Monday, 31 October 2011

Talking Passion

Passion?  You have to have passion to live life to the fullest!  What gets you up each morning?  Apart from a bowl of home-made muesli??  I love my job, and I love my garden.  The house I live in, could be any house anywhere - 4 walls anywhere are my blank canvas to create a home. But the garden takes time, dedication and a great dose of patience.  It's my passion, for sure.  Walking along the pathways, checking on the plants, the trees, the insects that inhabit and the birds that are drawn to share our space,  I look around and marvel at what we have created.  Not alone, but with the help of countless people from all across the globe!  That too, creates a sense of wonderment, knowing that this little patch of soil has drawn so many overseas visitors to stop a while, to share in the fruits of our little paradise, and to pitch in to create something to remember them by.  A hothouse, a wildflower patch, a kitchen garden, crafty pavers, a chook house, word-art signs, wooden structures, painted spaces, food planted..................... each one reminds us of the person who helped to make it such a special space.
Our make-shift blueberry enclosure with legs to the right of the photo
 for our rainwater tank due to be installed soon.  The unique pavers
each lovingly created by helpxchangers.

The view we are greeted with when opening the sleeping quarters of
Liz and Spence, our two currently clucky hens, in their Chook Tractor
built by another creative helpxchanger!
At the moment we are picking brittle-fresh asparagus spears daily (3-4 spears per day), globe artichokes (how come so many people have never ventured to explore the culinary delights of this exotic vegetable??), broad beans (labour of love to prepare), fennel bulbs (sliced, drizzled with lemon juice and baked), lemons, mandarins, red cabbage, brocolli, oranges...... and as of today - strawberries!!  Yum!  I read that strawberries are actually originally woodland plants that feed on the leaf litter from overhead trees - so although they love sunshine, they can grow in semi-shady spots too.  I have two beds, one  in full sun, from which we are currently harvesting, the other in shade, which fruit later on, and longer lasting).  They are the only fruit to bear their seeds on the outside of the fruit (about 200) but are mostly propagated via the runners they send out.
Home-grown brocolli -what a treat!  No sprays, fresh from garden
to plate.
Our beautiful red cabbages fattening up..........

Globe artichokes for the picking...........  what a delight to eat...
picking your way slowly to the heart of the flower!!

Looking back on my third term holiday break just gone by, what a productive and fulfilling time, pottering away in my garden shed, making a bird-house, wooden shelves, a recycled coffee sack bag (mach 2), sowing seeds, planting tomato seedlings with an excitement at the anticipation of succulent, sweet, juicy tomato harvests............. 
Store-bought ones just pale in comparison, to the point that we do not buy them at all over winter, choosing instead to opt for sun-dried tomatoes in our winter salads.  But truthfully, after summer and well into autumn, we have so pigged out on tomatoes of every size, colour and taste, that it is a welcome break.  After all, this is what sustainable is about - eating seasonally!  Having a garden gets you back in touch with seasonal foods like never before.  BG (Before Gardening) I didn't question buying apples, bananas or tomatoes all year round!

The up-cycled tote made from old coffee bags
from Ceres (organic, of course!).

The decorative bit was off a favourite Bali-bought shoe!

Mike sourced a whole heap of untreated sawdust from a friend, to line our pathways and reduce the weeding energy output over the summer.  Some people counsel against using sawdust due to it's high acidity levels but I think it is fine in pathways, I have been using it for over a year now in this way and it breaks down slowly over many, many months, into earthworm ridden rich "compost".

Untreated cedar sawdust to suppress weeds

Sawdust pathways in the orchard delineates areas of wildflower
Oh yes, also managed to extract all the files on our old dinosaur computer, and even drop it off for a fire station garage sale!!  Yeeha!  I had been ringing around, trying desperately to find a home for it but interestingly, most people are just not interested in old technology, even for kids!  
During my holidays, I received not one, but two invitations from my doctor and nurse - for a tetanus booster.  Now I read this and the first thing I thought was, "Woah!  I never even got a tetanus shot from them, so how come they are assuming I need a booster?"  Anyway, it's probably the first response they ever received from a "patient" (ever wondered what the meaning of this word is , perhaps because whenever you go to a doctor, you usually end up waiting at least half an hour, so one needs be very patient!) in response to one of their mailouts.  It went something like this:
"Dear Doctor and Nurse
Thank you very much for your invitation but I will not be taking you up on your kind offer of a tetanus booster.  The reason is that I don't believe in random vaccinations, specially ones that list so many potential side-effects."
I also asked them to clear up the confusing issue for me, that the attached pamphlet listing all the side-effects, stated that the Ministry of Health were providing this vax free of charge.  The typed letter stated that the vax cost to me would be $20!  Confusing.  Perhaps, they may state next time that  "administering" the vax will incur a cost of $20.  
If you are interested in FACTS, not emotional outbursts on this topic, read to open your eyes!  Okay, off that soapbox.

