Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Honey & Sunflower loaf

This Saturday, I'm doing another sourdough workshop, for the Toowoomba Simple Living Group. It will be held at The Range Christian Fellowship, Blake Street, Wilsonton.

I'm not sure how it's going to feature at the workshop, but I intend to showcase the lovely Honey & Sunflower, sourdough loaf. It's simple and delicious.

Honey & Sunflower loaf

You'll need some sourdough starter, you can make yourself, or borrow some from a friend who makes sourdough. Here's what you do:

Step 1 - Make Sponge:

In a clean bowl, add;

  • 1 cup bakers flour
  • 1 cup room temperature water
  • 1 cup starter

Mix together and leave on the counter, between 2-4 hours. It should look like the picture (below) when it's ready. Lot's of bubble action.

 Sponge is ready for next step

Step 2 - Make Dough:

To that bowl of sponge, add;

  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons powdered milk
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 cups of bakers flour (add last)

Little kitchen helper

I add everything in the above list, to the sponge - all, except the flour. Make sure the rest of the ingredients, are mixed in thoroughly, then add one cup of flour, and continue to stir. A sturdy spatula is good, because you can scrape down the sides as you go.

 Ready to turn out

Add enough flour, until it's too firm to comfortably mix with a spatula. This picture (above) is after 2 cups of flour have been added. Then turn onto a clean surface, and incorporate however much flour, to make a tacky dough.

Tacky dough, means, it will stick to your hands, but will come away easily, from you or the bench. If it's sticking like glue, then you need more flour. I only needed another half cup - so 2 and a half cups, total, out of the 2-3 cups, required in the recipe. It will change every day, how much flour you'll need, so learn to read your dough. I've written a post All about the dough.

After kneading

Once your dough has enough flour incorporated, it's ready to knead for 10 minutes. It should look like the above picture, when it's finished. It will be firm, and hold it's round shape, without slumping.

Now the dough is ready to place in an oiled bowl.

 First Rise

If you're wondering what the two balls of dough are about, my son helps me make sourdough. He handles a small portion of it and gets to make a pizza.

Step 3 - First Rise:   

Given, you'll face the dough downwards into the bowl, first, then flip it over again - the oil on the surface of the dough, will ensure it won't form a skin, as it rises. The above picture is what it should look like, when you're done.

Next, cover the bowl. There are several options: a dinner plate, a moist tea towel, or a round glass casserole dish, lid, like I use.

Ready to mould

Leave dough to rise anywhere from 4-8 hours. The warmer the ambient temperature, the less time it will take to grow. Your dough will need to double in size, but mine often grows a little more!

Now it's ready to place in a lightly oiled, loaf tin. Roll your dough into a cigar shape, then place the seam side, facing down into the tin - see below.

Dough in tin

Step 4 - Second Rise:  

Last rise now. It will take anywhere between 45-60 minutes. Check at 45 minutes and see if it's doubled in size, or needs a little more time.

I place my loaf, in a warmed oven (50 degrees Celsius) with a bowl of water at the bottom. Once the tin goes in, switch off the oven. The aim is to use the residual warmth and water, to create humidity, so the dough doesn't form a skin as it rises.

My dough was ready at 50 minutes

Step 5 - Score & Bake:  

Now remove the tin out of the oven, then preheat it again, to 180-200 degrees Celsius (fan forced). Leave your bowl of water, in there.

While waiting for the oven to reach the correct temperature, score the top of the bread gently, with a sharp knife, or clean razor. Then place in the oven, and bake for 25-30 minutes. Be sure to turn after 10-15 minutes though. Even in my fan forced oven, I need to turn the tin, for consistent browning.


The bread should be a lovely, golden brown colour, when done, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. I always take my bread out of the tin, as soon as it's removed from the oven, and place on it's side (on a cooling rack). This ensures the bottom isn't too moist, which makes slicing, easier.

Still just a little warm

Leave at least, half an hour to an hour, before slicing, so it will hold it's shape. Lovely with just butter, or served with honey or marmalade.

