Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Is My Name Domestic Goddess?

It has been a really satisfying couple of weeks, we both have the 'get up and go' attitude at present, which differs from the slobotron attitude that presented itself earlier in the year.
Do you remember last week I was busily casting about iron sulphate to kill moss in order to help with our compacted soil?  Well, here is a very satisfying photograph of black, dead moss.  You can see the part I missed at the top of the photo, quite a difference eh.
I managed to get all my planting done at the top, I think there are about 60 plants within the fenced area now.
Our lovely neighbour gave us more apples from her trees, this time a big bagful of Sundowners.  So amid me stewing apples for the freezer, and drying apple slices for snacks....
 I also made two apple cakes, one for us (the big one of course :-) ) and one for our neighbour as a thank you for the apples.
 The vegie patch is starting to produce again.
I harvested a heap of mint.  Steve, strange lad that he is, likes a hefty slurp of mint sauce dribbled over his roast beef, so with that in mind I thought it best to preserve some mint for times when it has died down.
Into the dehydrator it went.  Now I must point out that sprigs was a stupid way to dry the mint, despite the book saying it was perfectly fine to dry the leaves on the stems, that they would break away easily when dry.  Well, my experience was that the leaves folded in onto themselves in clumps and took freaking ages to dry.  After a lot of faffing about I now have a small jar of green dust for his lordship's mint sauce.  Next time I shall place the mint leaves individually when they are to be dried.
 My yogurt making is proving very successful and I make a damn good natural yogurt, even if I say so myself.  Following on from that, I tried my hand at making ricotta/cottage cheese.  It is made almost the same way as yogurt, heat the milk to 180 degrees F, cool it down to 110 degrees F, then add the activator.  For yogurt you add a small amount of yogurt, but for ricotta you add an acid, usually vinegar or lemon juice.  I added a bit of both. 
Before your eyes the milk separates into curds and whey.  With a slotted spoon you pop the curds into a cloth lined colander, and leave it to drain.
Ta dum, a wee small bowl of hand made cheese!  I must say that yogurt is more satisfying to make because for a litre of milk you get a litre of yogurt, well, unless you strain off some whey like I do to get a thicker Greek style yogurt, but I end up with 750 mL of lovely yogurt.  For my litre of milk I ended up with about 3/4 cup of ricotta cheese.  Regardless of the small amount it was very exciting to think that I had done this all by myself!
Lunch today was some leftover cooked pumpkin and broad beans, ricotta plonked on top with finely chopped preserved lemon and dukkah adorning that.  It was freaking delicious.
For some reason I still yearned to produce culinary delights in the kitchen this week, so I dragged out a carefully hoarded recipe for homemade muesli.  I have made it before, years ago, and my daughter and I still remember vividly how delicious it was, so another batch was in order.  It has a trillion things in it, and the dry ingredients are moistened with a mixture of honey, maple syrup, vanilla and peanut paste, then toasted til golden brown and crunchy.  Mmmmm!  Our guests this weekend can try some with my yogurt, and I hope they fall around in raptures of delight :-)
I'm still plugging along with the damned trillion coloured Babette blanket.  You know how when you've seen too much of something you are producing that you hate the sight of it?  Yep, that's where I am at.  However I wish to announce that I have finally completed all the crocheted squares.  Yep, all 156 of them are done, now to put the last section together and then crochet round the outside of the whole thing a few times.  I look at this thing, the amount of work that has gone into it off and on for over the last 5 years, and I can't believe how small it is!  Hence the need for a border to increase the size a bit, else it will only warm my knees and nothing more!
I found a wonky bit though, four small squares that for some reason I crocheted extremely loosely....perhaps I had been drinking that sewing day, entirely possible....
Anyway, I stared at this misshapen section, muttering under my breath....I don't want to fix this, I've finished all the squares and I don't want to ever do another one, but it looks like crap, but I don't want to fix it....etc.  Well, good sense prevailed and I fixed it.
And while all this was going on, Steve has been busy in his shed.  He constructed this whizzbang workbench.  He used his circular saw to cut pine sleepers down the middle, then block them together to make good strong chunky legs.
Power boards were attached and he then bolted some of his man toys on the top.  After this photo he also built a shelf to sit on the lower beams.  So he has some man toys on top and some man toys underneath, all within easy reach.  He is very happy.  :-)
And the sun goes down over a spectacular week, beautiful as always.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Autumn Days

I've been a busy girl out in the fields recently.  It's a five stage plan.  Above our house we have about 25 metres between us and the back boundary.  I want a small, terraced kitchen garden directly outside the back of the house, then a wide meandering grassed area, then a dense planting of natives for screening, wind break and to encourage the small birds closer to the house, then behind that the firebreak.  The kitchen garden will have to wait as we need some earthmoving done first, and the whole area will need to be fenced to avoid Bertha Bunny and Kevin Kangaroo from eating all my lettuce and herbs!
In the meantime I am concentrating on the mass planting of natives towards the very top.  This too needs fencing and I made a start on that this week.  But I've run out of wire.  So until I go to town tomorrow my thoughts turned to the ground work that is necessary.  The top of our place has always been rather arid, it is super dry below the surface yet in some parts there is a thick layer of moss on the surface.  On digging a few deep holes it seems to be sandy, like the rest of our hillside land, we had wondered whether there was sheet rock just under the surface to make the moss form - no, no rock. 

