31 December 2010

Another grand surprise!

I was asked to keep this quiet until family and friends had been told, now I can let you know. I'm overjoyed to tell you that Shane and Sarndra will have their first baby in July 2011.  What a secret to keep!  I was almost bursting with joy at the thought of it.  The happy couple are pictured (above) on their wedding day June 2009.  They had started to save for a trip to Europe but that has put on hold for a while.

They have just moved back to the Gold Coast and are now living close to Kerry and Sunny, whose baby is due in late March.  Shane has a new job at the wonderful Absynthe restaurant working with acclaimed French chef Meyjitte Boughenougt.  Click on the link to have a peek, if you're close by, make a reservation and go in and say hello.

Shane and Sarndra are both very happy at the though of becoming parents and are now thinking of names and trying to save for this tiny baby.  I can see the year ahead being one where Hanno and I go back to school and learn all about modern cloth nappies, slings and organic baby food.  We hope to support both Kerry and Sunny and Shane and Sarndra in this new phase of life.  What a year ahead!  New babies to meet and grow to love, many new things to learn and lots of blogs and photos about babies and new parents.  Life keeps getting better.

In addition:  if any makers of modern cloth nappies/diapers want to swap their product for advertising/sponsorship on my blog, please email me to discuss.  I would be happy to honestly review any wholesome baby products.


28 December 2010

And what of happiness?

A feeling of renewal always comes calling at this time of year.  The new year is looming, an old year almost gone and life is telling me to look around, take it all in, reassess, look toward the coming months and make sure that what we're doing will continue to make us happy and satisfied.  I have been doing that reassessment over these past few days away from the blog. I've spent time with my family, talked on the phone with friends, thought about life during the small hours of the morning, and relaxed while looking out the window at the rain.  It's been raining for a week, it's still falling now.  I picked our garlic crop in the rain at 5.30 this morning.  What a crazy and wonderful way to really experience this season and all its wild weather.

In a sense I'm living my dream life right now but if I were to believe many of those women's magazines, I should be yearning for my long gone youth, dying my hair, thinking about botox and clearing out last year's fashions to make way for newer versions.  There is much more depth to my life.  I am surrounded by a loving family, I have a major creative project to concentrate on, and the freedom to do whatever I feel like doing when each new day dawns. And even though I have that freedom, I choose to remain here, working in my home.  From the outside it's just Hanno and Rhonda, two golden oldies, living a very ordinary life in semi-rural Australia; but our lives deceive, we live large. We have the freedom to choose how we spend our time - there is no boss expecting us to turn up for work, no watches telling us we have to be somewhere soon and no other controlling factors we need to be aware of.   We have no debt and live frugally so we know that if we remain productive and live within our means, we'll continue along this path and feel the satisfaction and contentment it brings for a long time.

My main occupation at the moment, and for the coming months, is writing the book.  After breakfast I come into this little room, close the door behind me, turn on the computer and start reading, editing and writing.  Every so often, I check out the forum or emails, or I go out and wash up, make bread, prepare a meal, make the bed, knit or mend and those small actions, while giving me a break, make me feel I'm still contributing to my home.  In reality though, Hanno is doing more that he used to and although he's not been gardening due to the season and the rain, he has been doing the washing and the floors, which frees me up to work on the book.  Marriages that work well are fine things.  

And what of happiness?  Yes, it's here daily, bubbling away in the background, like a tea kettle on a wood stove, always ready and always enough to be shared.  I don't know what it is I did to deserve this charmed life but I'm sure many of you feel the same way about your own lives.  You are touchstones, in a sense, a way for me to know, really know, that even though we live outside the mainstream of our culture, there are others who walk along with us.  And now as I look towards tomorrow and next year, I know that I will continue to work towards my goals with enthusiasm, optimism and gratitude and if I can take you all along with me for the ride, it will be even better.  I'm looking forward to it.


23 December 2010

Peace, joy and goodwill

A change of plans at the last minute so no ginger beer was made yesterday.  I'm sorry that I can't follow this through with you but if you go here to an old post of mine, you'll see how to finish it off.  Make sure you have signs of fermentation before you bottle it and remember, you can add as much or as little sugar as you desire.  Served cold, it's a delicious drink.

I'm taking a few days off to spend with my family, and to rest.  I want to thank you all for your visits throughout the year and for the thoughtful and helpful comments you made.  A really beautiful feeling has been created around this blog and I have you all to thank for it.  When I come here to post or moderate comments it's like visiting a village full of friendly faces.  I have made a lot of friends through this blog and I'm grateful for that because we are all changed for the better by good friends.  

So whether you celebrate a Christian Christmas, a secular holiday, the winter|summer solstice or the many golden moments that come our way at this time of year, I hope you enjoy yourself and the people who are part of your life.  I wish you all peace, joy and goodwill and I hope you'll join me back here soon.


