Value Adding

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I had horses for years. I bred them and raised them and trained them. Sometimes I even sold them. Sometimes I even got something like what they were worth.

They say with horses that the only way to make a small fortune is to start with a large fortune. I’m going to have to agree with that. While I saved a lot of money by having my own property, trimming their hooves by myself and occasionally breaking one in, the fact was that I spent a substantial amount of money on them and didn’t get very much back.

When people ask me how much my goats cost to keep, they are often shocked at my response. It’s not just feed, things like disease testing and other vet bills really add up. While worming and vaccination are a lot cheaper with a smaller animal, and I can whip through and trim everyone’s feet in a couple of hours, I go through three bags of grain a week in summer and a lot more when the does are milking heavily and their kids are small.

Showing is another area where I think the goats are much better value. I can enter half a dozen goats in a dozen classes at most shows for what it would cost to enter one horse in one dressage test. And I can fit half a dozen goats in the horse float.

The main thing that tips the scales in the direction of the goats, is that you get something back from them. Not just milk, but offspring who are worth something.

Even when I had my own stallion and could basically produce purebred ponies out of thin air, the amount I sold them for was never as much as it cost to raise them. And selling them could be a drama in itself.

Twin doe kids are worth more at a year old and cost a lot less to raise than a foal. And castrating the boys costs a matter of cents, rather than hundreds of dollars.

I worked out recently that each week my goats provide about $80 worth of dairy products for the house. At the moment I only have two in milk, and my feed bill is about $40 a week.

A kilogram of hard cheese, the same again of soft cheese, perhaps a mozzarella or ricotta. A litre of yogurt. And then there is the daily kefir for two people and the milk that is used on cereal, in drinks and in cooking.

Even if we were to replace all that with regular home-brand cow milk supermarket substitutes, it would still cost more than the weekly feed bill.

Sure, if I didn’t have goats I wouldn’t buy some of those things. I would still buy ‘good’ full-fat yogurt with as little added sugar as possible. I would still buy mozzarella for pizza or lasagne.

But we wouldn’t have the benefits of raw goat milk kefir. I wouldn’t have chevre to spread on my toast instead of sugar-filled jam. Our life and our health would not be as good.

And that is the real value-add of ‘pet’ dairy goats. The stuff you can’t buy. The goat cuddles and adorable newborn kids. The occasional broad sash on a home-bred goat at a show. Knowing that your milk has traveled about 30 metres from the goat to the house and only been in the one container from source to consumption. Making yogurt with a taste and texture exactly how you like it, and with no added sugar.

You can’t replicate this. Not without a milker or two of your own. People who drink well-traveled, processed, reconstituted white stuff from the supermarket and dyed yellow slices of plastic ‘cheddar’ will never understand what they are missing out on.

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On Choice, and Why Body Hair is a Feminist Issue

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You know that thing where a topic keeps popping up so I write a blog post about it? It is happening right now.

Be thankful I am not doing a rehash of all the things wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey. Nope, I am not touching that one with a barge pole.

Instead I am going to launch into an attempt to organise my thoughts on choice, beauty standards and armpit hair.

This is a little bit more political than a lot of the stuff I post on here, but as I gain confidence I am becoming more comfortable with sharing these ideas with my audience, rather than hiding them in my secret feminist blog.

As women, we are constantly told that the things that happen to us are a result of our choices. That we choose to date or marry abusive men. That we choose to be single mothers. That we choose to work in lower-paid jobs. That we choose to drink too much or eat too much or act in ways that make us targets for violence. This way we are left in no doubt that whatever happens to us, whatever predicament we find ourselves in, we have only ourselves to blame. The flip side of this, that nobody talks about, is that those who harm and oppress us are absolved of all responsibility.

We are told that women choose to be prostituted, that women choose to act in porn. That to take away these choices would be taking away women’s choices, and that would be bad.

The lie that we are told every day is that women choose to be oppressed, and that men are doing us a favour by oppressing us.

We are told that women don’t want the hard/dangerous/high-powered jobs because we would rather stay at home and have an easy life while our husbands earn the money. That we want to be treated as sex objects. That we want to be abused and humiliated. That when we leave abusive partners we have chosen to break up our family, deprive our children of a father and be poor and stressed with limited opportunity to improve our lot. I hear it all the time. Women don’t want to work, they want to stay at home and be treated like princesses. Women like rough sex, but they are ashamed to admit it. Women think ‘nice guys’ are boring, so they always go for the ‘bad boys’. Women have it so easy. Women are their own worst enemies.

