500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

Cheat’s Marmalade

October25

Mandarinky is the generic Czech name for all small, sweet orange fruit with soft peel, in the UK we could call them Satsumas, Clementines or Mandarin oranges but they do not exist as separate entities here, so you have to scratch the skin of the orange in the supermarket in order to identify what you’re buying.

The fragrant rind of citrus fruit such as the delicious  Mandarinky we have in the shops at the moment can be a real treat with very little effort – and when something has been shipped so far to get to us, isn’t it fair not to waste any of it?
Wash satsuma and/or mandarin oranges before you peel them to eat. Keep the peels. Cut them into fine slivers or chunks. Put them into a glass jar. Cover the cut peel with honey. Microwave the jar until the honey boils – this will not be long so keep an eye on it. Put a lid on it. Let it cool overnight. Put the jar in the fridge the next day to set the honey. Use in place of marmalade.

A glut of apples, or a blessing?

October25

This month I bought a steam sterilising bath and have been experimenting with bottling both apple sauce and juice. The apple sauce is, for Brits, solely the preserve of Pork (ha) – we’d use a small dollop of it with our Sunday lunch in the same way that you’d use mustard. Not so our American visitors – it’s something it’s eaten with relish (ha ha) at many opportunities – just on it’s own, with oatmeal (porridge) or used as a cooking ingredient. We now have enough to see us through a nuclear winter, as my husband puts it. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

One simple recipe I personally love is to melt a bar of (good quality) chocolate into apple sauce.  I absolutely love this as a quick dessert if we’ve been working hard and need some extra calories.

Apple juice!  As ever, I’ve been looking for a way of preserving juice without using additional chemicals.  I’m prepared to live with juice which isn’t the mellow yellow colour of shop bought organic stuff.  To keep it green, you have to process it in an oxygen free environment (unfortunately we don’t have a lab), or add quantities of ascorbic acid or lemon juice – fine if you’re making glasses of, rather than gallons.  So, the juice is delicious, if a little brown. I’m not selling it – so if you don’t want to drink it because of the colour, that’s fine with me.

We have been gathering the apples, washing them, then mashing them with a huge bat – a bit like an oversized baseball bat with a flat bottom (as our American workawayer Reba demonstrates) . We use a metal bucket for this bit as the mashing is somewhat fierce. Every apple is squashed up quite effectively using only muscle power. The mash is then loaded into the press (an old fruit press/sausage stuffer which came with the house) which now lives on the back porch. A piece of sturdy nylon hose (never worn) is used to line the press which makes it easy to take the apple out and rearrange it for a second and third pressing.  We catch the juice that comes out of the top and leaky bottom of the press and then sterilise and bottle it.

Bottling apple juice is a sensitive subject & the method developed by trial and error has caused many broken bottles.  The apple juice is heated to 80 degrees c, and the washed beer bottles are heated in the steam steriliser up to 90. The caps must be doused in boiling water. You need to kill any yeast which could potentially turn bottles of apple juice into little bombs (the fermentation will cause great pressure as the juice is very sweet, causing the bottles to eventually explode).  Once the juice is poured into the bottles, we cap them using a crown capper (a special clamp which fixes on the lids of beer bottles). Up until now I have been returning them to the steamer for up to 5 minutes at this point – however this is a sensitive operation and I have lost several bottles  – I think because if there is too much of an increase of temperature, the bottle will pop, leaving you with glass, juice and time wasted.

With my next pressing, I plan to go without the 5 minutes in the steamer as the juice and equipment should be fine with the temperatures used above.  Currently, we have enough apple juice for us to use a litre and a half every week till next season.

The cider we set fermenting earlier in the summer has now all been racked off into 5 litre bottles which are down in the cellar to mature. It will be interesting to see what is more popular with our visitors, home made cider or non alcoholic apple juice.  Adding to these the apple we have dried in recent weeks, we really have made the most of the extraordinary crop of apples we’ve had this year.

The miracle that is Air Yeast!

