Saturday, April 21, 2018

Off-Grid Cabin Life



Up on a green mountain lives a tall, thoughtful man who is curious about everything and whose interests include star-gazing, tickling spiders, talking to birds and inventing things. He lives in a small green tin cabin which he built with his two capable hands. Actually, mostly he lives on the wide verandah outside the small green cabin. On one end are chairs and a bench in the sun. At the other end is the boiler and the wood, an old plunky piano and a macrame bird feeder. It is easier to talk to the birds if they are close by. Sometimes the birds and the lizards come up to the front door and peer in to see if there is someone to talk to who is willing to share his dinner.


Here is the old plunky piano. It is apparently a necessity in an off-grid cabin. It also serves as a useful plant stand.


Here is the wood-fired boiler which is the heart of the house. Even though it is actually outside. It is lovingly and carefully tended and it never goes out. Even when Paul comes into the Blueday city cottage for a night, the boiler is still quietly burning away when he gets back the next day. In fact, he starts to get a little twitchy by the afternoon and I can feel the boiler pulling him back to the mountain.. you've heard of the household deity? This is the cabin deity. It heats all the water and it also heats the big old metal radiators that keep the cabin warm in the winter. When it is cold and wet the radiators are often draped in washing or drying the tea towels. On a cold morning there is nothing better than warming up your clothes on the radiator before putting them on. So delicious.


Here is another household deity. One of the many sculptures made by Paul's father that appear unexpectedly around the property, under trees, on top of rocks, peeping around corners. I particularly like watching this rather stoic portly gentleman when it rains. The water runs down his face and drips off his chin and he just stands there and meditates thoughtfully about Life and Rain, and Why Birds Sit On My Head.


This is the current vegie garden. It is spectacularly productive and bursting with kale, spinach, red chard, and of course, tarragon. It has a little electric fence around it to deter possums and wallabies. When it is turned on at night a string of fairy lights also lights up to remind us not to go picking spinach in the dark.


The electricity for the fairy lights and various other things comes from six solar panels in the summer and a water turbine in the creek in the winter. High summer and deep, wet winter are times of plentiful electricity. Right now, when it sometimes rains for a few days and there is no sun, but at the same time the creek is not running gustily enough to leave the turbine running for very long, producing electricity can get very exciting. Tramps up and down to the dam to check the water levels in the dark with a torch. The drama of starting up the water turbine. Constantly checking the lithium battery bank to see how much electricity is magically stored there. Only vacuuming when the sun is shining or else when it is raining and the water turbine is running. I think this is a very satisfactory way to live. It keeps you very aware of how much energy you are using. There is no magic 'away' where the energy is produced. It is made right here, right now, with sunshine and water. Every light globe needs to be thoughtfully considered. It is a very thoughtful, deliberate way to live.


And it is not just energy that needs to be considered. Paul gets his water from the creek which needs to be boiled to become drinkable (one day there will be a fancy filtering system). His waste water is treated in a series of pipes and French drains and a home made septic system. There are no town services reaching his block at all. He doesn't have rubbish collection, so he has learned to produce very little rubbish. Every few weeks he takes a small bag of rubbish and recycling down to his sister's house in the village. To be honest, it is mostly wine bottles. I often help with that..


Of course, when I first went to visit Paul I inspected his book collection very thoroughly. The only book we have in common is Thoreau's Walden. For me, Paul's simple living project perfectly embodies the spirit of Thoreau's own experiment:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Off-grid living teaches a thoughtful, deliberate way of life. Producing energy and drinking water and dealing with your own waste takes time and effort and makes all of those things precious. There is no place for waste or excess. It requires balance, that middle path. Not just taking the path, but creating your own as you go..


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Green and Thrifty




Apples! I did  a pruning job for a friend last week and she told me there was a vacant block across the road from her house with two big trees laden with apples, and to help myself. Well, beautiful beautiful apples, hundreds of them. I picked a huge bucketful and have been giving them away, drying them and cooking up huge pans of stewed fruit for apple crumble which my family eats as fast as I can make it.

I planted garlic. I planted three of the biggest and most succulent of my own summer harvest, and a bulb given to me by a friend who has a seed business and experiments with different varieties of all the vegies. It is Syrian garlic, which I have never seen before, a white variety - hopefully it grows well in Tasmania. We will see.

I pulled out the capsicum plants to put the garlic in. The capsicums have done so well this year as it has been so hot this summer. So many ripe, red capsicums. I picked the last of the red ones last week, and before I pulled out the bushes I filled a basket with the last of the greens. I love their shiny smoothness. I thinned the carrots and chopped tiny, tiny carrot rounds into the soup.



