DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS

DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS
I have a forum attached to my blog where people from all over the world meet to discuss simple life. There are about 7000 forum members now so we have an enormous amount of good information about growing food, cooking from scratch, family, simple living, routines, budgeting, baking and much more. Please click on the image above to go there. Newcomers will have to register. It's free, friendly and we're waiting for you.

31 August 2016

Growing oranges

We've had quite a history of fruit trees in our backyard. When we bought this place, there was a 30 year old avocado living quite happily where our vegetable garden now is. We've loved eating avocados for many years so way back then that tree was a true gift in an otherwise unremarkable backyard. It didn't last long. A few months after we moved in, the Council finally brought us into the (then) 20th century and installed sewerage in our little town. We were the first to get it and therefore we had some of the infrastructure installed out there. At one point, circa 1998, our backyard looked like the trenches of World War 1. Consequently, the avocado died. But by then we'd planted our first lemon tree, a Eureka, and when we put in the vegetable garden, we planted a Washington Navel orange and we've never looked back. Over the years there have also been mandarins and cumquats as well as many berry fruits and passionfruit. We also planted a macadamia, which is native to this area, but we soon discovered it brought rats in to eat the nuts when they fell. That was removed. We have a lovely pecan that was here when we arrived and that is still going strong. There is a mango down on the creek that we leave for the bats, a native fig and a second Eureka.

Above is the Washington Navel in the vegetable garden. It has finished its yearly crop and is putting on a lot of flowers which will be next year's fruit.
Below is one of the orange trees we moved over to the vegetable garden. It's already putting on new growth and flowers.

We also had two other navel oranges on the other side of the yard that we rarely watered. Oranges need a lot of water, so they survived but didn't thrive, unlike the one in the vegetable patch. When my nephew Danny was here a couple of months ago, I asked him to move those two orange trees over to be closer to the watering. Unfortunately, it looks like the larger tree won't make it but the smaller one is very healthy and putting on flowers.

Here is our new girl - Lane's Late Navel. She's sitting with another Eureka lemon we bought for Shane and Sarndra as a house warming gift.

One of the true joys of our garden is the fresh orange juice it gives us every year. For about three months very year - early May to late July, sweet oranges are picked to eat and juice. We were talking about it the other day and decided we'd look for another type of orange that will extend the juice season.  Enter Lane's Late Navel. An Australian variety of orange very similar to the Washington Navel, which finishes cropping in early July. Lane's Late starts in July and produces through winter and sometimes into October.  If all these trees grow well, we'll increase our orange season to six months and have enough oranges for marmalade, juice, eating fresh and for sharing with the rest of the family.

If you're already growing the Washington Navel, Lane's Late is an excellent sister tree. You need to be in a frost-free area and have the ability to give the trees a lot of water, so having your own water tanks would be ideal. Deep weekly watering is essential for a good crop. Don't worry about soil type. We're on clay here, but even if you have sandy soil, as long as you dig a hole at least twice as big as the root ball, then fill it with compost, good soil and manure, you'll be able to grow an orange tree.


If you have some usable land at your home but not much spare time for gardening, a fruit tree or two will give you good quality produce with very little effort and time. Fruit trees are a great investment. If you can prepare the planting hole well, locate the tree in full sun in a fairly wind-free area, for the expenditure of about $30 - $40 and a couple of hours work, you'll be rewarded with years of fresh organic citrus fruit. Make sure you give the tree plenty of water, fertilise every season with organic fertilisers - comfrey tea/mulch, chicken manure, blood and bone, sulphate of potash, and check for insects. Shape the tree to suit your land and circumstances - for instance, we lifted the skirt on our tree (see photo above) so the branches didn't touch the ground when full of fruit. When the tree isn't producing, it looks like a lovely, dark green moderate sized tree that makes the garden look beautiful. Citrus respond well to pruning so you can adjust the height or width if you need to. Prune after all the oranges have been picked and before the flowers start for the next season's crop.

This is the second Eureka lemon (being guarded by our hen Patrick). Planted two years ago, this is the ideal time to shape and prune the tree if it needed it. We'll let it grow naturally and see what it does. We only allowed a few lemons to grow this year but now the tree is full of flowers and it looks like there'll be a bumper crop early next year.
Last year we severely pruned our lemon tree when it was attacked by borers. We removed half the tree and hoped the other half would survive. This is part of this year's crop, they hung down like grapes. We're hoping for new shoots on the pruned side and while there are none there yet, I doubt it will be too long before the tree recovers and starts growing well again.

