30 April 2013

On being a grandma

Thank you for the love, thoughts and prayers sent to us yesterday.

- - ♥ - -

I never thought of myself as being a grandmother until it was almost upon me. I didn't think too far into my future, I just planned for the coming year and left it at that. I didn't think much about my sons' futures. I could see they were well adjusted, ambitious and sensible and I was content to stand back and wait to see what developed. Grandmothering came slowly sneaking into my thoughts when I met Sarndra and Sunny. I liked them both immediately and it wasn't long before I grew to love them. I knew they were right for my boys and maybe, one day, anything could happen .......  :- )

Jamie was born in March 2011. We'd been hopping around all morning rushing to answer the phone  and when we got the news, we took off like two rockets, driving 200 kms to see him. My world changed forever when I saw him for the first time. Sunny was holding him close and when she asked me: "do you want to hold him, mum?" I held out my arms and opened my heart as wide as it had ever been. I had to fit Jamie in there and I needed a much bigger space for Sunny. This was an entirely different feeling to holding my own sons. There was no pain involved for me with this precious delivery, this was all pleasure and pride. The pride I felt when I looked at him and the pride and love I felt for Kerry and Sunny. 

A few months later, in July 2011, Alex was born, to Sarndra and Shane, in the same hospital. We drove down again, crazy with excitement, full of anticipation and wonder about this new cherished member of our family. Again my heart was pounding when I saw him for the first time and again my already full heart made room for another part of it to be permanently and profoundly altered by this tiny baby. I thought it was impossible, but I loved Shane and Sarndra more on that day. Nothing has changed now. We see much less of Alex because they live so far away but I think of him every day and look forward to the time when we spend time with him, learn more about him and share some of our world with him.

Two more links in our family chain.

We looked after Jamie yesterday while Kerry and Sunny went out for lunch and a movie. They went to see the new Ironman movie and during the morning there was a Facebook update from Sarndra, with a photo of her and Shane, also going out to see Ironman, while Alex was being cared for. Precious alone time for both couples. That is what grandparents are good at - being the on-standby carers that help when they can with babysitting or whatever is needed. If Shane and Sarndra lived closer we'd happily look after both boys. We have a safe and interesting yard they can run around in, a sandpit and clean fresh air to fill their young lungs. I'm looking forward to those days when we look after both boys and they get to know each other, and us.

I love seeing sippy cups and brightly coloured plates and bowls in my kitchen again. Peeling apples and bananas isn't the same anymore. It's more than it used to be. Sure, there are times when I want the running or loud noises to stop, or I don't want to read that same book again or change a nappy, but they're fleeting moments. Not everything is perfect. Everything has a downside and this is no different. But when you see small arms outstretched before you, when you hear one, two, ten, run!, when you see a contented face asleep, or watering the plants, or smiling at you, it's all worthwhile.

Parenting is tough. It is, without a doubt, the hardest thing I've ever done. There are the difficult first few months, the weaning, toilet training, getting ready for school, getting used to the friends, the powerful protective feelings that mothers and fathers feel. There are the difficult talks, wanting to give them enough freedom and the courage to see the beauty and the evil in the world and then two minutes later wanting to keep them protected, away from everything that might harm them. There is that important balancing act of giving them all they need but not all they want, and trying to stay on speaking terms while you do it. And at every stage there are the sometimes overwhelming feelings of responsibility and the ongoing task of developing trust - on both sides. And sometimes having to do it all over again.

Then everything you tried to put into your children starts to pay off. You stand back, proud of your efforts, but you know in your heart that it's as much to do with luck than with anything else - the good fortune to meet the right friends or ditch the dangerous ones, the ability to give them the time they need when they need it, the good sense to show them they were loved unconditionally. Being able to forgive and be forgiven. There is so much you have no control over.

But time passes, they find someone, love develops, babies are born and grandparents are created. It's all part of your circle of life. No one can ever explain to you what it feels like being a grandparent and I guess it's different for all of us. For me it is similar to being a parent in that I feel all the love, but I have a very small share of the work and responsibility. And while parenting was as tough as it gets, grandparenting is easier. Much easier. I feel important in this role, that what I have to share, while different to what Jamie and Alex will learn from their parents, is significant and valuable nonetheless. But to tell you the truth, most of it is just plain fun.


29 April 2013

Sad and slow weekend

We had a sad and slow weekend. We received news that Hanno's sister, Angelica, died suddenly in Hamburg so there were long phone calls across oceans, talks about Angelica and lots of memories of her. She was Hanno's only sibling. Our family is always special but the importance of family is always magnified when we lose someone special. RIP Angelica.

- - ♥ - -

Over the weekend I did a bit of work but mainly took things slow and almost finished off some knitting I've been concentrating on for a while. I'll show you later in the week. Kerry and Jamie dropped in on Saturday and had lunch with us. It wonderful hearing them drive down the driveway and knowing we can see them so frequently.  We're looking after Jamie this afternoon while Kerry and Sunny have some time alone over lunch and a movie. I should really say that Hanno will look after him. They'll be out in the backyard feeding the chooks and gardening. Hanno will give Jamie some "jobs" such as moving a bucket full of dirt from one garden bed to the next, or picking green leaves. One thing is for sure, he won't leave Hanno's side and he'll want to "work" alongside Opa.

