19 October 2014

Balsamic Beetroot And Cashew Dip

It is beetroot season here again. Over the holidays Country Boy pulled up the beetroot before it went to seed. As per usual, we had way more than we could actual eat at the time. We boiled them all up, and popped most of them in the freezer for later, but I kept some out to try making my own beetroot dip.

I have tried beetroot dips before, and always have trouble stopping once I start (curse you, yummy dips!) so I thought I would have a go at my own. It was delicious, and the colour is amazing. I'm planning on whipping this up again for Christmas with some of the beetroot from the freezer.

1/2c cashews
1/2t cumin
1c boiled beetroot - peeled and mashed
3T caramelised balsamic vinegar
100g feta (smooth and soft variety)
2T Greek yoghurt
salt and pepper

1. In a frying pan, dry roast the cashews and cumin for a few minutes until the cumin is fragrant.
2. Place the cashews and cumin together with the other ingredients into a food processor. Process until the desired consistency. I left mine a little chunky, but you can pulse it until
3. Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary.
4. Serve or store in the fridge for a day or two.

Got any good recipes for beetroot? I've a freezer full of it? Have you thought about Christmas dinner yet? I can't believe I've thought of even the dip this far out!

15 October 2014

Keeping It Simple | Reducing The Busy

It seems that we are all perennially busy these days. It's almost a standard part of a greeting these days: "Hi, how are you?" "Good, busy".

I sometimes wonder just what we are busy doing? I know that there are things which have to be done. The kids need to be fed and go to school no matter what. My employer seems to require me to do the work they pay me for. But these don't take up all our time. So what are we busy doing?

Possibly we are busy doing all the things which we feel we should be doing because everyone else is doing them. Or perhaps we fear missing out on something so we do too much. Possibly we just haven't considered that we don't have to be so busy.

Of course there are times when being a little busy is unavoidable. Family illnesses always seem to coincide with big work events. But being busy all the time is just not good for our physical or mental health. So if you are always on the go, here are some ideas to reduce the busy in life:

- Avoid too many after school activities - with multiple children doing multiple activities, you could easily find yourself dragging kids around every day after school. While some kids love doing pottery, ballet, tap dancing, French, netball, and piano, it doesn't give them much down time. Consider limiting the number of extracurricular activities your children do.

Around here, extra curricular activities all require lots of travel, so we do very few. Hannah learns piano, but her lesson is during school time at school. During the summer the kids do swim club. That is the sum total of our extra curricular activities. I love that we get so much time to spend at home as a family, and that our children have plenty of unstructured time to play, read, draw, create, and just be. I love that Hannah sometimes spends an hour just lying in the grass on a spring day.

- Another way to reduce our busyness is by eliminating unnecessary household tasks that take away our time. For example, I don't iron. Clothes get hung up straight off the line. Sheets etc get folded and put away. The only time I might iron is if Country Boy or myself need an out fit for a wedding (or similar). That is it!

- Stop shopping so often - We started shopping less frequently when we moved to the country. It just was so inefficient to go to town every week for half a day. We switched to shopping monthly and making do with what we have in between. Not having to go to town every Saturday not only saves a lot of time, but it also saves us money - double win!

- If you're in the position to do so, consider outsourcing some of those tasks that need doing but suck time away from the family. Ironing (if you have to iron), cleaning, mowing, simple DIY/home maintenance, even some cooking are all easy to out source, and though they cost money, it might be worth it to reclaim family time.

- Accept that you can't do everything, and say no - easier said than done, I know! But realistically, there is only so much time and energy you have available, so you need to be able to say no to those things that take away time from what is important. Start by saying no to little things.

- Embrace the idea that we don't have to be busy - society tells us that to be important and worthwhile, we need to be 'productive'. Of course this is not true. It is OK to not have anything planned on a weekend. If you find yourself with nothing to do for an hour, enjoy it. Don't jump up and find something that 'has' to be done. White space in your day is important - it gives your brain time to decompress, so schedule it in. The reality is, after a bit of down time, you are more likely to be productive.

- Simplify other parts of your life. If you have less stuff, and keep what you have fairly organised, you will spend less time looking after your stuff.

Ultimately, if your life is too busy, it is not going to change unless you do something about it.

Are you always busy? What strategies do you use to keep the busyness at bay?

14 October 2014

In The Sheep Yards

Over the weekend, we marked the merino lambs. It's one of those events on the farm by which we mark the progress of the year. Of course when I say "we" I mean it in a generic us sense, rather than specifically me. My job is to keep an eye on the kids (and take a few photos). The kids love to catch the lambs and give them a cuddle, and the guys who come and help mark the lambs are always glad to see the kids, and love to have them 'help', even if it does take a little longer.

13 October 2014

Mint Sugar Meringues

A few weeks back we were watching a Jamie Oliver program where he made mint sugar by blending regular white sugar with a big handful of mint leaves. As soon as the show had finished, Country Boy went out and grabbed some mint from the garden, and had a go at making his own. It really was just a couple of cups of sugar together with a heap of picked mint leaves whacked in a food processor and whizzed up until it is fine.

Since then we have had it sprinkled on top of fruit (mainly strawberries, but it is meant to be beautiful on mango or pineapple), and also on porridge in the mornings.

Over the holidays I had the thought that the mint sugar would also make great meringues, so I had a go, and they were amazing.

Mint Sugar Meringues
3 egg whites (room temperature work best)
3/4c of mint sugar
1/4t white wine vinegar

(basically use 1/4c of sugar per egg white!)

1. Preheat your oven to 130*c
2. Place the egg whites in a very clean bowl.
3. Whisk the eggs until they form a foam. The foam should be stiff, and the bubbles should be very small. If you overwhisk the foam will start to look dry, and a liquid will form at the bottom of the bow. If this happens you need to start again - you can't rescue over whisked eggs.
4. Add the sugar in as you whisk, one spoonful at a time. Once the sugar is added, you can't over whisk the eggs.
5. Continue to whisk until the sugar has entirely dissolved and the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape when you lift the beaters out. Beat in the vinegar for a further minute.

6. Pipe or spoon the mixture onto baking trays lined with baking paper. This quantity makes approximately 40 bite sized meringues
7. Bake for 60 minutes.
8. Cool in the oven, by just turning the oven off.

The meringues will not be brilliant green because the mint browns slightly in the oven. The lower temperature of the oven will prevent most of this.

They were so yummy. Sweet and refreshing at the same time. Next time I am going to drizzle a little dark chocolate over the top to turn them into an extra special after dinner treat.

Have you made flavoured sugars before? How have you used them??

10 October 2014

Fun On The Farm With The Cousins

Long weekends usually mean visits from friends and family here on the farm. Last weekend my sister and her family came for a visit, which means that my kids get to play with their favourite people in the whole wide world (Meg's words), their cousins. I love that they enjoy each others company so much. The weekend was full of feeding pigs, exploring paddocks on foot and motorbikes, and a visit to the rodeo which happened to be in town for the weekend. Beautiful weather, loads of fun with loved ones. Life doesn't get much better than this.

Did you get up to anything over the long weekend?? (Did you get a long weekend?)

8 October 2014

Keeping It Simple | Taming The Kid's Toys

Over the last few weeks in my series on simple living, I have been sharing thoughts on some of the big ideas, or principles behind my version of simple living. Things like breaking down tasks into smaller steps, looking for quality not quantity, and limiting our choices. These big ideas (and several others) are important because they set a framework for simplifying life, but today I thought I would get a little more specific.

I've struggled with our kids toys for a while now. By some standards they don't have many, but there are still things there that don't seem to fit, and they find it hard to keep their toys ordered and easy to find.

I was talking to my sister about this and she told me how she kept on top of her kids toys. She her 3 kids are a little younger than mine (2 boys and a girl), and they usually know where their toys are, and have toys out to play with, but the toys are not covering the whole house.

Talking it through with her, I came to the conclusion that while we limited the toys, we struggled with the organisation of them.

So here are some ideas about how we can tame the toys with our kids. I'm trying them out myself. In particular, point two is getting some attention from me over the coming weeks!

Limit the number of  toys you have

Too many toys just overwhelm kids. They find it harder to play with them because of the sheer quantity, and keeping the toys ordered and tidy takes a lot of time and effort. So it makes sense to limit the number of toys that kids have.

The easiest way to do this is to pick several types of toys and stick to that type. For example, my sister has chosen wooden train set, hot wheels track/cars, duplo, lego, wooden puzzles, and board/card games. In the kids bedrooms they then have a few toys that are specifically theirs according to their interests. Her daughter has a Sylvanian family, dress ups, and house play stuff (dolls/ tea set). The boys share a room and have play tools, binoculars, and torches and colouring in stuff. Of course the kids share the toys in the rooms between them.

