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Winter Update & Tips for a Busy Family Life

I’ve just arrived back in the office after a few days away with girlfriends.

 

After months of planning to coordinate the calendars of five busy working Mums (a near impossible process), we had a few days in the beautiful, chilly Blue Mountains. Huddled around the fire we shared stories and wine, comparing parenting adventures as we start to embrace the teenage years with kids, and encouraging each other as we spoke about our evolving lives.

Old friends are so precious, and after a few days, I feel completely reset, relaxed and ready to take on the world.

My life as it has evolved as a mum and business owner is certainly what Pete and I have designed, however in truth, it’s currently far busier than we would choose. Pete has been spending most winter weeks living away from home in Melbourne as we assist councils to kick off their FOGO programs. It’s really rewarding to see our composting programs for food waste expand across Australia. I would encourage you to contact your local council to discuss if a program is not yet in place.

Back in our Newcastle office our little team have been busy as more and more people and organisations make the switch from plastic bags to compostable bags, often prompted by the changing state legislation. I strongly believe the answer to our single use plastic challenges is not thicker plastic bags! Instead, we all need to make the switch to more sustainable options. As FOGO Programs expand, Australian Certified Compostable Bags are an even more compelling solution, with Singlet Bags and Produce Bags able to be re-used for food scraps before they are thrown out for composting.

At home, life with two kids often independently has its own set of challenges, however there are three tips that are keeping us all on track, our Sunday food prep, building in slow moments, and ensuring we accept letting some things go.

  1. I actually enjoy our Sunday Cook Up, and it means that even after the busiest school afternoons, we always finished the day with a lovey homemade meal, which in reality is simply a quick reheat. Winter cooking is perfect for prepping and freezing with soups and curries, however one of our current favourites is a Lamb Ragu which basically cooks itself. You can find the recipe here

2. Building a few slow moments in the busiest of days is also important. This season we had an abundance of lemons on our trees, which we dehydrated to preserve. I’ve been simply dropping a few of these in warm water each morning to kick start the day. It’s a comforting ritual as I start to wake up and plan the day, and I would like to think the vitamin C is boosting my immunity through the colder months.

3. Letting some things go… While, the kids do need consistent feeding and love, I do have to confess that my vegie garden is not looking its usual vibrant self. Every time we plant, the rain is so excessive that our little seedlings flood, which is disheartening, especially for the kids. We have temporarily let it go, although I do have a stash of leafy greens which we have grown in terracotta pots. These pots are quite inexpensive, drain really well, and can be moved, so are a little more versatile for the current crazy weather. The increasing prices of fresh greens when purchased is also a motivating factor. You can read our tips for growing leafy greens here. We source all our seeds from Greenpatch Organic Seeds & Plants who are passionate about preserving heritage / heirloom varieties and organic farming. The resulting produce is as tasty as what I remember being harvested from my grandfather’s vegie garden!

And with those thoughts, I’m feeling a little more motivated and may plan to get stuck into the vegie garden again this weekend… that is if any sunshine manages to sneak through the rain clouds.

Enjoy winter

Mel

Lamb Ragu

Every Sunday afternoon in winter, you will usually find me standing by the stove with my wooden spoon, large cast iron pots, and often a wine, engrossed in cooking. It’s a routine I really enjoy.

This year winter has been really busy for our family, and so our Sunday Cook Ups have been more important than usual. Being so prepared to kick off the week means even on the busiest of school nights, we can finish the day with a home cooked meal, even when it’s essentially just a re-heat! Luckily, winter cooking with soups and curries is perfect for cooking in bulk and freezing.

One of our favorite recipes at present, which the kids have been negotiating into our cook up nearly every week is my Lamb Ragu. It’s even more popular than spaghetti Bolognaise, and the best part, it basically cooks itself!

Ingredients

  • 120ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 Organic Garlic Cloves
  • 2 Carrots, Finely Chopped
  • 2 Celery Stalks, Finely Chopped
  • 1 Onion, Finely Chopped
  • 3 Bay Leaves
  • 500g Boneless Lamb Shoulder, Trimmed and Cut into cubes
  • 2 400g Tined Tomato
  • 1 Tablespoon Fresh Garden Herbs, chopped finely (Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano)
  • Freshly Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Cheese to garnish
  • Shallots to garnish (optional)

Ragu Recipe

  • Heat the Olive Oil in a large pan over Medium Heat, and then add the Garlic, Carrots, Celery, Onion and Bay Leaves. Sauté for about 5 minutes until every thing softens. Remove this from the pan.
  • Turn up the heat and brown the Lamb. Then remove this from the pan as well.
  • Add a little water (Or juice from the Tinned Tomato) and boil.  This will deglaze the pan and release the flavours. 
  • Add everything back into the pot, including the Tomato’s and Herbs. Season, mix and bring to the boil.
  • Once boiling, turn the heat down to low and cover the pot. Stir regularly for approximately 2.5 hours.

