Monday, 19 January 2009

Draught Excluder, Cheating and Funghi

Am very pleased to say that I have managed to sew ourselves a draught excluder for the front door - and thereby save anything from 7,99 to 48,00 Euros, as well as the diesel and time used for otherwise looking around town for one. I used a long piece of left-over dark red corduroy and sewed a long sausage. I then sewed another long sausage using a piece of old, white sheet, cut up an old garden chair cushion for the foam bits inside, which I stuffed into the white sausage, including any odd scraps of material left over. Sewed up the white sausage, stuffed it into the dark red one, (which can now be washed on its own) sewed velcro at the end, and hey presto!
What is particularly pleasing though, is that I didn't have to buy one of those revolting long fluorescent dachshund/frog/snake/reindeer draught excluders which are as cheap and less effective than they look.

I was so inspired by our friends' rows of canned vegetables, that I bought a couple of big jars of pickled gerkins (1,25 each for two huge jars) (I'll use the jars once the gerkins are gone, of course) and soaked off the lables. ...a. they look nicer that way and b., I can pretend I canned them myself. Couldn't wait for next summer. ;)))
Now they're sitting in the cellar next to the jars of Sauerkraut, which I cut up this morning.

I've had so many ceps that we can't eat them as quickly as they grow, so I'm drying a row of them on a thread stretched between a couple of beams on the kitchen ceiling. I'll put them in a glass jar once they're dry and they'll reconstitute beautifully in water when I need them.

Hannah found an absolutely massive Cauliflower Funghi a couple of years ago at the foot of a pine tree in the woods behind the garden. After we'd cut it up, washed all the bits out of it - pine needles etc, we dried it on threads in the same way. We then packed it into glass jars. I made a goulash a while back and after soaking the remaining funghi in water, used it up (as well as the water) in the stew. It was really good.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Last night we were visiting friends about three quarters of an hour away from here... they're scout leaders and had invited Frank to talk to their youth in the evening. Great time together, but what really encouraged me was that when we were at their place in the afternoon, his wife told me about a talk she had been to where a woman was sharing from a book which she had read by someone in government.
It said that the German government is warning people of hard times to come, and that they should start preparing for them by storing rations, food, grow their own vegetables, even have a bag prepared with emergency items in case one has to leave home suddenly ... (one wonders why...)
Anyway, since I've been hearing similar things on the US alternative news grapeline, this only confirmed my own mind in wanting to become self-sufficient.
My friend is going to find out about the book and tell me so I can read it myself. She told me about her parents' upbringing in Romania and how they produced everything themselves. It was brilliant. She then took me over to her sister-in-law's house, where they had made Sauerkraut last year, (they do it every year) and showed me the cellar there.
There was this enormous green plastic barrel with a little tap at the bottom, (not so sure about the plastic - but there you go) which they'd bought from the local DIY store, over-half-filled with liquid with herbs and bits of horseradish root, floating around on top. A huge stone was keeping some untreated planks of wood held down under the surface of the liquid, and under the planks were the cabbages. Whole, with their cores cut out, into which they'd then poured the salt, packed the cabbages into the barrel, filled it up with water, herbs and spices, and then once the liquid had begun to ferment, it was tapped out and poured on top over again a number of times.

On the shelves of the cellar were lots of large glass jars filled with pickled gerkins, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, preserves of all sorts. Tomato sauce, aubergine, pepper and tomato spread, honey from their own bees, jams.
I've made our own jams, jellies and chutneys (see above) for a long time and we rarely buy our own. (The picture on the right is of our own Elderflower syrup, which Hannah helped me make last year.) I've never thought much of it - have done it for fun, rather than as a necessity, probably because my mother did it, but apart from making piccallili once, I've never been a great one for preserving vegetables. But this has really inspired me. I'm even thinking of preserving meat. Chickens, from the local farm. The confit method sounds scrummy. I like the idea of potted meat too, as well as salting - it's called 'Pökelfleisch' here - I love the sound of that.
I think I'll ask for books on preserving veg, meat, and making my own cheese, for future birthdays.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Raclette, mark 2

No, this is not about my second attempt to make cheese ... I just thought I'd post something about how I'm getting on with the sequel to 'Raclette and the Siege of Mont 'Or' which is awaiting the attention of the 12th publisher (I hope to hear back from them in 3 months).

Raclette and Chester are married and living uncomfortably at Innperlenburg Palace in close proximity to Raclette's parents, King Géramont and Queen Emmental. The latter is as silly, controlling and manipulative as ever. They'd like to get a place of their own, but snooping out the murderer of Raclette's Aunt, the Dowager Duchess Mozzarella di Buffala is a lot easier in the palace, as any suspects must live or work there too.

Edam and Petrella are also married but owing to the reconstruction of the country after Morbier's invasion, times are hard. Edam is working on his father's thyme farm and Petrella has a job on 'The Daily Grind', the main Innperlenburg newspaper.

Pecorino, Petrella's younger brother, is champing at the bit, hoping to win the National Wheeling Championships, which are due to take place shortly. Petrella has to do a write-up on the contest.

