Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hip Pocket Sustainability

We have spent the last eight years tweeking our 40 year old suburban house from an non-sustainable one, to a house that helps to save both the planet and our hip pocket through economic and environmental sustainability measures.

We have decided to move on however, as this house has too big a foot print for two people and so we have bought a much smaller cottage further up the mountain.

We wanted to tell potential buyers what we had done to the house and I thought I'd share these tips on Blue Mountain Bliss so others may be inspired to do the same. We are looking forward to doing it all again (and more) at out new (old) cottage.

Hip pocket sustainability
  • Solar Power generation system of 1Kilowatt per hour – enough to power the whole house and all modern appliances during the day and sometimes put power back into the grid, so you only pay for power for part of the night.
  • Solar Powered Hot Water System, with Gas booster – hot water on tap all the time, heated by the sun, and boosted by efficient natural gas for those rainy days or a relaxing spa bath after work.
  • 10,000 Litre Rainwater Tanks – Sparkling fresh rain water, filtered three times before the tank to prevent contaminants like leaves etc. Linked to the mains so you never run out of water, but only pay for it when the tanks run dry. Flushes the loos, washes your clothes, and wets the dishes all for free, and good enough to drink through the chemical-free-filtered kitchen tap. Powered by a small pump to ensure the rainwater gets upstairs with no hassles.
  • Full insulation in ceiling and underfloor – makes sure the heat you generate in winter stays inside to keep you warm in winter and in summer stops heat from entering from outside.
  • Whirly gig in roof – spins to extract hot air from your roof space if summer heat does start to creep in.
  • Silicone strengthened external bagging – the bagging itself tends to protect brickwork but the improvement of adding silicone to the mix ensures it repels heat from the outside and stops heat from leaching though the bricks from inside in winter. When we had this done a couple of years ago, the summer temperature inside the house dropped by about 3-4 degrees.
  • Natural Gas upstairs and down and gas cooking in the kitchen – Using natural gas has been reported to be more economical, more fuel efficient, and less costly to the environment than electricity, so if there’s been too little sun to make excess power with the solar panels, and you don’t have time to build up the slow combustion fire, you can heat the house cheaply with natural gas.
All these measures mean that living in our house costs considerably less than living in a conventional 3 bedroom house of this size. We have outlaid the cost of fitting these systems. The purchaser will get all the benefits of them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Black pepper cookies

Another lot of baking to lure potential buyers to make an offer on our house, these spice biscuits certainly provided the right enticing scent for the open house.

These cookies and I go back a long way, back to my student days when I was experimenting with so many different choices and lifestyle ideas, especially vegetarianism, politics and feminism, not necessarily in that order.

I bought The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook in a second hand bookshop, as you do when your a student (and still do) and to quote its introduction Here is a cookery book full of imaginative ideas for well-balanced meals without meat!

It was a great book for a young cook, with easy and different bread recipes such as wholemeal bread, stollen, soda bread, muffins, crumpets to name but a few and flipping through the pages I can be reminded of a former 'me' who made comments like 'scrummy', 'good for a dinner party', 'nice supper dish' (who was that young woman I wonder?) and on top of Black Pepper Cookies 'superb' which indeed they are. To quote the book again This is an American recipe and these excitingly spiced chocolate cookies, with their sophisticated flavour and just a hint of pepper are ideal to serve for afternoon tea or after-dinner coffee

I think they are like Dutch Speculaa cookies, perhaps they were adapted from them by an newly arrived Dutch immigrant to the USA, replacing pepper for ginger and adding chocolate?

Preparation and cooking time: 1 hour
Makes about 36 cookies ( I made about 42 this time)
Preheat oven to fairly hot 190oC.
Lightly grease your baking sheet/s with butter and set aside.

3/4 cup butter
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar (I've always used raw sugar)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cocoa

In your mixing bowl, cream butter with the pepper, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla together with wooden spoon until the mixture is soft. Beat in the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Sift the flour and cocoa into the bowl and blend the dry ingredients thoroughly with the butter and sugar mixture until a firm dough is formed. The mixture really needs a bit of effort as there's not much liquid, best to use your hands at this point to get the dough mixed.

Roll spoonfuls of the dough into balls about 1" in diameter. Place the balls onto your baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2" between them, though these biscuits don't spread that much. With the heel of your hand, or a fork to give a nice decoration, gently flatten the dough balls to about 1/4" thick.

Place baking sheet in the centre of the oven and bake for 12 minutes.

Remove from baking sheet, cool on a wire rack.

Try not to eat them all at once, but trust me, that's a hard call!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Porridge for winter

Its cold, I seem to be cycling through one winter bug to the next one, hence my silence of late and lack of blog entries since Winter Magic, but the thing that keeps me going on the cold, dark mornings is sitting down to a large steaming bowl of hot and creamy porridge.

Porridge is such a lovely breakfast cereal for winter, in summer I make my own toasted muesli, but in winter its porridge. I make it the way my mum taught me and she learnt from my Scottish grandparents, so its traditional but still surprisingly quick and easy even on a work weekday morning. The family trick is to soak your rolled oats overnight in the pot with water, this softens the oats so they cook quickly and go delightfully creamy and smooth.

Porridge is best with organic old style oats, don't waste time on packet mixes or 'quick oats', get real oats or as @tomatom says on his Tomato blog 'I buy the cheapest home brand rolled oats. And I cook them slowly, which is the key.' here our methods differ as mine is relatively quick, however his method is a good one, so check it out.

Porridge like my Scottish grandmother made
1 cup rolled oats (I use organic and she probably did too in pre WWII Oz)
2 cups water
Salt - a good pinch

Put the oats, salt and water into your pot, a good heavy bottomed one is best. Leave overnight to soak on the stove. In the morning, put a slow flame underneath it, stir occasionally, the porridge is ready when its thick, creamy and making slow plopping sounds, this takes about 15 minutes and then you have two large bowls of creamy, smooth porridge to serve up and eat.

My family's traditional way of serving porridge is a lovely way to eat it, put a large dob of real butter in the bottom of your bowl, pour your cooked porridge over this, sprinkle on brown sugar and then pour in some cream, eat and enjoy!

I vary the above method at times by adding dried fruit to soak overnight, but if I do this, I don't add sugar or butter when I serve it, but add yogurt instead and maybe some milk. I also add add some nuts and seeds at times, but mostly its butter, brown sugar and cream. Perfect!

Then there's savory porridge but that's a post for another time.