22 December 2010

Delectably rich fruit cake

I've had a couple of requests for our Christmas cake recipe and I'm happy to oblige.  This cake is really easy to make, it's full of dried fruit and nuts - so you might already have the makings in your pantry, and it will keep for up to three months - but if it lasts that long, I'd be amazed.  It's also versatile.  You can ice this cake and make it into a wedding cake, eat a slice with butter on it, or pour a good egg custard over it for a delicious dessert.  We have it here with a cup of tea and as I bite into the moist fruit and crunchy nuts, the taste of brandy on the top tells me it's Christmas time.  Naturally, if you're serving this to children, you'd leave the brandy off the top but any alcohol in the cake itself would be cooked out to leave just the taste without the alcohol. It's an easy cake to substitute ingredients if you're short on one thing, so if you wanted to leave out the alcohol, you could easily use fruit juice instead.  This is a real traditional seasonal treat.  I hope you enjoy it.

Oh, and when I looked up my recipe book, it's not called "deliciously moist fruit cake" as I described in my previous post, but:

1/3 cup pitted prunes, halved 
1 1/2 cups sultanas (golden raisins)
1 1/2 cups currants - I used 3 cups of mixed fruit for these two
1/2 cup sherry
1/2 cup brandy - I used mostly brandy.  If you don't want to use alcohol, use fruit juice.  I also added pomegranate juice to mine.  Whatever you use, you'll need one cup of liquid.
125 grams|1 stick butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup plum jam - I used lingonberry jam
1 cup plain|AP flour
3/4 cup self raising flour
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg - I didn't have mixed spice so I used 1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups glace cherries
1 1/2 cups halved dates
1 cup mixed dried peel
2 cups walnuts - I used half and half walnuts/pecans

Combine prunes, sultanas|raisins and currants in a bowl and pour in the sherry|brandy|fruit juice.  Stir, cover with a tea towel and leave overnight for the liquid to soak into the fruit.

The next day:
Grease  23cm round cake tin and line with baking paper.

Cream butter and sugar in a small bowl, add eggs one at a time and beat each one in before adding the next.  Transfer mixture to a larger bowl, stir in combined coffee, water and jam, then the dry ingredients in two lots, mix well before adding the second lot.  Add prune mixture, cherries, dates, peel and nuts to the mix and combine well. Add to the cake pan and smooth the top.  If you want to add decorations to the top, like I did with the cherries and almonds, add them now before it goes in the oven.  Bake in a slow over 170C|340F for about two hours, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.   Don't overcook it, you want a moist cake not a dry one.  If you want to pour brandy or sherry over the top, do it when it's hot from the oven.  The cake just soaks it up.  Otherwise, heat two tablespoons of apricot jam or orange marmalade in the microwave and brush it on when the cake is warm.  You'll get a beautiful shiny cake.  

Hanno and I have not only test tasted our little cake, we've finished it and eaten one slice of the big cake.  Yep, it's delicious.  I have seen these cakes made up as several small cakes, decorated with a Christmas ribbon, wrapped in plain brown paper and given as gifts.  They're always appreciated because people think they're really difficult to make.  As you can see by the above, they aren't and it's a very forgiving cake.  It takes substitutes well and even new cooks can make a silk purse with this cake.  

Generally, this cake would be made during November, cooled completely, then wrapped in parchment paper then aluminium foil, and stored in a cupboard, or fridge if you're in a humid climate, to mature and bring out the flavours.  It's like a relish - the flavours improve when it's left to mature.  But even if you don't do that, even if you eat it the next day, I'm sure you'll love it.  Just don't be surprised if you notice the flavours improve each day it if takes a week or two to finish it.

Thanks to everyone who helped out with comments yesterday.  I received another email from the young woman this morning - she's very grateful for the help we gave. She and her husband will be travelling away to their parents for Christmas and using the time to work out a strategy based on what they read.  :- )

Tomorrow we'll be bottling our ginger beer.


21 December 2010

Working towards common goals

I received an email during the week from a young woman in Tasmania.  With her permission I'm replying to her here because I know more good advice will come via your comments.  She wrote:

For the past few years I've been working part-time which has given me the time I needed to grow our vegies and herbs, make most of our gifts by hand, and learn to sew and be organised. However now we're in Tasmania where work is hard to get and I find myself in a job market where 5 days a week is the minimum requirement, sometimes 6 days a week. I've looked hard for part-time work but it's either not available, or pays so poorly I could never support my husband at uni and our new mortage.
Besides leaving me extremely stressed out and tired I'm now really struggling to find the time to do those things to help us be more self sustaining that I was able to do before. I was hoping you might be able to tell me how you have coped with those crazily busy periods of your life in the past? At the moment I'm trying just to focus on the fact that we are at least paying our home off but I've got to try and keep up that focus for the next four years until my husband finishes uni - help!

I think there are two parts to this discussion - one is that you'll be the one who puts food on the table and pays the mortgage for the next four years, and the pressures associated with that; the other is having the time and the will power to remain focused on sustainability.