I watched an interesting program on SBS the other night - Food Safari, featuring Danish cuisine. Hamburg is quite close to Denmark so the food is similar and sure enough, they had a recipe for frikadeller (called frikadellen in Germany), and pickled cucumbers. I decided to make the meal for us yesterday and it was delicious. I'd describe it as meatballs, fast pickled cucumbers and I added potato salad, which worked perfectly. I didn't stick to the exact recipe but what I made what close to it and delicious enough to make again ... soon.

This is a good meal for a large family or for those trying to reduce the cost of living. I used 1 kilogram of meat - a mixture of organic beef and pork, that was the most expensive part of the meal and I have enough for three meals. My guesstermation would be $12 for the meal and if you devide that by three, that's four dollars a meal for the two of us. I'll have to make another batch of the pickled cucumbers because we almost wiped out the first lot in one meal.

Here are the recipes in the order I did them, making sure I reused pots and bowls so I didn't have too much washing up.

500 grams beef mince
500 grams pork mince
1 large onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup breadcrumbs
¼ cup plain/all purpose flour
2 eggs
¼ cup  milk

Place the meat and onions in a bowl and with clean hands, mix it all together until it's thoroughly combined. Add the remaining ingredients and mix them in the same way. Then, using a tablespoon, measure about a spoon full of meat mixture and with wet hands, form it into round balls. Place them on a plate and put in the fridge for 15 minutes to firm up. Then start the potato salad.

Potato Salad
4 large potatoes
1 small onion, chopped
2 poached eggs
salt and pepper
Peel and slice the potatoes into thick slices. Add these two cold water in a saucepan, add a pinch of salt, bring to the boil, turn it down to a fast simmer. They're ready when the potatoes are softish and can be easily pierced with a fork.  When the potatoes are cooked, drain them in a colander and allow to cool.  While the potatoes are cooking, get on to the pickled cucumbers.

Unsalted cucumber and onion above, salted below.

Easy and quick pickled cucumbers and onions
Peel one cucumber (you can leave the peel on if you prefer) and slice the cucumber very thinly. I used a mandolin. Peel one red onion and slice that thinly as well. Place the cucumber and onion in a bowl and sprinkle enough salt over it to cover all the slices - about a heaped teaspoon. Don't worry about the salt - later you'll wash it all off and pour the salty liquid down the drain. Mix the cucumbers and onions around to make sure it's all in contact with the salt or salty liquid and leave for 15 minutes. While that is happening, check the potatoes, drain them if cooked and allow to cool.

Cook the meat balls
To cook, add olive oil to a pan and when it's hot, add the meatballs. I had to do mine in two batches. Cook, turning them when they're brown. They'll take about 10 - 15 minutes to cook over a medium heat. Then turn out onto a paper towel on a plate to drain off any excess oil.

Cool the potatoes and eggs
Wash the bowl the meat was in and use it again for the potato salad. Put some more water into the saucepan you cooked the potatoes in and poach two eggs. You can boil them if you prefer but poaching does the same job and it's quicker. When they're cooked, allow them to cool.

This is the pickled cucumber after the vinegar had been added.

Make up the pickles
Under a slow tap, wash the salt from the cucumbers and onions. Squeeze as much liquid from them as you can and then place them back in the bowl, that you've rinsed out and dried. Sprinkle over 1½  tablespoons of sugar, two tablespoons of good white vinegar and salt and pepper. Taste it and adjust to your liking. That's the pickled cucumbers and onions finished.

Make up the potato salad. I didn't take photos of this process.
Take the cooled potatoes, it doesn't matter if they're still slightly warm, added a small chopped onion, salt and pepper, two finely diced gherkins or a small amount of diced cornichons and enough mayonnaise to coat it all. Taste it and adjust the seasoning if needed.

And that's it. You can serve it with a mild German mustard but it has enough taste without it. The sharp taste of the pickled cucumbers and onions cut through the creaminess of the mayonnaise nicely. The meatballs have a fine texture that go well with the full flavours of the salads. I hope you enjoy this as much as we did. Do you have a favourite meat ball recipe?


26 April 2013

Weekend reading

Growing Old in the New Normal - Countryside mag - thanks for the link, Sander.

The Baby Boomers at 65 - The Age

Carcinogens found in some baby bath products 1  - 2012
Carcinogens found in some baby bath products 2 - 2009

Sourdough Bread Variations - Countryside mag

Low cost raised bed garden - Backwoods Home mag

Baby shoes and bootees and how to make them - I think Julia sent me this link. Thanks Julia.

Four Green Acres

Other bloggers nominated with me in the Kidspot Creative and Home category
The Daily Smudge

74 Lime Lane

At Home with Ali

From the comments here this week
Charlotte at The Old Milk Can

Frances at City Views, Country Dreams

Jennifer at Beyond the Trolley

The weather continues to cool here and we've made more progress with our vegetable garden. I'm going to spend some time over the weekend finishing off some knitting and selecting a new project. I hope your weekend is restful and you spend time with those you love.  See you next week. :- )   

24 April 2013

Cup of tea?

I’m not sure if it’s a sign of my age or the era I grew up in but when I hear: "Would you like a cup of tea?”, "I'll put the kettle on." or “Let’s have a cuppa.” I feel as if I’m being cared for. I grew up in a time when fizzy drink was always ginger beer. Coke was around then but it seemed out of place, sort of unAustralian, and we didn’t drink it, although as a Christmas treat, mum would buy a crate of 12 "mixed fruit drinks", delivered to our door by horse and cart. Yes, that was Sydney in the 1950s. Bread and milk was delivered every day like that too, right to our door. Our cold drink of choice was cordial and when a hot drink was called for, it was tea. Although all through my life, my mother drank the strongest black coffee that looked like liquid tar and I think was made with chicory. I clearly remember drinking milky, sweet tea with my grandmother. She had hers black and now that is how I drink my tea. There is a lot I don’t recall about my childhood but I clearly remember the feeling of being loved when I was called in for tea. 

