Here’s to 2018 – Back to blogging.

27 Feb

It’s obviously been a while since I last posted and I’m sure you hate going to blog sites with that first statement!

A lot of has happened since the last point, the biggest thing being we have joined a Ecovillage on the NSW Central Coast. This has given me so much motivation to do nature based stuff from more brewing (traditional and wildcraft), beekeeping, mushroom growing, preserving, fermenting, dehydrating, wild edibles and more!

I’ll get to each of those topics in detail but here’s a kick start with a recent blog I wrote for the Narara Ecovillage website.

Village Day in January

Original Post

The Village kicked off the year with a new format for the monthly Open Days. Renamed to Village Days we are inviting you to join us for ‘a day at the village’ – we’d love you to join in the fun and comaraderie of a group of people working and playing together. During the year as we start to build our houses we hope you’ll enjoy that journey with us too.

Starting in the early morning the Natural Build team began work on the much anticipated outdoor kitchen. Many hands make light work and the team accomplished all they hoped for that day. This is an ongoing project so please let us know if you want to help with future installments. We’ll try and get a post up on the Outdoor Kitchen dream in coming weeks.

Lincoln, Brett and Mark all took the first tour of about 30 people around the village. Despite the heat they managed to find enough shade to share the great surrounds of the village. They did however come back with about the 1/3 of the starters as the peeled off to other events.

John and Lincoln took a small group to the beehives where we took about 6L of honey out from the amazing flow hives. I don’t know who loved eating honey “off the tap” more between the kids and adults. Still another 6L in the hive so stay tuned for next round!

Our local edible weed enthusiast Benjamin and horticultural scientist Trish took a group of keen adults and children around the site, showing off a few of the wild edible and medicinal plants who have decided to share our land! It’s interesting to see what comes freely and abundantly from the earth that we can use rather than import and buy. For example Plantain-the core ingredient being what folk buy as “Psyllium Husk”, an excellent remedy to stings and bites and the #1 go to for kids skinned knees!

At the tool shed Mike and the team worked on fixing up quite a number of old bikes, helped by the tire pumper extraordinaire James! Also at the tool shed we had Rob sharpening up anything that needed sharpening!

And we can’t forget the lovely members who manned the “Ask a member” table that answered any questions thrown at them from curious visitors.
We finished off in usual Village style with a community dinner with a large number of snag’s suppled by the natural build team as a thanks to the helpers. The kids were easily occupied outdoors as you’d hope – is this not the eco version of an Ikea ball pit?
Overall the day and the new format was a success and we thank Jeni, Vanessa and the team for bringing it together- 2018 is going to be cracker as we start building houses and sharing everything the village is doing.

Feeling guilty shopping the middle isles.

24 May
Shopping cart

Speeding through the shopping isles

For years the advice has been to shop the edges of a supermarket. The reason for this is that’s where the fresh food is – the fruit and vege, the cheeses and dairy etc. The mayo clinic talking about the “DASH” diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has a whole step in the simple 5 step approach to Shopping the Perimeter. Go ahead and google “Shop the Edges” and you’ll see advice from everyone with a nutrition opinion holding this approach up as good.

But I realised recently that this theory is founded on a very big assumption – that we are buying our food from supermarkets almost exclusively! Think about it, for many many years the supermarket has been THE place to buy everything you need. The major supermarkets at least in Australia dominate the food purchasing.

However this strangle hold is weakening. More and more people are flocking to farmers markets, returning to their local butcher, building their backyard vege patch and chicken coops. Verge gardening, community gardening, food boxes, free food movements, swap shuffle shares etc are slowly changing our primary places to purchase food and I strongly believe this is a great thing.

And it was after a weekend of building my own chicken coop followed by a trip to local farmers market that I found myself heading to the big supermarket. Not for fresh food and dairy but for other staples of bulk made food. It was a strange and guilty feeling to head not for the perimeter that I normally head to but to isle 4 to buy vegemite, then to isle 8 to buy fair trade oxfam ground coffee. All this with my 5 year old daughter in tow trying to teach her healthy eating habits!

I wonder if supermarkets will adapt to this. And instead of putting milk all the way at the back of store so as to tempt you along your journey they’ll change the layout. The shopping isle maze will shift so I travel past the chocolate biscuits on my way to buy vegemite??

Where are you on this local food movement? Just starting out? Shopping the perimeter? Trying to avoid the supermarkets altogether? Would love to know how you are travelling.

Free Food Movement

1 Mar

Just over 5 years ago I was walking through an inner Sydney city suburb when I spotted a number of bunches of rosemary on a brick wall. It was outside of a church and incidentally they had been trimming their rosemary bushes that lined the walk-way. Next to the bunches was a handwritten note that said “Take me – Free”!

I remember at the time thinking wouldn’t it be great to have an app that enabled someone to locate free food like this. And like most innovations, it’s easy to have the idea but harder to follow through and implement it.

5 years on there’s 2 sites doing just this that I want to share and spread the word.

Ripe Near Me

While it’s still in it’s Beta phase the site is slickly designed, highly useable and makes adding and finding free food far too easy for anyone not to use it.