So, you've moved to a new state, your husband is settled in university and you have a mortgage. He will be working towards gaining qualifications to improve your future lives together, while you work to support you both now and start paying off your mortgage - your future asset.  You'll both have to work hard - he must pass all this subjects first time so he not paying more HECS fees than he should, you'll be working possibly six days a week.  You're both living in your home, you'll have to divide the chore up to suit you both, although let me suggest that you make up a chore list that keeps everything clean and tidy and you both fed, while not going overboard on housework.  Don't add more stress to your lives by trying to be perfect at home.  Maybe he does the weekly shopping and the cooking and you make the bed, wash up and do the laundry.  Take it in turns to clean the bathroom and vacuum.  I'm sure you can work out something.  Don't expect to enjoy every moment of it, it will be a hard slog, but working together for your common goals should get you through it.  I worked while I did my degree and I know your job will be tougher than his, although there will be times when he'll have enormous pressure on him.  There will have to be plenty of give and take and you'll both have to be flexible, generous and supportive of each other to get through.

There are plenty of things you can do to remain on your simple pathway.  Don't buy expensive chemical cleaners - make up your own using vinegar, bicarb and soap.  Don't buy disposables.  Cut up some old towels for dishcloths, use cloth napkins, stop buying paper towels.  Use cloth shopping bags and hang washing on the line instead of using a dryer.  Shop at thrift shops.  See if your husband can buy second hand text books or get them from the library.  Use the university library to borrow novels to read instead of buying books.  Use public transport.  It is up to you both to save as much money as you can.  Don't think it's okay to reward yourselves all the time because life is tough now.  Keep your long term goals in mind and keep working towards them.

I know I've been tough but this will be a difficult few years for both of you.  But if you work together as a team, focused on long term goals and not instant gratification, you'll come out the other end of this stronger as a married couple.  When I look back on my marriage I can see that working together through the tough times kept us together and made us more committed to each other and to our marriage.  When you see your partner working hard for your common goals, it makes you work hard too.  Put in the hard yards now and you'll reap rich rewards.

Now that I can see a long life of over 60 years behind me, I know with certainty that life is not an easy walk in the park.  It's a long series of highs and lows with many periods of smooth sailing in between.  This is one of your first periods outside the smooth zone but what you do now will prepare you more than you know for what you'll do later.  The better you cope with this, the more you'll set yourself up for success later.  So knuckle down and work hard, take time out for yourself when you need it, give support when it's needed, be kind to each other and make the most of that one day a week you have off.  Have breakfast in bed, take a walk and enjoy being together.  The pressure is on but it can either be stress or a gift, depending on how you look at it.  I know which one I'd choose.  Good luck.  I hope the year ahead is a good one for both of you.

 The collective wisdom of the readers here never ceases to pleasantly amaze me. If you have any advice to add to help our friend, please do. 

20 December 2010

T'was the week before Christmas

The last weekend before Christmas - it was slowly busy and relaxed here.  I worked on the book on Saturday and kept yesterday as a pottering around the house day. The rain poured down most of the day, but there was cricket on TV,  I had recorded Dr Findlay (naturally), and with knitting in my hands I was happy and content.  In the afternoon, I phoned the lovely Duck Herder and connected a voice to the blog.  It's very reassuring to me to have my idea of a person confirmed by a voice to voice chat.

With the exception of growing food, there is nothing more basic and simple than knitting (or crochet).  It has changed little over the years. It's still the gently, repetitive winding of yarn around two sticks that produces warm clothing or practical little items like tea cosies, dishcloths and baby wipes.

I am knitting for my Etsy shop.  Those above will go towards making gift packs of soap and a cotton cloth.  The green I'm working on now is a very soft organic cotton and I still have enough, in the green and natural colours, to make several cloths and tea cosies.  I'm using vintage needles that are lovely to knit with.  They were given to me by a friend's mother who can't knit anymore but wanted her needle collection to go to someone who would use them.  I am definitely using them and often think of her learning to knit with these needles way back in the 1930s.

Are you making ginger beer with me?  Here is my jar.  It's got tiny bubbles coming up in the mix and you can see them in the following photo around the outside of the mixture.

I added more ginger and sugar each day, stirred and covered it and left it to do its magic.  I'm hoping to bottle mine on Wednesday afternoon so it will have a couple of days to ferment on the bench in the bottle before we cool them down for drinking on Christmas day.  Take the cover off your jar and look at the mix.  Can you see any bubbles?  If so, your mix is fermenting and that's exactly what you want.  It should smell either of ginger or slightly of alcohol.  A bit of alcohol does develop in this and sometimes you can smell it at this stage.  But don't worry, it's a tiny amount and it's safe for the children to drink.  Make sure your spoon is scrupulously clean when you do your mixing, you only want the beneficial yeasts and bacteria in this.

