Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Greetings and bye for now

I thought I'd introduce you to a local identity, Sheepie. Sheepie takes on many personas and makes occasional appearances in his front yard, occasional because he has been sheepnapped before. During footy finals, he dresses up as a footy player. When the council was working on the road outside his house he dressed up as a road worker/lollipop man. The council blokes even parked their digger in his yard and he was up there operating it. A few weeks ago, when we were deluged with rain, and the whole area was turning into a lake, he was halfway up a tree with a snorkel. His latest guise is as Santa Claus going down a chimney. Although I couldn't get it in the photo, there is a sign nearby saying "Build it and he will come". And that is only some of the many faces of Sheepie. He even has a Facebook page! I don't know Sheepie's owners, but I often thank them silently for bringing a smile to my face.Heaven knows at times that smile has been hard to find recently!
I post this photo by way of saying an early Happy Christmas to all my blog readers, because it is my intention that I will take a break from blogging from now until schools go back here at the end of January .
The last few months have been manic to say the least, and I really feel the need to have a rest. Physically, I've been battling a painful back since my ill-fated flirtation with running earlier this year, and I really would like to reclaim some fitness over the summer break. More than that, though, with my son starting high school next year, and my daughter in 2012, there is a feeling in the air that changes are afoot. My role in life is surely changing, and my intuition is I need to clear the decks. I'll spend the next couple of weeks just doing things I enjoy and mulling over what is important to me, and what that means to how I spend my time
I will also be thinking about this blog, and what I want to do with it in the future. Will I keep blogging in the manner I've done to date? Change the emphasis? Start a new blog on new topics? Or stop blogging altogether? We'll see.
I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to comment on this blog, especially over the last few months. This is such a small blog, a speck of moondust in comparison to all those bright shining stars in the blogoverse out there, but it doesn't feel so small to me when so many kind people make contact. You are the reason I've blogged til now. Thank you all again.
Blessings and good wishes to all for 2011.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Easy Christmas Cake

Okay, so finally, in between the farewells, and thank you morning teas, and birthday get togethers, and Christmas parties, and Orientation Day, and Presentation Assembly and Graduation Assembly, and Graduation Dance, and volunteering for the above, and swimming carnivals, not to mention paid work and the work I do around here... a window of opportunity opened yesterday to make this year's Christmas cake.

When I mused about not having done anything regarding Christmas, Libby kindly suggested that I don't do the cake and the pudding this year, as we mums try to do too much sometimes. I agree with you, Libby, so I put my lack of time case to my mum and she volunteered to do the pudding this year. I don't think she minded one bit. But I like baking, and seem to have so little time to do things I like these days, that I really wanted to make the cake.

This is a really easy cake. Boil and bake, no fiddling about with creaming butter. The best part: everything is made in one saucepan. I love that. Here it is:

An Easy Christmas Cake

300 g butter

400g brown sugar

900g mixed fruit - I used a mixture of raisins, sultanas, glace cherries, currants, prunes and dates.

2 tsp bicarb of soda

1/2 cup rum or brandy

1 1/2 cups water

2 tsp each ground nutmeg and ground cinnamon

4 eggs

2 1/2 cups wholemeal plain flour

Melt the butter and sugar together in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Tip in the fruit, and give it a good mix. Add the bicarb, rum/brandy and water. Stir and bring to the boil. When the mixture is at the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Take off the heat and let cool completely. Add the eggs, spices and flour to the fruit mixture. Stir well, and place in a 23cm springform pan, lined with a double layer of baking paper. Cook for at least 2 1/2 hours at 150 degrees,or until a skewer comes out cleanly.

You could decorate your cake with nuts before baking - I used almonds.
Now, it's time to get on with Christmas shopping. When is Christmas again?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Catch up gardening

Heaps of rain, busy work schedules and general silly season ridiculousness has kept me out of the vegie garden for weeks now. It's been dying for attention, and this morning it got some.
It wasn't a pretty sight up there. The snails have been sliming amok. The weeds are rampant. My lettuces have been turning to sludge. Not good.
So, in soupy humidity, this is what I did this morning:
  • Pulled out a heaped wheelbarrow full of weeds.
  • Took wheelbarrow up to compost heap. Dumped weeds and replaced with compost. Noted that those little fruit stickers don't break down. Is it too much to expect that stickers on fruit are compostable?
  • Took compost back to garden and spread into empty areas for replanting.
  • Picked dozens of snails off leeks, silverbeet, garlic and lettuce. Put in bucket and took down to ducks.
  • Went with bucket into sheep paddock to pick up manure (ah, the glamour!). Not much to pick up. The rain is probably breaking it down quickly.
  • Spread manure on garden.
  • Pruned grapevines and took prunings over to sheep - they lerve grape leaves.
  • Back in vegie garden, topped up mulch. Again, I think the rain is causing the mulch to break down faster than normal.
  • Noted sad state of cucumbers, eggplant and capsicum. No obvious problems with disease or pests, just very little growth in two months since planting.
  • Up to worm bin to get castings to make casting tea to give these sad sacks a bit of a perk up.
  • Fed vegies worm casting tea.
  • Made up Dipel spray to spray on the cabbages.
  • Harvested zucchinis and silverbeet.
  • Fed chooks and ducks spoiled lettuces. Sigh, will have to buy lettuce for the next couples of weeks.

Two hours was quite enough for me, but fortunately that was enough to make things in the vegie garden respectable again.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sweet victory

Regular readers of this blog will know of my "thing", my long-running battle, with fruit fly, and my goal of eating my own stone fruit. This year I've pruned, sprayed and bagged in a last stand attempt to grow stone fruit and EAT them, instead of relegating them to garbage bags in the sun to kill fruit fly larvae. If after all the effort, we end up with fruit fly again, the next step will be a massive prune with a chainsaw.
Well, as you can see, we have sweet victory. These are only some of our own nectarines, none of which are fruit fly affected. Yay!
The taste is unbelievable. These nectarines are unbelievably sweet and juicy and as different from shop bought nectarines as Mickey Mouse is from Marilyn Monroe. Totally worth the fuss of growing and nurturing.
Having said this though, the real test will be in the new year when the later maturing varieties start to ripen. Then, we'll really know whether we have conquered the dreaded little buggers. Meanwhile, these beauties are a good sign that we might be on the right track..

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Mum, dad and the kids

It's been ridiculously busy around here lately. Normally, my casual teaching work starts to dry up around now which leaves me free to do some good stuff. This year, I am still hard at it. And over it. I'm dying for the holidays.
Not much has been happening in the spades and spoons department. Even if I wasn't working, I wouldn't be doing much outside, it's been SO wet. As for cooking, I'm still doing that. However busy I am, I always cook the evening meal, mainly of the 30 minute wonder variety. And I've kept up the breadmaking. But I'm w--a--yy behind in the Christmas cooking, to be more precise I haven't done any. I'm wondering if this year I should cut myself some slack and forget about the pudding and the cake.
The 15 ducklings of the last post are providing much joy in this headless-chook time. Amazingly, all have survived - so far. This photo was taken early on. Mum is the Indian Runner duck. Dad is the short-squat duck. Yes, the mind boggles how they managed it, right?
Cute as the ducklings are, the prospect of 18 grown ducks in the backyard is one that I don't care to contemplate, especially given I was thinking 3 ducks were quite enough, thank you. Thoughts are turning as to what to do with them. My 10 year old is lobbying to keep them, or at least to give some away to her friends . She assures me that ALL her many friends want to adopt a duck. I doubt ALL their parents agree.
Action Man, and my parents are having thoughts along the lines of Duck a l'orange, Roast Duckling, Duck fat roast potatoes, Red Curry Duckling. Yes, but who will do "the deed" and then the cooking, not to mention eating? I'm too emotionally involved to do either.
It's a bit of a conundrum. Meanwhile Mum, Dad and the kids waddle around and delight us with their antics.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