We are told that we only dress up to compete with other women. That we can choose whether or not to wear make-up, whether or not to wear high-heels, whether or not to remove our body hair.

And sure, you can choose not to do the things that society tells us we MUST do. But what happens if you don’t?

Body hair on women is one of my pet topics. To me it is a core feminist issue. I cannot count how many times I have been told that it is a ‘first-world problem’, or that women can ‘do whatever they want’ and most just ‘choose’ to remove their body hair for no practical reason.

And then when i argue the point I get told that it is insignificant, unimportant, that being allowed an opinion on what I do to my own body has nothing to do with feminism, that I should shut up and be glad I don’t live in Afghanistan.

I have got into countless discussions on the topic and been told countless times that body hair on women is unacceptable. The words most commonly used to describe underarm or pubic hair on women are: gross, nasty, disgusting, unhygienic, dirty. Who is going to volunteer to be considered all of those things, when simply picking up a razor can prevent it?

Admit it, just reading this you are wondering why I am writing about such an icky and insignificant topic. You’re thinking ‘ew, I just had lunch, I don’t want to hear about your armpit hair’.

Ask yourself, would you grow your armpit hair? Would it be okay if your wife or girlfriend did? Why? Why not? Because it is gross or dirty? Is it really? Why?

Yes, we have a choice. But choosing to go against the majority is difficult. And it shouldn’t be.

When I chose to stop removing my armpit hair I did it for a number of reasons. I get bad razor rash, which leaves me with nasty red spots and sometimes big lumps, especially in summer. I wanted to see if not shaving would prevent this. It did. I also realised that I had been shaving the hair off since before I even started growing it. That I had never had more than a couple of millimetres growth. I had no idea what it would even look like if I let it grow.

But mainly, I wanted to see if I could. If I could really choose.

And do you know what? This tiny choice was incredibly difficult. I had to deal with worrying about what everyone thought. Would they think I was disgusting? While most people won’t come out and say it, if you ask them they will tell you that they find it a bit yuck. You certainly don’t have to travel far on the internet to find out that whether it is on Madonna or Sofia Loren or the woman next to you at the train station, 99% of people think armpit hair on women simply should not exist.

I have not personally encountered a single woman who would even entertain the idea of not removing her underarm hair. And when challenged, the women I have talked to about it all tell me that they choose to do it.

It took me months and lots of self doubt to finally be comfortable with my decision. My partner pulled faces and told me it was ‘manly’, but he has learned to live with it. Wearing singlets, raising my arms in public and letting the rest of the yoga class see it took some real guts on my part. This tiny decision, this thing I do for me and me only that anyone can do at any time? It was a real eye-opener. A real consciousness-shifter. A pivotal event in learning how to really make my own choices for myself.

Having our appearance micromanaged by society blocks us from dealing with the ‘bigger’ issues. The lipstick/body hair/skirt arguments are all manufactured by the patriarchy. None of those things should matter. But ‘choosing’ to shave your legs and ‘choosing’ to be a stay at home mother are two sides of the same coin, and go hand-in-hand with ‘choosing’ to be a prostitute. We are told we have a choice, but those choices are laden with threat and consequences. To you or me, feeling like you have to wear make-up  to fit in at work is a lesser hardship than feeling like you have to let men pay to rape you so you can pay your rent, so you just do it. But a win is a win. Oppression is oppression, and the ‘little’ oppressions are supposed to keep us obedient and teach us how to submit to the ‘bigger’ oppressions. You have to teach a horse to eat from your hand before your can teach it to carry a saddle and rider. And you have to teach women to ‘choose’ to shave their armpits before you can teach them to ‘choose’ to be owned, abused, humiliated and discarded.

By making that one tiny choice, I learned how to make an actual choice about what I do with my own body, regardless of the collective attitude and outside influences. Maybe next I will get a short haircut on my head or go out without a bra or shop for clothing somewhere other than the women’s section of a store.  You have to learn how to choose what you do with your own body, before you can choose to demand to be treated like a fully-fledged human being.