We didn’t always have cake with our tea but when we did it was homemade and often it was fruit cake. Biscuits were bought then, a new convenience, at the local corner shop from Arnott’s tins that contained a single variety of biscuit like Monte Carlo, Spicy Fruit Rolls, Honey Jumbles, Iced Vo Vos, Milk Arrowroot or Custard Creams. Biscuits in packets were yet to surprise us but it was always a treat to go with mum to the shop while she chose biscuits that were put in a plain brown paper bag to be brought home to our biscuit barrel. When we went to the zoo, a very rare treat, we used to go to that same shop to buy a small bag of broken biscuits to feed to the animals. The Arnott family who produced those biscuits lived not far from us in a huge mansion house. It’s still there but they are long gone.  Their factory, which I think was built around 1900, was located near where the Sydney Olympics was held at Homebush.

These are the little floating tea balls Sunny gave us.

I haven’t lost my affection for tea. Hanno loves a cup around 10am and we sit together on the back verandah in the summer and the front verandah in winter and talk while we drink our tea. I always use loose tea to make a single cup or a pot and always use a little tea ball. Sunny bought us some nifty new tea balls recently. They float around in the tea until it’s time to take them out and sit them in their little drainer saucer. Tea bags are like Coke to me, they don’t exist.

My favourite tea memory is from Sunday evenings in winter, before TV started, so pre-1956. I would have been seven or eight then and Tricia nine or ten. We, along with the entire neighbourhood, would have had a roast for Sunday lunch and a small amount of the remaining meat would have been put aside for toasted sandwiches in the evening.  Around 4pm, dad would light the open fire in the lounge-room, all the windows and doors would be closed, and at around 6pm, he would load up our tea trolley with roast lamb or chicken, along with a small bowl of salad, bread, butter, mugs of milky tea and mum's strong black coffee. Mum would test Tricia and I on our spelling as we sat by the fire in our pyjamas, dressing gowns and slippers, and then we'd toast bread over the hot coals and everyone would make up their own sandwich. This was mum's night off cooking. At about 7.30pm, mum would lay out two woollen blankets by the fire so they were nice and warm, and Tricia and I would each lay on one and get rolled up like big cigars. Then dad would carry us in to bed and tuck us in. It sounds incredibly innocent now but it is what we did and I still recall it with a lot of affection.

In my mind, offering hospitality and being cared for seems to go hand-in-hand with a cup of tea or a glass of cold cordial. I’m sure it’s deeply ingrained into my being and will remain there forever. They aren’t as fancy as the iced or flavoured teas and sparkling mineral waters on sale now but they quench the thirst as well as anything else and they provide that warm and comfortable feeling of yesteryear for me. A time when there were few alternatives and everyone thought that was just fine.

What is your favourite tea memory?


23 April 2013

Back to the land again

Over the years, generally in response to hard times, people move away from the habit of material consumption, make use of the land they live on and begin to provide for themselves. The back to the land movement happened in repsonse to the Great Depression, again for a short period after the second World War and again in the 1970s, right after the oil crisis.  We're back again now with many people using their backyards for vegetables, fruit and chickens but this time it's a little different. In the past, the emphasis was simply on producing food for the table. Now we have that, as well as people who want to eat local, organic food and find that it's easier to grow it themselves than to buy it - either through lack of supply or money. We also have a lot of people much more aware of their health now. They see gardening as a form of exercise and the food that comes from it as superior to what is bought at a shop.

Our backyard in the late afternoon sun. You can see Hettie there, asleep under the elder tree.

I tend to agree with that. Everything you grow yourself will be better than what you buy. When you buy fruit and vegetables at the supermarket, or at the green grocer, you don't know how they were grown, what sprays where applied, if herbicides were used or if they were radiated after picking or gassed to ripen them. You don't know how old they are. Many fruits and vegetables can last a long time in cold storage. And I ask myself when I buy fruit and vegetables, even when they look perfect (especially then) - how much nutrition is left in this? Have all the vitamins and minerals vanished with time?

Look closely, there is an enemy lurking.

We have a garden here that we tend almost all year. We have a break in summer because battling the heat and the bugs is too much for us then. We grow our own food for many of the reasons I've written about but mainly because we can and it makes sense to us. I would much prefer to eat a potato that was dug from my garden that afternoon, that I know has never had contact with pesticides or harsh chemicals and has had the time for the green tops to die back rather than having herbicide sprayed on to hasten that process. I'd rather eat a tomato that I've watched grow and ripen than one that is bullet-hard and tastes of nothing. I like to grow enough to share or barter with. I like having more than enough so I can preserve some for later and instead of eating from the garden only when everything is fresh, we also  have that food months later when new crops have taken over and a new season has started. It makes sense financially and sustainably.

Here is Hanno (Sunday afternoon) weeding and planting that last bit of garden. There was a time when he could easily weed and plant the entire garden in a day. Now it's wiser to do it in stages. It takes longer but it's still able to be managed and enjoyed. Don't be afraid to garden the way it suits you. The gardening police won't come in and arrest you if you take longer than you used to or if you try something new.