I'm looking forward to the years ahead when we might have five or six months of the year with fresh oranges coming into the kitchen every day. Think of all the whole orange cakes I can make! I might have to look around for a few more orange recipes.  I encourage you to grow fruit trees, especially if you'd like to garden but don't have much time. A productive fruit tree will put your land to good use and give you fresh produce with little effort.

 - - - ♥︎|♥︎|♥︎ - - -

I need your help, friends. I'm quite happy to keep writing my blog, I enjoy the discipline of it, but now that I'm not writing as much here, when I do sit down for it, I wonder what to write. I've told you about what I do and although I suppose I could write on these topics again with the benefit of a few years more experience, but unless I change what I do or think of something new, I'm not sure I want to repeat it all.

So, here is my contact: rhondahetzel@gmail.com If you want me to write on a specific topic, or if you're struggling with something at home and think I can help, write to me and we might get a few more posts up.


26 August 2016

Weekend reading

The daikon radishes are growing like wild fire this year. I think most of them would weigh about 500grams/a pound and they're crisp and delicious.

I've been thoroughly enjoying my time at home and I'm getting caught up on all those jobs I put aside when I was busy writing. It's a great feeling to meet the mornings knowing I don't have to go out and can spend the day doing whatever I choose to do. I've been spending time in the garden late every afternoon, staring into space, watching the birds, breathing the fresh air and just being a part of the landscape. Life is slow and quiet and I'm loving it.

I hope you have a lovely weekend planned. If you have time, tell me about it.

How to search gmail so that it searches everything
Sleep 'resets' brain connections crucial for memory and learning
How to pickle cherry tomatoes

24 August 2016

How to cook

Most of the work I do here at home is food related with cooking, preserving, baking and growing all taking a good slice of my ordinary days. It doesn't feel like a chore to me because I enjoy it and I love the feeling I get when I cook nutritious family meals and when I offer home-baked goodies to visitors. I've read that many people don't cook now and the proliferation of cafes and takeaway food places in every small town and city is testament to that. It's seems very odd to me that adults who strive to possess every thing of value they can have don't see value in one of life's most important skills. And I'm saddened that boys and girls don't learn to cook either at home or at school.



When I go to my cupboard and choose a jar of jam, sauce, cordial or pickles, or place a home made meal on the table, I know what's in it. I know our food stockpile will see us through most family or community emergencies and that even if the worse were to happen, I could still provide food for my family and not go out to the shops to do it. It is the quiet knowledge of what we get from them that keep my patterns of work going year after year.

The days here follow patterns that regularly repeat themselves. Beds are slept in and made; when bread isn't baked, a quick circle of scones fills in; eggs, fruit and vegetables make their way from the garden to the kitchen to be eaten fresh or stored for later. Tea is made, meals cooked, menus planned. My food budget isn't stretched because these meals cost much less than their commercial, pre-prepared cousins. Systems are linked in a simple home and those systems support each other.


Fresh eggs from the backyard are turned into creamy custards that provide the nutrition we need to remain healthy. And the food cooked here is a reminder of our family heritage and culture and a constant comfort because of its familiarity. I can't imagine being cut off from that by not being able to cook.



At this point of my life, instead of working for a living, I work at providing a healthy framework in which to live. Every day a choice is made to keep to the rhythm of this domestic life; every day is the same and different. Working to provide a clean and organised home with good food on the table every day makes sense to me. The small, never-ending tasks that make up my days may look basic and mundane but the true significance of this type of work is evident in what it produces. And that, my friends, is a never-ending stream of good food and the easy self-confidence that comes from being able to produce it. I wish everyone knew how to cook but all we can do is to make sure the children in our own homes are taught to cook as they grow up. If we do that we're giving them comfort and pleasure, an ability to express culture, kindness and generosity, a way to celebrate important events and the potential to provide nourishment for themselves, family and friends that will last a life time. 

Do the children in your family know how to cook?

20 August 2016

Weekend reading

Picking turnips.

