Saturday, December 05, 2009

What have I been doing?

It was 37 degrees today! Gosh it was hot! Nevertheless, my husband and I managed this! We're pretty damn proud of ourselves!


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Toys, Toys, Toys - A Shopper's Guide to Australian Toy Stores

Today's Post is brought to you by guest Sarah Emma_in_Oz. A huge thank you to letting us re-post this article here. I hope every one enjoys it as much as we did.

First the bad news - there is no one stop shop which sells a wide array of beautifully crafted,
educationally and developmentally appropriate, reasonably priced, ethically made, non-toxic toys. Well, not that I've found.

But the good news - there are a heap of neat Australian toy stores which you can order from online, in the comfort of your own home.

This is going to be a massively long post so I shall begin with some definitions of terms and background explanations of what I was looking for. Yes, I spent that much time researching it that I feel the need to define terms.

What I was Looking For

I don't like plastic toys. I don't like them for a whole heap of reasons, beginning with the fact that they are hideously ugly, moving on to the often cheap quality, their tendency to break, the fact that they are often made in sweatshops, and ending up with them often being toxic. Oh, also , bad for the environment, often developmentally inappropriate, are often designed to inculcate violent or sexist behaviour, and with ridiculous amounts of branding so your child can be groomed as a consumer. As you can see, some strong feelings there.

Though I should note that Pearl owns a ton of plastic toys, despite my feelings. Cos they are so
ubiquitous. It's so hard to find anything else.

Let me go through those one by one.

1, Plastic toys are hideously ugly. Having Pearl has made me realise that I may actually suffer from one of those disorders in which you are overwhelmed by bright colours and loud noises. I find the bright colours of plastic toys literally give me a headache. I can't be around them without actually, literally, getting a head ache.

The batteries have been removed from all of Pearl's electronic toys because I cannot handle that noise. I don't care if she bangs on pots and pans or her drum but the sound of cheap synthesisers playing You are My Sunshine does my head in.

2, Plastic toys are low quality. Not all, of course but there is a whole array of cheap toys actually
designed by companies to be things that parents buy for their kids to shut them up. (See: Eric Clark, The Real Toy Story, 2007).

3, Plastic toys often break. Because the type of plastic used when you want to make as much profit as possible is cheap and it breaks quickly. And even quality plastic goes funny over time and then it kind of snaps.

4, Plastic toys are made in sweatshops. 80% of toys available in America are made in China, and I assume the figures are similar here. It is extremely likely that they are made in sweat shops. (See: Eric Clark, The Real Toy Story, 2007 and Susan Gregory Thomas, Buy Baby Buy, 2007).

Of course this is the case for all toys, not just plastic ones.

5, Plastic toys are toxic for children. Plastics contain dioxins and often phthalates.
( The Healthy Toys site has been checking toys off the shelves in America for heavy metals and they have had very disturbing results.

6, Plastic toys are toxic for the environment. (

7, Plastic toys are developmentally inappropriate. More accurately, many commercially available toys, many of which are made from plastic. I assert that kids need are really simple traditional toys like dolls, blocks, push and pull toys. Not electronic stuff that beeps.

8, Plastic toys are designed to encourage violent or sexist behaviour. Again, more accurately,
commercially available toys, many of which are plastic, are often designed in this way. Bratz and Barbie are ridiculously sexualised; toy guns and action figures are ridiculously violent. (See: Eric Clark, The Real Toy Story, 2007 and Carl Honore, Under Pressure, 2007).

9, Plastic toys are designed to groom children as consumers. Toys are linked to TV shows which are often indistinguishable from half hour long ads. These branded toys are collectables, not stand alones. There is always one more that needs to be collected. (Susan Gregory Thomas, Buy Baby Buy, 2007)

This is what prompted me to compile my handy-dandy list of toy shops which sell non-plastic toys.

Definition of Terms

Australian-made - There is a very limited toy manufacturing base in Australia.
While there are some wonderful toy makers in Australia, most of them do not produce in sufficient quantities to supply other retailers, and because of the labour intensive, handcrafted nature of their work the toys are expensive.

Most Australian-made toys are made in what I am here calling micro-businesses. Businesses so small they are in fact someone's garage or living room in which they carve or stitch. (I kind of like buying from this kind of company. I know the money is going to actual people. And then those people pay taxes and the money comes back to me in the form of roads, and hospitals, and libraries.)

Fair Trade - Fair trade is an approach that aims to help producers in developing countries and promote sustainability. The movement advocates the payment of a higher price to producers as well as social and environmental standards in areas related to the production of a wide variety of goods.

I have noted where stores stock fair trade goods, but I have not explored whether they meet the
standards of the FairTrade Labeling Organisations International (FINE) or whether they are using the term loosely.

Organic - Organic toys are made from natural materials, without pesticides or toxins. The term organic can be woolly - to be sure you are getting an organic product you need to check whether it has been certified. I have noted where stores stock organic toys, but I have not explored whether they are certified as organic.

Greenish - A lot of toys aren’t organic (which has a strict meaning). But some companies do greenish things - like some reuse packaging, make donations to charities, stock toys made from recycled materials.

Places to Shop

Well if you want to avoid plastic, obviously not mainstream toy stores or places like Target or Toys R Us (though I am informed that the local Toys R Us now has a row of wooden toys).

Unfortunately, op shops and fairs offer a pretty limited selection in my experience. They tend to look like chuck out day from the McDonalds happy meal detrius farm. Sometimes you strike it lucky. Though of course you can't tell as you look at them whether they are safe or not.

Once you get home you can check on the Australian Product Safety website to see if the products have been recalled. And you can look at HealthyToys to see if they happen to have been tested for chemical levels. HealthyToys is a consumer group which tests toys off the shelf in America - about a third of them have measurable levels of chemicals like lead, bromine, arsenic, cadmium, mercury and chlorine.

Where you are much more likely to find something nice is online craft fairs like Etsy.
( You can get wooden toys and homemade cloth stuffed toys from Etsy. Very pretty stuff, and the money you spend goes to actual people rather than faceless corporations.

