31 May 2010

Real change is coming

I think we're are gaining ground.  There has been a shift away from the purchased conveniences of modern living, women and men are beginning to see the light and more and more homemakers are returning to older and non-commercial ways of doing the house work and cooking.  It does my heart good to see how many younger women and men are expressing an interest in home cooking, knitting, mending, repairing and reusing, as well as making green cleaners and soaps. There is a move towards traditional home arts.  Here in Australia, fabric, yarn and craft stores are reporting record sales, and cooking has become popular again!


These traditional ways of housekeeping and home maintenance, passed down over the years by our grandparents, were replaced by convenience foods, cheap clothing and appliances, and when they started to disappear, most of us were too busy to notice.  The global economic crisis came along to show us that when we are given convenience on a plate it is at the expense of other significant things.  Many were surprised when they realised they could do a whole lot more in the home than they thought they could, for less money, while producing better quality, and they actually enjoyed doing it.

I believe it's a question of dependence versus independence.  Convenience encourages dependence.  If we buy food already cooked or half cooked, we forget our traditional foods and how to cook them.  If we always buy our clothes, we forget how to make them.  If we buy our knitwear, we never learn to knit.  There was a time when we never thought about having our nails "done", when we cut our own hair, fixed cars and lawn mowers, or we relied on friends and neighbours to help us do it, then we returned the favour by helping them do something we had the skill to do.  Now convenience and the cheapness of food, clothes and appliances makes us dependent on shops instead of each other.  We work to earn the money to pay for these things instead of learning how to do make them or repair them ourselves.


In my ideal world, mothers and fathers would teach their children how to live an authentic life in the modern world.  They'd make sure their children had the life skills they need to look after themselves, they would teach through example and they would be the people they want their children to become.  But we don't live in an ideal world, all we have is this one and while it is far from ideal, there are some thing we can all do to make our own family healthy, practical and competent.  From a young age, teach your children how to cook simple food, mend little things like toys, knit, recycle, plant seeds, harvest water, and how to care for what is theirs.  Giving them the responsibility of caring for a pet will teach them about nutrition, time management, gentleness and unconditional love.  Many parents think that teaching a child how to read before they go to school is a major achievement, but they need much more than that.  They need those practical life skills, those things they will enjoy learning while they're still young.  They will grow up confident and self reliant if you teach them these things, show them they are important part of the family and rely on them to help with the family work.  Giving to children only teaches them how to take.

I don't expect everyone to take up their knitting needles, start dressmaking or learn how to make a traditional meal from scratch, but I do see a move towards some of those things.  And the good thing is that many people realise that making and doing for oneself is a positive and life affirming thing; they enjoy it.  It has been a long time coming but the move is on and who know where it will lead us.  Now, more and more people are realising that we can change the way we live and because of that almost anything is possible.  I think real change is just around the corner.

30 May 2010

You, me and the kitchen sink

This is the last set of photos in the kitchen sink series.  We have some really interesting photos coming in for the new series so I think you'll like that too.

Today we have Pat's kitchen in Oregon.  She writes:
"I have enclosed some pictures of my kitchen in Corvallis, Oregon. As you can see, itt is a small kitchen, but one that I find to be efficient and cozy! I love chickens, but do not raise them. Luckily I tend to my friends flock when she is away."


Please don't forget to comment. A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the people sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends. 

28 May 2010

Home cooking the old fashioned way

I'm at a loss to understand why foods go in and out of fashion.  It seems that people get sick of one thing, then go on to the next.  I'm the opposite, if I like something, I like it forever.  Is the TV program Masterchef only in Australia or is it in other countries as well?  Here in Australia, it's revolutionised the way people cook and has made cooking popular again.  I think that is a great thing but I don't like the emphasis on fine dining, it is not home cooking.  When we cook at home, unless it's for a celebration or special dinner party, I believe home cooking should look like home cooking.  Why make food into towers that are difficult to cut, drizzle sauces and oil, and strew flowers over a plate when what we home cooks are trying to do is present good nourishing food with a mimimum of fuss, several times a day, week after week. Restaurant food focuses on one plate, home food is best served, I believe, from the table with everyone serving themselves, taking exactly what they want.  Both have their place but if you're new to cooking don't confuse restaurant presentation with the more casual approach of the home cook.

Both my sons are fine dining chefs, so I do have an interest in both camps, however, I am an old fashioned cook.  I often read their ever growing collection of cook books written for chefs, and while I love both their cooking styles (one is French-based and the other mostly Asian), I remain firmly in the old fashioned camp. My favourite cook books are Nourishing Traditions and my old Barrosa Valley CWA (Country Women's Association) cookbook, circa 1950s.  But most of my recipes are in my head and while I do try new things occasionally, I generally stick to what I know.  The thing I really love about old fashioned cooking is that it often uses food that might be wasted, or foods that sit on the pantry shelf in a jar until it's needed.  This first recipe is a recycled food one and is one of Hanno's favourites.  

BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING

Stale bread, stale fruit bread, stale cinnamon rolls or stale fruit scones - about 3 or 4, cut in thick slices and buttered.  Lay these in a buttered baking dish.
Make a custard - 4 eggs, beaten, plus 3 tablespoons of sugar, a slurp of good vanilla, and about 600 mls/or a little over one pint of milk.  Whisk together making sure the eggs have broken up and mix into the milk well.
Pour the custard over the bread slices and allow to sit for 30 minutes for the milk to soak into the bread.  Then put it in a slow oven (around 170C/340F) for about 20 minutes.  You want it to be golden brown on top with a hint of milky wobbles in the custard.  You don't want the custard to be completely set when you remove it from the oven.

Serve warm with a drizzle of cream.


MUSHROOM BAKE
Cook about 300 grams/ of dry pasta shapes - something like penne, bows or shells.  Drain and leave in the drainer.
In a frying pan, saute one chopped onion, 250 grams/½ pound fresh mushrooms (or more) and one or two garlic cloves.  When the onion is translucent and the mushrooms have wilted, turn heat off and leave in the pan.
Make a cheese sauce - mine is: 2 tablespoons plain flour and 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, mix together and add salt and pepper.  Cook on low heat for about 2 minutes.  Add a dash of Tabasco or a sprinkle of chilli powder and stir in.  Add about 500mls/one pint of milk. I often use powdered milk for this.  Whisk this mixture together over medium heat until it starts to thicken, then add one cup of shredded cheddar cheese.  Stir the sauce until thick and smooth.
Then put the meal together.  In a lasagna dish, add the pasta, mushroom and onions and mix.  Pour the sauce over and mix in.  Top with some Parmesan and bake in a medium over until the top is golden brown.  Serve with a salad.

MIXED FRUIT BREAD

I kneaded the dough for this in the breadmaker.
375mls water
2 tablespoons soft butter
1½ teaspoons of nutmeg
1½ teaspoons of cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk powder
4¼ cups bread flour
2 teaspoons yeast

2/3 cup mixed dried fruit in the fruit dispenser, or thrown them in half way through the kneading process.

Place everything in the machine and turn on to the dough setting.  When finished, shape and place in your bread tin and allow to rise again.  When doubled in size, place in the oven on about 190C/375F.

Cinnamon Glaze for the bread (optional)
Mix ½ cup icing/confectioner's sugar with ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and add 2 teaspoons of water.  Drizzle or paint on with a brush.

Happy cooking everyone!

Thank you for your visits and comments this week.  I'll be going through the simple living comments on the weekend and visiting the blogs listed there.  I hope you have a wonderful and interesting weekend.  See you next week!  ♥

27 May 2010

You, me and the kitchen sink - UPDATED

This is the second last kitchen sink post, so get ready for a new series. I want you to send TWO only photos showing your work space - that could be in your home, where you work outside the home, in the garden, on your farm, at school, or, for all those lurking blokes out there, your shed, garden or garage or where you go out to work - it could be the cabin of a big rig or your office desk. Please write two paragraphs describing your work space and something about yourself. I imagine we will get photos of sewing machines, knitting projects in comfy chairs, sheds, cooking, cars, horses, gardens and all sorts of wonderful places from all over the world. Please tell me where you are from and include a link to your blog if you have one. Send your photos to rhondahetzel@gmail.com  ADDITION:  Please make sure your photos are around 100k, no bigger, and no videos please.  Thanks everyone.  This is going to be a great series.

Today's photo is from a town very close to where I live. In fact, the kitchen setup is very much like mine, including the placement of the fruit bowl. This is Debra's kitchen and she lives in Queensland, Australia.

Debra writes:
"This is my kitchen. It is just on 18 years old, we have been in this house since we owner built it back in 92, and I still love my kitchen. It is the hub of the house, as is most peoples. The only thing we have changed is we have put in a dishwasher, we removed 2 cupboards to do this, which left us with a little nook between the dishwasher and the next cupboard, which is a perfect spot for jars etc., and we have put in a new ceramic cooktop. The oven is still the same, we replaced the fan in that about 18 months ago, and the rangehood is still the original. The wide benchtop is brilliant. I did the tiling myself, and we also laid the slate floor ourselves. The kitchen window looks out over our entertainment area and greenhouse, and the dining area next to it looks out over the pool and garden area. I have a nice big walk in corner pantry, which, when tidy, has heaps of room for everything we could ever need.