We had a fright with the chickens during the week. I heard squawking, ran outside to see what was happening and, at the passionfruit trellis right near the house, an eagle had our frizzle Kathleen by the neck. Luckily it let go and flew off when it saw me. I tried to find the other frizzle, Tricia, but she was no where to be found. I resigned myself to losing both chickens - I thought Tricia was already dead and that Kathleen would die of shock.  Well, much to my delight, Tricia reappeared and Kathleen was fine and dandy the following morning. They might be small and fluffy but those frizzles are tough gals.

Thanks for visiting and to all those who comment, a special thanks. I love reading what you have to say and although I usually don't have time to reply, I often think about your comments and sometimes use an idea to write another post.  ♥︎

Devon sandwiches
The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain - I vaguely remember posting this a few years ago, but it's interesting, so here it is again.
Why time seems to go by more quickly as we get older
Vegetarian sandwiches
The royal wedding cake - when I saw this I thought it was similar to a cake my mother use to make when I was a young girl. The only difference was I was pretty sure mum's cake contained copha. Later on the same day I was looking through Classics, the CWA cookbook, and found THE recipe. It's called copha cake and is on page 324.
How one family is sending 13 kids to college, living debt free
Off-grid with Doug and Stacey
A rainbow of ice cubes

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17 August 2016

Organising and managing your food

Serving good food from your own kitchen isn't just one thing, it's many. And it doesn't happen once, it's part of your ordinary days for most of your life. There is food budgeting and shopping, correct storage, meal planning, cooking, baking, preserving, maintenance of your stove, oven, fridge, dishwasher, crockery, cutlery, pantry and stockpile. All of us need to think about food security and some of us think about food production and go on to work in our own backyard gardens. No matter how you go about it, how much money you have for it, how much time you spend on it, food is important and it needs to be organised and managed.


Many readers tell me they're a bit haphazard with their food. They don't plan, budget or work to minimise waste. And that's fine, none of us are born with that knowledge, it's one of the many things we learn to make life easier. As we grow older, we need to make sure we learn what we need to know about food - and that's a lot more than just recipes - and to adjust and refine our food knowledge as we progress through life.



If you're not sure about how to start organising yourself, start with a list of the meals and food you already make regularly. Just making that list will probably start clarifying things for you and then you can go on to develop the skills you need. Slowly, you'll start seeing your patterns emerging and it will all start making sense. I included my list of meals in yesterday's post so if you need a little help, check that out. Don't try to do everything at once. Concentrate on one skill or idea at a time, work on that, and when you feel competent, start on the next one.

Don't think you have to do everything the way I do it, I am just one small example. If you're new to all this, remember it's something that will help you every day for as long as you're responsible for your family food. Take it slow, make sure all your systems work the way you need them to and I promise you it will make the work you do in the kitchen easier and more pleasant. 

When you produce your list, work out if you have enough main meals to serve for about a month. If you do, you'll have variety as well as nutrition. Then start building up the various categories of food you need - look for snack foods, lunches for work and school, morning or afternoon tea foods, drinks, preserves, a vegetarian selection, celebration foods or foods for any dietary requirements in your family. If you need to add to your list, do some research, test your new finds and add them to the list if they're suitable. That will take a long time, so don't rush it.

Use an over abundance of backyard fruit and vegetables, or buy seasonal food when it's cheap, to make jams, sauces, chutney or relish.
Use your freezer to store fruit and vegetables when you don't have time to process immediately. These rosellas have been in our freezer for two months. In the next couple of weeks I'll have the time to defrost them and make them into jam and cordial.

It's a good idea to use fruit and vegetables that are in season. They'll be at their best and cheaper because there'll be a lot of them available. When you grow your own, it's a simple matter of preserving or freezing excess vegetables as pickles, relish or chutney or your sweeter fruits as jam or cordial. But you can also do that when you don't grow your own. Just look around for a roadside stall or small green grocer because they may have cartons of oranges, lemons, tomatoes, peaches, or cheap pineapples, mangoes and passionfruit at the height of the season. You usually have to ask for a price on a carton because the shop won't have them on display. It's handy to have a freezer because if you have a big harvest when you don't have the time to preserve, you can freeze the fruit and use it later. That's what I've done with our elderberries, I've been freezing them as they ripen on the tree. When I have enough berries, I make either elderberry cordial or flu tonic. I also have a few plastic bottles of pure lemon juice ready to be made into cordial in summer. It takes a bit of organising, and you do need a freezer to help you store your produce but it's a simple exercise that will help you manage your food stores effectively.