You may also want to consider a toy library. I paid $65 to join a library. I can then get out three toys at a time for a year, including big ticket items like toy cars and slides which I could not afford on my own.

You only use the toys for as long as they are developmentally appropriate and then they go back to the library for some other child - very green and economical too.

Or you can consider a toy shop. This is a list - no doubt partial - of places that sell what I am calling non-plastic toys. They are either made in Australia or they are free trade or organic or in some way not the generally available plastic toys.

Australia Online

Australian-made goods of various sorts, including soft toys (Australian animals and teddies), and jigsaw puzzles. Most places stocking Australian-made toys have outrageous prices, but these are fairly reasonable.


They say: 'All Bentsticks toys are original designs that are handcrafted with pride from recycled Australian timbers. Their smooth safe finish is achieved with environmentally friendly natural products i.e. They are "chewable".'

These are seriously the most beautiful wooden toys I've ever seen. The doll's treehouse isn't just a toy, it's a work of art with a trapdoor, a slippery slide, a rope ladder, and a rope pulley. In fact, I'm going to ask them if they want to exhibit at the Aussiecon 4 art show becuase this is just amazing.

It's a micro business.

Seriously I have to reiterate that the work is stunningly beautiful.

This site mostly features organic clothes, lotions and notions, but there is a small range of organic baby toys and soft toys - some made in Australia.

Develop Your Kids

They have an excellent search engine (though no information on the greenness of the toys). They have a good range educational toys

Down to Earth Organics
They have a small range of teethers, soft and wooden toys. The products are organic but not made in Australia. The site mostly emphasises items like clothes, bottles, etc. Definitely only for the littlies.

Dragonfly Toys
I really like this store. They have a really good range of books, toys, games, puzzles, for babies to older children. And, what is more, excellent service. I wrote in, asking about where the stock came from and got a really detailed response The majority of the products are made in Europe - primarily Germany, but also some other countries such as Sweden, Poland, Holland etc. All of these European companies have long traditions of producing beautifully crafted wooden toys and they have strong ethical and environmental policies.

There is a range of toys made in the USA from recycled plastic milk bottles. And also a stock of fair trade items made in Nepal, India, Africa and other countries. These are made by small co-operatives and they help to provide employment and an income to the craftspeople.Â

As the owner points out, quality toys cost more but last longer and are so much more beautiful.

Early Rider
Wooden bikes!

Earth Tribe
They state that their principles are fair trade, embodying:
Concern for people and their environment
Ethical and effective workplaces
Fair prices for products
Equal employment opportunities for both genders
Transparency and accountability in business practices
Advocacy and education about Fair Trade
Capacity building (sharing skills to allow producers to become self reliant)
No Child labour

They stock soft and wooden toys, including the world's coolest wooden pull-along Stegasaurus.

Eco Toys
This is one of my favourite sites because of the excellent service, including giving me a partial refund when the ear fell off a wooden toy dog's ear (and even though I could not provide a picture because I glued it back on before I emailed them).

You can select a small range Australian toys or organic toys. They have a pretty good selection of
educational toys, musical instruments, soft toys, dolls, pretend play, building, baby toys, games,
puzzles, and wooden toys.

Entropy Toys

I like this store. It's an online general toy store. You can search for Australian made toys, for eco friendly and educational toys, also special needs toys.

They say: 'All of the products we stock are about getting children active - either their bodies or brains. No fads, no gimmicks, no batteries and no plastic throwaways. We stock quality wooden and educational toys, games, sports and activity equipment; and craft and craft kits.'

They include PDFs on child development and play.

Fair Go Trading
The store motto is: 'Fair trade for a fair go!' They stock multicultural dolls, musical intruments, and puppets. An excellent feature is that each item is tagged with information telling you where it is from and what made of.

Fairground Child

They offer toys that are:
  • Fair trade
  • Organic
  • Sustainable
  • Multicultural

though not made in Australia

The goods are reasonably priced and there's a really good range - includes balls, clothes, art supplies, educational games, multicultural books as well as soft toys and wooden toys.

Generation Wonder
Organic and free trade, a very socially aware place to shop. They stock a reasonable selection of games, puzzles, soft toys, dolls and four wooden cars (four!). You can actually search for items priced under $15 which is pretty good value for this kind of shopping. Best of all, each item comes with a description of where it comes from and what it is made of.

Specialising in organic food, they also have an interesting range of craft supplies.

Grassroots Eco Store
They sell a range of eco-products including toys. I particularly like that each product is marked to show if it is recycled, organic, Australian made, free trade, sustainable, or non toxic. Accurate and accessible information! Yes!

Honeybee Toys
This is one of my favourite toy stores. It’s certainly one of the biggest.
They say: ‘Welcome to Honeybee Toys online toy store where you will find Australia's largest range of natural wooden toys, organic and handcrafted toys for imaginative and creative play. We honour children and our earth - bringing you a unique range of eco toys that are educational, fun, beautiful, ethically made and eco friendly. We stock the highest quality European toys, reputable brands and Australian designed toys.’
There’s a really good range of toys, and toys for a range of ages, not just babies!

Indigo Inspirations

This is a micro-business. My thanks to the owner for providing such detailed information on where the toys came from when I wrote to them.

They stock Steiner toys made from natural materials. This includes Waldorf dolls, wool felt, craft kits, wooden toys and games.

Just Wood Toys

These are lovely toys and puzzles. Mostly imported, some puzzles made in Australia. I do like the tactile pleasure of wood.

The Kid Store

I find the by-line off putting: 'For fashion conscious toddlers'. How many of those can there be?

But it does stock a fairly wide range of goods, including some in natural materials. It does not say where they come from.

Koala Express

A small range of expensive, Australian-made Australian animals as stuffed toys.

Koala Soft Toys
Stuffed toy koalas, made in Australia from synthetic materials - just like the mainstream ones only more expensive!

They say: 'Lark aims to make products that are not only beautiful and well-made, but also socially and environmentally responsible.'
I like it!
It has clothes, gifts for adults, also for kids and babies including craft and baking kits. The kits! Too cute! And the vintage Ladybird style rucksacks! Oh, so gorgeous in a retro-hip way!

