Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Pizza Pleasure and Passive Power

Gorgeous little snowbells

Who doesn't love pizza?  I have yet to meet someone who does not love the flat-bread delicacy!  I have a great easy-peasy, yeast-free, fail-proof pizza base recipe to share:

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lukewarm water
pinch salt
Place all ingredients into a tightly-closing plastic container and shake vigorously for a minute or so, until all ingredients are blended.  Turn out and knead till smooth, press out onto a  greased, floured pan and bake at 180deg C for about 7 mins.

Place toppings of choice on top, bake further 10 -15 mins till ready.  Limit toppings to 4-5 to avoid flavour confusion.

Pizza base first baking

Siblings work side by side to place toppings on

Anyone for pizza??
Better still, in my bid to make my children more leaving-home-with-vital-skills-savvy, I have taught both my teens to make pizza from base up.  Firstly, Cameron became a deft hand at pizza-making, but he left home, so I promply taught my daughter.  To hone her skills, Thursday night is Pizza Night.  She makes a darned good pizza!  Full of flavour and the taste of the Mediterranean.  Deliziosa!  
A bit of Pizza Trivia - Did you know that Americans eat 100 acres of pizza per day???  Amazing, considering this used to be a peasant food, designed to use up left over dough and fresh toppings or  even leftovers........
The next step in our Italian evolution is to actually build an adobe pizza oven!  When we get to build our Solarium, we intend to build a pizza oven inside - to keep us warm on cold nights or simply to bake a couple of pizzas or breads. I think we could actually roast a tagine or bake inside it too.  I will have to drum up a couple of friends to help get the adobe oven shape just right.  Am thinking garlic-bulb shape.

The chooks have gone off the lay - a blessing really, since they tend to be quite noisy layers!!  We gave some eggs away, Cam enjoyed a half dozen or so, and there are still about a dozen left over to feed our cat.  She loves the egg yolk and apparently yolks are good for cats.  Talking of wildlife in the backyard, today Mike and I were treated to the most incredible sight ever!!  I saw 2 kotuku or grey herons fly over the garden and I was amazed at how low they were flying over me.  Then I heard Mike urgently yell to come and see - there they were at the bottom end of the garden, perhaps 2 and a half meters above Mike, swooping at one another - not sure if it was a mating prelim or a dominancy fight, but it was stunning - it lasted perhaps only a minute but what a blessing to have witnessed such an unusual and truly amazing sight!  And in our own backyard!!

Our ring-necked doves have returned; - over autumn/winter, we had one regular straggly visitor but in the weekend we were graced by not one, but a half dozen doves cooing and laughing all day in the garden.  They hung about on the rotary washing line.  We also seem to have attracted a lonely piwakawaka - or fantail, who chirrups and flits around us every day.  Seems to be at home in the garden, or just a regular visitor.

Zooming in to spot the 6 ring-necked doves on the washing line
Harvests in the garden are limited to leeks, NZ spinach, limes, carrots, radishes, lettuces, mandarins, oranges and lemons.  The grapefruit seem to be swelling daily, with a ripening flow of colour.  We like to leave our grapefruit on longer than most - seems to heighten their sweetness index.

And on the marriage front, Mike and I just celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary innings!  Not a bad score to clock up!  He organised a night away in Rotorua, where we had a wonderful aromatherapy-infused spa soak, an invigorating sauna and great "home-cooked" food in the motel.  Came back with the most gorgeous Hassan Baba-style brass light fitting for the cottage - still have to arrange a fitting - need to get a length of chain to hang it from the ceiling.  Who could ask for more?

Anyone for a sauna??

Simple construction.... wonder if I could make one?
All I need to make is a box -  a BIG one!
The Alpin  Motel  where we stayed has an amazing heat exchange system.  Underground heat transfer warms the radiators in all the units, as well as the hot water supply.  It apparently saves $3000.00 per month in power bills and the system will have paid itself within 2 years.  Great sustainable system!  Harnessing earth's own natural energy systems.  Wonderful stuff!  Makes us excited to think of our project ahead, building a Solarium for passive heating, solar electricity generating panels and a pizza oven...............Bring it on!!