It has been decided that the Palace Trap Gang will do some hunting for the elusive iron box, thought lost when Großkäsingen (Cheesing Magna) House burnt down, which contains proof of Morbier's crimes and which, it is hoped, will finally put Raclette's wicked Uncle behind bars. However, in the meanwhile, Morbier, undaunted by the death of his 'Baby', Gorgonzola, is up to no good, continuing his genetic experiments on rats, and has succeeded in breeding a succession of mutations for which he has found a ready market; more about that another time.

New characters so far; Norbury, another journalist on The Daily Grind, currently out in the East investigating some fishy business involving the Sultan of Ghazi and a depopulation programme. Grinding Manchego, the Chief Editor of The Daily Grind, greedy, unsympathetic and down on his employees like a tonne of bricks.
The 9th Baron de Roquefort and his wife the Baroness Delice (who happen to be Queen Emmental's parents) and their son, Albray, the 10th Baron-in-waiting, commonly known as Baroque. Later to appear in the story, Mortadella, King Géramont's banished sister.

I have to get on with some writing. Excuse me.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Have also been thinking about collecting all the water from the tumbledryer, which only goes down the drain and adds to the sewage water bill (we have to pay for water run-off - including rainwater run-off, for the upkeep of the drainage/sewage system). Since I use soap nuts to wash our clothes, with a tiny bit of lavender oil for a nice smell, there wouldn't be any harmful chemicals in the water, and I can use it for watering plants in the house, and those on the terrace in the summer.
For composters, how about collecting human urine and diluting it with water - 1:10 - and then using it as a fertiliser? If horse manure works the same way (Nitrogen) why shouldn't urine? I mean, it's easier to collect if you haven't got a horse, and costs nothing. ;)
Alternatively, if the boys are in the garden and need to come in 'for a particular reason', why not just get them to fertilise the compost heap? Easier and quicker and more fun for them, AND no dirty boots all over the house, unless you're in Germany like me, and people have to take their outside shoes off before coming in.

Going No-Poo?

This is something I've been thinking of trying for a long time, but was too vain or was never convinced that it could work. But the writers over on Simple Green frugal Co-op have inspired me.
When I was a child, there was a popular science television programme on the BBC, which name I forget. One of the episodes has always stuck in my mind. A lady was experimenting with not washing her hair with shampoo any more. She was going to tie her hair up in a turban for a number of weeks, until her body was able to regulate the natural oils in her hair again. She had long, dark brown hair which reached beyond her waist. The TV audience were obviously not convinced that it could work and sounded revolted by the idea. After a number of weeks, the lady was back on the programme, with the turban on, and the moment came to remove it. Off it came, and down flowed this gorgeous wave of beautiful, healthy, shining hair. She hadn't shampooed it once, (apparently) and everyone was amazed.

I've also been concerned about the chemicals which are leaching into the water system, also about the fact that all those chemicals can't really be good for our skin; after all, how did our forebears cope? My mother-in-law says that they used to use something called 'Kernseife' (a pure, natural, unadulterated soap, which you can still buy here in Germany, for all their washing needs - hair, clothes, everything. We always take this soap when we're on a hike or when camping because it's environmentally friendly. It also lasts longer than the usual perfumed bars.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

First Try at Cheesemaking

After following the instructions in this handy little video
How to Make Cheese -

with our usual raw milk from the farm around the corner, which had gone off and needed to be used up (although I did add 500ml of organic yoghurt and what was left over of the clotted cream and whipping cream we had in the fridge from the holiday season) I ended up (after a night in an unheated, decidedly chilly bedroom, in a pot under a 10kg weight - by which I do not mean that I spent the night in said bedroom, in said pot) with a very edible soft cheese - actually it was more like an immature, unripened Wensleydale, not as spreadable as the one in the video because it had probably drained for longer, but really tasty, nonetheless.

One of these days I'm going to get hold of a Dutch cheese press, and make my own hard cheeses. I'm sick of buying plastic wrapped cheese - even organic cheese comes wrapped in some kind of plastic - quite apart from the unwanted packaging, homemade always tastes nicer, it's fun and more satisfying to make oneself, and one doesn't have to worry about the gender-bending endocrines getting into the system any more than they absolutely have to. Back to basics.


I started a mushroom farm in our cellar just before Christmas. It's a box of spore-saturated
earth with a thin layer of soil on top and a lid with a couple of holes for air regulation sits on top of that.

So far I have had about four or five good harvests of (Ceps or Porcini (Boletus Edulis) which are delicious. After picking the last lot, the farm has had a bit of a rest, but after watering, the next crop is growing rapidly.

Once the mushroom culture is exhausted I intend to put it on the compost heap and get a refill. Frank loves chanterelles, so I think we'll have those next time.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Looked out of the kitchen window this morning and saw that the snowy garden was covered with tracks. Went out to investigate and found that deer had jumped over the fence from the wood and had left their marks all over the garden. They also ate the broccoli leaves on my broccoli plants. I should have covered them up. :(

Monday, 5 January 2009

The garden is covered with snow at the moment, but where I planted lettuce and covered the squares with plastic cloches, there are tiny little seedlings coming up. I was afraid that I'd put too much horse manure in the mix and that the nitrogen content would be too high, but obviously it's OK. A relief.

Have also bought a bit more wood and intend to make one more 2x4 bed. Prepared the ground for it before the first hard frosts hit in November, and it will be a nice project to finish before spring and the children come home. I have just enough soil mix for one more 2x4 left over from the beds I made before.