July 2016 in review

The days are lengthening, which means July saw the change from true winter, with its frosts and even occasional snow, to what I call “first spring”.  That’s the season recognised in the six-season indigenous calendar by the wattle blooming and the birds going a bit nuts. The mulch-obsessed blackbirds are starting to rip up my garden again, and though I’ll be infuriated by them soon enough, right now I’m glad of the signs of impending warmth.

At the end of last month, just after I’d made my monthly roundup post, my friend Maia came back to Melbourne (she’s been working overseas) and managed to get up this way for a day’s mushrooming.  She brought two friends, one of whom is a professional mycologist – bonus!  We gathered a lot of saffron milkcaps, and learned a lot about other kinds of fungus.

One of the other fungi we saw was the turkey-tail fungus, which is used in herbal medicine as an immune booster. I brought some home and made an attempt to propagate it onto the fungus-friendly stump in my backyard (seen above with snow on it), so I guess we’ll see next year if that worked.

Continue reading “July 2016 in review”

The Spinster’s Bayley printable sourdough guide

Here is a guide to the care and feeding of a sourdough starter, in the form of a downloadable booklet.  It contains most of the advice I’ve been sharing with people for the past few years, whenever I give them some of my starter.

This sourdough guide contains:

  • How to store your starter
  • How to feed your starter
  • An easy method to make a basic loaf of bread
  • Scheduling/timing for making bread in winter and summer
  • Tips for better sourdough bread
  • Adding flavour
  • Out of bread? Can’t wait two days for a loaf?
  • Health and wellbeing of your starter

Download the sourdough guide:

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Some examples of my sourdough

Good stuff: resilience, cast iron, Venezuela, beekeeping, regional rail, herb salts, and more.

Resilience, generally

A practical infographic on increasing your personal resilience to adversity: practice mindfulness, beware of skewed perceptions, get enough rest, and other good advice.

Food

NYT: “Well-seasoned cast-iron pans are the new broken-in jeans: proof of both good taste and hard use.”

On consolidation in the food industry: “In California, where I used to live, large food companies were encouraging farmers to have no wildlife whatsoever on their land.” (and other stories of what happens when big food businesses take over small ones.) In Australia, farmers fear retribution from huge supermarkets if they complain to the ACCC.

Drought stricken peaches are smaller, but taste better.  Have farmers been over-watering all along?

Meanwhile, a straightforward shopping list for decarbonising food: better farming, zero food waste, energy efficiency, less but better meat, healthier diets.

Growing and husbandry

Wishlisting this book (available later this month): The Ultimate Guide to Soil. (non affiliate link)

I enjoyed this video tour of Morag Gamble’s permaculture garden in sub-tropical south-east Queensland.

Grassroots urban agriculture and cooperative food distribution as a response to food shortages in Venezuela.  I’m watching this closely – it could easily happen here, dependent as we are on long food supply chains.

Uh oh, varroa mites in Queensland.  I like the idea of “sentinel hives” though. Fingers crossed.  Meanwhile on Milkwood Permaculture’s blog, keeping beehives in with the chickens help reduce small hive beetle infestations.

Transport

“Cars, no matter how propelled, will still be atomistic, privatized, individualistic forms of mobility that undermine arrangements based on cooperation.”  How driverless cars will still wreck livable cities.

private car vs uber vs driverless car: they all take up the same space

From the Ottawa Citizen, the cycling myths that won’t die (like licensing and registration), and from the Washington Post, serious talk about why cyclists break traffic laws. And in case you needed reminding, bike infrastructure is great for small business.

More regional rail services in Melbourne’s west have brought increase in public transport use.  Of course, it hasn’t been that great for Ballarat, where our experience of the new regional rail link rhymes with “fluster duck”. Meanwhile in SA, The Indian Pacific is cutting economy class, leaving no affordable train from Broken Hill to Adelaide. One step forward, two steps back?

Energy and climate

The window for avoiding dangerous climate change has closed. This is why I talk about resilience more than sustainability these days. This guy knew the deal back in 2008 (I didn’t even realise this article was 8 years old when I retweeted it):

Humanity is in a period exactly like 1938-9, he explains, when “we all knew something terrible was going to happen, but didn’t know what to do about it”.

Still, let’s not make it worse than it has to be. Bendigo’s aiming to go carbon neutral by 2036.  Time to step up, Ballarat!

Plus, energy poverty. Almost 1 in 4 Australian families finds it hard to pay power bills. Will solar+batteries change that?

Waste

Plastic free July is in progress. France bans plastic shopping bags, across the whole country. “Each of those 17 billion plastic bags [used in France each year] takes several hundred years to biodegrade.”

The Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery had “offal” as its theme this year.  As well as following all the tweets about duck tongues and liver divination, there’s this interesting article on their site: Who ever heard of vegetable offal? Indian recipes for spiced cauliflower stems and stir-fried potato peel.

Indigenous culture

For NAIDOC week (3rd-10th July), Five things about indigenous history you probably didn’t learn in school.

Homemade

Vegan sweet potato chocolate cake. Whoa.

Rhubarb simple syrup looks good, but feels a bit summery for right now. Saving it for spring!

Salted spruce tips and pine infused garlic salt from Root Simple. Huh. I don’t know if we even have any spruce around here, but I really should make herb salts more often, especially on popcorn as they suggest!

June 2016 in review

How is it the end of June already?

It’s been a busy month.  I launched Eat Local Ballarat, which meant I spent a lot of the month blogging and talking to people about that.  Lots of coffees and phone calls and visits to local food vendors, and last Saturday a jaunt on the #3 bus to Creswick to survey the local food scene there. I’ve included some pics of the food and people I discovered there.

