Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Agent Provocateur

Isn't that from a movie? It conjures two images for me. Firstly of some incredibly sexy French woman from a James Bond movie. Or secondly when I think of 'provocateur' I think of the history of the seedy Soho area in Inner London, the Seven Dials and the prostitutes who propositioned.

Both less and more significant, it turns out that a provocateur merely provokes and I might be doing some provoking on May Day in Blackball this year. Some details below

Forum: The legacy of neo-liberalism
Can we think the system or does the system think us?

What should we be talking about?
Workers rights? Money?
Social dysfunction? The planet?
Food? Revolution? Culture?
Housing? State surveillance?

And what action should we be taking?

May Day always seems important and appropriate to me. But this year, it is hard to overstate it's significance. The world around us changes and shakes and the money system turns out to be rusted through. It's time for some careful thinking and vigorous discussion.

Scottish morning rolls

This recipe is taken from Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters. It is absolutely the best bread book I've encountered (though I've not encountered them all) and I am very glad to own it. Ask your library to buy it!

Overnight sponge
2.5g dried yeast
130g warm water
50g wholemeal flour
100g white flour

Dissolve yeast in water, then add everything else and mix. Put in large bowl, cover with plastic and leave on the bench for 12-18 hours.

Final dough
285g overnight sponge
350g white flour
100g wholemeal flour
5g salt
270g water
15g butter/lard/olive oil

Mix everything into a soft dough. Knead 6-10 minutes. Leave to rise for 1 hour. Divide into 12 pieces. Roll each one into a ball and then dip it into a bowl of flour. Then put each one on a baking tray (12 to a tray). I greased and added lunch paper (cheaper than labelled baking paper and seems to do the same job) but next time I'll see what happens or doesn't happen if I skip the paper.

Cook at 230 celsius for 5 minutes, then 210 for another 10 or so.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

painting and baking

Today Favourite Handyman and Fionn painted the new lean-to. Fionn also painted his clothes and for good measure FH painted a stripe of Fionn's hair. Nobody owned up to giving Brighid a paintbrush but she got paint nevertheless. She mixed hers with soil from my precious blueberry plants.

While they were on a painting roll, I mentioned my plans for a bright red shed. The neighbour's shed borders our property and is the backdrop to the rampant garden (invited guests: mint and comfrey; admissable gatecrasher: nasturtium; unwelcome and uninvited: wandering jew, convulvulus, unidentified spikey weed and slugs). I've had this idea for a while, but photos of the Elerslie Flower Show exhibit "I see red" (pictured below) have provided fresh inspiration.

A strong slash of red would set off the deep greens of our wet west coast perfectly. I quite fancy those tall sculptural plants as well - the article I read said they are everyday, not expensive and exotic. We've been talking about paint a bit lately. I think 2009 could well be our year of paint. Certainly the lean-to looks much lighter and attractive painted white than bare wood.

Inside, as per my goals this morning, I got baking. In between doing dishes, changing nappies, managing children and doing laundry, I made two dozen bread rolls, two dozen banana muffins and a double recipe of hummous. I also made vegetable curry for dinner. The bread rolls were a doubled lot of Andrew Whitely's Scottish Morning Rolls and this time I think I got them just right. I kneaded them for longer than yesterday, upped the proportion of wholemeal flour (this partly helps because I have better quality wholemeal flour in stock than I do of white bread flour) and also I remembered to dunk the shaped rolls in flour before putting them on the oven tray. If you would like the recipe, please shout in the comments. I'm not feeling moved to copy it out if all two readers out there are gluten free this week.

Cauliflower is an overnight phenomenon. Seriously. No sign of a head yesterday and then today two beautiful cauliflowers, replete with green caterpillars and 'pillar-poo on them. So tonight's curry featured our own cauliflower (which the children LIKED), chilli pepper, celery, garlic and curly kale. How could I not like today?

I ran out of time to make new and wonderful lunch food like bread sticks or crackers-from-scratch. Hopefully another day - I am looking for a new staple for lunch boxes. I finished off my cookathon by burning myself when cooking the scraps up for the chooks after dinner. Oh yes. Woe is the idiot.

Kitchen Day

In our house, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, we all go out in the morning. Favourite Handyman to work (all day), Fionn to school (nearly all day), Brighid to our friend Robyn's (morning) and me to work (morning). What happens a lot is that I make nice home made nutritious lovingly prepared for everyone else and once I've droppped the others off, realise that I am starving and buy something pre-prepared and of lower quality for me.

On st-ret-che-d mornings, the children get the home made lunch and the adults buy theirs.

On s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d mornings where too much sleeping in was involved, I drive FH to work with the children still in their pyjamas, then stop at the Do Duck In bakery/lunch food place and buy everyone's lunch to put in their lunch boxes. Then we drive home and have a mad scramble to look like loved and organised people instead of the chaos units which we actually are.

Today I am having a cook-athon/bake-athon to try and pre-empt all this rushed lower quality but higher expense food. Yesterday (Saturday) we went out to the very beautiful Point Elizabeth walk and had a picnic on the walk. Home made bread rolls filled with leftover roast chicken from the night before, followed by juicy oranges. After our gorgeous walk we went straght home and had ice cream sandwiches. If I hadn't bought icecream and wafers in the supermarket shop on Wednesday, we'd have been at the dairy instead, spending a lot more on inferior quality icecreams. So it can be done. And getting this completely home made food thing going right through the week is my goal.

  1. sourdough starter begun last night. That should be turning into rye bread for next weekend. Sourdough rye bread is the perfectist bread for underneath poached eggs.
  2. Started the sponge for more Scottish morning rolls last night. This afternoon I will finish and bake them, providing rolls for Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, with the aid of the freezer.
  3. Filling for rolls/sandwiches. Need to make hummous. I think some hard boiled eggs could be made and turned into sandwich fillings.
  4. Muffins. This is one thing I have going already reasonably well. There are still some in the freezer, but not enough for the whole week. So, another batch of banana muffins today.
  5. Brighid doesn't do muffins. I am sick of the mess she makes with rice crackers and the fact that they are mega-ly processed. So if the Gods shine on me and I haven't run screaming from the kitchen before I get to number five, I am going to have a go at making crackers. I gave Fionn bought breadsticks last week and he adored them, so it is either crackers or breadsticks for today's brand-new-to-my-cooking-repertoire food experiment.

