Saturday, January 31, 2009

Not to freeze

To freeze or not to freeze is a discussion we seem to have at least every year at my place. Do we need a chest freezer? No. Would a chest freezer be very useful? Yes. Can we afford one right now. No. So I guess we'll shelve that one until next year.

I bought mushroom compost to build up the garden underneath the study window. Brighid considers it her new playground. If I can get up before her tomorrow, then I will plant the chicory there and sow some rocket and coriander and peas (and hope she forgets about the area). Chicory looks very pretty so far. As far whether I will like the taste, I'll report on that later in the year.

I found the right parts for the food processor liquidiser attachment. I made a blueberry, kefir and maple syrup smoothie. I liked it. The children did not. Ah well, at least my intestinal flora is getting the good treatment.

I have started Brighid's knitted dress again. This time I cast on by knitting into the front of the previous stitch, just as my mother taught me years ago. It made a neater and tighter edge and was much easier to prevent twisting given that I'm doing the circular needles lark again. Last attempt I cast on by making loops with my finger and sliding them on. Won't be doing that for circular knitting again. So I have 40 grams of this gorgeous wool from the Granity craft shop and then I'll have to switch to something else when that runs out. I do have some leftover bobbly black alpaca wool of the same thickness from when I knitted my posh cardi last year. When I get to the bodice part, I think I'll switch to 8 ply. I have some plain black 8 ply left from knitting Fionn's sleeveless hoodie. It's quite fun making it all up. The skirt part is surely not difficult and I'll use the size 2 version of the sleeveless hoodie pattern to guide me for the bodice. When I read Heather Nicholson's book on the history of knitting in New Zealand, she observed that in parts of Europe they rarely bother with a pattern. So I'm feeling rather European and I will feel rather more European if I pull it off and the dress is pretty and easy to wear.

My chillis are coming along nicely. I have a renewed interest in chillies as Paul Pitchford says that they are strengthening to the lungs. There was a doctor in California who found surprisingly low rates of respiratory problems amongst Hispanic smokers in Los Angeles and attributes it to chilli intake (presumably more than guesswork - the book I read doesn't elaborate much). So given Favourite Handyman is still scaring me with his lung burning habits and given that he likes chillies and hot foods, I might make up some harissa (or surely I could buy some decent harissa though maybe not locally) for him to add to whatever he likes.

Friday, January 30, 2009

food project rationalisation

I made some beetkvass. I'd done a bit of online research and learnt that sometimes it does better than others. Mine was just salty pink water. I threw it out after drinking just a few mouthfuls. I'll try again when I have my own beetroot ready in the garden. Apparently the fresher the beetroot, the better the kvass.

I made ginger beer. It is nice. Very fizzy. But the children aren't overly fussed and I notice we are drinking it when we would otherwise drink water. So I'm leaving that for now. I might try again next summer.

The kefir is still bolting along. I've moved it out of the hot water cupboard which has slowed things down a bit. I'm still drinking it and I've made more banana muffins with it this morning. School goes back for Fionn next week so I've been baking baking and freezing lots of muffins for school lunches. Oh what a nice mummy I am.

Tomatoes. We got given a lovely bag of tomatoes earlier this week. Lots of different varieties, all home grown. We've eaten and cooked a few and I've sliced the remainder and put in the dehydrator this morning. I'll turn them into a jar of olive oil and herbs when they are nearly dry.

I'm reading Paul Pitchford's Healing with Whole Foods at the moment. It is very interesting. I suspect it is going to trigger another round of new foods/new recipes experimenting. I've got plenty to learn about Chinese nutritional theory, yin and yang and the five elements, not to mention all sorts of things about every kind of food.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Images from January

These were taken a couple of weeks ago. Above is our front of house potato patch. Favourite Handyman built the raised bed for this patch just before Christmas.
Here is kale (red russian and cavolo nero) and borage, with tomatoes, lettuces, Maori potatoe, thyme and peas in the background or around the edges. This is part of the old chook run.

A photo from our day out mussel collecting on the beach further up the coast from us.

This is the raised bed which I built in January 2008. It produced some reasonable food over the last few months but I felt it wasn't high enough and noticed the spinach had yellowing on its leaves in this patch. So we piled it high with compost and pea straw and sheep and chook poo. Since this photo, I've planted cabbage, kale, cauliflower and broccoli in this patch.

The flowers in the vase are feverfew. It grew so prolifically that I've had to cut it back hard in order to let light in on the nearby parsley. I like to have a lot of parsley in the winter garden. It's magical stuff nutritionally. The wee pots on the table have basil in them. The orange and yellow flowers behind the table are calendulas. They grow there all year round since I cleared and composted that area. Calendulas are my personal emblem of hope and strength for my friends who are trying to conceive or who are pregnant. Right now Tania, they are glowing brightly and producing more and more flowers (despite Brighid's enthusiasm for picking them and making floating bowls in the rain-filled wheelbarrow). I'm still praying for you and your lovely baby throughout each day.
The corrugated iron you can see behind the table will be made into a very high raised bed in the too wet garlic patch later this year. The wooden pallet will go underneath the wood when it gets stacked (soon I hope) and the old car tyre will go in the corner on top of another tyre in order to make a cactus home. We have one cactus in a tyre and one of my latest ideas is to make a corner feature of cacti in tyres at different heights (i.e different numbers of tyres as the bases for the plants). Then I will dig bokashi along that strip against the fence, slowly across this coming winter. Eventually, the entire fence line will glow with flowers. The plant beside the calendulas is a canna lily. It has shot up and started to flower since I took this photograph.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Two nights away camping. It was fabulous. I think we should live in a tent all the time (apart from the heating in winter issue). We just don't need so much of the stuff in our house. I've come home ready to do a deeper cull.