The reason for adding that last little piece of info, was because living sustainably can NEVER include shots of chemical poison to the system!  The ancients extolled the virtues of berries in boosting the immune system, in fact, blueberries scientific name is Vaccinium corymbosum.  This is where the name vaccination is derived from!  So want to stay healthy?  Eat plenty berries, and we're heading into berry season!  Our strawberries are ripening and growing at an incredible rate!  An interesting fact: Eating strawberries, which are rich in nitrate, can increase the flow of blood & oxygen to the muscles by 7%.  This prevents muscle fatigue, making exercise easier.  Perhaps why they were believed to be aphrodisiac in times gone by in France, and thus fed to newlyweds!

One of the endearingly welcome ring-necked visitors who entertain us with their
crazy mating antics. They are always at it! Wonder if they eat strawberries??

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Making Muesli Magic

Ever wondered how to get the zing back into your mornings?  I think I have a possible answer.  Okay, not The Answer.  Just a possible one.  It's all to do with breakfast.  During winter, I make steaming pots of humble oats porridge, just like in Goldilocks's story.  Or a pot of cinnamon infused ground rice or millet cereal. Served with a huge chunk of melting butter (no cholesterol worries here), a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of honey (yes, we like it hot and sweet!) and a good swathe of milk.  It is a dark morning, slow-waking ritual as you carefully scoop the ring of porridge around the rim of the bowl.  Slowly repeating this side-hugging action till you hit the bottom, like those dare-devil wall-of-death motorbike riders at carnivals, that cling tenaciously to the sides, defying gravity.  Not quite as thrilling, but certainly satisfying.

But then longer days mark another ritual in our house.  Magic Muesli.  I mark the impending warmer weather with earnest muesli-making.  I love the ceremony.  The chopping.  The choosing.  The turning.  But mostly the tasting - when it is still warm and a little soft yet.  Before it turns crunchy.  Mmmmn.  I made a batch today.  A little premature perhaps but then I am willing the weather to turn.  To defy the weather man and create a huge big swell of good weather.  All those little isobar squiggles bringing all the wintry weather need to be voodooed into returning to the poles.  I guess my Mammoth Muesli Making session today was a desperate bid to kid myself that summer is definitely on it's way.  It didn't work.  It continued to rain constantly this week.  Still is.
Chopped dried apricots, dates, bananas and raisins

Chopped almonds, brazil nuts and cashews

Voila!  Magic Muesli.
Anyway, here is my recipe for Muesli.  It does not reside in any recipe book but in my head, so I endeavoured to write it down as I made it, so I would remember the amounts.  I never stick to any set amount but rather go with the creative flow that strikes at the moment, so feel free to play around.  If you like a fruity muesli, add more fruit.  More nuts if you're a nut-lover.  More spice if you're a Spice Girl.  The emphasis must be on having fun.  It's the first ingredient.
Mike says, because it is cooked, technically it is not a muesli.  It's Granola.  I prefer to stick with muesli. It requires the mouth to do a little oral gymnastics to get the word out. Myoooslee.  The top lip has to thrust outwards at an alarming angle, as if it were to connect to the nose at some point.  Muhyoooslee.  See?

Magic Make-it-yourself Muesli

  • 500g oats, or roughly 6 cups
  • 1/2 cup sunflower oil
Drizzle oil over oats, stir well and place in oven at 175deg C for about 10 mins, then add
  • 1 cup sugar, dissolved in 1/4 cup water, with 2 tspn cinnamon and 1 tspn ginger powder and 4 Tbspn honey,
Stir this sugary mix into and over the oats, then add:
  • 1 cup coconut, dessicated
  • 1/2 cup coconut chips or raw peanuts
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 cups sesame seeds
Mix well and place back in oven, baking for 20 mins.  Remember to turn it frequently so that it does not burn.  Remove from oven and then add the following:
  • 1 cup each chopped brazil, almond and cashew nuts (i.e 3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
I don't like to cook the nuts, prefering them to add their oils without being heated!  When the muesli mix is cool enough, I add the fruit content, something like this:
  • 3 cups mixed, chopped dried fruit - I use apricots, bananas, dates, raisins
This recipe should be mixed and matched according to your taste and ingredient availability.  It makes a HUGE container full and lasts our voracious family at LEAST 2 weeks, even allowing for in-between-meal snacking!  Add a box of cornflakes or heritage flakes to lighten the muesli.

