominated by dandelions this summer.  So, just before mowing the lawn we collected a heap of fresh dandelion leaves.....

We washed them and chopped them up and steamed them...

before putting them as a green layer in our vegie lasagna...

which was topped with fresh yellow tomatoes (Diggers seed - Wapsipinicon Peach) from the garden and a little cheese...

What a dish!!!

Only comments from the kids was "can I have more" and that the dandelion leaves were a little bitter.  Maybe early season leaves or leaves shaded from the sun before picking would be a little less bitter - but what a great vegetable to collect from our urban garden - I am sure most of you would have it in your yard.

What is your favorite dandelion recipe?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Are you turning your lights off for Earth Hour 2010?

Not sure what our plans are for Saturday night... but we will be switching our lights off for this Years Earth Hour....

I have just registered for Australia's Earth Hour .... Saturday 27th March from 8.30pm - signing up gets you a chance to win a solar power system... and just posted an Earth Hour link onto my Facebook wall...

Now all I need to do is turn the lights out at 8.30pm on Saturday night.... hope you are doing the same...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What to do with all those childcare paintings

Our littlest is a prolific painter while in childcare... I admire the staff of these facilities for finding all sorts of paper and cardboard for the children to utilise... however, we end up with an always growing pile of paintings and drawings.  While I like to keep a few, I do not have the space to store them all.  So instead of trying to sneak them out into the paper recycling bin I use them for wrapping gifts - our littlest feels so proud that her paintings get a new life.

Here are some of her recent paintings and drawings - and a wrapped present for our new neice - priceless wrapping I think.

I have been reusing my kids paintings for a while - and have even spotted the grandparents carefully unwrapping their presents so as not to spoil the creative wrapping paper so they have paintings from the kids to treasure.  Last Christmas I did not buy any wrapping paper at all!

A simple, but creative way to reuse childrens paintings one more time...... who else does this? 

What other uses do you have for all those kids creations?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Jimmy Barnes, brass bands, scarecrows, pumpkins and a solar oven

We have enjoyed a range of activities locally over the last couple of weeks....

Last weekend we took the kids down for the first half of The Garden Party at the Orange Botanic Gardens, then arranged a babysitter for the later acts... it was great to drink some of my favorite local wines (Brangayne Sauvignon Blanc, Icely Rd Sauvignon Blanc and Rolling Sauvignon Blanc Semillon) while listening to music - including our highlights John Swan, The Whitlams and Jimmy Barnes...

Te next day we went down to Cook Park to see some of the brass band entertainment as part of the Brass Celebration .....

This weekend was spent strolling around the Central West Garden Expo and checking out the ScareCrow Competition...

Picking up some local fresh produce (only $2 for a small pumpkin or $3 for a large pumpkin).... we got a watermelon for $2 as well....

And testing out our newly aquired solar oven.....

I will give you a more detailed entry on this soon... its been fun playing with it....

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sparking an interest in the natural environment from an early age

Just had to share snaps of our little happy birdwatches....

Our littlest struggles to focus on the job at hand at times...

Our oldest boy on the other hand helps Dad with his birdwatching, often having a much sharper eye for detail.  In fact, it was our eldest that spotted the pair of the migratory Common Koel that made home around our house for a month or so in summer this year.  Here's a link to their call.... a real treat for us in Orange - made us feel that we were in the tropics...

It is great to have such observant and enthusiastic kids..... a skill they will now have for life.... and a skill that I try to pass onto other adults learners through my conservation and land management teaching.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Possum in the roof

I was working on the computer late last night trying to complete some teaching resources for next week when I heard the distinctive call of a Brush Tail Possum in the roof above my office.  I had been trying to get rid of the rats in the roof (I think they live here and feed on the food in the chook pen out the back) but had no evidence that we had a possum in the roof....... well that was until last night.  We knew that they were in our yard at times, having spotted them in our neighbours trees and having had whole cauliflowers disappear from our vegie patch overnight.

Picture from http://thewebsiteofeverything.com/img/silver-gray_brushtail_possum.jpg
I saw a nifty show on TV once about how to make your roof so that the possum can get out but not get back in and when combining this with supplying a nearby nestbox can help to keep possums out of your roof.  I can not remember what show it was on but the information I found on the Living with brushtails webpage of the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment has the same approach. 

