Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Good as New

The Cottage

Our little garden cottage, recently vacated by our teenadult son.
Our little recycled rimu one room cottage in the garden has been vacated as our son headed off on a flatting adventure in Hamilton.  The interior was a little tired and in need of some uplifting TLC, so I looked in our garden shed for some paint.  A bit of this left-over, a splodge of that, mix it all up, sieve it to remove the ageing hard bits and voila!  A lightish red which would bring some sense of adventure and cosiness to the little cabin.  

Getting ready to revamp....
I tidied up the last of the 3-year fallout, dusted, sneezed, removed curtains, washed them and then tenuously laid the first random stroke.  The first brushstroke is always the hardest.  Just like the first line from the rock song, the first cut, I guess.  Half my married life, I have tried to create the perfect brush stroke - neat and even.  And I was always disappointed.  When you go for perfection, it is easy to be disappointed.  So about 10 years back, I decided to turn it around and went for a perfectly imperfect finish.  It's based on a loose flick of the wrist in a series of totally random strokes.  I have been totally satisfied ever since!!  Best yet, it uses such little paint, not gallons and gallons of the stuff.

The first brave strokes...
Took me all of nearly 3 days to complete my little renovation, curtain rehang, fixing shelving, oiling the woodwork (there is a lovely linseed smell to it), laying out the soft drapery to cover the garish green sleeper couch and voila...!  The end result is most pleasing, warm and inviting.  I painted a great big gaudy gold Eastern surround to one window to give an air of theatrical opulence.  I even finished a picture of an iconic Mother Mary figure which I started 3 years ago and never needed to finish.  Now there was a place for it, it needed to be finished!  An incentive.  I just love all religious iconography - Christian, Buddhist, Hare Krishna, you name it.
A cosy place to retreat to, to read a book or get away from it all.
This little cottage has been through some transformations.  We built it as a reflexology studio in the beginning and then when my teenage son became too noisy for the house we had to relocate him.  Before that, at one stage, we hosted a German language exchange student for 5 months and Mike and I slept there one very cold winter, for 5 months, so that she could stay in our house and feel part of the family!  Every night was an adventure, creeping out and seeing the clear starry night as we crossed the Great Divide to the cottage, our breath frosting before us, the sweet painful jumping under the covers and huddling together to keep warm!

We have used the cottage as 24hr retreats for all the family members.  My retreat was in winter, hearing the wind and rain lashing against the sides made me feel so safe inside, like being in the womb!  When Cam moved in, it meant he could come and go without his parents fussing and fretting.  It worked very well.  We could keep a very sustainable relationship!  Each with space to grow and not crowd or smother each other out.

On a personal note, some very good news is that I finally finished the Organic Horticulture Correspondence course!!  Hooray!  After a year's studies, I feel like a free woman!  I can take up reading over the long cold winter nights, in front of the fire!  I look forward to that.  Maybe I can even knit beanies again (that's a joke - it's all I can knit!).

The oiled woodwork and step ladder to alcove bed on mezzanine.

A covered tea and coffee making tray to complete the sense of self-reliance

The wash basin with Indian gods tiles (not the best in-focus pic!)

An old paper mache mirror I made previously, was given a
 lick of gold paint to match the window surround.

A touch of theatre

The cottage opens out onto the garden in great weather

The deck of the cottage is a sun trap in the afternoons
The Garden
In the garden, we have been harvesting zuchini rampicante, the odd spring onion or leek, lots of basil, salad ingredients, bird-seed sown Daikon radishes, feijoas and strawberries (still).  Every day, I change the water that our olives lie soaking in.  I have dehydrated some of the feijoas, we don't seem to have as much as last year but we have enough to eat, share and preserve.   What blessings of Abundance!
Shayni's butterfly hattery has been very successful, with 7 or the rescued chrysalises having hatched in the last week and a half.
Mike has been making beautiful fresh apple and carrot juice every morning, adding a bit of ginger, cucumber and celery to taste.  A wonderful start to the day.  No boxed juice even comes close to the alive taste!