Then to add a little magic to lunch time, how about making some cream cheese?  Totally simple to make and definitely delicious!
Cream Cheese
Take 500ml yoghurt (we buy ours from the Asian grocer - much cheaper than the supermarket) and mix 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt and stir.

Draining solids from liquid

Pour yoghurt and salt into a muslin cloth (I use an old cotton scarf), supported by a sieve, and allow to drain into a container overnight.  Next morning, remove "cheese" and add a tablespoon herbs of choice.  I alternate with chopped parsely, oreganum, basil, chives...... whatever is growing prolifically.
Serve with fresh bread or crackers and olives.
Cream cheese ready to be served............. no fuss!

So making magic in the kitchen, lets hope the All Blacks perform some magic of their own tonight.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

October and outdoors

What bliss to be on "holiday".  Of course, for me that means to be at home, sans time constraints, left alone to get on with house and garden chores, at my leisure!  We have had 3 days of rain, some soft, some hard, some oblique and some like mist, but mostly rain!  Day 4 of my holidays and it seems overcast but at least the water is not falling freely from the sky!  I am 2 days late feeding manure "tea" to my garden due to all that H2O.  Today, I might just don my boots and do the job.  My manure tea consists of a half bucketful of horse poops (Mike buys a big bag from the Waikato for just $2.50 every second week) into a big drum which I fill with water, add another quarter bucket of compost, then I set up a pond aerator into the mix, to aerate it all.  Bacteria are aerobic, so the reasoning behind this, is to increase the effectiveness of the bacteria.  I have been doing this for 3 months now, after watching a video link on Youtube:, so time will tell if this increases the soil fertility.................  I love experiments!

My October stash of seedlings include cauliflower, runner beans,
 okra, cucumber, marigolds, German chamomile and beetroot.
Most of these seedlings I managed to get in over the weekend, during the "dry spell" - actually, we had wonderful weather for the job, preceding the Great Rain.  We also had an American Helpxchange arrive on Monday, in the rain, who was set to task oiling all our wooden doorways and windowsills indoors, after helping me set up a blueberry enclosure outside, in misty rain.  Aotearoa, the land of the Long White Cloud.  Hope the sun breaks through that great big cloud today.

My new addition - an old second hand galvanized watering can
from a garage sale for $3, just like my grandmother used to have!

One of the many bird feeders made from scraps - this one has
2 sharp nails sticking up to impale fruit on for fruit-loving birds.

Piece d' Resistance - heritage tomato seedlings and passion fruit
seedlings awaiting their new resting place...........
I thought I might pay a little homage to the humble compost bin.  We have a two bin system, one is actively being added to while the second is "sleeping".  Mike is the Compost King, turning the compost at best, every weekend, or at worst case scenario, once or twice a month, depending on Time.  All our kitchen scraps (excepting those ear-marked for the worm  farm, or the chooks) end up here, as do any weeds, garden cuttings and vacuum cleaner dust (it pays to have a bag-free vacuum cleaner).  Into that, Mike throws a bag or two of coffee grounds he collects from a local coffee shop, a bag of horse poop every two weeks, and a bucket full of sawdust every now and then.  A handful of lime when he remembers and we end up with glorious black, friable (not clumpy or gluggy) compost FULL of worms, slaters, and hopefully, millions of microscopic beneficial bacteria!  If you think about it, Life, as we know it, depends on the SOIL.  Fertility of soil supports the growth of all plant material, which is turn supports all animals and humans, whether vegetarian or omnivorous.  So in other words, our soil supports us all.  It is at the very bottom of the food pyramid!  Love your soil!

From this............ 

to this!
On a more somber note, we watched Zeitgeist The Addendum movie 2 nights ago.  I have been meaning to for about 2 years now.  And after the fact, I'm still reeling!  I thought it was a movie about Climate Change - Hoo Boy! It was about the American Monetary System - the corruption and farce of it all, of course, a model on which we are fashioned after, all around the world.  Our poor helpxchange fella - hope he didn't take offense to the America-bashing it turned out to be!  It makes the whole barter/swop system of living so much more attractive.  I've got the eggs............... anyone out there got spare chocolate??

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Silver Awards, Seeds and Sunshine

YeeHah!  Drumroll please.....The kindergarten where I work, has just reached Silver status as an Enviro-Kindergarten!  Very exciting indeed!  The "award" recognizes ongoing and new initiatives for kindergartens running innovative sustainable education programmes and having sustainable practices in place.  This means everything we do comes under a "green lens" or eco-driven choice - whether it is a purchase being made, or how we work with resources.  Our first Bronze award was a year of putting all these practices into action, then the Silver status has taken us two years to refine, streamline and persist in "green" practices.  So I am feeling particularly chuffed with our achievement!  So lucky for me, not only do I live the Green Dream at home, I also go to work, still in the Dream!
Katikati Kindergarten adobe house shortly after completion Jan 2009
A testimony to great teamwork, courage and vision.  The house
now sports a "Green Roof" or earth-covered garden roof.

