Monday, April 30, 2012

Crushing Comb

Last time I mentioned there was some exciting bee-and-honey-related news coming to you. Well, this is it!

Last week Dad removed two of the frames from his Langstroth hives over at the garden and, instead of spinning them outlike last time, we opted to crush the comb instead. In other words, make a total mess and combine Langstroth and Warré hive honey-extraction techniques!  The urge to do this came following the building of some Warré-based hives at the garden by a talented carpenter who has kindly donated his time there. The advantages of using these kind of hives and extracting the honey in the associated manner is all in my previous post about beehive design.

Below, one of the newly-completed Warré-based top bar hives:

There is going to be a workshop at the garden this weekend on putting these beauties together so if you're at all interested, make sure you try and get along to it! Hopefully the weather holds out.

When it came to extracting the honey, all we did was grab a frame,

Use a knife to cut out the honeycomb,

Put it all in a bowl

And mash it.

Yes, that is a potato masher… Over at Milkwood Farm in Mudgee, they have a proper honeycomb press which we will hopefully be getting one of soon.

Then it goes into a special sieve that costs too much, placed on top of a bowl or food-grade plastic tub and is left to drain for a couple of days… depending upon how patient you are.


From the two small half sized frames from which we extracted honey, we probably obtained about 2-3L of honey. Most of it has already disappeared… into um, jars. That’s it. Jars.  For storage purposes. Of course.

On a serious note though, one thing we made sure to do when cutting the comb out of the frames was to leave a little bit of wax on there as a starter for the bees when we pop the frame back into the Langstroth hive box. It’s just a thin strip of wax (3~5mm thick) along the top inside edge of the frame. This simply ensures that, in a frame without a sheet of wax foundation, the bees build down the new comb down the centre of the frame according to their own wacky design instead of being dictated to by the wax foundation.

The bananas and avocados in the background are for a raw chocolate milkshake; Even the increasingly chilly weather (Winter is Coming! – Game of Thrones, anyone?) can’t deter me when it comes to these. And I’m finding myself reverting back to the original recipe, rather than going for my supposedly ‘improved’version. I suppose the situation I’m finding myself in is a classic case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

We’ve yet to decide what to do with the leftover wax but we’ll be melting it down into one large block to start with. According to one of our beekeeper friends, the best way to go is to stuff it all into an empty plastic milk carton and microwave it. This way, all the wax will float to the top while any honey still stuck in there sinks to the bottom. All that’s required then is to cut through the carton and grab out the block of wax! The only issue we have with this method is that we're not particularly fond of BPA poisoning… both for us and the bees. So we will just have to wait and see what happens on that front. 

Eventually, all the bees we have will will be moved over to the Warré-based hives where they can really enjoy their lives properly. At the same time, they'll be making us some excess honey for both home use and for sale at the garden!  

- Matilda

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Once a jolly swagwoman...

I don’t know what it is about marching down the street to Waltzing Matilda on Anzac Day that sends shivers down my spine. It’s not like it’s any different to playing Waltzing Matilda in any other street parade but there’s just that extra little special something to this occasion. To be honest, I’m surprised I’m even admitting this in public; I’m usually not one to endorse the commotion that occurs around this time every year. Rather, I arrogantly view myself as being above the masses and intelligent enough to view the event for what it should be viewed as – a day which we dedicate to remembering and showing our respect for all of those who have died in war and how terrible it is that we have killed people, not a glorification of the conflicts that have raged on the planet’s surface since the beginning of time. And now that I have successfully made myself appear as a stuck-up and somewhat left-wing snob, I shall move on.

The reason why I was marching down the street to Waltzing Matilda in the first place is because, as for I have been for nearly 10 years now, I was playing as part of a pipe band in a local Anzac Day street march. One thing that I have never mentioned on this blog is the fact that I play the bagpipes… and that I absolutely love it. In fact, I love it more than I love food or anything to do with it. Yes, I love it that much.

Due to circumstance and crazy happenings in various parts of my life, I unfortunately haven’t been playing my pipes as much as I would like. In fact, I nearly gave up at one stage last year. Yikes. Even the thought of doing so terrifies me now. When I play pipes, it just feels right. It feels like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. Today was the first time in a long while that I made an appearance with the band and yes, it felt good.

Apart from the thrill of neatly and musically executing a tune, the main thing that I’m addicted to is the people. The pipe band scene is an amazing place and is one that is filled with the most bizarre assortment of characters you could ever hope for. From teachers to tradies, aeronautical engineers to doctors, each person you meet is remarkably different and full of life (not to mention beer – particularly at the end of a long, hot day on the competition field). Some of them are total misfits and, like most social misfits, most people tend to ignore those. However, there is nothing better than finding yourself in a group where the balance is just right. And I’ve found that with the current band I’m in. I love them. All. To absolute bits.

At this point in time, I would probably be slightly embarrassed if any of them saw this post but I’m sure there will come a day when it all ends up in the open. Two members of the band executive (my pipe major and honourable president) make my ‘all time favourite people’ list which is – trust me – extremely limited in length.  They are just such amazing people and the group they lead is even more so. There just seems to be a certain camaraderie that exits in pipe bands that doesn’t exist in other institutions. It’s also one of those ‘you have to experience’ feelings I think. Nothing I can really explain.

I should probably stop ranting now and go back to my structural biochemistry study. Sigh… after a great day with great people, it’s hard to concentrate on such dry material.  I don’t even have a new recipe to post in order to make it more bearable :-( 

On the other hand, there is a quite exciting bee-and-honey-related event coming up in my household… stay tuned…. 