To get a better indication of time, if I start this loaf at 8am, it will be ready to go in the oven between 2-3pm. It all depends how warm or cool your kitchen is. The cooler it is, the longer it will take.

Tip: Use your oven on a low temperature, to speed the process up, when it comes to making the sponge and rising the bread (both times).

See you all, on Saturday!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Greening the Desert?

We finally got some of that rain, predicted for our area. And as always, only received the outer edges of the rain system. It was still welcomed though, and both our tanks, are roughly 85% full now. So we definitely got something out of the exchange.

I also learned something new...

House in background

The new pond we dug over winter, holds water. There was sufficient clay in the soil, to hold it for 3 days. Although it did diminish quicker, than the pond above the house. Still, it was wonderful to know, we're able to capture water in the landscape, and store it for longer than before.

This was a naturally occurring gully, cut into a slope, after many years of erosion. We simply dammed it up, by putting soil at the bottom of two hills. The small dam wall, between them, is now a walkway for people and kangaroos.

Eventually, I'll dedicate a post to how that pond, came into being. As for now, it's still under construction. We're presently building, a long swale, to take any overflow from the pond, away safely. But I digress...

 22 corn seedlings, went into the ground, today

What I actually wanted to make this post about, was working with climatic conditions in our area. More specifically, in relation to food production. I was inspired by the "Greening the Desert" project, compliments of Geoff Lawton. He basically grew food in the desert.

Surely, his permaculture design strategies, could work here too?

Well, sort of...yes, and no. In theory (well, Geoff has proven it) they work. But here's what the Greening the Desert project had, that we didn't. Earth moving equipment, access to large amounts of resources on a "continual" basis, fencing all around their sites.

I've built swales, but the rain never fills them for long. I bought another tank to water the edibles, but a protracted dry spell, saw us conserving water for house use, only.  I chose drought tolerant plants, but without water, I couldn't establish them. Or to put it another way, get their roots deeper, into the ground. Overexposure to sunlight, was another problem...it killed non-established plants, in an hour of intense sun. The continual access to water, is what keeps plants alive. Something we just didn't have.

New leafs emerge, on stripped pigeon pea trees

Any plants we did get into the ground, to grow canopy protection, quickly became new food for the local kangaroo population. So they were stripped of their leaves, when nothing else was growing. Rewind. Back to overexposure, again

I'm happy to share with the local wildlife, but when you grow food in a desert, expect the hoards of wildlife to clean you out. They're desperate too. I still appreciate the permaculture principles, and still use them, but reality is different when applied in the desert.

I noted in the various Greening the Desert, projects (there's now Greening the Desert II) all sites were fenced in. I thought, maybe to stop people trespassing? Now I can appreciate, how it's needed to prevent the hoards of animals from devouring all that hard work.

Immediate relief

We've now erected a shade sail, to create man made shade. It will help deal with overexposure, more permanently. We're building some growing areas, around it, to have vegetables. All this to say, as climate changes, how we grow food becomes more important.

I've noticed, the drier it gets in our area, the more man-made interventions we require, to get a return. Those interventions, come with a price tag too. I'd love to just stick seeds in the ground and watch them grow, but we're dealing with a region that sees periods of dry, hot conditions. It's lovely when the rains arrive, but you can lose plants when they don't. Even, supposedly, drought tolerant ones.

Old-man saltbush, sacrificed limbs to survive the drought

After growing in these conditions, for nigh on a decade now, I've come to some conclusions, for food production success, in dry, hot conditions.

  • Water is CRITICAL, there needs to be a continuous supply
  • Maximise water efficiency, by limiting the growing area
  • Shade it permanently
  • Only grow drought tolerant plants
  • Fence it off

Further to the above, only grow what you'll eat the MOST. If you're going to mollycoddle, make sure the crop will be used on a regular basis. Long storage crops too, like sweet potatoes, pumpkins and chokos, don't have to be eaten immediately. So you can spread it out, instead of having to eat, as soon as it's harvested.