I hope I can encourage you to think about growing a few herbs and vegetables. Gardening is one of those activities that is more than it appears to be. It will give you a chance to spend meaningful time outdoors, it will get your hands into the dirt and help you reconnect with nature. It's honest and reliable and will not only feed your belly it will feed your soul too. If you've never done it before, it's easy and difficult because it takes time and effort and you have to learn as you go. I am still learning after being a gardener for more years than I care to remember.

Bok choy, ginger and zucchini.

Your first task is to choose the area to locate your garden. It will require eight hours of full sun per day, it's best if it's clear of trees and tree roots, the soil will need to drain well and if you have animals or chickens, it will have to be fenced off. It will need to be close to a water supply. We use only the water that we harvest from our roof to water our vegetables and if you decide to get into vegetable gardening and carry on with it every year, it's worthwhile thinking about setting up your own water collection systems.

You can tell by our planting that we have keen Asian cooks in our family. Here we have bok choy and daikon growing.

Below is a list of older posts that may help you get started or encourage you to continue on if you've already planted your crops. There is always help available at the forum as well. There are a lot of excellent gardeners there so if you're stuck and don't know what to do, go to the forum, click here, and ask some questions.

The ever-productive chilli bush is still going strong.

My last bit of advice is probably the most important. You must learn about your climate. All gardens are part of a particular zone but in those zones, microclimates exist and not every part of the zone is the same. Learn what your garden is and if you can modify it to suit your purposes. You may be able to add a poly-tunnel to extend your season if you're in a cold zone or a shade tunnel if you're in a hot climate.  You must always be guided by the information you get with the plant or the seeds and no matter how much you want it, you will probably never be able to grow tomatoes when it's extremely hot or cold and even if you want to grow bananas or walnuts you won't be able to unless you're in the right climate for them. I would love to be able to grow apricots, apples and walnuts but they're cold climate crops so I got over it and I know I can grow macadamias and we have a pecan tree. Climate is everything.

The garlic bulbs have all grown strong shoots.

We're still in the process of planting our garden. We started our main planting last month and while we're already eating from part of it, the last bed to be planted is now being weeded and the first seedlings are going in. Are you growing in your backyard this season? Are you trying anything new this year?


22 April 2013

Guidelines for change

I'm often asked what can be done in the home to live a more sustainable, simple life. I find it difficult to answer a question like that because I don't think there is only one way to live like this. There is not one answer, there are many. Everyone is different, we're all at different ages, we don't have the same ambitions or goals. The best I can do it to give general guidelines and hope that everyone marches to the beat of their own drummer while finding the place that feels comfortable for them. Here are those general guidelines:

Money is not, and should not be, the most important thing in your life but it is the glue that holds everything together. Develop a spending plan and always live within your means. I find I'm better with money if I use cash. Cash is real to me and I'm reluctant to hand it over. When I buy with a card, it's different. I try to use cash, always. If you don't know how much money you're spending in a week or a month, it's a very worthwhile exercise to track what you spend. You don't have to tell anyone you're doing it but at the end of the month it will show you, with no doubt, how much you've spent. You can then identify how much you spend on things you don't need, and that money can then be redirected towards debt repayment or your real needs.

Organise yourself. We all have our own ways of doing organising. Some will want to declutter and live with fewer possessions, others will get rid of a few things but be at ease with what they keep. There is no right way to organise and declutter, do what feels comfortable. I have found it very helpful to make a weekly list of the things I have to do. Each morning I  transfer tasks from that list onto my daily list. That helps me get through the work I need to do without me forgetting just what it was I was going to do. If something doesn't get done on the daily or weekly lists, they're simply allocated to the follow-up list. Your work shouldn't make you feel guilty. If you can't do it, you can't do it, get over it and move on.

Getting rid of disposables. This can be paper plates, cups, knives, forks, tissues, menstrual pads or tampons, baby nappies/diapers, dishcloths or cleaning cloths. It could be anything. If you know you're frequently buying a product that you could replace with something you already have on hand, do it. It's an excellent way to recycle.

Recycle, reuse, repair. This will save you money and cut down on the amount of rubbish you have to send to the dump. Of course, you can separate your recyclables from your general garbage and have it recycled at the dump, but you can do a certain amount of recycling at home too. A sensible home recycling program starts with wise shopping choices. For instance, if your family uses tomato sauce, dish liquid, shampoo etc. in a squeeze bottle, keep the last squeeze bottle, buy a large container of that product, wash the last squeeze bottle and refill it. You can do that  number of times before you need to replace the smaller bottle. When one of your sheets or towels is worn out, cut it up into cleaning cloths. Not only will you have a good supply of very absorbent cleaning rags, you'll extend the life of the sheet or towel and get the full value of the money you spent on it. When it really is threadbare, put it in the worm farm or compost to finish its life off there.

Grow what you can. There are several reasons to do this. We all know how expensive it is to buy or rent a house nowadays. You will get better value for your mortgage or rental dollars if you use your land to grow food. You'll be able to grow and eat organic vegetables without the expense of buying organic. You'll teach yourself and your family valuable like skills. You'll become more self reliant. I'll write a post later in the week about starting a vegie patch.

Learn to cook from scratch and use what is in your garden. This includes bread, snacks, cakes and biscuits/cookies, jams, sauces and whatever else your family enjoys on a regular basis. Cook once and eat twice. I am an expert at this. It saves time and energy on the second day and often the flavours have developed and the dish tastes much better on the second day. If you're trying to build up a stash of home-cooked frozen food in your freezer, this is a good way of doing it, especially if you don't seem to have the time for a dedicated cooking session just for the frozen food. So still cook enough for everyone for two meals but instead of eating the second portion on the next day, freeze it. It will only take one week to build one week's supply of frozen food.

