Five fun summer projects

RoyalAuto magazine

With the holiday season warming up, it’s time to dream up some fun projects to do this summer. 

Story: Miranda Tay 
December 2018


Pet project: Dog treats


Cheap pet treats are often made with low-quality fillers like wheat, corn and soy. “They can contribute to digestive issues and skin allergies and provide little to no nutritional benefit,” says Lara Shannon, creator and co-host of Network Ten’s Pooches at Play

But buying premium natural pet treats can be costly. “That’s why making your own dog treats at home will not only save you money, but will also reduce packaging waste and help reduce the amount of preservatives, fillers and other nasties that you might be feeding your pet,” Lara says.

The recipe below avoids ingredients like peanut butter, which can be toxic to dogs if it contains the sugar substitute xylitol. Factor the treats into your dog’s recommended total calorie intake to help keep your furry friend at a healthy weight, Lara says.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cooked, finely diced chicken
  • 1/2 cup rice, cooked and mashed
  • 3 tablespoons rice flour
  • 1 tablespoon parsley – from the garden
  • 1 egg  

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
  • Mix together all ingredients and stir well. 
  • Spoon into an ovenproof silicone mould to create bite-size bits. 
  • Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until tops are golden brown. 
  • Allow to cool then remove from moulds. 
  • Store in fridge or freezer in batches.

What you’ll save: Cost per 300 to 350 grams is about $3. An equivalent weight of healthy, preservative and filler-free treats ranges from $10 to $30.

Lara Shannon at work.   PHOTO: Shannon Morris.


From the garden: Make a herb planter 


Grow some edible greens this summer. Easy herb varieties include mint, thyme, rosemary and sage. “They make perfect potted plants near your kitchen, on your balcony or in your courtyard,” says Jason Chongue of The Plant Society. 

If you’re short on outdoor space, try a basil, mint or parsley herb garden on your windowsill. Herbs generally love a bright sunny position. In the warmer months ensure you water about once a week. If you’re short on time use a self-watering planter. 

“When it is time to harvest, I find pruning the tips off, on an as-needed basis, encourages your herbs to branch out and continue supplying you endlessly with produce,” Jason says.

Choose a classic terracotta planter that allows for growth without being too big. The right planter is about 15 centimetres bigger than the pot the plant comes in.

Seal your terracotta planter to avoid rapid water loss. Use a premium-grade, nutrient-rich potting mix that is well-draining. Place a bed of potting mix in the base  of the pot so that the plant sits approximately one to three centimetres from the rim of the new planter. Top up with potting mix and gently press down to compress any air pockets below the surface. Water in your plant until the water drains out of the drainage hole. Within weeks you will have herbs to cook with.

What you’ll save: A $15 pot could supply you with herbs for months, compared with $3 a bunch at the supermarket.


Home improvement: Transform a stool 


Give your furniture an update this summer, and keep the project simple. British paint maker Annie Sloan created her range of paints (available in Australia) around the time her three sons were starting school. “I needed to be able to paint a piece in the morning and put it back in place by the time they were back from school,” she says. 

Her paints are designed to go onto any clean surface – varnished wood, metal, plastic – often with no priming or sanding.  

Start small. Pick up a simple stool at a charity shop and upcycle it with paint. “As well as saving money, you’re also saving furniture from going to landfill by recycling,” Annie says. 

Method 

  • Apply base colour, using a medium brush to create texture.
  • Once dry, use a clean brush to apply the second colour. Avoid painting this too thickly. 
  • Let the top coat dry fully, then apply wax with a small brush. Remove excess wax with a lint-free cloth. 
  • Wait until the wax is touch-dry but not hardened, then sand back areas of the top colour to reveal the first colour below. Sand areas that would naturally wear. 
  • Seal with a final coat of wax.

Project as photographed uses Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Aubusson Blue and Lem Lem, and Clear Chalk Paint Wax. 

What you’ll save: Annie Sloan Chalk Paint pot, 118ml, $22. Chalk Paint brushes start at around $20, as do 500ml pots of wax. A new timber stool might cost about the same but it won’t be as special – plus you can use leftover supplies for other projects. 

ownlittleworld.com.au (for Annie Sloan paints)


In the kitchen: Beeswax wraps


Keep summer leftovers safe and healthy with homemade beeswax food wraps. A sustainable alternative to plastic food wrap, they are essentially fabrics coated in beeswax with a little oil to soften them. The right blend of wax and oil is important to getting a good consistency to the wrap. 

They are washable, and can be used to wrap sandwiches, fruit, snacks or to cover a bowl or jar. 

Robert Redpath, owner of Melbourne’s Bee Sustainable, says: “Beeswax creates a reusable food cloth that is waterproof, flexible and resists fungus and bacteria.” 

Here’s one of his simplest methods:

Materials

  • Medium-weight cotton or linen fabric cut to desired size
  • 455g beeswax
  • Double boiler or small electric frypan
  • Wooden stirrer 

Method

  • Melt the beeswax in a double boiler or small electric frypan over low heat.
  • Dip the fabric into the melted wax. Use a wooden stirrer to help submerge the fabric, then lift it out and allow wax to drip off and cool slightly.
  • If there is surplus wax on the fabric, go over it with a heat gun and some paper towelling to absorb some of the excess.  

“Instead of dipping the fabric you can also try applying the melted wax with a brush or sprinkling grated wax over the surface of the fabric and heating it,” Robert says.

What you’ll save: If you’re not into making your own, Bee Sustainable sells beeswax wraps, starting from $12 for the Bee Keep Wee Bee Bundle. Plastic cling wraps start at $3 a roll but of course it’s a whole lot less reusable or environmentally friendly.


Food for thought: Homemade jam


Waste not, want not. Put the festive season glut to good use by turning summer’s bounty into all kinds of taste sensations. Tamara DiMattina is the creator and “lighter lifestyles” guru at The New Joneses, which advocates living sustainably. “Limiting food wastage saves money, honours the time and resources that have gone into producing it and keeps it from landfill,” she says. 

Tamara scours for discounted fruits to turn into icy treats with no additives and, just as importantly, no packaging. The warmer weather ripens fruit faster into squishy, but not mouldy, produce. Her tip is to blitz the bargain bins for bananas, berries – anything that’s a bit overripe. “Then hit the internet to try new recipes for icy poles, ice-creams, smoothies and granitas. We always freeze the fruit first. In smoothies, the frozen fruit eliminates the need for ice, making for a creamier, less watery, icy treat.”

Food writer and marketer Jane Wong, who is a judge of the Australian Food Awards at the Royal Melbourne Show, loves making her own jams. “For a beginner’s recipe, use fresh berries, lemon juice, and an equal amount of sugar to fruit. Squeeze in a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice. Stir slowly.” 

To stop your jam from foaming, heat the sugar in the oven at about 100 degrees until it’s warm, not until it melts, Jane says. 

What you’ll save: Tamara has scored the odd free box of overripe fruit at markets, saving her the cost of ice blocks, about $3.60 a pack, or berry jam, about $2 per 250g jar, at the supermarket.