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January 2013

Berry Delicious Pickings

Picking Blueberries 1 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

It’s blueberry season here in the Hunter Valley, time to enjoy these berries fresh.

Picking Blueberries 2 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Misty Valley Farm in the lower Hunter lets you pick your own organic blueberries for a fraction of what you would pay at the shops.

My daughter and I picked three kilograms of delicious blueberries. 

Picking Blueberries 3 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Or to be more precise, I picked and she sneaked, with her hand making its way to her mouth more often than the bucket.

Picking Blueberries 4 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Picking Blueberries 5 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Picking Blueberries 6 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Picking Blueberries 7 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

Picking Blueberries 8 Misty Valley Farm Brunkerville Tricia Hogbin

We devoured handfuls on the drive home and the remainder were destined for the freezer.

Blueberries are easy to freeze.

I simply toss the berries into a container and put them in the freezer. If they are not organic I wash them in water and spread them out on a tea towel to dry.

We’ll enjoy the berries over the next few months in our porridge, on yoghurt, in smoothies, and as a simple frozen treat. Frozen blueberries are one of my favourite summer snacks.

Some families return to Misty Valley Farm every year to pick 20 kilograms of Blueberries to create a freezer stash that will last the year.

These local home frozen berries are far superior to the bags of frozen berries you’ll find in the supermarket.

Most, if not all of the berries you’ll find in the supermarket are imported from China and Chile.

Not only do these berries come with high food miles, they may also carry high levels of mould, fungicides and other chemicals.

Misty Valley Farm is open to the public during blueberry season - from around December until early February. 

More information on visiting the farm can be found on the Misty Valley Farm website

Are you a fan of pick-your-own farms? Do you know of any other pick-your-own farms in the Hunter region or elsewhere? I know of Hillsdale Orchard - but would love to know of others. 

[Originally published in my column LESS IS MORE in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 26 January 2013]


Growing Backyard Bananas

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Backyard Bananas are high on my list of things I’ll miss from my home in Newcastle when I move ‘up the valley’. Bananas are typically considered a Queensland tropical fruit, but are surprisingly easy to grow here in Newcastle and even as far south as Wollongong.

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They thrive in our subtropical frost free climate.

Unfortunately, we get too many frosts at our new place to grow bananas easily.

Perhaps you are wondering why I would grow bananas when you can get them for only a few dollars a kilogram from the supermarket. Those rows of perfectly uniform blemish-free bananas come at a huge cost. About 100,000 tonnes of perfectly edible bananas are thrown out each year because they don’t pass the supermarkets' ruthless shape, size, and appearance test.

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We have four banana plants in our Newcastle backyard - three Cavendish and one Lady Finger. These generous plants each produce a huge bunch every year.

You don’t need a need a permit to grow bananas here in Newcastle, unlike further north in the commercial banana growing districts of Northern NSW and Queensland.

Bananas are suckering plants, producing banana pups from their base. One key to getting plenty of fruit is to maintain only three stems - a leader (the largest stem) and two followers. Cut away all the extra stems. You also need to remove any stems once they have fruited.

I use the removed stems as mulch around the base of the banana plants and also feed chunks of stem to our worm farm. Worms absolutely love banana stem.

Bananas won’t ripen on the plant easily here in Newcastle or further south. Pick a hand at a time and place it indoors in a bag to ripen.

Bananas are easy to freeze. Simply peel and place in an air-tight container. Use them in baking, smoothies, and as frozen sliced bananas. I also make a super easy healthy chocolate and banana ice cream that can be made in minutes.

Easy chocolate and banana ice cream

Homemade chocolate banana icecream Tricia Hogbin

Into a blender or food processor throw 4 frozen bananas, 2 tablespoons of natural yoghurt or milk, 2 teaspoons of cocoa, and 2 teaspoons of honey.

Optional extras include coconut oil, tahini, or a handful of sultanas and a swig of Kahluah for an adult version.

Blend, serve and enjoy.

[Originally published in my column LESS IS MORE in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 19 January 2013]


A recipe for fast and healthy waste-free lunch boxes

Easy Waste Free Lunches Biome 1[This post is sponsored by Biome]

School starts back in only a few weeks so I thought I'd share my recipe for packing fast and healthy waste-free lunch boxes. 

Easy Waste Free Lunches Biome 2

1. Follow a template

On the rare occasion Daddy Eco has to pack Little Eco's lunch he gets totally flabbergasted and has no idea what to include. I created the following template for what to pack to make it easier for him: 

1 serving of protein. e.g yoghurt, cheese, hommus, olives, baked beans, or a boiled egg

1 serving of grains. e.g rice crackers, popcorn or a sandwich

1 serving of seasonal fruit.

1 serving of seasonal raw vegetables. e.g cucumber, carrot, corn, peas, or beans.

2. Embrace simple whole foods

You may notice that the above list doesn't include many baked goods or food that requires more than a moment preparation. Thankfully many kids prefer simple foods anyway.

3. Add variety by favoring seasonal foods

Embracing seasonal fruits and vegetables is a great way to add variety.

For example when school goes back in a few weeks I'll be including corn wheels, cherry tomatoes, asparagus spears, peas, snow peas, stone fruit, berries, watermelon and diced mango.

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4. Prepare ahead

I try and organise the contents of a weeks worth of lunches at the start of the week.

I boil eggs and do all my slicing and dicing at once. 