I'm trying some new varieties of vegetables too, reputed to do well in hot climates. I'll let you know how that goes. I didn't write any of this, to diminish the insights and attributes permaculture design has. But there are some misconceptions, as to what it can achieve. It CAN green the desert, but only with a lot of interventions, a lot of resources and a lot of barriers to admittance.

This is just the reality, of growing food, in the desert (or desert-like) conditions. This is what we have to deal with, so these are the realities I share. I expect drier conditions will be revisiting us, more often than not. So we still have to plan to eat.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

On hold

I've been avoiding the computer lately. It's in relation, to the lack of rain. What's the connection? My garden knows spring is here, and I have seedlings, already bursting to go into the ground - but the lack of rain, creates a "pause". Things grind to a halt. Nothing can happen, until the rains arrive in earnest, again.

Corn is waiting...

My daily routine, consists of running the shower water to the bird bath, which also waters the kangaroos and brush turkeys. Then I grab buckets of water, from our small, chicken coop, water tank - in order to give my nursery plants a good drink. I have a proper nursery now, which (if I remember) I'll share more about. Finally, I try to find greens for the chickens, which are really, non-existent.

 Dead grass, versus, hanging on ~ I want the corn to go here

We have a little green patch, just out the back door, we are watering with our septic sprinklers. The sprouted brassicas, are, for the most part, flowering and attracting a small population of bees. The local magpie family, come down to visit the chicken tractor's, spent grains, after it's been moved. As are, the local cockatoo population. Because everything out there, is in the process of dying.

Cockatoos and grey water hose

Which is why I'm avoiding the computer, in preference for observing what's happening outside. I'm like a lion, stalking - waiting for my moment to pounce. I'm watching the animals' movement around the dwindling water supply and food. I'm also noting the wind direction, hoping they come from the West - which my grandfather told me, brought entrenched rainfall, for a good week.

Until those rains arrive however, I feel like the plants, in my hugelkulture raised beds. Which is, not doing a whole lot, but declining instead. This lion is going hungry. It's not about depression or sadness. It's about acceptance of 'this' season. The feedback says, I cannot progress further - nothing can, without the rain.

When I hear those ominous drops on my rooftop again, THEN I can strike. All those plants can go in the ground. I can watch my garden, come to life again. All the new earthworks I dug over winter, can fill with water. But until then, I wait, I stalk and watch everything around me, go to decay. 

 New pond earthworks

This is what happens every season, until the reprieve arrives. Either in the form of the heat and cold, coming or going - the lack of sunlight or overexposure to it, rain or drought. We hunger for the opposite, to change the present. But what do we do in the interim? Let's not stew on sadness, until it brews into depression. We can, instead, take the time to observe, what's happening in our environment. Reevaluating, what needs to change.

I've gotten a lot of feedback, from this particular season, which I will endeavour to share. Many thoughts to ponder, about our particular landscape, and how we choose to respond to it.

In the meantime, we're hoping for rain over the weekend.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Natural resources

When it hasn't rained for months on end, I'm relieved we finally took the plunge last year, to install a second water tank...

Original tank (left) ~ new tank (right)

In total, it cost us around $4,400, and we've recently hit, just under the halfway point, on both tanks. If we hadn't installed our tank, last year, we'd be out of water right now. And like the neighbours, ordering water deliveries.

I thought we must have been really frugal, until I heard the neighbours running their air conditioning, yesterday. The early heatwave season, is settling in for about a week. Or so the weather forecast predicts. Six days of high 30's (high 80's Fahrenheit) and Spring has just arrived.

Being installed, November 2016

We're hoping our remaining water supply, will get our family through, but also allow us to continue offering water to the native animals. If we don't get rain in the next fortnight, however, we'll be ordering a delievery of water, too.

It just goes to show, even when you plan to increase your stores, nature can turn it up a notch, and render you in the same position - only a little further down the track. We've had a few vegetation fires, very close to home, which reminds us how important the rain is needed, right now.

In other parts of the world, however, rain is causing enormous destruction.