 

Hiding in Plain Sight

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Sometimes I go looking for trouble, sometimes it finds me.

The other day I was sitting in the waiting room at the hospital waiting for my pacemaker review. I glanced at the stack of magazines on the table next to me, pushed aside the ‘Women’s Weekly’ and ‘That’s Life’, and picked up a glossy beast innocuously titled ‘Women’s Health’.

I started to flick through. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but I really thought there might be something in it actually beneficial to women. Clearly my years of avoiding commercial media have made me soft. What I saw was a manual for making yourself sexually attractive to men.

The quick-fix diets, the fashion and make-up tutorials, and most disturbingly, the ‘what men really think’ article that could be summed up as ‘men want women to pander to their every requirement, and be decorative and sexy but also faithful and not slutty, while men do whatever the hell they want’. I pulled a face and put the magazine back on the stack at this point.

Seriously, this magazine doesn’t even try. It is just another waste of paper telling women how to fit into the tiny box of ‘acceptable’ that has been created to control how we look and how we live.

So of course, I went looking for trouble. I visited the websites of both Australian Women’s Health and Australian Men’s Health to see what kind of message these publications are peddling.

Women’s Health in a nutshell – how to get your chocolate fix without getting fat. How to drop a dress size – fast! How to zap belly fat or get great legs. The Fitness section had subheadings for Running and Yoga – activities that are not likely to cause increase in muscle mass and therefore affect your apparent femininity.

Men’s Health had different subheadings in the Fitness section – Muscle Building and Cardio. Because apparently muscles are only for men. Weight loss short-cuts also feature, and under the heading Sex and Women is a section on how to ‘improve your game’, also known as ‘getting women to have sex with you’.

Where Women’s Health has recipes and nutrition information, Men’s Health has supplements and cooking tips. Apparently women know how to cook, but men don’t.

One of the first articles I saw on the Men’s Health page was about ‘ticking off your bedroom bucket list’. This is an article about getting your partner to indulge your sexual fantasies. And it begins with the author doing ‘what any man would do’ – plying his partner with alcohol to make her more receptive to his suggestions. According to Men’s Health, manipulation and coercion are an important part of the male sex life. Good to know.

Presumably that is why Women’s Health is dedicated to making women decorative and sexy and fuckable and educating them on how to do what a man wants in bed.

The covers and images of both these magazines are so bland and generic as to almost be sterile, yet the air of casual harmlessness hides a disturbing theme. They tell men that they must be buff and tanned and healthy in order to get all the women. They tell women that they must be slim and tanned and healthy and wear just the right amount of make-up in order to be seen as acceptable.

These magazines are the media equivalent of that moron internet troll who tells everyone that fat people are gross because they are unhealthy. They are the published version of the constant reinforcement of the gender binary. Their titles suggest that they care about the wellbeing of people, but their content perpetuates the sterotypes that harm every person who does not look like the airbrushed models in the photographs.

Why can’t there be a magazine simply called ‘Health’, which is gender neutral and doesn’t set out to divide the population? Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising and managing your mental health are issues relevant to all people.

On the topic of mental health, I did a search for ‘depression’ on the page of both magazines. Nothing showed up in the links for either on the main pages, so I had to do some digging. It seems that mental health is not sexy or cool enough to feature in these publications, despite it being a huge health issue for men and women.

I think what bothered me the most about the content of these magazines, is that they seem to represent the attitudes of society in general. Rags like Cosmopolitan and Cleo make a point of being racy and over-the-top, but these Health magazines present as wholesome advice for everyday living, rather than the manuals for slotting seamlessly into the patriarchal abyss that they actually are.

Sugar-Free Eating – The Greatest Hits

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I’ve been eating refined sugar-free for a while now, and if there is one thing I have learned it is that not all sugar-free recipes are created Equal.

Just because a recipe claims to be a sugar-free version of something you love, does not mean it won’t rely on highly processed or artificial sweeteners. Or that it will taste anything like the thing you hope it will taste like.

My replacement sugars of choice are maple syrup, honey and stevia powder. Stevia powder is the pick of them, but it is very expensive. It contains hardly any energy and is basically the powdered leaves of a plant. It comes in a few forms, but the volume-boosted measure-for-measure sugar substitutes are the easiest to use. It doesn’t have much of a taste, so it is great in subtle things like iced tea, or in recipes where you don’t want to mess with the liquid content by adding syrup or honey.

