FAST Blog: Family Homestead

Permaculture, Preparedness, Homesteading & Survival

Monday, 31 August 2015

Frugal Food: Beef and Ale Pie Recipe

This is a great winter-warmer recipe, it's so hearty and nice and filling as it has a top and bottom pastry crust. All you need to serve it with is some fresh peas, or something green and leafy such as cabbage or spring greens. This is great made with any cut of beef that needs a long, slow cook. The pastry can be made 2 days in advance and kept in the fridge or frozen for a month.

Serves 6 adults or 4 adults and 4 kids


For the pie filling:

  •  800g beef, diced (stewing/braising/skirt - anything that is suitable and enhanced for long, slow cooking)
  • 2 sticks celery, chopped
  • 4 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 large onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 200g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
  • 200g smoked bacon, chopped or use lardons
  • 2tsp sugar
  • 4tbsp plain flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 300ml dark ale
  • 2 beef stock cubes, made with 400ml boiling water
  • small bunch thyme
  • small bunch parsley
For the pastry:
  • 650g plain flour
  • 250g cold butter (or lard, or a mixture of the two), plus extra for greasing
  • 200ml ice-cold water
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten, to glaze
For the gravy (optional):
  • dash of balsamic vinegar
  • teaspoon of marmite 

1. Pre-heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Firstly, chop all of your veggies and set them to one side. Then, heat a large heavy-bottomed casserole pan on a high heat, and glug in some of your oil. Brown your beef in batches. Be careful not to overload your pan, ad the meat won't brown properly. Once a batch is nicely browned all over, remove with a slotted spoon and pop in a bowl and set to one side. When all of the beef in browned, reduce the heat to low. Drizzle in a bit more oil. Add your celery, carrots and onions to the pan, and cook slowly for around 5 minutes, until starting to soften. Scatter over the sugar, flour and season well with salt and pepper. Sizzle for another few minutes, stirring really well, until the flour turns brown. Tip your browned beef, and any collected juices in the bottom of the bowl, back into the pan. Pour over your ale and stock and give it a really good stir. Tie the bunches of herbs together (if you don't have any string use a piece of clingfilm as a tie) and tuck into the mixture. Bring it to a simmer, cover with a lid and pop into the oven. It will need to cook for around 2 hours, or until the meat is really tender. 

2. Whilst your stew is cooking, heat another drizzle of oil in a large frying pan on a high heat. Add in the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove from the pan and ass in your mushrooms. Fry until golden. Set to one side with the bacon.

3. To make the pastry, crumble to flour and butter/lard together with a pinch of salt. The best way to do this is to cube your butter/lard, and then rub it into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles slightly wet sand. Add up to 200ml of ice-cold water until the mixture comes together. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and give a very quick need. Really, all you want to do is to make sure the ingredients are combined properly, rather than knead it completely. Too much kneading can ruin your dough, so just a quick knead is required. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

4. When you are ready to assemble the pie, heat oven to 220/200C fan/gas 7. Grease a 24-27cm pie dish well, and sprinkle with flour. Cut a third off the pastry and set to one side. Roll out the remaining 2/3 of pasty to a thick-ish round that will cover the base and sides of your pie dish. Take your stew mixture, and stir through your bacon and mushroom mixture, and discard the herb bunch. With a slotted spoon, spoon the stew into the pie dish. You want the filling to rise slightly higher in the centre than the side of the dish. Pop the juice from the stew to one side, and any other stew mixture can be frozen to use another day to make pasties. If there is any stew left, pop to one side. Roll our your remaining 1/3 of pasty to make your pie lid, and place on top of your pie. You can either cut off the over hang of pastry and then pinch the edges with your thumb and fingers to make a nice edge, or you can use a fork all the way around the edge to seal the base and lid together too. 

5. Roll out your remaining pastry scraps to make decorations for the top of your pie, and then glaze your pie with the beaten egg yolk. Use a knife to poke a few slits in the top of your pie to let the steam escape during cooking. Place your pie on a baking sheet to catch any juices that bubble over, and pop into the oven for 40 mins, or until golden on top. 

6. Heat up the left over stew juices with a bit of water to loosen and season again in necessary. You can use this as a delicious gravy to serve with your pie. Optional, but really tasty, is to add a dash of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of marmite to the gravy when heating it up to add a depth of flavour, and make it a bit different to your pie filling. 

