Gathering the straws of life together

Author: kjblogstraws

Do it yourself (DIY) Projects

Do it yourself (DIY) Projects

There are so many Do It Yourself (DIY) projects we can do around the home. This time of the year, heading for winter (in Australia), many of us are looking at our garden and planning a few DIY projects. My One&Only (O&O) however is doing […]

What I like about getting older

What I like about getting older

What I like about getting older is that I can set my own priorities. I can manage my time. However, at any time of the day I can change these. It is very liberating deciding what to do and when to do it and when […]

Ethical Shopping

Ethical Shopping

Yes, my topic is ethical shopping not about Ethel shopping. When I was a teenager I had a nick name for my mother. I called her “economical Ethel” – she was a savvy shopper and always looking for bargains. Just like me! There is more satisfaction in finding a bargain then just going into a store and paying full price.

But what about ethical shopping and how do we shop ethically? If we are shopping ethically we should know more about the products we buy. For example, how they are manufactured and by whom? If we are buying clothing how can we tell if workers are exploited? If you are big into fashion and want more information about buying your clothes from ethical companies, you can download a report from Baptist World Aid. It will cost you $10.00.

But ethical shopping does not end with fashion it can cover a range of products we consume, including electronics. But what about when it comes to shopping in the supermarket?

Let’s take grocery shopping to another level. I thought about this when last at a Woolworths supermarket (yes, we do shop there)! It all started with portabella mushrooms. I was placing one in the brown paper bag when it somehow ended up on the floor mat beside the display counter. In a nano second I had to decide whether to pick it up and place it in the bag or leave it for some other unsuspecting customer. I put it in the bag. There are ethical decisions to make when simply shopping for groceries. But what about the time when I had a few potatoes in a bag and others toppled to the floor? I have been known just to place them back on the pile! Grocery shopping is not as straightforward as it used to be, given I am thinking about how ethically I behave!

Always take time when shopping for the best fruit and vegetables. Where do they come from? I won’t buy kiwi fruit from Italy although I am fine with kiwi fruit from New Zealand. Neither will I buy oranges from California. Sorry Mr Trump! I am always looking out for the local product.

What type of shopper are you when you find a better product, four aisles away, to the one in your trolley? Do you take the “better product” and then abandon the other one on the shelf when no one is looking? When we were at Woolies on our last shop my One&Only (O&O) found items on the shelf but could not work out where the price tag was? I said someone else has decided to swap their items and left the others abandoned!

In some ways I can understand the abandonment of grocery items because people are in a hurry! Also, there are so many lanes and shelves it could take half an hour to find its original home. Then there is the rationale thinking of clever people who have the view that abandoned grocery items keep staff in a job. A person could be employed all day just to wheel a trolley around looking for abandoned grocery items and then putting them back where they should be. But then who is paying for that employee, the customer and all because of unethical shopping!

If you want to be more informed, like me, about ethical shopping you can visit the ethical comparison website THEGOODSHOPPINGGUIDE.COM here or an Australian site Shop Ethical here.

At our place we lapsed into unethical shopping by reverting back into plastic single use shopping bags. But no more plastic for us, we are reformed shoppers! Happy shopping ethically.

Increase in Health Insurance Premiums

Increase in Health Insurance Premiums

Health insurance premiums will increase in Australia as of tomorrow, the 1st April 2018, by 3.95% on average. The Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, announced that some insurance premiums could increase as much as 8.9%. With the continual increases in health insurance premiums there are […]

KJ’s Pizzeria

KJ’s Pizzeria

Every Sunday night you will find me in KJ’s pizzeria, also known as KJ’s kitchen. My O&O and I enjoy relaxing on a Sunday evening with home-made pizza and a glass of red wine. A home-made pizza is easy to make. If you are willing […]

Backyard chickens

Backyard chickens

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know we have backyard chickens. When we moved a couple of years ago to our home in Toowoomba I did not think this would be possible. However, we reorganised one side of our 1008 sq metre house block of land, had an enclosed vegetable garden built, then suddenly we found there was space for a chicken coop!

The first step was to work out what type of home we would have for our chickens? Would we buy a flat pack or have one purposed built? My earlier posts describe what we went through to make the perfect place – a home for our chickens. We bought the Homestead from Somerzby. Before putting it together we gave it two coats of paint and made a few minor changes.

You may have heard of Frank Lloyd Wright, the American architect, interior designer, writer and educator. Even though he passed away in 1959 his legacy lives on. He said “regard it just as desirable to build a chicken house as it is to build a cathedral”. An interesting comment! Yes, we found it very desirable building our chicken house. To build a home for our chickens where they could find food, water, shelter, comfort and safety.