My knitted dishcloth is hanging over my tap :) I have to knit some more. I picked up some lovely cotton from an opshop I think they were something like 50c a ball, and I get 2 or so per ball of wool. I like this waffle weave pattern the best. 
My home journal is on the bench, this has phone numbers, menus, school notes etc etc in it. My husband made my phone cupboard, the drawer holds pens etc. In the corner next to the dish drainer is the recipe book holder my sister made for me for my birthday. I use this a lot. My chook scraps bucket is next to the sink, and is used everyday. When the girls see me walking up the yard with this in the afternoon, they all come running!! I have a country wall hanging next to the phone, I picked this up from a garage sale for $2, and under that is my handmade wall/desk calender. This gets used a lot also. I don't like my home to be cluttered, but I do like a few favourites here and there. I will be purchasing some new stools for the breakfast bar shortly, as my husband made some but over the years they have slowly but surely broken, and he doesn't want to make them this time, I have my eye on some lovely ones, so I think these will be an added addition to our home soon. :)

You can visit Debra's blog by clicking here. 

Please don't forget to comment. A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the people sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends. 

26 May 2010

Take two old codgers and a chain saw

Roots from the palm trees are invading our backyard drains and after thinking about it for some time, Hanno decided to take action.  He called out to me to come and help him.  I walked outside to see a long rope tied to our fig tree, the other end tied to the middle palm.  "I'm going to cut the palm tree down, you hold the rope so it doesn't fall on the shed."  So I was in charge of stopping a one tonne tree falling onto our shed.  We are living on the edge here, in more ways than one.  


In reality, all I had to do was hold the rope tight, Hanno would cut the tree so it fell away from the shed.  The rope was our insurance!  So he got our ancient electric chain saw and started cutting while I took photos and did the job asked of me.  All went to plan and the tree fell where he wanted it to with nothing damaged.  I am hoping he clears the rest of the trees and plants smaller fruit trees in their place.  The chooks will miss the palms, as they were a favourite summer afternoon resting place.
Inside the house, I did some writing and talking on the phone to my sister, Bernadette and my friend in Townsville, Kathleen.  When I sat to rest, I took up the needles and did some knitting.  Is there anything better on an overcast cool day than to sit in a warm room with your knitting or sewing? I sat, contentedly, for a few hours clicking, threading and flicking wool this way and that..  I could feel the strength and energy I lost yesterday return with every row.  Clicking away, not thinking of anything but the soft wool, slowly building a jumper/sweater for Hanno.


I'm working on three projects at the moment, although if you looked in my knitting basket you'd think it was 20. I think knitting baskets are supposed to be untidy and as long as the yarns don't start tangling together, I'm happy to see the mixture of colours and textures.  As well as Hanno's jumper, I'm knitting a big scarf and some mittens. They're all simple projects that I can make up as I go.  I'm not good with patterns and counting, so I tend to knit simply so I can change it when I feel the need.  What's on your needles right now?


I'm feeling on top of the world again today.  All that knitting healed me.  Today I'm back at the Centre for Sorry Day but I'll also take Bernadette to the doctor.  I hope you enjoy your day and if you're in Australia, please spare a thought for our first Australians.

25 May 2010

Running on optimism

Every morning, on that short walk over dewy grass to our chook house, I am usually aware of a feeling of acute optimism and hope for the day ahead.   I bend down to pick up a brick to keep the gate open, unlock the door to the coop, remove the block of wood that stops rats and other night visitors opening the food hopper, then call the girls to come out and greet the day.  They wait at the gate for me to walk out with them but often I stop to look at the garden.  It's backdropped by the house and I can stand there in the half-light with the bright green of the garden almost shining right in front of me while the house, lit then by only one kitchen light, stands in the shadows.  This scene almost always fills me with optimism and eagerness for the day ahead.


I felt that optimism yesterday when I stood looking, came back inside to get my camera, and took pictures of what I saw.  I thought I might capture that feeling and use the image as a computer wallpaper - a reminder to myself of what is possible, even in a small and simple backyard.

The chook house, with the flash.  The first of the girls share a meal at the hopper, Heather watches, waiting her turn, and Kylie, as usual, sits on the nest trying to hatch invisible eggs.

Yesterday was my big workday.  I needed to be full of enthusiasm and energy.  I left here around 7am to go to the bakery and  IGA to select food to serve at the Centre.  I did one of my Frugal Home workshops and knew I would have hungry mouths to feed.  I settled on fruit scones and tea for morning tea, with crackers and cheese, chicken and ham salad sandwiches, wedges of watermelon and orange, tea and coffee for lunch.  I over catered because there would be another meeting at night and whatever was left over could be eaten then along with the mushroom pasta bake I took from home for our evening meal.

I picked up all my supplies, was really pleased I had all my volunteers to help make the sandwiches, then settled down before anyone else arrived to write a short piece for the local newspaper.  The phone rang ... twice.  Two of my volunteers were sick and could not come in.  Luckily our high school trainee would be there along with one volunteer. 