Learning House
They stock educational toys. I like that you can search by age, brand or type but where is the information on individual items? It does include sections on organic and free trade toys.

Little Sparrow
This site is visually appealing but I can't seem to find the section on their philosophy. It brands itself as natural, but I can't see the basis on which the stock is chosen. I recognise some of the toys as imported. They have a very stylish looking selection of toys, dolls, craft items (including quality pens, paint etc) and books.

Hand made, really funky soft toys. It's lovely to see some non-Steiner stuffed toys with a more stylish aesthetic.


They say: ‘Mellimoomoo specialises in unique and aesthetically beautiful toys and gifts that will inspire your children's imagination - while being gentle on the earth and its workers. We only stock ethically created products. Our designers, artisans and boutique producers are committed to fair trade working practices and are conscious of their impact on the environment. We oppose child labour and any form of worker exploitation.’
Organic, not really expensive, lovely quality, baby and kids toys. Also, a small range of vintage originals, clothes, arts and crafts, accessories for bedrooms and so on.

I like the descriptions of the products which tell you where they are from. Some are Australian made.

Mini Eco

Stocks a range of organic products, including soft toys, bpa-free rattles, wooden toys, toys for bigger kids, non-toxic craft supplies, cards and invitations, and organic lollies.

Mudd Kids

Most of the stock is children’s clothing, but there is also a collection of wooden toys, soft toys, books, pencils and cloth blocks . All the goods are organic and fair trade.

Multipowered Products

This is mostly a store for wind and solar powered tools and devices, and it includes a really really nifty section of solar powered toys. I imagine this fills a real gap in the toy market - it’s hard to see the modern child being endlessly satisfied with a rubber band powered wooden boat (though, maybe? what do I know?). This way they can have their whirly toys and there’s an educational and environmental upside.

They also have cool kits for making hydrolic lifts and solar powered robots and so on. I am actually all excited about getting one of these for Pearl (in about seven years time).

The Natural Newborn

As you may have guessed from the name, they sell organic toys for littlies. Cuddly toys, wooden toys, rattles and teethers.

Nature Play Australia

They stock a pretty extensive range of locally made, eco-friendly, wooden toys or dolls, dolls houses, farm toy, nature craft, wooden cars, trucks, and play stands. Also a range of sustainably made toys and games from around the world but in particular from Europe, Germany, and New Zealand including art supplies, certified organic babywear & baby toys, fair trade products, craft and Steiner Waldorf books, silks and lots more.

I like this site though it is not always easy to tell where something comes from and whether it is fair trade.


They stock educational toys. They are often plastic toys, and there is no information on where they are from. But... interesting toys.


They have a small but good range of fair trade games, balls, wooden toys and soft toys. It was particularly good to see the soccer balls as outdoor and active play toys are really hard to find.

Peanut Gallery

They say: ‘Our aim is to provide a broad selection of unique and traditional toys for kids aged birth to 8 that will be cherished by children and their parents alike. At a time when children are increasingly reliant on electronic devices and media for entertainment, we believe providing children with the right age-appropriate products, will foster their creativity, encourage use of their imaginations and build confidence in their own abilities.’

Peanut Gallery stocks wooden toys, educational products, dolls, pretend play equipment, musical instruments, toys for bath time, dress up clothes, games and books. You can search by age or by brand.
Unfortunately the product descriptions do not include information on where the toys are from or what they are made of. They don’t seem to stock Australian made or free trade toys. Random clicking shows toys from Germany, Poland, and the USA.

No plastic which is always a plus.

Rosie Pose

They say: ‘Rosie Pose is not just another online children’s boutique, we have a range of popular labels which you will recognize and love but we invite you to have a good browse as we specialise in Australian Made products and support small businesses here in Australia.’

The have stock for babies and kids to eight. The site is a pain to search but does have stylish though pricey items, including a range of organic toys and clothes.

Rudy and the Dodo

I find a by-line like ‘terribly fabulous stuff for little individuals’ profoundly annoying. It might as well say ‘stuff you can buy to make your child avatar look cool’.

And yet I am torn, because, in point of fact, they stock the kind of whimsical, funky stuff that I love. Randomly choosing the recommendations for three year olds, I see ‘I love Paris’ Eiffel Tower blocks which look pretty neat. Also Babushka doll hair clips, and a wooden Elephant game.

What I like absolutely the most are the craft and baking kits. Not eco-friendly, not organic, not fair traded, not made in Australia, and yet so stylish and fun-looking that I want to buy one straight away for some child of my acquaintance.

Sam’s Crafts

This is an Australian micro-business making wooden push-pull toys, blocks, ride on toys, cradles, etc. The prices are really quite good and the who-are-we section is endearing with its pictures of their workroom.


Fair trade goods, including toys for babies, novelties, dolls, and wooden toys. Really pretty stuff.

Special Friends

A micro business making fairly expensive but pretty cuddly Waldorf dolls.

Spiral Garden

A very hippy site, with Steiner toys. They stock dolls, craft, Debresk Swedish wooden vehicles, and some dolls hand made in Australia. Pricey.

Thinking Toys

The focus of this shop is on puzzles suitable for teens, educational toys, and wooden toys. The emphasis on teens is nice as almost none of the other stores carry goods for this age group.

They say: ‘We only supply toys and games that are environmentally friendly and safe (for age 3+). Most of our toys are made from plantation rubberwood (Hevea brasilensis) which is harvested at the end of its life and is now used for toys and furniture instead of being burned. It has very low shrinkage and warping qualities so it is ideal for use in toys, especially in the Australian climate.’

Tittle Tattle

Tittle Tattle is one of those stores that stock ‘unusual, quirky , fun & fabulous’ toys. One can’t help but think they are intended for the mother who likes to shop.

Nonetheless, cough, nice stuff, especially the puppets and theatres. They also stock educational games, puzzles, toys for infants, musical instruments, dolls, and wooden toys.

Their stock is imported and not organic. But not plastic.


Todae has all kinds of eco-products, including a small range of toys. I was particularly struck by the solar powered cars and toy houses and the water powered clock which are unusual and fun.

It is relatively easy to find organic dolls, but finding green options for children who prefer other forms of play is a lot harder.

