Category Archives: cooking

Experiments in Zero Waste: Pretzels

Way back at the beginning of December we hosted an amazing and inspiring talk by Liam and Hannah from The Rubbish Trip. And we were…. well…. inspired! For the past month we (and our amazing team of interns) have been pushing ourselves to see what we can do to limit the amount of rubbish that leaves our farm. This has meant shifting our purchasing habits, thinking about what we can substitute and what we can do without. Follow along with our successes and fails as we aim for zero!

Right after hearing Hannah and Liam talk we came back and named our top priority. Looking at our rubbish I had noticed for a while that one of our main sources of non-recyclable plastics was bags of corn chips and pretzels. My kids love pretzels. We don’t do chips and packaged snacks really, so they are a staple lunch box item for us.

I asked myself the first question any good zero–waster would ask: Can I do without this item? Um, no. Definitely not. Carby, salty, snacks are a must. For the kids lunches? Yeah sure, but also mainly for me.

So, ok, onto next question. Can I make this item? I actually wasn’t sure. How are pretzels made? I’m sure there is dough, and baking, and maybe boiling(?) involved.

Well I found this recipe online and gave it a go.

Result: A big batch of homemade snacks in under an hour. I’m calling it a: SUCCESS!

Screen Shot 2018-01-02 at 4.08.24 pmI wouldn’t really call them pretzels, per say. We end up with crunchy little bread stick – type creations. But they are yum. Really yum. The perfect vehicle for shovelling hummus or nutella into your mouth.

The recipe definitely works, but it took us soooooo long to roll them out and do the egg wash (I don’t have a pastry brush!) that I have modified it a little.

The modifications I made in our second batch were:


Rolling the dough with a heavy rolling pin  slicing it into thin strips with a knife. I rolled it about 1/2 cm thick. They puff up during the baking process.

This gave us little pretzel sticks, but also allowed for some creative pretzel letter shapes.

Also, instead of brushing them with egg, I drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled them with salt. Once I go and buy a pastry brush I’ll give the egg wash another try.

This recipe was quick, easy, used ingredients I already had, and yielded enough for lunchboxes for the whole week. A definite win. Buh-bye store-bought pretzels.

Solar Power: When, How and Where is it Right for You?

Passive solar home design is always a good idea, but if you’re not building or renovating what are the best choices for using solar energy at home?

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We are offering a pair of workshops on solar power both low-tech and high-tech.

Sunday, 26th March 2017

Whanganui, New Zealand

Workshop 1) Solar and Alternative Cooking for Fun or Emergency.

Emergency preparedness is just as important as day-to-day sustainable living in a volatile world where power outages are possible without warning. We will cover a variety of solar cookers, rocket stoves, and ‘the best solar dehydrator’ design. 4-5 pm. $10

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Workshop 2) Solar Electricity and Solar Hot Water: Making informed investment decisions.

There is a lot of hype and misinformation when it comes to domestic solar energy. The bottom line is that it may not be a sound economic investment for most NZ households. Find out if and how it may be right for you? 5-6 pm. $20

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Space is limited. Preregistration essential. theecoschool at gmail dot com.

Peace Estwing

Currant Affairs

Our midwife recently invited us out to her place to pick currants.After about 40 minutes we had 2.8 kilograms. We brought them home and processed the lot into eight jars of black currant jam.

We swapped the currants for a couple of black boy peach saplings.

Last winter I pruned the currants for her and brought home the cuttings, which we propagated in the garden. About 80%-90% of them have taken, and so this winter we will plant them out – somewhere around 100 in total.

Two New Flavours: Pre-silience and Post-silience

Volatility and resilience have entered the lexicon of politicians and economists over the last seven years. It is not uncommon to hear these words uttered by John Key, Tim Groser, Andrew Little, Russell Norman, or Metiria Turei. I have not heard Winston Peters specifically use these words, but I assume he has because he’ll say anything.

Gareth Morgan, Shamubeel Eaqub, and journalist Rod Oram appear to recognize market volatility and the importance of building resilient industries and communities. Parts of the recent regional growth study recognise these as well.

As a risk averse, conservative thinker myself, I spend a lot of time pondering volatility and resilience, and have come to divide what we commonly hear about the latter into two categories: pre-silience and post-silience.

Pre-silience is about being proactive and trying to avoid something bad from happening. When it is successful, no one notices. It’s like when Child Youth and Family does a fantastic job 99% of the time we never hear about it. It does not make the news. In other words, pre-silience is critically important but low profile.