- Matilda

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mmmm Muesli

About six years ago now, my dad bought a packet of muesli to eat for breakfast. Somehow, this simple act initiated a cascade that has led to a full-blown obsession... of Vogel's Premium Oven Crisp Muesli - Fruit & Nut. I still don't understand what exactly he sees in it. I mean, it's pretty good but I don't think I would ever become crazy about this particular muesli. It also happens to be the most expensive muesli variety available in supermarkets, which means that we buy it in industrial quantities when it's on sale. 

I also used to be guilty of eating the same breakfast each morning but have recently tried to overcome the OCD-ness of this habit, starting with an eat-something-different-for-breakfast-every-morning-for-one-month-with-no-repeats challenge. Surprisingly I was able to find something different to stuff in my gob each morning: variations on oatmeal, toast, fruit salads, leftovers from the night before, etc, etc... 

Despite the amazing variety I discovered during that one month (one of my favourites being chocolate oatmeal with a frozen banana melted into it), I have found myself reverting back to cereal/muesli as part of my morning routine. Although, in my defence, I have started to try some different varieties. Last week I had my best bircher muesli experience, with Carman's original bircher muesli with Greek yoghurt and raw honey. Cafe down the road, eat your heart out. It was that incredibly good.

Inspired by that particular breakfast (as well as the desire to do so for quite a while now), I decided to take advantage of the mid-semester break at uni and make up a batch of my own muesli/granola. Below is my first attempt at granola. As usual, this is a recipe created by one of my Scandinavian idols: Sarah B from My New Roots. 

I was never entirely sure how to distinguish between muesli and granola but it appears that the only fundamental difference is that granola is baked and muesli is not. So technically, Dad's favourite 'muesli' isn't muesli at all...(gasp). Muesli has medical origins in Switzerland, having been created by the physician Maximillian Bircher-Benner for his patients in hospital, which just seems to make it that much more acceptable and justifiable to eat! However, once I realised that granola has American roots, I wasn't so keen to get busy in the kitchen anymore. This partly stems from the fact that I have been brainwashed from a young age to believe that Australia is far too American for its own good. But that's another topic for another day. 

Oh.. so yes, the title of this post is therefore slightly misleading. It should read something more like "Grrrrr Granola". But that makes it sound as if I'm angry at my breakfast, which I most certainly wasn't.

In fact, I was anything but. I could eat this by the truckload and I think I may even have successfully converted my pig-headed father to eat something other than Vogel's muesli for breakfast for a change.... 

Simple Gourmet Granola (adapted from My New Roots)


4 cups rolled oats
1 cup raw almonds, chopped
1 cup flaked coconut
¾ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ tsp finely ground sea salt
1/3 cup liquid honey (or a bit less, depending on how sweet you like it)
4 Tbsp coconut oil
1 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp chia seeds


1. Preheat over to 180°C.

2. Whisk honey and coconut oil together in a small saucepan over medium heat.

3. Combine the oats, almonds, coconut, pumpkin seeds and sea salt in a large bowl.

4. Pour the oil and honey mixture over the dry ingredients and stir very well, until the dry ingredients are coated.

5. Place the mixture on a baking sheet and place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes; remove from the oven and stir. Place back in the oven but remove and stir every 5 minutes or so until the oats are golden brown (around 25-30 minutes). 

6. Remove from oven and add dried cranberries and chia seeds. 

If you click on the link (above) for the original recipe, you will see that Sarah has suggested a number of optional 'add-ins'. I chose pumpkin seeds, cranberries and chia seeds but there are so many others to try: I'm thinking to go with walnut + fig next time! 

- Matilda

P.S. Just as I was preparing to give this recipe a go, I received an email update from My New Roots about a guest post on the blog by David and Luise from Green Kitchen Stories!! My two favourite food bloggers combined in one glorious post. And guess what they made?? Yup, granola. The photos are stunning - it's most definitely going on the list of things to make :-D 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sweet Potato Pie [Smoothie]

Judging from the incredulous looks my friends gave me when I excitedly told them of my most recent smoothie obsession, I realised that the use of 'sweet potato pie' as an adjective to describe the noun 'smoothie' is possibly not entirely socially acceptable. Particularly if your friends are university students who have begun to convince themselves that alcohol is one of the five major food groups. Hence I decided to place 'smoothie' in brackets at the end of the post title so as not to put people off. Hopefully it worked and you're still with me? 

Smoothie, sun, sea breeze, hammock. Of course you're still with me. 

Unfortunately I wasn't able to use organic sweet potatoes from the garden due to the fact that the green thumbs of the people there don't appear to extend to these yummy guys... Even I've successfully planted a batch of sweet potato - it ain't hard! All that is needed to propagate it is to take cuttings (~30cm long) from another plant, remove all the side leaves (except for the one at the tip), dig a slit/trough in the soil and cover it, leaving the tip exposed. Until the next successful crop however, the ones from the local fruit shop will have to do I suppose. It still tasted amazing - like pumpkin pie in a glass! Except that it was sweet potato... 

Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie (adapted from Sweet Potato Soul
Serves 1-2

1 ½ cups soy milk
1 baked orange sweet potato (flesh only)
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp honey

Directions: Place all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Serve in a glass. If desired, top with Greek yoghurt, pecans, etc.

It may even be worthwhile starting with a little bit less honey and adding it after you’ve given it a taste, depending on how sweet your  potatoes are. Also, because I prefer to eat my smoothies rather than drink them, I started with just under a cup of milk and added in just enough so that the mixture could blend effectively. 

- Matilda