Mosaic details in our kindergarten adobe playground
Everything custom-made with sweat, a drop or two of blood,
 and a few tears!
 On the Home front, Liz and Spence, our little half-Bantams have managed to fill a dozen egg carton from left to right!  To celebrate, I taught my daughter to make herself a "frittata", having never made one before (remember, Mike and I don't actually eat eggs??).  She claimed that it was delicious - only that the vegetable were a little crunchy - ooops, I said, she should try to cook the veggies lightly first - next time round!  "But Mum!  I thought you knew how to make a frittata!"  Well, not really.  I mean, how should I know, never having made one before in my life??  And anyway, since when did frittata get born??  I grew up knowing about quiche.  A rather eggy vegetable pie with a crust.  A frittata?  Without the crust.  Anyway, we are slowly using up the rather petite little eggs.  Shanti, the cat, also gets her egg yolk treat 3 times a week.  I read somewhere in our Natural House Book that they are good for cats.
Shanti watches the doves from inside the window

A full dozen eggs!  A thing of beauty.

Taken on a wet and dismal Sunday,Liz and Spence's
quarters fit snuggly over the spent veg beds

What a glorious start to October - a gorgeous sunny day spent in the garden on Saturday, planting out all my seedlings - sunflowers to line the walkway to the washing line (my daughter loves sunflowers, so I figured in order to attract her to hang up the laundry, why not plant her favourite flowers along the path??), marigolds and alyssum to both attract or repel certain insects, caulis for wonderful summer Aloo Gobi dishes, lettuces green and red, lemon verbena for herb teas and beetroot.  'Tis the planting window, according to the moon, and I get until the 10th to continue this wonderful soul-filling activity.  Then on Sunday, gloomy and wet, I spent a wonderful half day tucked away at the bottom of the garden in our shed, listening to Casey Kasem's top 40 on our Disaster,Solar-powered Radio, sowing seeds in endless trays - tomatoes, pumpkins, melons, butternut, tamarillo, coriander, lettuces, beans and more.  The general rule of thumb I have always used is to cover seeds with soil twice the size of the seed.  I tell my kindergarten children that we need to cover them with a "soil blanket", so they can have a good sleep before waking up.  They seem to understand that concept.  I guess none of us like to sleep without covers, even if only a sheet in summer!   I even experimented with making my own seed raising mix on Sunday (recipe from Organic NZ mag) - a third clean river sand (left over from our garden path-making project), sifted compost and worm farm excess "poos".  We shall see how successful that little experiment is.............   I  planted my heritage black Maori corn direct into the garden - only to spy a little blackbird furiously pecking away at the newly planted site.  I gave up chasing him away after the 4th time.  I hope I still have a few corn come up!  When the root-crop planting Lunar "window" comes around, I can't wait to plant out some Maori potatoes and white yams (which I managed to swap at the last Transition Tauranga Seed Swap Meet last week).  Very exciting.  Only have two of each tuber but I reckon that's all I need to start my future delectable abundance.  I have already planted purple Ureneka potatoes which have thankfully survived the vicious frosts of early Spring.
Maori corn, the seed generously gifted to me by a dear friend
Corn are the signature food for teeth - stands to reason as they
 resemble rows of teeth!
I love the thrill of checking up on newly planted seed-trays - peeking expectantly for signs of growth.  I still sometimes clap my hands together with glee, when trays greet me with abundant green heads popping up to greet the world!  Sheer unadulterated bliss!  Oh, and while feeding the chooks tonight, I glanced at the bed next to them and spied one beautiful big broccoli ready for the picking tomorrow, with 2 more coming along nicely.  That reminded me to harvest our Globe Artichokes I spied while planting out the corn seed on the weekend.  And I remembered to harvest 4 spears of beautiful early asparagus.  Along with a small bucket of mandarins, oranges and grapefruit.  Perfect Abundance and Blessings.

The kowhai trees on the south side of the house are in full bloom
Kowhai means yellow in Maori.  The blossoms attract the beautiful
tui birds with their wonderful primeval song
Our beautiful mouth-wateringly delectable Globe Artichokes -
delicious lightly steamed, served with a dipping sauce of melted butter, olive oil, chopped garlic, lemon juice and Tamari Sauce.  Mmmmmmm!