Our chickens are an important part of our urban eco system. They produce eggs for us and we care for and feed them in return. You may hear people say you can give your chickens scraps. If you do give your chickens scraps then take notice of what they eat and what they leave. Chickens are very discerning, they know what is good for them. Then there are others who say “only feed your chickens the leftover food you would eat yourself”. Our chickens are in the latter category and I have long list of what to feed them and not what to feed them, apart from their pellets which contain all the vitamins and minerals they need to keep healthy.

Five weeks ago we added two more chickens (young pullets) to our other two older chickens we have had for seven months. Integrating new chickens, having a mixed flock of ages has to be managed. Firstly, they are eating different types of food. The young pullets had a diet of crumbles while the older ones larger pellets. What should I do? After much research I decided it would not harm the older chickens for them all to eat the crumbles for a few weeks. After three weeks I mixed the crumbles with the pellets. I supplement their diet with grains, scattered in their run every morning, plus a few other treats during the day. They come to expect treats and every time they hear the key turn in the lock as I come from the back door of the garage they run to greet me! The “little girls” were shy at first but now they have joined the “big girls” and run to meet me.

For the first four weeks the “little girls” huddled together every evening at dusk. They did not go up to roost nor had they explored the area up the ladder or ramp which holds the roosting area and access to the nesting boxes. I decided it was time for them to join the “big girls” and one evening at dark with my head lamp (red lens to reduce the light) shifted them from their favourite sleeping spot and on to one of the roosting bars. I did this the following night and to my surprise the next night they made their way up all on their own, after slipping and sliding up the ramp. Then I discover that the four of them are all huddled together on one roosting bar the next evening – their integration is complete!

Even though the “little girls” and the “big girls” are now one happy family the “little girls” still know their place. They know who is in charge of the flock – the chicken, Carmella. More about the pecking order at another time. In the meantime, here are some photos of the chickens and their “home sweet home”.

Golda and Melba arrived at our place 5 weeks ago. This photo is taken when they were with us for 2 weeks. Golda is named after Golda Meir. She is a double gold-laced Wyandotte (an American breed). Melba is named after Dame Nellie Melba. She is a Barnevelder (Dutch breed). Their feathers are still growing and they are still growing up!
Melba after living with us for 5 weeks. You can see how much she has grown, including her tail feathers, in the 3 weeks after the earlier photo.
Golda after 5 weeks in her new home. A lovely natured girl looking very smart in her finery.
Lucy keeping her eye on the “little girls”! She is a little dusty after having had a dust bath.
Carmella is sitting down and relaxing. It looks like she is ignoring everyone at the moment. However, it will not long before she is showing the “little girls” that she is in charge!
We just made the run larger so that “the girls” all have a happy time together! They also have a swing in the coop. The dwarf black mulberry, near the nesting box, will give shade to the coop. After the tree grows taller and spreads out the wire will be removed. The chickens can then help themselves to a mulberry or two! The Viburnum shrub produce fragrant white flowers followed by red berries – another treat for the girls!

If you are thinking of having backyard chickens all you have to do is a little homework. Make sure you have enough space and give “the girls” a home they can be proud of! Backyard chickens provide heaps of entertainment. We are always checking on them and sitting down for a few minutes to watch and enjoy their antics. It is a relaxing and peaceful past-time.

Home is where the heart is

Home is where the heart is

How often have you heard the phrase – home is where the heart?  A home is much more than a house. It is a place where we either live with those we love or those we love, visit us in our home. A home is […]

Life in the grey zone

Life in the grey zone

What does life in the grey zone mean? Does it mean we are flexible, compromise, see others sides of the story or are we more black or white? Where are you on the continuum of extremes? Do you find yourself in the grey zone or […]

Bringing home the bacon

Bringing home the bacon

What does “bringing home the bacon” mean? Does it mean going out buying and bringing home the bacon? It can mean that, but it is also an adage that been said over the centuries with an entirely different meaning. It means to earn a living for the family, that is, to provide the necessities of life.

At our place, it is good to know we have the necessities of life, provided after a life of work! One of the necessities of life for me, is having bacon on hand. That is, not literally on my hand, but handy, like in the freezer! We freeze our bacon between sheets of “Go-Between” and it takes only minutes to defrost, so bacon is very handy at our place.

