Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Am I the Easter Grinch?

Easter's around the corner, and so the issue of Easter eggs is on my mind. This is quite apart from the ethics of chocolate, which you can read about in Elaine's blog.

For the last few years, my kids have come back from our family Easter get together with a swag of Easter eggs from their aunts and uncles as well as their grandparents. That's after they receive one from me and Action Man. These eggs get put in the pantry, and eaten little by little until at last they are forgotten and then finally chucked out.

The waste of money and resources has started to bother me over the last few years. So a few weeks ago I decided to lobby my three brothers for their families not to exchange Easter eggs with our family. Here's how that went:

Brother Number 1: His wife had already bought Easter Eggs for our kids. Sigh. I will need to reciprocate here after all.

Brother Number 2: All for it. Told me he normally chucked out the Easter eggs as soon as he bought them home in past years.

Brother Number 3: Finally agreed to the "no exchange of Easter eggs" policy, but only after calling me the "Easter Grinch".

There it is, one of the major obstacles for those of us who want to consume mindfully. I have to admit, being called the "Easter Grinch" stung, and I wonder how many of us are discouraged in thoughtful consumption simply because we have a horror of being seen to be miserly.

Mindful consumption is great, but what happens to our resolve when we butt up against the expectations of others, especially those others who are close to us who don't yet "Get it?" How can we explain that we aren't being tight, just trying to calibrate our use of resources?

P.S. Please be assured that Brother Number 3 is a great bloke, with an impish sense of humour. There is every chance he was merely taking the mick out of me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bread and bower birds

A few weeks I bought a sack of bread flour with the intention of starting to make my own bread.

Well, it’s taken a while, but here is my first loaf (there is another in the oven). The first loaf is crusty, fluffy and delicious, especially warm out of the oven with a dab of butter. And is there anything nicer than the smell of bread baking? I don’t think so.

I have to admit the process was aided by my bench mixer with a dough hook. I hummed and haahed for a long time about whether I should invest in a mixer and finally took the plunge when I found a mixer that had been substantially reduced. In only a few months, this bit of kit has proved it’s worth time and again, and making bread dough is a case in point. I simply put the ingredients in the bowl, fit and dough hook and let it rip for 15 minutes, while I get on with things like feeding the chooks, and cleaning up the kitchen. Knocking back and proving takes a bare 5 minutes, and then it is in the oven. The only demand on me is to be in the right place at the right time to take the dough through its stages.

The recipe I followed is one for a basic loaf from David Herbert’s “Complete Perfect Recipes”:


2 tsp yeast
11/2 cup tepid water
4 cups flour (I used 3 cups plain and 1 cup wholemeal plain)
1 tbls olive oil
½ tsp salt

Put the yeast into ½ cup tepid water and let it froth over ten minutes or so.

Put the flour and salt into a bowl, and add the yeast mixture, the rest of the water and olive oil. Mix until it makes a dough (you may need to add more water), then knead by hand or machine for 15 minutes.

Cover the dough and let it prove in a warm spot for 1 -1 ½ hours. Punch the dough down, knead briefly and then place in a two bread tins (or one large tin, or just place the loaf of dough on an oil baking tray). Bake in 200 degree oven for 35 minutes, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when knocked with your knuckle.

The other photo is of our friendly neighbourhood bower bird, after being removed from our fig tree, which is netted. How he got in the net, I don’t know.

This bower bird has been hanging around for a few years now. His bower is under some diosma just outside our bedroom window. And yes, it is decorated with bits of blue plastic to attract the females. I wonder what bower birds did their decorating with before the invention of blue plastic?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In the sewing room

When I resurrected this blog a few months ago I always intended to write about sewing, as I believe sewing is such an important skill to have. So far, I haven’t gone there, so here is my first overdue sewing post.

My mother, grandmother and aunts are and were all great sewists. A few yars ago, I put together a scrapbook of my life, and time and again I wrote captions on the photos which said things like “Mum made this dress/pantsuit/swimming costume/school uniform/wedding dress”. She is a great, technically fabulous sewist. I think the only things she would have bought me were socks and singlets. My grandmother was also excellent, sewing away on her treadle machine (she was an superlative knitter too).

Unfortunately, my sewing ability has been a late developing thing. Mum’s teaching style and my learning style just didn’t gel, regrettably. When I left home I bought a sewing machine, and did give sewing a bash, but the results were disappointing and I gave away any attempts to learn to sew. Over the last few years my sewing has been limited to curtains, soft furnishings and shopping bags!