The Toy Bug

They have a pretty big range - many educational toys, some made from natural materials. There are activity, books, building toys, games, puzzles, wooden toys, soft toys, musical instruments and pretend toys.

There’s no information on where they come from.

Tree Frog Toys

First off, a big shout out to Tree Frog Toys for sending me a really detailed email when I wrote to them about where their stock comes from.

They stock:

• Baby Toys - Safe, natural wooden toys and organic toys for baby
• Creative Toys - Eco friendly art and craft supplies for children of all ages
• Educational Toys - Wooden puzzles and preschool toys for curious kids
• Inspiring Toys - Wonderful wooden toys for imaginative and pretend play
• Green Toys - Eco toys, from wooden toys to innovative green toys for modern kids
• Wooden Toys - Heirloom quality, environmentally friendly wooden toys
• Fair Trade Toys - Eco friendly toys produced ethically under Fair trade conditions

Waldorf Dolls

This is a micro business. Dolls, nature tables and some craft products are made by hand in Western Australia. I’ve got to say these are seriously pricey dolls. The odds of me being happy with paying $150 for a rag doll? Not high.

Windmill Educational Toys

Windmill supplies educational toys and equipment, playground equipment, kindergarten equipment and supplies, quality toys, books and crafts for kids. The stock includes specialty items like teaching aids, furniture and toys for special needs children.

Astonishingly, this is a chain! More than one store! They have a really huge range. The downside is some plastic toys, not terribly green and it does not say where they come from but they appear to be imported.

Wood Puzzles

Hand made, Australian made jigsaws, toys, games, educational toys and children’s furniture.

World Wildlife Fund

They have a small range soft toys and puppets. Proceeds to a good cause.

Some other sites you might want to consider are ones that review handmade craft and green sites. Meta-sites, effectively.

Indie Art and Design

A weblog featuring products made by independent Australian artists, designers and craftspeople. Here you will find signposts to many wonderful items, which are not easily found through search engines alone.
You can search for toys (with emphasis on funky soft toys).

Made It

Hand made stuff made in Australia, includes a section on soft toys, reasonably priced and all from micro businesses.


This site reviews Australian hand made toy producers (and other sites).

Growing Up Green

Another overview site - beautiful graphics.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Five Minute Artisan Bread - Recipe Three


I have been working on my soups this year, and I have learnt a lot. I like to make the bread to go with soups too, and enjoy a lovely chewy artisan style by preference with soup. I find that sandwich bread tends towards mush, whereas artisan soup adds texture and flavour of it's own to an otherwise mushy (or pureed) dish.

I really like this dough for the simple reason that I can pull off as much or as little as I need, and let it rise and cook. There's not much wastage, and if I felt enthused I could make buns or sticks or anything. One day I could even make bowls out of bread for a good solid stoo.

I'm afraid this is the last post on *this* batch of dough. I did not finish the dough, there's still a good chunk left to use, but this is now past the 2 week limit. My diet has changed somewhat, and there's a lot less wheat at present! But when I start wheat again, I'll cover some of the other recipes.

Sarah P

Friday, September 18, 2009

Five Minute Artisan Bread - Recipe Two


I made the kids help put the toppings on, there's even tiny mini pizzas shaped by my 4yo. Yum!

Sarah P

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Maharajah's Chutney

This is a slowcooker recipe from "Year Round Recipes for Crockpots and Slowcookers," by Simon and Alison Holst. It's a rather lovely book, with good solid recipes that seem to suit my family and I. They tend to be tasty and reasonably cheap, and include a number of meals that are not just a stoo or soup. They do have some fantastic soups in here, though I have not tried any stoos.

This recipe is called Maharajah's Chutney, and I was pleased to discover it did look like thepicture in the book if I cooked it long enough. It's a standard chutney based on sultanas, onions, vinegar and spices, with a nice Indian tang to it.

I have used up all my small jam jars for this! Oops. The big jar is for home use, and the smaller ones will be for Christmas presents - if it lasts that long!

I found the chutney itself to be a tad grainy, but it's still acceptable. This particular chutney involved roasting and then pounding spices using the mortar and pestle. I was a bit worried it would be VERY grainey, since I have not had the best of luck with pounding coriander seeds into powder.

But this has worked out rather well, and goes brilliantly with ham, cheese, and wherever you might use a sweet chutney. The original recipe calls for chili, but with two small kids in the house I'm still avoiding having it in the house!

Sarah P

Friday, September 11, 2009

Stage Two of Worcestershire Sauce

Now we wait for two weeks!

Random sampling at present says "It's not as salty as Worcestershire sauce, but very good."

Sarah P

Monday, September 07, 2009

Sprouted Nourishment

Sally Fallon's back to basics cook book Nourishing Traditions is an inspirational guide to old school nutrition. And when I say back to basics I don't mean like the CWA cook book (thought that is an absolute gem in itself) I mean really back to traditional ways of preparing food for maximum nutritional benefit. It is a bit scary to think that to return to the practices discussed in the book would require a complete overhaul of our current popular methods of food preparation.

Now that I am no longer pregnant and the consequences of mildly poisoning myself are not quite so huge I am planing to slowly and steadily introduce these practices into my kitchen.

This weeks adventure into nutrient enhanced food is... sprouts!

I have been looking forward to getting back into sprouting for a while now (sprouts are one of the foods recommended against during pregnancy due to food poisoning risk (I think salmonella? maybe listeria??) Mind you, I do wonder which risk is greater during pregnancy--food poisoning or malnutrition considering how many generally healthy foods are recommended against at this time... but that is another post entirely...)

So, yes, where was I? Oh yes, sprouts. Basically sprouting takes food that is already pretty good--legumes, grains, nuts and seeds--and by letting it do what it does naturally, it decreases the harmful chemicals and increases the available nutrients. Fallon writes:

The process of germination not only produces vitamin C but also changes the composition of grain and seeds in numerous beneficial ways. Sprouting increases vitamin B content, especially B2, B5 and B6. Carotene increases dramatically--sometimes eightfold. Even more important, sprouting neutralizes phytic acid, a substance present in the bran of all grains that inhibits the absorption of calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc; sprouting also reduces enzyme inhibitors present in all seeds.
She also mentions that sprouts are easier to digest than unsprouted grains/seeds as they have an increase in digestive enzymes and a reduction in gas causing complex sugars.