That will be quite enough for one day.

Friday, March 27, 2009

bread + cred

This week, being pay day week, I finally purchased some electronic scales. My Mum bought some for me as a present about six years ago and my then baby son got hold of them, threw them across the room and killed them. A while later I found some lovely old balance scales with the weights in imperial measures. That has been mostly quite useful, but hasn't cut the mustard since I started working with Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters book. He puts absolutely everything into gram measures, including liquids, and I was floundering in my seemingly limited kitchen.

So yesterday I started a Whitley recipe for Scottish Morning Rolls, using my new scales. I guarded them carefully against my offspring. Cooked tonight, they have turned out very nice. I first thought not especially flavoursome but as I've scoffed almost half of them, I think that has to be revised. They are quite a lightweight bread after my rye sourdoughs though. Tomorrow I think I'll start another sourdough starter as I ditched the other one. Well the last three actually.

The scales are very wonderful, it turns out. Lots less use of bowls/cups/spoons as I can reset the scales to take the existing weight off and measure the new ingredient straight in. Without doing fancy maths as I go along. They weren't cheap though. I was tempted to go to The Warehouse where they definitely were available and much cheaper. But I gave myself a big talking to (several) about keeping local businesses afloat in hard times. I bought it from our specialist kitchen shop here in smallwettown where I know that they will deal with any warranty issues promptly and cordially. And I saw the mugs I want, finally. Intense bright red with large white dots. They had them in egg cups as well. At $7 each, I didn't think they were flabbergastingly out of reach pricewise.

Coconut oil. Supposed to be extremely good for all of us and the goodness does not disappear when it is heated. I forget what caprylic acid does, but coconut oil (processed the right way) has lots of it and it is good. From my admittedly holey memory. So the local health food shop, where I routinely hand over a shapely percentage of our pay packets, or so it seems, now has virgin coconut oil in stock. I bought some this week and tonight I rolled partly boiled potatoes in some before roasting them in the oven with the chicken. Then when the chicken was resting out of the oven, I cranked the heat up and crisped the edges of the spuds. Yum yum yum. Favourite Handyman was(is) at the pub and the children ignored them but I liked it all. I'll be telling FH how yummy it all was and what an adoring and kind wife I was making roast dinner on a rainy Friday night all to no husband. When he has a sore head in the morning I will be telling him all of this.

Important for cranking up a sense of needing to make amends. I have the amends project lined up, one I seriously do not want to do. I heard scurrying in the roof above the study this morning. Which almost definitely means rodents. Which means someone needs to get up into the roof and investigate and either lay traps or bait. I'll go buy the death means. It's a wonderful thing, marriage.

I've been thinking about budgeting skills a lot. Well you do when you buy KFC for lunch after spending $489 on three new car tyres don't you? I see we've missed the boat for the cheapest 3-4-5 year fixed rate mortgage rates - should have gone in last week and fixed. Talk of huge inflation in the medium term seems to be growing. I could always do better on my budgeting skills. But at least I know what goes in and must come out and how to at least keep spending within what we actually earn. I appreciate so much that my impulse buy of KFC this afternoon when it was after 1pm and I'd had breakfast before 7am was a luxury that on many budgets would just blow the week to smithereens. I also know about the nutritional badness of KFC. I know I'm bad. I'm a lapsed Catholic, remember?

I had a look through the National Qualifications Framework online yesterday, curious to see if there were any units on budgeting which our young people (and adults) could study for and gain. Not that I could find. This really has to change. The fallout for families of not having budgeting skills, the despair and loneliness and danger, is so serious. How come we have all these healthy eating and growing and sexual health and exercise and so on lessons, all of which do have value in my eyes, but nothing on financial management? That seems a gaping yawning cavernous hole to me.

Yet more Autumn garden pictures

Globe artichoke. This is in the raised bed I made last year from seaweed, horse poo and home made compost.
One of the compost heaps.

Wet west coast garden wilderness. I was entranced by Enid Blyton's books as a child, including the ones set on rather idyllic farms which were full of diverse animals and a zillion years from the monoculture of most of our farms today. The wild area out the front with the big climbing tree takes me back to those early reading days of magical discoveries. But it is the flax which also marks the scene out as distinctively New Zealand.

This is the horse poo enriched wilderness. Eleven months ago I created a new garden here on rather barren soil by layering horse poo and pea straw thickly along an area about 3 x 1.5 metres. Then I planted spring bulbs and later, pumpkins and sunflowers. The manure and pea straw certainly helped all those dormant weed seeds!

more and more Autumn garden pictures

Rua potato flowers. Useful that these are out the front away from Brighid as the flowers and fruit are poisonous.
The rampant yams. I hope these taste utterly divine. I planted them last August or so and don't get to harvest them until this July, so they are using up a lot of space over a very long period of time. In the background is part of our firewood for this winter. I find looking at it very satisfying.

Radiccio turning deep red. Rocket beside it.

My only pumpkin harvest. I cut it this evening. It hasn't had intense sun so may not be full of flavour. At the very least, I can cook it up for the chooks.

more Autumn pictures

The feijoas inside Poultry Palace. No flowers this season, but they have grown quite a bit since they have been inside the chook run. Come Spring, I think we will move the Palace and see how the feijoas get on then.
The rampant garden. This is mostly mint and nasturtiums, but the convulvulus in there is rather less welcome.

Chilli peppers. Just starting to turn orange. Probably time to harvest some this weekend.

My favourite kale, cavolo nero, also known as tuscan kale and lacinato kale. I first saw this in a gardening magazine, towering over cottage garden flowers and was captivated. The blue-green colour is lovely and the shape quite different to curly kale. I planted this one in early summer and have been killing caterpillars from it as much as possible, saving it for winter use. I learnt after last year not planting my winter brassicas until Autumn. When growth was very limited, I started to see why neighbours had grown their silverbeet all summer and kept huge specimens for winter eating.

Autumn pictures

Our first home grown cabbage.
Successful broccoli!

Curly kale and marigolds. We've had fewer caterpillars on this kale and I've seen hoverflies on it. I wonder if the marigolds on this side and the phacelia on the other side helped.