When I finally had broadband internet connected 18 months ago, though, I discovered blog and blogging. More specifically, I discovered sewing blogs and the pattern reviewing site aptly named www.patternreview.com. I was so inspired by what I saw on these blogs and sites that I became motivated to give sewing another go. My other motivation was my pure frustration at buying age-appropriate clothes (not teeny bopper, not grandma) that fit me made in natural fibres that don’t cost a bomb. They don’t exist.

So what is on show above? This is my muslin of Burda shirt pattern 2561, which I am making as part of the Build a Bodice Muslin course on offer through the Pattern Review site. The course tutor posts a daily lesson, and as you go through each stage you post photos of your work for the tutor to critique. It sounds improbable, but it works a treat. I’ve learnt so much. Mind you the course tutor lives in Atlanta, Georgia and I live in southern NSW. The internet still boggles my mind sometimes.

E-learning like this is a boon to someone like me who lives nowhere near any courses like this and is learning things on her own. I’ve also done courses on skirt muslins and construction, and every course builds on my knowledge. I am by no means expert, and still regard myself as a beginner (the more you learn about sewing the more there is to learn), but I am proof positive you can teach a middle aged dog new tricks!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How to Make a Fruit Fly Trap

No, it’s not a pre-schoolers craft project, it’s a fruit fly trap.

I’ve been asked by miss*R to give directions on how to make a fruit fly trap. This is based on directions I found some years ago on the ABC website. I would love to give the original URL, but I can’t find it anymore there, so here goes:

To make the trap you need:

One empty 2 litre plastic bottle
Two 600ml plastic bottles
Cord or strong string
Scissors or knife

Cut the bottoms off the small plastic bottles
Make two holes on opposite sides of the large plastic bottle, about half way down the bottle.
Insert the bottle necks of the two smaller bottles into the holes, as shown.
Make two small holes on either side of the neck of the large bottle and thread through the cord or string and tie to make a loop,so the trap can hang in a tree.

There you go, a fruit fly trap. Now you mix up a mixture to attract the fruit fly. Into 1 cup of warm water I dissolve ½ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon vegemite ,1 teaspoon vanilla and about a cup of urine. Pour into the trap, so that it measures about 5 cms in the bottom of the trap. Top up with water if needed. You are ready to go. Check your traps regularly for signs of fruit fly, and top up when needed.

If your fruit fly problem is minor, the traps should be enough. If however, you are prone to major infestations, the traps will tell you when fruit fly are around, and you will need to supplement with regular spraying.

While we are on the topic, what to do if you get a major infestation despite the preventative measures? Pick up all the affected fruit, or any fallen fruit, just in case. Place in a plastic bag, tie it up and sit it in the sun for at least five days.

Best of luck.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Strawberry Guava Jelly

In our part of Australia, it can be hard to discern changing seasons, but keeping a fruit and vegetable certainly puts you in touch with the subtle changes. Nearing the end of summer, and two weeks ago I pulled out some spent vegies in the garden, ready for some autumn/winter veg. Today is a magic sunny day, not too hot, so I’ve been just digging compost, blood and bone and a touch of lime into the soil ready for the garlic, leeks, silverbeet, Chinese veg and brassicas I plan to plant this weekend (she says, with a definite tone in her voice!).

The other day I received a cold call from a local gym, offering me two weeks free membership. I said “Listen, mate, I’ve got a garden, what do I need the gym for?” No I didn’t really say that. I politely declined, like my mother and a dozen nuns taught me.

The end of summer has meant preserving time. Last year I wrote about making guava jelly, and I’ve just made a batch. Here’s my recipe based on advice from my mother-in-law, for my benefit as much as anyone else’s. It will help me to remember what I did when I come around to making another batch next year.

Strawberry guava jelly

Strawberry guavas, cut up
A couple of lemons or limes
White sugar


Place your strawberry guavas in a saucepan with the pith of one lemon or lime, and just enough water to cover.

Bring to the boil and simmer until the guavas are soft.

Can you picture a hanging Christmas pudding? We are going to do the same thing with the guavas.

Place a colander over a large bowl or jug ( I use a pyrex 2 litre jug). Line the colander with a large square of muslin cloth (about 1 metre square)

Tip the cooked guavas and water through the lined colander.

Gather up the muslin and tie with string so it looks like a Christmas pudding. You will need enough string to tie the “pudding” so that it hangs over the bowl without touching anything. Once the “pudding” is hanging you dispense with the colander. (I should have taken a photo of this - sorry).