Simple rissole (meatball) recipe
Meatloaf may be made using this recipe. Just form it into a loaf and bake it in the oven.




  • 250 grams pork mince
  • 250 grams beef mince
  • 3 slices stale bread
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 1 stick celery, finely diced
  • salt and pepper
  • ½ cup parsley, finely chopped
One hour before you want to cook, add stale bread to milk and allow it to stand for 30 minutes.

Add meat to a bowl, break up the milk-soaked bread with your hands and add it to the meat.

Add all other ingredients and mix with your clean hands. When thoroughly mixed, form into balls of the size and shape you require. If you're making rissoles, the shape is like a large ball that you squash down slightly before cooking. If you're making meatballs for pasta, they're much smaller, a little smaller than a golf ball. For meatloaf, simply form into a loaf, either in a loaf tin or baking tray.

Put the rissoles on a plate and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes. That will allow them to firm up a bit and make cooking easier.

Cook the rissoles/meat balls in a frying pan with a small amount of olive oil added, turn every five minutes and brown on all sides.  When they're brown, put the lid on, turn the heat down and let them cook for an extra five minutes.  You can use the pan juices to make gravy. Click here to go to my gravy mix post. You can pre-make your own gravy mix so you don't have to buy one with preservatives in it.

Salmon fish cakes/patties





Make these up at least an hour before you want to cook them. They will firm up in the fridge and be much easier to cook and flip over.

  • large can of red salmon
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed
  • 1 large egg
  • chilli, finely diced (optional)
  • coriander or parsley, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • breadcrumbs for coating
Drain all the water from the can of salmon, remove the skin and place salmon in a bowl. Leave the bones in. They're soft and you can easily mash them to incorporate into the flesh. The bones contain an extra boost of calcium.

Add all the ingredients to the fish, mix well and form into patties. Coat with dry breadcrumbs, if desired. Fry in hot oil till both sides are golden brown - about 15 minutes.

Tuna loaf
This can be eaten hot or cold. It's good served warm with mashed potato, green beans and tomato and it's also good served cold with potato salad and fresh garden salad.

Drain all the water from the tuna before starting.

Prepare a loaf tin by spraying it with olive oil and place a piece of baking paper, about 6 inches wide, over the middle of the loaf tin to help remove the loaf when it's cooked. The paper should come up the sides of the tin to be used as handles.
  • Large can tuna in water
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs made from stale bread
  • 1 large onion
  • ½ capsicum, diced
  • ½ cup corn
  • 1 stick celery finely diced
  • ½ cup parsley or chives, finely chopped
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 level tablespoon curry powder, chilli powder or paprika (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • halved cherry tomatoes or tomato slices may be added to the top for decoration
Add all the ingredients to a large bowl and mix thoroughly. This is best done with clean hands. Pack the mixture into a loaf tin, firm it down and allow it to sit in the fridge for an hour to firm before baking. 

Bake in the oven at 180C for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Additional reading

After a while, cooking, food preparation and planning become second nature but we all have to start somewhere. I hope these posts will assist you either by adding to your recipe collection or by helping you manage your food and build your skills. Remember it's a long process so don't rush, and what you do doesn't have to be what everyone else does, it has to serve you and your family.



15 August 2016

Building up a list of old-fashioned, favourite recipes

When I was growing up we rarely went out to eat. I remember dad taking a saucepan to the local newly opened Chinese restaurant once. The saucepan was filled with Chinese food to be brought home to eat. That would have been in the mid-50s; there were no take away containers in those days. I also remember one exciting day in the 1950s when mum took Tricia and I "to town" (the city of Sydney) to look at the department store Christmas windows and, for the first time, we had lunch at a restaurant. There weren't many restaurants around then but this one was called Cahills Family Restaurant and I think it was in the Strand Arcade. I forget what Tricia and mum had but I ordered spaghetti Bolognese, which I thought was extremely sophisticated. That was the first time I had pasta. Australia was still living in the meat and three veg era then. Back then you could eat at bistros, cafes and milk bars. Most country pubs had food, many city ones didn't but if you wanted really good food everyone knew where to go, you ate at home.

 Chicken casserole.
Meat pie.