Geothermal Heat transfer system

Information outside Alpin Motel - Brilliant!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Take a hottie to bed.....

Time to break out the hot water bottles!  This old one got a new cover.  An old cotton jersey does the job perfectly.  Never lose the stopper again!  It's attached to the cover.  
A hottie with extra pocket for lavender sachet.
 Mike and I have just returned from an overnight stay in Rotorua, to celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary!  It is fun to get away from home and check out another stomping ground that is not your own backyard!  We had a good giggle when he sent a text message to our son in Hamilton.   The weather report warned of a chilly minus 4 overnight in Hamilton, where our son lives.  Mike sent this text:  "Take a hottie to bed tonite and keep warm.  Chilly out there."  In our home, we talk fondly of our "hotties", aka hot water bottles.  The funny part was, Mike soon realised that he had inadvertently sent that text to 3 recipients, one being a new male colleague as well!  We laughed hard and long when we realised what had happened and Mike quickly sent a cover text to explain to his possibly perplexed colleague.  A text soon arrived back, "No worries, Mate!  Keep warm too". 

And returning home, I am reflecting on the past week and what a great time I've had.  Holidays are definitely for teachers!!  To recharge batteries and take stock of what was and what will be.........
It's been a fantastic week, a time to catch up with old friends from Auckland and Taranaki, and huddle up in front of a roaring fire.  It has been very cold, with frosty mornings much of the past week.  I have done not much at all in the garden, partly as it has been so cold, partly because I was so holiday-lazy and partly because there was stuff to do in the shed instead!  We were gifted a wonderful load of mulch from our tree chopper man.  Another local company would charge us $80 for the same load.  A wonderful gift, so we have arranged a small package to thank him - 3 bags of organic coffee.
Talking of which, we also managed to secure a half rubbish sack of coffee grounds for the compost heap, courtesy a local coffee shop.  What a wonderful injection of potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus, magnesium and copper for our garden!

3 cubic metres leaf mulch - 5 weeks left to "hot" compost and it will be ready to
apply to pathways and bare tracts of land awaiting planting out.

Coffee grounds in the compost bin, ready to be mixed in and distributed
Another exciting gift awaited us this week in the mailbox.  I saw an advertorial in the Organic NZ magazine about a seed saving project, to save ancient beans.  It is run by the Central Tree Crops Research Trust.  I made inquiries if I could buy some seed and become part of this exciting project.  I was amazed when they sent me four packets of ancient beans to grow - free.  I simply have to send some beans back once I have grown and collected some.  I guess this keeps the seed viable, also allowing the Tree Crops Trust to collate data on suitable growing conditions.  So come this Spring, I shall be planting Hopi Black Pinto Climbing Beans, Apache Red Dry Climbing Bean, Yoeme Purple String Climbing Bean and Turkey Craw Climbing Bean (having indicated a preference for climbing beans and not dwarf ones).  How exciting!  To be part of a project that saves seeds from extinction!  Eat your heart out, Monsanto!!

Ancient beans
I know that people talk of a Man Shed........... in our home, it's a Girl Shack!  I love nothing better than pottering around in the shack, a couple of hand-tools to see me by and a stack of off-cut cedar kindling bits to hand.  There is no power in the shack, so a solar-powered radio is as good as it gets! 
 I have had an idea for some time now, to upgrade my WonderBox.  What's that? , I hear you ask.  
In South Africa, in the townships and ghettos, power is very expensive and most cooking is done on a Primus Stove.  The stove was invented in the late 1800's and works with paraffin.  Staple diet of beans and maize takes much energy to cook, so a WonderBox does the cooking without using any power.  Similar to the Hay box used during War time.