The old chook run garden last weekend. The edging at the foreground is thyme. Most of this garden, now the tomatoes are out, is kale, silverbeet, perpetual spinach, celery and bay trees, all for the coming winter. There are Maori potatoes and a chilli pepper plant in there as well. The draped shade cloth in the background is our temporary chook run for daytime use.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


The depression dress is taking shape. Not that it is really a depression dress because then dresses were made of flour bags and not thick luxurious wool. But the wool is all my remnants, hence the term depression dress. As in 1930s, not as in depressed mental state.

I've knitted all of the skirt and most of the front bodice. I've done one strap and have another to do and then the back and we are all over. I'm making longish straps so they can be altered and Brighid can wear it for two years. At some point I'm going to need to make buttonholes, so if anyone can help with instructions or a link to some, I'd be eternally grateful.

I am seriously sick of cleaning but I am soldiering on. My goal is simplicity. Everything in its place and a place for everything. Sounds so simple. Today I did some cleaning of odd and old things in the fridge. Brighid emptied more pots of dirt, all over the back step, while I did that.

We ate our own cabbage for dinner. It was great. I had to wash it of quite a few crawlers and slimers. The supermarket cabbages must have a LOT of spray on them.

Monday, March 23, 2009

grow some sprouts

That whole thing where people read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle or read Michael Pollan or some other clip in tv of wherever about eating local and organic and growing your own and cooking from scratch. Then they pout and say it is all very well for those on a farm in Vermont, but what about the rest of us?

That whole thing. For goodness sake, grow some sprouts. Even when we lived in a tiny flat in East London, beside the railway line and polluted with no growing space or even washing line space and even the cactus died in the one windowsill that got some sun. Even then we could have grown sprouts. (No we didn't, I wasn't in a sprout phase. But we were earning good money and I bought localish and organic food and did not whinge about it being impossible. I don't think I whinged anyway).

Buy some organic sprouts. Get an old agee jar from the Sallies, or a large jam jar or really any clean plastic container. Pour some seeds into it. Pour some cold water on top and cover with a piece of muslin or other loose weave cloth (those chux multicloths work fine, ditto for thin, worn teatowels). Leave overnight. Drain the water off. Fill with water and drain immediately twice a day for a few days. When there are sprouty things trailing off the seeds, store it in the fridge and eat them. Don't miss out the last step. That is called wasting your own time, although I have done it myself.

These will be good for you, locally grown, organic and yummy.

Stop whinging that you don't have a farm in Vermont. If you were before that is.

This is an encouraging piece of news though. New York Times. I'm not usually an American news girl, but I'm getting to admire Michelle Obama quite a bit.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

One small task short of perfection

or maybe two. The dishwasher didn't use up all the stuff on the bench first time round. And as it doesn't have a Cat in the Hat type side arm, I need to be involved in the cleaning of the bench. At 9.30pm.

The one small missing task was actually, bloody dishes notwithstanding, that Favourite Handyman fell asleep with the children tonight instead of uploading all the garden photographs which I took this morning. Today was going to be a blog-with-pictures-day. Now it will probably be next month and everything will look out of date and I will sigh and not use it. And you won't get to see what happened when we cleared lots of scrubby trees and put horse poo and pea straw down and then let the sun, the annual weed seeds, the pumpkins, the blackberry, the sunflowers and the rampant perennial weeds do all of their many growing things. Last month when I wasn't looking, another adult and his Dad put a small gate and some chickenwire there as well, which adds to the rampantness of it all. A gate doth not keep out ivy/blackberry/nasturtium/convulvulus - but it does provide a frame for the glory of these imports.

So the perfection of the day part. All of our firewood is now stacked. Much of it is stacked under our new lean-to, a sunny space with a transparent roof where there is still room for winter pots of blueberries and lemons and silverbeet and maybe just maybe some ginger. The chooks had some time out in the temporary shelter while I made alterations to their palace. They don't like being grabbed by children much, and Brighid and Fionn are alternately frustrated and enraged by this.

Favourite Handyman mowed the lawn. Brighid and I are going to rake up the long clippings tomorrow.

I went to the dump. We filled the boot of our station wagon right to the ceiling with beer bottles, broken crockery, endless broken plastic pots and bits of tarpaulin and just junkety junk. I am going again soon. The look of simplicity that I want, the calm almost emptiness, is a way off yet.

After more than 12 months of gentle cajoling, stroppiness and just plain endless persistence, FH has agreed to me gifting two of our lounge chairs to the Salvation Army. So we now have no wallpaper, vastly fewer items of clothing and possibly no more bank statements from 1996 in our lounge and there is going to be more space yet!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Two fewer chairs on which to pile nappies and socks and underwear and then all the much bigger things on top so it is really difficult to find the little things just before work and then they fall down the back and. well and and and and and. If you don't recognise this, then you should say a prayer of thankfulness for your skills of not being hopeless. Or maybe you should go and open your smelly cupboard and do some washing. At least my lounge laundry mess is clean.

We have been eating from our garden. So have the caterpillars. When the chooks eat my garden, I eat their eggs. When the caterpillars eat my garden, I do not eat their butterflies.

Yesterday I made clever food. Clever food is when I haven't made it before. Clever cheapo special food is when it grows wild in my garden and I haven't made it before. Yesterday was my debut effort with nasturtium leaves. I made pesto with the remaining pine nuts from that week when I went mad and spent $23 just on pine nuts. (Supposedly to save money by making my own pesto. Supposedly.) Not content with just nearly burnt and then whizzed pine nuts, I added garlic (from my garden of cooooooooooourse), parsley, nasturtium leaves and mint leaves (allllllllll alllllllllll allllllllllll from my garden) and some olive oil. Then I folded in some parmesan cheese and then I mixed it into some mashed potato and made it all green speckled and then I cooked up onions, carrots, broccoli (er, yes actually the broccoli is from our garden, as were the caterpillars which I fished off just before cooking), thyme and fish in a oven-proof and element-proof dish and then I plonked the green speckled mash on top and put it in the oven and everybody ate it. It tasted nice, but it looked pretty homely rather than dinner party fare.

Oh how could I forget? I ate our blackberry harvest.

One blackberry.

It was very yummy and yet - and yet - I do look forward to an improved yield next year.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Grace has brought me home

Do I really know how lucky I am? I hope so. I hope I make good use of the grace showered upon my family.