I should have done this a month ago but I finally made our Christmas cake.  It's the "deliciously moist fruit cake" recipe from the old Australian Women's Weekly Cake Cookbook.  I've never made this one before but it's a real beauty.  Traditional Australian fruitcake is derived from the Irish and UK fruit cakes of old.  It's full of fruit and nuts and laced with brandy, sherry or whisky.  I soaked our fruit in some of the delicious Asbach brandy Hanno brought back from Germany with him.  When the cakes were out of the oven, I poured another quarter cup of brandy over the hot cakes to produce a moist delicious cake.  Hanno and I test tasted the little cake last night and it's one of the best I've even made and although a fruit cake can be kept for three months, I know these will be gone by next week.  

I hope this week will be a wonderful one for all of us.  Please don't undo all the good work you've done during the year by going nuts on your Christmas shopping.  I haven't been to the shops at all and we're making do with what we have here at home for our Christmas lunch.  Our pantry, freezer and stockpile are all full so it will be delicious and simple without any worry or mad rush.  What special things are you doing this week?


18 December 2010

Don't forget the ginger

This is just a reminder for everyone making their ginger beer.  Two teaspoons of ginger and two teaspoons of sugar every day and keep the mix in a warm place.  Also, it's okay to make ginger beer with fresh ginger if you have it.

Thanks to everyone for the warm wishes yesterday.  Enjoy your weekend.

17 December 2010

On my mind ...

This is on my mind is a Friday photo feature that anyone with a blog can join. It opens the door to us sharing our lives with these photos and gives us all a new way to discover each other, and maybe form new friendships. Your photo should show something at home that you're thinking about. It could be something already done but still on your mind, something you're about to do and you're working out how to do it, or a place at home where you've spent a lot of time during the past week. It could be anything.

To take part in this, all you have to do is post your photo and write a short caption explaining it. When your photo is published, come back here and add a comment, with a link to your blog photo. We will all be able to follow the breadcrumbs in the woods that lead to each new photo. Who know where these trails will lead us.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I got this in the mail.  I was nominated for Australian of the Year 2011.  Don't get excited, I didn't win and I wasn't a finalist, but this certificate acknowledges the nomination.  In part, the letter states: "Being nominated is a great honour and I hope you feel proud of the impact you are having on your community and the nation."  I am humbled by the honour and I thank those who nominated me.  I just found out a couple of ladies from the forum have secret knowledge of this, Rose and Tammy.  I'll be talking to them later in the day to find out all about it.

16 December 2010

Using our time to make what we need

If you're making ginger beer with me, today you'll need to feed the beast, and you'll feed it every day for about a week, or for as long as it takes to bubble away beautifully.  Make sure it's in a warm spot if you're in the middle of winter.  The fermentation of ginger beer will depend on how warm it is in your home and the natural yeasts in the air in your kitchen.  The yeasts will settle in the mix and start feeding on the sugar, but they like a warm environment.  Our temperatures now are around 30C during the day which is ideal for making all sorts of fermented foods, like ginger beer and sour dough.  I looked at my ginger mix yesterday afternoon and noticed very tiny bubbles just starting to come to the surface.  That means it's started fermenting successfully.  It should smell of ginger and if it develops a slightly alcoholic odour, that's fine, it will be well diluted when we mix our beer up.

My ginger beer plant on the bench yesterday with its cousin, sour dough starter.  

I just want to make sure that you all used very clean jars.  You want to make sure you're cultivating only the beneficial bacteria and yeasts.  It's a good idea before you start to wash the jar thoroughly, then scald it with boiling water.  I wish I'd thought to tell you that at the start but if you decide to do this again, make sure you start of that way.

Today, add two teaspoons of ginger and two teaspoons of sugar and stir it in.  Then cover the jar and leave it on the bench again.  You'll have to feed it that way every day now.  I usually let mine go on for about a week by which time it's usually developed a good flavour.  You'll make up about six litres/quarts of ginger beer with this mix, so look for some plastic bottles to hold the beer when you make it.  Plastic bottles are better because ginger beer can explode.  Now before you run off to pour your mix down the sink, it's highly unlikely that a bottle will explode, but you need to be aware that glass bottles have built up so much gas pressure, they've exploded and sprayed their contents all over the place.  It's not happened to me but I have had ginger beer swoosh out when I opened the bottle.  There are ways around those problems that we'll talk about when we bottle our drinks next week.

Now, two questions for you.  

1.  Hanno and I have been talking about starting an Etsy shop.  I frequently have readers emailing asking if they can buy my bar soap and liquid soap but I'm also going to offer knitted cotton dishcloths, gift packs, seeds and maybe some aprons, tote bags, napkins and assorted odds and ends.  It will bring in a little bit of extra money and we'd be able to produce all of the goods here at home.  Hanno is keen to help with the packaging and posting, but just this week I taught him to make soap and he's happy to help make soap as well.  So, my question to those of you with online store, is there any advise you can give me about setting up a store and selling online?

Hanno's first batch of soap, and the result of his efforts below.  