We had a number of activities happening during the morning - a first aide for babies course and our sewing circle, as well as my workshop.  I made some phone calls then saw Sonya from the Permaculture Pathways blog walk in.  She came to learn how to make an apron so I took her out to the sewing room, invited her to make a cuppa, then went back to find our statistics file so I could use it in a report I was writing.  Babies, mums and dads started filing in for the first aide course, then my Frugal Home people arrived and we were into it.  I think the people who attended found it helpful. There were two ladies there who read my blog.  Hello Caroline and Natalie! The course over, we had lunch together, then I started writing my report for the later meeting.

People kept coming in to talk, I had about five phonecalls, another small meeting, then we closed the Centre for the day.  The presenter of a solar panel info session arrived to set up for his presentation at 7 pm.  I heated up the pasta bake, got the leftover sandwiches from the fridge and set up our small meeting room for our committee meeting.  That ran from 5 till 8pm and as it got later and I grew tired, I thought a couple of times about that view over my turnip tops and cabbages across to the house.  My feelings of optimism were being replaced by thoughts of a warm and cosy bed.


I drove home in the pouring rain and there Hanno and Alice were waiting for me as I knew they would be.  I sat with Hanno for five minutes, then went to bed, happy that I had used my time well that day.  And now I'm about to go out and walk to the chook house again and see that scene again in the half light.  I will spent this day at home baking and cooking and maybe napping this afternoon.  Tomorrow I'm back at the Centre again for Sorry Day, we have a big function planned that I am really looking forward to.

Thank you all so much for sharing your stories yesterday.  I have not yet read them all but will try to do that today.  I'm also going to visit the blogs mentioned but that will have to wait till later in the week.  I hope you have a lovely day today and enjoy what you do.

24 May 2010

What led you to your simple changes

When I started living more simply I didn't know what simple living was.  All I knew was that I didn't want to work and for me that presented a dilemma.  You see, I am a working class girl.  So if I wasn't going to be working, what would I do?  It was important that I continue to work in some way so I was really pleased when I realised that I could change the way I lived by working in a different way.  Not only would I have a simple philosophy, I would also express myself by simplifying my everyday activities.  I didn't know it then but I was about to reinvent myself and my life and I would never look back.
This week's flowers are camellias and clivia.

It became clear very quickly that changing one thing lead to another and that most household activities were linked.  Learning how to stockpile, made me look at the way I cooked, that linked to my budgeting and how I spent my time.  Wanting to reduce the amount of waste we threw out and the amount of packaging we brought into our home lead me to knitting dishcloths, which lead to knitting jumpers, and sewing in all its various ways. So instead of planning what I would do, I just did what I was interested and that lead me on to the next thing and the next.

A fruit loaf made last week.

We all know this journey never ends and that there is no one size fits all - each and every simple life is different.  I am interested in knowing what lead you to your simple changes and how you have simplified.  If you have a blog, please leave a link so I can read a bit about you in the coming days.  This is a fascinating subject and I am sure that discussing it like this will help others who are thinking about change but haven't taken the plunge yet.

21 May 2010

Making your life your job

In with a lot of other emails I had one from Ceri through the week.  I asked her if it was okay to answer in a post because I think this is something many people struggle with.  To summarise, Ceri wrote that she and her husband have just moved from Dubai to Cyprus in the hope of living a simpler life.  She writes:  "What I would like to have some ideas on are  how to adjust and not feel guilty about being a stay at home wife.  We have no children and I have worked long and hard most of my adult life. My husband’s salary covers the bills and we can put aside a little for the future and the life insurance but there is very little spare outside of that.  ( I used to be a 3 overseas  holidays a year Radley handbag girl,)  Now  I have chosen to stay at home as this was part of the plan to drastically change our way of living, but I feel really guilty about not bringing in the bread even though I am learning to bake it.  I feel ashamed to tell friends that we cannot afford things and don’t want to make new friends for fear of them laughing at my simple ideas.   How do I overcome this?

 Also  how do I go about starting my own veggie garden in rented accommodation.  How would you suggest I do this so that I don’t upset the garden but still begin my dream of growing my own produce and know I can take it with me when the time comes to move on."

Dear Ceri, all changes take time to feel right and natural and this is a very big change so it doesn't surprise me that you feel uneasy.  One thing you should do is to think of what you're doing at home now as your real job.  It will be as time consuming as any paid job, maybe even more so, and thinking of it as your job might help you with your adjustment.  That is what I did when I left work. I wasn't earning money but I felt it was my job to save money in the home to make up for what I wasn't earning.  That lead me to everything I currently do in my home.  It is my job to shop for bargains and get value for every cent we spend; I must grow or buy good quality food for our table; it's my responsibility to look after our assets so they last as long as possible - that covers everything from bed sheets and clothing, to everything in our house and the house itself.  If I do my job properly, we'll spend less, conserve more and live well in the process.