Fallon adds a few cautions, she recommends against the over consumption of raw sprouts, advising light steaming instead, and also recommends against the eating of alfalfa saying that this seed can inhibit the immune system and also contribute to inflammatory arthritis and lupus.

Another great thing about sprouts is that they dramatically increase the volume of your food substance, making them an extremely economical way to prepare the food source. The picture above is of mung bean sprouts--I started with a handful of dried mung beans, soaked overnight then rinsed in clean water twice a day and three days later had a jar full of food.

Also, they are actually incredibly tasty. Even monkey moo will eat them!

Ruminations on the Vegie Patch - Supply and Demand

The old garden bed is still going. I have put in potatoes in one end, and in the other I will probably be putting in either herbs or some of the many seedlings I have growing. The eggplants suffered quite a lot during a snail plague, and unfortunately I had to dump the cauliflower and broccoli that were growing, partially due toimmense snail damage, but also my old friends the aphids.

I have been thinking occasionally on emergency plans. Diggers offers an emergency seed kit to people with a healthcare card. A healthcare card is a card you can access if you earn below a certain income, and gets your pharmaceuticals and other bills cheaper than usual. The seed packets boast hundreds of kilos of food from nine packets, and is very cheap. Diggers also have a very cheap support your family kit for $20, which is what I purchased last year.

I found that there's a requirement for intensive farming and planning to be able to make use of it as instructed, and a lot of the mass weight came from lettuce. While we like lettuce somewhat, we're not about to start living on it, and this once againt drew my attention to the great divide between what we have and what we want.

The big problems with budgeting food and developing a garden is supply and demand. If the silverbeet is the only thing in season, then you need to be eating silverbeet. And if it's the only thing ready for a week, then you're going to run out of ways you can prep it up and serve it up. Whether it's you or the family who hits the point of ENOUGH first, it's going to happen. So no only do we need to think of fresh vegetables and boredom, but we also need to consider - do we know what to do with excess harvest when we get it?

So not only do we need to learn what grows well in our backyards, and how to look after it, and grow it, and stop bugs getting to it, but we also need to learn to plan well in advance so we *don't* end up eating silverbeet for three weeks running, and if we do, find ways to preserve it for times when you want silverbeet, and it's not fresh. It's easier, of course, to go down to Coles or Woollies and buy something, but it feels like a hollow traitorous act.

Diggers also have a self sufficiency plan free for use. Link here:

In the Diggers book they provide illustrations about where you can slide in a square metre of vegies, cane plants or fruit trees. I find this all to be a very handy tool as I stumble about in my apprenticeship, struggling to learn everything I can while I have the luxury of time.

If we suddenly had no source of income, I would invest in Asian greens. Fast to grow, minimal space, I can stirfy them a thousand ways. I love eggplants, they have been prolific and a good support for a lot of dishes. I am finding the celery to be very useful in my quest to make better soups. I can't stand to eat it, but it does season stocks beautifully. I love the flat leafed parsley I have, so would love to develop my herb garden some more. We've bought the pots for our grape vines, so they will be in very shortly.


Friday, September 04, 2009

Strawberry Surprise!

Yesterday I went to my local veggie shop looking particularly for cheap produce that I could buy in bulk for cooking, pureeing and freezing and that sort of thing. I came home with, among other things, a case of local strawberries. All up there are 15 punnets, which equals 3.75kg of strawberries, at a total cost of $6.90--considering I paid nearly this much for 2 punnets last week I snapped the box up right away. I think they were cheap because they are the small variety, which for me is a bonus rather than a negative because smaller = tastier.

I have put a few punnets aside for eating as is, and de-leaved and washed a few punnets for freezing and making into ice cream (we have one of those niffty juicers that you put frozen fruit into and it comes out as ice cream). I am thinking there will be some frozen fruit kebabs happening in our near future and maybe some choc dipped strawberries.

That leaves about 2kg to play with. Most will probably be frozen for later use, but I'd love to hear peoples best strawberry ideas--the easier the better!

Coles Seasonal Vegetable Box

What's in the box??

A few days ago I ordered Coles delivery as I stuffed my knee, and the last thing I wanted to do was wander around a supermarket for 2 hours while hobbling. Since my preferred stupidmarket doesn't deliver to me, I usually go with GroceryZone, but this time I thought I would give Coles a try. Coles only recently started to deliver in my area.

My first hint that this was a well thought out concept was booking a delivery time. A two hour delivery window was $13, a three hour delivery window was $11, and a four hour delivery window was $9. I think 2 hours of my time is definitely worth $4.50 an hour! I hate shopping. Did you know that? I do. I love delivery. I like to do my grocery shopping monthly, and my fresh fruit and veg during the month. I hate shopping so much I'd rather meal plan and get it all done in one big shop so I don't have to do it again. I resent wandering around a stupidmarket, making faces at all the food. I must amuse some people if they notice!

Another thing I liked - when I checked out, it told me that a) my credit card would be debited once the order was picked and packed, and that if I wanted to, I could log in and change the order up until mid-day the day before delivery. I logged in three separate times over the weekend to add 'just one more thing'!

I hate Coles. I have always found their vegetables to be awful, and the range to be uninspiring. Coles is not the cheapest, and it doesn't have what gourmet items I do like, so Woollies has always received less ire from me. I don't like it, but I hate Woollies less than Coles!

And Coles has Seasonal Vegetable Boxes! I was so excited! I love random boxes of fruit and veg, and have been a part of a couple of co-ops, and also companies which deliver boxes of random F&F many a time. Some just stopped delivery for some reason, or others let their quality slip, so I was ecstatic when the Armadale Farmers Market started up recently. So, I ticked the box, and waited with great excitement.

Getting boxes of random vegetables are a great way to expand your recipe repertoire, and also to make sure you EAT MORE VEGETABLES. Getting the fortnightly boxes FULL of vegies meant that we also had a deadline! These days we're much better at it, but sometimes we slip.

