A little less plastic

I’ve been trying to reduce how much plastic I use and then have to throw away.

I do recycle both hard and soft plastics, I don’t use plastic carrier bags in supermarkets, and now, I won’t need to use those flimsy single-use produce bags any more, hurray! I’ve put together a set of netting produce bags in different sizes, with a drawstring top. Washable, light and easy to see through. They can live in my heavy insulated fabric shopping bags. They’ll be getting a test run shortly, and if all is well, I’ll make a batch more.

I had an old roll of mosquito netting which was perfect for this, being stretchy and non-fraying, and there’s still plenty left for more bags, or replacements when these get a bit tired or start falling apart. The drawstrings are shoe laces, and I used a sewing machine stitch which combines a straight line and a zigzag to finish the edges a little – they don’t need it, but I like things tidy 🙂

I got the idea from Celia at Fig Jam & Lime Cordial. She’s a bit of a green superstar and recycling warrior among her many other talents, and her blog is well worth following if you don’t already do so.

Hmm. I think I need some different shapes. Rhubarb, cucumbers, kale, stuff like that…


We’re on the road again

Miz Lizzie is packed, our schedule is planned and printed, and we’re off.

We’re heading north once again, into a fortnight of gastronomic indulgence, experimentation, and purchase. We’ll be staying at two caravan parks we haven’t tried before but which come highly recommended.

Part 1 of the trip is from Mackay to just north of Townsville, at Rollingstone, where the van park has absolute beach frontage. We’ll be there a couple of days. Part 2 is Rollingstone to Redlynch in the north of Cairns, right where the rainforest rolls down to touch the edge of the city. It’s not what we’d call a long trip. To put it in some context, it’s like driving from London to Inverness, or from the bottom of Florida to the top. It’s just far enough that we’re really on holiday, the scenery’s different and yet, it’s not an arduous journey when we have to turn for home. (And despite a recent news story from the US that left Australians giggling, yes, all that is definitely just one country, and by the way, only a bit smaller than yours… 🙂 )

I’ll be photographing, blogging, tasting, sampling, buying, eating, stitching, oohing and aahing. You’re welcome along for the ride. As always with our trips, there’ll be pictures and descriptions. We’re looking forward to it a lot as we’re both a bit tired and ready for a break. It’s been a while since we had a decent chunk of time off – May last year to be exact, when we went down to Nambucca Heads in northern NSW.

And because each road trip needs a sound track, here’s Miz Lizzie’s theme song:

Dizzy Miz Lizzie

(There’s a version with John Lennon and Eric Clapton performing this too, but I prefer the 1958 original)

Cultivating the tiny

I’m giving fermentation another go.

I’ve tried fermentation before, with zero success. The red cabbage, apple and capsicum mixture that should have been tangy and tasty… wasn’t. It went nowhere. I could not achieve a bubbly result, despite following instructions to the letter, using filtered water and special non-iodised sea salt. Zilch. I moved on.

Six months ago, I got an infection of helicobacter pylori, the bug that lives in your stomach, gives you stomach ulcers and can, if not treated, lead long term to stomach cancer. It wasn’t nice, but the treatment was worse: brutally efficient, effectively wiping out most of my colony of useful gut bacteria. Since then, I’ve struggled a bit with my internal economy, and finally, I decided it was time to repopulate.

The other day, I acquired a dried kefir starter culture. I like yoghurt a lot, and kefir has a similar flavour profile, but about a million times more good bacteria if home made. (Commercial types tend to be pasteurised, which destroys most of the bugs you want.) Having made and enjoyed my kefir, I let a small second batch over-ferment so it started to separate into curds and whey. I tipped the whey off, and this was my starter for fermented vegies. You use one tablespoon of live whey per 500ml of filtered water, and this is the liquid in which you submerge your chopped, sliced or shredded vegies. I’m not a huge salt fan, and salt fermentation produces a result I find too strongly flavoured – sauerkraut being a case in point. The mild tang of whey fermentation is much more palatable and enjoyable, in my opinion. While the salt does keep the vegies crisper, it’s a benefit I’m willing to sacrifice for a flavour I prefer.

