29 May 2015

Weekend reading

It's planting and gardening time for many of us. I hope all the gardeners who are planting now have a great season. It's always an exciting time choosing what to grow and experimenting with various seeds.  Good luck and happy gardening!

Thanks for your visits and comments this week. They keep me going, even when I don't think I have the time to blog.  Enjoy your weekend. I'll see you again next week. :- )

The middle-class malaise that dare not speak its name
Against credit cards
Beautiful baby quilt tutorial
How to block a hat - knitting on You Tube
Dixi cup lights
Everything we own
Poachers killed half Mozambique's elephants in five years
I have become boring. And happy.
Quilters ironing board DIY
How to make blackboard/chalkboard paint
44 art studios
Cut and come again harvesting - You Tube

27 May 2015

Whole orange muffins

A good muffin recipe is as indispensable as a good scone recipe. It's something you'll use again and again, everyone loves it and it's quick and easy to make.  It's orange season here and I've got a lot of sweet organic oranges that are crying out to be used in some way other than being eaten fresh. So I made up a version of the whole orange cake recipe and made some whole orange muffins. They're delicious and have that genuine orange taste without any artificial flavours.

Whole Orange Muffins
1 washed orange, cut into quarters
juice and grated rind from 1 orange
1 large egg or 2 bantam eggs
½ cup melted butter

½ cup sugar

2 cups SR flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (helps boost the rise of the dense muffin batter)

  1. Place the orange, orange juice and rind in a food processor and process until the orange is completely mashed.
  2. Add the egg, butter and sugar and blitz again for 1 minute.
  3. Take the processor off the stand and pour the mixture into a bowl containing the sifted flour and baking powder.
  4. It's crucial at the point to not over-mix the batter. Gently mix the flour in until it is just combined, then stop.
  5. Add the batter to a prepared muffin tin.
  6. Cook on 180C until they smell cooked and look golden brown.
These are delicious when they're warm from the oven but can be still enjoyed for a few days if reheated in the microwave. They're just the thing for morning tea on the verandah and travel very well as school or work snacks. I hope you enjoy them.


25 May 2015

The powerful possibilities of a simple life

I look out the window and see Hanno digging in the front garden. He'll be tidying something up, or digging out roots or thinking about improvements that can be made. Inside, I'm looking out the window from my desk while I write, our lunch is bubbling away slowly in the oven, there are a few chores I'll do later in the day and all through the day we'll work together, satisfied to be here and thankful for the work we do on our own little piece of land. Our closed gate doesn't keep out all it should but it does symbolise to us that we are independent folk and we're capable of looking after ourselves and this land. We've created an extraordinary life here and we're free to do what we choose. That is a powerful feeling.

 Still plenty of oranges on this tree.
I found Harry! This was Kerry's when he was a baby. I washed him and gave him to Jamie.

Some people would probably think no one lives like this anymore. But here on our large block of land we have more than enough to keep us busy without going out. Hanno goes out much more than I do because he does the shopping most weeks. I give him a list of what we need and he buys it. When I do go out, which might be once a month or so, it's usually so I deliberately spend time out in the world where most people think the real living happens.

But I think real life happens here. Every day we're touching soil, reading the weather signs, cooking and baking from scratch. We don't use clocks much and most of the time I don't know what day it is. We don't need to know that now and it's easy enough to find out when we do. We produce as much as we can for ourselves so we don't have to buy too much and we're happy to stay productive and active. We have everything here we need and stepping into our backyard on any afternoon gives us the best entertainment you could hope for. The chickens are a constant source of amusement, birds visit us from local forests and for a quick visit on their migratory paths. Last night there was a beautiful possum in the chicken coop. We can sit on our bench in the sun and eat raspberries, or walk inside with an apron full of oranges to make the best drink in the world.

 Helping to harvest the elderberries.

Jamie came over yesterday as his parents were both working hard in the sushi shop. He's like one of us while he's here. He's just turned four but he wanders around in Hanno's slippers, he rounds up the chooks and sits with us in the sun, drinking tea. He loves helping and learning new things and we love showing him what we do. I think life will be tough in the future and it gives me a lot of pleasure knowing I'm leaving behind some books that my grand children and yours, and their children, can use as little maps to show the powerful possibilities of a simple life.