This morning online, I read the news that another UK friend is out of work. Specifically, her husband has lost his job. In my mummy world, that is just as bad. She is expecting another baby and they had just moved house. Amongst this group of treasured friends who have worked together, there have been several job losses this year. How come I got so lucky? A New Zealand passport and a place in the sun (well the rain here in smallwettown, but we do get sun as well). How come so many people in the world, on the Gaza strip and in Rwanda for example, are so unlucky?

After I had read my emails I went out to feed the chooks. I'd kept my exhausted son home from school and Friday is a no-paid-work day for me. A whole day with both of my children and food in the cupboards. I looked carefully at my blessings in the garden. Chooks laying every day, kale, broccoli and silverbeet growing for winter and spring, a bed of yams for winter and potatoes in various spots in the garden for late Autumn eating.

I don't find it simple to see the ways in which fortune and fate hit people. I read not long ago of an environmental scientist who believes sincerely that our earth is overpopulated by a factor of seven. That's a lot of people to lose. I admire the gesture of hope and love of each new loved child in a family. I have a particular admiration for my friends Tania and Rachael, on different sides of the globe, who love life so much they want to share their breakfast table with a new little one most years and have done this for a long time already. It may not seem a rational admiration in these straightened times (or ever, from an environmental perspective), but a loved baby is such a positive gesture and yet for many people, I can see that news of babies is going to bring great great fear and the fertility rate will drop, worldwide. In my family, the immediately post WW2 generation is largeish, 3-8 children per married couple. The generation before, the young couples of the Great Depression, they all had families of just two children.

This prospect, not at all hypothetical for many men and women, intensifies a situation which already exists around poor women and abortion. Not a fan of abortion myself, I would march to keep it legal in this country, protecting the lives of women who have a desperate need to terminate a pregnancy. I would like to see the end of unsafe, back street abortions world wide. The presence of safe, clean and legal channels for abortion does not make a woman abort, but it does diminish and hopefully eliminate the power of illegal, literally dirty and unsafe butchers.

[If you are new to my blog and feel cheated by there being hardly any gardening talk and mostly my rants on everything else, I can absolutely see your point. But it may not improve until one day suddenly it does and there might even be photos of the garden. It has happened before.]

Long rise oat bread

The long soak and ferment oat bread is a fantastic success, the best bread I have made in a long long time. This is what I did:

Long rise oat bread
soak 1 C rolled oats in 1 C water and a splash of whey or lemon juice or yoghurt (this is to neutralise the phytates) overnight.

Next day, dissolve 1 T treacle in 1/2 C milk (I did this in a small saucepan over the stove). Then put the oat mixture, the milk mixture, 3 C flour (I used some white and some fineground wholemeal), 1 t salt and 1/4 dried yeast together in a large bowl. Mix everything together and then cover the bowl with a plate or plastic film and put somewhere warm overnight.

Next day, grease a loaf tin (standard issue NZ small baking loaf tin will be fine) and pour/scrape the mixture in. It will be quite wet. Cover with plastic and leave on the bench for two hours.

Cook for 30-35 minutes at 230 degrees celsius.

The oat bread is adapted from a recipe in Browne, Leach and Titchborne, The New Zealand Bread Book. Next up I am going to adapt their wholemeal baps recipe to a long rise method. Instead of 4 t surebake yeast, I'll be using 1/4 t dried yeast. This next recipe has no milk in it. I was a little unsure about leaving dough with milk in it overnight in the warm, although it has all turned out beautifully.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

One night out gardening

I think this is the last week before we lose daylight saving time. It was nice to break the gardening drought and weed and mulch this evening.

I weeded around my rhubarb and cleared the path leading up to the rhubarb. It is a brick path which the birds flicked mulch and compost onto and then the weeds took hold in the lovely growing medium. I think the bricks can come out and go somewhere where the lovely red can be enjoyed. We can replace the bricks with wood chip next time we get a big bag.

I found a broccoli head!!!! Oh lovely lovely. I've had such mixed experiences with broccoli that I hadn't expected success. Broccoli for tea tomorrow then. I did weed and then put my comfrey brew on the younger broccoli plants and mulched them up with pea straw.

Of course I killed a lot of caterpillars.

I weeded around the hydrangea cuttings which I planted earlier this year. Then I laid the weeds around the plants as mulch. Of the four which I inspected, three have 'taken'. I think the fourth was the one which Favourite Handyman drove the lawn mower into.

The radiccio is turning deep red instead of green! Yes I know this is what it is supposed to do but there was no sign for so long and now it looks completely gorgeous. I think it would be worth planting for its looks alone. Maybe it will feature in some whimsical potager in my future garden. I've read about creating magic garden spaces for children before and the idea does appeal. We have the beginnings of a tree hut to start us off so far...

Sometimes I encounter people who turn my life upside down, or some part of it. There is an educational psychologist called Laughton King who is pressing all my wow buttons tonight. It is nothing to do with gardening, or anything I tend to blog about. But now I'm thinking about how some people think in pictures and what it means for them in a word-biased education system and I'm looking at my son and thinking about one thousand things and recognising so much in LK's book. Tomorrow I get to start [again] on really the biggest challenge to every morning: changing how we get our son to get dressed so I keep my cool for the first hours in each day. Nova if you are reading, I am very interested to know if you and/or Paul have encountered LK. As LK acknowledges, his stuff isn't particularly original, but it is so accessible. And it has walked into my life at just the powerful time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Two nights in a row...

St Patrick's Night, out without children. Tonight, out for writers' group without husband or children. Went to a bar after writers' group and yackity yacked some more. I feel like a kid who got Christmas and then a birthday straight afterwards. All this adult company.

In other news, I'm playing around with turning a standard modern fast bake bread recipe into a slow soak and ferment version. I'm using this oat bread recipe as my base. I had a phase last year of making this oat bread quite often. It is a Browne/Leach/Titchborne book and one thing I really like is the simplicity of their instructions. I do much prefer to make bread using cup and spoon measures. Measuring 60gm of water and 270gm of flour is just irritating and given my current kitchen tools, difficult. This afternoon I measured the cup of oats and the cup of (cold) water into a bowl with a splash of whey to soak overnight. Tomorrow afternoon I will heat the golden syrup and milk and add all the ingredients (using just 1/4 tsp of plain dried yeast) together and leave it in the cupboard overnight. Then two hours proving on Friday morning before cooking it.