Their suggestion is to firstly find where the possums are coming in and out of your roof, to make tempory repairs to your roof to prevent re-entry to the roof by the possum, to trim trees that may provide acces to your roof and to put up a possum nest box.

The NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water also has a fact sheet on removing a possum from your roof and making and installing a possum nest box.

So one of my new jobs around the house is to build a possum nest box and put it up in one of our trees in the backyard and then try to get the possum out of our roof.  I think the kids will love this building project.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ethical Easter Eggs - is it possible?

It is that time of year again.... the school Easter egg raffle notes are coming home and the kids are nagging for eggs to contribute. 

In the past we have supported the idea of buying chocolate Bilbies instead of rabbits or eggs but this year I want to make more of a statement.  I want to try to source "ethical chocolate" as well. 

Maybe we can get ethical chocolate bilbies!

Here are a couple of links that I found to help us make finding ethical Easter chocolate easier - Make the Fairtrade choice this Easter! and World Vision Australias Don't be a bunny this Easter: buy ethical chocolate! website.

I am off to the shops today, with a list of possible ethical Easter chocolates, to see what I can find for the school Easter raffles as I am sure hand painted hard boiled eggs want make the grade this year with the boys.

Here is a short video on the impact Fairtrade cocoa has had on communities in Ghana -  45,000 reasons to Swap Choc.
 Once you have bought your ethical chocolate.... be sure to Tell Big Chocolate they need to stop dragging their heels on ethical chocolate production through the World Vision Australia's Follow the Leader Campaign.

Or maybe you would like to help Spread the word through the Fairtrade Easter Campaign 2010.

P.S.  Have just spent time hunting high and low for ethical Easter eggs, rabbits or bilbies with no luck.  Have resorted to a Bilby and a Wombat and a selection of Fairtrade chocolate blocks.  Have read further and see that Cadbury's are putting out Fairtrade chocolate - due for release 27th March - hardly in time for Easter!?!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Value adding to our shredded household paperwork

As a household we generate a lot of paper that has various bits of personal infomration on it... it might be old bills, the child care receipts and invoices etc. To minimise the personal information we were putting out into the recycling bin we invested in a small office paper shredder.  We now shred all this paperwork, it becomes bedding for our backyard chooks and then goes into our Tumbleweed compost bins for a few weeks before being put out into the garden.

I will take the oppurtunity here to introduce you to our back yard chooks and the whole process of value adding to our household paper waste....

The chooks live in the chook pen in the back yard and do not get to free range due to two known chook killing dogs they share the yard with... but they get given lots of household scraps, garden weeds and snails and slugs. Here is my littlest bringing out the chook bucket from the kitchen....

The silky below is her favorite chook... and although they do not produce many eggs they will be handy if we ever need a chook to sit on fertile eggs as they seem to be really good at going clucky.  We have three silkies... all rescued from the RSPCA here in Orange.

Here is our latest box of shredded paper that will be the new bedding material for the chooks.....

The old bedding material was taken out of their hutch and mixed in the Tumbleweed composter with other non-chook food household compost (eg orange peel, onion peels, coffee grounds) and will be turned for a few weeks before being put onto the garden.

The shredded paper helps to dry the green compost and adds to the carbon balance.

This has been a great way to value add to the household paper we re-use at home.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Roasted beetroot from the garden...

Last spring I planted out some old beetroot seed I found in my vegetable seed box... we got some beetroot plants up... but not many...  we harvested the crop on the weekend to accompany a roast with friends....

Roasted with potatoes and sweet potato, the beetroot combined beautifully with the pork we roasted.

I will definitely be finding some more beetroot seed for next season (this lot was from Diggers Seed Club).. and if I can plant more beetroot next year I will be able to let some go to seed and harvest the seed for the following years crop or to share among friends.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A wet Clean Up Australia Day and DS's

With the rain that made for a very wet Clean Up Australia Day we chose to stay away from cleaning and spent most of the weekend indoors listening to the rain outside.

At least the rainwater tanks are now full again.... and the kids had to find ways to amuse themselves in the rain or indoors....

It worked out that the kids had friends stay over on the weekend..... these kids came armed with DS's.... over the past years we have resisted the pleas from the boys to be part of the DS club.... and our observations on the weekend have only further confirmed our opinions of the DS...

Once playing the DS games our boys fail to listen to instructions from Mum (more so than usual), every is to be done once the next game is finished (and they are long games), they never shut the DS down on their own accord, and their friend found it hard to drag them outside for a play on the bikes.