Zuchini Rampicante
Fresh live enzymatic juice

Feijoas and strawberries

Bring Back The Monarchs 

The season of new Monarchs (photos supplied by Shayni)

Still unfurling her wings

The sheer magnificence of Nature's colourings
All too quickly the 2 week holiday is over, but we were blessed by the most glorious of Autumn sun-shiney days!  I feel like I accomplished so many things around the home and garden and feel well pleased with a balance of rest and activity.  It must be a similar feeling for the Monarchs undergoing their transformation.  I am ready for the new term.... bring on the children!  My cottage, my study-end and myself, well, ...... it all feels good as new!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Backyard Supermarket

Naughty Mariette marigolds - who named these??
Okay.  So what I’m about to blog about will not be everyone’s favourite topic.  Diet.  Trying to diet and dying to try it.  Dieting is such a multi-million dollar industry that fails people time and again, that obesity rates continue to increase annually.  There are so many diet fads that abound.  Protein diets.  Carbo diets.  Complicated-count-the-calories diets.  What a hoax.  And of course there’s the big myth of artificial sweeteners being a dieter’s sugar substitute.  Boy, don’t let’s get started on the evils of this one, just Google aspartame and health, and read for yourself.  The more we are informed, the better we are able to make informed decisions.  Sure, there is a lot of conflicting info out there, eggs are bad for you, eggs are good for you, margarine is good for you, butter is bad for you, then the reverse.

We are all able to read something and feel deep down at a gut level, whether we are being fed a lie or not (‘scuse the pun).  My motto is; if it is something Grandma would recognize, it probably is good for you.  Good wholesome food, as Nature intended.  C’mon, we all know that we are being conned when we buy a box of man-made "food", that it could never be as good as the Real McCoy!  In fact, anything in a box, with a nice picture on it, probably isn’t that good for you!  Nothing like strolling into your backyard supermarket and picking your own!  You will never need to go on a diet again if this is predominantly how you eat - from your own backyard supermarket.
Gorgeous green babies waiting to be planted out

It is mid-Autumn and this is what we are still picking!!
 More specifically, we grow about 80% of our food.  20% is purchased in bulk.  Organic flours, pulses, nuts, grains, nut butters and dairy.  We don’t grow or consume anything with a mother!  That is, we don’t consume meat, fish or poultry.  Aaah, yes, another @#$! Vegetarian!  Don’t you just love to rip off vegetarians, or wait, better still, vegans?  Pass the carrot cutlet please.  Or how about a rump of cauliflower?  You feel unwell?  What you need is a good juicy steak to put you right.  Yep, I’ve heard it all in the 25 or more years of vegetarianism.  More so, my poor children have grown up (vegetarian from utero) having to defend their right to NOT eat meat!  What’s with that?  They have been the butt of veggie jokes, meat taunts and health advice all their lives.  The most recent was my daughter’s boss who told her to eat more meat as she was too skinny and no boy would ever look at her skinny ass.  Top hats off to her, she responded with “Not all men are shallow and look for outward beauty alone.”

How did I become vegetarian?  It isn’t this great story that begins; “one day I was driving behind a cattle truck from Bloemfontein to Pretoria……” or “I became very, very ill and needed to evaluate my diet and lifestyle,” or even “I love animals……”.  Nah.  It is much more exciting than that!  One dark, rainy night in Cape Town, my two girlfriends and I were hitching a lift from one dead nightclub, back to another nightclub closer to our student digs.  A yellow panel van with a sticker on the back, “Don’t laugh.  Your daughter might be inside.”  screeched to a halt and a young guy with spikey hair offered us a lift.  As was our safety procedure at the time, I had drawn the short straw for the night and had to sit behind the driver with a high heel shoe ready to defend us if we needed defending.  High heels were the weapon of young female students at the time and we would take it in turns to wear them.  The high-heeled warrior would position themselves behind the driver, ready to bonk them on the head if they tried to abduct us!  This young guy seemed trustworthy, and was headed to band practice minutes from our student digs.  It had started to drizzle and on arrival at our destination nightclub, we saw a long queue waiting to enter.  I have curly hair which is prone to frizzing up with additional precipitation, so I chose to extend my trip with the trustworthy guy while my friends disembarked.
"If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities." - Voltaire
Arriving at my student digs, still clutching my high-heeled shoe, we conversed for nearly 2 hours (after half an hour, he decided he was so late for band practice, he may as well skip it – no mobiles in those days).  The guy was a vegetarian. I'd only ever heard of a homosapien.
 “What, like you mean you ONLY eat vegetables?”
 “Yeah, and nuts, grains, pulses and fruit. Dairy too.” 
Pulses??  Like the doctor takes when you go for a visit?” I asked as my pulse quickened.  Would the kiss taste different?
Well it was just all too new and exciting to miss the opportunity to discover how pulses tasted, so I stuck around (or at least allowed him to) and the rest is history!  We married and I slowly learnt to cook vegetarian food.  He kept buying me these cook books which would annoy the hell out of me because I knew he was hinting that my food was lacking in imagination.  Hell, when I first met him, I didn't even know how to cook rice!   
Outdoor larder
25 years later and I have not only embraced vegetarianism, but I could never consider any other lifestyle.  Because it becomes a lifestyle, not a diet.  I became a vegetarian by proxy, but remain one by choice.  There is endless research supporting both vegetarianism and veganism as a healthy lifestyle choice, not one of lack, as some would like to think.  “But you NEED protein in meat to survive!”  A lie.  Sold to us by the industry that supports the killing fields of animal consumption.  For 17 years, we supplemented our diet with bottles of vitamins and minerals because we were “deficient” in so many nutrients only available to a meat-eater.  We so bought into that ideology that we spent up to $60 a week on potions, pills and powders!!  That is, until we met Don Tolman, my "health and wisdom guru", and he explained if you take any nutrient in nature, isolate it, concentrate it and pop it into a pill, then the body is confused by it.  It becomes a toxin to the body.  A light bulb went on.  Made perfect sense to me.  And if nothing else, the dear man has saved us $60 a week in the so-called “Health Industry” myth.
Our entertaining feathered friends