22 May 2015

Weekend reading

It's been a busy week again with more work than I thought I would have. The weather is a little warmer but there's no humidity so I don't mind at all.  I haven't blogged as much as I wanted to but there are few comments so I wonder who is reading. To all those who did comment, thank you, I appreciate you taking the time.

I hope everyone has time to relax and enjoy life over the weekend. Whatever you do, enjoy yourself. ♥︎

A fabulous bias binding/tape tutorial
How to clean the BBQ
How to live a middle-class life in New York City on less than $5,000 a year
Fossil fuels subsidised by $10m a minute
Pocket money, what you need to know
How to make a tutu
Backpack tutorial - advanced beginner's project
What If Everybody Didn't Have to Work to Get Paid?

20 May 2015

Simple meals from the stockpile

I spent the past few days travelling and working. We had a short trip to visit family on the weekend and now I'm back at the desk, writing. Meals have been very simple: pumpkin soup for two days and salmon fish cakes late last week. It's a good stand by pantry meal so I thought you'd like the recipe. I generally make it a different way almost every time I make it, using whatever I have in the stockpile and cupboard.  This time is was red salmon with a orange sweet potato instead of plain potatoes. It made a great change and I'll make sure I use the sweet potato again. 

1 large can red or pink salmon Alaska (415 grams)
1 onion, chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled, diced, cooked and mashed
½ finely diced capsicum/pepper
1 egg
salt and pepper
breadcrumbs - I used Panko

  1. Break up the salmon, discard the liquid and either remove the bones or crush them. I use them crushed in the fishcakes because they're very soft and they're a good source of calcium. 
  2. Mix in the rest of the ingredients and form into fishcakes.
  3. Coat in breadcrumbs and allow to sit in the fridge for an hour to firm up.
  4. Then add to hot oil in a frying pan and cook until both sides are golden brown.
I served ours with a garden salad, pickled celery and chilli jam. Delicious and very thrifty, this fed us for two meals at a cost of under $10.

I made another plum cake too. Hanno loves it and the season is short. Apart from that I'm not doing much except writing. I'm getting to the end of it now, three chapters to go, so I can see a time when I'll be back to being a full time homemaker with all that brings with it.

I've decided to make a list each day of short tasks I can carry out when I take a break from writing. On it today and for the rest of the week are:
  1. Prune hydrangeas and roses
  2. Water hanging pots
  3. Press tablecloths and napkins
  4. Bring in my new chair. Hanno painted an old wooden chair for me to use here in my work room. I'm giving up the office chair and getting back to an old kitchen chair with a seat pad on it.
  5. Make seat pad. I'll take a photo when it's in here. Hanno had painted it a beautiful pale chalky blue.
I've found that if I don't allocate time for certain things they don't get done and I feel like I'm not doing anything. I'm sitting all the time while I write so when I take a break I want to do something and this little list is just the thing to organise my thoughts and get through a few small things.

Around 4 o'clock it's so lovely outside. I get my little garden trolly and some clippers and I've been snipping here and there. The air is crisp, darkness comes early and the leaves are slowly falling. I hope you're enjoying your home today and that you're getting through the work you've planned for yourself.


15 May 2015

Weekend reading

Miss Tammy Wyandotte and Bluebelle snuggling up on a cold night.

It's cold. As I write this it's only 5C/41F but I won't complain. I just think back to that high humidity we had this summer and feel thankful that I'm not there now. This week I cooked more warming food and cut back on the salads, continued fussing over my work room, wrote thousands of words for the new book and watched Hanno tend the new vegetable garden. It's a lovely time of year.  I hope you had a good week too.

Hand Washing Your Dishes Could Be Better For Kids' Health
Sometimes I love blogs because of the words and sometimes for the photos. This one, Small Things, which is one of my constant joys, is loved for both. Enjoy your special life. I just love the photos of the children totally immersed in the natural environment surrounding them.
A picture of loneliness
42 percent of US honeybee colonies died off last year.
Simple solutions to clutter
20 Satisfying, Wholesome Lunches You Can Make the Night Before
Etsy might not change the world, but ...