I’m terrible with timing so I simply check it each time I stir. You need to make sure that nothing sticks to the bottom, and that it remains moist, so you may need to add a little water if it has evaporated and looks likely to stick, or take off the lid if you think it’s too runny. It’s ready when the meat is really tender and easily falls apart. Definitely taste – test! 

Storage Tips

If you are freezing, make sure your Ragu is quite moist. Once cooled, simply place in some glass containers and freeze.

Ragu ‘Reheat’ Dinner

  • Cook pasta to the packet directions. Drain and then stir into the hot Ragu.
  • Serve with Grated Cheese and a sprinkle of Herbs and Shallots.

On our busiest school nights, I get the Ragu out in the morning if frozen, and let it defrost during the day. Then simply reheat in a pan while cooking the pasta in another pan. Then simply combine, add your garnish, and dinner is ready faster than ordering in! 

 

 

 

Garden Pesto

Garden Fresh Pesto

Garden PestoOur early Autumn Harvest this year has included an abundance of gorgeous shiny green basil. Inspired, we have tackled Pesto, and it has quickly become a favourite for family dinners. It’s the perfect meal for this time of year, when an early dinner means we can eat on the deck and enjoy the last of the warm afternoon sunsets.

It also means our abundance of Fresh Basil can be preserved and enjoyed throughout the next season.

Ingredients

  • 50 Basil Leaves. The newer small ones have the best flavour! 
  • 1 Large Organic Garlic Clove
  • Sea Salt
  • Tablespoon Pine Nuts (Roasted)
  • 3 Tablespoons of Freshly Grated Cheese -either all Parmesan, or if available 1 Tablespoon of Mild Pecorino and 2 Tablespoons of Parmesan
  • 3 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Pesto RecipeFresh Pesto

  • Preheat oven to 180°C. Spread Pine Nuts over a baking tray and bake for a few minutes until lightly toasted. Once lightly toasted, remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 or so minutes. Toasting the Pine Nuts enhances their nutty flavour, however you can skip this to save time and simply add them fresh.
  • Gently wash and dry the Basil Leaves
  • Pound Garlic and Salt in the Mortar and Pestle using a circular motion
  • Add the Basil Leaves and continue pounding
  • Add the Pine Nuts, Cheese and a Tablespoon of Olive oil and continue pounding until everything is mixed and a nice creamy consistency. You made need to add another Tablespoon of Oil at this stage to get the right consistency.

Making Pesto in a Mortar and Pestle crushes the leaves of the basil and garlic cloves releasing the flavoursome oil. It also creates a lovely organic texture….. However, if you are making a large batch, or are pressed for time…I had an Easter Hat to finish for the parade… simply use a hand blender, following the steps in the order above. The results are similar.

Storage Tips

Place the Pesto into small glass containers and flatten the top, then add the additional Olive Oil. This acts as a seal, keeping the trapped pesto fresh.Food Storage Tips

We use recycled glass bottles such as caper bottles. Having the Pesto in a small jar which is essentially a family dinner serve keeps it fresher for each meal. The Pesto will stay fresh for up to a month in a fridge.

Pesto Dinner

  • Cook desired pasta as per the instructions on the packet.
  • Mix the pesto through the pasta once cooked and gently stir until combined. There is no need to add extra heat at this stage.
  • Serve with salt, black pepper, a squeeze of lemon and lots of freshly grated parmesan.

 

 

Fresh Produce

Winter Gardening

Winter Gardening – Three (well four) tips for Leafy Greens

Running a small business with a young family can be challenging; add in a major renovation and it’s chaos. As a result, months after the building dust has settled, it’s only now we have found time to establish our family vegie garden…. Yes, just in time for winter unfortunately!

My priority for our family vegie garden is always leafy greens. Lettuce and spinaches are a favourite to smuggle into sandwiches and meals. You can really taste the difference between fresh and store bought, which is probably linked to the fact that fresh produce such as spinach can lose up to half of its nutrients within a week of being picked. I also think the ‘modified atmosphere’ bagged greens use to keep items fresh sounds terrifying 😊

My top three tips for Winter Leafy Greens

  • Mature compost, or worm tea is the secret ingredient, particular for a winter garden. This year having only just established the garden, we are still working to improve our soil, without the usual help from mature compost. I can really notice the difference with our young garden void of compost, compared to our previous patch, particularly in terms of soil nutrients and water retention. We eat a lot of fresh food, and so generate a lot of food waste. Composting is such an easy process and it means our food waste isn’t wasted as the nutrients all go back to nourish the soil for new crops. I usually add mature compost when the plants have approx. 4 leaves.