2.  I'm currently writing the money chapter in my book.  I want to write it for all ages, so what would you like to see in that chapter?  I'm particularly interested in the ideas of younger single people, young couples, older people living alone and families with a mortgage.

Thanks to everyone who responds.  It's times such as now I really rely on my readers to steer me in the right direction.


15 December 2010

Being satisfied with enough

I had two emails recently from women who are new to all this and they're hesitating to dive in because one is not a good cook and the other lives in an apartment and doesn't have a backyard. Let me say this loud and clear (again). The way Hanno and I live suits us at our age, twenty years ago, even ten years ago, I would have structured my simple life in a different way. And because there are no rules, no ONE way of doing it, and because one of your aims should be to live a happy contended life, YOU alone decide what you'll include in your life. I don't expect any of you to live exactly as we do.

I want my life to provide me with:
  • a reason to get up every morning;
  • interesting and productive work;
  • contentment that  occasionally explodes into happiness;
  • a framework in which to live simply;
  • the opportunity and continued ability to learn skills that facilitate our lifestyle;
  • a strong and generous family circle that supports every member of our family - when we experience the good times and especially when it's tougher;
  • opportunities to express generosity, kindness and empathy;
  • the strength to be a role model to the younger women in my family;
  • and the enthusiasm and perseverance to take charge of my home and make it a place of comfort, welcome and warmth.
I hope that everyone wishing to change how they live would make a list similar to mine so that values and goals are clearly evident. You'll get yourself all tangled if you decide on change and just expect it to happen. It won't. Write down what you want to happen, then put plans in place to make it happen. Nowhere on that list does it say anything about cooking or backyards, but those things are implied in several of the points, so you'll need to be perfectly clear in your own mind what you hope to achieve.

As soon as I closed my business and gave up paid work, I wanted not only to be fulfilled by my work at home, I wanted to enjoy it too. I wanted to work hard, which was lucky because I work harder and more consistently now than I ever have, and I wanted to produce as much as I could at home and use my intelligence to learn the skills I needed to do that. But even though I wanted to work hard, I didn't want to feel deprived and I wanted abundance, enrichment, happiness, satisfaction, pleasure and fulfilment to be part of every day. I got that, and more. If my goals had been different, for instance, if I had wanted to open a little Etsy shop to sell my sewing and knitting, I wouldn't have been bothered with the garden because I wouldn't have had time for it. I would have spent time looking for a good fresh food market instead of growing food and keeping chooks. If I was younger and had children I would have spent my days homeschooling them and teaching them the practical tasks of a home and garden. If I worked for a living and lived in a city apartment, I would have taught myself all I could about container gardening, found a fresh food market, paid off debt, started green cleaning, got rid of all the disposables I used to buy, taught myself a craft and been as good at my job as I could be.

The choices are yours to make, not mine. So take some time to think about what you want, write it all down, then do it with enthusiasm and passion. Do one thing at a time. You'll find that when you do one thing, it naturally unfolds into something else and that is exactly how I moved into this new life. For example, when I decided to cook only from scratch, I had to learn a few new recipes so I had enough meals in my repertoire to satisfy the family. That lead me to stockpiling - which I had to learn about, that lead me back to preserving and learning all about food storage. You'll find, just as I did, that one thing leads to the next and what first appeared to be a simple thing contains many aspects that you'll need to learn.

Above all else you have to work out for yourself what is enough. What is your level of enough? That is where the real simplifying comes into play and unless you can change your mindset to want less, to not want to be like everyone else, and to be satisfied with enough, you'll find the going very tough and you'll probably go back to your old ways. I encourage you to read all you can, visit here and other blogs, read books and take time to think about how you can fit into this life. But in the long run, it is you who decides what your life will look like, and you who will decide what you're capable of doing each day. Don't let anyone tell you that you're not doing it right. There is no one way of living simply, there are thousands.

The way Hanno and I live is enriching and beautiful, even though it might just look like a lot of hard work to others. We have enough and we're satisfied and thankful for it. I hope you will say the same of your lives in the near future.


14 December 2010

Preserving food and making wine

Last week, one of the ladies here ask me to show my preserving kit. Here it is in our brick garden shed. I also store excess jars and bottles there, as well as egg cartons that have been given to us. The preserver is a circa 1970s Fowlers Vacola stove-top boiler. I bought it for $20, I think, many years ago. I also have a range of FV jars, lids, rings and clips but I prefer to use screw top jars. I recycle good wide mouthed glass jars and use them several times for jams or relish. You can buy new lids for recycled jars here. The only other tools I use are preserving tongs and a wide mouthed funnel. I bought my preserving tools in a pack of five utensils several years ago but looking online just now I can't find anything like it. You can easily find funnels but you'll also need jar tongs.

If you don't have a preserving kit and want to start preserving a small amount of food, you can use a large stockpot with a round cake stand in the bottom, or, alternatively, a tea towel folded and placed on the bottom of the pan to prevent the jars touching the super hot base. Please be aware that there are several health risks associated with preserving and although the process is a simple one, you need to be aware of the risks as well. You can read some of my previous posts on preserving here, here and here.