15 Ducklings

Little things have been niggling lately. In my last post, I was bemoaning my moulding coffee beans. My last couple of days at work have been quite challenging, not to mention exhausting. Outside work, things have been crazy-busy and I'm longing for a chance to do some stuff I enjoy. Christmas is around the corner and this year I don't want to know. I've been feeling a bit peevish, and fear I'm turning into a grump.
Fortunately, in a nick of time, our Indian Runner duck hatched a clutch of 15 eggs, our first batch of ducklings ever. It's impossible to stay peevish when you watch the antics of these little cuties as they cavort around the yard.
Grumpiness averted!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Coffee beans

This year is looking to be our best crop yet with coffee. We've already harvested quite a bit, and there is still more to go out there.
The problem we are having this year is that the cool, wet weather is playing havoc with our attempts to process the beans. After husking the berries, we have been leaving the beans in the sun to dry out. This only works if you have sun for a few days at a stretch. Consistent sunshine has been at a premium around here the past few weeks. And it doesn't help when someone, okay me, leaves the beans out overnight and there is a big downpout. Back to square one.
So the beans aren't drying out, and instead are going mouldy. We tried been putting them in a very slow oven, but even the lowest temperatures seem to be too high, and instead of drying, they are cooking.
I'm conscious that I've been chronicling a lot of failures and challenges in the garden lately. I'm trying to see the bright side of things, really I am. But sometimes, in life and the garden, you get a run of outs.
Here's hoping for some more cheery news next time

Friday, November 12, 2010

Too much water

Man alive. Has it been wet here lately. We've had a couple of late-afternoon tropics style downpours this week, on top of weeks of constant rain. The ground is absolutely saturated, so any new rainfall immediately forms enormous puddles.

Since we moved here in 2003, we've only had to deal with dry conditions. Looking longingly for rain year after year, it never occurred to me you can have too much of the stuff. You can.

Check out the garden. The weeds have run amok. The grapes are succumbing to fungus due to the extraordinary humidity, and it's too wet to spray. My valiant attempts to get one step ahead of the fruit fly have come to naught. Again, too wet to spray.

Over in the vegie patch, not much is happening. The seedlings I planted a few weeks ago have hardly moved, because until only a few days ago, it's been pretty cold too. The tomatoes are only about a foot tall, but are already fruiting, which is a bad sign. I've knocked off the tomatoes in an attempt to get them to put on some more growth.

The snails and slugs are having the party of the century, at the expense of whatever is in the garden. I've had to replant beans twice thanks to these blighters. Action Man picked up a bucketful of snails out of the agapanthus and fed them to the ducks. The sight was of a bucketful of snails was...mmmm..unusual. The sight of the ducks in a frenzy tucking into those snails was hilarious.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to raise seedlings for the first time. They've put on the first two leaves and stopped, and I have no idea why.

The only thing that seems to be thriving is the mushroom box.

Hope all your gardens are thriving...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Issues with mulberries

Mulberries are causing me issues at the moment:
1) Age old problem of getting mulberry stains out of kids' clothes. I've tried using glycerine, as advised by Shannon Lush in Spotless. Purple stains reduced to small blue dots on fabric. Sigh.
2) At one of the schools I teach at, there is a big mulberry tree whose branches trail into the playing oval. Unfortunately, this tree belongs to a crochety old man who lets fly with the language at the kids, as they pick his mulberries. It is the thankless task of the teacher on duty (ie. more often than not - me) to keep the kids away from said tree. This turns you into a crochety old woman. Double sigh.
Still, we love our mulberries, although the cool spring weather has meant that they aren't as sweet as normal. I'll stew this lot up with a tablespoon of sugar, and we'll have them to eat with some baked custard tonight after we get home from swimming club night. (That is, if it is on. Talk about rain the last few days!)
Hope you all have fab weekends.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


We have about 100 shiraz, merlot and chambourcin vines out the back, as well as 5 vines growing under the verandah eaves around the house. A lot of vines, a lot of vine leaves.
I've thought that I should try and make dolmades for a long time. Today was the day.


About 30 vine leaves
2 finely chopped onions
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup currants
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/3 cup basmati rice
salt and pepper
Juice of a lemon

Blanch the vine leaves for one minute in boiling water and leave to drain.
Soften the onions in about half the olive oil over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the currants, pine nuts, parsley, and rice as season with salt and pepper. Add a cup of water, bring to the boil and simmer covered for about 5 minutes or so or until the water has been absorbed. Leave to cool.
Line the bottom of a large saucepan with a couple of the leaves.
Take a vine leaf,(cut out the thick centre if needed), put two teaspoons of mixture at one end. Fold over the two sides, and roll from one end to make tight little parcels.
Cover the dolmades with a cup of water and the lemon juice. Put a small plate over the dolmades. Simmer for about 45 minutes (I did these in the pressure cooker at low pressure for 7 minutes).

Thanks again to all those who left comments for my 200 posts blogmark. It seems that incognito blogging is quite common, and that the question of how much or how little to reveal on your blog is a dilemma for writers everywhere.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

200 Posts

This post marks my 200th post blogmark.
Reaching this blogmark has naturally got me thinking about blogging.
Firstly, even though I have been blogging for nearly three years, only a very few family and friends know I blog. I am happy for people I have never met to read about me, but not people I know. What does this say? Is this just me, or is this common?
Secondly, sometimes I wonder whether I should reveal more or less personal stuff in my blog posts. I find this a difficult line to draw. On one hand,the blogs that resonate most with me write openly and honestly about all sorts of issues. On the other hand, I am old enough to guard my privacy and that of my family (who didn't ask to be blogged about) tightly. Where do you draw the line? I'd be interested to read your thoughts.
Thirdly, checking out my stats, by far the most page views are generated by a single post I made in March 2009 on making strawberry guava jelly. Fortunately, world domination in blogging has never been a particular goal. For me blogging is a creative outlet (and it also acts as an on-line diary for me. It's amazing how often I refer back to my own posts for recipes and the like). The other pleasing part about blogging is the comments I receive from the blogging community: "regulars" such as Linda, Tracy, Libby and Emily as well and others from time to time. I write with you in mind, and love to read your comments, as well as check out your blogs, even though I don't always comment as much as I'd like. Thanks for your interest in my blog, it definitely keeps me motivated to continue when at times I've thought of stopping.

So, blogging? Why do you do it? I'd love to know.

China Kidz Christmas Project

I've just signed up for the China Kidz Christmas Project being organised through Notes from the Frugal Trenches here. Frugal Trenches has some friends who care for orphans in China, and she is organising blog readers to knit, sew or crochet warm winter clothes, or simply buy a toy, all of which are sorely needed by the children. It sounds so simple and worthwhile. Please check out Frugal Trenches' blog, and volunteer to join in if you feel able.

Edited to add: I've just redone the link above, so hopefully it is working now. If not, click on the link to Note from the Frugal Trenches in my Bloglist at left, and check out the post from October 29.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The impossible tomato

Last summer, we had a tomato grow from a crack in the concrete at the bottom of our front steps. It ended up being our highest yielding tomato bush ever. The summer, we have this contender, growing with no visible means of support from a crack between the house and the verandah. I don't have high hopes for this bush, because it only gets minimal morning sun whereas last year's impossible bush got lots of sun. But, hey, when it comes to gardening, I am constantly being proven wrong, so why listen to me?
I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Swallows have built this nest under the eaves, right over our front door. Cute. Now parenting some tiny birds, I get to spend a portion of every day cleaning swallow poo off my front door step. Not so cute.
I was starting to get exasperated, when my mother came to visit the other day. I pointed out the current bane of my life. Her reply? "That's lovely!" Why? According to her, in Italy they believe that swallows only build nests under the eaves of happy homes.
Well, okay then. I'm slightly mollified. They can stay. I only wish they didn't build their nest where they did.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fruit Fly foes

If there is one thing that makes my eyes cross, it's Queensland fruit fly. My nemesis.
Our fruit trees are seven years old, and in that time, we have tried all sorts of things to stop these little pests in their tracks. This year, we are going the belt-and-braces method. ie. we are throwing everything at these trees that we can. So, here is a Japanese plum (can't remember the variety - Mariposa perhaps?) It is covered with small developing fruit. Firstly, we had the trees pruned in winter so that the tree is a manageable size so that we can use exclusion bags effectively. Secondly, I've hung a fruit fly trap, seen here dangling on the left. The mixture in the trap consists of warm water, sugar, vegemite, vanilla and urine. I'll let you join the dots on my devotion to this task yourself. Thirdly, I've been spraying the tree with spinosad (an organic compound), and will keep this up weekly until harvest around Christmas.
Action Man reckons we should spray with nasty chemicals as a last resort. My thinking is that if we do this, we may as well buy our fruit. Heaven knows, it will probably be cheaper.
If all this fails, and we still don't get to eat any fruit this year, but are sending bags of rotting fruit to the tip, the next step is a chainsaw.
I think the problem is our insistence on growing stone fruit in an area where fruit fly is endemic. Sometimes retreat is the best way forward.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Who ate my cheese?