I haven't been near the garden it seems, apart from a few stints of caterpillar squashing. The neglect is showing but the price of working in the garden with Brighid is that anything I plant will be pulled out, so just not worth it. Our chooks are still laying an egg each every day. Favourite Handyman put more wood chip in their run and I can see we may get access to quite a bit of untreated wood chip. Time soon then to dig up the lawn paths on each side of the old chook run garden and lay them with wood chip. Another job is to harvest the comfrey again and make more comfrey brew. I need to use my current brew to feed the brassicas around the garden, especially those which are only a month old or less. Much of the rest of the work is weeding, especially along one fence where the convulvulus from the neighbours is taking hold.

My decluttering is progressing. Two plastic bags of outgrown childrens' clothes went to a work colleague in the afternoon and I finally gave my maternity togs to the sallies. Finally. These togs which I bought new and wore only twice and which have for more than two years hung round the house, mostly the lounge being useless, are the emblem of my ridiculous clutter habit. So I have, I like to think, broken through an important barrier. I put out four bags of rubbish for landfill this morning. Not so very long ago at all this would have seemed a terrible failure. I kept almost everything and prided myself on having half of a bag most weeks for landfill. But the house was growing inside but not in the walls. We no longer had anywhere to sit. Flotsam and jetsam dominated my days and my nights. The cans didn't get recycled anyway, just squashed with the old cars. It will probably ease off a bit now all the lounge wallpaper is gone, but there is much clutter to be disposed off still and for a while yet, lots of bags are symbols of victory over chaos.

Monday, March 16, 2009

fat for the downturn

I read recently that KFC's profits are up in recent months in New Zealand. Then I learnt that pizza chains and other budget end fast food retailers are booming in the UK from this article by Peter Preston. I love the Guardian Weekly title of the article:'Recession is a wonderful gastro leveller'. Here are a few sentences from the article which struck a chord:

Conventional wisdom going into the crunch held that eating out would fade from
everyday life. We'd be back to simple ingredients and verities. ... But it
hasn't turned out like that. You have to look at the way society moves on as it
struggles to function. ... A takeaway isn't a treat, merely a particular sort of
retail therapy. Recession simply means we are eating worse, then slumping on the
sofa. We are supposed to shape up. In fact, we're calling Domino's and ordering
extra cheese.

Preston, armed with statistics I didn't know about before reading his article, debunks some polyanna ideas which were popular in blogosphere last year. It brings to mind another one which I felt unable to thrill to: that in severe economic depression we would start working together as a community better, getting to know our neighbours and helping each other more.

It's not that it is a bad idea. I feel part of my community here in smallwettown and the egg and clothes and childcare swaps, the school gala and the endless raffles which are part of the fabric of my life are treasured (perhaps the childcare swaps more than the raffles, but you get the idea).

It is just that I think it is naive.

Methamphetamine use is destroying individuals and families right now in New Zealand and it was last year and the year before that. Don't even get me started on pokie machine addictions. These are but two examples of fragile communities where the recession will intensify the pain and helplessness, not save through potato swaps.

In a country where cooking and gardening skills have been off the school curriculum for decades (yes I know there are semblances of cooking, usually called something obscure, but have a close look at what the actual learning focus is - let me know if you find meal planning and budgeting in there as I'd be ecstatic to be proven wrong on this), baked beans and McDonalds happy meals are routine default options.

With big business making so much money from our collective lack of cooking skills, I don't see any change in the school curriculum coming, not even on the furthest horizon. The Ministry of Education have spent millions (I betcha anything it was lots of millions) on it's latest school curriculum (introduced 2008) in which students learn to be nice to each other as well as to count. That came out last year and no doubt a number of education consultants were very well paid for it. They probably did have input from the Otago Home Science people (what are they called this year - the university food tech department as another possible clue) who no doubt have some wonderful ideas on how to develop new food products and brand awareness and blah blah get their students jobs in the food industry.

How many parents who balance the home budget through careful rationing of expenditure, fruit and vegetable growing and cooking from scratch do you think they consulted? I know they are around because I count them among my friends locally and internationally and also amongst those I admire in blogosphere. We share our knowledge, our successes and failures and learn from each other. There is not money to be made from marketing us. We work collectively and cooperatively and our exchanges are not of cash.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

In the garden

Yes, in the garden. Although it is in the title of my blog, I haven't been out there much at all lately and not for lack of desire. But tonight after dinner I ripped out all the tomato plants (still producing but wouldn't be for much longer and I didn't much adore the green tomato chutney anyway) and then poured two bags of mushroom compost on some of the vacant area and planted them with red silverbeet and perpetual spinach. Maybe it is too late but I picked up the punnets for a song yesterday and they will definitely not produce if I didn't plant them out.

I plonked the sage in the herb garden. It had been sitting in it's garden centre pot for several weeks on the outside table. I only have the leeks waiting for planting out now.

The yams in the punga raised bed are looking good on top. They do use up a lot of time though - I planted them last August and apparently best harvest time is July.

This year has been lacking in zucchini sparkle. Last year wasn't just sparkle; it was flood. But this summer both myself and other gardening friends have found the plants haven't grown at all or haven't performed well. I had one survivor - a costata romanesco. The seed catalogue warned that production rate would be half that of the popular hybrids but the taste was really superb. That turned out to be an accurate verdict but I didn't think the taste was twice as good and we've probably only had a dozen zucchinis this summer.

The pest man came and we should have no fleas for at least three months. Hopefully for as long as I walk this earth.

We are off to Fox Glacier for the weekend with friends. Better go put some bread on. I think the use of a recipe is in order given other people will be eating the bread. We have self catering accomodation and I'm aiming to cook up a storm early tomorrow morning so the food is easy to sort once we are there. As well as the bread, I am planning on making South Beach Black Bean Soup (a Nigella Lawson recipe which I adore), more banana muffins and either a quiche, an eggy bake thing or (a small but fancier step) spanish omelette. Then, this done, I should be able to sit back on holiday and let the non-cookers do the dishes. The other motivation is to avoid paying a fortune for fish and chips or mediocre restaurant food which takes ages to arrive while tired hungry children express their dissatisfaction. I recall exactly this experience last time we went to Fox three years ago.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

This might be about the state of the nation,

maybe, but not just yet. I am consumed with horror at the arrival of fleas. We have no dogs and no cats and we've never had fleas before and despite their being four people in our home, only one person is being bitten. The wife of the pest exterminator person I rang today said I must have very special blood.