We stayed at Nelson Creek, an old gold mining village up the Grey Valley (West Coast still). We walked past many relics and reflected on the lure of gold over the centuries. We swam and lazed around and watched the children and made friends with another family. There is a church (not generally used I think) and a pub (generally used) and a few houses clustered near the camping ground. The pub had a corner devoted to the photos of the past, including the century of the Nelson Creek School.` Wow. I recognised many of the family names and realised that they go back over 100 years in this part of the West Coast. My family have never stayed in one place for more than one generation.

Yesterday we drove further up the road and went to Lake Haupiri which was very serene and totally beautiful.

I found out more about a local homekill abbatoir. Although we have a good local(ish) butcher, he still sources his meat from Canterbury and I want to shift our meat consumption entirely to locally grown meat, not just locally processed. I am in the process of sorting out a co-op for half an organic (beef) beast for this winter. I'm making sure I get the bones as well as I've been reading more about the benefits of bone broths. Perhaps we do need a chest freezer after all. I have made a space for one with the last revamp of our home.

I have finished Fionn's sleeveless hoodie. It would look better with the edges on the sleeves (I certainly won't be undoing it to put them on!) and the pattern is very odd with respect to the way the hood attaches to the rest of the vest, but you can't tell when it is on. It looks good on. Fionn now wants me to make knitted trousers to go with it to complete the bumblebee outfit look. A vain desire.

Brighid is now two. She now has even more clothes than before and it is truly ridiculous. She also has the cradle which my great grandparents gave me when I was one and which Mum has repainted and made a mattress and linen for. Mum and Dad put (another!) doll in for her as well but Mum doesn't like the clothes the doll arrived from the shop in. Maybe I will use some of the rather significant stash of wool I found when I cleaned the study and knit a doll's dress. Maybe. I'm going to do the sewing night class at the local high school again this term. Last time it was winter and I missed a few sessions due to bad health and weather. So all I did from a supposedly eight week course was turn one dress into a skirt, sew some nappy wipes and cut out a pair opf pyjama pants. I'm hoping to at least manage to finish the pyjama pants and do something else as well. I do enjoy the chat though, which slows me down just like it did when I was in the classroom years ago!

The garden is looking well. I found the magic stick thing for saving files and photos onto when I cleaned up but I forget which safe place I put it into. Or the proper name for the magic stick. It is peak white butterfly season and I spend some time every day peeling off caterpillars and killing them. Tomatoes still seem to be slow even although the weather is wonderful. When they do ripen, Brighid and the blackbirds eat them. Brighid gets stuck in before they ripen sometimes. I have started to harvest the first potato patch.

I'm off now to make a bigger pile of things to give to the charity shop. We need fewer things in this house.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

cauliflower mousse

Dad gave us a beautiful cauliflower from his garden earlier this week. We also had stale bread (due to my low carb project) and a small glut of eggs. So I pulled out my Amrita recipe book (Wellingtonions may remember the restaurant which produced the book) and found cauliflower mousse.

They did: eggs, cauliflower, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, milk, optional sunflower seeds

I did: eggs, cauliflower, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, kefir, brazil nuts, garlic, rosemary, thyme, marjoram and oragano.

We are drowning in kefir. I have it all out of whack because I am not a smoothy maker and I think I've lost the rubber seal for the smoothie attachment on my food processor so the children have not had any more kefir than a few teaspoons on their porridge. We have had kefir cheese and Favourite Handyman likes it and I drink kefir twice most days but it is hot here and the stuff is growing so fast that the milk is getting expensive. I was pleased to oblige when one friend rang today and explained that her husband had put the kefir in the fridge (I gave her a big jar of grains two days ago) and killed it and could she have some more.

So kefir instead of milk in the mousse and all the herbs and garlic because the original sounded rather plain. Brazil nuts because I am trying to up my selenium levels and it can't harm the rest of the family to get a bit more selenium.

It tasted very nice. For anyone fancying making the recipe, you saute the onions, garlic and then drop in the herbs for the second half of the sauteeing time. You cut up the cauli into small pieces and then put in a pot, bring to the boil and then strain water off. Grate the cheese (any old cheddar though I expect if you had fancy stronger hard cheeses they would be nice as well). Whizz up the bread into crumbs. I used grainy bread. Chop up the brazil nuts quite finely. Mix everything except the milk/kefir and the eggs together. Then beat the milk/kefir and the egg yolks together and mix in to the rest. Finally beat the egg whites until fluffy and then fold in. Put in a greased casserole and bake for about an hour at 180 degrees celsius.

I've been reading about brassicas being especially good for us human beings. I've also decided that I need to get to like cauliflower more and eat it more as it does grow in winter.

I served the mousse with sliced carrots and red peppers and a dollop of hummous. If I had been a less frazzled person at ten-to-six, I would have added something dark green as well. But frazzled I was and frazzled at ten-to-six is not the slightest bit uncommon.

summer, recycling

Summer is so beautiful, especially as January passes, that I almost fear to write, to acknowledge that the days are passing. Fionn is at his grandparents' at the moment and thus early mornings here are very quiet. Last night we went out to dinner and then walked along the beach. Brighid and Favourite Handyman both collected pieces of wood for the raised bed gardens and carried them back on their shoulders. Brighid wore a very beautiful smocked dress a friend had made for her and gifted when she was born. With a full skirt and a bow at the back, it is similar to the dresses my mother made for my sister and I when we were small. This one had spaghetti and berry sauce down the front and was wet from the sea around the hem by the end of the evening. It was made with love and she had fun while wearing it.

I bought some chicory seedlings the other day and now have to prepare a spot to plant them in. I sowed chicory seed last year but none of it germinated.

