Wednesday, June 29, 2011

If you want something done, do it yourself

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post berating myself for having volunteered to become the umpire convenor for our local netball club.
The problem was (is) we had few umpires to convene, which meant I was wasting precious hours phoning around other clubs to borrow their umpires. The first couple of weeks of the season were very stressful as I was on this roundabout of phone calls (I'm not a big phone talker either). I was counting down the weeks until I hung up the convenor badge.
Then, one day - no umpires were to be had. Minor crisis, as games don't go ahead without two umpires.
It was then I decided to become an umpire myself, on the basis that if you want something done, do it yourself.
So for the last few rounds, I've been running around with a whistle, sometimes for three games every Saturday.
And get this: far from resenting it, I'm enjoying myself!
Blowing a whistle on misdemeanours and handing out the punishment is strangely satisfying. If only life were so simple!
I get plenty of exercise, running up and down the sidelines eleventy squillion times a game. Zumba - who needs it!
I have my weeknights to myself again, as I roster myself where we have umpiring holes. No more humiliating appeals to the niceness of others!
I've met plenty of nice people along the way.
In fact, I've enjoyed it so much that I've decided to coach next year as well.

I played netball from 7 until I was 17, and haven't touched it since. I'm not a typical netball, or sporty, type. I like to keep fit, but sporting competition isn't something I've been involved in for a very long time.
If you had said to me at the start of the year that by the end of June I would be umpiring and committing to coaching netball I would have said , "you're nuts". But there you go, there was a need in the community and somehow I'm there to fill it, and enjoying it.
Funny how life works out sometimes, doesn't it?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gardening mistakes No. 2 - not enough garlic

I was in the vegie patch yesterday, doing a spot of weeding when my eye drifted across the garlic planting.
It seemed a bit sparse. I started counting. Sixty plants. Not enough! eek!
I do love my home grown garlic. Even six months after harvesting, our garlic beats most garlic you can buy hands down.
Quick maths - I average about 2 heads of garlic a week - I'm w-a-a-y-y short of garlic self-sufficiency.
I quickly hightailed down to the pantry and brought back with me three heads of garlic, and planted them there and then.
No preparation, nothing. In they went, pointy end up. I'm probably way too late, so there is not a moment to spare!
We'll seee how this late garlic fares. My books say warm temperate planting season for garlic is April to June, but it's been a particularly cold June here so I do not have high hopes.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday night soup - Pea and Ham

Nigella Lawson writes in How to be a Domestic Goddess that winter has its compensations, most of them culinary.
You have it in one Nigella.
The stuff I most like to cook and most like to eat is stuff that is winter fare : soups, stews, roasts and pudding.
Although it's winter, we still plough on with swimming club on Friday nights- yes, I know, nuts.
Friday nights is therefore designated soup night around here, the reason being it's warm and filling without weighing down the swimmers.

This is Pea and Ham soup made in 15 minutes in my trusty pressure cooker. It is improved from your normal run-of-the-mill by the inclusion of garlic, ginger, chili and lemon juice. Come to think of it, for me there is not a legume soup that doesn't benefit from the judicious squeeze of a lemon.

Here's the recipe:

Pea and Ham soup

500g split yellow peas
1 ham hock
2 garlic cloves finely minced
a knob of ginger, finely chopped
1/2 tsp chili flakes
lemon juice

1. Gently sweat ginger and garlic over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the chili flakes
2. Tip in split peas and ham hock. Cover with water.
3. Bring to low pressure over medium heat. Cook for 15 minutes, then take off the heat to release pressure.
4. Open the cooker. Remove the hock and take meat from the bones, and finely chop. Return to the soup. Add a bit more water if needed. Bring back up to heat over medium heat.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste, and the juice of half a lemon.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Do you KIP?*