7. Serve your pie with yummy peas or green leafys, and your delicious gravy in a jug to pour over the crispy pastry. Enjoy!


Friday, 28 August 2015

Choose Happy, Never Wait

This quote really sums it up for us. There will always be something "stopping you" from doing what you want, when you want, and for the most parts these things are constructs of your own imagination.

For the last few years my wife and I have been saying to each other "one day we'll have a big house in the country, keep chickens and grown veg". but why do we dismiss our dreams with the phrase "one day"? 
Why wait?
Why not here?
Why not now?

There was a bit of an epiphany moment, when we started to transform our garden and our lives. I asked why we shouldn't just keep chickens in the house we have now, and Carly replied "but we'd have hardly any lawn left"

Why do we need a lawn?
 Because everyone else has one?
 Because society thinks we should have one?
Because we enjoy mowing it over and over and over?

So we both thought about it........ 

"well, we need it so the kids can play on the grass"

But they can play on the decking, there is plenty of space. If they want to play sports or anything that needs vast areas of grass, we live walking distance from 3 large parks. The reality is that having a lawn does not enrich our life, nor teach our children about life and nature, and certainly doesn't give back to us for the time/maintenance spent on it. Whereas chickens will keep the bugs down, keep the weeds down, provide rich fertiliser for the compost heap, entertain the kids and teach them responsibility and if ALL of that wasn't enough, they will also lay delicious organic eggs for us.

I don't know about you, but when you put it like that we're struggling to find any reason that lawns exist in private homes at all?

So why can't we keep chickens now? why can't we have raised beds and grow fruit and veg now?

Well the reality is we COULD so we DID!

We have a really small back garden, but that doesn't mean that we couldn't work towards our dreams. It just means that we have to do things on an appropriate scale. Sure, we'll never have a flock of three or four hundred chickens on this property, but we can find room for three or four. We might not be able to grow tonnes of produce, but we can grow enough to make a positive difference to our diet and our grocery bills.

Now since birds do not naturally lay eggs through the winter due to the hours of daylight we are waiting until spring before we get half a dozen quails, and then possibly a few chickens. The benefit of us turning our small back yard into a micro farm now is that if ever we do find ourselves in the big house in the country, we'll already know what we're doing and we get to live the dream along the way.

So our advice for today, don't let your dreams just be dreams. If you have a vision then seize the day and make it a reality, you'll be surprised how much you can achieve when you set your mind to it


Frugal Foods: Beef & Ale Pie

We love a bargain, and I'm sure most people do. Whenever we are in the supermarket, we always hunt down the corner where they bung all of the reduced foods and see what delights might lurk underneath the pot of organic hummus (who buys hummus when it's so cheap to make anyway?! But that's a different post entirely).

There's nothing wrong with the food that's been put in the reduced section, it's normally just fresh stuff that's near it's 'use by' or 'best before' date. Even if it's 'use by' is the day you purchase it, go home and freeze it and you can use it another day.

A few weekends ago we managed to bag a few packs of diced beef, marked down from nearly £4, to a tiny 50p each! Our best meaty bargain so far. I didn't need to use it straight away so into the freezer it went.

The last week the weather has turned miserable, raining, thunder storms, blustery winds...perfect pie weather if you ask me! So I dug out two packs of the diced beef and set about making a new recipe for me, Beef and Ale Pie.

I figured if I was going all out, I might as well make the pastry myself too, another first for me. Usually I'd buy a packet of pastry, but when all you need is flour, butter and water, which we all have at home, why pay money for it?

I was really impressed with the outcome! It cost us only £1 in meat and would usually have cost nearly £8. The pastry cost nothing as we had the bits in our store cupboard, it was only the cost of a few other ingredients, which were cheap enough. It fed us and Logan on Monday, and us three and my parents yesterday, so well worth the effort and small expense!

Whilst the pie was in the oven, I re-rolled out the scraps of pastry into a rough rectangle. I spread with marmite, sprinkled with grated cheese, folded in half and then cut into strips and twisted. Popped these in the oven too and got yummy little cheese twists with scraps destined for the bin. Logan loves them!

 If anyone would be interested in the recipe I can add it on here for you, let me know what you think!


Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Involving the Little Ones

It's really important to us that our children are hands on around the garden and learn the practical aspect to growing food and gardening, so we are always trying to find ways to involve them as much as possible.
When we moved all of the soil/compost into the back garden to go into the raised beds little Logan helped with his bucket and spade from the beach, and although he probably slowed me down if anything, he was so happy to help and proud to tell everyone he had helped Daddy dig that it was more than worth the slight delay.
Recently we've been getting a lot of sun and rain in succession, which has bought out the gardeners nemesis: Weeds!
Logan has been really excited that he gets to pull them out and put them in the composter and it has lead to the creation of a new game. I have made a deal with him that for every dandelion flower he picks I will give him a penny. Aside from hoping that this will stop most of them from spreading seeds, it is really helping Logan with his counting, both of the flowers and the money. Also it's giving him the idea that money is worth something and that if you want money to spend you have to work for it. I don't think we will ever just give him "pocket money", he will always have to work for the things he wants, whether it is helping to tidy the house, pull up the weeds or feed the quails(when we get them). So far he has earned about 40p this week from dandelions and says he doesn't want to buy sweets or toys with it, he wants to keep it until he has lots! I am already so proud of the boy that he is growing into at just under 3 years old, he really is my best friend and I hope that he always is.

If you have any fun ideas to get the kids involved in the garden or kitchen then we'd love to hear from you, thanks for reading


Monday, 24 August 2015

Progress Update - August 2015

Hi Guys and Gals,
A quick update on how things are coming along now.
The shed has been build and painted now so we have some outdoor storage at last. My nan passed away and left a few garden tools behind so we are no longer trying to do everything with the same battered old shovel, I'm sure she would be proud that they are being put to good use.
We also got a water butt, although I haven't gotten around to feeding guttering from the shed to fill it up yet.

By the time we had gotten the raised beds set up we were sure that it was too late to grow most things this season, so considered it a bonus if anything managed to get to harvest before the frosts turn up and kibosh everything.

At the moment we have planted squash, pumpkin, courgette, marrow, beans, peas, leeks, cucamelon, spinach, carrot, parsley and some chilli plants I keep in the window at work.

The beans were the first to show their heads above ground and have climbed the netting really well and are just getting to the stage that we can start picking them:
Stringless red flowering runner beans
The peas however don't seem to have done quite so well, they have stopped growing at about 12" height and haven't produced many pods, perhaps because they were planted late or maybe because the foxes keep digging holes near them, maybe it damaged the roots:

The peas are Kelvedon Wonder,
the leaves seem quite "white", having never grown them before I have no idea if this is normal?
After the peas and beans got started there was an explosion of squash, pumpkin and marrow growth that threatened to colonise the entire garden and had to be beaten back in to the beds with the pruning shears. next time I will definitely put less seeds in to the bed! Alas a casualty of the vigorous marrows was the cucamelon, which didn't have a chance to break through before the leaves of the other plants smothered it, which is a shame as they were one of the things I was looking forward to, sod's law.
The Pumpkin patch, biding its time, waiting til our backs are turned so it can take over the world...
top marks for knowing if this is a courgette or a marrow, let us know in the comments as we are stumped! 

And in the 3rd bed we have Spinach, Carrots and Parsnip, kept prisoner in the maximum security facility to stop the foxes destroying them. When the carrots come through it's going to look a bit Orange is the new Black in there!

The 4th bed really was too late to plant anything in by the time the others had been sorted, so we have mulched with cardboard and it will be the first bed we plant in next year.

If you have any tips/tricks for around the garden or any advice then we'd love to hear from you in the comments, thanks for reading!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Shopping Local - Farmer's Market

Every Thursday, our local high street welcomes the Farmer's Market. There's everything from fresh fruit and veggies, artisan breads, cheeses, cakes, cider...the list goes on. It can be hard not to buy all the delicious things on offer, but I try to keep in mind all of the delicious things I am going to make myself and can usually resist!

I usually do a monthly online shop for larger items like cat food and loo rolls, and then do a weekly shop for our food. We've got a freezer full of meals at the moment that I have made and frozen the left-overs of previously, so this week we only really needed some top up fresh produce. I am becoming more and more disappointed with the fresh foods available in the supermarkets. Vegetables and fruits that should be juicy and full of flavour are often flavourless and unappealing. I won't even get started on how lacking in essential vitamins and minerals these forced over-farmed fruit and veggies will be.  The higher-end fruit and vegetables in the 'taste the difference' ranges etc, are so ridiculously expensive that I don't see how a normal family would be able to afford them!