Now the market for recycled glass, plastic and metals has collapsed world wide, stories of recycling centres struggling to stay afloat are making the papers frequently. For me, living in a place which is a long way from anywhere, I think it is an opportunity to ask some different questions about recycling. Everywhere I have lived in the last ten or so years, we've been talking about recycling. Good services, bad services, improving services. The range of recycling services seems a badge of how enlightened a council is. For a city dweller, putting the recycling out, applauding the council or berating them according to their level of collection, is a pleasant way of feeling green.

But why the hell should we feel better about shipping plastics to China (how much fuel is that, not to mention how much fuel to get it all to whichever port it leaves New Zealand from) instead of putting them in our own local landfill? Is China not doing enough of our dirty work by producing clothes and toys and electronic goods cheaply and sweatedly, to feed our consumer desires?

I would like to see a lot more focus from the council here in smallwettown on composting. Food waste is one very significant portion of household waste that need never leave town. For many people, given that we live in a low density housing area where hardly anyone is in a flat without a bit of garden, most of the food waste need never leave our gates.

There is nothing saintly about my supermarket consumption. Nothing at all. We don't buy readymade foods like packaged pizzas and fish fingers, but we do seem to acquire a significant amount of packaging waste each week. There is no waste packaging from my home made kefir, but come term time, I do humour my son who has no tv and generally wierd parents and who especially asks for bought yoghurt not the home made kind for school. I say no to him about 8005 times per week, so the odd yes to yoghurt does not constitute ridiculousness to my mind. We usually buy bottled beer, but when I know we are having guests or will drink a rigger in a day, then I go to the fill your own liquor shop. They have Harrington's Wobbly Boot on tap for $9 a 2 litre bottle and it is a very nice drop.

There is more I can do to reduce packaging coming into my home and with a little more steel resolve, those reductions will become permanent. But I've stopped thinking that the council needs to collect all my crap and send it to China. Frankly, I hope everyone will rethink the way that we treat China as our lower class relation, servant and dumping ground.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Just for the record, so I can compare with next month's craze (hopefully something more exciting like vodka cocktails), I am thinking about magnesium a lot. I've been stepping up my project to learn more about the immune system and how to improve it. Seeing as I can't shove myself in anyone's womb and dictate that I'll have breastmilk and organic wholegrain grits thrice soaked in whey from Mohammed via the Caucasus. It's all too late on the setup front. Antibiotics, anasthetics and too many carbohydrates.

Last week it was all calcium. Then I found some more information and it turns out calcium is nothing without magnesium. And if I've concentrated properly, which is possible given that the small people who always want to be fed are away today, too much calcium can present similarly to too little calcium and really the issue is magnesium. Apparently they are antagonistic to each other, which is not quite what I was looking for. Harmony of my bodily elements is a much more appealing concept. I think.

Less sugar, less carbohydrates. Or is that fewer? Once I had a job where you risked being fired if you used fewer and less the wrong ways around.

Anyways, there are white butterflies hanging around my brassicas. Perhaps I should go evict them and scrape eggs off the leaves.

Magnesium and white butterflies. Yes, I am still on my lunch break from cleaning.

momentuous times

I've got the radio on, listening intermittently to news of Barack Obama's inauguration. Big big deal.

I've got the entire house to myself for the whole day. Big big deal.

I am cleaning the study. It is a very small room, our study, described as a sunroom when we bought the house. In it we have my computer, FH's computer, my sewing machine, my craft stuff, all of FH's books, all of FH hobby/craft things, important papers, anything we don't the children to touch AND A TRULY PHENOMENAL AMOUNT OF RUBBISH. I can't clean it effectively with small people in the house as it does require removing the toddler gate. I have filled two black sacks already and I'm gunning to fill another. Perhaps by the end of the mission I will be able to find the tape measure. Today AND each subsequent time that I want to use it.

I'm only cleaning my side of it. We like being married, Favourite Handyman and I. That's why we don't tidy each other's mess if throwing out is part of the tidying process.

I did imagine writing or gardening all day but when the day dawned I decided to create some space where I could think and write and sew and knit for the rest of the year. Good luck to me. This is my lunch break. I'm not even hungry which is an odd sign all by itself.

Three quarters of the way up the hall is lined with boxes removed from my half of the study. Which need to be dealt with. There are more boxes to go into the hallway yet. I need to get a lot more ruthless yet. By the end of this there will be no excuse for not fixing the sewing machine. To give myself some kind of encouragement I am getting rid of lots of the clothes which need fixing. I don't want to spend all year playing Frugal Mother Seamstress.

Monday, January 19, 2009


In many ways, today was a good one. I found four nice tops and nearly 100gms of New Zealand made sock wool (i.e. old wool as no sock wool is made in New Zealand now) at the Salvation Army charity shop. Fionn and I had a lovely time making gingerbeer (the mixing and bottling phase) and then planting beetroots and brassicas in the garden. We planted some of the brassicas in generous pockets of potting mix straight into the compost which I had layered thickly on one of the raised beds. Later all four of us got involved in shifting the grass clippings (gifted to us by the local school groundsperson) from the front of the house to various compost spots. Later again we looked after our friend's 20 month old son, spending the sun filled summer evening at the playground by the beach near us and then watching as the children and the chooks clucked and chuckled at each other again and again and again. Once our young friend had gone home I made beet kvass for the first time. Beet kvass is something I would never have considered not long ago, but my success with kefir has inspired some more fermenting adventure.

Pretty good huh? But it could have been the end of my world. I thought it was amazingly easy and wonderful that I could try on clothes at the Sallies and the children would play happily in the playpen. I should have thought about their gymnastic abilities in other avenues of their lives. Just as I was thinking that I had heard Fionn's voice but not Brighid's recently, I heard my daughter wail and a staff member asked who this baby belonged to. I opened the curtain and there was Brighid in her arms. I ran to get her, not caring that I had only a long top and knickers on. The staff person had found her on the road. The main road through smallwettown. State Highway.