I don't like having very special blood and I don't like having fleas. I don't like anything to do with it.

I am using my cheese mould and cheese cloths for the first time tonight, gifts from the very lovely Tania. I'm making kefir cheese.

I'm making progress with Brighid's knitted dress, the one where I am making the pattern up as I go along. I am up to the armhole shaping so have switched to using flat needles. Before I was knitting in the round for the first time ever, having started this dress from the hem and working my way upwards. I think they are called 'flat needles'; I'm trying to resist the impulse to call them 'normal needles'.

Yesterday I even found my size 4mm flat needles because yesterday I had a huge cleaning spree in the lounge and ripped the last of the lounge wallpaper off as well. Today I had a huge cleaning spree in the kitchen. I know we don't have fleas because we have a messy house, but fleas make me want to turn the place upside down and get rid of almost everything before making some kind of new serene scene. I have other thoughts about fleas but I'll try and move on from them.

In readiness for sitting down and blogging, I made myself a sandwich. I was rather pleased with myself. Home made bread, home made green tomato chutney, home made kefir, home roasted lamb.

One problem.

It tasted awful. I made the bread without a recipe and without scales and that may be some kind of clue to why it tasted stodgy. Too stodgy. I think the kefir was not as fresh as would be ideal. I guess you all label foods in your fridge and include the date. I guess it is a good idea.

So here I am, thinking that I want a babysitter for St Patrick's night next week and simultaneously that the fleas absolutely must be gone by then. I'm still a long way off the state of the nation. Although I do now have a sandwich with shop bread, Hellmann's mayo and cold roast lamb and it is about 1000 times better than attempt #1.

But here goes. I am referring to some thoughts I began to have as I wrote and then read the comments on my last post before this one. What about working New Zealanders and shareholding? Do we have new levels of share market dependency? Well surely we do. The Cullen fund for one. So our taxes are being used to play on the sharemarket.

They could be used to fund the development of a milk processing plant which would keep West Coast dairy produce here instead of trucking it around the country and trucking other dairy products into the West Coast. Oh hang on golly hang on. The dairy farmers of New Zealand, who have run one of New Zealand's most successful ever cooperatives, are now into different games. Witness the antics of super-coop (formed from the merger of many many small dairy cooperatives around New Zealand) Fonterra in the San-Lu melanin contaminated milk tragedy. Witness talk last year of public floats of the company. Let's see what happens to our farmers, especially those in more remote areas, when China comes onstream with it's own dairy farms and world demand for our milk slumps.

Investment in productive capacity for key services is the best kind of investment, I think. So investment in power producing plants is good and the government can gain something back. Which is all of us gaining something. But buying shares in a sweatshop labour clothing company in order that I might retire and live off that portion which is my reward for merely owning some capital, that does not seem right. The cotton grower and harvester sweats, the sewer sweats, the buyer pays a sum for the garment of which a greater portion goes to the shareholder than to those who sweated for it's construction. So shareholders in this situation live off the fact of the workers being poorly recompensed for their labour. It is not honest.

What else to do? I an only conclude that a retired person can only live a life without recourse to paid work or a pension and/or private investment returns means if they live with their extended family.

Which really might be quite difficult.

But from an ethical point of view and from a blunt economics point of view in the coming decade, it is going to be turned to more and more.

I don't know that I've answered any of my own questions, let alone anyone else's, or even made sense, but I'm trying to make sense of how to live at least somewhat ethically in an inequitable world and this business of investing for retirement and how that money is produced seems a big nasty bogey which is not being talked about enough.

I have only one other thing to report. While writing this blog post, the pest man rang and he is bombing all flea life out of my home tomorrow morning. So although I have to leave this house before 8.30am in the morning and have lunches and nappies and blah blah all done as well, I also need to vacuum up the flour my children deliberately spread across Fionn's bedroom floor and duvet. Once they are awake. But before we have to leave. The carpet surfaces would be a good idea too. Although I don't expect crushed cornflakes protect fleas from death, it seems good manners not to present them to Murray the pest man. As for the lounge, where I removed about 8000 items yesterday only to highlight the remaining 16000, I don't know if bagging the detritus up would just mean the fleas get to escape into the bag and come out later.

I hate fleas.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Just the beginning

I think there is more politics coming up on my blog. Today I read Rod Oram's Sunday Star Times article on the recent jobs summit in Auckland. He describes how some very sharp person surnamed Grant talked about the four phases of the rapid change we have experienced we had gone through and we are about to go through the fifth one: social unrest and protest. And no one bloody took serious notice.

Which given what is going on in the streets of Europe at the moment, gives me cause for wonder. Kiwis don't put up with everything all the time. she won't always be right. Thinking about how long ago the anti-nuclear agitation and the 81 spring bok tour was, perhaps we are moving towards an awakening, a thinking about what is right and who we want to serve in an earthly fashion.

Cos I do agreee with the protestors that the workers did not create the current financial crisis so why should they be losing their jobs to bail out shareholders?

We've already had major bank nationalisations globally. Will the ideas of national state assets ownership and some more radical worker ownership of factories come to the fore again?

Tomorrow is seed sowing day

I am almost always hopeless at aligning my seed sowing with the moon and my germination rate suffers as a result. But tomorrow, tomorrow if I am good and no one is dangerously ill and it doesn't turn out that I have a biting insect infestation (still not sure what bit me earlier in the week when I was collecting chook house poo/sawdust but I got more bites last night when I shifted the bags of aforementioned chook byproduct) and I don't just plain ole forget,

I am going to sow some seeds two days before the full moon.

I'll have to have a good look at my options in my seed drawer, but for the moment I am thinking coriander (God have you noticed that I am trying really hard to grow coriander?), rocket, silverbeet bright lights (some of which I will grow in a pot under the new lean-to, basil (for growing on the kitchen windowsill now it has cooled outside) and calendula.

Maybe it is worth a go at pak choy as well - I think I have some seed. As if the slugs needed more food.