Leave the juices to drip through the muslin for at least a few hours, or overnight. You will end up with deep red juice.

Give the guavas to the chooks.

Meanwhile, measure one cup of sugar to one cup of juice into a saucepan. Add the juice of one lemon or lime for each cup of juice.

Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to the boil and then simmer until the jelly reaches setting point. This varies, but I would start testing after 45 minutes or so. (Put a saucer in the freezer once the jelly starts simmering ready for testing. The jelly has reached setting point when a spoonful of jelly on the cold saucer wrinkles when you draw the end of a teaspoon through it). Test every 5 to 10 minutes until setting point is reached.

Put the jelly into hot sterilized jars.

We have heaps of guavas at the moment, and I am considering turning some into guava cheese to have as a sweetmeat at the upcoming Easter functions. I have a recipe for quince cheese, which I reckon I could adapt for guavas. (No quinces from our tree this year, alas). What I need though is concentrated, uninterrupted time at the stove to do this. If I can manage it, I will take photos and report back….

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Fruit Fly Fable

Once upon a time, there was a middle aged married couple who bought a block of land in the country. They dreamed of growing their own food, so one of the first things they did was plant lots and lots of fruit trees: citrus, stone fruit, figs, quince, apples and pears and lots of other fruit trees besides.
For three years they tended and nurtured their fruit trees, anticipating the fruit the trees would bear in the fourth year. The fourth year dawned, and sure enough, their fruit trees groaned with fruit. The couple was beside themselves and couldn’t wait to eat their lovely home grown fruit.
However, they didn’t do anything to prevent fruit fly, mainly because they didn’t realise what a menace it could be. Things went well until one day, they noticed peaches and plums going rotten and falling to the ground. It was a massive fruit fly infestation. It was, however, too late to do anything. So the married couple harvested the fruit, but instead of eating it, they put the fruit, kilos and kilos of it into big plastic bags to cook in the sun, and hopefully kill off the fruit fly.
In the fifth year, the married couple was determined not to let the same thing happen again. The man found an organic fruit fly spray and sprayed religiously. The woman made funny looking fruit fly traps filled with a cocktail of vegemite, sugar, vanilla essence and (ahem) urine.
They were happy to find that their fruit was fine, and they ate heaps of plums, peaches, figs and nectarines during the summer. The married couple congratulated themselves. “Seems we got on top of that one,” they said to each other.
Just as summer turned to autumn, though, the married couple took their children away for a few days. When they came back, they found the lemons that they had left on the bench before they went away were buzzing with - you guessed it - fruit fly. A quick check of the orchard found fly blown lemons, figs, feijoa and guavas. Again, they had to throw away a lot of fruit they had carefully nurtured, and again they were very sad.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Never, never, never let your guard down against fruit fly. They are the enemy.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

GFC starts to bite

I don't know about you, but I am finding evidence all around that the GFC is starting to bite. Despite my self imposed media diet, news of the GFC and its effects is still there, just speaking to people going about my daily business. I'm hearing of emptying order books, enforced holidays, slashed hours, halved incomes and one or two lost jobs. I get the sense that the pedal is going to hit the metal in a big way with regard to frugal living very soon. Many of us won't have any choice.
Sobering times....

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Pressing times

A week since the crush, it's now time to press the wine. We've borrowed a wine press from our neighbour (now if you want to know about living frugally and self-sufficiency, he's your go-to guy. Shame there is as much chance of him blogging as Kevin Rudd donning a tutu and guest performing for the Australian Ballet).
There is about 300 litres of fermented grape juice and skins currently in barrels to press. Pressing separates the juice and the skins. The pressed wine is then put into demijohns to mature for at least a couple of months. It's a bit of a process, with buckets and siphons and wine splattering everywhere.
Still, the wine this year is looking good this year. The ferment has gone well, we think, and the colour of the wine is spot-on. This is very encouraging, after last year's effort, which was a complete dud.
We'll be away for a few days, so I want to get a few other jobs done before we go.
Today I'll be making green tomato chutney after having pulled out all the tomato bushes from the garden the other day. I planted at least ten tomato bushes this year, and every single last one of them were complete disasters. I'll have to consult my books to figure out why. The only decent bush was a cherry tomato that self seeded in the front garden. The growth on it was fabulous, and we harvested heaps of cherry tomatoes even though we worked not one second on it, unlike it's coddled cousins around the back. Ironic, isn't it?
I'll also be blanching some broccoli for freezing. It's ready to eat right now, and if I don't pick it and deal with it, it will go to waste.
The media blackout continues, and will do so for at least the next few days. I've even decided not to bother buying the Saturday broadsheets for the first time ever. I am really not missing it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Media crash diet