I am so so so lucky that God had mercy on me, that I didn't lose my daughter, my world. Every time I look at her today and tonight, each time I think of her, I am grateful that she is alive. I could have killed her with my neglect and I nearly did.

So the garden and the sunshine and the gingerbeer and kvass and the house and all those things are nice, but really they are nothing. Favourite Handyman and Fionn and Brighid and I are alive.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Another 24 hours

So the four days of solo parenting has turned into five. Rather stumped for things to do given we were all devastated by the consequences of a fifty-minutes-late flight from Auckland to Christchurch, the children and I went out for dinner. I ran up the stairs first to check with the lovely Nell as to whether she would let us in given the children were barefoot and I was in gumboots. All okay. We bumped into friends with children at the restaurant so I got adult company and the children got to play.

I have started a new knitting project when I haven't finished the last one. This is a bad thing to do. But I didn't know how to pick up stitches to make armbands on Fionn's sleeveless hoodie. Since I gave up, a friend who has made the same pattern has advised that she left the armbands off completely with no ill effects. Which means that I can sew the rest up. Perhaps even tonight. But in the interim, I have started something for Brighid. I think it will be a dress and I have moved from the slavish following of a pattern which I was taught as a child and feared to deviate from, to making it all up. A drum roll would be appropriate. It is the home spun and dyed wool I bought at Granity last month and I am knitting 120 stitches in the round (in the round being a first for me also) which is going to be the hem of the dress. Something about the wool invites improvisation. I have the idea that I will knit up and along the way I wil learn how to decrease in the round and then I will probably split into two sides on straight needles and make a pinafore style. I chose 120 stitches because I had this idea that the numerical proportions would lend themselves to decreasing evenly around the skirt.

The garden is growing nicely given the good weather. Only the good weather has subsided as of today and the forecast is wet for most of the coming week. I think Favourite Handyman went away the wrong week. We ate potatoes from the garden yesterday. They tasted great to me. The tiny people were sniffy.

I've been hatching more plans for raised beds, this time using corrugated iron which we have in storage ready to be recycled. Favourite Handyman suggested it for the bed which is 1 x 2 metres, but for the work involved, I think raising the bed which is 1.5 x 2+ metres is a better idea. We would have to buy in some soil or extra compost as we would raise it about 0.6 metres. It would deal with the waterlogging problem quite well though, and provide quite a warm plot.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's all in the soil

Tonight after my children were in bed I dug up my garlic. Well actually one child in bed, but that's enough mention of my rather average parenting. I gave up at 9.50pm as it was getting too dark to see the last few garlic plants.

A very encouraging harvest. In the punga raised bed, the bulbs were huge. The soil surrounding them was soft and quite dry and it was easy to lift the bulbs with a fork without damaging them. I know the red one is Takahue and at least some of the white one is Kakanui. Some of my bulbs were from my own harvest last year (the source of those in turn was an organic grower in Raglan), others were from the garlic I brought from Bill and Leitu Jackson at Wangapeka, a few hours north of me and the rest I bought from Koanga Gardens. I will keep some of my recent harvest for next year's seed, one head of Gilly's for seed and order some more in. Given some of the problems New Zealand commercial growers have had with inbred seed (although I'll confess I'm not completely sure how that problem occurs), it seems a good idea to keep bringing bulbs in from elsewhere in the country. I haven't counted my garlic yet, but at a glance I have perhaps 50 heads of garlic. One head per week isn't really enough for winter cooking in my kitchen. I've already given Bill and Leitu a call to put my name down to buy some more of theirs.

Anyway back to my garden. In the other garlic bed, the soil is only slightly raised from the lawn level. It is also at the bottom of the slope of our section. Two garlic necks had completely rotted through leaving the bulb in the ground while the leaves pulled free when I attempted to dig it up. Some bulbs from this garden were a good size but many were not. The soil was wet (despite it being mostly dry for this last week - only two overnight rains being practically a drought here) and stuck together in clods. It wasn't as easy to dig the garlic out and I damaged several bulbs with the fork.

I went shopping at the garden centre this morning. Boron and dolomite lime. A globe artichoke plant, beetroot seedlings and a mixed punnet of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage seedlings. I've not raised many plants from seed this spring or summer. I doubt I will be raising many from seed either until Brighid gets past her garden murdering stage.

Our chooks have been wondering free, unbidden. It took several escapes before I established exactly where they were getting out. Most remarkably, when I was out yesterday evening, two of the three chooks got out, so Fionn and his friend put them in the temporary shelter. Fionn was in bed when I got home, so I never learnt of this until much later. This morning I noticed the top edge of the temporary shelter wiggling from the study window. It was from a chook trying to get out. Yes, one chook. The other chook, it appears, got out from the temporary shelter (not especially difficult) and put herself back in the poultry palace. I think they were both anxious for their usual laying spot.

They were escaping from the door. Don't roll your eyes. They had wiggled a gap between the door and the wall beside it. So now I have wiggled some wires myself and added a bungy cord through the overlapping wire mesh section to hold the door closed. So far, no more escaping.

They were fairly gentle and unadventurous souls while we were fixing the door security. They poked around in the potatoes and the broccoli but didn't go anywhere near the old chook run, which is where they would have done the most damage. I do see though that they have scratched up some rather small potatoes, for the most part tearing them from their parent plant. So I need to collect the rest of those in the morning and cook them up. I also need to spread some more pea straw around the plants. I never mulched them as high as I'd planned. It just rained too often to get outside until it fell off my to do list. I think I will go and buy some fresh peastraw though. I'm sick of my current bale throwing up masses of pea seedlings. That can go via the chooks and hopefully the germination rate will be significantly less.