 

  • Spacing is really important. Planting seeds, particularly with kids, is a chaotic random process. Once the seeds have sprouted and have at least two small leaves I spread them out in our beds, to approx. 12 cm apart if possible. If they are overcrowded, you will end up with a smaller harvest overall, so if you have too many seedling, share with friends.

 

  • Mulching helps retain warmth and moisture in the soil and it also great at suppressing weeds. This is important as spinach in particular tends to have sensitive roots, so it often doesn’t like the soil being disturbed as weeds are pulled out nearby.

 

  • Actually one more tip!  When harvesting leafy greens, cut the outside leaves first right to ground level to get the most out of your season-long harvest.

 

This year’s harvest for us is not going to be a bumper crop, given we are still working on our soil quality. Even our carrots look quite…. unique, having being planted during flooding rain which compressed the newly filled planter beds.

Regardless, of the harvest, the benefits of getting into the dirt with the kids is significant. In fact, scientists have even discovered that the mycobacterium found in soil can improve brain function while boosting moods. Gardening with the kids, and enjoying our fresh food certainly makes me happy!

 

 

 

 

Winter Gardening Tips

Our Kitchen Caddy is now made of Recycled Bottles and Food packaging

Placing items such as milk bottles and food packaging into the recycling bin is something nearly all households now do in Australia, however I wonder how many people consider where their items will go next…

It is an important question, and one that our team, and family, are passionate about. The idea of treating our ‘waste’ as a ‘resource’ seems quite logical, particularly when you consider the impact sourcing virgin materials has on our environment. Purchasing mindfully, reusing and recycling is critical.

After significant investment, trials (and errors) and hours of research, we are really excited to announce that we are now contributing towards Australia’s Circular Economy, by making our Kitchen Caddies from our old milk bottles and food packaging.

Our new caddy is now made in Melbourne from 100% Post-Consumer Recycled content.

We have always used a proportion of recycled material, however like many businesses, the material often came from commercial sources and was mixed with virgin material. The traditional thinking was that this mix was required to ensure quality.

With deliberate sourcing through council MRFs (Material Recovery Facilities), we are now diverting items such as milk bottles and food packaging which are collected in roadside yellow bins in Melbourne, processing the material, and then using this material to manufacture new Kitchen Caddies. Saved from an endless life in Landfill, these products now have a second life helping people divert their food waste to compost, as FOGO (Food Organics + Garden Organics) rolls out across Australia.

After thousands of production runs for council FOGO programs, we are excited to say that the quality of our products is as fabulous as usual, and the only disadvantage is that depending on the batch, we can’t always achieve the bright white finish. With a gorgeous new Woodland Grey Caddy now available that hardly seems a concern. Let’s hope more businesses make the switch to Post Consumer recycled content, allowing Australia’s circular economy to continue to expand.

You can purchase the new Woodland Grey Compost-A-Pak Caddy on this link.

Compostable Fruit and Vegie Bags

Historic ban triggers awareness on what’s really ‘green’

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Compostable Postal SatchelsThis week South Australia’s historic ban on single use plastic products starts, with items such as straws, stirrers and cutlery now banned, however that’s just the start. Next year the ban will expand to polystyrene containers, and … drum roll please … oxo-degradable plastic products. We are really excited to see oxo-degradable plastics being banned, and hopefully it will raise awareness of their risks and trigger further bans across Australia.

To our horror our Compost-A-Pak products are often compared to oxo-degradable products, mainly due to the success of marketing strategies which make Oxo-degradable seem ‘green’, however this is far from the truth.

For nearly 15 years we have been campaigning for more transparent ‘honest’ labelling, and encouraging our customers to research and better understand what they are buying. Below we have broken down some popular marketing terms including Oxo-degradable and provide our take on what’s really green, and what to look for when you are purchasing.

Australian Certified Home Compostable AS5810  – RECOMMENDED

  • Products with this certification, like Compost-A-Pak® are proven to breakdown in a home compost with no harmful residue. They are plastic free!
  • The Australian Certification (AS5810) is one of the strictest certifications in the world, and so to be accredited, products need to pass an additional toxicity test. As such you can be confident bags with this certification will breakdown as nature intended, with no harmful residue or micro plastics.
  • Given we compost our bags and use the resulting compost for our family vegie patch, we always look for the AS5810 or AS4736 certification before purchasing any compostable products.