Yet, bringing home the bacon, bacon we really enjoy, is not as simple as it sounds. Some bacon I have bought is so bland, others will not crisp up readily in the pan. Bringing home the bacon means I have bought bacon from every supermarket and most speciality shops in Toowoomba. I was prepared to pay top $$’s to get great bacon. I would always take my O&O on a detour to a place in Toowoomba that sold Schulte’s bacon. Schulte’s Meat Tavern based in Plainland in the Lockyer Valley Region, Queensland, like to put the term paddock to plate into practice. They use locally sourced meat, including pork to get the best result with their bacon. They have a long list of awards including, third in Australia’s Best Bacon Awards in 2014 and winners at the Queensland Ham, Bacon and Smallgoods Competition in 2017.

Schulte’s bacon was the best I had found to date until about a month ago when my O&O and I shopped at Aldi. It was there I found the cherry wood smoked short cut bacon. Since then it has become a definite favourite.

To cook the perfect bacon without too much fuss or mess I bought the Décor Bacon Cooker promoted by Fast Ed. As simple as it sounds, when Fast Ed talks about it, I could not get the bacon to cook the way I wanted it. As one review I read, before I placed my bacon cooker in the bin – “short of standing on my head and whistling through my eyebrows, I cannot get the bacon cooker to work properly”. My sentiments exactly. Do it the old-fashioned way. Bacon in the pan, fried eggs in the pan or if poaching in simmering water.

GUIDE TO COOKING BACON

PREPARATION: Always take bacon out of the fridge or freezer and allow it to get to room temperature.

PAN COOKING: Crispy bacon in the pan. Place the bacon in a cold pan and cook on low and slow.

OVEN COOKING: Line an oven tray with foil, place bacon on a wire rack and then turn on the heat to 190 degrees Celsius. Bake for 15 minutes or more depending on how crispy you like it.

MICROWAVE COOKING: On a microwave safe plate place 2-3 paper towels on the plate, then spread out the bacon, top with same number of paper towels. Cook for 4-6 minutes.

As I know only too well, guides are there to “guide” us. But not all guides deliver! Yesterday I decided to put the “pan cooking” guide to the test. Firstly, I allowed the bacon to get to room temperature. It gave me time to do a few other things. But my O&O had to check if breakfast was still on the menu? Time to start! However, with the start being a cold pan and with the heat lower than usual, it took three times as long to cook the bacon. Perhaps next time I will try cooking it in the microwave. But would it make any difference? The bacon I used (the one from Aldi) does not crisp well. It is best lightly pan fried.

Bacon and eggs for breakfast. Here is my attempt at crispy bacon. Served with poached eggs and baby Roma tomatoes. The eggs would look better on a coloured plate or one with a design – too much white!

Of course, we only eat Princess Eggs at our place. The Princess Chickens get only the best and then they pass on the compliment to us! Bacon and eggs with a little tomato on the side or mushrooms – delizioso! About the poached eggs. I don’t like too much vinegar in the water, ¼ – ½ teaspoon or none at all. Otherwise, they will turn out like café eggs, tiny balls sitting on top of a piece of toast with the white shrivelled up!

Did you know that in Australia we have a “bacon week” each year? Australian Bacon Week runs from 25 June to 1 July celebrating 100% Australian bacon. It also draws attention to the competition local bacon faces from imported products. The competition is open to butchers and smallgoods companies who use Australian pork to make bacon. Last year more than 125 bacons were judged by a specialist judging panel. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Griffith Butchery was the winner of the overall award as well as receiving first in the “full rasher” category. Barossa Find Foods, South Australia (SA), won the best shortcut bacon. It is a little far for me to travel to pick up and bring home the bacon from the ACT or SA! I will just have to rely on what I can find locally.

While the flavour of the cherry smoked bacon is fine I am still on the look out for better bacon. I may find this at Gray’s Modern Meat Mart in Toowoomba. Owner Mark Nolan won the Queensland Short Cut category at the 2017 Australian PorkMark Bacon awards. Could this be the end to my search for the perfect bacon for me to bring home? In the meantime, please give me any of your bacon buying or cooking tips.

I have also heard about another way to cook bacon that I am still to try. Place the bacon in a frying pan and cover with water. Allow the water to boil away and the bacon will crisp up. The result – crispy yet with a tender texture – if it is good bacon to begin with!

Did you know that the phrase “bringing home the bacon” originated in the 12th century in the small town of Great Dunmow in Essex, England? According to local legend, the church in Great Dunmow would award a side of bacon (called a “flitch”) to any man who could honestly say that he had not argued with his wife for a year and a day. I wonder how many they gave away each year?

Cooking with cilantro

Cooking with cilantro

Cooking with cilantro is now one of my favourite things to do! But what is cilantro I hear you saying? Last week when making a curry I hurriedly went into the garden and picked what I thought was flat leaf parsley. We did have flat […]


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