This is my setup: a large 2 litre glass spring-top jar, filled in this case with shredded red cabbage, small cauliflower florets and thinly sliced carrot batons. I tried the old folded cabbage leaf on the top trick to hold things under water, but the mixture was too lively, and when I came downstairs in the morning, the jar was sitting in a large puddle of pink liquid and the leaf was high and dry. So now I have a small glass jar filled with water as a weight. It’s just slightly less in diameter than the mouth of the big jar, so it will let the fermentation gases escape around the outside, but it’s heavy enough to keep everything down under water so nothing nasty can start growing. As the mixture ferments and air bubbles are released, the weight slowly sinks and liquid escapes. Once it reaches the flavour I like, I shall cap the jar and keep it refrigerated to slow everything right down. The liquid from the jar can be used as a starter for the next brew, or I can start fresh with whey from my kefir.

I’m happy to report that my insides seem to be enjoying the new regime now that my biome is being restored.

Amazing what a difference such tiny creatures can make.


Barbecue pulled pork, double quick

A while ago, I wrote extolling the virtues of my Schlemmertopf clay pot.

Sadly, a few months ago my $3 purchase cracked and fell apart when I put it on a surface that wasn’t quite insulated enough. Conflict between screamingly hot Schlemmertopf and room temperature metal trivet = catastrophic breakage. I’ve learned my lesson: the clay pot and its lid should always be put down on a thick layer of folded towel/oven mitt/pot holder. Having experienced the joys of clay pot cooking, I wasn’t prepared to do without one, so eBay to the rescue, and I’m now the proud owner of a Römertopf, the gold standard of clay pots. It’s much the same creature, except that it has the virtue of a glazed interior in the lower half so is much easier to clean, and it doesn’t retain odours so much as liquid from the inside doesn’t seep into the clay.

Well. We had the family coming round on Saturday night. What to feed them? I’d seen a Food Channel program on various US Southern-style barbecue dishes which didn’t actually involve a barbecue. It was all about flavour: rubs, sauces, long slow cooking. I wondered if some of the long and slow bit could be reduced by using the Römertopf.

That’ll be a yes… Result: tender, juicy, tasty pulled pork in 2 hours rather than 4. I did a Memphis-style version, using a dry rub rather than coating the meat with a wet marinade. On the side I served a home made barbecue sauce which, incidentally, is da bidness with ham, chicken, cheese, sausage…. well, you get the idea.

Oh, and the bread roll is home made, too…

Memphis-style pulled pork:

1 x 2kg (4½ pound) boned pork shoulder with all the fat and skin
ÂĽ cup smoked sweet paprika
2 tblsp packed dark brown sugar
salt & pepper, good grind of each
½ – 1 tsp finely chopped red chilli, to taste
2 finely chopped cloves of garlic
Mix all these ingredients together. Take your boned pork shoulder, and fillet off the skin, reserving it for later. Score the remaining fat, then rub the meat all over with the seasoning mix. Put in a dish, cover with a lid or plastic wrap and leave in the fridge for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. 2½ hours before you serve, soak your Römertopf in cold water for half an hour, and remove the meat from the fridge. Place the meat in the soaked clay pot, fat side up. Put it in a cold oven, then set at Gas 6/200°C/400°F for 2 hours. Remove from the oven, shred with 2 forks and leave to absorb the juices while you prepare the rest of the meal. Serves 6, with leftovers if they’re not too greedy.