It’s a Google maps mashup with a quick locality search. The food icons look to be unique for their massive range of produce and you post your own food, food you spot (aka wild) and can give it away for free or charge a nominal amount.

Wild Food

Diego Bonetto is a self proclaimed expert in weeds and i’m not going to argue about that. He learn’t much of his knowledge from his parents in and growing up in Italy where foraging for wild food was still the norm.

I was lucky enough to meet Diego a number of years ago on an art exhibition / wild food tour day. The art exhibition was a number of plaques around Sydney CBD explaining the types of animals you’d find from rats, pigeons and even foxes. The wild food tour was at the Casula powerhouse grounds and was really an intro to the world of edible weeds. You can learn more about Diego here.

However of relevance to this post is Diego’s initiative Wild Food. Like Ripe Near Me the site is well designed and very easy to use. What’s great is that the site uses the mobile platform a little more encouraging people to take a photo, tag the location and either upload it direct or hashtag it on instagram where it’ll be automatically added.

It also has a wealth of information about the various wild food such as the culinary or medicinal value.

Both sites have implemented the idea and cater for different audiences. Combined they are an excellent resource for locavores, frugal eaters or anyone interested in Free Food!

If you haven’t already, join up and contribute to both. The bigger the better!

Attack of the eco-snob!

19 Dec
PageDooley - Flickr

PageDooley – Flickr –

I’ve recently moved north of Sydney to a suburb just outside of Gosford. The primary reason is to be closer to an eco-village we are involved in. So obviously living and being “eco” is at the front of mind, particularly in the “honeymoon” period of moving up here.

But I did have to catch myself the other day. The green waste bin was full and rather than put it out for collection I decided to keep it and throw it in my compost bins – why waste good compost?

Then I was on the train coming home and the train really empties out by the time I get off. Every other seat had discarded MX newspapers and a scattering of soft drink bottles. With a bit of a hmph I picked up what I could and took them home to my recycling bin.

I’m sure my state of mind can only be a good thing but is there a risk I’ll become an “eco-snob” or worse a “born-again-greeny” (are they on par with born-again non-smokers?). I like to think that I am actually just enlightened by my focus on living more sustainable! I certainly dont think I’ll become that bad but who knows. 🙂

Have you had any “run-ins” with eco-snobs? Someone that complains about driving the car 10min down the road? Or using petrol powered lawn mowers, or using the drier instead of the clothes line?

An interesting story about run in’s for doing the right thing is the story of John Francis (TED). Here’s a man who witnessed a horrible accident of 2 petrol tankers colliding and leaking petrol into the waterways. As a result he decided not to travel by petrol powered vehicles anymore and to walk everywhere. On his walks he had people criticise him for his actions, with some even accusing him of making THEM look bad!! After having to defend himself so much he decided to stop talking – for 17 years. A bit extreme but it does highlight potential reactions against people that are trying to do the right thing.

Have you been made to feel bad by someone else actions? Are there things you do that you know are not great but do it anyway? Are you an eco-snob?

Spring onions vs green onions vs scallion vs shallots

7 Dec

Let’s start with clarifying what I mean by spring onions. It’s a confusing vegetable particularly in Australia and could be the cause of messed up dinners due to international differences.

Let’s go through them.

The most common, in my experience, is the Allium Cepa – this is your gold old garden variety onions with brown/golden skin and one of them fits nicely in your hand.

Then we move down in size to what I believe the Americans call Spring Onions and Australian’s call Spring Onions (sometimes), also known as Allium cepa var. aggregatum. Note it’s the same family of Allium cepa but of a botanical variety (i.e. characterised by it’s similarities with other species) of aggregatum. These are your small golden bulbs that a more elongated than your usual Allium Cepa (normal onions).


Now this is where things get confusing. What do you call the long green leaves that are onion tasting and no bulb….It depends on where you live and they’ll either be:

  • Eschallot / Shallot
  • Spring Onions
  • Green Onions
  • Scallion

Most commonly in NSW at least we call them Spring Onions or Shallots. However they are more technically called scallions. But again they could be “Welsh Onions”.

Jumping onto Wiki (BTW I recently donated some $ to keep it free – highly suggest you do the same) we can get it’s view.

  • Allium ascalonicumknown as eschallots or shallots. These are small golden bulbs similar to small general variety onion (Allium cepa). If you have recipie that calls for Shallots or even Spring Onions and you need to add it very early in the cooking process (like normal onions) – this is probably what they are talking about.
  • Allium fistulosum – also known as a “Welsh Onion” which will never grow a bulb. These are sold as long green leaves in bunches of 4 or 5.
  • Scallion – pretty much the leaves of any of the above and indeed any leaves of the Allium family that haven’t yet formed a bulbous root.

The last 2 you’ll add these late in the cooking process and really don’t want a strong onion flavour – stir frys for instance or added raw to a potato salad.

Still confused? I’m not surprised. At the end of the day you want to think about they “WHY” you are putting in an Allium family plant.

  • Is it for strong flavour (normal onion (Allum Ceda) or Garlic)?
  • Mild flavour (bulbous alliums like the Allium ascalonicum)? 
  • Subtle flavour (green leaves like scallions or chives)?
  • Visual appeal (subtle red onions, scallions or chives)?