With your husband going out to earn money and you saving your money at home, you'll make an excellent team.  Remember, you'll be leading the way here.  This is new territory for both of you.  Check through blogs you can relate to and see how others are living, then cherry pick what you think will work for you. Your job then is to customise that to really suit your lives, and add more of your own original ideas.  When I first left work, I wanted to live a simpler life, I wanted to built a life that would suit both Hanno and myself, I wanted to work hard but to really enjoy every minute of the day.  I knew there would be days of toilet cleaning and vacuuming carpets, but I also knew there would be many times I'd be out in the sunshine talking to the chickens and gardening, and times spent cozying up inside in the winter with my knitting.  I wanted all of it.


When you live like this you feel you're really in control and if that's the first time your own life has made you feel like that, it's very liberating.  You feel like you can take on the world!  Everyone's life is a series of stages - you've been through your three annual holidays and Radley handbags stage, now you've progressed to something beyond that.  (BTW, I have no idea what a Radley handbag looks like.)  What this stage is like is all up to you and your husband.  There should be no shame in what you're doing now and being open and honest with your friends is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.  Anyone who shuns you for not being able to buy what they buy is not worthy of being your friend.  But you'll have to develop pride  and satisfaction in the way you live before others will see it in that light too.  I hope you can just forget about what others are thinking - just live as you wish, develop your skills, become more self reliant, and I think that will bring you self confidence too.


There are a number of things you can do in rented accommodation.  
  1. First, ask the owner if you can put in a garden and show them drawn up plans for what you would like to do.  You may be surprised.  
  2. Go to the local recycle shop and buy some containers in which to grow lettuce, tomatoes, chard and herbs. Plant small varieties of the vegetables you like to eat in these containers.  If you plant against a wall, you'll be able to grow beans, peas and cucumbers too.  
  3. See if you can find a good market where you can shop weekly and accept the fact that while you can't garden now, it is waiting for you in the future. 
  4. Grow sprouts in your kitchen and learn how to make sour dough and yoghurt, gardening can wait.
There is a lot to take pride in when you build a life that makes you happy.  Money alone cannot buy that, it takes time, effort, skill and the ability to let go of what we've been programmed to believe.  Turning your back on conspicuous consumption, giving yourself time to hand-make a life and living with less is the opposite of what we are brought up to believe will make us happy.  When you live that way, it may be uncomfortable for some people but soldier on nonetheless; they'll get used to it or move on.  As you are settling into your new lives you should be focused on each other and your home, other things and people can wait.  But I believe that when you build the life you want; when you develop a rhythm to your days that helps you accomplish all you want and need to do; when you slow down and concentrate on building your new life, the people who mean something will be there.  And they will be people who will not make you feel shame in the way you live or how much you can afford to do.  It's a brand new way of life for you, Ceri, many things will seem strange and unusual, but you should also feel excited and optimistic.  You are on the verge or reinventing your lives and yourselves and you are very fortunate to be able to do that.  I wish you well in your new lives.

20 May 2010

Life in the slow lane

We went to the shops yesterday - a trip to the big mall down on the coast. Gulp.  Hanno jumped at the chance to come with me, he's been at home alone while I've been at work these past two days and there was a big electrical repair job being done in our area so the electricity was to be off from 8 am till 3pm. I needed to buy provisions for some of our homeless clients. Now that winter is here, they need sleeping bags, blankets and tents, so along with those thing we also bought saucepans, frying pans, and a couple of nifty little gas stoves and propane gas to keep the stoves going for a while.  It was good to have him with me to help with the bulky items we would buy.  In the end we fully loaded two big trolleys.

The scene at the end of our street when we came home.

It's interesting going into a place like that if you're not used to it.  People rush.  I'm sure they don't know they rush, but they do.  And, they apologise if they can't rush and if they hold you up so you can't rush.  The total of our bill was $955, and I had to pay with a cheque from the Centre I work at.  The girl put the items through but the register refused to take the cheque.  She called a supervisor and they both apologised that we couldn't be on our way quickly.  Hanno and I were just fine, we went and sat just off from the checkouts and waited.  We did some people watching as we both find that very interesting. Finally the supervisor asked me to go with her while she checked my details on the phone.  Everything was cleared and she apologised (again) for holding me up.  I told her it was fine and that I wasn't in a hurry.  She looked at me like I'd just landed from another planet.

Also at the end of our street - a timely reminder to slow down.

We went back to the till and she had to re-enter everything back into the computer because the first girl had wiped the sale from the system.  The supervisor apologised again because I had to wait.  "It's fine, dear"  I said.  "It's not your fault, and besides, I'm not in a hurry."  Her eyebrows turned into little pointy arrows and she peered at me above her glasses.  While I stood there waiting, customers walked into the queue behind me but glared when they realised I was holding everything up.