I am impressed. I am very impressed. All of the vegetables were top quality, and there is heaps.

1 x whole cabbage
1 x medium zucchini
4 x onions
4 x carrots
4 x potatoes
2 x broccoli
1/4 punkin (Like I need more. I still haven't bothered to catalogue the ROI on my single pumpkin plant)
1 x red capsicum
1 x green capsicum
1 x punnet of mushrooms

I love the fact there's basics as well as more exciting items. I love the fact there's a red capsicum and a green capsicum. I love the fact there's a mix of stuff that will last quite a while and stuff that needs to be used ASAP.

Coles, I hate to say it, but I'm impressed. Now I'm all sad because WOOLLIES SHOULD HURRY UP AND FOLLOW YOUR LEAD! And give me Rewards points too LOL

Also, for those who do the Flybuys thing, Coles will put your flybuys onto your account with online shopping.

So I would have to give Coles an 'AWESOMECOOKIES!' rating for their home delivery service. If they had a partnership with Qantas, I'd totally be all over them.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Five Minute Artisan Bread - Recipe One

Five Minute Artisan bread after a few days and one recipe.

This is a basic flat bread. I pulled off tiny balls of dough, literally about 2 tablespoons full, dumped lots of flour on top and rolled them as flat as possible before frying in a non-stick frying pan with a tiny bit of oil.

It was just a snack, so we ate them with jam on top, and they were lovely.

Sarah P

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Introducing mini moo

You may have noticed that I have not been blogging much lately. Well, this would be why:

Mini moo was born on the 23rd August, at the convenient time of 1:30pm. She is 4.25kg, 55cm long, and has a head full of blondy-brown hair.

My favourite things so far are the way she curls her toes around my finger when I tickle her feet, and the way she raises her eyebrows when she feeds as if to say 'ooh, something interesting is happening here!'

In other news, Mr X just gave an excited yell, which I take it to mean he has secured second place in his footy tipping comp--a big week all round for the household :)

Five Minute Artisan Bread

Simple Savings also brought this amazing idea to me - Five Minute Artisan Bread. I was amused by my bread section in my home made recipe book - 24 Hour Bread, One Hour Bread, and then Five Minute Bread.

The theory behind this bread is that you whip up a batch, let it sit for 2 - 5 hours, and then stick it in the fridge. When you need bread, you pull out as much as you think you will need, shape it, let it rise and then cook in a very hot, moist oven, and tada! Five minutes is the shaping time.

This bread can be used to make Naan bread, pitas, flatbread, loaves, frybread, fougasse, buns, baguettes, and pizza.

There are now a couple of books on these breads. This is a standard slow rise bread, and the authors recommend re-using the dough remnants to make the next batch develop the sour dough style flavours faster. The dough keeps in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Another bread is a brioche style, using a dozen eggs to enrich the dough, and also has a shelf life in the fridge of 2 weeks.

The books are now available on Amazon, and a number of people have had success asking their libraries to find them copies. Once the basics are down, this seems like a very handy, and very easy, thing to have in your fridge at all times.

More information:

Sarah P

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Home Made Christmas Gifts Part One

Home Made Worcestershire Sauce

This is yet another recipe from Simple Savings. Oops, looks like I forgot the bottle of treacle from the pic! Ah well.

The original recipe is for 2 litres of vinegar, but since I only had a half a jar of treacle, this worked out well, so I halved the recipe. I don't use a lot of Worcestershire sauce, and since this is an untried recipe I didn't want to make gallons of it. I have a couple of pretty bottles ready to go, plus I have a planned trip to Plasdene to look at what sort of options we have. Christmas this year is going to be awesome!

So far the recipe has used stuff I already had in the cupboard, or else provided by friends. (Lemons) so has been very frugal indeed. I have had the treacle for a long time now, and wasn't sure what to do with it. Yay, I have that space back!

So now I stir it once a day for six days, and then we see if it's any good! I'll post the proper recipe when I post the finished product, and a review.

Spring is Around the Corner!

Spring! It's coming... fast some days and slow on others.

I managed to fail on the 'labelling of seed trays' front, and so I am guessing as to what has come up and what hasn't (yet). We have the Digger's tomatoes, Punkin Delicata, Australian Butter Punkin, Ha-ogen rockmelons, beans and peas. We planted them only about 2 weeks ago, and now look!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Birthday Cake!

The Big V turned four a couple of weeks ago! I can't believe it! Four! Years! Old!

When he was born, he was so tiny. His eyes were so huge! And black. I remember when he was just a few hours old, lying in bed between us and looking up at us with these huge obsidian eyes. I think I lost myself in those depths, and I'm glad I never found my way out!

So, birthdays. Cake: yes. Party pies: yes. Cocktail franks: yes. Lolly bags: yes. And OH MY GOSH the balloons. I have renamed myself Killer of Balloons after today where I popped about twenty sad, sick little balloons. Chesh made this cake, I'm pleased to say! I'm not the only talented cook in the house!

We've been sick on and off for about 8 weeks before the renewal (a month ago) and now I have been sick on and off for the last month as well. I have been diagnosed as having a gallstone, and so my energy levels have been very low. We bought pretty much everything for the birthday party, and the lovely Linstar was an absolute champion and made a rather awesome brownie stack and cob loaf and all sorts of extra yummies.

Unfortunately, my gallstone decided that the party was a great time to attack me again, and I spent most of it stoned. And while this may sound like a great party for some, I really like my life and would rather not be stoned while it happens thanks. Time and place and all that guff. Having said that, oh thank goodness for painkillers!

Now we're all on Baby-Watch, waiting waiting waiting. My sickness and gallstone meant i couldn't be onsite for Sarah X's new addition to the family, but we can all hurry up and wait for a baby no matter what side of the continent we're on. My goodness life has been exciting this year!

I have been spending a lot of time reading the Simple Savings website again, and I have been working on a recipe I found there. When I'm happy with it, I'll be posting some pics and some ideas!

Sarah P

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Baking and Bread

It's been a baking kind of week around here. At the beginning of the week, I heard about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, and was so excited to try it out! So, I have been making bread all week, and while in the groove of things I have been baking other stuff too.

