At some point I’ll manage to document the roller-coaster ride that was our first go at Aquaponics. Suffice to say it was a mixed success – we got to eat lots of delicious trout, but lost quite a few on the way too.

After a major redesign to get the fish out
of the polytunnel we are finally ready to go again – the system has been split to allow for different sizes, and different species, so we’re now eagerly awaiting our first Carp delivery ….

Viva Vegan Cookbook

We’ve got far too many cookbooks, but there’s always room for one that changes everything! We know we need to eat less meat, but never seem to get around to it . . .

Sticking Viva Vegan on my Christmas list was a bit out of left field, but it has turned out to be fantastic. The recipes are really delicious Latin American staples with great Vegan twists, and there are some really interesting meat-substitutes that I can’t wait to try. As a bonus, most of the recipes can be made from store-cupboard ingredients – perfect for our collection of Resilient Recipes.

Now all that’s standing between me and some Seitan Chorizo sausages is finding some Vital Wheat Gluten!

I’ve got some Black Beans and Cashews soaking now for tomorrow’s dinner – I’ll let you know how we go.

I got it from Amazon, so if you can’t find it locally, here is the link –Viva Vegan, and the Trafford Eco House will get some money from your purchase (it won’t cost you any more).

cheese-waxI’ve been reading a bit more on waxing cheeses, so I thought it would be a good idea to re-invigorate this one of my early posts, It seems well preserved, but could do with some more links!

A little snippet here piqued my interest. I’m having a good think about food storage at the moment, to ensure year-round produce, and this is one of the classic methods of preservation. Not seen so much nowadays as everything is plastic-wrapped, but waxing a hard cheese allows you to keep it – unrefrigerated -for some time, possibly even years. The wax coating, when done properly, hermetically seals the cheese, preventing mould and retaining its moisture.

For more details on how to wax cheese (and why to do it), here are some great resources:

And some new links with more detail on how to coat the cheese with wax, and then how to store it:

I love this video – it makes such wonderful, simple points. And then I go out to cycle in Trafford.

I’ve been interested in the potential for micro-hydro for ages but never been able to find a suitable system that would work with the large head, small flow streams that many smallholdings would have. A couple of weeks ago I was working at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show as part of my role with the Horticulture Wales project, imagine my surprise then when I saw this in the same tent as our stand!

It’s a 7kW system, put together by a really interesting not-for-profit group called The Green Valleys. They spend their time helping landowners to install micro-hydro and have a range of systems from 1.5kW  upwards.

There are a lot of challenges – the cost of pipes and grid connections amongst them – but the economics are really very interesting.

If you consider a turbine like this, and assuming your stream never dries out, here’s how much money you’d bring in from the Feed-In-Tariff:

7kW x 24 hours x 365 days x 20p per kWh = £12,264 / year

Not bad! And when you consider that a simple installation would start from £25k, it could be a fantastic investment.

And that’s before you even consider the environmental benefits that come from producing 61.3 MW of green electricity each year!

About a year ago, when I dug the last garden beds, I cut and piled the turf upside-down in this great mound.

In theory this was supposed to break down into nice rich soil, with no trace of the grass left.

In reality I have a very dry pile of turf pieces. The grass is dead but has hardly broken down at all, I’ve been using the pile to fill in the bottom of the latest beds I’m digging so it’ll probably finish its decomposition there, but it’s fair to say that this experiment has been a bit of a failure. In future I’ll either dig the turf straight into the bottom of my double-dug beds, or if I’m making a pile like this I’ll make sure to keep it damp and see if that helps.

Here’s what the turf sections look like when you dig them out of the pile:

 A busy spring has left us a little behind on the garden, with far fewer crops ready than we had last year. I also hadn’t made any progress on completing our garden beds. Since last Summer we’ve had 375 sqft dug of our proposed 800 sqft (eight 100 sq ft beds). I haven’t had a decent chance to dig any more for this year’s planting, but that all changed this weekend.

Fortunately I had laid some weed-proof fabric over the area for the next two beds, and so, since Autumn, the grass, moss and weeds had been slowly dying back. When I peeled this back earlier in the year the grass was still surviving, but yesterday it had all gone!

Digging this bed was so much easier than the previous ones. The remaining grass roots made the top layer a little difficult, but nothing like trying to get through turf. I also used a different technique for the digging too. Previously I’ve removed the turf and stacked it separately, but it’s been suggested by some of our visitors that it’d be better to put it straight into the bottom of the area I’m digging. I’m double-digging these beds so that’ll mean the remaining roots and weeds will be about two feet down, so they should just break down nicely, with no chance of them re-colonizing the bed. We’ll see!

Now I just have to work out what to plant in it! At the moment it looks like our new Broccoli patch, to be followed by our winter veg bed.

Makes two cups
No cooking required

1 400ml can of chickpeas
1 1/2 tbsp tahini – but we use peanut butter
3+ tbsp lemon juice – to taste
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
2+ tbsp olive oil
up to 1/4 cup water

And for serving

Turkish flat bread or some long-life wraps.

Recipe

Drain and rinse the chickpeas, then combine the all the ingredients in a food processor, with a stick blender (we use a basic one like this – Kenwood Stick Blender, or you can manually mash them if you’re desperate!

Add extra lemon juice, water or olive oil to taste, and if it dries out just add a little more oil.

That’s it – easy, quick, and delicious.

Makes 1 large flatbread

1½ hours from start to finish (1 hour rising)

Ingredients

2 cups plain white flour – or strong bread flour

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

7-10g dried yeast

3-400ml lukewarm water

3-4 tsps of sesame & cumin seeds

Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Add the water, bit by bit, mixing the dough with a spoon – not too slowly or you end up with an impenetrable ball of dough that shrugs off any more water. Keep adding water until you have a very soft and almost sloppy dough.

Cover the bowl with a tea towel and put in a warm place to rise for an hour – our kitchen is usually warm enough. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 250°c and put a large baking tray in it to heat up.

When the dough has risen, remove the hot tray from the oven and sprinkle with a little flour. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and straight onto the tray (it’ll be too soft to handle) and gently press into shape.

Quickly spray or brush the loaf with a mixture of cold water and a dash of olive oil then sprinkle with the seeds.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 12 mins, then remove from the oven and brush/spray once more. Bake for a further 5 -8 mins, or until the bread is golden.

If you want a crusty loaf then cool it on a wire rack, but for the genuine Turkish Flatbread soft crust, wrap it in a teatowel.

We love eating it as toasted sandwiches, but it’s also great with our home-made hummus.

(more…)

Serves 4 hungry people
25 minutes from start to table
Uses only one pan and cooks on the stovetop

Basic Recipe

1-2tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tins of beans (whatever you have – kidney, cannelini – even baked beans!)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 small tin tomato puree
1-2 cups of stock/wine
100g chorizo (I have some that stores for 4 months)

½tsp dried mixed herbs (or 2 tsp fresh)

And for serving

french bread, or good think slices of our everyday wholemeal bread.

Variations

Exchange the chorizo for any other pork: bacon (smoked preferably), chunks of pork belly, sausages etc.
It’s very easy to hide veg in this recipe so the kids eat it without knowing! Try grating in a carrot or courgette – they’ll never spot it.

Heat the oil in a large pan (we use a non-stick wok). Add the onion, garlic, chorizo and cook gently for 5 minutes while you get the rest of the ingredients ready.

Then add the tomatoes, puree, beans, herbs and enough stock to make sure it’s not too thick.

Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the beans are just soft. Then serve with the bread on the side to clean the bowls!

(more…)