WARNING ... SLOW CUSTOMER IN AISLE 7!

I live in a slow world and nothing will make me hurry when I don't have to.  I realise it's a completely luxurious and indulgent way to live but it's one of the many benefits of growing older and I enjoy it immensely.  Not only is it an ideal way to be at home, but it gives you the chance to see what's going on when you're out and about; you can observe other people and you can see that they rush.

The back of our car was full of fleece blankets, sleeping bags, tents and little stoves.

I guess it took about 30 minutes to get through the checkout.  We didn't rush through like most others and we received several apologies because we could not rush.  Had the checkout staff been able to see what Hanno and I got up to after we left the store, I'm sure they would have shook their heads and mumbled something about pensioners or old people.  LOL  We ambled out with our two fully laden trolleys and went straight to the first coffee shop.  We both had a big mug of steaming hot coffee with weird squiggle art on the top and a dusting of chocolate powder, then loaded the car and returned to the store to look around, slowly.  Then we drove to the beach, bought some fish and chips in a paper parcel and sat, surrounded by seven hungry, begging herons, gazing out to the perfectly blue Pacific Ocean.  We didn't talk much, we didn't have to.  We fed the birds, enjoyed our lunch, then drove back home.


I don't know what I would have thought of two old codgers slowly dawdling in front of me in a shopping mall when I was younger and much faster.   I'm sure they wouldn't have annoyed me but I probably would have felt sorry for them, because they weren't getting through their shopping faster.  Let me say this loud and clear: life is fine in the slow lane.  The 15 minutes you might save by rushing isn't worth it. There is a time to rush, we've done that many times, but not rushing is much better.  You get to see what's really happening around you.  You really experience your time.  You are stress-free.  It's wonderful in the slow lane, join us, there aren't many of us here.

19 May 2010

You, me and the kitchen sink

After today's kitchen, I have only two remaining in this series.  I'll start another series as soon as I've featured all the kitchen photos, so stay tuned for some more interesting peeks into the lives of readers all over the world.

Today we peek into Amy's American kitchen.  There is a lot going on in that kitchen with children and guests to feed.  If you visit Amy's blog you'll see some of her turkeys.


We renovated the very outdated kitchen and dining room when we bought this house.  We had very little money so we did the most with what we had.  For the entire kitchen and dining room (they started as two separate rooms) we spent less than $2500 and over a year.   Being a stay at home mom I spend most of my life within the walls of my home.  So I find it very important that my home make me happy and that is what my kitchen does, it makes me smile.  Countless meals have been cooked and eaten in here.  We LOVE to get together with friends and we often have house guests so where people are you must have good food.  And where there is good food there is usually a good mess too ;).  Needless to say many many hours are spent in this room.  It is very functional and very practical.  I like design with a practical use and try to use that throughout my whole house.
 
 
One of the most enjoyable things I have discovered over the past year is cooking with friends.  So almost on a weekly basis hours are spent in this kitchen with good friends cooking up some great food.  Laughing and even crying on occasion.  Everyone is welcome!  It is a gathering place.  The door is usually entered with a short knock before walking right in.  If you come through my kitchen door then you are more than likely a good friend and good friends in this kitchen can walk right in and sit right down.  Have yourself a glass of tea and chat for a bit.
 

On any given day you may find me in here making pasta, cheese, butter, bread, salsa, spaghetti sauce.  Doing Once a Month Cooking, canning, freezing or preserving.  We even have baby turkeys in it at that moment. 

Please don't forget to comment. A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the people sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.  


18 May 2010

Old fashioned pea soup

I am always on the lookout for delicious thrifty meals that are fairly easy to make but in winter I keep coming back to this old standby that ticks all those boxes - split pea soup.  I think it's a favourite in many families but I thought I'd write about how I make it for anyone who hasn't discovered how to cook it entirely from scratch.

The key to most good food is good ingredients and this is no exception.  I start with a ham bone, this one bought on special after Christmas for $2, then I add two small packs (500g/1lb each) of split peas (one green and one yellow) $1.40 each and whatever vegetables from the garden or fridge I fancy.  I always use onions and carrots, for this soup I also used a celeriac root.  For additional flavouring, I added bay leaves and parsley from the garden.  So altogether, this soup cost me $3.40 for the ham bone and peas, and about three dollars for the onions, carrots and celeriac.  Add the cost of water, salt and pepper and gas to cook with, say 60 cents, and I'm up to $7.  This made up about 7 litres/quarts of soup, enough for Hanno and I for many days.

Assemble your ingredients.  If you don't have celeriac, use celery, which is more traditional.  The celeriac almost disintegrates in the soup and gives it a mild celery flavour.

Chop the vegetables and herbs.  Leave the bay leaves whole.


