Friday, February 25, 2011

Unsung heroes - the worms

This morning I took some scraps up to the worm farm, and it occurred to me that I'd never posted about my worms. Quite an oversight, as I depend on these little blighters a lot, and probably don't appreciate them as much as I should.
They sit in the worm farm (one we bought from the local hardware store) up behind the compost bins. They mind their own business, get about their business, and all that's required from us is that we throw them some scraps occasionally. In return we get fabulous worm castings, and worm tea, which I use with abandon on the vegie patch. The cost to benefit ratio is heavily in favour of us in this relationship.
Every home should have a worm farm.
Blog housekeeping...
Congratulations to Bridget at Cabbage Patch Farm and Cathy at still waters, for winning the books in my blog giveaway. Hope you enjoy the books!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A week of preserves - no pictures

Sheesh. I've tried on three separate occasions on three days to upload photos to Blogger and still haven't managed to. I don't know what the problem is, although I suspect it has something to do with my sleepy satellite broadband connection. (How sleepy is my connection? Put it this way, I always have reading matter next to the computer, so I can spend the time it takes to upload and download things profitably. Sleepy internet connections is one of the drawbacks of living in rural Australia. Roll on, National Broadband Network. I know my life will change when we finally get it, although I won't get through as many books).
Much as I prefer to post photos as well as text, until I sort this issue out, it will be photo-less posts.
This week has seen the start of the preserving season. We've picked buckets of tomatoes and figs, which I have turned into tomato relish, fig jam and jars of figs in grappa. Still managing to eat plenty of figs au naturel though.
We've also been picking peaches and grapes.
Seems strange to be posting about preserving and not have any photos to illustrate. I'll leave it there then.
BTW, if you are interested in either of the two books from the previous post, drop me a comment before Tuesday.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Giveaway!

I mentioned in my last post that I had decluttered my books. Most I am donating to
a local charity book sale. However, I thought readers of this blog might be interested in the two books above. They are "Vasili's Garden" by Vasili Kanidiadis and "How to Store your Garden Produce" by Piers Warren. Both are pretty good books, but their subject matter doubles up with other books I have...so they should go to a home that might appreciate them better.
If you would like either one or both of the books, pop a comment by next Tuesday 22nd Feb. If necessary, I'll run a draw..

Monday, February 14, 2011

My recipe book collection

I'm not a much of a collector. To me, if something hasn't been used in the last 12 months, I'm quite happy to pass it on or charity bin it.
The closest thing I have a collection is my recipe books. I've just had a declutter here too, so the books above are those that I actually use.
I love my recipe books. If I'm stuck for something to read, I'll read one of my books. They are a constant source of inspiration.
I've collected these books over the past 20 years. The first book I bought was Delia Smith's Complete Illustrated Cookery Course, which is the spineless book on the top shelf. This book really taught me to cook, and though the recipes are a bit dated now, I still refer to it.
The latest addition to the collection was Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals. I haven't used this yet at all, but that will change. OK, but not a must have.
I think I have enough books now, so I try to be discriminating when I buy any new additions. I don't have much truck with books that aren't practical in my situation, so I don't have any "celebrity chef" books, as I think they are more about being a chef, not a cook. These days, I look for books that are both practical and cover new ground in my collection. It also helps if I think the recipes will appeal to the family.
I use all my books, but my Top 3 (at the moment, because this constantly changes) would be:
Complete Perfect Recipes, by David Herbert. I think this has been reprinted recently, and is certainly worth seeking out for its comprehensive collection of simple recipes. Anything you might want to cook is here. Great for beginner cooks too, with clear instructions.
Mix and Bake by Belinda Jeffery. A great book for enthusiastic bakers like me. Every recipe I've tried out of this has been a winner.
The Pressure Cooker Recipe Book, by Suzanne Gibbs. Started my love affair with my pressure cooker nearly two years ago, and still in constant use.

The least useful? How to Eat by Nigella Lawson. I haven't cooked one recipe out of this tome, but it earns its place simply for the fabulous writing about cooking and eating. Nigella's prose always puts a smile on my face. I love anyone who loves her food as much as I do!
Do you have a favourite cookbook? What is it, and why?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hot weather cooking: Potato and Leek Soup


We're still having that revolting weather - 38'C (pushing 100'F, I guess) and very high humidity -I moaned about two posts ago. At 7am I ventured out for an early morning trundle and returned 45 minutes drenched in sweat. Sorry, can't think of a more delicate way to put it. Meanwhile, Action Man was doing his chores around the place, and came inside similarly moist. He was in Darwin in October during the notorious buildup to the Wet season and he reckons today was worse than the weather he experiencexd up there.
So we've had this stuff for a week, no respite. Unsurprisingly, I'm craving cold food, especially cold soup.
Cold soup doesn't sound very appetising does it? Just as hot soup warms your innards in cold weather though, cold soup is like a liquid ice pack for your insides, and cools you down better than anything else, I reckon.
I made some leek and potato, or vichysoisse, soup in the pressure cooker last night and cooled it in the fridge for lunch today. I love my pressure cooker, and in this weather it shows how useful it is yet again. I cooked this over lowest heat for 5 minutes, so I wasn't heating up the kitchen.
I followed the recipe for vichysoisse in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child et al. It's the very first recipe in the book and super-easy, and come to think of it, low-fat. Here's my version:
Potato and Leek Soup
6 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 leeks,green part removed,sliced and washed
1.5litres water
Salt
Simply bring all the ingredients to the boil, and simmer for 45 minutes. Or if cooking in a pressure cooker, bring to low pressure and cook for 5 minutes. Liquidise in a blender or with a stick blender or mouli. Cool, and eat with yogurt, if desired.
Just as nice served hot, for you in the northern hemisphere!
An aside:
So I've changed my photo to one a bit-less-old. This was taken six months ago, as I was getting ready to go to fancy dinner - hence neat hair and make up, a bit unusual for me.
This photo brings home to me how much I am changing to resemble my maternal grandmother as I age - that nose and chin are hers! All good - Nonna, who died 11 years ago - was a great person.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Day of firsts