 I want to know where my produce has come from, and how far it has traveled. I want to know that it has been picked carefully, by hand and I want all of my apples and carrots to be different shapes and sizes! I also think that it's incredibly important to support our local farmers. As a small business owner myself, I know how support from the people around you is so essential.

When Logan and I arrived at the fruit and vegetable stall today, they had out baskets to pop your shopping in, and little kiddie sized baskets too, which Logan thought was wonderful. I carried a basket for the heavier items and Logan carried his very own basket. He had the best time helping me, and it is a great way to teach kids about food. I told Logan that we needed two carrots and asked him to pick them for me. He found out the carrots, inspected them, and then picked out a couple and popped them into his basket, looking rather proud of himself. I was proud of him too. Next he helped me pick out some berries, (which he kept trying to sneak in his mouth!) a piece of ginger and some big sticks of rhubarb.

Over all, we got 2 carrots, 3 onions(biggest ones I've ever seen!) , 2 bunches of spring onions, big piece of ginger, 1 pak choi, bag of damsons, 4 punnets blackberries, 2 punnets raspberries, bag of medjool dates, 7 bananas and 6 sticks of rhubarb for the grand total of £12! It came to £12.95, but the kind man let me off the 95p. I really was astounded at how cheap it was, if i'd have gotten this produce in the supermarket, I'd probably have paid more than £12 for the berries alone! But not only did we get all of this fresh local produce, we also had a great experience too. Logan had a great time looking, touching and picking the fruit and veg, and I really enjoyed telling him what all of the weird and wonderful items were. There were things that you can't even get in the local supermarket, so he's never really seen one before, such as a Mooli. It also taught him to be independent by picking his own pieces, and carrying the basket, and it taught him that it's fun to help Mummy shop.

He really was made up with the basket, and is already looking forward to going to the farmer's market next week. I will try and make it a weekly occurrence, and try and do the bulk of my shopping there. I also spotted a stall selling a dozen XL free range local eggs for £2.40, so until we have our own eggs, i'll be getting some of those!

I'm planning on making a Rhubarb and Vanilla jam, and a mixed berry and damson jam with my haul today, and using the rest of the items during the week in meals/ lunches. I am already planning next weeks veggie haul, and plan on getting the ingredients for a mixed chutney. The weather here over the last few days has turned very autumnal, and I love making preserves at this time of year. I finally treated myself to a maslin pan this year, so need to make the most of it, after wanting one for so long!

My challenge to you this week is to try your local farmer's market, greengrocers or market stall, and see if it makes a difference to your meals and your bank balance!


Dash to A&E Last night

Defcon 4! all systems are go!

The little man lost his balance and fell backwards onto the radiator valve in the bathroom, sustaining a pretty deep puncture wound on his left buttock. He's only 2 and a half years old and never really hurt himself before so it was surprising how well he handled it, he was the proper brave little soldier.
I picked him up and held him and the blood was running down my arm, so Carly ran and got the first aid kit, I cleaned and dressed the wound and we could see there was a deep hole with a flap of skin loose, we knew it was time to get down the hospital. The little man had stopped crying but turned around and saw the blood on my hands and asked what it was, and luckily I have a bright red shower gel at the moment so I told him it was just the soap from the bathroom so he didn't freak out. I think one of the most important things when kids hurt themselves is to keep calm yourself and in turn keep them calm about it too. In the A&E waiting room we distracted him with a bag of maltesers from the vending machine until it was his turn to be seen.

I can't fault the A&E department at Southend Hospital, they were really good with him, laughing and joking and telling him that they were friends with spiderman! Logan ended up needing to have his buttock glued back together and 4 butterfly stitches and is now home safe and sound, he made a lot less fuss about it than I would have!

It really brings home the importance of the small things like having a well stocked First Aid kit on hand so that he didn't have to sit with an uncleaned wound covered in blood on the way to the hospital. Or always having petrol in the car because you never know when you might need to get out of dodge and head for the hospital at a moments notice, and the last thing you want is to wait in the queue for the petrol pump with an injured toddler. Also having a bit of change in your wallet for parking/vending machines. All these things seem like simple common sense but are all too easy to overlook until it is too late, and make a real difference when it counts.