Place the peas in a large bowl and wash them in cold water, then pour boiling water over them and leave for a while.

Place the chopped vegetables, herbs and ham bone in a large pot and fill with water. I used a large stockpot that holds about 9 litres/quarts.  Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes.

Add the peas and stir in.  Bring back to the boil and cook for about 2 hours on a slow heat.   It's ready when the meat falls off the ham bone.

 After you add the peas and boil them, you'll see scum rising to the top of the soup.  That's okay!  It's just the various starches from the peas - skim it off with your soup ladle.


The soup is ready when the meat is tender and the vegetables cooked to your liking.  Personally, I like the vegetables to be mushy.  Let the soup cook a little, remove the ham bone and take the meat off the bone, chop it into pieces and return to the soup.  Remove the bay leaves.

This soup doesn't need pre-made stock, it makes its own stock as it cooks.  Add your seasoning right at the end.  Pork tends to need a fair bit of salt and pepper and although I add pepper, I don't add salt to the soup pot.  Hanno has high blood pressure so salt is a no no for him.  I add my own salt to my dish.  I do add croutons that I make just before serving by brushing two slices of bread with virgin olive oil .  I then cut the slices into small cubes and dry fry in a frying pan.  Another useful addition to bulk the soup out is to add smoked sausage/frankfurts cut into disks.  When served with a dessert of fruit and yoghurt or custard, we find this is a satisfying and warming dish that we both enjoy.

This is one of those soups that tastes better each day when you reheat it, but it also freezesd very well.

17 May 2010

Gardening grows the spirit

It seems like I've been gardening most of my life.  My mother was a keen gardener and my sister has a magnificent garden in the Blue Mountains so maybe the love of it is in my bones.  I know people who have been healed by gardening.  A couple of people I know who were suffering depression, took up gardening, got their hands dirty, created wonderful gardens and remade themselves in the process of doing it.  There is something about putting your hands into the soil that heals.  It brings you back to earth - literally- and puts many things in perspective.

Gardening not only helps you produce organic food for the table, it also helps you slow down.  Gardening is about time, the slowness of it and how using that time in a meaningful and productive way can make you healthier, both physically and mentally.  Your garden will not allow you to rush - there is a time for planning and a natural requirement for preparation and attention to detail.  Becoming a steward in your garden helps you become a providore in your own kitchen.  With careful planning you can provide food you often cannot buy in the supermarket and even if it's  the same, your garden produce will be much fresher that anything you can buy.  You have never really tasted a potato until you taste a new potato, dug that afternoon and steamed with butter and parsley.  Certain foods taste better when they're grown out the back.

But gardening isn't just about slowing down, freshness and taste, it's also a life skill - one of those skills our ancestors took seriously because it helped them survive.  And now here we are with the luxurious option of choosing whether to produce food in our backyard or whether to buy it. Of course, some of us don't have that luxurious option - it's been taken away by illness, lack of time or no land, but those of us who have that choice should grab it with both hands and teach our children as well.

I took a stroll through our garden early yesterday morning and although there are still a few empty spaces, it's lush and plentiful and is starting to fill with ripe vegetables and fruit just waiting to be picked.  I took these photos for you to see what is growing now.



This is Martha peeking out behind the sweet potato vine.


Sweet potatoes popping out of the soil ready to be dug up.

Not everything is bright and rosy.  Here we have two tomatoes with caterpillars in them.  They were picked for the chooks to eat.







There is always room for a touch of whimsy in any garden.  Once you have the plants in, add trellises, climbing frames and bits and pieces to create interest.  And even if no bird uses this little house, it makes me smile every time I look at it.

I hope your gardening, or your planning is coming along well.  Take your time to make sure you're planting the right things for your climate, and when you know what to plant, make sure you have the right varities.  This is especially necessary if you have a short growing season because you only have one chance at a crop.  If this is your first year in the garden, take it slow, don't over do it and be patient.  Take the time to discover your soil and backyard.  Listen to the birds, look at the insects and come to know them - they are not all bad and can be your enemy or your friend.  When you're in the garden, be there, both physically and mentally.  Don't think of other things or what you'll be doing later.  There is a lot to learn in any garden.  I have been gardening for about 40 years and I'm still learning, discovering and being amazed at how complex, yet simple, our natural systems are.  If you're lucky, you'll harvest not only healthy vegetables and fruits, you'll grow in confidence, increase your skills and blossom in spirit.

16 May 2010

Read this ...

There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself.  It is the only true guide you will ever have.  And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that someone else pulls.....Howard Thurman.

15 May 2010

Answering some questions - UPDATED

Good morning everyone.  It's another beautifully cold morning here, the temperature is 10*C/50F right now and not 6C/42F like it was yesterday.  Our home is insulated so it's quite warm inside but I know when I go outside to feed the animals, I'll need a cardigan or jumper.