Normally I wouldn't publish a photo on my blog so badly out of focus, but today I make an exception.
Today I had my first ever blogger meet up with Libby, whose blog Life is a Journey not a Destination
I have followed for some time. We had a lovely morning chatting over a tea in the Berry Tea Shop, followed by a browse in Sew and Tell.
It was great to meet up with Libby. The internet is a marvellous thing, isn't it?
The other first is that this is the first time I have published a photo of myself (if out-of-focus) on this blog, apart from the tiny thumbnail in the side column. It made me realise how old that photo is (at least 18 months). Better get on to that. Maybe.









Thursday, February 3, 2011

It's hot, hot, hot

Ugh. The weather has been revolting and strange lately. The heat settling down on you like a doona you can't kick off. Hardly a breath of wind. This morning we are having rain, but the heat is still there. I've thrown open all the doors and windows to try and cool the house down, but the heat is still radiating from the walls and the floors.
I've always maintained that we should skip from Christmas straight to mid-March, so we can avoid this stuff.
I've been wanting to do some sewing, but trying to fit something when I'm a ball of sweat - erk. I've been wanting to make some plum jam and preserve some tomatoes but I don't want to switch on an oven or a stove. Our kitchen is the hottest room in the house, thanks to windows in the ceiling. Great in winter, stupidly hot in summer. No, we didn't put them there. That's one thing I'd like to change about this house.
Gardening...mmm, no thanks, although the weeds are running amok. It's enough to pick the last of the white peaches. Note...peaches unaffected by my nemesis, the dreaded fruit fly.
So, overall, a good day.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The myth of family-friendly workplaces

While I was on my blog hiatus, I gave a lot of thought to what I would do with it. I considered - briefly - stopping altogether, but realise I enjoy being a part of the blogging community too much. Still, I knew I wanted to shake things up a bit, so I've decided I will wander off topic of spades and spoons if I feel moved to, to write about stuff that is on my mind. Today..the myth that is the family friendly workplace.

Action Man works in Corporate Australia. You know, the type of company in the Top 10 market capitalisation in the ASX200. The type of company whose main ethos is "make a lot of money, and then some". The type of company that likes to position itself about how cutting edge it is when it comes to dealing with its employees (because they are so valuable). The type of company that introduces "family friendly workplace" policies to this end and trumpets them in annual reports.

Action Man's company has a policy in place where you can apply for 8 weeks' leave a year, 4 unpaid. Sounds great, doesn't it? If you can manage on 4 weeks' less pay a year, but get extra time with the kids, the aged parents etc, who wouldn't go for it? What they neglect to say, though, is that this policy is window dressing only. It is merely there to give the illusion that they care about their employees, their families and their communities. Because if you have the temerity to actually apply for such, be prepared for disappointment.

This is what Action Man found when he mentioned to his boss that he planned to apply for the "8 weeks' leave a year" under the scheme. The reply? Don't even bother, you won't get it. Further, the mere fact of applying would count as a "black mark" in the inevitable yearly performance reckoning.

Meanwhile AM's colleague works full-time and is the mother of a chronically sick child who is on a constant schedule of medical appointments. The scheme sounds perfect for her, right? A no-brainer, surely, on compassionate grounds if nothing else. Wrong. She was accepted into the scheme, but only after fierce lobbying on her part, the sort of lobbying that doesn't win you friends and allies.

If someone like her has to fight so hard to take advantage of a scheme that is ostensibly available to anyone for the asking, and if someone is advised not to apply for the scheme if they don't want their performance rating to be negatively affected, who the heck is it for?

The promise of family friendly workplaces has been around for yonks - since the early 1990s at least in the days when I worked in Personnel. And yet, while major companies seem to have made leaps in writing policies that gain them kudos from the Office for the Status of Women and others, family friendly workplaces seem to remain straw men, especially in the biggest companies.

The attitude of those who run these companies seems to be that employees are there to work all the hours that are available - there's always another billion to be made after all. As for all that touchy-feely family stuff, that's only so they can run smiley pictures of employees in the annual report with a straight face. (As for their own families, well, I guess they make enough to palm everything onto the nanny).

I'd like to be wrong on this. Am I too cynical? I'd like to find out that AM finds himself in a dimly lit corner of corporate world, and that in fact family friendly workplaces exist.

Anyone out there know of a company that is truly family friendly? That has policies and has been known to have employees take advantage of them without having to go to war for the right? I'd love to hear from you!