An update on the camembert cheese I made at a cheesemaking course a few weeks ago.
After a few weeks of tending the cheese - mainly changing the ice brick in the esky morning and night, taking it with us to Sydney when we went up there for a few days, and turning the cheese every couple of days - we ate the cheese the other night when we had visitors to stay.
It was good! It tasted just like a real camembert. Quite chuffed overall.
I have plans to make a batch of cheese at home , but I don't think this will happen until the school holidays at least. I'll need to source some non-homogenised milk to start with, and then I'll need to clear 4-5 hours during the day to make the cheese. I don't see this happening for a while.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Woolly jumper...done!

Woolly jumper wearing weather has passed us by, I'm afraid, but here is my first ever jumper..done! More amazingly, I finished it in about 6 weeks. A miracle, considering every other thing I've ever attempted to knit has ended up as an unfinished object.
It may not be cutting edge fashion, but it's toasty warm, and I'm looking forward to next winter to give this jumper a run...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Holiday from motherhood

Strange couple of days around here. Action Man and the kids have gone to Queensland to visit my mother-in-law and I've been home alone.
I haven't been alone so long since before our son was born nearly thirteen years ago. In those days, I spent a lot of time alone because AM was then a ship's captain in the Navy, and was away a LOT.
I can't remember how I spent all those weekends alone (during the weeks I was working), but I do know I didn't appreciate then the luxury of having all that time entirely at my own disposal, with no responsibilities to anyone but myself.
So what have I done? I spent a lot of time sewing (made myself a pair of pants), reading and gardening. Went walking every day, and have had a couple of long yoga sessions. Cooked vegetarian meals. Played my music very loud, and watched a couple of DVDs. I feel like I've been on holiday, and have not felt lonely for a second.
Having said that, I am looking forward to picking up the kids at the airport tomorrow. (AM is off to Darwin for his birthday present fishing trip). Much as I have enjoyed the novelty of 72 hours without demands on my time, by tomorrow I know I will be glad to have my world back to normal...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pumpkin Tea Bread

In my continuing quest to use up the pumpkin, I made this Pumpkin Tea Bread. It's a bit of a plain Jane in looks, but if this was scratch'n'sniff blogging, my goodness! It smells divine thanks to lavish amounts of spice.
The method is easy as, and come to think of it, is just the same as making muffins. Dry ingredients mixed together, wet ingredients into dry, mix and bake. Simple.

Pumpkin Tea Bread

1 cup wholemeal plain flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup sultanas
1 cup roughly chopped walnuts (or almonds, or hazelnuts)
1 1/2 cups grated pumpkin
2 eggs
1/2 cup light olive oil
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven 180 degrees. Butter and line a loaf tin.

Mix together the flour, spice, baking powder, spices, then tip in the sultanas, nuts and pumpkin. Give it all a good mix so that everything is well combined. In a jug, whisk the eggs, oil, vanilla and milk, and add to the dry ingredients. Another good mix, then into the tin and oven for 1 hour or thereabouts.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pumpkin chutney

Note to self: this year plant Queensland Blue pumpkins, not Jap. They seem to store better.
The race is on to use up the remaining Jap pumpkins, before they end up only fit for worm food (which if they have to end up anywhere, is as good a place as any).
I'm partial to chutney, so was keen to try this recipe for Pumpkin Chutney found in Sally Wise's "A Year in a Bottle".

Pumpkin Chutney

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped,
1 cooking apple, cored and chopped
500g pumpkin, chopped
10 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 cup water
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 tablespoon salt
125g sultanas
500g brown sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Heat the oil in a saucepan, and saute the onion, apple, pumpkin and garlic for 5 minutes or until soft. Add the rest of the ingredients, and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower heat to bring to a simmer, and cook for 45 minutes or so, stirring occasionally to prevent it catching on the bottom.

Decant into warm sterilized jars.

Apparently this will keep for a year. If it lasts that long.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sinking feeling

If it's not one thing it's another.
Had plans today to order fruit fly exclusion bags for the stone fruit. Yesterday I checked out the trees and the fruit set has been pretty good!
But we might not be needing exclusion bags after all. Casting my eye over the blog just now , I see in the side bar a post from last year "How to make Bordeaux mixture". Bordeaux mixture is an organic mixture you spray on your stone fruit before bud burst. It's meant as a preventative to leaf curl.
I realised then with a sinking feeling that we forgot to spray this year. Life just got too busy in August and that one passed me by. Leaf curl - definite possibility.
Dang! Will we EVER get to eat our own peaches?

[Edit - All's well.When I shared this realisation with Action Man, he replied something like "My dear, while you have been impersonating a headless chook over the last month or two, I've been quietly going about my business, including spraying the fruit trees for leaf curl. " No wonder I call him Action Man. He's a keeper.]

Monday, September 27, 2010

Spring has definitely sprung

This is my favourite time of year in the garden. So much is in flower at the moment, and the scents wafting around are just gorgeous. Photos courtesy of my daughter (**Parental brag alert**- my daughter has had a photo shortlisted as a finalist in the Moran Photographic Prize in the primary schools section. To check out the finalists, go to ).
[Grumpy aside here...why, why, why does Blogger make it so hard to upload multiple photos. Also, once I upload them, why is so hard to move them around. I'd love to do more multi-photo posts, but the frustration isn't worth it. Am I doing something wrong?]

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Who made my cheese?

That would be me..
I've been musing for a while about learning to make cheese and yesterday, I did it. I took a one day workshop to learn to make camembert and ricotta. Above is a picture of my take-home cheese, a camembert soaking in brine, before being stored in an esky for a few weeks to develop that characteristic white mold exterior.
The workshop was held at Small Cow Farm at Robertson in the Southern Highlands. It was very much hands-on, and a lot of fun. We all got to take home a cheese which we will tend over the next few weeks before we get to eat it. Can't wait to eat it with some home-made wine!
I'm keen to have a go and make some more, but I'll have to navigate my way through a few obstacles. 1) I'll have to try and source some non-homogenised milk, which is necessary for cheesemaking. Homogenised milk doesn't cut it. I think I'll have to of approach the dairies around here directly. 2) I'll have to pick my day when nothing else is happening, and I can stick around the kitchen for a few hours - these days are few and far between for me. Cheesemaking is a bit of a long drawn out process, so I'll have to pick my time well.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Woolly jumper

Brrrr. When I started this jumper a few weeks ago, I thought it's first wear would be next winter. But the chilly winds are still around, and I seem to be getting through this much faster than anticipated thanks to the chunky yarn and big needles. Who knows, I might get to wear it in the tail end of this winter.
This is my first ever attempt at a jumper and I'm quite pleased with how it's going. Deciding to knit a jumper was one of those things I just fell into. I was in the yarn section of the local Spotlight looking for yarn to finish this blanket. Couldn't find any yarn I likedfor the blanket, but did see some Patons Inca yarn that I did like. Wandered over to the patterns, and found a pattern for a classic sweater in the Patons Learn to Knit book, just what I had in mind and it didn't look too complicated for me. Bought the book, but held off on the yarn.
Went home and got onto ebay where I got the yarn for $2.80 a ball, a lot less than I would pay in the shops. When you haven't knitted anything before, you don't want to invest heavily in the materials in case it turns into a schemozzle.
So here I am, and I'm feeling confident, although the neckband looks at bit complicated. I've read the instructions and can't make them out. Here's hoping that it will all make sense when I get to that bit...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Spring, compost and other things