Plans from my study window

Our study is only open to Favourite Handyman and I. Occasionally our six year old is allowed in with specific permission but it is never open to our two year old. When the others are out playing elsewhere and have forgotten about their mother (very temporarily full tummies I guess), it does feel like I have a room of my own, that wonderful asset Virginia Woolf wrote on my heart about.

So this damp and drizzly morning, when the fog of sickness seems to have eased enough on our house for me to be in the study blogging, I am looking out at our spring flower patch. This area is the top corner of our section. When we moved in it was all lawn and my Dad, looking at it closely, observed that it probably had the best drainage in the section and you could just make out a square definition which suggested this had once been the vegetable garden. Years before when it was last a family home.

We started our garden in this corner last Anzac Day, when we buried the children's placentas and planted a cabbage tree above each one. Later I made a raised bed garden nearby and grew lovely silverbeet, borage and strawberries. Then I pulled the logs away from the raised bed and let the chooks in. They turned it all over with great glee. There had, I now remember, been blackcurrants which I planted some time in 2007, and we added another blackcurrant another cabbage tree and some native grasses this year.

So now we have an area which is quite well mulched and supporting bushes or trees in a circle while it is still lawn or weeds around the periphery. The area is about 3 by 3 metres, so 9 square metres. Last night I made a new compost heapon one grassy corner. The chicken poo/straw/sawdust mixture from Raelene's chook house should break down nicely there and turn it to fertile, weedless soil in a couple of months. We did that in the corner of this area last spring and it worked well. There is still some weeding or compost building and some mulching with peastraw to be done to get the whole area the way I want it.

This area, which I look out to from the study (otherwise hidden by the chook run from) much of the back lawn, is perfect for spring bulbs to peek out from the mulch, amidst the straw and trees and not getting in the way of my next vegetable plans as has happened when I've put them in garden beds. Maybe I will try out the daffodils in the soil after all. I'm not overly fond of doing pots when I have so much lawn to be made into beauty and food. I have some yellow freesias and the yellow daffodils so far. There isn't much budget for flowers this autumn and I need to get out the very front and see if I can dig up some of last year's bulbs which were largely lost and unseen behind the huge flax and bring them out the back.

I do want some snowdrops for the shadiest back part though. Galanthus, they are also called. We had one snowdrop bush hidden behind a tree when I was a child and it was such a miracle, and thing of beauty in the still cold winter, to find it each year.
Also still in this area are some new borage plants, self seeded and one silverbeet plant still producing. There were others but they had gone to seed so they are pulled and prone on the soil. They can either compost there or be thrown to one of our 'proper' compost heaps.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Treasures and trials

Treasure one:
I think it is a kind of treasure. We have fruits on our Rua potatoes. I found this out as they flop on to the path and I stood on them when I was harvesting a zucchini. This is not especially common - the swellings on the roots of potatoes are not the fruit at all. They aren't even a proper tuber but I forget what they are called. Aprt from potatoes that is. Whether I will do anything fancy like collect the seed, remains to be seen. But I have that opportunity now.

Treasure two:
A full boot of poo-enriched chook house clearings from the wonderful Raelene. This will go on to an area near my blackcurrants which currently has grass and weeds but is fiddly for the lawnmower to get to. I'm going to pile up the poos and sawdust and let it kill off the vegetation underneath and nourish the soil for growing something much more wonderful than grass on.

Trial one:
I left the bags of chook poo/sawdust in the car overnight. One of those terribly useless things that happen. I couldn't safely and easily drag it through to the back without another adult around to watch Brighid. I know she does murder my plants, but I still love her enough that I don't want her killed by our drive-too-fast nieghbours. Then we all forgot later on.

The car stinks. a lot. the bags were all hot from the nitrogen when I hauled them out this morning. the car needs cleaning from top to bottom and inside every everything. note the word clean.

Trial two:
cleaning. Why is it that every time I get the kitchen approximating to civilised, I turn round and start baking bread, muffins and cooking more meals in it? I do understand at some rational level (i.e. rather hypothetical and distant from what is uppermost in my mind) that good food involves work. I just feel grizzly about it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

inside outside world

Today I remained inside my house for the entire day, excepting feeding the chooks twice and hanging washing out once. The purpose was to keep my children inside in the warm and to cosset and coddle my son out of his wheezing into improved health.

I will not even pretend it did great things for my sanity. The children were fine, within the usual realms of children challenges. Once again, the problem was the house. I need to leave the house. Every day.

So while I was inside more than ever, no longer discussing the financial literacy of the nation's youth with the local MP but instead teaching two young children how to share, then insisting on the sharing, more times than any non-parent might imagine.

I sneaked in some reading, but although I am enjoying Catcher in the Rye, the endless monologue of a depressed teenager isn't hugely uplifting. I read the weekend papers almost exhaustively, ignoring the milk spilt on them and blocking out the origins of the green shrek toothpaste smeared throughout my daughter's hair. I read about the woman behind a new book called Love in a Headscarf and found her blog. Spirit21 is my new must-read, a British Muslim woman thinking and analysing and living outside the square. Her header says it all:
'They built me a box to live in and painted my
caricature inside.

They said "this is you".
I said no thank you, I'd rather be me'

In my inbox today, the electronic version of the latest magazine of the (NZ) Labour History Project, formerly known as the Trade Union History Project. One of the best articles in this magazine was by David Grant on Mark Briggs and Archibald Baxter, conscientious objectors in World War One. Whereas Baxter wrote a wonderful memoir which I recall reading as a teenager (partly while in detention ha ha ha), Briggs was an ordinary working class man whose life has not received much attention until now. I copy here Grant's final two paragraphs from the article:

Mark Briggs will be best remembered for his experiences during
the First World War, and rightly so. I contend that Briggs was not a hero but
an ‘ordinary’ man caught up in extraordinary circumstances, events that
he faced with enormous moral courage. He and the other transported
objectors were tortured in varying degrees in the most astonishing incidence
of State-sanctioned cruelty in this country’s history. Forcibly taking the
14 men, without warning, to the front line to cure them of their
insensibility represented the nadir in the State’s bigotry towards legitimate
dissent. Twelve of the 14 succumbed to the army’s wishes, some in the most
trying of circumstances. In a poignant irony, one, William Little, was
killed within 18 days of becoming a stretcher bearer.