But with all the things going on this month, I started to feel like I was losing track of my time, spending too much of it in a flap or else wasting it to no good effect.  I sat down and had a good hard think about how I wanted to be spending the hours in each day, to find room for self-care, creative projects, home cooked meals, and other things that matter.

Launching Eat Local Ballarat made me refocus and recommit to eating more local food, which has been challenging and rewarding. I’d been taking the easy route on a few things, but I’m trying harder at present, and very grateful that I have the wherewithal to do so.

A surprising amount of my local, seasonal menu has been homegrown pumpkin in its many forms. The spaghetti squash from Spring Creek Organics has also been great, like all their winter veg.

The garden’s a mess, but I think it’s a beautiful one, and it’s still feeding me – mostly greens of various types, including edible so-called weeds like nettles and chickweed.

There’s been a lot of baking. My sourdough loaves have leveled up since I started using a banneton (proofing basket) a couple of months ago.  I’m sure it also helped that I started using a different flour with a lot more character: stone-ground, sifted wheat flour from Powlett Hill in Campbelltown, not far from here. It has a gorgeous golden colour and actually tastes like something!

Most weeks I make one plain batard and one other breadlike thing, like the pumpkin and rosemary bread shown above or the leek and olive focaccia in the pics below.

June has seen a lot of fermented vegetables, using my new-to-me stomping stick to pound my cabbage for kimchi to release its juices. I picked up my stick up at a local antique store. The owner hand-wrote me a receipt describing it as a “food processor”, which I found charming.

I finished a few knitting projects this month, and even remembered to take photos.  As well as what’s shown here there were two woolly hats, one of which you can see in a selfie below.

I also grabbed a pic of my red winter dressing gown, made from boiled wool to a pattern of my own design.  I finished it months ago but I’ve only started wearing it recently as the mornings have been cold enough to warrant it.

Despite the chill, I’ve been getting out quite regularly on Clyde (my bike), though I’ve switched to walking to my part-time office job instead of riding, as the evening commute, with the sun setting and wet roads, doesn’t feel safe to me.

I’ve been involved in a lot of public transport advocacy, attending a PTV workshop about Ballarat’s new bus routes and attending the inaugural meeting of Ballarat’s branch of the Public Transport Users Association.

There have been other meetings as well, like the Food Is Free Laneway volunteers committee I joined.  I’m glad to have been able to offer my living room as a meeting space, and I’m looking forward to hosting a FIFL volunteers potluck soon.

On Friday night – a suitably chilly, snowy one – I invited local friends round to observe the solstice with “Cosyfest”, a night of board games and mulled wine.  Just before sunset I lit a candle and placed it on the front porch to welcome them.

a candle to welcome guests

We were too busy being cosy to take any photos of Cosyfest itself, but good food was eaten, wine was drunk, and Settlers of Catan was played.

And so onward into July! The days are lengthening, but there’s still plenty of winter ahead.

Good stuff: solar storage, food rebels, natural insect repellent, plastic-free July, and more.

Energy

People in Newcastle, NSW are coming together to buy solar storage batteries, helping bring down prices.

Nine Australian towns going 100% renewable. I particularly like Totally Renewable Yackandandah’s focus on “energy sovereignty”.

Food

Listen: Food rebels including seed savers, maple syrup smugglers, and guerilla gardeners on BBC World Service’s “The Food Chain”.

Be careful talking about food poverty. “Food and nutritional insecurity” is less stigmatising, focuses more on systemic problems.

We used to be united by our daily bread, but local food cultures are now disappearing – even in huge cities like London.

Human-powered transport

The Urbanist says 1 metre cycle passing laws might do more for public awareness than for actual safety, but are all the more important for that.

Less toxic

CDC confirms: lemon eucalyptus oil is as effective as DEET (and way less poisonous) for repelling mozzies.

Home made and waste-free

How to make chive flower vinegar.

Take the Plastic Free July challenge.

Inspiration for simpler, more resilient living

How can we turn environmental and economic crises into an opportunity for a better life?

That’s the question behind a documentary that I watched a couple of weeks ago.  “A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity“, directed by Jordan Osmond and Samuel Alexander, follows a group of Australians as they build and live in a small community called Wurruk’an in Gippsland (south-western Victoria).

They build tiny houses and communal spaces from recycled materials, grow their own food, share skills, and struggle with community dynamics.

Scattered throughout the film, providing context to the on-the-ground experiences of the Wurruk’an community, there are also interviews with luminaries about simple living, energy descent, and permaculture.

I had a few reservations about the film, especially how it glossed over some of the more difficult areas.  I would have liked to see more detail about the disagreements that ended in some people leaving the community.  I would also have appreciated some recognition that the community was heavily dependent on fossil fuel transport, and hear some ideas about how they could live in a regional area, sourcing recycled building materials and bulk foods, and bringing in crowds of people to help with building projects, without depending on cars and vans.

That said, I found the movie thought-provoking and inspiring.  It certainly gave me a kick in the pants to reconsider my own lifestyle, and how I can continue to bring it more in line with how I want to live.

For some time I’ve been meaning to sublet my spare rooms.  One of the least sustainable parts of my life – both economically and in terms of energy and materials use – is that I live in a three-bedroom house all by myself. The time has come to change that, by finding others who want to share this space and this way of living.  “A Simpler Way” helped me get over my fear of the difficulties involved in that, and to realise the urgency of doing so.

I hope “A Simpler Way” spurs others to action, too.  With around 45,000 views on Youtube already, it has great potential for inspiring change.  I highly recommend watching it, or even better, getting a group of people together for a viewing and discussion.  The film is available on Youtube, or you can download a copy (at whatever price you choose) from Happen Films.