 Celery will remain crisp and ready to use in your fridge for six weeks if you wash it and wrap it in foil.

Don't compare yourself with anyone else. You are unique. What someone else does may not suit you. Even if some of the points in this post don't sit well with you, don't do them. Invent your own way or follow what others do only when it makes complete sense to you and you trust the person telling you. There is no such thing as perfect. Never try to be better than anyone else, try to do your best instead. And when you do change the way you do something, examine what you're doing and customise it to suit you and how you work.

This way of living will make you calm and content as long as you're doing it because you want to change. If you're doing it because you think you should or all your friends are making changes, it will seem too difficult. One thing is for certain, living this way will probably give you more work to do, not less. But it is satisfying work and you can see the results of changing quite soon after you do. You won't see the merit of everything I do and that's a good thing. We all come to our own changes when our time is right. When you get there and you decide that you're ready to become more self reliant and live a more sustainable life, that's when it all makes sense and you see many of the benefits.

What tip would you add to this list?


19 April 2013

Weekend reading

Jen at Decisive Cravings is a food blogger who wrote a wonderful critique on my book during the week. When I read it, I discovered a wonderful blog full of Melbourne restaurant and cafe reviews and photos of food. A must-read if you live in Melbourne. 

Real food shopping at modern alternative mama

Three bloggers nominated with me in the kidspot.com.au 100 top Bloggers

Three bloggers who commented here during the week

Robyn at Essex Hebridean

The end of another busy week. If you don't know already, the forum is back up and although we still have some issues to address, that feeling of community and friendship is still thriving there. I hope you enjoy the weekend and spend it with those you love.  

17 April 2013

The best chicken casserole

Chicken is such a versatile meat. It's not too heavy, most children seem to like it and it will easily make up into soups, casseroles, schnitzels, finger food and curries, and who doesn't love a good, old-fashioned roast chicken with vegetables and gravy.  We buy free range chicken from Aldi. It's not expensive and it tastes good. I've bought other free range and organic chicken but I always come back to Aldi because I haven't found anyone to match their quality and price. Generally, we have two or three frozen chickens in the freezer. They're handy to keep in case visitors arrive out of the blue or if we need to have a few pre-cooked meals on hand in the freezer.

This dish is really versatile. I make it as a casserole but by adding more chicken stock or water, along with ½ cup barley or lentils, you can turn it into a hearty soup. Served with homemade herb dumplings, it makes the ideal winter warmer. Served with rice and salad, it makes the perfect autumn or spring evening meal.

Let's call it Down to Earth Chicken. If you eat it all on the first day the sauce is delicious and complex because it's cooked with bones and real stock, but like all dishes cooked in a sauce, it will improve on the second day. This recipe calls for chicken stock or chicken bone broth. I usually keep this in the freezer in one litre/quart containers. I make it with the bones left from roast chicken or when I bone a whole chicken.

Bone broth/chicken stock
Chop the bones with a cleaver or cut them with poultry shears, that allows more marrow to be released. Adding a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the broth will help draw out more minerals from the bones. You can add vegetables, such as onion, leek, carrots or celery, in with the bones for extra taste and vitamins, but that's optional. Bring the bones to the boil and then turn down and simmer for two to three hours, or add them to the slow cooker and cook on low for 24 hours. Remove any scum should it develop. Allow it to cool, add it to your containers and freeze, or store in the fridge for up to 48 hours. The stock should develop a jelly effect when it's cold. This is a good sign it's full of nutrients. You can cook the bones twice and get two portions of stock. I find if I try for a third time, the flavour doesn't come through.

Ingredients for the chicken casserole
  • Start with a whole chicken, defrosted or fresh OR about 1.5kg/3.3 lbs chicken pieces
  • ½ cup plain flour seasoned well with salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of paprika
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, cut into chunks
  • 2 sticks celery, sliced finely
  • herbs - what's in the garden or the fridge? Either parsley, sage, chives, thyme or oregano would be good in this. Go with what you have on hand. Whatever it is, chop it finely, add most to the dish but leave a sprinkling to be added just before serving.
  • 1 litre/quart homemade chicken stock or chicken bone broth. 

  1. You can either cut the chicken in half or in pieces. You don't want to serve the chicken on the bones but you do want to cook it with the bones. If you debone the chicken, include the bones in with the flesh and remove them later.
  2. Coat the chicken all over with the seasoned flour.
  3. Add a small amount of olive oil to the pan and fry the chicken until it's brown. You don't want to cook the chicken, just develop the flavour and a good colour.
  4. Add the vegetables and brown them for a few minutes.
  5. Add the herbs.
  6. Pour in the chicken stock, stir the chicken and vegetables to incorporate the stock.
  7. Bring to the boil and then place the covered dish in a slow oven on about 180C/350F for about 1½ hours, or cook in the slow cooker.
The chicken will be ready when it's tender and the sauce has thickened. Serve with mashed potato, rice or herb dumplings.

Ingredients for herb dumplings
  • 2 cups of self raising flour OR 2 cups of plain flour with 2 teaspoons of baking powder added
  • salt and pepper
  • Rub into the flour about two tablespoons of softish butter. Rub the butter in with your finger tips, just like you would when making scones, until it resembles breadcrumbs
  • Chopped parsley, chives or the green tops of spring onions
  • Add enough water to make a firm dough.
Forms small balls and drop them into the casserole and put the lid back on. They will take about 15 minutes to cook so if you're going to add them, do so 20 minutes before the end of your casserole cooking time.