Every year from about August to November I tend to go missing in action from this blog. I've been teaching as many hours as there are available for most of this term, so spare hours to do anything blogworthy, let alone blog about them, are at a premium. By some miracle I only got booked for a half day today so here I am.
Typical spring weather here - balmy one day, blustery the next. Getting organised to plant up the vegie patch, mainly spreading old sheep manure and compost about. You could smell the fertility of the compost, fantastic stuff.
I've been also planning what to plant. Even though we have five acres here, vegie garden space is limited, because our property sits on the side of a hill - very little flat space. The only flat space is around the house, and up next to the shed. That's it. Our vegie patch is about 36m2. It's very productive, but I have to be choosy about what to plant. I would love to build more vegie beds so can grow things like artichokes, asparagus and strawberries. Unless I get the earth mover in, though, it ain't happening.

So, what to plant: going on my experience from the last few years, here is what I am thinking:
-Plant more lettuces than I think we need. We always eat them.
- Don't bother planting cherry tomatoes - a self seeded plant always pops up somewhere.
-Plant tomatoes much further apart than I think they - I tend to plant too close.
- Don't plant pumpkin in the vegie patch!
- Only one eggplant as I am the only one who appreciates them.
- Ditto beetroot - limit.
- Plan for successive plantings of beans.
-Experiment with climbing beans this year, to save space.
-Plant cucumbers up a trellis this year, again to save space.
- Raise seedlings.
- Don't forget basil - I did last year to the chagrin of my children who live for pesto.

That's the plan. Now, I just need a bit of time to get cracking. School holidays can't get here too quickly.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Spring around the corner

This morning I went for a walk (yes, walk alas, not run), and it is the first day I can say spring is on its way. It was there in the way the trees are just starting to leaf, the warm breeze that had me taking off my jumper but mostly in the spring smell. What it is I can't pinpoint but there was a definite smell of spring in the air.
Sometimes I think I should rename this blog "Fruit Fly Follies", because once spring rolls around, it's on my mind. And then for the next few months it's ongoing guerilla warfare against the darn things.
The stone fruit is just coming into flower, so now is the time to start planning, because this year, I really, REALLY want to eat my own stone fruit. For the last two years, most of the fruit has gone straight into the bin (after leaving them in plastic bags in the sun for a week).
I mentioned my goal to Mick the Gardener who I hired to prune my seriously overgrown fruit trees a while ago. We agreed that because I have a number of non-resident neighbours with orchards, it is highly unlikely they are attending to their fruit fly. So whatever I do, I'll never get on top of them.
His suggestion was exclusion bags. Given that our trees are now a much more manageable size, they should be much easier to use. Sounds like a possibility. I wonder if anyone out there has used them? Did they keep the FF out? I would love to know.
If you're interested, here's the link he sent me to the greenharvest website.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Running roundup - Week 5

In my last running post, I wrote that I planned to repeat Week 5 of the running programme, which I did. Over the week I was gradually running a little more and walking a little less. Great! My last run was last Tuesday, though, because on Wednesday I woke up with a back twang so painful I had to knock back work - being a casual, I really have to be sick to give up work. I spent the day lying flat on my back, alternating cold and warm compresses, and taking painkillers. It was the worst back pain I've ever endured.
So now I'm not sure what to do. I don't run when my back hurts, and it never hurts during the run. But twice now, my back has gone into spasm 24 hours later. Mmm.
I'm wondering if my body is really suited to running. Should I go back to walking and try and build up some strength in my abdomen, before running again? (Actually I think that after year's of yoga, my core strength is pretty good) Or just forget about running.
Not sure about this one...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Our lucky country

A couple of years ago, I went on a tour to Egypt, where I spent a lot of time grilling our very patient guide about Egyptian life.
Talk inevitably turned to politics.
"Do you have elections?" I asked.
He looked at me as if to say, you poor, naive person.
He told me that after many years of rule under Mubarak, and under some pressure from the US, the Egyptians had what was supposed to be a free and fair election. Except that somehow in his area the papers were marked, so it was possible to trace votes to people. And he had friends who were arrested and detained for not voting the right way.
"So yes there are elections, but better not to vote", he said.
So while here in Australia plenty of people bemoan the debasement of the election process to a policy auction, today as we go to vote, we need to remember we are exercising a right that plenty of people in this world don't have, or have only gained through violence and bloodshed.
Exercising the privilege to vote is an action that moves me to tears.
On Election Day 2010, let's give a cheer for democracy.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Three new chooks

A rubbish photo, I know, but here are our three new chooks, presents from my dad recently (he raised them himself).
We started off by putting them in with the rest of the chooks, but despite our precautions, they found themselves at the rough end of the pineapple, especially from the Muscovy duck. So, Action Man got himself in gear and finished off the chicken tractor that had been languishing in the shed since last year, and they are now happily ensconced there (except when they are out and about flinging mulch around).
The downside of this arrangement is that these chooks live out the back, while the "old" chooks live closer to the house, and are within sight of the chickens. The result is I'm not getting to "know" these chickens very well at all.
These chickens are doing the bulk of the egg-laying work around here now. In the "old" shed, we have three layers and a bantam, who are at least four years old, who probably lay 3-4 eggs between them a week.
My grandmother kept chickens all her life, here and in Italy, and she was pretty unsentimental about old birds - they made way for young chickens via the stockpot. But because I feel that our old girls are as much pets as layers, I'm totally against this idea. And so, we have an old chickens home, and have to bring in young birds to take up the slack. And I guess we'll have to get some more when these new birds become aged. They never talk about this dilemma is books about chicken keeping!
In other chooky news...this afternoon I was listening to an interview with a scientist who had won a Eureka Science Award for her work on chicken communication. Her thesis is that the chicken is by no means dumb, and has a complicated means of communicating to each other about their environment. I'm thinking, well, yes...that's kind of obvious to anyone who has spent any time around chooks. Maybe I should have written that thesis!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Loads of lemons

Growing stone fruit is such a sad saga around here, it's nice to be able to bang on about some fruit tree success! Our citrus trees - lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins and grapefruit - have been producing really well this year.
I've been busy seeing to the lemons. Above is the product of a "lemon session" I had last weekend. From left, lemon curd, limoncello, lemon and lime marmalade and preserved lemons. The recipes for the limoncello and marmalade are in the recipe list in the side bar. The marmalade is a bit - ahem - overcooked. It tastes good though!
This is the first batch of preserved lemon I've made, and I'm a bit unsure about it, maybe because I've never tasted preserved lemon, so I'm not sure what I'm aiming for. Still, you read about it a lot in Moroccan recipes, so I figure it was worth a go.
I've also been juicing lemons and freezing the juice in ice cube trays, and have frozen lemon slices for upcoming summer gin-and-tonics.
As for the oranges, mandarins and grapefruit, well they are eaten as is, although I've had to cultivate a taste for grapefruit to get through the volume.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Keep on running - Weeks 4 & 5

In my last running blog post, I was off the programme with back twangs, that had me shelving the running shoes until the back went back to normal.
That lasted 10 days. I returned to the programme, starting again at Week 4, and have now finished Week 5. I'm planning to repeat Week 5 in the upcoming week, mainly because I just feel my body needs it!
I am finding runs of longer than a kilometre a bit of a challenge . As soon as I hit the 1k mark, my legs seem to sieze up and not want to run any more.
I've been resorting to "positive affirmation" type stuff at this point- things like telling myself "I am running smoothly and easily" etc. etc. I still haven't run 1.5km straight, but am slowly getting there.
The other challenge is finding the time to run. This is my busiest time of year, workwise. I have very few "open" windows to run when I work, and I found this week they can easily close up, mainly with kids' activities - choir practice, doctor's appointments and the like.
In the next few weeks, though, as days become longer, early morning runs will be become a possibility. Even though I feel I get up early enough as it is (6.00am), some early morning starts will mean I can get my run done with before my time is at the mercy of work and family.
Last weekend, the City to Surf was run, a 14km run from Sydney city to Bondi. This year 80,000 people entered. I think I would like to make this a goal for next year. One year from 1km to 14km is doable, isn't it?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chickweed anyone?