My Wonder-Box was bought for a grand sum of R25 about 25 years ago.  Current exchange rate puts that at NZ$1.  The cardboard box has seen wear and tear and much reinforcing.  I use it for cooking rice, sago pudding, soups, beans etc. where one needs an extended heat, without burning the food.  It is big and bulky and dominates my kitchen!  Inside is 2 polystyrene ball-filled cushions which insulate the pot of food and allows the heat to continue cooking the food.  The first step is to bring the pot to the boil and then put it into the box to continue cooking.

The Wonder-Box that's seen Better Days.
So over 2 days, I holed myself up in our freezing shed, sawed and hammered, measured and sanded, till I had created another one of my famous box designs!  I love the challenge of figuring things out and making them work!  It gives me as much pleasure as a day spent reading a good book!  The plot!  The suspense!  The thrill!

Step one:  making the bottom and sides

The trickiest bit - figuring out how to attach the side panels to the
bottom of the box.

Step 3:  Attaching the 3rd and 4th sides

Looks like we have a box...........

Working on the lid, figuring out how to fit it.

Checking to see if the polystyrene-filled cushions fit.

Voila!  Finished, complete with handle to lift lid.

The test:  A pot of rice cooked to perfection!

The final coup d' gras: a coat of organic coconut oil to protect
the wood.
As previously mentioned in other blogs; I tend to be a bit OCD about making things!  Having made my first proto-type facecloth by knitting a square of 100% cotton and giving it the user-test  thumbs-up rating, I decided to make some more for the home and family...............

Take one ball of natural fibre jute string.............

Knit it up to make a jute kitchen cloth.  Works great with greasy, hard to clean surfaces!  

3 old balls of cotton yarn are recycled from an old Thai
hat - a great face-cloth with exfoliatory properties!

And finally, one for my daughter.
And so to enjoy the last of my holiday weekend bliss.  So much to do, so little time!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Working the Winter Blues Away

I cut my hair this morning.  Took 5 minutes.  After being sick for 3 days, I felt like a change!  Woke up this morning and thought how wonderful life is, when you don't feel like dying!!  Sickness is a blessing in our busy lives.  It reminds us how precious life is, and how wonderful it feels not to be sick anymore!  Otherwise we simply take health for granted!!  So given that I had this joie d' vivre frollicking within myself, I decided to treat myself to a haircut.  Threw my undizzy head over in wild abandon (would have passed out if I did that 2 days ago), gripped my hair in a top-knot pony and then sliced through the rope of hair with a scissors.  Voila!  Not Vidal Sassoon, but close!  The effect is a layered look which I could never achieve any other way but sitting for half an hour in a hairdresser's chair!  If this method works for Helen Mirren, then it works for me just fine!
Carrot and Apple juice to start the day
Anyhow, my intent was not to blog about hairdressing - hairdressers and dentists are a nightmare visit for me - I stay away at all costs!  I was more interested in the dynamics of wellness and sickness.  I firmly believe that the only way to wellness is eating well (good, wholesome, healthy and raw foods) and exercising.  Well now, there's something lacking in my life!  Love the gardening but excercise always seems to be something best left to women in leotards and spandex pants.  But I know in my heart of hearts that I really need cardio-vascular workouts and really need to get walking!!  It's been on my New Year's Resolutions (getting fit) for about 17 years.
My new cotton face-cloth I knitted while nursing a cold.
Cast on 51 stitches, knit 1 row plain, knit 1 row stockinette
Repeat till a square shape is achieved.  Cast off.
When I got sick (the usual winter ailment) - sore throat, snotty nose, splitting head-ache, I decided not to soldier on.  It's just not fair on those you come in contact with, is it?  After all, someone didn't stop to think of passing on their bugs, which is how you got it in the first place!  Sneezing all over the place!  Us kindergarten teachers are always exposed to sooo many bugs, what with children with green snotty noses, sneezes and all!  So I ended up staying at home for three days.  Instead of a trip to the doctor's, I made a trip to the garden and collected all I needed to stock up against a cold.  A basket of mandarins, lemons and limes, 5 leeks (for leek and potato soup), a bunch of green parsley (chlorophyll) and I was in the healing business!  If I hadn't been feeling so bad at the time, I might have felt smug at the feeling of self-sufficiency!
Farma-neutra-ceuticals on back doorstep
We always stock up on a few winter essentials at the end of summer for such occassions - eucalyptus, lemon and wintergreen essential oils to burn in the oil burner.  I also place a soup bowl full of water on the wood burner, and sprinkle 5 drops of 2 essential oils each, into the water.  The heat of the fire warms the water and the vapours soon fill the house.  The first aid box is stocked with A.G.E and Infludo homeopathic preparations for times like these, plus Zand Throat Spray and Eucalyptus/Plantago Comp Chest Rub.  I usually carry several pairs of Biosun ear candles for this type of occassion too, but used up our last pair a couple of months ago and never replaced them!  First on my list to replace for next week!  Ear candles are great for those congested head cold maladies.