Feeding the baby
Babies thrive on this sort of nourishing food and it will make food preparation easier for you if the baby eats what the family is eating. If you're already feeding your older baby a variety of fruits and vegetables, this meal would be a good one to introduce at around 9 months. Take a small portion - about two or three tablespoons full out of the pot - making sure you have small amounts of chicken, vegetables and sauce. Cut the chicken into very small pieces and mash the vegetables. Make sure there are no big chunks and the baby will probably love this food as much as the older members of the family do.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do. Apart from portioning the chicken, it's very straight forward, even for new cooks. It freezes well so it's a good dish to make up in advance to serve up on those busy nights when you need just a bit of extra help. If you make it, let me know what you think or post about it on your own blog and send me the link. I think this is a real winner, I hope you do too.


16 April 2013

Feeling the love

What a day we had yesterday. We partied like it was 1999. Translation: I renewed my driver's licence for another five years, Hanno took me to the lingerie shop and bought me a new winter nightie and we had lunch in Caloundra.  ;- )  I received a lot of wonderful phone calls from friends and family, I loved reading so many comments full of love here and felt truly special on a beautiful autumn day. Thank you for the warm wishes and generous comments you sent yesterday. Each and every one of them made me smile and it put in place one more piece of the puzzle that is you. I build a picture in my mind's eye of everyone who comments here regularly and every comment plays a part in constructing my image of you. I don't know if it's accurate, and maybe I'll never know, but it is my way of personalising this blogging thing so that I feel I'm surrounded by warm-hearted and like-minded friends.

A while ago I was contacted by the folks at kidspot.com.au to tell me that Down to Earth was one of about 700 blogs nominated for inclusion in their Voices of 2013. Recently, they contacted me again to say I was in the top 100 Australian bloggers. I'm in the Creative and Home category along with 25 other creative and home-type bloggers, including the beautiful Katie and Reuben from House of Humble. All the judging and announcements will take place much later in the year. I haven't checked out many of the other bloggers yet but those I have look fabulous and interesting and all those things you want a new to you blog to be. I thought it would be a good idea to highlight and feature of few of them in my weekend reading in the coming weeks. 

Off to the big playground with Opa.

I had a bit of a chuckle when I looked at the photos of the other bloggers. I'm the only old duck by the look of it so I'll hold the flag high for all the grandmas and opas out there. It's nice to know that my blog is considered relevant alongside all those written by younger women.  Still, I would have liked to see a few more older women there as well.

Full grain rolls ready to go in the oven.

So let's get back to basics again after all the palaver of illness and birthday celebrations. I haven't done a cooking post in a long while so tomorrow I thought I'd share a very versatile whole chicken and vegetable recipe that will warm the cockles of your heart. I love easy food, as long as it's delicious and nourishing. Tick and tick for this recipe. I hope you like it as much as we do. See you tomorrow in the kitchen.

15 April 2013

It's my birthday!

In 1948, the first supermarket opened in the UK, Mahatma Gandhi was murdered, Don Bradman and Joe DiMaggio were creating records, the Pulitzer Prize was shared by James A Michener and Tennessee Williams, Lord Mountbatten resigned as govenor-general of India, TS Eliot won the Nobel Prize for Literature and on 15 April, 151 years after the first of my Australian ancestors stepped upon these shores from convict ships, I was born into a small working class family in Sydney, part of the "baby boom". The population of Australia was then 7.8 million people + one. 

Protected and shielded by my parents, the nuns who taught me and no TV, I went through my childhood oblivious to the Korean War, the strength and courage of Rosa Parks in Alabama, the plight of our first Australians, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, the invention of the Pill and the birth of rock n roll.  My eyes were opened suddenly while still at school when the world stood terrified in 1961 after the Bay of Pigs invasion and then the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. At 15, I heard Dr King's "I have a dream" speech on the radio and realised during those fine moments how profound the spoken word can be, and then twisted and shouted through the rest of the 1960s with the Beatles and Bob Dylan. The freedom marches continued and the US Civil Rights Act became law in 1964. I escaped conscription because I was a girl but watched on as hundreds of young Australian men my age were signed up and shipped out to Vietnam. Many of them never returned. In 1967, Australians said an overwhelming "YES!" (90%) in a referendum to include Aboriginal Australians in the census and for special laws to be drafted for them. And then in July 1969, I watched along with the rest of the world as Neil Armstrong took "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Petrol cost: AU 10 cents/litre, UK 65p/gallon, US 31 cents/gallon 

It's 1970, I'm 22, so I'd better start getting serious and do something. I started my nurses training at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, alongside the first male general nurse in Australia. Finished that, moved on, drove around the circumference of Australia and finally met a certain young, handsome German man named Hanno in the wilds of outback Queensland. My fate was sealed. Bell bottoms and moustaches. Cigarette advertising banned in many countries. From 1975 to 1978 I didn't watch much black and white TV, never cared for the radio news and while I missed knowing that Elvis died, the conservatives won power in the UK and that Ian Paisley won a seat in the UK parliament, I did know the aboriginal tent embassy went up outside parliament house, the last of the boys came back from Vietnam and women had started to take their place in the world.  In early 1979 Hanno and I travelled to Hamburg to meet his family and to stay a few months.