I have been painting - first the porch which encloses my front door. It is made out of five old doors, which the paint was flaking off, so that has been a project I have been meaning to do for some time. I have been putting it off especially because - look at those window panes, or pains, I should say.



So much painting with a tiny, tiny brush. Then, yesterday, painting in the bathroom. Much of this house was only painted very sketchily when I bought it, and needs a couple of extra coats. The girls flew away to visit their dad on Thursday, so now is a good time to tackle a painting project. Now, why is this green and thrifty you may ask? Well, I bought a very low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint to do the job. I chatted to the man at the paint shop, and apparently it is the paint tints that cause VOC levels to be higher, so I chose builder's white - plain white paint with a dash of black. Black is also very low on the VOC front. I don't know why. I didn't ask, I just nodded. Sometimes men in trade shops provide too much information for my state of mind on a given day. I decided to use the exterior paint I bought for painting outside to paint the bathroom as well, as there is just as much precipitation in the bathroom as outside. All the rest of the painting gear, including gap filler and silicone, I already had in the shed and am using up diligently. It is so nice to have those jobs done. Two more tiny outside painting jobs to do outside before the winter weather sets in.

Yesterday I found Posy sewing up one of her skirts. I was beswoggled, as Roald Dahl puts it so eloquently. Fancy that, child does mending. Well, I never. I am rather encouraged by such industry.

Maggie gave me another box of pears from her tree when I did the gardening this week, so I dried half in the dehydrator, and made the other half into a giant pear crumble. So many fruit crumbles so far this autumn. We like crumble for breakfast around here. I make up a lot of crumble mix in the food processor and keep it in the fridge to throw onto stewed fruit for almost instant crumble. Yum.

Easy Peasy Crumble Mix

100g (3.5oz) butter
100g (3.5oz) flour, any you prefer
50g (1.75oz) sugar (I use raw and brown)
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ginger
100g (3.5oz) oats

Whiz up first five ingredients in food processor (or rub flour and butter together with fingers, then stir in other ingredients) then add the oats for a few seconds so they are mixed in but still look like oats.
Store in fridge until required.
To serve, sprinkle over HOT stewed fruit (if fruit is cold the crumble will go soggy before the fruit heats in the oven) and bake at 180C (375F) for 15 - 20 mins until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit starts bubbling up from below.

I am now up at Paul's cabin on the mountain in the pouring rain listening to cello music and watching the weather. Before I left home I cooked up everything in the fridge - bottom of the fridge soup, as every housekeeper knows, is the staple way to use up vegetables 'that want eating' as my granny used to say. I also did several trays of roast veg - all the vegies cut up into chunks, drizzled with olive oil, rosemary, cumin, ground fennel seed. This makes the basis of a wonderful salad to which you can add anything - chicken, chickpeas, feta, greens, toasted seeds, lots of salad dressing. Yum. So we are set for food for several days, and today we are making sourdough bread as well, with our starter from a week or so ago. Rainy weather, warm house, good food, good company. What more could anyone want?

Tell me about your thrifty adventures..





Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Reading This Week


One of Paul's friends who is a sauerkraut-making foodie lent me his brand-new copy of Ferment for Good so that I could read it voraciously and tell him which recipes he should try. My answer? All of them. Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, yoghurt? All here. But wait, there's more. Vegies, condiments, miso, kvass, labneh, pineapple wine, wild mead.. oh my goodness, what can't you ferment? Very little, by the looks of it. If you want to dip your toes into the world of fermenting, this is the book for you. You will no doubt end by diving right in and fermenting everything in sight. All I need now is a nice underground cave to store it all in..

Sharon Flynn's voice and stories shine through the recipes and a wealth of information. I love the suggestions of how to eat your ferments and what to pair them with.. this is sometimes a forgotten aspect of fermenting information. My only problem with this book is.. how can I avoid giving it back?






Botanist James Wong has done an extraordinary thing - he has written a gardening book with a difference. I can say this with authority because I have been reading gardening books for over twenty years now, and the planting lists are somewhat samey-samey. Homegrown Revolution is jam-packed with edible plants that are easy to grow in a cool climate (UK) that you have a) never heard of, or b) didn't know were edible.

For instance, it turns out that dahlia tubers and canna tubers are edible. Also hosta shoots and daylily flowers. There are also edible gardening-gold tips such as how to grow oyster mushrooms on a telephone book, plus a large number of plants that I have never heard of but will be looking up soon. I discovered that my Cape gooseberries are marketed in the UK as Inca berries and flown in from Colombia. Who knew? In my garden they self-seed all over the place. I eat them by the handful, but now I know I can make them into jam.