During the renovation of our Castlecliff home, pre-silience was about adding lots and lots of insulation, installing curtains properly, and shifting windows around. This is not sexy stuff.

On our farm, pre-silience takes the form of building soil fertility, improving drainage and water storage, planning and planting windbreaks, and protecting vulnerable slopes. This is not sexy stuff.

Post-silience, if not sexy, is definitely “news worthy.” Post-silience, or lack thereof, pops up suddenly after volatility rears its head be it geological, climatic or economic. For example, the Christchurch earthquakes exposed weaknesses in some families’ and communities’ abilities to respond to the disaster. Poo is a great example. What do you do with it when the sewer lines are broken? Two of our friends in the permaculture movement made it their mission to build and promote composting toilets as a viable solution to post quake sanitary human waste management.

Post-silience was front and centre in our own community during the aftermath of the June floods as thousands of volunteers joined in the effort to support affected families and clean up silt from roads and sidewalks. People are great at rallying in a pinch, and post-silience is much more photogenic than pre-silience.

Economic volatility – especially in global dairy markets – has slammed farmers who are also suffering from climatic volatility. I was gob smacked recently when I heard talk of severe drought on the horizon for some of our farming regions. Too much water and too little water: this is the future of farming in Aotearoa: the land of the long white cloud. Indeed, scientist tell us we will be seeing more heavy grey clouds, cumulonimbus, and weeks on end without a cloud in the sky. How do you say that in te reo?

Well over half the work I do on our farm is in preparation of increased extreme weather events. The bad news is that all of this investment provides no financial return in the short run. The good news is that all of it protects financial returns (and minimises losses) in the long run. A thriving, pre-silient farm is my life insurance policy for my children.

But it is not all digging ditches, aerating soils, making compost, and planting trees. We also embrace low-energy technology that contributes to both pre- and post-silience. Two great examples are solar cooking and rocket stoves.

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Both are highly energy efficient and do not rely on mains power, gas, batteries or LPG.

We have been solar cooking for nearly a decade and rocket-stoving for half that. A power loss due to earthquake or windstorm would have little effect on our culinary abilities. We often do our Sunday roast on the solar cooker and recently our interns Patrick and Kelly brewed a Kiwi IPA on the rocket stove.

They will be demonstrating their skills from 11 to 1 today along the riverside near the Silver Ball sculpture as part of the 3rd Annual Whanganui Permaculture Weekend. If you are curious about permaculture design, there will be an introductory workshop at 1 today. Meet at the REBS Market stall. Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 11.18.37 am

The full programme can be viewed at the Permaculture Whanganui Facebook page or at the REBS stall. It was also published in full in last week’s River City Press.

Equinox: Honoring the Sun

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We’ve reached the autumnal equinox and there is probably not a person in the city that would not say what a glorious summer we have had. Plenty of sunshine, light winds, and, after an initial dry spell, enough rain to green up the pastures and the garden.

But, like it or not, summer will come to an end, and the equinox is a reminder that we are tipping toward winter with the hours of daylight becoming shorter than hours of darkness for the next six months. It is also a timely reminder of how valuable the sun is to life on earth, and what a difference its absence can make.

But like every great Achilles, Solar energy has its heal: it only works when the sun is shining on our side of the planet. I often use a solar cooker as a way to engage people in conversation about the potential for sunlight energy. Inevitably someone will ask, “What happens when the sun isn’t out.” Screen shot 2015-03-21 at 7.02.14 AM

Sadly, no one has yet to invent a lunar cooker, but there are many ways to store solar energy overnight and even for a number of cloudy days in a row. With solar cooking, the best place to store it is in your belly, but other solar storage systems include batteries, water and concrete.

Batteries are often used to store electricity generated by photovoltaic (PV) panels in places not served by mains power. Whether it is a yacht at sea or a bach in the wop wops, these situations are often called, “off-grid.” The “grid” refers to the network of power lines that serve the vast majority of us.

Obviously, off-grid housing is not vulnerable to mains power interruption, and is therefore valuable for emergency preparedness. Even though our rural home is served by mains power, I am designing a hybrid PV system that will heat our water most of the time but also have a small battery bank for emergency lighting, water pumping, radio and mobile phone charging.