Baxter and Briggs prevailed, making them New Zealand’s
first successful dissenters, succeeding against all odds in a young,
immature, subservient, insecure and martial society that feared
nonconformity, even more so under the stresses of war. They stood at the apex
of the State’s intolerance towards such dissent. They are key in our
tradition of anti-militarism that includes Moriori leader Nunuku-whenua;
Taranaki’s Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi; the brave young working class
men mostly from the West Coast and Canterbury who protested against
compulsory military training when it was first introduced in 1911; the
anti-conscriptionists of World War One; other pacifists before and in the
early days World War Two, and the myriad of antiwar activists who emerged in
the nuclear age. Briggs and particularly Baxter (through his book) became
heroes to many of these later activists. They are exemplars of the cause of
war resistance in this country, men of courage, spirit and principle, to be
lauded in the same breath as Te Whiti, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and
Nelson Mandela.

Grant also has a book out on these men and I'll be down at my local library making sure they have it/have it on order later this week. The Labour History Project website is here. Here on the Coast we have our very own labour history project and this is our website for the Blackball Working Class History Museum.

And the garden? I read in the (Christchurch, NZ) Press in the weekend an article by some uber-capitalist stockmarket enthusiast bemoaning people becoming hysterical about the market and planting vegetables instead of shopping. Like women who ask too many questions, lets paint sensible people who aren't conforming to the way the big boys want us to bail them out by describing them (me, probably 'us) as 'hysterical'.

I didn't get to get my hands dirty today, but I did consider the view from the study window. Since I moved the temporary chook shelter, I get a much better view of the far corner where we have planted cabbage trees over our children's buried placentas and a few blackcurrant bushes. The chooks have been clearing this area nicely and I think there is room for a plum tree this winter and - given how I get to see it so well from my computer now - some spring bulbs.


Isn't there a song with the phrase 'four o'clock in the morning'? I can sort of hear it in my head but not the rest of the song.

Anyway, while I'm up, more on my life.

Yesterday Fionn and I planted his broccoli. It is getting quite late for planting here, but worth a go, especially if the alternative is throwing the seedlings out. Before we planted, I emptied a 40 litre bag of sheep poo on the garden site, added blood and bone, kinpack sheep dags soil conditioner and dolomite lime and then dug it all over. We've planted the broccoli plants fairly closely - about 20cm apart, but I'm figuring that with the intense amounts of plant food we've given them, they should thrive. I'm not thinking too much about my frustration with broccoli last winter - when my six year old announces he loves broccoli and wants to grow some, there ain't no way I am squashing his enthusiasm.

I also made green tomato chutney. I haven't tasted any yet but am, naturally, hopeful that I haven't wasted my time trying to emulate Barbara Kingsolver merely for all noses to wrinkle when the chutney comes out.

While I was being so clever, I made ratatouille with the gifted field mushrooms, the aubergine which was on special and with our own red tomatoes and (green) zucchini. We had that for tea after snacking on smoked chicken sandwiches for much of the afternoon. A grateful person connected to FH's work gave him a home smoked chicken which we all enjoyed.

The other thing we did was Fionn and I went to the Warehouse. If you don't live in New Zealand, The Warehouse is a huge shop full of all kinds of supposedly cheap things. It makes a big song and dance about being NZ owned and having NZ made products, but the reality is that most of it's stock is made in China. Children love the Warehouse. I'm less excited but as I woke up feeling strong and brave, off we went to buy stationery, a new alarm clock and to research mugs (and from the other in the party, to oggle hot wheels cars).

Lots of very cheap mugs, generally under $5 each with some packs of 4 (that I didn't like) for $6. I realised that all red mugs were ruined because they all look like those Nestle mugs and yes surprise surprise I am a nestle boycotter. So two mugs of pretty floral patterned-ness went into the trolley. But wait. There's more. On the way to the Hot Wheels aisle, I saw a stand of 'urban revolution' branded items on remainder sale. Ha ha ha the irony. I bought, for $2.97 each, some rather styley mugs which were almost definitely made in China, but which had printed upon them, spanish text about Cuba and a romantic photo of a Cuban car and building. So in the capitalist temple, I bought remaindered mugs of probably sweatshop origin which glorified Cuban life, the socialist state which eschews capitalism.

I also bought some daffodils as I had to because they were called 'Sandra' which I've never seen before. It says they are polyanthus type, which I don't understand at all in relation to daffodils. I'll have to raise them in pots on concrete to reduce the likelihood of slugs eating them. By Spring, our garden will be a-slime with slugs and daffodils are a favourite food of the slimeys. So last year we had anemones because they were called St Brighid and this year is my turn. Haven't seen any flowers named for Fionn or FH.

While I was making a mess in the kitchen yesterday, I also got to listen to the second of Margaret Atwood's lectures on debt. Yesterday was debt and sin. Fasicnating stuff. This link gives more information and has the podcast of the lectures.

In a few hours, so long as I don't forget, overcome by the challenge of making school lunches and getting organised after having been awake in the middle fo the night, Brighid and I have a meeting with our local MP. Our local MP is Chris Auchinvole and the fact that he is a National MP hinders me not. He is paid to work for our electorate and I have some work for him. I've been reading and learning about loan sharks. I first started to learn about loan sharks when I saw the Ken Locah movie "Raining Stones" back in the early 1990s. For a nice, sheltered girl like me, it was a powerful eye-opener. Raining Stones is seet in Northern England but I've been finding out about loan sharks in New Zealand, about people in vulnerable situations being loaned money at interest rates of 8% PER WEEK.

Before the last election, there were noises being made about two things related to this topic. The first was a move to limit the interest rates which could be legally charged as parts of Europe, Australia and the US have done. The second was for the government to fund financial literacy education for New Zealanders. I have a particular interest in the effects on vulnerable young people of poor financial skills and knowledge and today I have several suggestions for Chris Auchinvole. I don't know that he is very important in parliament but I aim for him to be better versed on this topic and hopefully inspired to make a difference in some way, locally or nationally.

If I organised my blog nicely, there would be several different posts instead of this one altogether. There would also be a lovely photo of my green tomatoes freshly picked and then another one of the chutney in jars also looking lovely. Perhaps photos of the packet of daffodils and of the MP and of Margaret Atwood or her book and perhaps an image from the movie Raining Stones. But I'm not that kind of girl. You'll know if I ever do acquire such skills as downloading photos as suddenly there will be more photos than text. It's not on the near horizon though.