Another favourite when unwell, is to have a soak in the bath with a bath bomb.  Aromatherapeutic bliss!
8 TBspn citric acid
8 tspn cornstarch
1 cup baking soda
15 - 20 drops essential oil of choice (I like a blend of geranium, lavender and patchouli) 
12 TBspn olive oil
Mix dry ingredients together, add in oil, essential oils and mix well.  Form into shapes by pressing into cookie cutters shapes.  Place on waxed paper and leave to set for about 24 hours (space apart as they expand slightly).
Optional extras:  can add dry flower petals or natural colouring.  I keep mine plain.

Make sure you don't use essential oils that are inclined to irritate the skin.  Lavender is always a safe and multi-purpose use oil.
Bath Bomb awaiting detonation!  These ones have lavender flower
seeds in.
I firmly believe that our bodies have to work through the case of cold or flu and whatever you do, might ease the situation but there is no way to avoid it!  Doing it the "natural" way may last 3-4 days while people who go for antibiotics also tend to take 3-4 days.
Mike bought our new Spring seeds.  The Bay tree harvested
leaves paid for all of this!
Winter has never been my favourite season.  I don't like the cold.  Having grown up in South Africa, in the Transkeian Wild Coast area, we simply wore a jersey on top of our t-shirt in winter.  In New Zealand, I wear 5 layers on top, 2 layers below and am still cold!  Merino thermals are my saving grace!  Our home was built with no thought to cooling aspects in summer, but rather top-heavy heating aspects.  We went for 100% wool insulation in walls and roof.  There is underfloor heating, a heat-pump, woodburner, double glazing, and eco-panels in each room.  We still take hot water bottles to bed with us!
The beauty of Sun-fruit!  Persimmons are definitely fruit of the Gods.
But in recent years, rather than focus on the miseries of winter, I have tried to train myself to focus on the positives:
  • I LOVE sitting beside a roaring, toasty fireplace beside our contented purring cat.  
  • I LOVE soups!  Vegetable, tomato, pumpkin, bean, leek and potato, leek and chickpea, miso, root soup, split green pea many choices!
  • I LOVE winter veggie stews, thick and nourishing.
  • I LOVE wearing boots!
  • I LOVE lighting candles.
  • I LOVE lighting incense.
  • I LOVE staying indoors on a cold, wet day and watching DVD's!
  • I LOVE how our daffodils bloom in winter and don't wait for Spring!
  • I LOVE the feeling of wellness after a bout of cold or flu.
  • I LOVE having more time to be crafty and creative indoors, rather than spending every spare minute out in the garden.
  • I LOVE porridge. 
  • I LOVE persimmons and citrus fruit!
  • I LOVE lying in bed, listening to the lashing rain and howling wind outside, feeling safe and cosy.
  • I LOVE soaking in a hot bath, with aromatherapy oils and candlelight.
So really, winter isn't so bad after all!