December 2007

I've had my fair share of natural disasters, and will probably see more in my lifetime. But that doesn't mean the prospect of another, should steer us away from continuing to build necessary infrastructure. The kind of infrastructure, that will help hold onto natural resources, such as water tanks, earthworks, soil improvements, plant propagation, waste disposal and food storage.

Our family is woefully under prepared, on many of these counts. But I can't waste time feeling bad about that, nor do I intend to splurge on hoarding supplies either - simply because we cannot afford to. We're still on a budget. What we can do though, is take necessary steps which are both practical, and economical. Like learning how to stretch out the natural resources, which come into our homes.

 A nice drop

Which is why we're embarking on water budget strategies, such as:

  • Doubling the time between flushing toilets - so long as it's not solids.
  • Catching water from the shower, before it heats up, to help water plants, or put out for the native animals. 
  • Reducing showers, until they're necessary.
  • Not laundering sheets, towels and other Manchester, until dirty
  • Using a small tub in the sink for washing hands and rinsing dishes - that would otherwise see the tap go on, numerous times a day. 
  • Vegetable garden has not been watered, even though it's one of the reasons we wanted to install a second tank.

And we have plans to change things even further, where financial resources allow. I don't want to make any announcements, until those projects are under way. If I can take any good out of this long stretch between drinks though, it's how to be more responsible for our use of natural resources. I'm not driven from a sense of survival, rather, a sense of responsibility.

If it only comes from a sense of survival, people tend to make changes when it's only bad enough to. But if you make changes from responsibility (or a sense of ownership) they're likely to be adopted, indefinitely.

Are you making changes in how you deal with natural resources, in your life?

Thursday, September 7, 2017


When it comes to making sourdough bread, my son doesn't need much incentive, to jump in and help. He loves to get his hands dirty. So when it comes to kneading the dough, he gets a little ball of his own.

Honey & sunflower - his small portion, front

He tries to knead the dough, but ends up rolling it, instead. Then he sometimes treats it like playdough - making things with it. Being such a small amount, it doesn't make a huge difference how it's kneaded. Because his dough, always turns out the same as mine, anyway.

Putting it together

While he doesn't NEED incentive to help make sourdough, I decided to reward him for his efforts, all the same. With something he could take control of, and see through to putting in the oven, himself. What better, than a mini pizza...

Ready to prove for an hour

The little ball of dough, gets special treatment. After being rolled flat, it gets a layer of home made chutney, a sliced twiggy stick (salami), a sprinkling of herbs from the garden, and grated cheese on top.

Then his mini pizza proves in the oven, along with my sourdough bread. Which he often gets impatient for! I have to remind him, sourdough takes a while.

Freshly baked

Once it's cooled down, and sliced - he gobbles it off his plate. Such a sense of satisfaction, knowing he helped make it and got to eat it too. I don't have to worry about leftovers, because mini pizza's are just the right size for kids.

He often asks me to make bread now, because he knows what's on the menu afterwards!

Is there anything you do, to encourage others to help in the kitchen with you?

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Marvel at GOMA

Yesterday, our family trekked all the way to Brisbane, to visit GOMA - or the Gallery of Modern Art. They were holding an exclusive display, of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was a last minute decision, as the event was due to wrap up, after 4 months in Brisbane.

The event, "Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe", will close after this weekend. Personally, I wasn't thrilled to travel all the way to Brisbane, to contend with crowds and noise - while there was certainly that, it was also a display I'm glad to have experienced. Because it wasn't what it first appeared to be.

Click to enlarge

Our experience with Marvel - whether it be through reading the graphic novels, watching the movies or the various television series, is somewhat of a passive interaction. Your imagination comes along for the ride, but the material you're observing, is doing all the work.

What you're greeted with, upon entering the exhibition however, is a giant illustration of Spiderman. It completely dwarfed Peter, and he loved it. We pretended to throw webs through our wrists, just like Spiderman does. Which is a far more interactive experience, because you're not just looking at an image. You're experiencing it, in the larger than life scale, our imaginations work with.

Captain America

The adjoining room, behind the Spiderman wall, was the Avengers room. Where we got to see the costumes used in filming the various movies. It was an impressive display, and I couldn't help but admire the creativity that went into designing each costume.