Maple syrup is great in that you can only really taste it at room temperature, so for sweetening hot drinks or anything you will consume cold the maple-ness won’t be an issue. I mix it into a paste with cocoa to make hot chocolate. It is also good for making ice cream as it will not clash with other flavours you might use and will not crystallise and make your ice cream grainy.

Honey is great for baking, and is generally the go-to substitute in muffins and cakes. It does tend to retain its flavour, so keep that in mind when adding it to recipes.

White sugar does things in your cooking that most less-processed substitutes are not quite able to replicate. That crunch in your apple crumble. The fluffiness in your muffins. And the ability to sweeten without messing with the flavours. But you can get around all this by trying different sweeteners in different situations.

I find maple syrup to be the best sweetener for home made yogurt. The culture did not like the stevia powder and I ended up with runny yogurt, but the maple worked out just like regular sugar. I like yogurt I can stand a spoon up in, and you can achieve this with plenty of milk solids (late lactation/high fat milk, or a top-up of powdered milk) and a tablespoon of maple syrup.

I use stevia powder in my iced tea. I make a variety of teas, some with very subtle flavours, and the stevia powder mixes in well and doesn’t interfere with the flavour of the tea.

I also use stevia to replace the sugar in things like cheesecake bases and crumble toppings, where you don’t want to add too much moisture.

If you are looking for some tried and true sugar-free recipes, here are some of my favourites.

I found a banana cake recipe that is only sweetened by fruit, it gets quite a bread-like crust on it, which softens after a couple of days, but it is very moist and very sweet.

I used regular self-raising flour instead of plain wholemeal flour and baking powder. I also found that it took quite a bit longer to cook than 35 minutes.

Sugar Free Banana Cake

  • 2 cups wholemeal plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 60gms butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cups pitted dates finely chopped
  • 4 banana mashed ripe
  • 1/3 cups milk

Method

  • STEP 1 Preheat oven to 180C
  • STEP 2 In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and egg with 1 tablespoon of the sifted flour.
  • STEP 3 Beat well, then stir in dates and bananas.
  • STEP 4 Sift flour, baking powder and soda into the bowl.
  • STEP 5 Fold in the remaining flour mixture alternatively with the milk.
  • STEP 6 Spread the mixture into a greased loaf tin and bake for 25-35 minutes.

 

To go with it I adapted a recipe for vanilla cream cheese frosting, as follows:

Cream Cheese Topping

1 cup cream cheese (I used fresh, unsalted chevre)

3 tablespoons heavy cream

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Juice of half a lemon

Beat or whisk it all together and spread on top of your banana cake. I topped mine with chopped walnuts.

Banana cake with cream cheese topping

Banana cake with cream cheese topping

 

Simple Apple Slice Cake

This one is very popular with my family, with visiting kids asking to take a copy of the recipe home with them.

2 cups self raising flour

1/2 cup stevia powder

3 apples, peeled, cored and diced

125g butter

1 egg

Method

Toss apple pieces with flour and sweetener in a mixing bowl.

Melt the butter, and stir the egg into the melted butter.

Pour butter and egg mix into the apple/flour/sweetener and mix until combined.

Press lightly into a greased and lined slice tin or lasagne dish.

Bake at 180C for 35 to 40 minutes.

Apple Slice Cake

Apple Slice Cake

 

Banana and Berry Muffins

This is my favourite muffin recipe, the one that I make a batch of to freeze for my snack at work.

3 large ripe bananas

1 cup frozen berries (I use a mix, but you can pick just one variety if you prefer)

4 tbsp honey

2 tsp vanilla extract

4 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp linseeds

2 1/2 cups self raising flour

2 tbsp rolled oats

1/3 cup milk

Method

Mash bananas. Mix in honey, oil and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients and fold in to combine without over-mixing. Gently fold in berries.

Spoon into greased muffin tins (I use paper cupcake cases)

Bake for 20 mins at 180C

Makes 12 decent-sized muffins

Banana and Berry Muffins (pictured with sugar-free and gluten-free Christmas cake)

Banana and Berry Muffins (pictured with sugar-free and gluten-free Christmas cake)