Monday, 17 August 2015

A Broken Bolt & A Walk in the Woods

It's been a busy weekend for us. The kids were at Nanny and Grandads so we had the rare opportunity to both go out on the motorcycle together, and decided we wanted to go for a bike and hike in a nearby woods and have a picnic. However when I got home Friday it looked as though a shorn bolt on the bike was going to ruin our plans. So rather than an expensive trip to the mechanics to sort it out, I took the gear linkage off the bike and with the help of a good friend drilled out the offending bolt and repaired it myself in true F.A.S.T style. 
Another casualty of the day was that one of the saddlebags had slipped down and touched the exhaust, burning a hole straight through and melting any contents that didn't fall out on the road! I will at some point attempt to repair them too.
Once we finally got on the road, we had a great day out together hiking and our picnic had a view right out across the fields and forest with glimpses of the small village beyond through the trees, so peaceful and relaxed!
The blackberries were abundant on the fringes of the trail and were a sweet treat as we walked along.
The price of a picnic is such a small fraction of what it would have cost us to have a meal out at a restaurant, but is so much more satisfying being able to connect with nature. We hope your weekend went as well as ours in the end, thanks for reading this far!


Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Waging War on Ivy

When we moved in to our house a year ago, this was our starting point, a very small back garden devoid of anything useful, the only thing successfully growing in it was the weeds and the ivy!

So we set to work clearing the ivy. After a bit of research online I concluded that there was no quick and easy way of ridding yourself of ivy short of digging out every last route, so settled for sawing through the trunks at ground level then attacking the vines with a large knife, I'm sure the neighbours thought I'd lost the plot. I'm sure the ivy will be an on going nemesis as it comes over the fence from our neighbours so there is only so much we can do to keep it at bay before it decides to come over the trenches and face us again.

After beating back the ivy we cleared an area to put a shed down and knocked together some raised beds out of scaffold boards. We coated the scaffold boards in some cheap and cheerful Homebase own brand wood treatment in the hope they might last a bit longer, although it has made them a marvellous shade of Oompa Loompa!

At the time we had no storage for tools etc and all we had was one battered old shovel. It was painstakingly slow moving the few ton of soil from the front garden to fill the raised beds, especially since we did it by hand in buckets, but it has given us an area of good quality soil/compost to begin growing in. We also got a composter which I think is a must, it'll save you buying compost or fertiliser and massively cuts the amount of kitchen waste going in the bin, not to mention grass cuttings and garden waste. It was well in to spring by this time so we had already missed the boat on many of the things we would have liked to have planted, but still managed to get a few things in the ground before it was too late, more on that in our next post

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Start of the Story

This page is a diary of one Family's Attempts to Survive the Times, in Southend-on-Sea.

So let's set the scene;
We are the Foster family. We live in a mid-terraced house close to the town centre, with a very small garden. As a working class family with no background in any kind of homesteading/self reliance, if we can do it, anyone can!

The motley crew consists of Husband and Wife team Richard and Carly in their twenties, with a two year old terrible toddler Logan and a 3 month old dribbling daughter Aurora.

In the times of our grandparents it was not out of the ordinary for people to grow their own food, keep a few chickens for eggs and build/repair things for themselves. So why is it not the norm today?
Perhaps that is why families can no longer survive on one income and struggle to make ends meet, because we have lost the skills to produce some of the things we need for ourselves. My grandparents always grew fruit and veg. My great granddad was serial DIYer, his garage was full of so many homemade contraptions it looked like a game of Mousetrap! and nan was always rather proud of the fact that every now and again a bottle of home brewed ginger beer would explode in the shed! it is these types of skills we seem to be slowly losing as a society, and I would dearly like to learn these skills before they all but disappear,

In this blog we will try to avoid the "get a bloke in" mentality and try to do as much as we can for ourselves with the goal of becoming as self reliant as possible. We have no doubt that this will involve a lot of hard work, blood sweat and tears and the occasional mudfight, so strap yourselves in, it's going to be a bumpy journey but we hope you enjoy the ride!



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