I scored, oiled and salted the skin and roasted it in the oven on a rack, over a tray of white and sweet potato, pumpkin and carrot. The rendering fat basted the vegies and the crackling was thin, blistered and mega-crispy. Oh man…

Barbecue sauce:

½ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup tomato sauce (ketchup)
ÂĽ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tsp smooth French mustard
2 tsp smoked sweet paprika
salt & pepper
½ – 1  red chilli, finely diced, to taste
½ small brown onion, finely diced
1 tblsp pomegranate molasses*
knob of butter
SautĂ© the onion and chilli in the butter. Add the sugar and tomato sauce, the mustard, paprika, salt and pepper and blend together with a wooden spoon. Add the apple cider vinegar and pomegranate molasses and stir in. Simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes, then place in the goblet of a stick blender and blend on full power till smooth. If the mix is too thick, you could add a teaspoon of water or sherry to slacken it. You want a consistency that will stick to the spoon and need to be shaken off, rather than a runny sauce. Serve on the side with the pork. It will keep for a good while in the fridge in a jar, due to the amount of sugar and vinegar in the mixture, which act as natural preservatives. But I can tell mine isn’t going to last, judging by how lavishly it’s getting used on just about every meat and sandwich right now…

*You could leave this out if you don’t have any, but it adds a tremendous tangy sweetness. Worth hunting out for all sorts of uses.

Anyway, the meal was enthusiastically consumed, and best of all, I still have leftovers of both the sauce and the pulled pork. You could do it the long way, in a roasting pan with the meat tightly covered with foil, roasted long and low. That’d be just as tasty.

It’s just that I prefer a slightly more instant gratification…


Miz Lizzie Adventures: a food safari

It was our last day here at Nambucca Heads, and we’ve tried to make the most of it.

This morning we took off into the wilds and went to Eungai Creek Buffalo Farm. Wilds is an exaggeration, of course, but it’s unspoilt bush and farmland, reached by a partly unsealed road. They raise water buffalo for milk and meat, show visitors around the farm and have a rather nice little cafĂ© where you can sample both. I’ve come away with a tub of buffalo mozzarella in brine, and we enjoyed a coffee and a small scoop of buffalo gelato, flavoured with Davidson plum, spice and chilli. I have to say, it was luscious and the flavour was outstanding. I don’t regret the subsequent tummy ache at all (being lactose intolerant means no ice cream, mostly). The view from the cafĂ© is peaceful, and beautiful so long as you’re not looking at the muck spreader in action in the yards! Still, on a working farm, you’ve got to expect some rural-type activities, haven’t you?

On the way back, we nipped into Macksville, and visited MacNuts, who process and roast locally-grown macadamias. They sell about 10 different flavours, including my personal grand champion, the dark chocolate coated ones, plus macadamia oil, macadamia butter and macadamia oil-based personal care products. You won’t be surprised to learn that we came away with samples…

We decided to treat ourselves to a final lavish lunch overlooking the sea and the V-Wall, a rock sea wall which has been made available by the local council for decoration by the public. It’s surprisingly tasteful and harmonious, given the human propensity for ugly graffitti, and has become a bit of a tourist destination, both to look and to leave your mark 🙂

We’re mostly packed up, just a few things left to put away in the morning, ready for our first 500+ km stage on the long journey home. It’s starting to get a bit chilly here, so heading north to Mackay’s warmer climate is looking fairly attractive!

It’s been a lovely holiday, peaceful and restful. Such a pity we have to get back to harsh reality!

Clean food

By which I mean food free of things which do not nourish. Like pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, etc.

We’re trying to pay more attention to what we eat, and changing the nature of the things we put in our mouths. It has been months since I opened the sugar jar, and I’ve actually moved it out of the kitchen and into the store room. We’re buying heaps more vegetables, to the point where I’ve had to fire up the second fridge again; the weather’s too hot and humid here to keep them out of a refrigerated area. It’s paying off, we both feel better, sleep better and have less wobbly stuff to try and cram into our clothes. But up to now, it’s been a bit of a struggle to find some foods that are more rather than less as nature intended.

Until today. We have discovered a new Farmer’s Market which has been going for a short while in a lovely spot next to the Pioneer river in the centre of town. As this is still so soon after Christmas, there weren’t too many stalls yet, but I’m told that going forward, many others will return after their Christmas break.