14 May 2015

Down to Earth hardcover available soon on Amazon

I'm very pleased to let you know that my Down to Earth hardcover book will be available soon from Amazon. The books are currently on their way from Australia to the US but you can put in an order now and they'll bill you when book is posted. It won't be too long. Click here to go to the Amazon page.

It's been a long time coming. I know many of you were hoping to buy a copy so now is your chance. I'm very proud of this book and proud too that after three years, it's still selling well in the book stores.  My next and final hard cover book, The Simple Home, will be published in March next year. Then I'm retiring (really retiring) to live the good life and I think I'll continue to blog.


13 May 2015

Hot food on a cool day

I asked Hanno to buy some lamb neck chops for me last week and since then they've been sitting in the freezer ear-marked for Scotch broth. I made a thick version of it yesterday. I know it doesn't sound appetising but if we're not going to waste any part of the animals we slaughter for meat, neck chops must come into play at some point.  Lucky they are so delicious.  This is an old recipe I've been eating all my life. It's my mother's recipe but there is a very similar version in Maura Laverty's wonderful classic Irish cooking book, Full and Plenty.

For two people, you'll need four neck chops. If you can't find neck chops, look for forequarter chops. There isn't much meat on each chop so if you're a big meat eater, you'll need more. Trim the fat off the chops and cut up your vegetables.
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • the green top off a head of celery, or two sticks of celery, sliced
  • 2 carrots, chopped into chunks
  • 1 sweet potato
You can add other root vegetables such as swedes, turnip, parsnip if you want to.

You'll also need:
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ cup washed pearl barley
  • 1 ½ litres water, maybe more

You'll need a cast iron Dutch oven. If you don't have one, start the cooking in a frying pan and transfer it all to an oven proof dish with a lid for slow cooking in the oven. Neck chops are one of the cheapest cuts of meat and usually have a bit of gristle and cartilage. Long slow cooking dissolves that part of the meat and you end up with meat falling off the bone and dissolved nutrients, such as glucosamine, in the broth. You don't have to bother about making stock for your sauce either. You'll cook the meat on the bone with a lot of vegetables so you'll make stock as you cook.

Add a small amount of oil to the pot on the stove and start cooking the lamb. When they've browned, add the vegetables and allow them to get some colour.  All the colour you add at this point is extra flavour in the finished dish. When you have a bit of colour on the meat and vegetables, add salt, pepper and the paprika. Then add the washed barley and pour in the water.

The barley will thicken the broth and the more you add, the thicker it will be. Don't go overboard because it soaks up a lot of water. Put the lid on the pot, bring it to the boil and then place it in a preheated oven on 160C for about two hours.  Test taste for seasoning and add more if it needs it.

A cheap alternative to serving this with potatoes is to make herb dumplings. They're delicious and go really well with all sorts of stews and soups. Men love dumplings and even though these chops don't have much meat on them, with the addition of the dumplings, it's filling and delicious.

To make dumplings:
  • 3 cups SR flour
  • 2 tablespoons room temperature butter
  • enough water to make a dough - like a scone dough
  • salt and pepper
  • herbs - parsley, chives or whatever you like the taste of
Rub the butter into the flour, salt and pepper with your fingertips and when it looks like breadcrumbs, add the chopped herbs and enough water to make a moist but not wet dough.  Form the dough into balls and add to the broth in the last 20 minutes of cooking.

And that's it. A delicious and hearty meal for a very low price. I hope you try it.


12 May 2015

My work room

Virginia Woolf once said: A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. I'm not sure I agree with that but I do know that any creative activity is nurtured by a room of one's own.  I think the creative process is more than a space though. I know when I started writing my blog, I did so in our noisy lounge room and that was far from private or my own. Moving to another room gave me the impetus I needed to improve my blog writing and express my creativity in different ways. I was encouraged to commit to the work of the blog and the room itself gave me a place where I could sit and think before I typed. 

For over a decade I wrote on a second-hand, chipped, melamine desk that pinched my arms when I leant on it. I wrote Down to Earth and The Simple Life at that desk sitting on a third-hand chair. You're lucky you were out of ear shot because I let rip at that desk a few times.