Without meaning to offend anyone’s intelligence, a traditional solar hot water system stores sunlight energy in the form of heated water. The energy itself (heat) is stored inside of an insulated cylinder overnight. Depending on the amount of insulation around the cylinder and a household’s hot water use, the supply can last for three or four cloudy days. Solar hot water would also be a treat in the case of a prolonged mains power outage. Screen shot 2015-03-21 at 7.02.38 AM

Sunlight energy stored in an insulated concrete slab is called “thermal mass.” Like solar hot water, the heat is stored overnight and potentially for a number of cloudy days in a row. For any new home being built in New Zealand, passive solar design is an affordable approach to a high performance dwelling. Additionally – you guessed it – a passive solar home would serve its occupants very well during a mid-winter power failure if their only heating sources relied on electricity such as a heat pump or plug in heater.

Finally, don’t make the mistake of thinking that solar cooking is only a summertime endeavour. We have cooked through the last six New Zealand winters with great success. Memorably, during the week-long cold snap in August 2011 when we had snow flurries in Majestic Square, I managed to burn a pot of rice and a curry on the very same day. That is solar power. Screen shot 2015-03-21 at 7.02.46 AM

Peace, Estwing

Just Another Sunday on the Farm

I got a call this morning at 7:30 from my mate. He said, “I knew you’d be up because you have a 2-year old. I’ve got some goats I shot yesterday. Can I bring them over?”

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And just like that, my plans for Sunday morning took a dramatic turn.

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Goats are considered a pest in New Zealand and hunting is seen to be good for the native ecology. Eating the meat is a good use of the carcass.

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Although the carcass is actually very lean on a ‘wild’ animal.

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This meat saw I got at the auction came in very handy.

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Simon was a master at butchering the meat.

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We got a roast on the solar cooker straight away.

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Simon had no use for the hides so we decided to return them to the earth via our compost pile.

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We layered up plenty of wood shavings and sheep manure to ensure a very hot compost – over 60 degrees Celcius.

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The pile is well over one cubic metre and should make a beautiful compost in about three weeks time.

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Peace Estwing

Reducing Moisture in a Home

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

No, it’s not the Tasman Sea but something even closer to home.

Many Whanganui residents wake up each morning between May and September surrounded by water as condensation covers every window of their homes. More than just a nuisance, weeping windows can indicate conditions within a dwelling that are, to put it bluntly, unhealthy.

In some homes, high humidity can be as much as a concern as low temperatures in terms of comfort and health. We all know that cool, damp homes are common across New Zealand.

Research by Beacon Pathway found the following:

• New Zealand homes are on average 6 degrees Celsius below World Health Organization recommended minimum temperatures in winter.

• 45 percent of all New Zealand homes are mouldy.

• New Zealand has the second highest rate of asthma in the world, and an excess winter mortality of 1600, a much higher rate than other OECD countries.

• 300,000 New Zealand homes have an unflued gas heater.

• The air inside New Zealand homes can be more polluted than outdoor air.

• Cold, damp homes pose serious health risks, particularly for the most vulnerable groups in the community who spend the most time at home.

Like many problems in our lives, it is more important and effective to treat the cause than the symptoms. In other words, addressing the causes of moisture inside a home is better and cheaper than investing in expensive ventilation systems, which in most cases make homes colder and drier.

The main sources of moisture within a home are as follows: cooking, showering, rising damp, unflued gas heaters, house plants, and airing laundry indoors.

Addressing each source can be done differently. For example, polythene can be fitted under a home – directly on the ground – to effectively reduce rising damp in the same way wearing gumboots keep your feet dry in a muddy paddock.

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However, polythene will do nothing for the damp clothes airing in your lounge. The strategy to address this problem is simple: Don’t do it.

Water vapour released by cooking and showering can be addressed in two ways: cap it or vent it. In other words, cooking with pot lids or installing a shower dome hold steam in, while extractor fans vent steam outside.

That said, we also use certain cooking techniques that reduce steam (and energy use) by over 90%. This win-win combination, however, does require some thinking outside of the box – specifically by cooking inside of a ‘straw box’.

In a strange twist of fate, our straw box contains no straw, but instead is stuffed with Op Shop blankets and tea towels. Either way, the function is the same: insulation. Here is how it works. Screen shot 2014-06-27 at 7.33.12 PM

One of our favourite recipes is 10-Watt Pasta. We take 500 grams of pasta and put it into the ceramic vessel of a slow cooker. Then we boil about 1.75 litres of water in the electric kettle and pour it over the pasta. Last we place the pot, pasta and water into the straw box for 22 minutes, which happens to be the exact amount of time it takes to make an excellent sauce with fresh veges from the garden.

Compare this method of cooking pasta to the traditional way, and you’ll see where that 90% reduction of power and moisture comes from. I suspect it will be highly unlikely for anyone else in Whanganui to adopt this cooking method, but for those with damp, cold homes, it’s worth considering.

Peace, Estwing