Tonight we had Mexican for dinner. I used some home made baked beans, added heaps of cumin, served with a home made salsa and fresh tomato, lettuce and cheese, on what is basically a frybread made using the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day recipe. Now I am thinking I want to get my hands onto the actual book!

I love ciabatta style chewy loaves, and this loaf fits that bill quite nicely. It's a bit dense, but since I'm just using black and gold white flour, I'm not surprised. It's crusty and yummy, just how I like it. I have been eyeing off recipes in Jamie's Italy, which has heaps of old ciabatta bread ideas.

This summer is going to be a Summer of Salads. I have been experimenting already. Expect a post a week as we explore all sorts of exciting salads.

Sarah P

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pumpkins Pumpkins and More Pumpkins

So, I have four pumpkins. Plus the little baby one.

Outstanding: $170.00
May the 14th: $46.50
Total Cost (still) : $123.50

The pumpkins are valued at $11 each at the web page I am using for comparison, so I guess that's $44 I can take off the total owing.

Outstanding: $123.50
May the 28th: $44
Total Cost (still) : $79.50



I have been a bit busy!

Sarah P

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Butternut Pumpkin Ahoy!

Have I mentioned how much I love pumpkins? I don't know why I find them so fascinating. I just do. I love the flavour of pumpkins, love cooking with them, and it turns out I love growing them too.

This is my second butternut this year. The first one was 2 kilos, a good solid size and beautifully sweet. We had half as a soup and half as chunks roasted with vegeta seasoning, and it was lovely. This little... er... big honey is still whole. I've put it her away for future thought!

I've also been harvesting the Maximas too. One of our maximas was swinging from the vine, and eventually the pumpkin grew big enough that it was dropped. It was almost 19 pounds of pumpkin! We got enthused, and have now harvest the next three of similar size. I now have over 30 kilos of Maxima pumkpkin (a Queensland Blue from the look of things) sitting in my backyard... looking pumpkinny. I think I will give one of these babies to the woman who gave us the seedling! And there's still another ten smaller pumpkins growing! Good thing I love them so.

Anyway, on to what we are here for - the ROI of my garden.

So... what have I harvested since I last updated? Ihave been giving away eggplants left right and centre. There's been 11 good sized eggplants going now. Still beautiful. It looks like the eggplants will continue through winter, so next year I won't even lose any time to adolescent growth. Good thing I like eggplants!

So, 11 eggplants at $3 as they are bigger than the previous harvests. I cut some broccolli, but only one was viable. So we had that in dinner. Unfortunately, the aphids appear to have destroyed the rest of the crop. I could have eaten the stalks, on further reflection, as they are excellent stirfry vegies. I realised this after I have pulled up most of them and put them into the compost bin. Oops. And 3 kilos of butternut pumpkin. Butternuts are going for $3.49 a kilo at Woolies.

Eggplants: 11 x $3 = $33
Broccoli: 1 x $3.99= $3
Butternut Pumpkin: 3 x 3.49 = $10.50

So, together we have: $46.50

I'll tally the maximas up properly later.

Outstanding: $170.00
May the 14th: $46.50
Total Cost (still) : $123.50

So, we still haven't quite recovered costs yet. I think the maxima punkins will definitely put a big dent in the remaining money, and there's still tomatoes being grown, I have just failed to harvest them. I am thinking of planting potatoes where the broccoli were, to make sure of the next few seasons while the eggplants still produce.

We have a new bed in place now, so there's twice as much fun to be had in the garden!

Sarah P

Monday, May 04, 2009

Vegie Win!

Tonight's dinner was awesome! Chesh and I have a couple of favourite Japanese restaurants - the kind of places where we always order exactly the same thing every time. One of these places is Mr Samurai, who does an amazing Tempura B special, which is tempura made of julienne carrot, potato and onion with a drizzle of a sweet and soy sauce, rice, and kara-age. That's what I have every time I go! Chesh has the beef rice bowl, which I believe I have already mastered!

Over the weekend I went to a lovely Hen's Night in a Japanese resturaunt, and one of the many many tiny entrees they served was a tempura fried eggplant with a dollop of tonkatsu sauce. Since I happen to be giving away eggplants more often than I am eating them, I was excited to find a new way of serving it. And it was good, but the other tempura was definitely the star of this dinner!

Mr Samurai Tempura

1 egg
1 cup flour
1 cup icey water

Vegetables - all in similar lengths and widths, julienned (matchstick size)
One small onion
One medium potato
One carrot
One eggplant, other vegies, or even a couple of prawns.

Drizzling Sauce
Soy sauce
drop of sesame oil

Slice and dice your vegies. I chunked the eggplant up, and used the above batter for all of the vegies in this recipe, and the eggplant. I wanted thick chunks for the eggplant to provide a bit more aesthetic appeal, and to be able to withstand uncertain frying. I'm still learning the ins and outs of frying, but after tonight I am very happy!

Make the drizzling sauce by mixing the three items together. I microwaved it for 20 seconds to loosen the honey up.
Put the rice cooker on.
Start the oil heating for deep frying.

Make the batter last. It should still be cold when you are frying. This gives it the tempura lightness and crispiness. You just mix it up. It should still be lumpy.

Do the eggplant or extra vegies first, dipping them into the batter and then dropping them into the oil. If you are doing prawns, do them last. Also, if you want the traditionally straight prawns, you need to use a skewer with each prawn.

Once that is all done and cooling, chuck in the julienned vegies. I dried mine a little with a tea towel first, since I had kept them in water, and then used a hand to mix them up and then put small handfuls into the oil.

When all done, serve with steamed rice, and drizzle the sauce over the top! We served the eggplant with a homestyle tonkatsu sauce.

How simple, and yet awesome, is that? All I need now is some sesame icecream, and life would be perfect!


Friday, May 01, 2009

Aphids Suck!

Aphids have destroyed almost all of my broccoli. We ate some of it, but most of it looks very unhappy.