Oh, I just wanted to mention that my sister Tricia (Patricia Margaret) sometimes comments on my blog and did so yesterday.  It was really lovely for me to read her recollections of those times.   It seems to make it better when memories are shared.

I wanted to answer a few questions that have come my way recently.  The first is from Larissa:
"My question is does the oven proof dish rest on the bottom of the water dish or does it rest on the edges so that the bottom doesn't touch??? I hope that makes sense. A bainmarie as I know it (from industrial kitchens) had the dishes suspended over the water with the bottoms in the water. I'm not sure what size or type of pan to buy otherwise to fit my pyrex glass oven dishes."

Larissa, I used my stainless steel baking dish - the sides are maybe 6 inches high - and placed an oven proof bowl into the boiling water, directly on the base of the baking dish.  The bottom touches the bottom of the baking dish, but if you were to put a few smaller dishes in, instead of one larger one, the sides of the smaller dishes shouldn't touch each other.  The temperature in the oven is quite mild so it won't boil and bubble to de-stable the dish and move it around.

The second question is from Rachael:
"From your pictures and from conversations at the local home improvement store, I decided to use cinder blocks to raise my veggy beds. The yard tends to flood in the spring, and I think the raised beds will help with that. I put in my first raised bed, with cinder blocks, a few weeks ago... and those cinder blocks are not straight from any angle. What did you do to get your cinder blocks so straight and level? Did you use a base of gravel or sand? Or perhaps did lots of work to level the ground first? What have you let grow between the raised beds? (my yard is currently lots of drought/flood resistance native green things, which  many might call weeds, so figuring what to pull and what to leave)."


Rachael, the blocks are set in the ground about 2 inches.  Get yourself four short sturdy sticks and tie string to each of them.  The string should be a little longer and  wider than the dimensions of the garden bed.  So, for instance, if your garden will be 15 feet x 5 feet, have two strings of 17' and two of 7'.  That will give you your length and width with enough left over to tie the string around the sticks.  Go to where your bed will be and hammer in the sticks on each appropriate corner, then tie the strings so that you have a little string fence surrounding the garden bed.  You should now have a rectangle with straight sides that you can use as a guide to lay the blocks.  Take your spade and dig out a trench the width of the blocks you have bought, to a depth of about 2 or 3 inches.  Make the bottom of the trench as level as possible and place the blocks into the trench.  They will be touching end to end so that will support them lengthwise, and when you back fill with the soil you removed from the trench, that will support them on both sides.  You should end up with a block border with a straight and level top.


Now, the problem with the flooding.  If your vegetable garden is flooded regularly, it will kill your plants.  You may need to build up the beds quite a bit - I have seen high raised beds where people have used corrugated iron sides.  But if the flooding is minor you'll be fine with the blocks.  You'll have to add quite a bit of compost or manure to your garden soil for good results, when you do that, add some sand to the mix as well.  That will help with drainage.  To give you a rough guide, I'd use a bucket of sand for each bucket of manure or compost  you use.  Then dig it all in.  You will get much better results when you dig.  You'll open up the earth for the tiny roots to penetrate.  This is something you'll have to do every year.   Over time, your soil will improve and give you really wonderful crops.

I thought there was another question but I can't find it now.  If I've missed you, please let me know and I'll slot it in later this morning.

Added later:  I remembered it was for the chocolate cake recipe. Here 'tis.
200g soft butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs 
100g chopped and melted dark chocolate
1 ½ cups self raising flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder 
¼ cup milk
¼ cup boiling water  (boiling water at the end makes a moist cake)

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and eggs, one egg at a time and mix well.  Add melted chocolate.
Sift flour and cocoa together and add it to the butter mix.  Add milk to help mix it.
When everything is mixed well, add the boiling water last and mix in.  Place in a 22cm deep cake tin and bake at 170C for about 50 minutes.  Check with a toothpick to see if it comes out clean, if not, bake another 5 minutes.

When the cake is completely cold, slice in two horizontally so you have two layers and add the icing of your choice.  I used this:
200g soft cream cheese
1 cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons milk
Mix all the above together until smooth.  I put some of this in the centre and topped the cake with the rest, plus some fresh ripe raspberries.
Happy baking!

Sandra asked about growing passionfruit.  Sandra, they need lots of manure and water in a free draining soil.  And FULL sun, never attempt passionfruits if you can't give them full sun.  In that photo of my passions,  that is the end of the row that gets the most sun.  They love it.  So sun, manure (cow, horse, chook or goat), water and well draining soil.  Oh, and they like to be mulched but ours aren't because the chooks walk there and they pick it off.  BTW, we have wire over the top of the soil so the chooks can't scratch the roots.  Good luck, love.  Let me know if it works for you.

I hope you have a beautiful weekend doing a few things you love.


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