We have sunflowers in bloom now. I don't remember why I planted them so far from where we can see them though. It's akin to walking through a tiny forest to get close enough to see the blooms. The wild blackberry has no flowers on it. Wild blackberry not far from us is awash with flowers. Not sure what the story is there. Neither is there any fruit on my blackcurrants. Is that typical for the first year from a cutting? I'm sure glad we are not dependent on our garden for fruit. Eight strawberries does not a happy summer make.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Geodesic domes

I saw a geodesic dome glasshouse (or maybe it was plastic) in North Canterbury once. Good choice of shape for such windy country. You know, I think bamboo could be used to make a similar shape, not as sophisticated but good enough. Then I could cover with shade cloth to mitigate the wind or to contain chooks, or plastic for a semi-glasshouse effect. I would end up with mandalas a la Linda Woodrow. Our poultry palace is making such a good home for our chooks and our two feijoa trees. The feijoas were looking rather poorly before the chooks and their palace moved in around them. Could I extend the concept for very little financial outlay?

I put the smashed mussel shells in the chook run this afternoon - hopefully that is a good source of calcium for them. We've had a few very pale, thin egg shells lately.

I had a lovely parcel today of a plait of garlic. Thank you Gillybean. I'm so pleased I actually made it to the post office to send your kefir last week. Sometimes the post office runs away and hides when I write it on my errands list. Shocking is the list number of gifts and cards and other things which hang around my study with the name of a friend on them, waiting forlornly for me to take them to the post office.

I might harvest my own garlic tomorrow and lay it out to dry. I have two beds of garlic, one happy, one spindly. The happy garlic is in our punga raised bed and enjoys lovely lovely soil. The spindly garlic is in a less well nourished bed which it shares with strawberries and peas, neither of which are good companions for it. There are some tomatoes in there as well and they are doing rather averagely-to-poorly. At least I will remember for next year. I shall take the peas (rogues from some badly behaved peastraw mulch) out at the same time as the garlic. The strawberries can have a bit longer to earn their keep. Then it will be time for the chooks to have fun in there I think. Two years ago I turned the lawn over and slowly weeded it myself, with only bokashi as fertiliser. Since then, it has had the odd bit of seaweed brew and some menstrual blood. Not really enough input for the kind of productivity I like to see.

When I went to feed the ginger beer plant tonight, it fizzed when I opened the lid! Hurray, we are definitely making progress.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tree House

This afternoon Favourite Handyman and Fionn made the beginnings of a tree house. They now have a platform up in the tree above the old large compost spot, so while they sawed and hammered, the chooks pottered around in their temporary shelter on the other side of the tree.

I think I have one ripe cherry tomato. I am saving the picking and eating until the children are tucked up in bed. Otherwise the Garden Murderer will get in and pick and eat all the green ones. It's in her genes, so my parents have told me.

She does get to do a few garden jobs though, ones where she cannot murder plants. She and I made a new batch of seaweed brew today. Later I remembered I had comfrey and added some of that to the lidded bucket.

We ate our own broccoli and zucchini as part of dinner tonight. I have quite a bit of silverbeet going to seed and not really the right weather to feel like eating it. I do wonder what makes some go to seed and not others. Perhaps I should wash, chop and freeze some? Perhaps indeed.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Foraging bliss

But first the morning. Favourite Handyman shifted all the compost from the large old patch (which we had begun again recently, layering grass clippings, pea straw, chook poo and seaweed) onto the second raised bed. There is now a large hump along that bed, of compost which is partially cooked and can finish off there. At the same time it can kill any weed seeds in the soil underneath. In Autumn we are planting brassicas for winter and spring there.

We moved the temporary chook shelter onto the vacated compost site and put the chooks there for the day. They had a lovely time. Around the back edges of the compost pile, Wandering Jew had been getting more vigorous and we wanted the chooks to knock that back.

Favourite Handyman continued to be handy and spent several hours patching up holes in the shed rooves. Part way through we got a phone call from friends inviting us to go mussel collecting on the beach further north of where we live later in the afternoon. Would we ever?!! Going into kiwi girl (perhaps kiwi matron??) mode, I whipped up some muffins, bought some bread rolls and slipped the leftover salad from the night before (when in true kiwi style I had cooked for far more people than we actually invited) into a container. Then we all went up the coast and had a truly gorgeous few hours. We climbed in rock pools and collected mussels and then sat back in the late afternoon sun beside the fire and ate. I liked the mussels straight out of the shell which Favourite Handyman had cooked in their shells. But the food which I could almost die for was the mussels in beer batter, cooked in a frypan over the fire. They were close to perfection.

I got to try kina for the first time. I quite liked it, though it is a lot of mucking around for a small amount of food.

I brought home some seaweed for the compost. We also brought home the empty mussel shells and we will crush them to make grit for the chooks.

I will remember our afternoon musselling for a long long time. Just beautiful.

Friday, January 9, 2009

food finds

We had a family day out in Hoki today, beginning with lots of swimming. I thought I'd share my food finds. Hokitika has a delicatessen now, with nothing less than a proper temperature controlled cheese room. I still remember the first time I went into a cheese room, with the beautiful French name 'fromagerie', in London. This one had everything under glass within the room, so lacked that intense yeast waft. I didn't buy any cheese - I was saving my cheese money for a later treat.

But I did buy some Clement Fougier chestnuts all the way from France. I have been trying to buy chestnuts (I even got given some from my aunt but they were mouldy - hoping to send her a courier box this Autumn, or get up to see her at the right time) that are grown in New Zealand but so far to no avail. I loved Nigella Lawson's recipe for chestnuts and red lentil soup in London and have pined for it periodically for the last three years. Now we can have it. I'll save the chestnuts for an Autumn soup.