And then I decided I needed a change and that I spent a lot of time at that desk and should enjoy being there. I talked to Hanno about it and started planning.

I've set up my room mainly for writing and sewing. I have my computer at one end and the sewing machine at the other. It's just the right combination for me.  I bought two small chests of drawers from Ikea and that is where most of my sewing, computer and writing accessories are. Two small kitchen tables, side by side, have given me enough work space to comfortably work at both ends.

When Tricia was here she tidied out my fabric stockpile cupboard. It feels good to have space for the fabric away from ribbons, lace, buttons and embroidery paraphernalia. As my grandmother would have said: a place for everything and every thing in its place. I wonder how long it will stay like that. I have good intentions, very good intentions, but with fast days slipping away towards deadlines, good intentions are sometimes not enough.  At least I know it won't take much to clean up.

That's the new book document on the computer screen. When I finish writing this chapter I have three more to write, and four more to read and approve the editing. It's been a tight schedule but I work better under pressure and the structured writing program has helped a lot. Otherwise I would have been faffing around making excuses to go into the garden or to sew for a while.

There will be time enough for all those things in July and beyond when the writing is complete and I return to being a full time homemaker. Then it will be a better balance of writing and sewing which I can imagine myself doing for a long time to come in this beautiful room we've created here.

But in all those years when I didn't have my own room I was still creative and looking for places to express it in a realistic way. You have to be able to do that until you have the good fortune to have a room of your own. If you look at two photos up, there is a wooden box at the end of the desk. I have that there because I'm making up a sewing kit to have in the lounge room. I want to be able to work there as well, especially when Jamie is here. If you don't have a space to call your own, claim some. All you need is a spot where there is a place you can sit and work on your crafts, or just to relax and have a cup of tea. There will probably come a day when you will have your own room, maybe like I did when your children leave home and there are spare bedrooms. In the meantime though, take time for yourself wherever you can to express your creativity, to plan your next work project or just to relax and calm down.
I haven't quite finished my room yet. There is still a bit of fluffing I want to do. But there is no need to rush, this room will be here for a long time.


11 May 2015

Using a steam press

Ironing has never been my favourite activity. For many years, there has always been washing waiting to be ironed in my home. Sometimes I'd do a burst of ironing and get through a basket or two and then it would sit accumulating again until we needed something in the pile. My ironing practices left a lot to be desired.

This year Hanno bought me a steam press for my birthday. It's a Bernina Domena, made in France.  I've had it for a month now and I love it. My ironing has never looked as good as it does now, not even when I had an ironing lady. There are some things I prefer using the iron on, mainly Hanno's good shirts, but I'm getting better and faster at prepping the shirts for pressing. The press has cut my ironing time down considerably, even though I'm now ironing things I didn't bother about before.  My aprons, tablecloths, pillow slips, table runners, napkins etc. all look crisp and beautiful.

The main difference when pressing instead of ironing is that you have to take your time preparing the item for pressing. That may be smoothing out the wrinkles on something flat, or it might be more involved if it's a garment. Preparation does take a bit of time but I'm getting faster doing it, and the pressing takes no time at all. I love how my knitted cardigans are looking, it does wool and cotton perfectly.  The settings range from wool, silk and delicates, through to cotton and linen and the steam function uses tap water. It's great using it for sewing too because you can press hems and seams in one press and they're straight and as sharp as a tack. It's a great gift and one I'll use every week.

Does anyone else have a press? If so, I'd love to hear your tips and tricks.


8 May 2015

Weekend reading

I'm feeling more comfortable as the weeks fly by. It's cool most mornings now and as I walk down to the chicken coop early every morning, trying not to get my Crocs too wet with the dew, I see the signs of autumn making way for winter.  This is my favourite time of year. 

This week has been taken up with writing, planting the first vegetable seedlings of the season, an odd trip to Costco, caring for Jamie, cooking and baking most days and the slow work of putting my work room together. I have drawers now, I never thought drawers would make me smile, but they do. I finally have places for all my sewing and knitting paraphernalia so it's off my desk and safely put away. It feels really good to walk into one's work space and see plenty of places to set out a project, mark a diary and sort things out. That kind of space is a true luxury to me. I hope you share that luxury with me.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone, and happy Mother's Day on Sunday to all the mums xx

Estiloy Deco - Spanish blog with photos of very pretty sewing rooms
And if you don't have a sewing room to store your things, you can use this very sweet idea at Moje Zielone Wzgorze, which I believe is a Polish blog.