We have been planning to get backyard chickens for a while now, and we got the plan into action this week after finding out that Monkey Moo's day care centre were having Henny Penny chicken hatching this week. Henny Penny is a company that supplies schools and other appropriate businesses with eggs and an incubator so that kids can see and learn about the hatching process The chicks hatch and stay at the venue in a special cage for 12 days and then they are given away to any parents that want to take them home, and any left are taken back by the Henny Penny franchisee and given to a farm.

I had been planning to get a couple of herritage breed hens, but decided this was too good an opportunity to pass up. Although they are hybrids, all the breeds they listed as using--autralorps, black and white leghorns, sussex, and lohmanns--were ones I would like and are egg laying breeds, so we decided to take our chances.

They were not sexed at hatching, so it was a case of taking a bunch and playing rooster lotto--apparently now we will not be able to tell the hens from the roosters until about 6-8 weeks of age, at which time we will re-home the roosters and/or excess hens.

In the end we decided to take six, two of each kind available, two blackies, two yellowies and two brownie/yellowies. I am not sure what breeds they are, I have tried searching google images for clues but I am not really finding any difinitive answers there. I am really looking forward to seeing what they grow into.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Garden Project

The garden has had a lot of work done this week, but this post right now is about the cost analysis of the original haybale. We had a huge garden bee this weekend, and we are now the proud care-takers of a second raised bed garden, this one made with corrugated iron instead
of hay.

But back to the current garden.

Garden was started on the 13th of November.
Cost of Garden: $278
Dec 15th: Saved: $2
Total Cost $276

February 5th: $31.96
Total cost: $244.04

Since the above tally, we've had more! More more more!

One large butter-nut pumpkin has been plucked. About three kilos of tomatoes. 11 more decent sized eggplants. Eggplants have been so awesome. We got a HUGE watermelon, but it wasn't very sweet. Next time... there's three more coming along!

$22 - eggplants
$21.54 (3 x $7.18) roma, cherry, and other tomatoes
$6 of Butternut Pumpkin (2 kilos at $3 a kilo)
$20 of Watermelon. The website I am using for comparisons is
GroceryZone, and they have seedless half watermelons at $13. So a whole watermelon would be $26. But it wasn't the sweetest, so I've just guessed it at $20.
$2.88 for another bunch of beetroot roasted with balsamic vinegar and
enjoyed greatly.
$1.59 Zucchini x 1


Outstanding: $244.04
March 30th: $74.04
Total Cost (still) : $170.03

What's still coming? The broccoli are all starting to flower. The eggplants are going ballistic again. There's a trombone shaped butter nut pumpkin coming along beautifully, and two mature sized maxima pumpkins plus another two developing very nicely (past the football size). There's still more tomatoes on the plants, and more watermelons developing too. Plus the cabbages will probably start to develop shortly too. I was hoping to use this bed in the new bed, but I think this one will be going for quite some time yet!

Sarah P

Zucchini and Eggplant Stirfry

- Trio ginger/garlic/spring onions
- Oil
- 100ish grams of beef mince

- one smallish/medium sized eggplant in one inch cubes
- one zucchini in one inch cubes
- can water chestnuts, drained

Sauce (mix up ready to go)
- 125 mls chicken stock
- 125 mls chicken master stock (or just use normal chicken stock)
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons kecap manis
- 2 tablespoons CHILI BEAN IN SOYA OIL
- 1 tablespoon Chinese vinegar

- Cornflour slurry to thicken

1) heat wok, add oil, add trio, fry for ten seconds, add beef mince as
crumbled as possible. Let it fry for a bit until it's mostly brown,
and then start tossing it about a bit to make sure it's all done.

2) Add vegies and stirfry for a few minutes, tossing around. Add sauce
and bring to boil with lid on. Maybe 5 minutes? Then take lid off and
check it out. Eggplant should be mostly done, so stir it around a bit
more to release more water from the sauce and finalise cooking.
Eggplant should be in cubes still, not turned into mush. (I have
learnt a lot about cooking eggplants LOL)

3) Add slurry, stifry until it's thick and done, put in serving plate.
I had fresh chopped spring onion greens on top, but I think a drizzle
of toasted sesame oil would be the perfect trick. Chesh also suggested
toasted sesame seeds instead of oil.

Sarah P

Friday, March 27, 2009

Autumn Harvests

Autumn seems to have brought a sudden new lease on life in the garden. The eggplants have started to produce waves of fat black globes again, the watermelons now have three babies, and the pumpkins are getting very excited about the cooler weather. I'm still not sure when I am
supposed to harvest all these produce, but I'm learning.

Sarah P

Friday, March 06, 2009

Semi Dried Tomatoes

I had a whole lot of tomatoes in left over from my weekly veggie box last week, a mix of lovely little cherry tomatoes and some beautifully sweet black russians. One of the fun things about the random veggie box is thinking of things to do with the produce that you might not have normally gone out and bought. We are not huge tomato eaters in this family, owing mostly to their high salicylate and amine content, so while I have used a few in stews and sauces I still had plenty left over.Washed and chopped and into the dehydrator they went.

Several hours later I put the shriveled little red lumps into a jar and drowned them in olive oil and added a few cloves of garlic...


Friday, February 27, 2009


One of our staple snacks around here are cups of fruit juice jelly. Vegetarians avert you eyes.

I make a few batches per week and they are great for lunch boxes and just all round anytime snacks. The recipe I use is adapted from one I found on Pecan Bread, but I do it a little differently, mostly because I have been unable to find gelatin without preservative 220 in it, so I boil it to get rid of that. It is pretty simple, but it took me a while to find the right method for me so I thought I would share it here. Apart from the 220, which should boil off, if you use pure juice they are sugar and additive free.

Fruit Jelly Cups
2 tbs powdered gelatin
2 cups of water
2 cups of fruit juice (any flavour)

Boil one cup of water and mix with the gelatin in a saucepan. Boil rapidly for a few minutes. Remove from heat and add the second cup of cold water and the two cups of cold fruit juice. Stir until well combined and pour into molds. Set in fridge. Because it is made with mostly cold liquids it sets quite quickly.

So far I have only used bottled juices but I am looking forward to trying it with fresh pressed pear and apple juice.