Australian Commercial Composting Standard  AS4736  – RECOMMENDED

  • An Australian Certification confirming that the products are suitable for Commercial Composting Facilities such as those used by councils as part of FOGO programs. You can be confident products with this certification, like Compost-A-Pak® are made of plant based materials and are plastic free.
  • To be accredited to this standard, compostable products must biodegrade at least 90% within 90 days in a commercial composting facility. Despite being so durable, the Compost-A-Pak® products were shown to biodegrade 99% in half the time!

Oxo-Degradable – SOON TO BE BANNED, THIS IS ONE TO AVIOD.

  • These materials are usually plastic based with added chemicals to speed up the time in which the plastic breaks down with heat, oxygen and UV light.
  • Whilst the material may disappear from sight, it breaks down into microplastics. In contrast, compostable products breakdown at the molecular or polymer level.
  • Microplastics are considered by many to be more dangerous to the environment than larger pieces of plastic, as they so easily spread into the environment as pollution, and can enter our food chain. Their effect on human health is still being studied by scientists, who estimate we may be ingesting up to a credit card of plastic every week! Definately one to avoid!

Degradable

  • For a product to degrade, it simply means it will breakdown into smaller components.
  • Usually plastic based, often this degrading will occur faster because the plastic has been treated with chemicals to speed up the process.
  • Alternatively, these products can also be a combination of plant based and plastic made material.
  • In both these cases the resulting material is micro plastics, which should be avoided given the pollution risks.

Landfill Degradable

  • Similarly, these bags are usually a plastic based material which breaks down more quickly given chemicals or plant based additives.
  • Interesting, when placed in Australian Landfills, often the materials are compressed with other wastes to reduce the oxygen content, and so slow down the rate at which all materials breakdown given this process actually adds to carbon dioxide emissions and the leeching of pollutants including microplastics.
  • Whilst a clever marketing term which sounds environmental, we believe this is one to avoid.

Biodegradable

  • A biodegradable product relies on organisms rather then chemicals to break down the product into smaller components. Often however, material promoted as bio-degradable contains a combination of plastics and plant based products. As such, whilst the bags do breakdown faster than they normally would, they may breakdown into microplastics.
  • If products do not have Compostable Certification, it’s best to assume they are not completely organic and so contain either toxins or a proportion of plastics.

Flushable

  • Usually made from a polyvinyl alcohol, these solutions are being presented as a water soluble bag which provides a way to save plastics and dog waste from Landfill. Unfortunately the bags are proving less water soluble than promised, and so are causing significant issues in our sewer system. When trapped, they are then removed at enormous expense, and placed into landfill.
  • Despite some recent rebranding of a key brand following a War On Waste Report, these bags are still suggesting they can be flushed. This is another one to avoid!

What ‘eco’ marketing terms have you questioned? We would love to hear your feedback and experiences.

dog pick up bags

Five Steps For Drying Native Daisies

Australian Native FlowersDrying flowers is the perfect way to preserve your favourite flowers, and be able to enjoy them indefinitely. This process can also be a fun experiment to do with the kids, helping them develop an appreciation for the creativity and beauty of nature.

The Golden Everlasting Daisy (Schoenia filifolia subsp. Subulifolia) is a gorgeous Australian Native with a bright yellow flower. It can live in most Australian environments however, unfortunately it is listed as Declared Rare Flora under the Western Australian Wildlife Conservation Act 1950. It’s one of the seeds we often giveaway as part of our Native Flora Program. 

To grow, these seeds like to sit on top of the soil, and the emerging daisies enjoy a splash of water every day, particularly during their first 2-3 weeks as a seedling.

Golden Everlastings Daisies are the perfect flower to dry out, as they are both  beautiful and quite speedy to dry out in comparison to other flowers.

OUR FIVE STEPS TO DRYING NATIVE DAISIES

Native Flower Drying

  1. Nurture your flowers as they grow with water and compost to ensure they are at their best. The aim is to maximise their colour and form when dried.
  2. You need to harvest flowers at the perfect time. A sunny afternoon, when they are completely open and dry is a great time. Cut  near the base so you have a generous steam. They can always be trimmed later.
  3. Carefully gather the flowers into small bunches and tie them with a natural twine to secure.
  4. These bunches need to be hung in a dark, dry room to air dry, if possible, with minimal light and humidity. This will ensure the vibrant colour is maintained. To hang, we find it easiest to simply loop the twine through the string.
  5. Your flowers should be ready to turn over and display in approximately 3-4 days. This may take a little longer depending on the hanging environment and humidity.

Five simple steps and you should have bunch of bright flowers to get you through the duller winter months.  Enjoy, and make sure you send through photos of your success stories as well as any tips.

Flower Drying Natives