I am hoping that we can continue to say NO to the DS, and allow the boys more time for creative and outydoors play.  But I guess that they will continue to make the most of the DS games that friends bring over whilst visiting.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Freecycling in Orange

Just joined our local Freecycle group in Orange - have heard about Freecycle recently through my little sister (thanks Little Sis)... what a great concept..... I am looking forward to seeing what comes up on the postings.... will be assessing what we may be able to give a second home instead of going to waste...

If you are not a member or want to find out more visit the Freecycle (Australia) page and find your closest group/s.  You will have to become a member to begin checking out what is wanted or what is on offer.

 Here's to happy Freecycling.....

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A visit to Mudgee to test a theory on fuel consumption and emissions...

I had been told that by driving at 90 km per hour instead of 100 (or more) you could reduce your emmissions by 20%.

Is this really true??.... a planned trip to Mudgee and back gave me a chance to test it for myself..... 

On our trip across to Mudgee we were running late and possibly speeding a little to make sure we got to our appointment on time.  This was a very different trip to the quiet trip home at 90 km maximum the next day.  I wasn't really sure what results I would find as it was only a 200 km trip each way and surely the difference would not be much?  But it was worth a try.
The results were staggering...... we used 25% less fuel on the way back!  That is we made a fuel saving of 2.42 litres per 100 km by driving at maximum of 90 km an hour.  I forgot to take note of how much time it added to the trip - but it probably added about 20 minutes to the nearly 200 km trip - not much difference really. It also brings our Subaru Forester down into a more fuel efficient bracket - from 9.3 litres per 100 km to 6.8 litres per 100 km.  I am yet to do the same calculations with our smaller more effecient Toyota Corolla.
So if you travelled like this all the time, and you did on average 15,000 a year, you save 363 litres of fuel a year, and over $450 a year in fuel costs (based on $1.29 per litre), and 835 kg of CO2 emissions (as per the Australian Governments Greenhouse Gas Emissions Calculator).
I will be trying to stick to this 90 km an hour maximum from now on... I may have to be more organised and get away a little earlier for each trip...

While in Mudgee I took the chance to visit the op shop and found a few bargains.... some work shirts for Dad, a skirt for our newly born neice, a toy kiwi, and a warm winter coat and new doona cover for our littlest - all for just over $20 - wasn't that fun.

Since starting the blog I am finding that I have more excuses to go op shop hunting.... its fun and the kids are getting very good at spotting bargains....

We also stopped at the Mudgee Honey Haven and picked up some bees wax, raw honey and honey mead.

To our best mate..

Last week we lost our best mate after a courageous battle with cancer.... On talking over the last year there were a couple of words of wisdom that stood out to me... 'the family is the most important thing', and 'make sure you make time for yourself'...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Where will you be cleaning up on Clean Up Australia Day?

Clean Up Australia Day Sunday March 7- It's Easy to Get Involved

Grassy Box Woodlands near Molong

We will be joining in at one of these sites in Orange.... where are you cleaning up?

ECCO and Orange City Council's Tidy Towns Committee invite you to join Clean Up Australia Day in Orange on Sunday March 7 (at one or more of a number of registered sites). This year’s event will target waterways and parkland to help produce cleaner drinking water through Orange’s stormwater harvesting scheme. For more information and details of registered sites, contact Peter West 0404 186 374 or visit http://www.cleanupaustraliaday.org.au/

ECCO and Orange City Councils Tidy Towns Committee invite you to join in this community event on Sunday March 7 at any of the following sites. With a FREE BBQ lunch for participants from 12 noon in Elephant Park

MORNING (10am – 12 noon)
• Moulder Park – Anson street
• Elephant Park – Woodward road
• Somerset Park – near Robin Hood

AFTERNOON (1pm – 230pm)
• Hill Park – Jilba Street (Bowen)
• Gosling Creek Reserve –Bargwanna Rd

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hands on with our littlest

Our littlest had been asking on and off for a while to make something with me on a day that the older boys were at school.  Today was no different... the request pink play dough ........ so I checked the cupboard for Cream of Tar Tar and the other ingredients... yep we could do that one.... here is the play dough recipe from the can of Cream of Tar Tar - except that I prefer to make it in the microwave (easier to clean up).

My little one is now happily rolling out snakes with her pink play dough and singing.

Once she has finished playing we will store it in a lunchbox until it is next requested.