Saved from the pot, our girls provide endless amusement and
till our soil while fertilizing it at the same time.

And coming to the sustainable bit.  Yep, veganism and vegetarianism does make sense on this gravy train of carbon emission doom and gloom.  Inform yourself.  What is the single most important thing you can do for climate control??  That’s right.  Become vegetarian!  What??  Mainstream thinking is that we should simply change our light bulbs?? (Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth - should have been entitled A Convenient Truth).  Sorry for this, but this lightbulb turnaround will not even make a pinprick of difference if you continue to buy into the meat industry that is single-handedly the biggest contributor of carbon emissions and natural resource guzzling (food crops, energy and water).  
But wait, if you reduce or eliminate meat from your diet, there’s more!!  How about saving you heaps of dollars in health care?  No more clogged arteries.  Less obesity or weight problems and yo-yo dieting.  Less chance of a heart attack. 
And wait, there’s even more!  If you reduce meat intake, not only does the planet benefit and your health improves, there’s also the ethical issue.  You personally, are not responsible for the perpetuation of the slaughter of millions and millions of animals worldwide.  How would that feel? 
Check out this YouTube video of Carnism to kick-start your journey of discovery into the gastronomic delights of vegetarianism or veganism.  (thanks Liz!)  Dare yourself to watch till the end!
Monarch caterpillar goes walkabout

Stunning chrysalis and morphing caterpillar

Beautiful new butterfly having undergone a complete metamorphosis
"As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields." - Leo Tolstoy

"When plunder becomes a way of life for men living together in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it, and a moral code that glorifies it." - Frederic Bastiat.

"I have from an early age abhorred the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look on the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men." - Leonardo Da Vinci.

Monday, 16 April 2012

On Obtaining Oodles of Olives

Nirvana!  Olive Heaven.  Died.  Been there.  Returned to tell the tale!

Mike listened to a talking book on his travels in the car, about an English woman who bought an olive farm in France.  He so loved it, that I just HAD to listen to it too.  The exact words that caught his imagination was the olive trees being described as dancing dervishes.  And then we just HAD to buy some olive trees to plant our own little olive grove. So 12 trees were squeezed into spaces which hardly existed for even the smallest of bushes.  Given that the New Zealand soil is so fertile and that olives grow in stoney, poor soils, we have had to not only top them several times in the past 3 years, but also move a few from overly cramped confines.  So last year I bottled a quarter of a small bottle of olives but they were such a gastronomic success, we waited hungrily for this year's crop.  Combined with poor growing conditions and a woeful lack of sunshine this summer, we managed to make a half bottle this year.  We can taste this in a few more days time.  Having shared this exciting tale with an olive grower at our local market, he offered for us to come and pick our own for $1.30 per kg.  OMG!! We were soo excited at the prospect!