But wait, what about edible houseplants? Cardamom plants, the leaves of which can be popped into the chai mix or added to flavour rice. Vanilla grass to make your own vanilla essence, or Murraya koenigii curry leaves anyone? I am currently looking out for all of these..

This book I found at the library, and have already renewed the loan once as I avidly take notes. It is on my list of Books to Buy When I Have a Proper Income..

Monday, April 9, 2018

Places To Go



On the side of my house is a porch made out of five old doors and a bit of wall which houses the front door. I love this porch to bits, but the paint was flaking off the old doors, so for the past two years I have procrastinated and then for the past three days I have scraped, sanded, and now just finished painting all of them, in time for the rain to start pouring down tomorrow. Phew!

Today's post is a short selection of the very many favourite things I collect on-line. Enjoy!


Tim Winton's Palm Sunday Speech A powerful indictment of Australia's treatment of refugees by author Tim Winton.

Logical Unsanity A Brisbane bookshop in a shed. Open 24 hours with a donation box for payment.

Zero Waste Artist An endearing Danish artist uses materials he finds in dumpsters and on the street to craft whimsical artworks. "As I grew up I pretty much just continued playing.. I didn't have a driver's licence or much money, but I have my bicycle truck (as he loads a small house-worth of waste timber from the street onto his home made cargo bike..) and that's pretty fun.." This is a man who knows how to enjoy himself and can make absolutely anything.. "We have a crazy and amazing job.."

A Day in the Life of the Tasmanian Bookmobile 1962 Why did so many women in Australia in the 1960s look and sound like the Queen? Even librarians in the bookmobile? A darling vintage delight.

Franc's Wildly Successful Life MaryBeth Danielson writes about the life of her artist friend Franc, who has crafted a joyful and creative life on under $15,000 a year.

A Jungle in My Apartment Summer Rayne Oakes lives in a New York apartment with more than 600 house plants. Because, why not?

Friday, April 6, 2018

Green and Thrifty


Apples from Bron's fabulously productive tree,
 now all nicely bottled for winter goodness

My lovely neighbours Bram and Lyn brought me two supermarket bags full of amazing local venison. Bram's friend Albert shot the deer. He is 84 and still living a very rich life full of all the things he loves to do. Bram and Albert butchered the deer early this week, and Benson is blissfully munching on a bone in the garden and the girls and I are experimenting with cooking venison according to Bram's recipes. I had to empty my very small freezer compartment to fit it all in, so have just now defrosted the sloes that Katherine and I picked last year and put them in a jar with some gin to make sloe gin. I may be slow with some projects, but I get there in the end.. now it is time to go and pick more sloes..

I took passata, lemons, and an orchid that a friend gave me to Bram and Lyn. Bram is also going to take my electric mulcher and whipper snipper, which is wonderful as they can now leave my shed so I have room to order firewood for the winter. Plus, if I ever need them, I can borrow them back :)

My friend Lillian took me out to lunch yesterday as a thank you for helping her clean and declutter when she moved house. She brought me a bag of feijoas from her tree (she doesn't like feijoas!) and I gave her pineapple ground cherries.

Yesterday on one of my gardening jobs I found myself up a ladder picking pears from a bountiful pear tree, and Maggie gave me some pears to take home. I am now drying pear slices in the dehydrator, and will add the feijoas when the pears are done. One day my poor dehydrator is going to give up the ghost through sheer hard work, so I am looking for recommendations for a bigger one. Anyone? My current one is a small secondhand Sunbeam one that I have been using for about ten years. I am very impressed at its longevity, but I know the motor will fail eventually, probably just when I have a load of fruit to dry..



While walking Benson the happy puppy in the park I found a reusable 'Stuffsack' bag on the ground. It was covered with acorns and leaves from an oak tree, so I judged it long abandoned and brought it home, washed it and added it to my collection.

My friend Sandra brought me a load of lemons when she came for Easter Sunday lunch. I gave her onions. At the greengrocer's local onions were 2kg/$3.64 or 10kg/$3.90. No brainer. So I bought the 10kg and have been giving them away ever since.

I bottled 13 jars of apples this week. So pretty!



I made a crock of sauerkraut, as Paul keeps eating it as fast as I can make it!



My baby lettuce plants looked like this two weeks ago:



and now they look like this:



Nearly time for our first meal of home grown lettuce in quite some time!