On sale we saw: Home made jams, sauces and pickles; culinary and dessert sauces and locally made rum liqueur; freshly caught local seafood and fish; local garlic and herbs; local salads and greens; local pineapples, picked that morning; local pumpkins and zucchini; local jakfruit, watermelons, sugar bananas, pawpaws and mangoes; organic grass-fed, biodynamic pork, beef, bacon, sausages and proper pastured free range eggs; local musicians and coffee stalls, and more…

clean-foodI love a good porky snag (sausage, if you’re not an Aussie), so I bought a pack of them from Freckle Farm: pork, leeks, garlic, rice flour and salt. I needed eggs, so I bought a dozen of those too, from the same place. The hens are allowed to range freely, not yarded, and they are stocked at only 150 per acre rather than up to 4,000 per acre, which is apparently what the egg producing industry feels is free range. I don’t, and I’ll be buying these whenever I can in future. The farm uses no pesticides or herbicides, the animals are pasture raised on biodynamic principles, and visitors are welcome to see the animals and inspect their living conditions. I picked up a price list for the pork and beef, and while it is significantly more expensive than either the supermarket or the good butcher, I suspect we’ll be happier to eat smaller quantities of this superior product.

The Husband likes something a bit bitey with his eggs and snags, so we bought some sample pots of chilli sauces and chutneys, and we’ll buy a big jar of whatever he likes best next time we go. And finally, the nice man on the banana stall gave me a free sugar (Ducasse) banana and some very useful info about where to buy licensed slips for bluggoes (a kind of plantain), as I’ve seen no cooking banana types anywhere. This is a banana-producing state, so you have to go to a licensed supplier to avoid cross-breeding, pests and diseases.

If there’s anyone close enough to Mackay to pay a visit to the market, it’s well worth the time. Here’s the FaceBook page link, so you can see what’s on and what people think.

I’ll be going back next time I need eggs, that’s for sure. And I’m pretty sure the Husband’ll be wanting more of those snags…


The thing about gluten free bread is that it’s cranky.

By which I mean that results are variable, the ingredients expensive, the taste can be…odd, and the process time-consuming.  I also don’t want to make a whole loaf, and then only manage to eat half of it before the remainder goes as hard and dry as an old brick, which happen pretty quickly with GF bread.

Since my back problems 6 months ago, I’ve put on weight. Being unable to walk for more than a few minutes and unable to stand up straight will do that for you, and I haven’t managed to lose the extra lard since. So I decided it was time to revisit what, and how much, I eat. Cutting back hard on sugar, hugely increasing the amount of vegies I eat and greatly reducing the carbs is working nicely, and I’m showing a slow but steady decrease in the tightness of my clothes!  But sometimes, I want a bit of bread. And here is a recipe which combines the virtues of being low(ish) carb and gluten free, and tasting good and being very quick to make. It makes a small loaf, two large rolls or 3 or 4 small ones.

1ÂĽ cups almond meal, either bleached or natural, whichever you prefer
5 tablespoons psyllium husk powder
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1ÂĽ cups boiling water
ÂĽ cup of sesame seeds, pepitas, sunflower seeds or linseed (optional)

Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F. Mix the dry ingredients, and whisk together with a hand beater to ensure the baking powder is well distributed. Mix the egg whites and vinegar, and add to the dry ingredients. Beat in, then add the boiling water. Beat well for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, till the mixture starts to thicken, turning from a slightly wet and lumpy batter to a dough. Don’t over-beat, or the bread will be gummy. Put whole into a small oiled bread tin, or divide into rolls with oiled hands and put into the oven on a baking sheet covered with baking parchment. Bake for 50 minutes for small rolls or 1 hour for large rolls or a loaf. Cool well before cutting.

You can double the quantities for a larger loaf, but you’ll have to adjust the cooking times upwards  a bit. You can also add a tablespoon of dark brown sugar, half a cup of raisins and half a teaspoon of  cinnamon for a raisin bread, and can brush the crust with melted butter if you want a bit of a shine. It doesn’t have the yeasty flavour of true bread, but it’s not as odd tasting as some GF recipes, and it is wonderfully substantial if you’re hungry!

This is based on an original recipe by Maria Emmerich.