We married in Hamburg and Shane was born there in July 1980 but we stayed longer than intended, I was incredibly homesick so we flew home in late 1980. Flying via Tehran, we were diverted to Damascus - the Iran/Iraq War had broken out while we were in the air! Back home, we soon settled down again and Kerry was born in July 1981. Indigenous Australians started making headway with their claims for land rights, Indira Gandhi was assassinated, the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded releasing a large amount of radiation into the atmosphere and a 747 exploded in the sky over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing nearly 300 people. We bought our first computer in 1988, pre-windows, using DOS. I needed it because I was doing a degree in journalism, literature and communication. The decade started with a bang, with many of us throwing our money around, but ended in a recession. And then in November 1989, something happened I never expected to see - the Berlin Wall started crumbling and eventually Germany became united again.

Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, Margaret Thatcher resigned and we bought our first mobile phone (still have the same number). Our first female governor was appointed in 1991 and in 1992, the Mabo decision overturned the concept that Australia was terra nullius when the first sailing ships arrived here. I lived through the saddest day of my life in November 1993 when my mum died. Surprisingly, in spite of my doubt, life went on. Northern Exposure graced our TV screens, we were living with teenagers, the Port Arthur massacre, we bought our home and moved here in 1997. The English Channel tunnel opened and mad cow disease hit the UK. It was heart-breaking to watch as farmers had their herds killed, burned and buried in mass graves.

Concorde crashed and burned in every sense in 2000. The horrors of 9/11 (RIP) and the outcomes of it, 88 Australians died in a terrorist bombing in Bali. The first iPod. The beginning of this decade saw a profound turning point for our family when we started to slow down and simplify. I started blogging. The tsunami in the Indian Ocean took 250,000 lives, suicide bombers in London killed 56 people, the first iPhone, Benazir Bhutto killed in Pakistan, fuel prices hit record highs, the GFC. The population of Africa exceeded 1 billion. The population of India exceeded 1.1 billion. The population of China exceeded 1.3 billion. Barack Obama, the first black American president, is sworn in. Down to Earth, a guide to simple living is published by Penguin in February 2012.

Today, 15 April, 2013, I'm turning 65. I am proud of my age and lucky to have made it through when so many others didn't. I mixed my history in with world history here, not in arrogance but because this is my history - I have been shaped by my times, just as you are shaped by yours. I wish I'd learnt more along the way but one thing I do know to be true is that age is not about wrinkles, the pension or decline. I have found, despite what I've heard, that life truly opens up as you age. Not all days are good ones, but they weren't when I was younger either. Now I have the sense to not gauge my life by other people's ideals, I'm comfortable in my own skin, and while I have my family and friends around me, I know that I will continue to look for the joy in each day and appreciate it every time I find it.


12 April 2013

Weekend reading

Hello everyone! Well, I'm over it, finally, after eight days. The last few days I've tried eating but it made me sick again. Yesterday I had three small meals and I'm still feeling fine. I also feel stronger and less confused. For a few days there I didn't know if I was Arthur or Martha. I can hear Hanno sneezing in the other room as I type this so our roles may be reversed today. And yes, I will take it slow and look after myself. ; - )

It looks like I have two spaces left at the Saturday workshop. If you'd like to go, please email me as soon as you can and I'll put your name down. The cost is $195, which includes lunch and all day refreshments. I'll be sending out an email today to everyone who has booked.

And finally, I hope to have the Down to Earth forum back online very soon, hopefully today. I'll leave the link to the new address here as soon as I can. I hope you'll drop by to see the changes in our new setting.

x x x ♥ x x x

Prairie Flower way of life - You Tube

Thrift at Home

I was going to link to Mark's chicken retirement home post but this entire blog is full of common sense, as well as sense that is not so common, so please take the time to read Kate's Purple Pear Farm at your leisure.

In Australia, home loans have doubled in 10 years

Six ideas for sensible homes

Homegrown Org


Taylormade Ranch

Miss Adelaide

Out of the Mixing Bowl


9 April 2013

An instrument of change

Again, thank you for all the love and warmth being sent to lift my spirits. I'm still feeling weak but I was up all day yesterday and it was such a relief to not have to stay in bed all day. Hanno made us a delicious leek and potato soup for dinner, it was my first real food in five days and it went down well. BTW, for those of you who commented that my list should have included "looking after myself", that didn't have to be listed. It was happening anyway, and will continue.

- - - ♥ - - -

My family is moving into a more stable phase with both Alex and Jamie starting day care and their parents lives setting down a bit after the tumultuous changes brought about by being first-time parents. No one ever knows what to expect with their first baby, it's all happiness and joy mixed with a bit of pain and confusion in those first months before baby starts settling and parents realise what a profound change they've just gone through. There is no going back. Then there are the physical changes and extra work to deal with, and all the way through those first two years there is a lot of learning, not only with the baby learning new things but the parents learning about love and the future and how to work towards both. It takes a while to take on all these changes and work out a style of parenting that suits both personality and family. It's not easy but if this basic ground work is done, it builds a very firm foundation on which a child builds a life.

Jamie with the little wheelbarrow, just like Opa's, we gave him for his birthday.

My role through this time has been to support my sons and daughters-in-law as well as the babies, by helping to maintain a stable family, by showing unconditional love and by providing help whenever I could.