In addition, she has play dough, and craft gear, put away for her to pull out when needed.

When Christmas and birthdays come around, she will often suggest a little something that goes with one of those themes. By limiting the types of toys you have, you avoid having little bits and pieces of lots of different toys that all need to be stored separately.

Here on the farm, we have also limited the toys in a similar way, though I wish we had done this from when the kids were very young.

A good way to decide which toys you will have is to make sure you have a toy in a couple of different categories. E.g. dramatic, construction, manipulation, imaginative.

Have a home for every toy

The second aspect to taming the toys is to store them appropriately. Some people advocate storing them all in one place, but this is not always possible. Personally I think it is more important to have a place for every toy, rather than to have them all together.

Toy storage is our biggest struggle. It's not that our kids have so many toys, but more that the storage we have no longer meets our needs. We bought a bookshelf back when Hannah was still very little, and have plastic boxes to put different toys into, but the boxes don't fit the shelf very well. Recently I have come to the conclusion that having lids on the boxes discourages kids from putting the toys away because it becomes another step in the process.

My sister has nice deep boxes which hold all the different items, and they get put back in the same place each time. That way the kids know where their toys are.

What system you choose really depends on your home and set up. What does matter is that it works for you and your kids. You can tell if your system is working if:

- every toy has a set place where it is kept when it's not being used.
- the kids can find the toys they want quickly.
- the toys are easy to keep separated rather than a random pile.
- the kids can easily pick up the toys and put them away with little or no help.
- the boxes/containers hold all the toy easily with room to spare (they are not over flowing).

When you are trying to work out the best way to store the toys, avoid the temptation to just run out and buy a new storage system, without considering what will work in your space, and with your kids. I've been pinning ideas here, if you're also looking for inspiration.

Cull regularly.

It really is amazing how stuff accumulates despite our best efforts to eliminate it. Add this to the fact that kids grow out of toys, and it is important to regularly assess what toys your kids use.

Culling is my forte. I have no sentimental attachment to toys etc, though my kids do. Just these holidays I went through all the toys again, and pulled out any that were broken or no longer used. We still had a whole lot of plastic cars suitable for a one year old, which I pulled out to give to my nephew.

A good time to cull is around October before the Christmas season gets underway.

When Hannah was born she was the first grand daughter on both sides of the family. In addition, we were the first in our friendship circle to have a baby. As a result we were given a lot of gifts for her, and I mean LOTS. In among the dozens of cute outfits, she was given 16 stuffed toys. In hindsight, I wish that I had donated some of them. It's not that I don't appreciate the thought behind them, but 16 is ridiculous. A few have moved on, but we still have way too many stuffed toys which she has become attached to. It really is a lot easier to not have too much to start with, rather than cull later. Having said that, still cull!

Teach your children that stuff doesn't equal happiness

The television would have us believe that the more toys a kid has, the happier they are, and that the more we buy our kids, the more we love them. Of course this is a lie, but we need to actively teach our kids to be content with what they have.

How do you tame your kids toys? Got any good storage ideas for me??

6 October 2014

September In The Garden

September has been a good month for the garden. The longer, warmer days are here, and the plants have sprung to life. Country Boy has been busy mulching and weeding the garden beds. He got a big load of manure from a neighbour's shearing shed to dig into the gardens over the coming weeks.

September isn't a big month for harvesting, though we do try to pick the last of the winter veg and freeze it. There has been kale in our dishes several times a week. The kale pesto Country Boy made a few weeks back was a hit. We have also made coleslaw with some of the cabbage. 

We picked all the remaining broccoli before it went to seed and froze it in portions to use over the next 12 months. We also picked and cooked all the beetroot before freezing it in portions - stay tuned for a few beetroot recipes.

There isn't a lot of planting happening at the moment, though the rocket, radishes, and potatoes are all in the ground now.

Growing at the moment
At this time of year the garden is loaded. The broad beans are growing quickly and we will be harvesting them in a month or two.

We also have peas, garlic, onion, leek, and artichokes all growing well.

Our very first asparagus has just poked it's head out of the ground. It is going to be a while before we eat any asparagus, but we are still excited.

The tomatoes, capsicums, and eggplants are still in the greenhouse to protect them from any late frosts. The days have been warm, but we have got frosts right into November before, so we need to keep them safe. Country Boy replanted them from seedling trays into individual pots this week.

With daylight savings now started, Country Boy will be spending his evenings out in the garden getting lots more jobs done.

What are you growing at the moment?

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