Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The night the trees exploded

So, the other night a tornado ripped through my area, not 500metres from my house.
There, that's a sentence I never thought I would write on this blog. But it's true.
On Sunday morning at around 3am, a tornado cut a swathe in our area. It's path was about 100metres wide and it travelled over several kilometres inland from the sea. Luckily, ours is an area of acreages, so not too many homes were affected - some were, but not like Kiama about 30 minutes north of here. There, another  tornado took out 5 homes and damaged 80 more.
This tornado travelled across open paddocks and bushland mainly. We overlook a mountain ridge that is covered in trees. You can see clearly where the tornado travelled. There is now a big bare patch where trees used to be. The mountainside looks a bit like a toddler who has hacked at his own hair with scissors.
This tree is over the other side of the ridge, about 3 km from our place. It travelled across a creek on the right,  and took out a couple of farm sheds in a property on the other side of the creek. A total mess, but the home, 50 metres away was unscathed. It is amazing to see how precisely these things wreak havoc.
So in 6 weeks we've endured two 45 degree stinkers, and now we've enjoyed our first tornado, here is our quiet little temperate corner of Australia. Can't wait to see what nature serves up next! Or maybe I can, since she seems to be a very grumpy lady at the moment.

Edited later to add- check out this site for more photos and commentary.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Makin' bacon

So, the nearly 15 year old came home a week or so ago with his Term 1 Science assessment. Over four pages of explanation, essentially his task is to think up an experiment that relates to a "problem", do the experiment, and then report on it.
We were brain storming stuff that he could report on. I asked him, what do you like doing? Eating, he says. At 183cm and barely 60 kilos, you would never guess, but still. OK, what's your favourite food? Right on cue, he says "Bacon". I knew we were on fruitful territory here, because we'd often discussed the problem with bacon you buy ie. what you left with, after the fat and brine is cooked out of it is only a shadow of what you start with.
It didn't take long to formulate the experiment. We'd experiment cooking with different types of bacon - generic supermarket bacon, butcher bacon, bacon made with free range pork to see which type contains the most fat and water. And to make things interesting, I suggested "How about we make our own bacon to compare"? That's why we're makin' bacon.
I've never delved into making our own smallgoods, so this is new territory for me. Far from doing extensive research, I simply looked up Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking, which goes into all this sort of stuff. Sure enough, there are recipes in there for making bacon. Above is a kilo of pork belly which is three days into a dry cure process. So far, so simple. In fact, a little bit too simple - I'm worried whether I've missed something. You know, in the back of my mind is the thought - what if I poison someone?? Eek!
We'll keep you posted. Hopefully.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

To pick or not to pick...

It's a lovely day here today!

...that is the question!
Action Man and I pay close attention to the weather around here, as I'm sure many of you who read this blog do. When you grow things, it affects so much of what you do in the garden on a day to day basis.  And Action Man is always trying to figure out when is a good day to go fishing, or cycling.
At the moment Action Man is trying to decide when to pick our grapes. As you may know, we have about 100 shiraz and chambourcin vines with which we theoretically make our own wine. I say theoretically because for the last three seasons, our grape crop has been annihilated by excessive rainfall. The mildew literally causes the grape berries to rot on the vine. The birds love us, as we just let them go for it. We've made wine, but have bought in the grapes from places that are much more suited to wine grape growing than this place.
This year, though, the upside of our very dry start to summer has been that as of now we have grapes to pick. Not a lot, but enough, and they are in pretty good condition. This is very exciting! The question now is.. when do we pick? Last weekend Action Man tested the sugar content, or baume, or the grapes. It stood at 20. Ideally it should be 24. The question is do we wait for a while longer, and hope that some hot weather will cause that reading to rise? The seven day forecast has showers about every day, and not much in the way of hot weather. So, we may not get the rise in sugar content that is needed, and at the same time we run the risk of mildew. So do we pick now? Or do we wait? It's a gamble either way.
Talk about dilemmas!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Preserving tomatoes

We've grown all types of tomatoes over the years here, but the most prolific, reliable and resistant to fruit fly have proven to be the Romas. So, we stick with them, along with a cherry tomato or two to keep them company.
We have new neighbours, who are having their first growing season here. They tell us that they had to bin 200 tomatoes after the 45C shockers we had in January. The Romas came through that horror pretty much unscathed, and now, well, we are inundated with them. So it's time to preserve.
I've tried a lot of different methods of preserving tomatoes, but bottling tomatoes is my favourite. I've posted this method before - here it is again:
Simply halve or quarter your tomatoes depending upon size, and pack into clean sterilised jars with a tablespoon of chopped parsley, some salt and about a tablespoon of olive oil. Then you place them in a large stockpot, sitting on a teatowel. Cover them with water, bring to the boil. then lower the heat and let simmer for 30 minutes or so. Let cool in the stockpot - the lids should have made a seal by then.
That's it and that's all. Use as you would canned tomatoes in cooking.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Made By Me - It's Curtains

It was hard to get a decent photograph of the curtains I have just made for my daughter's room. I couldn't get the whole curtain in, due to the room's dimensions. Never mind. They are UP, and I'm pretty happy with how they've turned out. The fabric cost me $64 for 18 metres of fabric, and I needed to buy some more hooks. The linings were salvaged from the old curtains, so it was a pretty frugal project, all up. I also have some left over fabric to make - I'm not sure yet.
Some sewists disdain home dec sewing because it's boring. Not me. I like home dec sewing, because unlike dressmaking, home dec sewing has a much higher likelihood of success. Most of the seams are straight and there aren't the kind of fitting issues you get with making clothes. Also, the behaviour of home dec fabric is much more predictable. And I like making things for the home. The only downside, at least with making curtains, is the metres and metres of fabric you have to deal with. Most of the time you spend making curtains is fabric wrangling, I swear.
I started out sewing by taking a course in Soft Furnishing at TAFE. We moved into this house ten years ago, and there wasn't a single window covering in the place. The recent fashion has been to have no window covering on lots of glass. That's not me - I like drawing curtains in summer against the sun, and in winter against the cold. I also like keeping the heat in during winter. And to me there is something snug about drawing curtains. It makes the home feel cosy.
Anyway, I took the course and made all the curtains in this place - that's ten sets of curtains. Yep, it saved a LOT of money. More importantly, though, the course also gave me practice in lots of skills that you use when sewing clothing - inserting zips, making buttonholes, gathering, inserting piping, measuring, sewing straight seams, seam finishing, pleating, making pintucks etc etc. (We even made and upholstered a lounge chair, which was enough to convince me I never wanted to do that again).
When I came to the conclusion a few years later that the only way I was going to get good quality clothing that fit me, in natural fibres that I could afford was to sew for myself, it wasn't daunting to make the leap to dressmaking. Fitting the figure is the big challenge when dressmaking, but it's far less onerous when you already know your way around a sewing machine, and have a few successful home dec projects to show for it.
My advice to anyone who wants to make their own clothes then is, start with home dec. Make a few cushion covers, pillowcases, quilt covers or even a set of curtains. Measure carefully, and take your time. Then when you have a few projects under your belt start with a skirt then...the sky's the limit.