Do you KIP - knit in public?
I was thinking about this recently. You don't seem to see as many kippers as you used to.
When I was a kid, you always saw women with their knitting out. I remember mums knitting as they waited to pick up kids at school. Kippers would be on the sidelines when I played netball. If you got on a train, the carriage would have at least one kipper. Every winter we had knitting crazes at school, as we all worked on our wonky knitted scarves at school lunchtimes.
Now - not so much it seems.
I have two kids that swim - that means lots of waiting around for training sessions, and lots of long waits at carnivals.
Recently I took my son to the NSW All Schools Carnival at Homebush and I took my knitting. He had one event at about 9.30am and one event a 1.30pm. A long time to wait sitting around - perfect opportunity to knit. ( I go quite a bit done too - uninterrupted time, bliss!) There would have been hundreds of people at that carnival doing what I was doing - waiting. Some were playing with their phones/iPods/iPads, the modern form of distraction/entertainment. A few were reading. From what I could see, though, I was the only kipper.
Recently, World Wide Knit in Public Day was celebrated. Do you KIP? Are we about to see the resurrection of kipping?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A different paradigm

Today's post on Rhonda's blog Down to Earth has got me thinking.
She was writing about an article that said compared to UK immigrants, Greek and Italian immigrants to Australia after the war paid off their houses faster, even though both migrants worked equally hard. This was due to the fact that Greeks and Italians grew and cooked most of their own food, and made savings by preserving, recycling etc.
My first observation is that this isn't surprising. A lot of Greek and Italian migrants came from rural backgrounds so were well versed in growing and raising food. For them, if you didn't grow it, you didn't eat. Whereas it seems most UK migrants would have come from cities and towns and had already lost that connection with the earth.
As the granddaughter and daughter of migrants from Italy, I can say categorically that to them growing and cooking your own food is like breathing. It wouldn't have occurred to my grandmother to do anything but grow her food. Her backyard in Moss Vale was hardworking - chooks, fruit trees, vege patch. She had it all. She chopped her wood. She made her own bread from scratch every day in the wood stove. She baked. In her down time she sewed, crocheted and knitted. She was always productively busy, right into her mid-eighties. Man, what a woman!
My parents aren't as hardcore as my grandparents. They don't have a wood stove and don't bake their own bread. They live in Sydney, but on their block have chooks and vegies. Mum always, always cooks from scratch, and always has the wherewithal to make meals for numbers of people at the drop of a hat (with 5 kids, daughters and son-in-law and 9 grandchildren, she always cooks in numbers). And she is as talented a sewer and knitter as my Nonna.
Even though I knew money was tight for my parents as I was growing up, we always ate well, and were well dressed. Most importantly, every night we ate together as a family, and those bonds forged with my parents and siblings around the dinner table are bonds that I treasure today.
I grew up I took all this for granted. In fact, although I felt all the benefits of being cared for, I pretty much disdained the "domestic arts" being a bit of an academic girl and convinced I would never have to cook for myself! I'm not sure who I thought would be doing this stuff.
But now I look at my life and it is very different to what I envisaged. I am trying to recreate for my family what I grew up with. Home cooked meals, gardens and keeping chooks are only part of the picture. Behind these are values of simplicity, productive work and firm family bonds that drive what I do here. But most of all, I felt loved and cared for in this work, and am looking to do the same for my kids.

Rhonda's article mentions paying off mortgages quickly. My grandparents borrowed some money to buy their block of land. Then my grandfather built a two room dwelling (later the garage/garden shed), where a family of six lived while he built the main house by himself - after working as a builder all day on other houses - from scratch. He even made his own bricks. He only called in a plumber and electricity. I never met him - he died 5 years before I was born - but I am in awe of this achievement. What a bloke!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Strawberry guava jelly - the update

I can't make up my mind whether I am happy or annoyed with myself that the post that elicits the most hits on this blog by far is one that I did over two years ago on making Strawberry Guava Jelly.

At the time, I wrote that I hadn't taken a photo of how I set up the guavas to drain through a muslin cloth. Two years later, I get around to it.

This weekend, I dragged out a couple of bags of strawberry guavas from the freezer to make jelly. They've been in there since March, when I wasn't in the mood to do anything much.