Scarlet Witch, Ironman, Thor and Vision

Not only was the craftsmanship, exquisite - details, designed not to show details, but the creativity it took, to subdue the costumes, was phenomenal. The vivid colours, that worked in 2D comics, wasn't an appropriate treatment for movie reel. It had to be believable, like it could fit in our own universe. 

Black Widow, Ironman & Thor

Different mediums in the Marvel universe, obviously required different treatments. But behind each treatment, was a creative individual. And behind those individuals, was a creative team.

I have to admit though, it was hard not to just view them as manikins, wearing costumes. The actors, needed to add the third dimension, to bring them to life. But this wasn't about the cinematic universe, as the passive viewer of a screen. It was about appreciating each individual piece, and the time and effort it took, into making them appear believable.




The viewers, in this case, had to add the third dimension, to the lifeless manikins. We got to appreciate, they were more than an end product, hanging on them. Because there was creativity, imagination, determination and effort, behind each cut, stitch and mould.

Of course, there were two members of the Avengers team, who were comprised mostly by CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) but the exhibition, still managed to include them, in the line up.


The green Hulk, was quite large and intimidating - caught in his classic pose. You need to see his size, in comparison to the manikins however, to fully appreciate his presence.

Captain America, Scarlet Witch & The Hulk

Hulk was perched up higher than anyone else, and for small kids, that was probably a good call. Not only might his expression, terrify small children, up close, but as far as my four-year old was concerned, he would probably attempt to climb it!

I was impressed, the displays were open view. No fences, no glass boxes. It made the characters, and the creativity behind them, more accessible to the audience.

Iron Man

The powerful zoom on my camera, was able to capture the other CGI character, up close, in the Avengers room - which was Iron man. I loved the lighting, in the chest piece, and the eyes. I couldn't help but notice all these details, while the characters were frozen in their poses.

It's not something you can observe in such detail, while the movie is playing. Behind the plastic moulding though, is a set of electronics, and someone painstakingly, designed them from scratch.

 The Winter Soldier (aka: Bucky) & Loki

The villains, got their own showcase as well. Again, I loved the effort that went into these costumes, to look like they could fit in a modern location. Incredibly unassuming, when you consider what modern soldiers have to wear and carry around.

The cell

They even had on display, the cell Bucky was contained in, to be transformed into the Winter Soldier. Doesn't it look like it could pose as an underwater diving sub, or piece of mining equipment? That's how unassuming the design process had to be.

Crossbones & Loki

Hydra, Flame Throwers

There were so many other villains, I'm not going to name them all. Although I have to say, I was surprised to see the costumes of Nick Fury and Agent Hill (not shown) in the same line up, as the villains above. They were supposed to be the good guys. But, it depended on their agenda, I guess. They could, and did turn on some of the Avengers team. But I wouldn't consider them true villains.

I'm not going to be able to show ALL we saw and took photographs of, but there are a few more highlights, of our experience.

War memorial

This is a display, of a scene, contained in the Winter Soldier, movie. It's the Captain America, memorial, meant to honour the (assumed to be) deceased, Captain America. I found it ironic, because it's an exhibition, within an exhibition!

Close up

It has a postwar, meets steampunk, feel about it. Almost comic like, in it's use of primary colours - in the shield, at least. I like how the manikins had no facial expressions, like a Waldolf doll. Although, I did struggle with the lack of animation in them, at first.

Fleeing the scene

These are the motorcycles used in the various movies. Notable, because Peter got scolded by a security guard, for touching the lower bike. He leaned over the raised podium it was on, and grabbed the bar, near the foot rest. I saw him heading for the bike, and was on my way to intercede. The security guard launched from the corner, and beat me to him, by half a second.

Peter was completely oblivious, but it scared the living daylights out of me. Because I was reaching for his shoulder, just as her hand went to grab his hand off the bike. A misunderstanding, I'm sure. No hard feelings. But it did scare me temporarily.