Easy Waste Free Lunches Biome 4

5. Have a basic set of quality waste-free containers and wraps

Having a set of good quality re-useable containers and wraps makes avoiding disposable containers and plastic wrap easy.

My kit includes: 

Kids Konserve stainless steel nesting trio 

    -Pictured above holding the yoghurt and vegetables. 

    -These leak proof containers are great for holding liquids like yoghurt and diced fruit. 

Kids Konserve stainless steel mini food containers

    - I use these for olives and diced veggies and in the past (when her lunch box was stored in a child-care fridge rather than her school bag) yoghurt. 

    - These containers are nice and easy to open and close for toddlers. 

4MyEarth lunch wraps

    - I use the wraps to wrap sandwiches and the pocket to hold crackers.  Thanks to these I haven't ever had to use plastic wrap in Little Eco's lunch box. 

Little Eco used to use a stainless steel lunch box but now that her lunch will be stored in her school bag rather than a fridge we've upgraded to an insulated lunch bag

Do you have any tips for making packing waste-free lunches easy? 

[This post was sponsored by Biome. As mentioned, I don't accept cash for sponsorship. Instead I barter for things I need. In this case I bartered an insulated lunch box (pictured above) and drink bottle for Little Eco.]


How to enjoy the bush without fearing snakes

I want her to enjoy playing in the bush without fear of snakes. Tricia Hogbin-001

My daughter races around our rural property oblivious to the risk of snakes. I don't want her to fear snakes. But I also don't want her to naively run through long grass or pick up rocks and logs.

There's a handful of venomous snake species here in the Hunter Region, including the Red-bellied Black Snake, Eastern Brown Snake, Common Death Adder and Tiger Snake.

I don't fear snakes myself. But the idea of my child being bitten horrifies me and sees my protective mum mode emerge.

"Look ahead of you!"

"Stomp!"

"Slow down!"

"Don't pick that up!"

"Put your gumboots on!"

Given my fears I was pleased to find an article at wildlifefun4kids.com on how to teach your child to be snake-safe.

Using tips in the article, we role-played being snake-safe.

Stomping along the path, we'd scan ahead and freeze as soon as we saw our imaginary snake.

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We used a stick as our imaginary snake. 

We practised staying calm, because the safest way to prevent a snake bite is to stand still and wait for the snake to move away from you. You are supposed to stand still until the snake is at least 10 metres away and then move back slowly.

We recently had a chance to test our snake safe role playing.

I failed dismally.

While wandering through a friend's paddock, I looked across to see a huge Red-bellied Black Snake rearing up less than a metre from my daughter.

I panicked. Jumping up and down, I screamed her name repeatedly jumbled in with the words "Move! It's a snake! Snake! Move! MOVE!".

2012-12-27_18-56-24_887 (1)Minutes after the encounter

Thankfully she seemed immune to my panic. She looked at me, followed my gaze to the snake and calmly stepped away.

We watched the almost two-metre snake slither away with a mouse in its mouth.

I'm thankful its mouth was already full as I wonder if the outcome would have been different if it hadn't been.

The encounter leaves me wondering whether anyone has ever followed the advice to stand still until the snake is at least 10 metres away. I'm pretty certain I couldn't stop myself from jumping away if I ever encountered another rearing snake.

Hopefully I don't get a chance to test that.

[Originally published in my column LESS IS MORE in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 12 January 2013]


Does your life need a good edit?

I appreciate the value of editing when I tell a story. I try to be ruthless and delete everything that’s unnecessary, ensuring the story is easy to read and the main message is clear.

Extra words can clutter and distract.

The same goes for our life.

Extra commitments and belongings distract us from our intended storyline.

I recently came across the idea of life editing, where you revise and correct your life, much like a manuscript.

Think about the life you want and eliminate aspects that clutter and don’t contribute to the ideal story. You end up with an easier and more intentional life.

Graham Hill, founder of sustainability website treehugger.com goes as far as claiming that “The skill of the century is editing. Cutting back on space. Cutting back on possessions. Cutting back on media. Cutting back on friends.

This year I’m going to edit my life.

I’m going to reduce my belongings and commitments.

We’ve already started to edit our belongings as part of our current move.

Old books LIttle Eco Footprints

I’m struggling to balance a love for vintage and sentimental items with an appreciation for calm and uncluttered.

I’m tackling the process space by space, a draw, a bench top, then a cupboard. I’m hoping that I’ll eventually manage to edit and de-clutter an entire room.

We’re finding it hard to let go of sentimental, yet useless items.

Sentimental yet useless stuff Trica Hogbin

Like the biscuit jar my husband’s Nan once owned. It’s fragile and cracked, so it can’t be used. Yet it’s clearly meaningful to him because he won’t let it go. 

We have dozens of other equally useless items that we feel uncomfortable parting with.

Daddy Eco and his umbrella hat. Little Eco Footprints

I think I’ve found a solution that may help us. I will display framed photographs of each treasured item on a memorial wall for sentimental yet useless stuff. Realistically we’ll enjoy the photographs more as the items are usually hidden in a box or cupboard.

I find editing my commitments even more challenging. I spend too much time doing things that don’t matter, leaving too little time for activities that do. I’m taking an inventory of my commitments and will evaluate how each one adds value to my life. The next step is to edit out activities that add very little value.

I’m looking forward to an easier and more intentional life.

[Originally published in my column LESS IS MORE in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 5 January 2013]

Does you life need a good edit too?