Preserving your excess food in a water bath, which is what my preserving kit is, or making jams, pickles chutneys, relish etc, is a very worthwhile skill to learn. If you're new to it, try it first using a stockpot and if you want to get into it in earnest, buy a kit second hand.

I'd like to show you a new addition to my food kittery. My good friend Patrick gave me this wine making kit (above) a few weeks ago. He's decluttering and it was taking up space in his shed. Naturally, I accepted it with open arms. I'd like to make Perry - pear wine, as well as apple cider, elderberry wine and elderflower champagne. I've been looking for a good Perry recipe but many of them recommend Campden tablets, a sulfer tablet, which I don't want to use. Are there any experienced wine or cider makers out there who can tell me an organic alternative?

I'm looking forward to making wine. Not that we drink much of it nowadays, but it's a skill I've always wanted to learn. I'd like to hear from anyone who has already tried it. In the meantime though, I'm starting a ginger beer plant today. I've often made ginger beer in summer in past years. It's a delicious non-alcoholic drink that has that sharp and snappy gingery taste I love. If you'd like to brew along side me, it should take us about two weeks to get our ginger beer ready. We'll be just in time for Christmas day. Every couple of days, I'll show a picture of my ginger beer plant and we'll go through making the ginger beer together. It should be fun.

In a wide mouth jar, start by adding 1 level tablespoon of raw or white sugar to 1 level tablespoon of ginger powder (crushed, dried ginger). Add one cup of rainwater, or tap water that's been allowed to stand for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate off. Mix this all together and cover the jar with an open weave cotton cover that will allow the wild yeasts in but keep insects out. A crocheted milk jug cover would be perfect. Leave this concoction on the bench to collect wild yeasts and start fermenting. Well, that's our ginger beer started, we'll come back to it on Thursday.

Thank you for all the lovely, warm comments made yesterday and thank you for coming to visit me today. I always look forward to reading what you're up to and making connections with like minded people helps keep me going.


13 December 2010

The changing care of ageing pets

Pets become a favourite part of the family very soon after they come into our lives. We feed them, care for them, provide comfort and warmth and make sure they're healthy. Every day I see their faces, they're as familiar to me as Hanno's, but life is relatively short for our pets and in a heart beat they're gone.

Alice, our Airedale Terrier, is 13. We've had her since she was a puppy. She came to us from the same person who bred her Aunty Rosie. It seems like yesterday when we had Rosie here with us too but it's over two years now since she died. Now Alice is declining in health, she's weak and she may not last too much longer. She's deaf and can't see properly because she has cataracts. She is very thin, although she's still eating a lot, she's incontinent at times, she has a lot of growths - the vet says they're similar to the growths old ladies get, her hair is thinning, and she often stumbles when she walks. She spends most of her day in bed in the kitchen, either asleep or watching Hanno and I as we go about our daily chores.

There are times when she's alert and runs around like a puppy. She likes to walk out to the front gate with Hanno or I to bring in the bins or close the gate. She still sniffs her way around our boundary fences every time she's out there. When she knows it's dinner time, she comes looking for us and bounces around like a clown. Yep, there are plenty of signs of the younger Alice still there, but there is nothing the vet can do for Alice. She is nearing the end of her life, she has leaking heart valves, so we have to accept that and make her as comfortable as we can.

And we have to enjoy every day we have with her and take lots of photos.

Pets require a different kind of care when they're young, during their prime and when they age. You need to adjust what you do and keep on the lookout for signs of ageing. We decided Alice needed a softer bed. She's slept on the same bed for a number of years but with no fat on her body and not as much hair, she needed a softer, warmer bed. Hanno bought a nice piece of thick foam rubber a couple of weeks ago. It supports her weight nicely and I think she'd find it's a big improvement on the older bed. Yesterday I made a cover for it. Her bedding needs to be changed quite frequently now so we need two such covers. I'll do up another one during the week. We're also feeding her three times a day now. She has two Weetbix with milk for breakfast, a raw chicken carcass or a raw egg flip for lunch and her usual homemade dog food for dinner. Apart from that she drinks water and she has the occasional piece of toast or biscuit.

Hettie is our white cat. She's a bit older than Alice and she's slowing down too. She's never been a wanderer but sometimes she used to go into the bush near the house, now she sleeps on a table or a chair on the back verandah all day. At night she sleeps on a soft bed on another table a bit further back. She's still in reasonably good health but she can't jump like she used to. She hesitates and has a few tries at jumping on the table where she is fed. I moved a chair closer to her second table so she can get up there easily. Hettie's meals haven't changed much; we do buy the senior biscuits for her now.