October15

One of the brilliant things about hosting volunteers here is how much they teach us.  Over the summer, Rosie returned. She’s been doing all sorts of interesting things since she was here last year – including working in a free shop in Nottingham, taking over an allotment and teaching Forest Schools – where they take little ones into the woods and teach them skills as well as just how to play outside. Rosie know someone who is running an art project called Exponential Growth. This project encourages people to use a yeast culture that they grow, care for and share.

We were sent a starter culture from Loughborough in the UK which languished in the fridge for a bit while we searched for some rye flour to feed it. Luckily it was adopted by Joshua when he arrived at Nový Mlýn. Joshua has been travelling through Israel and Palestine as well as the further flung outposts of Eastern Europe and acted as our master baker while he was with us.  Bread was hand made on a daily basis.

We were concerned that our pet yeast may not survive without Joshua to care for it, but we’ve discovered that we can make a daily loaf of delicious sourdough bread in the bread machine. If course, it doesn’t quite have the character of the range of loaves produced by Joshua, however it does have the advantage of at least being bread, made at home on demand and much nicer than store- bought loaves.

We keep the pet yeast in a ceramic jug with a knitted cotton cloth over the top and feed it at least every 12 hours, each time adding matching quantities of water and flour – so the end mix is 1/3 starter, 1/3 water 1/3 flour. It doesn’t seem to matter very much which flour we use as the yeast breaks it down into a smooth bubbly batter.  Once the jug is full of a frothy mix, we stir it before tipping most of it into the bread machine – (4 tea cups full, if you’re counting), then add two tea cups of other flour, a good glug of extra virgin olive oil and a flat teaspoon of salt.  We then set the bread machine so the loaf will be ready for us first thing in the morning (so often it has an extra 6-8 hours to sit and ruminate further).

We all miss Joshua very much, especially Bunbury, but he lives on with us in yeast form.

Gardening by Noel Gallagher

December9

I should tell you what I know about gardening… but I don’t know how much of it is true…
In organic growing you’re depending on earthworms to do a lot of the work for you, if you ever lift up a piece of cowshit in a field you see under, worms having dinner. Worms dig the soil for you. They bring organic matter down under and aerate the soil. So a school of ‘no-dig’ gardeners has come about, because digging is bad for the soil and hard work and it kills everything. But to have this work you need to mulch to keep the weeds down and give the worms something to eat. I get cow dung off my neighbour, lots of it.
So I experiment with this type of no-dig gardening. Last year I mad a bed about 4ft wide and 10 ft long. I made a few, put down newspaper (about 20 sheets thick) then put about 1/2 foot of dung on top. Then using triangles planted potatoes in a bit of compost (triangles make more space than rows).
Of course everybody complained about the smell of cowshit, but not about the spuds in the summer. Read the rest of this entry »

Wood Stoves: A Cautionary Tale (from Claire)

October21

At the conclusion of my first week at Nový Mlýn, I’ve developed what you might call a frienemy. How is this possible, you ask, when only the nicest hosts, the coolest workers, and three adorable cats inhabit Nový Mlýn? Two words: wood stoves. When my toes are numb or when I’m snuggling into my bed for the night, they’re the best friends a girl could ever ask for. Or when I shower and there’s one right there, just waiting for me to finish so that it can continue to keep me warm through the drying-off process, I love them. But it was also in the bathroom last night that one of the stoves turned on me, rightly earning the enemy half of their title. As I took a quick shower, my beloved sweatpants, Vassar sweatshirt, and incredibly warm socks were nestled in a basket next to the stove. When I went to put them all on again after the shower, they were, gasp, MELTED! Who knew that cotton could melt? Not I. True, I must’ve knocked them closer to the heat while reaching for a bar of soap in the basket, but still I was heartbroken to know that the stove was capable of such destruction. And as I gaped at it in horror, it just stood there steadfastly as if to say, “Who me? No, of course not!” Not unlike George, the cat here who favors jumping on the counters to steal cheese, and then stares at you innocently when you scold him and then boot him out of the kitchen.