Chickweed and a struggling lettuce seedling

Brrrr....I reckon it's been the coldest winter around here for years. This is what I base this observation on:

1. The temperature gauge in my car has only been over 15 degrees twice since the June long weekend, and regularly reads below 10.
2. We've had at least a dozen frosts, instead of the normal 1-2.
3. Nothing is growing. Normally I can keep growing lettuces at least through winter, but this year, they have steadfastly refused to grow.
4. At school I am keeping my coat on all day, inside and out.

In the vegie patch, I have just harvested the last cabbage. There is nothing left to pick beside parsley and a few leeks, so for the next few months until the spring plantings get going, I will be buying 98 per cent of our vegies ( we are still eating through the autumn pumpkins). Sigh.

One thing that is growing is chickweed (stellaria media). In Darina Allen's "Forgotten Skills of Cooking" she talks about eating chickweed, in salads, as a cooked green and in soup. At the moment I rip it up and give it to the chooks who seem to like it. I'm a bit wary though...has anyone else out there eaten chickweed? What did you think?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

What did bower birds do before blue plastic?

Well, it's been a cold winter for these parts this year, but the wildlife around here is gearing up for spring.

The bower bird that lives just outside my bedroom window has been busy getting the bower ready. Bits of blue plastic (what did they do for blue before the invention of plastic I wonder?) and bits of lime green foliage.
Meanwhile - the election!
The other day, for the first time in my life, I was polled about my voting intentions. This came as a complete surprise to me as I don't live in a marginal seat, and as far as I could see, the only views that count in this election are those of swinging voters in marginal electorates.
The surprise to me in this poll was that I was given to opportunity to give reasons for my intentions, which the researcher took down verbatim. So, I didn't hold back, and let fly with everything I thought about both sides' policies. It was a lengthy interview!
Polls. To me they are a scourge, a dampener on any politician with a bit of long term vision. The current election campaign bears this out. No policy from either side that will scare the horses. Policies completely devoid of any leadership. Instead, both parties' policies feed on exactly what the polls tell them.
Whilst it was interesting to take part in a poll, you have to wonder what politics would be like if they didn't exist. Would the parties be free then to devise policies that they might think are right instead of popular?
While we are on the subject, wouldn't it be great if our politicians weren't career politicians, where the meaning of their existence is to win elections. If these people had lives and jobs to go to, they would be able to put out what they think is right as policy, and see what happens. If the policies don't fly, no matter - they have other options. Instead, we have people who have only ever been in politics, wouldn't have a clue about any other field except politics. And to do that, they have to dance to the polls' tune it seems.
This need to change, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Week 4 Running

Week 4 of the running programme started okay. This week included a 1.5km run. This is the longest distance I have run at one stretch in a long time. I found it challenging. My heart and breathing were okay, but the "lead-legged" feeling started as I completed 1km, so I slowed to a walk. The feeling isn't pain, just achiness and a feeling of great effort in the lower legs.

I completed two of the planned three runs. On Sunday I was planning to do my third run of the week. Unfortunately, I woke up with what I call back twangs, which I get this every so often. The pain isn't debilitating - I can still walk around and do most of what I want - but it is bad enough to be uncomfortable, and has me looking for pain killers. The thought of doing an impact exercise like running is out of the question. These episodes last from one day to one month, so I decided to forgo the running until the pain subsides. I've kept up walking and swimming, though.

Today, Wednesday, the pain has gone, but I won't be able to run now until Friday afternoon because of my work schedule. Once I get home it's nearly dark these winter days and though country roads are great places to run because they are so quiet, the lack of street lighting makes night running a bit scary.

Given the difficulties I was having with this week's programme, I would have repeated this week anyway. My plan is to stay on Week 4 until I can run the 1.5km distance, however long it takes. I'm happy to take it slowly, and know that if I just keep persisting I'll reach my goal in the end.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What plant is this?

I have two pots of this lily-type plant, which is flowering at the moment. Someone gave Action Man this plant, and I would love to identify it. I've never seen it anywhere. This photo does not do the flower justice. It's a mix of bright pink, purple, yellow and lime green, a truly spectacular combination. Can anyone out there identify it for me?

Meanwhile, we are in federal election mode here in Australia, which means lots of politicians making lots of speeches and interview grabs filled with lots of cliches. ABC 702 radio is running a game called Election Lingo Bingo. There are thirty well-worn phrases to find, the aim being the audience tries to find all thirty in the shortest amount of time. When you hear a phrase you email the station with a "sighting", which they then verify. Fun, hey? It started last night at midnight. Already I've "sighted" "hard working Australians", uttered by our new female PM Julia Gillard this morning on Radio National Breakfast. If you are interested, here's the list of phrases. I wouldn't think you'd need to listen to 702 to take part. Certainly makes listening to the news a lot more fun!

Edited to add:
Thanks to Cabbage Tree Farm for identifying this plant as billbergia nutans, a variety of bromeliad. The link to the Cabbage Tree Farm is here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chicken Pie

Whenever we have roast chicken, I always do two. As a family of four, one chicken used to do, but my twelve year old son (who at 170cm is just 5 cm shorter than me..and he's growing) is always looking for "more". So now I roast two chickens. With what's left over, I normally make what I call an Aussie chicken curry, or I'll turn it into chicken pie.

Here's what I do:

1. Saute one onion and a clove of garlic in some butter until soft (sometimes I'll use a leek too).
2. Add vegies you fancy - leftover roast vegies, mushrooms, peas work well. Saute these too. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Sprinkle a tablespoon of flour over the vegies and cook over medium heat for a minute or two.
4. Slowly add a cup or so of stock or water.
5. Add chicken which has been cut up into small pieces.
6. Simmer for 15 minutes or so.
7. Transfer to a pie dish.
8. Top with two sheets of puff pastry that have been rolled together. Use pastry offcuts to decorate and you fancy.
9. Brush with beaten egg (v. important if you want that beautiful golden colour). Bake at 200degrees for about 30 minutes or so.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Week 3 running recap

Week 3 of Julia Jones' running programme completed on schedule.
Some firsts for me this week:
1. I skipped for the first time in about 35 years! The programme this week has you alternating between skipping and walking a few times as a build up to two 1km runs. By golly, was it fun! I think it's impossible to skip without a smile on your face.
2. During the 1km runs, I broke out from lead-legged shuffling into bursts of activity that would be identified as "running". With each session, I did a little less shuffling and a little more running - a little, but enough to take 1 minute 15 seconds off my 1 km time this week. My fastest time was 7 minutes 35 seconds (I started 1km a few weeks ago at 9 minutes 20 seconds)

Overall I am finding the programme really enjoyable. Each week gives you a bit more of a challenge, so I feel I am getting somewhere without overextending myself. And no part of my body has hurt at any point over the last few weeks!