My conclusion is that as this land used to be forest about 25 years ago, that forest and undergrowth has left residual roots in the surface 25cm of soil.  It is just a mass of tiny fibrous roots that don't seem to belong to anything, and these tiny roots seem to be forming a barrier to stop water from soaking in, leaving the surface wet, which encourages the moss.  So I researched what to do about this, iron sulphate kills moss.  But it also reduces the pH so I ran around yesterday doing about 50 pH tests in different areas.  Surprisingly, the untouched soil is pretty much neutral, good to know that we don't have any glaring pH issues, and it also meant that I could throw around the iron sulphate, lowering the pH a tad would be just fine.
Before I started scattering iron sulphate around, I grabbed The Hun out of the shed and cultivated all the soil along the top as deeply as I could, which broke up the surface moss, broke apart the fibrous root masses, and left lots of little furrows for water to sit in and slowly seep into the ground.  Today I spread the iron sulphate around and watered it in, apparently the moss will turn black and die.  I also spread some blood and bone around, and scattered some grass seed.  It will be very interesting to watch and see what happens over the next few weeks.  The next stage is to complete the plant protecting fence, then continue with planting the 50 or so tube stock natives I bought.  Then they all need their green plastic protective covers on, then I plan to mulch them all.  Then HOPEFULLY by spring I will have happy, healthy plants that will grow strongly. 
Speaking of mulch, last week we bought 10 bales of pea straw.  Sound silly but I just love the look of bales stacked on the pallet in front of the vegie patch, it feels very farm-like :-)  And I love the smell of straw.
The first thing I did was mulch my fenced garden area downhill from the house.  I love the look of mulched straw almost as much as the smell of it.
My little bits and pieces near the front door are growing nicely.  I've grown about 40 marigolds from seed and have just potted them on.  Next stage will be to plant them around the vegie patch to help prevent root nematodes.  I'm enjoying popping out the door and grabbing a few leaves of lettuce or herbs to have with my lunch.  This is my kitchen garden until such time as the real one out the back can get started.
I am delighted to see, tucked away under a plastic bag cover, that some basil seeds have sprouted.  I thought it would be too cold.  I think these ones are called lettuce leaf basil, apparently they have huge leaves.  I hope they keep growing, I love basil!
Meanwhile, out in the vegie patch, Steve's crop of potatoes are growing strongly.  It's one of the few things we've found we can grow outside the fenced area that doesn't get devoured by roos and rabbits.  This variety of potato is King Edward, Steve grew them last year and they were really really good.
His broad beans are going well too.  He has planted a lot less of these this year, we were overrun by them last season and still have a couple of kilos of broad beans in the freezer to get through!
The broccoli is looking great.  A trick Steve tried with the brassicas this season was protecting the young seedlings with a short piece of storm water pipe.  He often found that something chewed the young brassica stems at ground level and killed the plants, so the pipe was to try and stop that happening.  And it seems to have worked.  We were suspicious that the culprit was slaters or little beetles, regardless, the pipe seems to have an effective barrier.  In the background are sugar snap peas along the fence, and parsnips/swedes/turnips mixed up, in a line in front of the peas.  Vegie growing is always satisfying when it is not cabbage moth season!
Steve has also continued with the grand shed reburbishment.  It is looking great, things have their place and there is now a huge area of floor space to move about in.  Next job is to build his big workbench which will sit in the middle of the floor.
The lathe even got unpacked and did its first little job of resizing a bolt.
And now the shed is working properly, construction has commenced on the Chook Spa Retreat and Fortress.  :-)