I also bought some preserved lemons. They weren't quite so extravagant in terms of food miles - made at Ludbrook House, Northland, New Zealand. If I've cooked with preserved lemons before, then I don't remember and I do fancy trying it. I have a spud recipe which uses them which I will make soon.

Now we can't buy fish in our smallwettown, Hokitika is our only option for locally caught fish and so I bought some Hoki and Lemonfish.

I went into the bakery to get some bread to go with the food I'd brought from home for lunch. I bought some foccaccia which was very average. I also bought some rye bread which the label explains is made from sourdough starter with no other added yeast and that the starter has been going since 1999. I spent $6.60 on that loaf and I'm keen to try it and compare to my own experiments. It also gives me a benchmark for assessing how much money I am saving once I'm up and running making our own rye sourdough on a regular basis. I did feed my starter this morning and made up some dough tonight for baking tomorrow. But I'm down to white and wholemeal flour at the moment and waiting excitedly for my order of freshly milled organic flours (Rye, Otane, Purple Wheat) from Terrace Farms towards the end of this month.

The last find was the best one. We now have a local cheesemakers based only 15 km from us!!!!!!! Gaalburn cheese is a farm raising it's own goats for milk and turning that milk into cheese on site. I stopped in and bought some feta and some halloumi. We are particularly excited about halloumi which we used to buy cheaply and often at the Turkish corner shop in London. The price of Halloumi when we returned to New Zealand, and I wanted some to make vegetarian kebabs for a barbecue, was horrific. Steak kebabs would have been cheaper. But I thought the price at Gaalburn was okay and anyway I'd rather support local cheese which is dear-ish than cheese from anywhere else. I have since wondered if I could persuade them to sell me raw goats milk. It is legal up to 5 litres per day.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


The chooks: they ate more wandering dew in the wettest corner. They scratched the earth up there nicely and have made a space for another cabbage tree. They ate more slugs and grubs and generally behaved themselves in terms of egg production.

Favourite Handyman: he transplanted one blackcurrant bush and planted several cabbage trees. He got rid of more docks.

Me: I made the first lot of sundried tomatoes. Turns out that what looks like a lot of tomato on the dehydrator trays when first cut, is not really much tomato at all once it is dried and packed in a jar. I'll be having another go sometime this month. I made cheese and onion souffle for lunch. Souffle! What a fancy word. Turned out nice. I'll be packing a lot more herbs in next time. I made foccaccia dough and turned one third into foccaccia for dinner and froze the other two portions. Don't even ask me about laundry and dishes. I am sick of cleaning and yet I still did some. Is that called maturity?

Fionn: well he didn't do much beyond setting the lunch and dinner tables. But he does have a big desire to earn more money to buy another hot wheels car. And I took possession of eight cubic metres of firewood this afternoon. Eight cubic metres which await stacking. So Fionn and Favourite Handyman will be workers indeed over the next few days. I shall be paying the little one in Hot Wheels money and the big one in beer. Due to the great kindness of my heart, food will be available regardless of wood stacking productivity. Ingredients available that is, not necessarily cooked and ready to eat.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

gingerbeer and hydrangeas

I started a gingerbeer plant this morning. I cooked chickpeas and made hummous and reflected again that I like the hummous made with tinned chickpeas best. Which is not what I am supposed to think. I sliced up home made bread to toast and go under poached eggs for all of our breakfasts. I noticed that it is quite hard to slice and thought that perhaps I should go back to using a recipe instead of throwing any old amount of flour and a bit of salt at the sourdough starter and assuming it will be alright. I saw a recipe for using up old bread by making a cheese and onion souffle in a recipe book not long ago. Perhaps I'll try it tomorrow. Perhaps. I've never made anything as fancy sounding as a souffle before.

In the middle of gingerbeer and hydrangeas we all went out to lunch with friends in Blackball and talked about unionism and the lost generation who don't quite know what one is. And what to do about that.

This afternoon Brighid and I collected lots of hydrangea cuttings from paddocks near the airport. Yes we have an airport at smallwettown. No you can't really tell though because it is so small. We don't have any commercial services from it anymore. The planes got sold to someone in South America.

Tonight I dipped them all in a disprin solution, stripped the bottom leaves and planted fourteen along the back fence. It is sodden wet there and the sky is grey leavened with dark grey, so they should have a good start.

Also this morning I sliced up tomatoes (halved the cherry tomatoes and sliced the larger ones) and put them in my dehydrator. I am going to make my very own sun dried tomatoes. This is the third time ever I have used my dehydrator which I have owned since at least 1997.

Also tonight I weeded around the blueberry plants. I peeked under the potatoes and saw a very small potato. So those spuds can stay in the ground until the end of the month at least.

And just to jump around more, this afternoon on the way home we went to the wood and landscape materials place and ordered lots (but not enough) of firewood and discussed options for making paths around the old chook run.


Apparently they root very easily and all I need to do is take cuttings and poke them in the ground. And keep them moist.

Moist we can do. Here in smallwettown we specialise in keeping plants moist. Without any effort at all.

Hyadrangeas, for a very long time like almost all my life until three weeks ago, were uncool elderly not at all charming kind of plants. But three weeks or so ago I happened across a comment that hydrangeas grow well when they are kept constantly moist. I think (but could be imagining) that it also said that they will grow in partial shade. So then I opened my eyes to hydrangeas and noticed that they are all over smallwettown, including growing up the hillsides and on the roadsides indicating where there was once a keen gardener and now no dwelling exists. They look glorious. They suit living in smallwettown. Then I noticed how they blended in well with native trees like pungas and cabbage trees. I noticed how they have thick bush characteristics and probably block out weeds underneath them once established. I thought about how they must be easy to propagate if they are growing up hills and on roadsides.