And in other news...I've lost the pesky 4cm around my waist and hip measurements that had me start running in the first place. So I can cut out and sew some skirts and pants I had planned from my custom pattern. So, I've achieved my first goal. Hooray!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pruning season

Winter is pruning season here. Last year, I pruned all our 100 grapevines. This year, Action Man has already done about 75% of them. It looks like a nice day out there today so I try and get some done today.
As for our fruit trees...well. Our fruit trees were planted in 2003, and they have never been pruned. You can imagine what they were like. Really big, really bushy, too big to net. I knew they needed to be pruned, but I didn't know where to start. Start reading a gardening book on pruning fruit trees, and you'll see what I mean. You have to know what you're doing, otherwise you can really do some damage.
So, I hired a professional gardener to come over and show us how it's done. Above is one of our plum trees, pruned into the classic "vase" shape you see in the books.
Our gardener needs to come back and do our apple and pear trees. Even he was flummoxed by them, and said he needed to consult his mate who is an orchardist. Apparently, our trees are very overgrown, and need a hard prune. However, if we prune too heavily at once, it could be a case of "goodbye trees". Hence, caution is needed.
This year's yields won't be as great, but given last year's fruit fly debacle, this won't make much difference. In fact, smaller trees with smaller yields mean that we will be able to net more effectively, and use exclusion bags for fruit fly. We might even get to eat our own fruit this year!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

This book's a cracker

I had my birthday a little while ago, and this book, Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Irish cooking writer Darina Allen, was one of my gifts.
As you would guess by the 700 recipes, this is one weighty book. There are chapters on foraging, game, fish, meats (including information on different cuts including offal), sausages, smoking, breadmaking, vegetables, cheese and dairy, preserving and baking. In each chapter there is comprehensive information, followed by several recipes. For example, in the potato section there is info on how to grow potatoes followed by recipes.
What I liked especially about this book is that there are recipes and information that lifts it above most recipe books. And the recipes themselves work, which is always the bottom line with recipe books. And the book is beautifully presented.
One reservation, whilst it is detailed, it is not definitive for us here in Australia. Unsurprisingly, some of the chapters have limited relevance for Australians, particularly the foraging section. Ditto game, and fish, although it's fairly easy to substitute Australian species here.
To me though, these points are only minor drawbacks. This book's a cracker, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting to get skilled in the kitchen and the garden.

Friday, July 9, 2010

It's a Boy!

To Woolly Jumper and Rambo, a boy, born this afternoon Friday 9th July 2010. True to form, our ewes lamb on the coldest days of the year.

This photo is taken as the lamb is less than an hour old. Woolly is assiduously licking the little guy, while he makes little bleats.

Too sweet.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Week 2 (repeat)

Last week I decided to repeat Week 2 of Julia Jones' running program for beginners (link in side column). I'm glad I did. The lead is still there, but I can detect some improvement so taking it slowly is worth doing.
One of the great things about living where I do is I know just about all my neighbours within a two kilometre radius. One of the worst things about living where I do is I know just about all my neighbours within a two kilometre radius, which is not great when one is trying to learn to run. The roads around here are very quiet, perfect for running. However, when a car does pass, it is normally driven by a neighbour I know. Call me paranoid, but I am sure I detect a smirk every so often. "There she is, trying to run! Wonder how long this will last?" I am sure they are thinking as they wave at me cheerily! To make it worse we seem to have an abnormally high percentage of "serious" athletes around here. You know, types who do long course triathlons, marathons etc. One neighbour took off this week to follow the Tour de France - on his bike. My lead-legged shuffling must look pretty sad to them.
Never mind! I plan to be running for a long while yet, shuffling or not...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pottering about in the kitchen

School holidays here. Cold and rainy outside. Kids still in pyjamas. I've just spent a fruitful couple of hours pottering around in the kitchen, making lots of things to make life a bit nicer. Here's what I did:

1. Made some oxtail stew in the pressure cooker for Action Man. We're going to visit my parents in Sydney for a few days from tomorrow, so the oxtail is for his dinner while we are away.

2. Made a batch of Anzac Biscuits. I've made so many batches now I make this recipe from memory.

3. Roasted a couple of kilos of tomatoes with a head of garlic, then pureed to make roast tomato sauce to be used on a pasta one day when there is no time to cook.

4. Made a batch of breadcrumbs from some stale bread.

5. Made a batch of dukkah, using a packet of cumin seeds, a packet of coriander seeds, a cup of hazelnuts and a couple of tablespoons of sesame seeds. Toast everything in a frypan, then whiz in the food processor. Add salt to taste. This is one of my favourite snacks - dip some good bread into olive oil, then dip into dukkah. Good to have on hand when people drop round.

Back into the kitchen later. The kids are going to make meatloaf for dinner, and I'll need to be around to supervise.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Knitting season

Last year, I started knitting this blanket whilst watching the Tour de France. I had to stop knitting for a while because I acquired a knitting injury (chafed skin on middle finger right hand ). Since recovering from injury, I've done a bit of knitting on and off, but with the World Cup, and now this year's T de F, I am in peak knitting season.
This blanket pattern is one of my own devising. I am using 8 ply wool, with No 4 needles. I simply cast on 28 stitches and then knit a square of knit, purl or rib, then cast off. I hope to have 81 squares done soon, so I can finish this blanket for this winter. If successful, this will be the first knitted object I have completed.
As someone who always thought I couldn't knit, I am really quite chuffed to have gotten this far! I'm already contemplating my next knitting project....

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Running Week 2 - who put the lead in my legs?

Well, I've finished the second week of my running programme.

The upside: I stuck to the schedule, ran three times and did exactly what the programme asked (just). And nothing hurts! I even ran in the freezing rain!

The downside: During each session I would be fine until the "free form run" bit at the end, where you have to run 1 kilometre.

Have you seen the film "Gallipoli"? Right at the beginning, it shows the protagonist, Archie training for a sprint. His coach asks him "What are these?" pointing to his legs. Archie replies "Springs! Steel springs!" Well I can relate to that except my legs seem to have suddenly been filled with lead. No springy feeling at all! It was such an effort to finish that kilometre at each session. Nothing hurt, but my legs just felt SO heavy. I managed to do it, but was I enjoying that bit? No.

So, in view of this, I've decided to stay on Week 2 of the programme, just to see if I can kick the "heavy" feeling.

Memo to self: Do not listen to funny podcasts eg. Roy and HG, whilst running. Having to stop and double over with laughter on the side of the road does nothing for one's rhythm, not to mention fitness.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Bit of Slapdash Gardening

Leeks, celery, cavolo nero and ginger jostle for position -sometimes I overplant

Yesterday was another perfect winter's day. I spent most of the afternoon in the vegie patch, the first time I've really given the garden some extended attention in about two months. First I ripped out the tomato plants that have finally turned up their toes, along with a capsicum. I weeded, then fetched two buckets of sheep manure and dug those in to the bare patches, along with a bit of blood and bone. I also sprayed the broccoli and cavolo nero with Dipel ( which contains bacillus thuringiensis) control the cabbage butterfly larvae. Then I fed just about everything with some worm casting tea.

It's looking pretty bare out there. The plan is to buy some lettuce and cabbage seedlings and bung those in next week. I also need a new thyme plant, because mine is just about dead. I think I'll give some parts of the garden a bit of a rest, and plant some green manure instead, just to give it a go.

As you might gather, I'm pretty laissez faire with the vegies. I don't follow any planting guide.I plant as I have space. As far as crop rotation is concerned, the most I do is just make sure I don't replace spent vegies with vegies from from the same family. I don't water much. I spray for the butterfly larvae, but only when I remember. Yet, our vegie patch provides us with loads - it's a rare dinner when we don't have at least one of the vegies on our plate from the backyard. As for how the patch looks - well, let's just say it won't be featured in any garden magazines any time soon.

What I think lets me get away with this amount of slapdashery is that I make sure that the patch is regularly topped up with organic matter - compost, manure- sheep and chicken, worm castings and blood and bone. Every time I plant I incorporate at least one of these. The other thing I do is mulch heavily with hay, which I buy from a local farmer for $5 a bale. This means that even though I don't water much, the soil stays moist underneath the mulch. These two things, good soil and mulch, I think are the key. Beyond that, I find the patch pretty forgiving.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Another reason I Love Winter - home made baked beans

In winter, this is the food I crave. I make a big batch and eat it for lunch over a few days. To appease the resident carnivores, I generally add a ham hock, but have also used speck or pancetta. I reckon it would be just as moreish with any meat at all.