Friday, 17 May 2013

Stitching By The Sea

It seems that you often find me here when the wind is howling.  Outside the rain is bucketing down, which is good, but the wind is so strong that the rain is sideways which is not good.  Yesterday I excelled myself and spent about 3 hours washing all the windows and the flyscreens, more sparkly windows you never did see. 
But now the sideways rain has plastered itself over half the front windows and I confess to being a tad pissed off about it.  Needless to say I am really pleased with the Enjo window cleaning paraphernalia I invested in, does a great job.  I can't believe I am rabbiting on about washing windows, let's move on... :-)
Speaking of the rain, since some heavy rain a couple of weeks ago, we spied this.  Were we looking at death in the fields, disguised as lovely fat field mushrooms?  We mulled over this possibility for quite some time, delving into fungi information to see if we would both die painfully if we ate them.  All appeared okay so we picked them.
I volunteered to be the guinea pig and chowed down on half a small mushroom, with explicit instructions to Steve that if I went weird on him that he was to toodle me off to Albany Regional Hospital.  Happily, all was fine so the following morning we had our very own field mushrooms with bacon and eggs for a delicious breakfast. :-)
 As you know, I am a member of the South Coast Embroiderers group, to where I trot every Tuesday with  20 or so other ladies for a day of chit chat and learning a thing or two about the trillion different types of embroidery.  It's fun.  There is also a Denmark Embroiderers group and once a year we have a Saturday workshop called Stitching By The Sea, hosted in turn by us or them.  This year was Denmark's turn and we arrived at their chosen venue, the delightful Ocean Beach Surf Club.  The hosting group sets a small sewing task and on this occasion we were to do canvas work stitching, to make a small box.  It was a terrific day, about 45 of us rocked up for a day of chatter, stitching and delicious food, the Denmark girls did a great job.
 One of the guild members brought down from Perth a display of embroideries for us to drool over.  I am a particular fan of what is called blackwork, and thought this cat was cleverly done.
 I really like samplers so this blackwork sampler really captivated me. 
 More blackwork, this time a scene.  Different stitches are used to give the light and shade to the piece, but all done in black.  Traditionally blackwork can contain a bit of red or gold too.
 And this is redwork.  I liked the design of this one.
Our tables were covered with instruction sheets, wool and visual aids as we industriously started on our box bases.  The idea of the workshop is to get started on something and then we take it home and finish it at our leisure.  Most of us almost finished our box bases and went home to design our own box tops.
As I quite enjoyed this task, I finished my box in a couple of evenings and like how my design turned out.  Have no freaking idea what to actually do with it but there you go.  :-)  The Denmark girls suggested rolling up ones tape measure and keeping it in the box, but my tape measure gets no such royal treatment, it is usually found scrunched up in the bottom of my sewing bag and that is just fine. 
The Denmark group have been working hard this year on a collaborative project and between them stitched this fabulous tribute to Denmark and its treasures.  I wish I could have photographed it closer but alas the reflection on the glass made that impossible.  The girls did sausage sizzles in the town to raise money to have the embroideries mounted and framed, and they are going to present it to the Blue Wren Lodge, an aged care wing at the Denmark Hospital, to go up on the wall.
 And here are the Denmark ladies and their masterpiece.  Well done girls.
 While I have been gallivanting around, Steve has been a busy boy in the shed.  This is what it used to look like, crap absolutely everywhere, nowhere to walk and nothing to be found.  Very frustrating and so hard to get started with tidying and organising as there was nowhere to move anything to.
Since then, Steve's mate Mel very kindly gave us various useful pieces of angle iron and some metal fencing amongst other things, and Steve has build himself two fantastic rack systems that store an amazing amount of stuff.  It's great that he has been able to put seldom used things right up high, out of the way.  Steve has also started using the leftover gyprock from the house to make walled areas, and attached many hooks to hang tools up.  It is amazing to know exactly where to find a thing, and Steve was amazed to find that he has nine adjustable spanners, considering he could never find one of them, he was a tad surprised!  Anyway, he is to be found in his shed for large parts of the day, happily organising things.  Doing a good job my dear xx
I've mentioned before that autumn is, in my opinion, the best season for sunsets and this week did not disappoint.  I had the absolute pleasure of driving home from Albany towards this, it was magnificent.  Luckily there was still enough sunset to photograph when I got home.  So pretty.
 As it shone through the living room windows, the setting sun cast a beautiful copper hue down the flue above our fire.
And danced through the glass in our front door and sparkled on the wall.  That's the sort of thing that makes my day, ahhh.  :-)

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Cupfuls of Joy

The wind is howling outside as I sit here in the wee small hours looking somewhat like a bag lady in my nightie, trackies and cardie, but the house is surprisingly warm considering the chillness of the gale outside.  Anyway, I can't sleep so why not blog eh :-)