Planted this week: lettuce and snow peas.
Eaten from the garden this week: potatoes, tomatoes, capsicums, the last cucumber, one zucchini, Cape gooseberries, pineapple ground cherries, rhubarb, rosemary, tarragon, spring onions, wild rocket, basil.
Eaten from other people's gardens: lemons, feijoas, pears, apples, eggs.

Tell me about your thrifty adventures..




Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Simple Food






Tonight I made baked potatoes with all the trimmings - salsa, yoghurt, cheese, tomato, capsicum, chicken, corn.. and while I was waiting for the girls to arrive for dinner ("I'm in the bath!""I'm doing my homework!") I broke open a small potato and ate it all by itself. Well, all by itself with lashings of butter. It was a King Edward potato dug out of my garden last week. Fresh and white and fluffy and dripping with salty butter. It was one of the best potatoes I have ever eaten and I enjoyed every greedy mouthful. Then the girls came and I had another potato with all the extras, and while it was good I was a little disappointed, because I could hardly taste the potato for everything that was piled on top of it.

Sometimes I think we do too much to our food. We have so much food, and so much variety in our food, that we can forget just how amazing a very humble potato can be. One thing about having a garden is that the very first ripe tomato is an occasion, as is the first nectarine, the first meal of baby lettuce. Little harvest celebrations all through the year. It is a way of remembering that this food, all by itself, unadorned, is a miracle and very good in itself. Very simple dishes featuring something out of the garden are a staple in every culture as gardeners and cooks have worked out the easiest and most simple way of getting fresh produce onto the table. Basil, tomato and a drizzle of olive oil? How could it be more perfect?

Sometimes at the end of a meal I bring out one piece of fruit. A lovely yellow pear, a ripe Cox's Orange Pippin stippled in white dots, and I cut it up at the table and we three sit there, wrapped up in the wonder of a crunchy apple or a juicy pear. Or maybe that's just me. Maybe the others are just eating fruit, or complaining that I ought to know by know that they don't like apples.. this week.

However, simple food can be good. Very good. I would like to do more simple food.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Reading This Week




Peter Kalmus is a climate scientist, parent, human being. Being the Change starts with the most comprehensive round up of climate science I have ever seen. At last, a clear view of what is going on, how we got to where we are, how climate change works and what we will have to do to mitigate it.

A second section examines what we can do, as individuals, in the face of the enormous challenges we all face. In this, he walks the talk. As a climate scientist he realised that we all need to live on about ten percent of the average US emissions. Kalmus decided to do just that, along with his wife and two children. This section is a lovely, realistic tale of his family's journey, not only towards reducing their emissions, but also to the realisation that his simpler life is much better and makes his family happier.

The next section is an overview of collective action and ideas for moving forward.

The book is a little scary, even to someone like me who is well versed in what humans are doing to the planet. It is also grounded in quiet hope. In my opinion this is quite unfounded, but makes it easier to read. Kalmus is a great devotee of vipassana meditation and hopeful that humans will find a better, non-violent way forward. I think that anyone looking at history is unlikely to come to that conclusion. However, this is a useful book to read if you want to persuade yourself or someone else that a different life is possible. Tasmanians, you can get it from the library!





I first came across Harlan Hubbard and his enchanting writing and life via a library book - Shantyboat Journal. This was an edited version of his daily journal as he travelled with his wife Anna down the Ohio River for seven years in a home-built shanty boat, or houseboat during the 1940s.

Later I discovered he had written several books, and that after they had completed their epic boating trip Harlan and Anna had settled on a piece of land on the river in Kentucky, built their own small cabin and lived there for decades without electricity or any modern conveniences except a viola, cello and grand piano. Now how could you possibly resist such a book? Hubbard's writing style is simple, direct, down-to-earth, honest and endearing. He has been called the 'Thoreau of Kentucky' but really, Thoreau is very shrill compared to Hubbard, who quietly appreciates the patch of wild nature he lives in, and his simple life which gives him time for contemplation, music and painting, and he doesn't seem to feel the need to put everyone else in the wrong as Thoreau seemed to enjoy doing.

I ordered this book from Small Press Distribution, plus Payne Hollow Journal from the University Press of Kentucky (because I couldn't order them via my local bookshop and Amazon is actually evil), and now I can't imagine why I didn't order the shantyboat ones at the same time. Anyway, I have re-read these several times since they arrived last year, and they always offer me a new insight on simplicity and living how you want to rather than how society expects you to:

The small amount of money we need dribbles in from here and there. We are used to "littling along."
The secret is, spend little and you will have plenty. How much does one need to live on? As much as one has, I say. The first requirement is faith - plus imagination, freedom from prejudice, habit and public opinion; simple tastes and inexpensive pleasures.
Payne Hollow, Chapter 15