Some good links that might help clarify are:

I wonder if there are other names people use?

My next post will be how to get a life time supply of scallions  / green onions almost for free! I haven’t bought any for over 5 years and have more than I need!

Mushroom Kit part II

17 Apr

Back on Jan 8th I commented that my newly bought mushroom kit looked a little dry and perhaps not ready to go. On advice from the supplier I decided to wait and see what happens. My goal was for the kit to become almost all white before I threw the peat onto it to grow my mushrooms. 

Well after boxing up and checking every few weeks I finally got this on the 1st of Feb. This is my first peeve – the box clearly states to get cracking as this is a time sensitive exercise! My mum did and she had no luck which is a right shame as it was a christmas gift for her. 


Looks good right! Night a white, perhaps not as uniform as it could be but what the heck, i’ve waited almost a month to get going. 

I threw the peat on top, sprayed some water on it and left it a nice dark-ish location in a reasonably humid location – my laundry. A few weeks passed and there was no action. I continued to spray it every few days but no-go. Eventually I packed it up and moved to the darkness of my man cave. It get’s indirect light perhaps for 20min a week and is otherwise in pitch black.

Success came on the 10th of April! (yes, 3 months from when I bought the box!). 



Up came some mushroom buds! Couldn’t be happier that research and persistence looks to be paying off. Can’t wait to get 2kg of mushrooms that would make this experiment a break-even venture!

A few days later I’ve checked in and found this:



I’m not sure if the mushroom has been deformed as it grew or perhaps (and more likely) is that I’ve got some critters having a munch. Any ideas?

Tonight I picked my only mushroom that’s a decent size. The malformations continued but at least it still smelt like a mushroom. 



I’ll get another update out when I have a view on the size and qty of the mushrooms – remember I’m gunning for 2kg else this makes no economical sense. I’m also going to cover the box up to keep any critters out that might be having a free lunch. 

Have you had a go at growing mushrooms? Success or useless failure which seems to the norm from talking to people?

Food tripping with Miraculin

1 Mar

Miracle berry I found out about the miracle berry (Synespalum dulcificum) from my dad who forwarded me this article  on a craze in New York called Food Tripping. Partygoers would munch on this berry and bounce down the rabbit hole of food sensations. 

This was right down my alley of food, new crazes, a little bit of chemistry and just a little bit out there to be a fun party trick. I secured a plant from Daley’s Fruit Nursery. planted it and gave it tender loving care waiting for my berries. And now, after 5 long years I have a plant full of berries. (I recently learnt the flowers can self-pollinate but sometimes a gentle shake of the tree helps – not sure if that’s what has kicked it into gear).

The miracle berry alters your tastebuds so that it blocks sour flavours and makes them taste sweet. It does this because it has a glycoprotein called miraculin and with foods that are low in PH (acidic) they bind to and block the receptors so that sweet can be tasted. The miraculin protein will stay bound for about 45 – 60min giving you lots of chances to try different foods. (Wikipedia)

It’s a native of western Africa isn’t without controversy. In the 1970’s there were attempts to commercialise the berry but there was resistance from the sugar industry (some say sabotage). Unfortunately though miraculin doesn’t like heat and doesn’t last long once it’s picked. Some people are selling it frozen or dried though reports suggest it’s not that great a result.

The berry is about 2cm long and the flesh is much like a lychee with a big slimy seed in the middle. The fruit itself is quite palatable but you’d need a fair amount to get even close to a serve of fruit in your diet. 

In our first experiment we tried it with:

  • Lemon- no bitterness. Could eat it like an orange. We likened the flavours to flat lemonade
  • Grapefruit – much the same as the lemon though the flavour wasn’t as different. 
  • Lychees & Grapes – no discernible change
  • Granny Smith Apple – no real change but my wife ate it prior to the berry it was one of those rare non-bitter granny smiths. 
  • Black coffee (instant) – my wife being a non-coffee drinker found the coffee bearable. I found it quite like a milked coffee with sugar.

Miracle Berry fruit platter

Some people have asked does it numb your tongue? No it doesn’t There’s no real effect at all other than the sweetness of the berry. It’s not until you chow down on a lemon for instance that you realise it’s actually working. 

I read one “party trick” where you take a guest around your garden asking them to taste various plants. At some point get them to taste the miracle berry then move onto the lemon. You can exclaim that you have found a new and rare type of lemon that tastes just like lemonade. 

Some other food suggestions I’ve found that I want to try are:

  • Beer – apparently it can make it taste like lemonade as well. 
  • Blue cheese
  • Onion 
  • Raid the alcohol cabinet with frangelico, sambucca etc. 

I’ve even come across a book titled “The Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook” and they suggest:

  • Tomatoes will taste perfectly ripe
  • Banana’s will have hints of passionfruit or pineapple
  • Hot sauce will have layers of peppery flavours – not just heat. 
  • Pineapple will taste like candy. 

Have you tried this miracle fruit? Either way what types of food, or combinations of food do you think would be a trip? I’m happy to put my body on the line in the name of science.