I started to plan. The helpful person at the garden nursery told me to stick cuttings in the ground, keep them wet and they will grow. I found a lifestyle farmer magazine when cleaning up yesterday which profiled a commercial hydrangea grower up north who commented that wherever he throws prunings, hydrangea plants pop up. Today I am taking loppers and secateurs and Favourte Handyman's pocketknife (I should get one of my own) and grabbing 20 cuttings from roadside plants. All along the back fence where nothing edible will grow because it is too wet and shady, I am going to create a hydrangea grove. Along the back of Brighid's forest where I have pungas and cabbage trees I am planting hydrangeas. If I get enough, I might even interplant hydranges with the flaxes out the front.

Two years into our garden project at smallwettown, I have conceded that some spots in our garden will not successfully grow food. Those spots are going to natives and hydrangea.

On the native front, has anyone raised rata trees from seed themselves?

Monday, January 5, 2009

dangerous domestic enthusiasm

This morning no one interrupted me as I weeded the garden. Did you read that? No one. From 7am until 8.30am, I was on my own. I loved it.

Buoyed by a break yesterday from domesticity (we went out for a walk in the rainforest with friends and then back to their place for dinner) and by the solitude first thing this morning, I had much better energy levels.

We put the chooks in the wettest corner of the garden where they decimated the Wandering Jew (Tradescantia). They are so tame and one even let Fionn carry her today. Fionn asked me again how I know that our chooks are girls. He is not convinced, it would seem, that egg laying really is the sole preserve of female poultry.

I made pasta sauce with 6 kg of sauce tomatoes from our local tomato grower. I posted off two containers of kefir. I made blueberry and chocolate muffins for lunch which scored universal enthusiasm. I'm currently straining more kefir in the fridge. I have more sourdough bread slowly doing it's rising and growing thing in the hot water cupboard. I put chickpeas in a pot to soak.

After a trip into the shops for some errands and for Fionn to work out how much more money he needs to earn in order to buy himself another (another) hot wheels car, I came home and went mad. Again. Not content with cleaning the oven, with wiping down cupboards and with other cleaning projects of a serious nature which I've been initiating, I got stuck into the dining room. Gone are the broken clock, the empty containers of glue, the materials for making Christmas 2007 cards. On the mantelpiece I found cards from Christmas 2006, 07 and 08.

I've said goodbye to the pottery vase which I never use and which is very dark and subtly gloomy in effect. I've ditched all sorts of things, moved the iron to the laundry shelves where it is supposed to go anyway, rehomed our wedding photo and now I have a home for my recipe books. And they are now in that new home. I have even, for the first time that I can recall ever, washed actual curtains (I've done net curtains before, a long time ago). If this is boring, then too bad. Incredible events in my life belong on my blog and this degree of cleaning is incredible.

I am a bit funny about major cleanups. They do happen in my life, but not often. Always in holidays. And big disasters do sometimes follow. I cleaned things up in a massive and impressive way just before I turned 21 and then on my actual birthday my student flat got arsoned. All lost. Except a few recipe books at the other end of the house (the fire probably was started in my beautifully clean bedroom) and those recipe books, still fire damaged, are still in my collection above the dining room mantelpiece. In my first year flatting, aged 19, I brought back lovely preserves from Mum and had the kitchen all looking gorgeous when a shelf collapsed and bottled boysenberries went flying at eye level. That wasn't so cool either.

The study is the last bastion of total mess. I know it is still waiting, not going away. But really, overall, our home is starting to be quite nice.

Out the front in the lovely raised bed garden which Favourite Handyman made for me just before Christmas, the potato plants have poked through the ground. Out the back in the old chook run, we have bean and pea flowers. We have quite a few green tomatoes. We have chilli flowers. I've been inspecting all the brassica leaves 1-2 times per day and squashing little caterpillars. So far, much better than last year in terms of damage control.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

holidays ...

Crikey, it's amazing what holidays can do. I've cleaned even more today. The house is in such a nearly good state that I would invite people in for dinner on the spur of the moment.

I feel ill to think of how many clothes my daughter has. When I put the Christmas decorations away this afternoon I found another bag half full of size 2 (and other half of size 3) girls' clothes. Some of them are new, presents from when she was firstborn and others are handed down. Her drawers are already bulging. It's just not right that half of the world is starving and another big chunk of the world's workers eke out a pittance doing criminally long hours in terrible conditions in order to make more clothes than my daughter could wear in a month. Just as I've done with her brother's too many clothes, I'll be making up bags for friends, acquaintances and the Sallies very soon.

I've been tidying up the concrete path end of the old chook run this afternoon. You didn't expect me to stay inside cleaning all day did you? Well not even all afternoon - we spent the morning supping tea and gingerbread biscuits at a friend's house. I thought there was an odd shape to the garden at that end but actually there is not. There was just so much soil sitting on the concrete that things were growing in it. Weeds. So that is all gone and I've transplanted three thymes from another bed into the spaces around the bay trees. The bays, or one of them at least, has grown noticeably since I moved them from pots into the garden.

So I've pulled most of the thyme and welsh onions from the second raised bed now. Once I've got everything out of there, I think I'll move some existing compost in, add the chook poo which needs to be cleared from the coop right now and then put the next lot of lawn clippings on top. I want that area very fertile in readiness for growing winter brassicas in it. Maybe I'll add blood and bone and lime and sheep poo and comfrey as well. In with a penny, in with a pound.

Friday, January 2, 2009

sourdough and kefir

Yup, in the kitchen again. Favourite Handyman has been painting the window frames and sills in the kitchen. To celebrate this, I have performed no less than extreme sport cleaning. I have cleaned the oven, even although I am not pregnant and we are not about to move out. Well well well.