Baked beans

500g dried cannelini beans

1 onion, chopped

olive oil

1 bay leaf

1 tin tomatoes

1 tablespoon brown sugar

4 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce

salt, pepper

ham hock (optional)

Cover the beans with water and soak for at least 6 hours. Drain beans and place in saucepan, cover again with fresh water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 1 hour (or 20 minutes on high pressure in a pressure cooker). Drain.

Heat oven to 180 degrees. Soften the chopped onion in some olive oil over medium heat in a flameproof casserole dish. Add the drained beans, sugar, maple syrup, worcestershire sauce, tomatoes and bay leaf. Add the ham hock too if using. Give it a good stir and season with salt and pepper. Cover and bake in the oven for 2 hours, taking off the lid in the last twenty minutes. If you have used a ham hock, remove the hock and take meat off the bone. Shred and return to the beans.

Note: These beans bear no relation to those in tins, so if tinned baked beans don't appeal, I urge you to try these! And if you are partial to tinned baked beans, I double urge you to try these.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Running - Week 1

My running track

As I only decided to blog about my running programme ten days after I started, I thought I would recap my progress in Week 1. But first, to give some context to the running, here is my running backstory.

Who: Me, see "About Me" top of page.
Age: 4-*cough*. Oh, all right. 44.
Height and Weight: 175cm, no idea about weight, as I go by how my clothes feel. I would say I was on the upper end of the BMI.
Fitness level: Fitter than some, not as fit as others. Mediocre to average, I guess.
Exercise pattern to date: Walking 3-4 times a week for 45 minutes-1 hour in the weeks prior to starting the programme. 45 minutes swimming once a week, while kids are doing their swimming training. Iyengar yoga class once a week, with some practice at home. Moderate effort gardening about 2 hours a week (I get Action Man to do all the heavy stuff).
Aim: 1) Lose 4 cms from hip and waist measurements, so I can continue to use my custom sewing patterns 2) Challenge self-concept that "I can't run" 3) Run 5kms straight, just so I can say "I can do that".
Running History: Given my self concept is that I can't run, it may surprise you to know I have one. In my dim dark past, back in the day when I was a corporate type, I ran at lunchtimes regularly. The office was full of athletes, including the boss, who ran as a pack, through Hyde Park and down to Mrs Macquarie's Chair on Sydney Harbour. Anyway, I joined them, as much for the camaraderie as anything. I was always the slowest, but I ran. That year I also did the Sydney City to Surf, a 14 km race from the city to Bondi Beach, and I guess I ran more than half the distance. I can certainly remember being sore for days.

I was pretty fit, but I can say that I never ran for the sake of running itself. I never loved to run. It was always a means to an end.

We had some changes in the office, with some of the athletes being replaced by non-runners, coinciding with my falling pregnant. And so endeth my running days.

Injury history:

Rotator cuff, whilst attempting Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand). 2002.
Tennis elbow, acquired while regularly cycling. 2009, only just now coming good.
Given how long it took to rehabilitate from both these injuries, my No 1 priority is to run without acquiring any injury. If I do develop anything, I shall be a very grumpy girl indeed.

The Plan:

Follow Julia Jones' 8 week running programme, three times a week.
If I have time, supplement this with swimming and cycling sessions.
Practice Iyengar yoga after each running session, concentrating on leg-stretching poses.


Having been walking regularly before starting the programme, for me this was a very gentle start.

The programme has you starting off with walking, then walking whilst swinging you arms. So far, so good.

Then, you need to stretch. I have to admit, this is pretty desultory. I am normally in front of a neighbour's house and I feel a bit - well, ridiculous I guess, stopping on the side of the road to stretch.

The programme then has you walk 30seconds/run 10seconds ten times. For someone who was running for the first time in 13 years, this was the perfect introduction. Totally doable, while I tried to find my rhythm.

Next step is to time yourself walking one kilometre. The main problem I had with this was trying to gauge the length of 1km. After the first session, I drove down the road with my eyes on the odometer trying to figure out distances. The problem though, is that after the previous activity, I didn't find myself in the same position, so my distances were off.

In the end, I just decided that eyeballing it would have to be good enough. I reckon I was walking 1km in about 11 minutes.

This was followed by walk/running the next one km, timed. Again, I had difficulties with judging distances, but again decided near enough would have to be good enough. I found this a lot more difficult as I tried to push myself to run for a longer period. I slowed to a walk a few times, and I reckon I was walk/running 1 km in about 9 minutes. Not fast, but that's okay by me!

Not much else to add really. The weather is perfect for running, and after each session I felt energised not whacked. Nothing hurts. Everything feels within my capabilities.

A good start. Roll on (or should that be run on) Week 2....

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thursday morning 5.58am

Australia beat Serbia, 2-1! But is sadly out of the World Cup Finals.
Oh well. At least I got some knitting done.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sewing Dilemmas, or Why I've taken up Running

One thing about sewing your own clothes* is that while the mind denies, the tape measure never lies. Sewing forces you to deal with the reality of the tape measure.

I'd started to suspect that I'd put on a few kilos but happily ignored the evidence until I decided to make myself a new skirt, using the fabric I'd picked up at Vinnies for two dollars. Out came the tape measure and there in black and white, the evidence. I'd added four centimetres to my waist and hip measurement.

You might think, so what's the problem? Just cut the skirt bigger! That's why you sew, right?Well, it's slightly more complicated. You see, over the last year or so, I'd painstakingly developed skirt, pant and bodice patterns that fit me exactly. The amount of effort and patience that went into this was far beyond anything I'd ever attempted before, and by golly, I really wanted to get my effort's worth out of them! I was not in the frame of mind to start again with the whole fitting malarkey.

So, my only option is to diet and exercise those centimetres away.

Normally, I'm pretty relaxed about diet and exercise. I do not fret too much about it. I eat til I'm not hungry, and try to get a reasonable amount of exercise. But clearly, since that approach had given me four extra centimetres, it was time to shake things up a bit.

So about a month ago I started walking, at least four days a week for an hour.

Coincidentally, I became the owner of an iPod (a birthday present), so I started to listen to podcasts on my walks.

One day, I was listening to a healthy living podcast, Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone, and the guest was a running coach Julia Jones from Italy, who has coached heaps of women from the couch to running greatness.

I don't know what happened, but while I was listening to this enthusiastic chat, my legs started to run there and then, of their own accord. I took this as a sign that my body was ready to run, so I went home and downloaded the programme from the Two Fit Chicks site. The programme promises eight weeks from non-runner to 5K. I am the world's least natural runner, so if this comes off - miracles happen.

So even though this is not a fitness blog, I beg your indulgence to post about it while I follow the programme. Knowing that I've made my plan "public" I hope will keep me accountable and on the straight and narrow. And if anyone out there is moved to join with me, that would be fantastic. It would be great to have an running buddy out there in blogland.

And hopefully by the end of it, I'll be sewing with my patterns again.

*BTW if you are thinking, "we've seen precious little of this so-called sewing hobby" on this blog let me say two things:

1. As a relative beginner, I sew a fair proportion of "wadders" - no one gets to see these.

2. I have a pathological aversion to photos of myself, so the thought of full length photos on the net, well, let's say I haven't come to terms with this yet. But it may change!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I Love Winter

Compared to summer, winter gets short shrift. I love it. Let me count the ways:

1. All my favourite hobbies - reading, sewing, knitting etc. - are best done in winter, preferably in front of a fire. In summer, these activities have me battling guilt. I always feel I should be outside "doing something" instead.

2. I love to cook but during summer I try to think of strategies to avoid putting on the stove and the oven, so I can keep the house cool. Winter, on the other hand, is made for cooking.

3. The foods I like to eat - soups, stews, baked pastas, curries - all taste better in winter.

4. Winter heralds a truce in the ongoing war against the dreaded fruit fly.

5. Spiders and snakes hibernate.

6. Ditto flies and mosquitoes.

7. I like dressing for winter better.

8. I sleep better.

9. The kids sleep better, going to bed at a reasonable times, instead of staying up far too late on school nights.

10. Weeds are not an issue in winter.Yay!

11. I hate exercising in the steam bath of summer. Exercise - whatever type - is far more enjoyable in winter.

12. I get to look at the lovely gordonia from my kitchen window.

So are you a winter or summer person?

