Thursday, December 11, 2008

Home-made strawberry ice-cream

250 g strawberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg (as fresh as possible, I only use eggs that have been laid that day by my own hens)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250ml cream
enough milk or plain yoghurt to make up 1 liter in total

Put all ingredients into your food processor or blender and process until smooth.
Refrigerate for one hour.

If you have an ice-cream maker, pour the mixture into your ice-cream maker and process until the mixture reaches the desired consistency.

If you don't have an ice-cream maker, you need to freeze the mixture until it is semi-frozen (usually after a couple of hours), then take it out of the freezer and process it again in your blender before returning your ice-cream to the freezer. You may need to repeat this procedure one more time if the ice-cream becomes too hard.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Strawberries!


Last year, I planted three dozen bare-rooted strawberries. I tended to them carefully and was rewarded with a grand total of about 5 strawberries in my first year (plus a few uncounted ones that went straight into the kids' tummies). It didn't seem like the best deal at the time... However, I continued to look after them, I replanted the large number of runners, mulched heavily, applied cow manure and sea weed brew and whatever else I could get my hands on, and aren't we being rewarded this year!

A local strawberry farmer asks $10.00 per kilo for strawberries you pick yourself. Given that price, I have now more than recouped my initial expenditure, and the kids just love it! We have been eating fruit salads with strawberries, home-made strawberry ice-cream, strawberry pavlova and whatever else you can come up with. Being a bit of a squirrel, I usually put a small batch of each harvest into the freezer so that we can still enjoy strawberries even when the harvest is over.

Strawberries love plenty of mulch, consistent moisture and not too intense sun. The ones I planted on the sunny side of the house didn't do all that well. I also noticed that the birds mostly peck on the strawberries that are planted as single specimen, whereas the mass planting in my main strawberry bed is virtually unaffected by birds.

Is it worth growing strawberries? Absolutely. Not only do they taste much better when freshly picked, growing your own also means you know what's gone into growing them. Earlier this year, the consumer organisation CHOICE conducted a study of pesticide levels on strawberries and made a number of disturbing findings: 17 of the 27 samples of conventionally grown strawberries (bought at Coles, Woolworths and independent retailers across Australia) contained residues of at least two types of pesticide or fungicide. One sample contained a pesticide residue at a level that exceeded the maximum residue limit (MRL); others contained a pesticide that the regulations don’t allow Australian growers to use on strawberries, and some contained residues of four different kinds of pesticides.

According to CHOICE:

Strawberries are unfortunately more likely to be contaminated with pesticides than other fresh fruit, as growers use pesticides to protect their strawberries from insect pests and fungal diseases. Without pesticides, strawberries would be more expensive because yields would be lower and there would be greater losses from them going bad before they get to the shops. [...]

The last time independent test results were published in Australia (in 2003), strawberries stood out as the fruit with the highest levels of pesticide residues [...]. They've been flagged in the US as of 'high concern' for pesticide contamination. When last tested in the UK, 67% of strawberries contained pesticide residues. In France a recent survey found pesticide residues above the legal limit in 20% of strawberries.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Advent Calendar

Advent, the time before Christmas, seemed to arrive faster than expected this year! Every year, we follow the German tradition of having advent calendars to count down the days to Christmas. Most years I have been a bit lazy and ended up buying a traditional chocolate-filled calendar. However, I have noticed over recent years, that the number of calendars with a Christmas motive (Santa, Christmas trees and the like) were gradually replaced by commercial motives. This year, ALDI for example, only had a choice of "The Incredible Hulk" (image above from the official website), "Spiderman" and "Bob the Builder" calendars with zero reference to any Christmas anything.

I cannot for the life of me see any connection between "The Incredible Hulk" and whatever the spirit of Christmas might be. To me, Christmas is a time of reflection on the values of life, family and community. We stick with old-fashioned traditions in our family. Some modest presents for the children, a focus on spending time together creating things such as Christmas craft or decorating the tree, and preparing traditional festive food is all we need to enjoy Christmas. And our Advent calendar this year is home-made, too: