Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review - Down to Earth by Rhonda Hetzel

After years of following her blog, I was pleased the other day to purchase a copy of Rhonda Hetzel's book "Down to Earth", a distillation of her blog of the same name.
I'm pretty sure the visitors to this blog would be familiar with the Down to Earth blog. It has a huge following in blog terms for two good reasons. It is chock-full of useful how-tos for the skills one needs to simplify one's life: budgeting, household organisation, time management, making, mending, cooking, planning, gardening, preserving and more are all covered. Underpinning all of that, though, and what keeps me coming back, is Rhonda's writing. She writes passionately about her own move to the simple life, and really exhorts us all to think about how we live our lives. She challenges us to rise above being mere cogs in the consumerist economy, and to show up for the way we live our own lives. It's all there on the blog, and it's all here in this beautiful book.
I hope that Spades and Spoons is a reflection of the fact that I am  on board with what Rhonda has to say. She writes in the introduction that before she started her blog, she "found blogs about global warming, lightening your footprint, going green and peak oil, but none wrote about what I wanted to do - change how we live in the most fundamental and practical way". As the saying goes the personal is political, and if we are concerned about how modern life in the West is going, the most direct way we can make an impact is how we choose to live our lives and consume on a day to day basis. This book gives you the tools.
Even though I am pretty much up to speed with all the ground Rhonda covers - though I haven't had a go a soap making yet, and somehow I don't think I will for a while - I purchased this book mainly as a way to say thank you to Rhonda for the effort she puts into her blog, and for tips I've picked up on Down to Earth over the years. I've been making her laundry liquid for a couple of years now (recipe in the book, as well as other green cleaners), and I figure just this alone has saved me quite a bit, certainly enough to cover the price of the book.
I can imagine dipping into Down to Earth, much as with the blog, from time to time. And, as my kids start earning their own money, I'll open the book at Chapter Two - Ages and Stages, dealing with simple living at all stages of life, and tell them to read and learn!
Down to Earth book, as with the blog - highly recommended.

Edited later to add:-

If I have a quibble with this book, it's that it lacks an index. Although it reads like a narrative in some ways, it is very much a reference book. Having had the book for a few weeks now I've found myself flicking through it to find specific information. Mildly frustrating. Sorry, Penguin, but the Table of Contents does not suffice. If there is a second edition, how about adding an index?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fig jam

Achan from Jacaranda Blue has asked if I can post my fig jam recipe.  I thought I'd already done this at some point, but no, I haven't. So here it is. And like everything I give the thumbs up, it's easy:

Fig jam

Figs - I weigh out anything between 600g and 1kg, depending on how many you have.
White sugar - half the weight of the figs
Grated zest of one lemon
1 star anise
1/2 tsp Chinese five spice

Cut the figs into small pieces and place in a bowl with the sugar. Leave overnight.
Put into a saucepan with remaining ingredients.Bring to the boil (a lot of liquid will have come out of the figs), then lower the heat and simmer for 20-30mins until set point is reached (drop a spoonful of jam onto a small plate that has been in the freezer for a few minutes. If it wrinkles when you push the edge of a spoon against it, set point has been reached).
Put immediately into hot sterilized jars (washed in soapy water, rinsed, then in an oven on 100degrees for 15 minutes).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Made by Me - Simplicity 2246 - Traveller Dress

Second in the Made by Me series. The new machine has really got me enthused, and I've realised that my slow sewing rate to date was due to 1) the constant fiddling I had to do with the old machine to get it to sew properly  resulting in 2) reluctance to engage with said machine.
This is Simplicity 2246, one of the Lisette range currently in the catalogue. I used a chambray with a silky feel I picked up at Tessuti fabrics. Lovely to wear.
I cut a 16 top and 18 skirt, but think I could cut 16 below the waist too - there is rather a lot of ease there.
Alterations: lowered the bust dart, omitted lower pockets, lengthened 10cm, shorted the sleeve to above elbow length and added width.
Thumbs up: An easy to sew pattern, very straightforward. Kudos to me for getting this set-in sleeve about  right, a feat I've never been able to achieve prior to this. To do this, I ran three gathering lines between the notches, pinned it into the armhole to get the fit, then steam shrunk it over a tailor's ham, then re-pinned with gazillion pins and sewed from the sleeve side - it worked! I also sewed the underarm area twice, as this area will take a bit of stress.
Thumbs down: Brickbats to me for omitting a button - I used 8 instead of the specified nine. After wearing it for a day, I realise why 9 was specified. Hmm - a few discreet snaps are in order to take up the slack. I'm also not a fan of the cut-in-one collar and stand. When I make this again, I'll revert to the traditional collar and stand.
Verdict - I enjoyed making this dress, and enjoy wearing it.
Now I'll just have to figure out how to photograph this stuff properly.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Valentine to my Fig Tree

Dear Fig Tree
This valentine is several days late, but I know you won't mind. You're not demanding. You don't have high expectations. You just quietly go about your business, and do what you do best - shower us with figs every February.
It's been that way ever since we got together in 2003. You arrived with a bunch of your mates from Daley's. You were all skinny little sticks then. Now look at you - you're all magnificent trees (okay, we won't talk about poor old mango. It's a bit too cold for her, but she still hangs in there, doesn't she?).
But fig tree, you won my heart. Your mates demand constant attention, especially those pesky stone fruit trees. Pruning, feeding, spraying for fruit fly. It never stops. But you, dear fig tree demand nothing, except a bit of net around December. That's it.
You grew when we were going through the worst drought ever. And now our footsteps squelch after what seems like months of rain (even up a hill, as we are), you are as productive as you ever were. No fuss.
Every February we pick buckets of figs. I eat figs, morning, afternoon and evening - I never get tired of them. Best of all, there are plenty of figs to make my favourite jam, as above: fig jam with star anise and chinese five-spice. This will put a smile on my face as I spread it on my breakfast toast as we slide into winter.
So, fig tree, 2012 is as good a year as ever. May there be many more.
Love always,

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I've been fiddling around with sprouting seeds on and off for a while now.
I've tried using jars covered with muslin secured with an elastic band. The idea is you soak the seeds, in the jar, then upend it, allowing the water to run through the muslin, a couple of times a day. Sounds straightforward, but in practice, the water just didn't run off properly. Lots of water would be left, so I would end up straining the seeds through a sieve, then trying to put them all back into the jar, losing quite a few along the way. Too much of a palaver for me.
I bought this contraption at the local nursery a couple of months ago. It is a lot more user friendly. You just pour water into the top tray. The water runs through all the layers, and then ends up in the bottom tray which you empty. Easy peasy. Above are two trays of snow pea spouts and a mix of alfalfa and radish sprouts.
I've also used lentils.
Still haven't got it weighed off though. It seems you need to sprout a LOT of seeds, to fill the punnets you would normally buy. The tray of alfalfa/radish sprouts went onto one sandwich. Meanwhile, I ended up snipping the snow pea sprouts indvidually, because the seeds themselves aren't terribly palatable. A bit tedious, I tell you. The lentil sprouts weren't too bad - I used them whole in a salad.
Also, the seeds you buy for sprouting I reckon are expensive. Looking at ordering some through Green Harvest online.
Do you sprout? What are your favourite sprouting seeds? And how do you do it?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Made by Me - 50 cent serve of Sorbetto

Ok, so I promised I would start posting photos of my sewing projects after I bought my beloved Bernina 330 last month. Here is the first in what I hope will be regular "Made by Me" postings.
This top is Colette Patterns' Sorbetto top, which, if you are interested, is available as a free download here.
This is a simple sleeveless top - no, you aren't seeing me model it without the cardi.I'm not showing my upper arms to anyone.
I made a simple few alterations and changes. I dropped the bust dart about an inch, and lengthened the top about 5 cm (I am 175cm - this is pretty standard alteration for me). Also, instead of an exposed bias binding, I sewed the binding to the inside. I only had a small amount of fabric left to make bias binding. I could get enough metrage, but only at the cost of lots of joins, which don't look so hot on the outside.
It is a very easy top to make. If you are a beginner, I would definitely encourage you to try it. There are no buttons or zips to fiddle around with - a straightforward make.
I also like that this top is made from one of the few good Vinnies finds I've had. I don't know - so many people seem to strike gold often at Vinnies - not me. I did find this fabric at the local Vinnies for 50c. Yay.  It looks and feels like a cotton/poly blend, and though it doesn't show in the photo it has tiny embossed butterflies.
So free  pattern - 50c for fabric - even the cotton was a left over from my marathon curtain making effort of 2006  (8 sets of curtains). You gotta love that.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rock cakes - school must be back in

How many rock cakes have I made in my lifetime? Answer: A lot.
School is back in, and here is another batch. Myyounger child, Amelia, started high school on Monday. Monday night I was bagging up unneeded primary school uniforms to take in for the clothing pool. I had polo shirts too that were too tatty or too daubed with paint to include, so I sat and painstakingly cut them into rags. I had a bit of tear in my eye as I did. Primary school stage is over. Whoosh. How fast did that go?
I think every year has a different rhythm. This year I will have quiet mornings. Both children are out the door at 7.15am to catch the bus. They get home about 4.15pm, so there is extra quiet there too.
Meanwhile, I've dropped a day's work. I am very happy about this. Toward the end of last year I was tired and not feeling that well, really (as evidenced by negligent blogging habits). I was feeling out of whack. Another day to keep on top of things around here will make all the difference. I've also booked into yoga classes again for this term, after a break of 10 months, and have joined the local tennis club. I haven't hit a tennis ball in years - we'll see how this goes!
So 2012 is shaping up well. There is a lot to look forward to and be thankful for. Hope it is the same in your neck of the woods.