NOTE: I am talking my local brand of winter here, which is relatively mild - 10 degree C is considered a cold day. I lived for a while in the UK and would not be waxing quite as lyrical about winter if I was still there...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mandarin jam

Lots of citrus fruit around here, and we'd run out of jam. Time to try out the Mandarin Jam recipe I'd found in Sally Wise's A Year in a Bottle.
The method was a little vague, and I had quite a few questions. In the end, I devised my own method, and it worked out okay. Here it is:

Mandarin Jam

6-7 large mandarins
Juice of 2 lemons
White sugar

1. Cover the mandarins with water, bring to boil and simmer until very tender (this took me 20 minutes in the pressure cooker. Possibly 1 hour "normal" method?)
2. When tender, let the mandarins cool in the water. Reserve water. Once cool cut the mandarin flesh open and remove the seeds.
3. Puree mandarin flesh. Put into a measuring jug with lemon juice, and enough of the cooking
water to bring it to 4 cups/1 litre in the jug. Transfer to a saucepan.
4. Measure exactly the same amount of sugar and add to the mandarins.
5. Bring to boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the jam has set (ie. when a teaspoon drawn through a tablespoon of mixture on a cooled plate causes the jam to "wrinkle").

I probably cooked this at too high a heat, the jam caught on the bottom of the pan. Hence the brown flecks in the jam. Never mind, adds flavour!

Can't wait to try this on home-made bread toast for breakfast tomorrow. Luxury.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Late adopter

Ever done or tried something new and wondered "why haven't I done this before?" Well, that's been my experience with my new bread maker.
How long have breadmakers been around? Twenty, maybe twenty five years? Well, call me a late adopter. My breadmaker came into my life three weeks ago, courtesy of Action Man. After reading many blogs mention their breadmakers, I'd been muttering about getting one myself, but never got around to it. Typically, Action Man made it happen, and brought me home a brand new bread maker.
What a revelation! So easy! So little time required of me! (I can get the ingredients together for a loaf of wholemeal bread in 31/2 minutes) Most importantly, such nice bread! And no preservatives.
My breadmaker has been in daily use ever since, sometimes even twice a day.
Once this baby's cost is amortised, and this shouldn't be long, I reckon I'll be saving at least $10 a week on the food bill.
A great addition to the household routine.
By the way, if you are thinking, "I thought Paola had an intolerance to wheat." Well, on that score, my stomach irritations have improved a lot over the last month or two. I try to limit wheat intake, but I haven't eradicated it. Also, one of my commenters, (I can't remember who, I'm sorry), mentioned nuts as another culprit. Well, seeing that I was eating handfuls of nuts a the time, I thought I'd cut back there too, for my stomach and my waistline's sake. And I'm much better. So I can eat some of this lovely bread. Yay!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday morning 5.30am

Well, Australia got absolutely hammered in the World Cup by Germany, 4-0.

At least I got some ironing done.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Here in spirit

This is the third year of keeping this blog, and every year my blogging rate slows considerably between May and November. This is because as a casual teacher this is my busy time. At the moment I am working more often 4-5 days a week, as opposed to 1-3 days a week. So spare time gets tighter, as I try to keep up the things that I blog about. Unfortunately, blogging is the first thing that gets cut from the schedule. I still enjoy reading blogs though!
I've also been busy getting ready for the family bash for Action Man's 50th here on Sunday. I had visions of setting up tables outside - but it's been raining for two weeks now, with more to come. Even if it stops, it will be too muddy to be everyone, all 35 of 'em. will be inside. Cosy! I love my house, but it's one drawback is that there is no decent outside covered area. The verandahs are too narrow.
It should be a blast. I am very fortunate to have a close extended family, and we always have a good time when we get together.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

To everything, a season

Have you ever noticed whether you have periods of time - days, weeks, or months - when you seem to be motivated, creative and achieve a lot? Your mind is overflowing with ideas, and you have the energy to follow them through?
I do. Maybe it's because I'm getting over the worst cold I've had in years but I also have periods, like now, when I don't seem to be doing or achieving much at all. The garden doesn't seem to need lots of attention (except I still need to plant garlic), there isn't much to preserve, for various reasons I'm not sewing or knitting. I'm not blogging much. Family life is ticking over nicely. My social life isn't particularly busy, but I'm keeping in touch with friends. I haven't even got a book on the go, which is really unusual for me. I'm not sad or depressed or even in blogging parlance lost my mojo. I'm just happily quiet, and not particularly driven to do much at all.
It may be seasonal, but rather than being necessarily connected to weather seasons, I believe this is more about internal seasons. I find that periods of high output need to counterbalanced with periods of quiet reflection, so I can gather energy for the next burst of activity whenever that comes. I'm glad that my life situation allows me the freedom to do just that.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Feeling poorly

My blogging has been thin on the ground this month. We were away for a while, then Iwas busy with work and in the last week, I've been feeling poorly (don't you love that saying?). Nothing but a bad cold, but enough to have me in bed by 7.00pm every night. With lots of rest and doses of magic tea, I've just started to come good in the last day or two.
What's magic tea? It's a concoction of a couple of peeled garlic cloves, some fresh ginger slices, the juice of a lemon or two and a pinch of chili flakes. Put everything in a teapot, and pour boiling water over it. Let it steep for 5-10 minutes, and serve with a teaspoon of honey. Every time I feel a cold coming on, I make up a pot of this and it seems to stop the viruses in their tracks. Except this time, the viruses weren't letting anything get in their way. This cold was the worst I've had for years. Hopefully, that's it for this winter at least.
Autumn is well and truly here, and you can feel winter just around the corner. Even so, we are still picking loads of tomatoes. I have at least two dozen jars of preserved tomatoes put up, and still have more to do. The fact that they are still producing has meant that I haven't put in as many winter veg as I would like. Never mind. I'll pick Jap pumpkins this week too. We have about 20 - too many for us to get through, as Jap pumpkins don't seem to store as well as Queensland Blues, so I'll give quite a few away. I still haven't planted this year's garlic, so have to get cracking on that score.
The citrus season is with us, and our trees are laden with lemons, limes, grapefruit, mandarins and oranges. We struggle with stone fruit around here, but citrus is great. The grapevines are all bare, so in a few weeks, we'll start pruning.
Over in the sheep paddock, the ewes are fattening up nicely, which means lambing in a month or two. Meanwhile, our chickens and ducks are taking a laying hiatus. Every year about this time, they stop laying for about two months. I expect them to be back on the job after winter solstice, as the days start to lengthen again.
I've been busy planning a lunch for my extended family of about 40 people in a few weeks' time. Both Action Man and my aunt have a Significant Birthday on the same day, so we've offered to host a joint bash here. Lots to plan and think about, but it looks like it's all coming together nicely.
Hope everything is tranquil at your place, too.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Today we get down to the nitty gritty - the subject for today's discussion is toilet seats. I'm sure you'll forgive me no pictures. Stay with me - it's worth it.
Our house is about 15 years old, and we have lived here for 7 years. For the last few months, Action Man and I have been using a broken toilet seat. The seat is solid wood, and it has come apart at the joins. No matter how much AM has tried, it refuses to be reglued. Needless to say, we sit down fairly gingerly. (ouch!)
So today I passed by a bathroom supply shop and made an unplanned stop to see about perhaps replacing said toilet seat. I wasn't too hopeful. The style is vintage, which was all the go in the mid 90s. Now the style is all sleek modern lines.
But miracle of miracles - this shop had the exact same toilet suite --and the exact same seat!
I asked the assistant for help.
"Those seats are really expensive you know"
I thought, oh yeah, how expensive can a toilet seat BE?
Readers - this is how expensive. $643.00. 6-4-3. Six hundred and forty three dollars.
I burst out laughing.
Needless to say, we will be gingerly sitting for a while yet.