7 May 2015

Buying rugs at Costco

Yesterday we went to Costco for the first time. I didn't know what to expect but I'd been looking around for two floor rugs and they had what I wanted for the best price. So in we went at opening time and it looked like people were there to do grocery shopping.  I thought it was like a department store warehouse but it's got a bit of everything, including fish, meat, groceries, giant baked goods, electronics, clothes and shoes.

After finding the rugs, we couldn't see the pattern I saw on the website so we went to get an assistant. She was useless and told me I couldn't have seen the rugs online because they don't have a website. Well, I did see them online and I asked if she could help us get to the  rugs at the back. "They're all the same," she said, reminded me they had no website, and left.  So Hanno and I kept looking and found the pattern we wanted but it wasn't the right size. We talked about it for a while, then decided to buy two that we managed to find in the disorganised heap.

 Here is a bucket of "multi purpose" cake mix.  LOL

We wandered around for a while looking at what else they had. I saw massive apple pies, huge muffins, giant packets of chips and chocolates. It was like being in a kid's fantasy. We bought some fresh snapper, smoked salmon, a big box of Quaker oats, a tray of croissants, six cans of Edgell corn and some spices. We'd been walking around for nearly two hours so on the way out we bought some morning tea. I asked for an iced coffee but Hanno came back with two hot dogs!  I never eat hot dogs. :- \  When I asked what had happened, he said he asked for ice coffee and they gave him hot dogs. He went back to get two coffees and came back with one, although he said he asked for two. LOL  The four people sitting next to us at the snack stand - people about our age, were all holding a quarter of a large pizza in one hand and an ice cream in the other. It was such an odd place! I'm still not sure what happened in there. I like the rugs though.

And here they are. One for the lounge room and one for my work room. I'll show you photos of my new work room new week. It's taking me a long time to get it ready, there are too many other things to do. 


6 May 2015

Renovating the verandah

Before we moved into our home here 18 years ago, we owned the house but had tenants in it. While we were still living up north, we contracted a concreter to jack-hammer out the old very small porch at the front door and then build a very big verandah. I like the old style of Australian living where houses in the hot areas had verandahs all around the house. That gave everyone a place to sit on hot days but also stopped sunlight falling on the windows, making a hot house even hotter.

The lesson we taught ourselves doing that was to never get a tradesman in when you're not there. The old little porch was left in and he concreted around it. We asked for tinted terracotta concrete and he lay grey concrete and painted it a strange colour somewhere between orange and pink. On top of that, Hanno asked for the concrete to fall away from the house and instead it falls towards the house. To pay for our stupidity, we lived with that colour and what he'd done for 18 years, then we noticed concrete cancer in two spots in old porch and decided that we had to do something about it.

In the old days we would have knocked this job over in a couple of days but now things take whatever time they take. We're okay with that because along with slowness, age also brings patience and understanding, and after 18 years we wanted the job done well.

Here are the new cushions Tricia sewed for my birthday. They're rabbits! The colour scheme blends in perfectly with the new floor colour and helps create a place we can all relax.  How's the serenity. 
;- )

We couldn't afford the ridiculous price for tiling the entire verandah so we settled for a tiled area at the front door. That cost just under $300, plus the cost of a tiler, the paint cost $200. It feels safe because the paint is non-slip and even when I water the plants out there and it's wet, I feel fine wandering around. I think Hanno did a really good job and I'm pleased to live with it for another 18 years. I'll be 85 years old then and I'll happily lift my skirt and dance a jig to celebrate not only my birthday but also 36 years living in our beautiful and simple home.

This is the little bench seat that sits right at the far end of the verandah.

It's such a peaceful place to sit and think or have morning tea and talk. I love having a shady outdoor area where we can gather to socialise or just rest between jobs. Have you had a job like this that you put off fixing for years?

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