Jamie and Alex are both starting to talk, and now that we see Jamie much more frequently it's a joy to be with him, watching, as he goes through this wonderful life change. We know how difficult it is when you're working and trying to raise children to be self-confident, contribute to the country and build a life for themselves. We did it ourselves and we see our own children doing it now. We're lucky that we have been able to step back and create an unusual life here where we can support ourselves by growing food and raising chickens in the backyard, and where life has taken on its own enriching, gentler pace.

I see our life now as continuing along this simple path and being a stable support for our family, a helping hand outstretched every time it's needed. It is still our responsibility to provide leadership and care, but without interference. We expect Alex and Jamie's parents to provide most of what the boys need but one of the things we can provide is to show, by example, how to live simply, to appreciate what we have and to demonstrate, without doubt, that while the commercial world will throw all the gadgetry, gimmicks and glitter at them, this way of living provides clarity, enrichment and happiness. I have no doubt Alex and Jamie will benefit from all the new discoveries made during their lifetime, just as I have benefited from those in mine, but I hope they remember all through their lives that sustainability is equally important and that a wheelbarrow can also an instrument of change.

8 April 2013

Reemerging slowly

Oh boy. I haven't been that sick in over 35 years. I'm still not 100 percent fit but I'm vastly improved on how I was. I've had norovirus. I became ill suddenly on Wednesday night and by Thursday morning I was dizzy, had a fever, headaches and was incredibly tired. I couldn't eat, the smell of cooking food made me worse and I could only take a sip of water at a time. I survived for three days on fresh juice, ginger ale and water. Yesterday, I didn't feel as nauseous and I slowly ate a slice of bread with Vegemite and later in the day, a slice of bread with tomato. I was able to drink more too. Hanno bought me some lemon mineral water. Now, four and a half days later, I'm still dizzy and weak but all the other symptoms have gone and I'm much better than I was. 

As usual, Hanno looked after me and kept me going. He also looked after Jamie on Saturday and Sunday and kept us apart, with Jamie coming to the door to wave hello and when I felt better, he proved to be quite entertaining, although still well away from me. I'll be resting today but not in bed, thank goodness. It will do me good to sit on the verandah in the fresh air and catch up on my knitting in the lounge room.

For the ladies joining me in the list challenge, here is a tentative weekly list for me. It's very similar to last week's because I only got through half of last week's list. This is a good reminder though to not be too hard on yourself if you don't tick off all you want to. Some weeks are like that. Simply move it on to the following week and do what you can. I'm not adding anything new to last week's list. I think it will take all my time to get through what's there at the moment. I understand that you might not be in that position if you're caring for children or working outside the home, but always, do what you can, don't be too hard on yourself and don't aim for perfection.

  • Finish transfer the Down to Earth forum to another server.
  • Finish off the last few pages of the Milk ebook and send it in to be made into an ebook.
  • Read about how to create a newsletter in my email account.
  • Write notes for future workshops. 
  • Take photos for blog.
  • Make a cake or biscuits.
  • Sow seeds.
  • Knit - finish off my cotton shawl.
  • Tidy my desk.
  • Write my blog.
  • Read.
  • Organise my new book proposal notes.
  • Take an hour's break in the middle of the day.
I'll finish putting up the link list when I'm feeling better, so if you've sent me an email or comment, I'll get to it soon.

And lastly, I want to thank you all for your concern and good wishes. It never fails to surprise me how connected I feel to so many of you who I know just though your comments. It is a constant reminder how powerful the written word is.

5 April 2013

Seasonal changes at home

I've been very ill with a virus the past 36 hours. I wrote this blog the other day but couldn't get up to post it. I'll be back as soon as I can be.


It's changing here. The warm days are cooling slightly and at night we take advantage of flannel sheets, fluffy doonas and homemade quilts. The bed is always the first to signify the change of seasons, followed fairly closely by the slippers, food and our clothing. I find the older I get, the less I like the extremes of temperatures. There was a time when I worked much further north and didn't feel any adverse effects. There was I time I loved the coldness of snow and those climates that seem to be shrouded in mist for days at a time. Now I love cool but not cold temperatures, although I am looking forward to establishing a yearly winter trip to visit my sister Tricia, who lives in the Blue Mountains at Blackheath. It's wood fire country. We have hot tea instead of cold drinks and there life is mostly lived indoors during winter.

Back here in the sub-tropics, we're looking forward to a milder winter. It's still warm enough to grow vegetables but it is cold at night. Sometimes it goes down to 3 - 5C but luckily we never get frosts. If it were up to me, we'd be sitting beside a wood burning stove in the evenings. Unfortunately, Hanno hates wood fires so I have to make do with extra layers of clothing and my slippers. Do I whinge about that every year? 

I think my favourite aspect of ordinary life during the colder months is the food. All those soups, stews, porridge, hot scones and bread, and being in the warmth of the kitchen, cooking. I love cooking winter food. It fills a need in me to nurture my family and fill their bellies with nourishing hot food that will keep them going in the cold weather. Chopping vegetables and adding meat, chicken, lentils, beans, or barley to a hearty stock or a simple broth never fails to satisfy my soul. I love the smell of those rich foods wafting through my home. It's like a lifeblood running through us; it keeps us alive. 

A close second to the foods are winter crafts. I knit all year long but in winter I'm like a possessed woman, clicking away madly to create more woolly warmth for my family. It seems like important work to me. I love sitting with my knitting on a cold and wet Sunday afternoon, watching something like Vera, Time Team or The Sopranos on TV and if I can smell vegetable and barley soup cooking slowly on the stove then, you won't find a women more content than me.

What do you love about your current season?

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