They give us a lot of pleasure, these animals, and it will be a sad day here when they die. I clearly remember the day we buried Rosie under the Banksia Rose in the backyard. We were both devastated. I used to think we'd get another dog straight away when Alice died, but now I'm not so certain of that. I don't want to think about a time when she's not here so that decision will have to wait. I am sure those of you with pets will know how we feel. How have you looked after your ageing pets?


10 December 2010

This is on my mind ...

This is on my mind is a Friday photo feature that anyone with a blog can join. It opens the door to us sharing our lives with these photos and gives us all a new way to discover each other, and maybe form new friendships. Your photo should show something at home that you're thinking about. It could be something already done but still on your mind, something you're about to do and you're working out how to do it, or a place at home where you've spent a lot of time during the past week. It could be anything.

To take part in this, all you have to do is post your photo and write a short caption explaining it. When your photo is published, come back here and add a comment, with a link to your blog photo. We will all be able to follow the breadcrumbs in the woods that lead to each new photo. Who know where these trails will lead us.

PS: Please label your photo: This is on my mind, and please, post a new photo today, otherwise I'm not sure if I'm commenting on the right post.

Hanno and I went to a couple of thrift shops last week and I found this beautiful vintage table tray for $10. I'm thinking it was hand made in someone's backyard shed. It's solid wood and there is a little inlaid check diamond in the centre. The legs fold under when it's not in use. I found it at the bottom of a stack of plastic and tin trays just waiting for me to come along.


9 December 2010

I am what I am

I came to the computer this morning without much of an idea of what, if anything, to write today but a comment from yesterday has me here tapping away again.

Thank you for your comment. It made me smile and highlighted for me, again, why I have continued blogging for so long. You have a blog, as many of the readers here do, and I'm sure you know that you go through periods when you really don't know what to write or even if you should. The criticisms that sometimes come in emails, the occasional jibes in comments and seeing yourself written about in other blogs or forums, not always in the kindest of lights, can make in real impact on the enthusiasm one writes with. I am very lucky in that 99 percent of what I've seen written here and in other places has been positive. I am grateful for that, I'm not sure I'd still be here if it were different. I know it's cut many good bloggers off at the knees.

I never aim for perfection. I have written about that in the past on a few occasions mainly for the reason you state in your comment - "If we had to be perfect at this endeavor, in order for it to 'count,' I would be too discouraged to even try." I'm not perfect, there is no such thing, not for any of us. All I try for each day is to do the best I can do on that day. Sometimes the bar is high, sometimes it's not, but the important thing is that I try. I'm as flawed as the next person. I make mistakes. There are days I don't want to do what I know I should, but I always live by my values. If I fall short one day I know there will be other days when I excel and over time I hope the scale balances out in my favour.

I'm not going to self-censor either. What you see is what you get. I don't stage my photos. What would be the point of that. Some people don't understand that to try to be perfect all the time, is so exhausting and pointless it takes time away from the important things. So I'm pleased to know you're out there not expecting perfection from me, or from yourself. Let's move forward together trying not for perfection but to do our best each day. It's gentler, kinder and we open ourselves up to learn more.

With respect, appreciation and love,

8 December 2010

Preserving food in jars

I received an email the other day from a lady who wanted to know why I don't do more canning/preserving posts. The plain and simple answer is that I only post about what I do, I don't do a lot of preserving, so I can't write about it more than I do.

We do things differently here. Speaking from my own experience, we don't have to put up a lot of food in jars because we have a garden we can walk out to most of the year to pick fresh what we want to eat. In colder climates, where growing food is impossible half the year, canning gives options that otherwise are not available. The theory is to grow as much as you can during the warm months, harvest in autumn and can the excess for eating over the cold winter. That is a great way to save money, eat the best organic produce and know for sure what you're eating.

In Australia it's fairly common to put up those foods that you really enjoy, that you can make yourself, and that taste better homemade than bought. I usually put up various tomato products - sauce, pasta sauce/pizza topping and tomato relish. I generally do some sort of jam - I love peach jam so I buy a box of peaches in season and put up several jars of peach jam. Some years I'll do a strawberry jam as well, but they're different seasons here. Strawberries are a winter crop, peaches are abundant in summer. At some time during lemon season, which is winter and again in early spring here, I'll make up several jars of lemon butter and juice all the lemons I can lay my hands on. I freeze the juice in two litre containers to make cordial with it year round, but especially in summer. Late summer I'll put up a few jars of bread and butter cucumbers and pickled beetroot. But none of these foods are meant specifically for winter meals - we never can meat, soup or salmon, we eat it all fresh, year round. When there is an abundance of beans, carrots, peas or silverbeet, I blanche and freeze - it's easier, cheaper and takes less time.

For those reasons, a small preserving kit, circa 1970s, suits me well. It's not a handsome unit but it does the job required for my sporadic preserving sessions. And let me tell you that nothing you can buy in the shops is better than homemade lemon butter, peach jam or tomato relish; it's like manna from heaven. I've never had the need for a pressure canner and most of the time I use recycled jars. And we're still here to tell the tale.