On a more pleasant, subdued and comforting note, I have been playing round with my sourdough starter. It isn't a 'proper' one because I started it off with commercial yeast instead of using just flour and water. But this is the second loaf and whereas the first (entirely with white flour) was rather fluffy and not as good as the non-sourdough no knead loaves I'd been making last month, this second one was mostly rye flour and tasted good and had quite a good texture.

Tonight I went to drain the kefir and add more milk. The smallest jars were all set but the larger ones were still quite milky. Maybe I did it this morning and didn't remember. On my shakey memory front, many things are possible. So I cut a piece of my sourdough rye bread and spread it with some thick, unstrained kefir and it was nice. And I felt extremely clever and virtuous. Something to hold on to. I added a bit more milk to those little jars so the kefir grains had more food and left the draining until the morning.

Buoyed by my sourdough success and the yummy kefir spread, I thought I'd play round with the drained kefir I already have in the fridge. I like drinking the runny thin stuff, closest to whey but as I make kefir with full fat unhomogenised milk, it ain't all runny. Since I've been using my plastic colander thing for draining, I've also got more thick bits in as well. Thick bits are good on bread and thin bits in drinks. Why not separate them?

Using the idea taught to me by my Indian flatmate and talented cook Roopali in the 1990s in Dunedin, I put the kefir in muslin and went to permanently suspend it above a bowl in the fridge for the night. No bowls worked because they were too shallow. But a very large ex-mustard seeds catering size plastic jar which the lovely Nell from the best late night venue in smallwettown gave me when I asked for her castoff empty food supplies containers has turned out to be perfect. I'll report on the taste test tomorrow.

Thank you to all the lovely people who wished me a happy New Year. I hope you all have a fabulous 2009 as well. Another year, another growing season. What's there not to like?

Has anyone grown globe artichokes? They sound like they might suit my soil and climate from the descriptions I've read recently.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The loneliest pub

Well probably not the very loneliest, but I wanted quite a lonely one.

I didn't want to organise a babysitter and go out for New Year's Eve. I wanted some peace and quiet and an opportunity to read. I didn't want to stand on lego, or answer the phone or change nappies or referee disputes or collect washing or make food. So on the afternoon of 31 January, I set out for town with an eye to a pub which would serve wine and not be so grotty that drunken pensioners would leer at me and also not at all in the public eye. Small talk was not part of my plans.

I settled on Revvies, an Irish theme pub which I've never been to before. Merciful choice. It was populated scarcely and by tourists. Inside, I found a table where I could face away from the television and could not be seen from the street or the bar.

So I got to have two glasses of wine and read New Zealand Books and no one interrupted me at all. It was bliss. I also fitted in a quick look at the latest Guardian Weekly. I used to subscribe to New Zealand Books as a student, back when I used to read lots and believed in supporting New Zealand literature-based initiatives. It's time for a return. There was much to enjoy in NZBooks and what grabbed my attention first was a review of a book on the history of male homosexuality in New Zealand (Chris Brickell, Mates and Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand) and an article on the facing page of Peter Wells' response to the book in relation to his own experiences of being a gay man and gay activist in New Zealand, particularly in the 1970s. Wells found it fascinating to read of a history of gay activity in New Zealand before his time, as he hadn't been able to sense it as a young man.

This prompted me to recall a piece I read in Steven Eldred-Griggs new book, Diggers, Hatters and Whores about the goldfields of New Zealand. I've only read bits standing in the bookshop so far but Mum tells me she has it for my birthday next month. Eldred-Grigg is not one to make evidence a requirement for his historical claims and I expect I'll have more to say once I've read the book. But anyway, he suggests that homosexual intercourse was common on the goldfields. Rose Tremain had this as part of her novel set on the goldfields of the West Coast of NZ, The Colour and I just hadn't thought of it before. So I suppose it is perfectly likely and indeed probable but as for evidence, well I spent a loooooong time looking through records of life on the Central Otago goldfields as a postgraduate student and I never once found anything. Perhaps my eyes were closed to the signs.

This talk of the homosexual 'ancestors', as Wells terms, it also brings me to my disappintment in the Pope. I know this is no surprise to discover that the new Pope is extremely conservative but I still find it disappointing. In his recent speeches he has condemned homosexual intercourse and condemned the use of IVF treatments and of many contraceptives. It makes me angry. It makes me angry to think of the way in which Church leaders of many Christian persuasions use God as their excuse for defending and indeed encouraging homophobic behaviour and discrimination against homosexual people. Because I hold no truck whatsoever with any idea that God requires us all to procreate in heterosexual monogamous marital units. As for the idea that it takes a band of supposedly celibate single men to guide us in this practice... I hold my Catholic heritage close to me in many ways, the rituals, the social justice teachings, the memories of a suburban childhood otherwise terribly tame but for a bit of incense on Sunday mornings. But I feel so alienated from it by these terrible statements of Papal nastiness.

As I write, the morning of the New Year has dawned. I woke early and began writing in the dark but now I can see outside, outside to the stormy weather though the lightning has stopped. The poultry palace is still where it should be, which is what I check first after a stormy night.

I am going to give up book group this year and to concentrate my energies on writing more and on growing our little local writers' group. I have designated 2009 the year of my sewing machine simply because I have one and I also have a large pile of things to be mended or altered on it. I am considerably more interested in reading and writing at the moment than sewing though.

I'm still knitting away on the last piece of Fionn's sleeveless hoodie, even though it might not fit him. After that, tempting though a new piece of knitting might be, it is time to make the curtain out of a blanket for the front door which I planned last winter and which I want to be ready for this winter.

I have more plans for the garden than I can write down...! The development of the area near the chook run out of grass and into a tree and bush dense area with mulch underneath is progressing nicely, with the aid of my three Brown Shavers who peck and scratch for their suppers very well. That is my biggest garden project for the moment.

Happy New Year!