We grew up in a time when meat and left overs played a big part in contemporary cooking. Fish was often served on Friday and we were able to tell what day it was by what was on the dinner plate. Cook books were unusual then. Many cooks wrote down their own recipes, had a scrapbook of recipes cut from magazines and pasted into a book or they may have had one cook book which would have been a CWA or church recipe book. Most people cooked meals they'd grown up eating and had been taught to cook as a child. That was the experience in our family so when I was learning to cook, I modified my mother or father's cooking and added things like spaghetti bolognese along the way.

I had an email from a reader recently asking for help with old fashioned recipes. This lady is about my age, has collected over 1000 cook books but feels overloaded and has trouble sorting the information. She and her husband like old style meals and don't like 'new' ingredients. I think she came to the right place because although I do cook the occasional new style meal and experiment with new ingredients, the older I get the more I rely on the foods I grew up with. I like the familiarity of them; they're my comfort foods.

 Satay chicken
 Potato salad
 Quiche in filo pastry
 Rissoles (meat balls) in herb gravy and vegetables

The following list is made up of the meals I make over and over again. Occasionally there will be a stir fry or a new recipe to try and more frequently lately, there are vegetarian meals. Even when we do eat meat, it's far less than we used to eat. We've probably reduced our meat intake by about 50 percent to what it was 10 years ago. What I do focus on in my cooking is to serve real food as fresh as possible. The ingredients are nutritious and thrifty, are often home grown and sit well in our low income lifestyle. You'll often notice ingredients such as potatoes/sweet potatoes in my cooking. I make no apologies for that. We are a family with German, Irish, Swedish, English heritage and potatoes feature in all those cuisines. I hope when you select your list of frequently cooks meals it will reflect your family heritage too. Food traditions link us to our culture and reinforce a feeling of being connected and loved. It's one of the many complex roles food plays in our lives.

  • Shepherd's pie from left over lamb roast
  • Lamb curry from left over lamb roast or lamb neck chops
  • Cottage pie with minced beef and mashed potato topping (sweet potato or pumpkin topping)
  • Corned beef and colcannon
  • Corned beef hash
  • Salmon with potato salad
  • Swedish meatballs, potato salad and fresh pickled cucumbers
  • Pea/lentil soup
  • Chicken noodle soup
  • Beef, barley and bone marrow soup
  • Beef casserole and herb dumplings
  • Lasagne
  • Quiche
  • Spinach pie with filo pastry
  • Sausage rolls
  • Boiled egg salad
  • Canned salmon salad
  • Tuna loaf
  • Fish cakes
  • Cabbage rolls
  • Potato pancakes (Kartoffel Puffer)
  • Pork sausages with onion gravy and vegetables
  • Roast lamb, chicken or pork
  • Rissoles, red cabbage and potatoes
  • Pork chops, cabbage and potatoes
  • Meatloaf
Australia meal recipes - allrecipes

I use the following cook books but you'll find recipes for most of my list items online. Just steer clear of any sites that have recipes with processed, pre-made sauces and spice mixes. Try and cook from scratch and modify the recipes to suit your own tastes.





My favourite book is The Country Table which I bought two copies of a couple of years ago. One for Sunny and one for me. Sunny asked me for Australian recipes so she could cook our favourite foods. The Country Table is full of wonderful recipes that have been part of Australian dinner tables for many years.

The Country Table Published 2009 by ACP ISBN 978-1-74245-155-8

My go-to book for new cakes and slices is the Women's Weekly Cakes and Slices Cookbook. It can be purchased in many newsagents and book shops.

I also like The Thrifty Kitchen written by Suzanne and Kate Gibbs. They are Margaret Fulton's daughter and grand daughter.  It was published in 2009  - ISBN 978 1 921 38207 9.

Another favourite is the Country Women's Association mammoth book, Classics. Published in 2011 - ISBN 978 0 143 56614 4 With over 400 recipes on 881 pages it has a comprehensive index, conversion charts and sections on Soups, Snacks and Starts, Mains, Dessert, Baking and Preserves.

I'll humbly add my own books - Down to Earth and The Simple Home too. Both contain some of my frequently used recipes.

If you have room or money for only one book, I'd go for either The Country Table or Classics. Both would serve you well for many years.

In my next post I'll share a couple of my own recipes and write more about seasonal foods as well as the groups of foods and drinks we generally serve from a well established home kitchen.  See you then. In the meantime, what are your old-fashioned favourites?


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