The day was set for today, Monday, so at 9am we arrived, gumboots, hats and buckets in hand.  We were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as our gracious host showed us around his 1000 tree block.  Gasping as we spied little green and black orbs hanging in the trees like Christmas baubles, we set to work.
The olive grove stretches as far as the eye could see and we were invited to pick from row no. 3,  Manzanillas, after which we could move to rows 4 and beyond.  Well, we stopped just short of row no. 3's end (about 20 trees), fully in awe of just how much work is required to pick the little buggers!  Neck-breaking stuff!  I admire olive pickers the world over!  Specially in hot climates!  This morning was a little overcast and made for easier picking weather for us Greenies.  It took about 2 hours and the three of us were rewarded with a huge crate full of beautiful crimson and leprechaun-coloured fruit (yep, it's a fruit).  And not only are they a culinary delight, but they are also packed with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients!  They are also high in iron, for us vegetarians!  Yippee!!
And wait, there's more!  Olives help reduce the chances of osteoporosis and heart disease.  How can people NOT like them????
Half-way along row no. 3

I feel so Mediterranean!

"How am I going to reach those big ones at the top??"
My first experiences with olives were not memorable.  My family occasionally had olives but I viewed them alongside eating crayfish and crabs legs.  Disgusting!  Bitter and salty! No thanks!
Then I met my future husband, who changed that view very quickly by introducing me to Camphill Olives!  Pure bliss!  Couldn't get enough!  So by the time our children arrived, olives were very much part of our evening meal-time ritual.   It's one of the first foods our kids started to eat and most people would comment on how they were surprised to see little folk eat olives with obvious relish.  In fact, the kids would count everyone's olive pips on their plates, to make sure that they had gotten their fair share!
Beautiful, beautiful olives!

Smaller Pendolino olives

Happy Campers in the field
Dreaming of steaming soft white bread, humus and olives.....
I googled a recipe on the web,  posted by Rudy Nuwayhid who writes "We have some experience with olive curing, some of our trees in mount Lebanon (Mideast) are over 100years old.  In our house, we like to pickle the best olives while still green.  We then soak them in water for two to three days.  We prepare the brine by adding rock salt to clean water until a raw egg floats and then we add a teaspoon of citric acid to the brine (per two litre brine).  The olives are cut on two sides (wounded) and put into clean 2 litre jars bit by bit while placing a slice of fresh lemon on the jar side as we go up.  When nearly full we add the brine until coverage and put a couple of bay leaves on top with a slice of lemon too.  We top the lot with some olive oil and close the jar (sealed).  The jar is placed aside in a dark store and may be used as soon as a few months away or even the next year."
Fat chance we could wait a year!  But otherwise sounds easy, feasible and quite possible!

Ripened Manzanillo Olive
Beautiful olive jewels......
Dragging our weary bodies away from Olive Heaven.
So the general idea now, is to soak our olives in water and follow the above recipe.  Then I'll make up a brine solution, bottle them and add some herbs, garlic and spices (experimenting with different ones).   Then they will cure over a few weeks before we can open them up and taste....... Should last us a few months!

Our olives separated into greens and blacks, immersed in water.
Our olive farmer gifted the olives to us in the end, as he said he would not get to picking any more as he was too busy pressing olive oil for the next few weeks, so we returned the favour by taking him a couple of  pouches of Inca Fe organic ground coffee and some home-made plum jam as a token of appreciation.  Maybe we can give him some cured olives too, if we can bear to part with a bottle or two!

Monday, 9 April 2012

In the Slow Lane

A moment of Reflection.... what next?
"There is more to life than increasing it's speed."  Mahatma Gandhi. I'm sure he came up with this wonderful quote whilst drinking a cup of Indian Chai tea!  A friend gave me this quote on a great big banner which hangs on our living room wall. One of our favourite past-times is Chai!  Mike makes pretty-good chai.  I make a good second-best.  His chai recipe is highly guarded but goes something like this: 1 cup of hot water into which he throws 3-4 slices fresh ginger, half teaspoon dried, ground cinnamon (or stick cinnamon), pinch ajwain (Carom or Bishop's seeds), 3-4 teaspoons sugar and 3-4 crushed cardamom pods.  Once boiled for 3 mins, he adds 3 teaspoons leaf tea.  Boil for 5 mins then add 1 cup milk and boil for further 5 mins.
Mmmmmn, nothing like a cuppa chai at the end of a long day.  It's a little ritual we have adopted to slow the pace down.  We stop and share our day's adventures over a sweet, milky cuppa. 

My daughter loves nature.  She loves anything that crawls, hops, flies or walks.  She discovered that Liz, our chook, was covered in mud from the last rainy spell we had.  So it was decreed that Lil' Liz needed a bath.  She was not too fussed.  I warned my daughter of the impending cold night air which could be potentially disastrous to a chook, so in no time at all, the hairdryer was plugged into our carport plug point and Liz was dried to perfection.  I watched with amusement as the chook seemed to enjoy the warm air blowing up her feathers.  She proceeded to preen and pluck as she was dried, whilst making delighted chook-heaven sounds!  Once she had been re-united with Spence, she proceeded to scratch up a dirt-bath and cover herself with soil!  