I am a bit of a news junkie. When I am at home it is my habit to have ABC Local radio or Radio National going on in the background. In the car, the same. This means I listen to a constant stream of news and current affairs.
As we all know, the news for the last few months has been concerning to say the least. Downright depressing is probably more apt.
So, while I may be well-informed, I've found my mood directly affected by the dire descriptions of where the world is heading.
This morning it all got too much. For the umpteenth time, I woke to Global Financial Crisis news on the clock radio. That's it, I thought, I've had enough negativity, especially first thing in the morning. So, I've gone cold turkey and I've switched off the radio. For a couple of hours now, I have been listening to pure silence. I can't remember the last time I did that.
The effect has been immediate. The tension I didn't realise I held behind my eyes has gone. I know there is bad news out there, but I am not allowing myself to be constantly assaulted by it. I'll keep the radio switched off today, and tomorrow....and let's see how long I can do this for. I'll probably allow myself a daily ration of news, but not for a while yet.
It occurs to me that media, like anything else, needs to be consumed mindfully and selectively.
What earthly good does it do anyone to be reminded of the mayhem in the world on an hourly basis?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In the garden

Rhonda and Julie have been blogging about getting busy in the garden in preparation for winter. It’s been in the back of my mind that I should be doing the same thing. The problem is lack of space, as this summer I overdid the curcubits and they have taken over. Memo to self: do not plant pumpkins in the vegie patch next year. Plant them somewhere else.
Later I was walking past the vegie patch and was looking at the two main space offenders, a Lebanese zucchini and a yellow squash. They really have to go, I thought. The vegetable to space taken ratio was way out of whack and it was time to sacrifice them. And although I had no plans to do so, I then thought, “now is as good a time as any”, so for the next TWO hours, I pulled out TWO plants. Another memo to self: Give Lebanese zucchini a wide berth next season.
I also did a general tidy up, and had a bit of a harvest: lettuce, beans, cucumbers, green tomatoes for some chutney and beetroot. I also noted that the first harvest off four broccoli I planted in January are ready to go.
In the fruit department, I picked 18 figs and five enormous lemons. When I got back to the house, I cut up a dozen figs for my favourite treat, fig jam. And I’ve just made a batch of pesto. So, my wander past the vegie patch (I was on my way up to the shed to give the fermenting grape juice a stir) ended up being a four hour working bee.
It was great to have a big block of time in the garden. Lately, between extreme temperatures and heavy rainfall, I’ve only done work up there in short sharp bursts. Now, time to get cracking with winter planting.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Grape picking day

Saturday we had a great day for our now annual Grape Picking Day and Lunch. Ten adults, including my parents, brother, uncle and aunt and some of my cousins drove from fairly distant places to help. That in itself is wonderful. We worked for three hours picking the grapes while Action Man worked the crusher to produce a whopping 450 litres of shiraz and chambourcin grape juice. Then we all gathered for a well-deserved long lunch. The food was great, and we had enough (see previous entry regarding my not-enough-food phobia), so I was happy!

The camaraderie that results from a group of people getting together to achieve something for no direct personal gain, is one that you find only seldom these days. You get it with volunteering I suppose. I can imagine in times past this was quite common. Despite the work involved, it is certainly a day we all look forward to.

In a couple of weeks’ time we will have another Grape Picking Day, this time at my uncle’s place. His day is much bigger as he has so many more grapes to pick. Again, the extended family and assorted friends will gather for a very satisfying day. Our family is so blessed to be able to connect in this way.

After the picking, Action Man turned the kitchen into a bit of a science lab as he figured how much of what substance to add to the grape juice to get fermentation going. The fermentation is now well underway, and the glug-glug-glug sound emanating from the drums is quite evocative really!

On Sunday I was pleased to welcome a friend from school days and her husband and kids for lunch. Even though we haven’t seen each other for a few years (although we’ve exchanged a couple of emails), it was reassuring to find she was exactly the same, and we slipped into conversation just as easily as if we’d only met last week.

What a fabulous weekend!
hmmm...I haven't been able to figure out how to publish pictures within the text. If anyone out there can point me in the right direction as to how I can attempt this feat I would be grateful! My email is greengrowatlivedotcomdotau.