Don't get me wrong, I think the ability to preserve food for later use is one of the most helpful of all the household tasks we can learn. It's complex, in that it has health and safety aspects, but when the time it put into the learning of it, it is a fairly straight forward task. It's just that with a garden full of fresh food most of the year, we don't need to preserve food unless we have too much of it.

What do you put up and when do you do your canning/preserving?


7 December 2010

Our changing Christmases

Are you thinking of Christmas yet? I wonder what your plans are, what traditions you follow, how many will sit at your table this year. Christmas can be one of those times of year when you either commit to the family traditions you grew up with and carry them on, or you decide that now you have your own family, new traditions will define you. It is a choice. If Christmas is being held in your home, you will lead the way, you can change or follow.

Carl Larsson's Christmas from the gallery.

We're at a point of transition. This will be the last year we'll spend Christmas without babies or children so it is special in its own right. Since our sons have grown and left home, I've realised that the real excitement of Christmas comes from having children around. When it's all adults, it's a celebration of family, an enjoyable feast, but there is not that barely contained crazy excitement that children bring. I didn't realise I missed it but I'm ready to decorate Christmas trees with tiny lights and put out fruit cake and beer for Santa and the reindeer all over again.

This Christmas will be the first one in a long time when we haven't organised and lead the Christmas breakfast at our Neighbourhood Centre. Hundreds come to that free breakfast - it's a feast of sharing and community spirit. So with Christmas morning free, as well as Christmas lunch, we might have Kerry and Sunny here. Both our sons are chefs so they often work on Christmas day. Kerry and Sunny think they have the day off, Shane thinks he'll be working, so we might not see him and Sarndra. We'll mould ourselves around our family. If they're here, we'll celebrate with organic roast chickens and salad, tropical fruit pavlova and homemade elderflower champagne, if they're not here, Hanno and I will share a small celebration of roast chicken washed down with Scrumpy - apple cider. Either way, we'll enjoy the day for what it is, the end of an era.

What are you doing, what are you eating, what gifts are you making and where will you be?


5 December 2010

Doing nothing and everything

I crept out of bed early with the sound of rain still falling, put the kettle on for a cup of tea while I let Alice out, then in again, made the tea and came to the computer. By the time Hanno was awake, I'd already watched Dr Finlay that I recorded the night before. I really love that program. I vaguely remember it being on back in the old days but the 60s, 70s and 80s were too full of other things to watch TV so I haven't seen it till now. Now it mesmerises me with ladies embarrassed and hushed discussions about their husband's snoring (gasp!) and seemingly sweet and gentle Janet who, I think, is as sharp and cold as a steel pin, sails through it all with the perfect expression of 50s morality. I got another cup of tea, there is so much tea drunk around the doctors' kitchen table I feel left out with empty hands.

The rain always slows things down. Rain is not commonplace here and steady soaking rain makes us stop and notice the weather; we watch and we listen to it. The pattern of rainfall on the tin roof makes me feel that we are all safe, we can slow down and take it easy and with Sunday as an added bonus, the hours are ours to do with as we please. Well, I didn't stay in that relaxed mode for long because I was back at the computer, writing again, for much of the day. For those lovely readers who sent thoughtful messages about the book, the plan is to have it on the shelves in February 2012. My deadline for the first draft is March 1, then we have two months of editing, then it is sent off to the printer in May 1. I am thrilled to be working with Penguin and a wonderful editor, Jo.

When there was a break in the rain, Hanno tidied up in the garden but rushed in and asked me to follow him outside. He was removing the trellis the cherry tomatoes had been growing on and there, amidst the chick weed in the softest green nest, sat Lucy, our stately English Game hen. She sat on six eggs and only moved when the entire trellis came down around her. I wish we could give her chicks to raise. She had a brood of chicks when she came to us - a motley crew of a white leghorn, two bantam Australorps and a green legged rooster of unknown breed. But we're not set up for tiny chicks now and I fear they'd be lost to the snakes and feral cats.

Soon after breakfast I removed the sourdough starter from the fridge and fed it. After mixing in the new flour, I transferred the entire living mass to a clean jar and left it to come to life for a loaf later in the week. Washing up done, I tidied the kitchen and went back to my room to start writing again.

Late in the afternoon I made caramelised apples, to use up some excess apples, and banana cupcakes for morning teas during the week, although there are still a few biscuits left. I'll probably freeze some tomorrow. Sunday night's tea was ham and salad. The rest of the time, when I wanted to relax, I knitted. I'm knitting baby wash clothes at the moment, they're nothing fancy, just practical bamboo and cotton square cloths suitable for the most beautiful of grand babies.

There is so much that is new and exciting happening right now. These changes have brought reflection and growth but mainly a feeling that everything is right and as it should be. There is always work to be done, but that keeps us active and engaged and we enjoy most of it. Sometimes I look back to my younger years and remember good times when I thought it couldn't get any better. But it did. It got better. It still does.

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