Liz is treated to a blow wave.
It's Easter and Everything is coming up Potatoes!  Our little potato-growing in the old kiwifruit bin was a great success this summer.  We have been slowly harvesting these little tubers and turning them into all sorts of culinary delights; leek and potato soup one night, aloo gobi another night and put into soups and stews.  Nothing like a fresh, thin-skinned earth treasure!  I am determined to try to grow some of our own NZ heritage seed potatoes this coming spring.  I like the yellow banana shaped ones and the purple varieties.  We already grow the yam-like urenika for a visual gastronomic delight.  These I have yet to harvest.

Our potato bed covered over to protect the tubers from rain.

Aloo Gobi (Potato Cauliflower curry) with home-
grown potatoes and beans

Small potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes with rosemary and
olive oil before being roasted in the oven.

We have had our flue swept, ready for some toasty roaring fires.  Wood ordered and delivered.  A great big pile - 2 and a half cubic meters of the stuff.  We knew that the weather was going to turn to baby conditions - wet and windy, so we had to work fast and stack it all into the smallest fire store ever built.  Stacked really carefully, it holds 2 cubic metres!  Working together, we managed to get the job done but our backs were feeling the strain after all the bending!  
We first started out buying small boxes of kindling at the supermarket (kinda costly) but for the past 5 years, Mike has been collecting cedar off-cuts from a business who would normally dump them.  He also gets cedar sawdust from them to line our pathways.  It is a win-win situation.  They store it for him and he collects it every week, saving us money on kindling and mulch, and saving them dumping costs.  It's that old adage of "one man's junk is another man's treasure".



A reminder of Helpx friends gone by....... a wooden star
that fits neatly into itself, made by Markus
My little corner of the world brings me much joy.  It is one of life's little pleasures to have a passion.  What better passion to have than lifestyle!  As I sit in the half-sunshine, "logging", my family prepare to head off to the beach to catch some waves and Vitamin D.  I love the solitude of being left home alone!  Such a thrill!  The sound of our water feature filling up the space between Oliver Shanti's sacred chants.  I do not share my families passion for the beach and for swimming.  I think I was a cat in my past life!  I love being home and in my own space!

Another sawdust pathway is laid.
I have 2 whole weeks of being in my own space, and working in my own pace and rhythm. Pure bliss!  We have started to clean up all the summer fallout.  Spent plants have been pulled up, chopped into pieces and laid to rest in the compost bin.  Some Autumn pruning has provided plenty material to mulch in our trusty Masport mulcher, providing a mantle to clothe the bare earth we have exposed in our weeding and clearing frenzy.  I liken the soil to a human body.  It needs a cover to protect it, just as bare flesh will scab over, so too will the earth provide it's own protective cover in the form of weeds, if we do not provide her with a layer to protect her precious little creatures that live in the soil and stop the loss of vital moisture.  I am currently exploring groundcovers to purchase to do the job.  Aceana purpurea sounds like a good bet!  A New Zealand ground cover that matts up to stop weeds from taking over, and gets wonderful masses of purple flowers.  A visual delight and bee fodder.

A favourite beechwood chair picked up at a garage
sale a few years back, for $50.  Our cat loves it too!

Who said light switches can't be main features?  I had lots
of fun painting these golden electrical switch box surrounds

At some point during my 2 week break, I will definitely have to expend some energy to complete the last of my Organic Horticulture assignments.  Why is the final sprint to the finish line always so difficult??  Am waiting for a dull day to complete that one!  So far, we are experiencing better weather in Autumn than all of our summer days!  We haven't had to boost our solar hot water system for a few weeks now, and the strawberry plants are still flowering, providing great big juicy fruits every couple of days!!  Strange but deliciously true!

Bed 6 planted up with peas and beans (leguminous crops)
Not sure if these crops might be too late in the season.  Only
time will tell.

Driveway fence draped in a food crop (passion fruit) and flanked
with olives
Haven't caught sight of any bunnies in the garden but they did leave a few chocolate effigies of themselves at the foot of our teen's beds.  And Mike kindly gave me a handmade chocolate egg to scoff.  I wonder if I could feed our chooks cocoa - would they produce chocolate eggs??  Mmmn, now there's a thought............