On with the rest of the exhibition, and some of the additional movies to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

 Doctor Strange: Stephen & The Ancient One

 Ant-man: Scott Lang

 Guardians of the Galaxy: Groot (CGI character)

Guardians of the Galaxy: Gamora & Star Lord

Costumes and props, all help to create a movie, but then the sets are quite impressive too. Like the one of the throne room, of Asgard. The size, scale and detail, makes you feel like, you've just stepped into a God's court. Which of course, is the desired effect.

Throne Room of Asgard

I suspect the dimmed lighting, throughout the entire exhibition, helped create more of a presence. Had it been bright lighting, parts of this set would've dominated the scene. Having only the brightest light, cast on the thrown, however, begs to ask the question: who's going to sit on it?  

Brothers: Thor & Loki

One of these two brothers, perhaps? I love the stance of Loki's manikin. A slight tilt towards his brother. Very much in line with the character. He's attempting to be unassuming, while waiting for the right opportunity to stab his brother in the back, and get away with it.

A small detail, in the manikins stance, but stays true to the family politics.

Thor's hammer: MjoInir

Are you still with me? If you're not a Marvel fan, I could be overwhelming you with tedious minutiae. But there is a point to all this. I walked away from the exhibition, with a greater understanding, of the process it takes, to create something. It could be said, the exhibition wasn't about the characters, but the creative processes, behind them.

An evolution, if you will...


Somewhat like the Iron Man suit, Tony Stark created. Three different suits, on display, which changed in detail, as the story arc for the character, developed. Which took many years. But all an evolution of the creative process.

 It's in the detail

I loved how the hi-tech, mechanical suit was contrasted by the Japanese screen, behind. All these details, from the production companies, to the manufacturers, and even how GOMA displayed the items at the Museum. All required a creative process, based on individual input. Then all the pieces came together, to tell a combined story. Or in the case of the Marvel Cinematic universe, several stories.

 The mask, minus the occupant

Some people saw it as a photo opportunity. Others, saw it as a day out, viewing. But there really wasn't ONE way to experience the exhibition. Except perhaps to experience the process of creative design. Which was actually my favourite part. I loved it!

There was actually two things I loved most, about this exhibition. First, was the artwork, dotted throughout. From the giant Spiderman illustration, at the beginning, to the various paintings they had on display, which helped turned 2D into 3D movie productions.


I'm not referring to the classic story boards, all movies start with. They did go into explaining with some high-tech gadgetry, how those classic story boards got turned into movies. But I was more partial to the various artist's rendition of the story, they had displayed throughout the exhibition.

There's some really talented people out there. And I guess that's how I found my tribe at the exhibition. Through the art work. Not comic books, costumes or props - although, I did appreciate the effort that went into them all. But I really loved experiencing how the artist's rendered the story. I got to see their creative muse, in it's rawest form. 

  Peter and David

The second part of the exhibition, I loved, was experiencing it with my family. We traveled in the car together, listening to a Eurovision CD. Peter got to ride on a bus, for the first time - and press the button to make it stop. We ate the food we brought from home, in a little green patch, outside the museum - then grabbed a treat of Gelato, afterwards.

David, Peter and Sarah

Walking to the museum, after we got off, at the wrong bus stop, we saw a beautiful Bougainvillea, climbing a metal sculpture. It seemed to climb all the way to the sky...


We even got to experience the tantrums of a four year old, on the way to the museum. Because there were so many things he wanted to touch and experience, but we didn't have time for. Especially when it involved sand and water, with no spare clothes to change into.


In amongst the hustle and bustle, to get to our destination though - there were always a few moments to steal. Like a plant lined walkway, leading to the river view. We were crammed amongst so many pedestrians, but there were unreal moments which pulled us away, too. Thank goodness for those moments, and being able to spend them together.

I can easily be overwhelmed by the full pelt of the city. But my family, and nature, always brings me back. I'm glad I went and experienced something, which isn't exactly my normal surroundings. I got to come home afterwards, and enjoy the things that really mattered about the day.

Creativity, family and evolution. Something to experience, rather than spectate. In all it's many forms.