We had a long weekend here, windy, wet and cold, so it was a good opportunity to catch up on some preserving. I used the same method as in the original post, and gained a couple of jars of guava jelly, much to the delight of Action Man who grew up on the stuff in rural Queensland. all those visitors who find their way here through Google. Stay a while, check out the blog.. leave a comment. Let me know how your guava jelly goes!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The last of the Autumn leaves - and coffee bean brittle

....which looks a bit like Autumn leaves.

Bridget asked me how to make coffee bean brittle, mentioned in the previous post.
Coffee bean brittle works really well with the mocha cake, but also over ice cream. It's not too difficult to make, but you need to be careful. Hot sugar - ouch. I have a scar on my right hand to prove it.
Here's how you make it:

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon coffee beans

Crush the coffee beans in a mortar and pestle. You don't have to be too assiduous - just a coarse crush will do.
Dissolve the sugar into the water in a small saucepan, over a medium-high heat. Use a pastry brush to brush sugar crystal from the sides of the pan as it comes to the boil.
One the sugar is dissolved, and the mixture is at a boil, keep an eye on it. It will take a while, but the liquid will become thicker.
Once it changes colour to a pale yellow, tip in the coffee beans and give it a swirl around. Then watch it carefully - as soon as it turns amber, pour the mixture onto a baking tray lined with baking paper or foil. (I use an oven glove to protect my hands at this point).
Leave to cool, then break into shards.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mmm...Mocha cake

Action Man and I have birthdays within a fortnight of each other, so it's been a chocolate cake-fest around here lately.
This Mocha cake was made for AM's *cough*cough* birthday on Tuesday. It is based on Belinda Jeffrey's recipe in her book Mix and Bake. (NB. I notice this book is out now in paperback. If you are a baker, I can recommend this book. ) One of the best things about this recipe is that it is a melt-and-mix cake, so everything is mixed in one saucepan. Too easy. And it tastes good too.
My cake was decorated with cream and coffee bean brittle. The coffee bean brittle got the thumbs down from the kids, so AM's cake is iced with chocolate ganache. Not a bad alternative.

Mocha cake

40g cocoa
80g unsalted butter
1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup strong black coffee
100g dark chocolate
250g castor sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup sour cream

Heat oven to 150 degrees.
Grease and line a 24cm springform tin.
Put cocoa, oil , coffee and butter into a large saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Once smooth, take off heat and let cool.
Once cool add sugar and egg. Mix.
Sift in plain flour and baking powder. Mix in and then add sour cream.
Mix until smooth, transfer to tin and bake for 50 minutes or so.

Chocolate ganache: Melt 200g dark chocolate and 100g unsalted butter with a little water in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Mix until smooth and let cool slightlly before covering the cake.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gardening Mistakes No.1 - Galangal

Here is a picture of our galangal patch, taken a few months ago now.
It is now bigger, (at least as tall as me at 175cms) and threatening to take over the vegie patch.
We were given a few tubers by one of Action Man's workmates. His wife is Thai, and he had to rip up a patch of galangal in his backyard. Now I know why.
This is major machete stuff, and I have a feeling that this is the sort of plant if you leave the merest skerrick of a tuber, you'll continue to beat it back with sticks for years to come.
And I rarely use the stuff.
Take it from me - don't plant galangal unless you have a major Thai cooking fetish.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Out of the blogging habit

It's been a while, and I have completely got out of the blogging habit.
First I had a case of the blahs.
Then the computer hard disk was full, and I couldn't download photos until I dealt with that.
Then I got frustrated with my satellite internet connection, which doesn't appreciate doing stuff like..uploading photos to Blogger (like today...grrrr).
Then I couldn't take photos, because the batteries always seemed to be flat at the moment of inspiration.
Then I got out of the habit of taking photos.
Then I thought - no photos- no blog entry.
Then I stopped thinking about what I would blog about next.
Then I was out of the habit.

Yep, excuses. I'm full of 'em!

I've realised I miss blogging - so here's hoping I can get back in the habit.