Alas, I should’ve known the treachery of the wood stoves, as just the night before I essentially fried two of my fingers after grabbing a hot pot off the top of one. And again, here, I should mention the human element of negligence involved, but still! I mean, I had to sleep with my fingers in a glass of ice water! We’re talking blisters and all. FYI: honey compresses, vinegar soaks, and lavender oil are all excellent home remedies for painful burns.

Luckily, no other object at Nový Mlýn has declared war on me. Last week Emily and I worked on drilling holes into the walls that surround the windows, and then we sawed IKEA curtain rods down to size in an effort to eventually cover each window with an insulating duvet. Even though it was my first time using both a handsaw and a drill, each provided nothing short of a stellar performance. We finished the job covered in red dust from the drilled brick walls and that, combined with my new tool usage, made me feel pretty badass and awesome.

I also had the pleasure of helping Emily finish a gorgeous mosaic on one of the front windowsills. She had already plastered down most of a very cool swirling star design and I simply helped her fill in the last spaces with some sea glass. It was a lot of fun picking out the most interesting pieces of broken porcelain and glass, and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to learn a little bit about doing a mosaic. The only downfall was the weather; three days of constant snow doesn’t exactly nurture the best environment for being outside working with bare fingers. Therefore we took frequent tea breaks while we defrosted our numb hands next to a wood stove (oh, wood stoves…). The mosaic still needs to be grouted since Emily and Grier have just left Nový Mlýn to continue their travels. Luckily, one of the new Australian workers, Katie, has experience with grouting and has volunteered to take on the final step of the mosaic.

The past couple of days have been pretty mellow and actually quite domestic. Henrik from Sweden and Richard from Australia have undertaken the everlasting task of chopping wood while Katie and I have been doing a few little sewing jobs. Aside from pricking myself about 100 times and cursing at the thread, which liked to slip out of the needle at only the most inconvenient moments, it was nice sitting by the fire and being domestic. Today, Henrik braved the melting snow by himself to tend to the wood, while Katie and Richard worked on a draft of the Nový Mlýn property. In the meantime, I’ve been taking pictures of everyone else working and then writing about it, calling that my own form of work for the day…

Clafoutis for you!

October16

As cooked by Emily:

Clafoutis aux Cerises

Baked cherry pudding, serves 4-6

Butter for greasing

750g/ 1 ½ lb black cherries, or other fruits and berries

4 eggs

Salt

100g/3 ½ oz sugar

70g/2 ½ oz flour

70g/2 ½ oz butter

250ml/9fl oz milk

Sugar for sprinkling

Generously butter a wide, shallow oven dish and arrange the cherries evenly over the bottom. Beat the eggs lightly in a large bowl; whisk in a pinch of salt and the sugar. Sift the flour gradually, still whisking. Melt two-thirds of the butter and beat it tin. Stir in the milk.

Pour this batter over the cherries and dot with the remaining butter. Bake at 200°C/400°F/Gas6 for 35-40 minutes until the batter is set. If you don’t want to serve immediately, it may help to prevent the batter sinking if you turn the oven down to 150 °C/325°F/Gas3 and bake for a few minutes longer. Sprinkle with sugar and serve hot or lukewarm, with cream.

Flourless chocolate cake…so easy

October3

As cooked by Rachel

INGREDIENTS

* 4 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate, chopped (I USE ¾ BAG OF TRADER JOE’S CHOC. CHIPS… WITHOUT MEASURING…. DOESN’T SEEM TO MATTER MUCH. 😉
* 1/2 cup butter
* 3/4 cup white sugar (less is more. not too sweet, brings out choc.)
* 1/2 cup cocoa powder (plus a little bit more to coat the pan with)
* 3 eggs, beaten (by hand)
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Grease an 8 inch round cake pan, and dust with cocoa powder. (JUST SPRINKLE COCOA POWDER OVER A GREASED CAKE PAN WITH A SPOON. THEN TILT IT BACK AND FORTH SHAKING IT AROUND, TILL THE COCOA COVERS BOTTOM AND SIDES WELL.)

2. In the top of a double boiler over lightly simmering water, melt chocolate and butter. Remove from heat, and vigorously stir in sugar, cocoa powder, eggs, and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan.

3. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. Slices can also be reheated for 20 to 30 seconds in the microwave before serving.

IMPOSSIBLE TO GO WRONG. NOTHING MUCH IN IT. NOTHING MUCH TO IT. EXCEPT, OF COURSE, HOW FABULOUS IT TASTES.

Using a helicopter isn’t eco friendly

October19

I watched an interesting documentary recently about a family involved in an eco home project. In order to speed things on a bit when their home was inaccessible because of road conditions, they USED A HELICOPTER TO FLY IN BUILDING MATERIALS.

Did these people genuinely believe that their efforts could in any way be labelled ‘sustainable’ when, surrounded by forest, they airlifted wood in to build their home? What did they think this would do to their carbon footprint?

In a similar vein – I listened to a radio program this morning about sustainable travel – in which they skirted round the fundamental problem – if you are travelling by plane, it’s not a sustainable holiday. The man interviewed, who runs a sustainable travel website, recommended that we travel less frequently by plane, and, I quote “we should all start taking less frequent, longer holidays, like we used to” – like who used to? the landed gentry?

And if another person tells me that “using a dish washer actually uses less water than washing by hand” – I will scream (at the sheer horror that so many otherwise intelligent people can be so easily ‘greenwashed’). Do the maths. Do you really use a bath full of water to wash up a cup? What research did the marketing department of said dish washer manufacturer base their claims on? (update: the comparison was with people who wash dishes under a running tap). Why would you accept this without question – unless you were looking for a convenient excuse not to modify your lifestyle in the face of global warming.

We’re going to hell in a hand-card, and it’s our own stupidity wheeling us along.

Domestic carbon sequestration

October18

This morning I was thinking about chimneys. A strange thing to wake up wondering about but bear with me. We had our chimneys swept by Vaclav Havel on Thursday (namesake of the first president of the post-communist Czech Republic). It was all very high tech – surprisingly – we had been expecting Dick Van Dyke I suppose. The 21 century equivalent brings with him a camera and lights in order to film the chimney lining to check that it’s safe.
After our chimney fire two weeks ago, I cleaned the sand out of the chimney (filled to extinguish the blaze). With the sand came out big clumps of carbon, solid like soft charcoal. When I had looked into the burning chimney, the walls glowed like a furnace – it was this charcoal like lining which was burning.
Carbon sequestration has been happening in our chimneys for the last 20 years (Vaclav Havel said they had not been cleaned for a considerable length of time.) Currently the science exists to take the harmful carbon out of the pollution from coal burning power stations. The problem has been the cost of including such technology – and seeing as global warming has until recently been intangible – then there is no direct financial benefit to energy companies to include the technology.
Though there is a logical argument for us burning wood as a source of heat – it is a renewable source of energy as the wood is taken from a sustainable source – I wonder how far down the line is development of domestic sequestration.

What is it with the Czechs and sand?

October7

On Sunday we learnt an important lesson – why chimneys should be regularly cleaned.  The lesson was, of course, too late – as we had by then already set our house on fire. To our rescue came Chynov fire brigade. With great efficiency they poured sand down our chimney and put out the blaze. When the police arrived, I told the officer that the firemen were on the roof, putting songs in the chimney (Pisek/Pisen). My Czech is not good.
This is the second time I have been rescued by Czechs filling something up with sand.

When he was a child, my grandfather watched as Exeter was set ablaze during the second world war. As he watched it burn, a bomb fell a few feet away from him. He felt the ground heave up… but the bomb did not detonate.  When the bomb disposal officer arrived, my grandfather followed him to the crater where there lay a 1100 pound bomb ‘as big as a dinner table’. When they opened it they discovered a note written in pencil saying ‘to the people of England from the people of Czechoslovakia, this bomb will not explode’. The bomb had been filled with sand.

When we got married in Prague (31st May 2005, Old Town Hall), I tried to tell the story about the bomb to the official conducting the service…  a strange feeling – if it had not been for the bravery of unknown saboteurs…

« Older Entries