The rains have started with fair regularity now and our water tank is almost full already.  We were very frugal over summer with water usage as we didn't know how much we'd use and got a bit scared being self reliant on water for the first time, but we now know that we can be a lot more liberal hence the fact that the tank was still 3/4 full at the end of summer!
I seem to have been very busy over autumn and have ticked many small things off my to-do list.  Firstly was gift making.  Embroidered hankies for my mother-in-law's birthday.
And a lavender bag for her for Mothers Day.  I shall not divulge the Mothers Day present for my mother because I know she would be peeking at this wee blog, you will have to wait mum! :-)
Years ago I crocheted this round cushion top with some of my favourite wool (Koigu hand painted merino to be precise) then stuffed it away and forgot about it.  Well, ta-dum, I finally finished making into a cushion.  I made a round cushion out of fabric then hand sewed the crocheted top to it and finished off with a nice big button to pull in the centre.  And I even stuffed it with fleece wool too, just to keep to the theme you know. It's very comfy to lean against.
Next job was a quilt repair.  I have two favourite homemade quilts for our bed and they have been used to death, washed regularly and consequently are falling to pieces.  This one was patchable so I did just that, plus zigzag stitched over many small tears.  It looks just fine and hopefully with stay together for a few more years.
I continue on crocheting my Babette Blanket.  It's comprised of different sized squares each containing rounds of different colours.  I used a combination of multicoloured Koigu and plain and am single crocheting them all together in the same denim blue colour in the hope of marrying together the multitude of colours into something civilised.  I like the single crochet joins, it gives a little ridge which I rather like from a textural point of view, but on the back it is all smooth and comfortable against oneself.
And then we move into the kitchen.  Autumn is a time of year for preserving it seems.  Steve's rhubarb plants have gone mental, nothing like a bag of horse poo to make one's rhubarb go mental.  I harvested a huge heap of it.
Chopping and simmering later, I had a lovely big batch of stewed rhubarb to freeze in cupfuls, plus a big container in the fridge for breakfast for the next week.
And of course I had to make a number of rhubarb crumbles to tuck away in the freezer too.  We had one the other night, very tasty although I learned a lesson.  I left too much liquid in the stewed rhubarb and it bubbled up so much through the crumble that the crumble wasn't very crunchy.  It tasted yummy but a bit soft on top for my liking.  Noted for the next batch!
Our neighbour kindly gave us another huge bag of apples just picked from her trees, so it was busy busy busy drying apple slices and stewing apple to freeze in cupfuls.  I'm starting to get all these different coloured  frozen cup lumps in the freezer, very satisfying.
Another batch of apple butter in the making too, I now have a good stash of that made.  I love it on natural yogurt, the sourness of the yogurt and the sweetness of the spiced apple go together beautifully.  It is dead easy to make.  I feel like a domestic goddess at the moment!  :-)
My new thing is making my own natural yogurt, it is delicious!  All you have to do is heat 1litre of milk to 180F then cool it back down to 110F, at which point you stir in a heaped tablespoon of natural yogurt for the starter.  Then it's a case of keeping it as warm as possible for a number of hours to allow the yogurt bacteria to multiply and do its magic.  I use 2 wideneck thermos flasks.  It takes anything from 3 to 8 hours, the longer you leave it the more sour and acidic it becomes.  I find about 5 hours suits me, and I then go a step further and turn mine into greek style yogurt which is thick.  That involves sitting the yogurt in a cloth lined colander to strain off some of the whey, which gives me lovely thick yogurt and a cupful of whey which we use in our bread making.  Our breakfasts have been fabulously homemade and delicious lately I can tell you!
Steve has been doing great things too, he and his mate caught a great haul of fish the other day, including  9 big bonito, a tuna-like fish.  Bonito is absolutely brilliant smoked and Steve has a small smoker so that is what we had for dinner last night.  Yum!!!
Today I dragged myself out of the kitchen.  I knew we had good rain forecast for the next few days and I wanted to plant some more screening plants.  After a sharp learning curve down here I know I can't just bung em in, there are rabbits and roos that love to eat my little plants, hence Fort Knox in the photo below.  I have put up makeshift fences with left over bits and pieces of wire which keeps out the roos, and the new plants have their green plastic protection from rabbits and also the wind to give them a fighting chance.  Twenty tiny natives went in today, mostly banksia this time plus hakea, grevillea and kunzia.  It poured with rain an hour after I'd finished which I took as a positive sign that they will grow well.
We had a pleasant morning visiting the twice-yearly local farmers market.  It makes me happy buying local produce if it is something we are not growing ourselves.  Low food miles and all that.  We came home with a new type of potato, and I've forgotten the name already!  Steve loves to grow different sorts of potatoes so he has a new one to add.  I pounced on a bag of homegrown Fuyu persimmons which I love, and for $2 a bag I was rapt, as you can pay that for a single fruit in the shops!  We also recognized and said hello to a number of people which gave me a warm glow, we are really starting to feel like locals here now.
And the grand finale to busy autumn days is a warm, relaxing fire.  And wine...