Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Sweet Cicadas Serenade

My birthday card pointed by my daughter - appropriate!

The Sound of Summer.  Sweet Cicadas Serenade us with their shrill song!  Yup, gotta love alliteration!!  I know I do it often...... not being clever enough to really write poetic prose, I fall to common tricks of the tongue-twisting variety!  But jokes aside, the cicadas are shrilling outside.  I love it!  I don't even mind the annoying flies buzzing about.  Think I could comfortably live in permanent summer!  Perhaps a tropical destination for retirement.....sounds good!
The garden not only looks good at this time of year, but is also highly productive.  We can barely eat what we pick daily.  I am still amazed at how much food can be grown on a small section with care and time.  I hardly ever pick a recipe to make a meal.  I pick the vegetables and then come inside and think; okay, what shall I make tonight based on these ingredients.  I am so impressed with our cucumbers.  I have never had much luck with growing long cucs, only the smaller round types (crystal apple), so I am veritably excited about the long ones currently growing at a rate of knots every day!  We are having heaps of tzatziki (grated cucumber, drained and soaked in yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice and salt with a little sliced mint), cucumber salads, cucumber sandwiches and then some!  Cucumbers (native to India) are said to be very refreshing, great for detoxing and losing weight through being mildly laxative and removing faecal residues in the colon.  They are also great for skin, check out this great little face mask recipe, and for rejuvenating tired eyes by placing a slice over each closed eye and relaxing for a few minutes.

Daikon radish, Corrugated zucchini, cucumbers and beetroot

Our odd-looking black tomatoes

Plums, yard-long bean (first), cucumbers and zucchini

Rhubarb, zucchini, plums, tomatoes, pickles, egg, lemons, cucs and gem squash

Recent oniion harvest

Beetroot, purslane, zucchini, yard long beans, cucs
I harvested a kilo of beetroot on Saturday to make fresh beetroot relish, which is just about our most favourite chutney accompaniment to sandwiches, meals or on cheese and crackers!  I LOVE the colour it turns out and is a quick preserve to make.  1kg of beets makes 8-9 bottles of relish.

Beets to Relish!

leeks, rhubarb, lemons, radish and zucch
We have had the pleasure of hosting a helpxchange couple from Taiwan and Hong Kong last week.  They were delightful, interesting and interested people to share our lives and home with.  They were eager and willing workers, managing to paint our outside house wall, stack firewood, turn compost and help around the garden!  Always great to share ideas and cultural exchanges with others, breaking down barriers and finding common threads of interest.  A bonus:  they were avid ukulele players, having met each other at the Auckland Ukulele Festival!  We had a laugh on their last day when they took a photo of themselves with me wedged between them.  I pointed to the picture and asked them who was the yellow man in the picture.  They laughed and pointed to me in the middle - my carrot-eating complexion made me by far, the yellowest person, if we must talk about colours of people.  Who of us "whites" are truly white???  My husband is red, I am yellow.  Inside I feel brown - a kinship to Maori and Indian people.  And our surname is Green!!  Go Figure!  Mike points out that we like to talk of our differences based on skin colour but throughout the world, we all bleed red!  It's what's on the inside that binds and connects us as Earthlings rather than separate nations of people.

Sylvia and Lubio

Neatly stacked firewood

The undercoat for the back wall of our house completed!
Note our power monitor box in the foreground, which has 2
meters to measure the power going in and power going out!

Our house number made from a few broken tiles and plates

Astounding hibiscus in our courtyard entrance

Our little courtyard with potted hibiscus
A little boy at kindergarten  had a conversation with his mother not too long ago, which she regaled to me:  he knew that my car was the one with all the flowers on it.  But, he said, he wondered why I did not have carrots on my car, since I loved them so much!  Food for thought.  So when I spied the next rust spots to cover, I knew exactly what I was going to cut out of my old offcut car signage sticker sheets:  Must Love Carrots! One gold and one bronze carrot!
The little boy is delighted.

Latest addition to my car's rust solution

On the New Year's Resolution front - I have been managing to walk around our block most days.  It only takes me about 10 minutes, but I figure that's better than nothing!  And I have a mission - I take a plastic bag with me and pick up litter.  On Monday, there's lots more bottles and cans I can recycle - I figure it's from passing cars on their party trail.  During the week, it's mostly lolly wrappers and newspaper!

We have taught our lazy cat to sleep in a small cat transporting basket, instead of on every other surface she musters the energy to drag her sleepy body onto (she has tried several times to sleep on the harmonium!!).  She sleeps here just about all day and all night!  She's grown quite fond of it and can be found in the most interesting little positions!  You definitely can teach an old cat new tricks!!
Spot the cat!!

Shanti squashed in her little basket

A lovely way to eat healthy oats porridge in summer is to soak a cupful in 2 cups of plain yoghurt overnight, along with a handful of raisins/sultanas and a  teaspoon cinnamon.  Next morning, grate one apple into it and add honey to taste - a little reminiscent of Swiss Bircher muesli!  Super healthy start to the day!!  Delicious too!  Great for lowering cholesterol, improving bowel elimination, sustained energy and decreasing risk of certain cancers.  Cheap too!  And a quick and easy hot porridge in winter.  The Scots were onto it from way back when!  Aye!

Cold soaked oats

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sunshine on my Shoulder

19 solar panels for electricity generation, 2 on extreme right for hot water 

I am way, way excited!  Never before have I ever experienced such elation at receiving a power bill!!    The last one was $80, but did not reflect a full month of our solar system in action so we were curious to see a full month's solar power gathering.  Our solar system is humming along quite nicely - thanks to all the wonderful sunshine hours the Land of the Long White Cloud is blowing our way.  Our bill for the month of January is (drum-roll please....drrrrrrrrr) a total of (minus) -$136.75!  Yes, you read right!  We are in credit for that amount.  Which means not only did we generate ALL the power we used for the month, but we generated extra energy to run other homes (okay, maybe just an average or small sized home).  That is so freakishly amazing!!!!  Come on people, this is obviously the way to go!!     Invest in your own power company!

Now I eat a little humble pie here.  Since, during the building and set up of the solarium and solar system, I declared that this was Mike's project, so I would not accept the responsibility that came along with it!!  My plate was full and as it was his project, he needed to sort all the nitty gritties - builder mess-ups, challenges and financial payments etc.  Unfair I hear you mutter?  Yep!  At the time I became a little negative as I was not sure the system would actually work!!  After all, we had already had to replace our hot water solar panels not once, not twice but three times in 7 years!!  So I was  enormously sceptical of the whole thing!  Wahell, now tis me with egg on mah face!  It really works!   I am fully excited, I feel like doing a little jig!  Singing a little song "Summertime, and the livin' is easy!"  I can see we'll pay that $16 000.00 off in no time at all (definitely in my lifetime!).  Should apparently take 5-7 years.  

A little holiday project I completed in 2 days was fitting out a tricky little cupboard space underneath our stairwell.  It became the dumping ground for a multitude of unwanted or uncertain destination goods.  In other words - it was a mess!!  Real scarey!  So I set about rummaging in our garden shed for wood that would do the job, leftovers from building projects, measured up and designed a system that would store goods effectively and visibly.  It challenged my meagre woodworking skills to the MAX!  And then the challenge to get the shelving system into a confined little space was even a greater trick!!   A few strong expletives later.......
Dead space...
becomes a functional, good looking storage place!

On the creative front, we had a family contribution effort to making our son's 20th birthday present.  The first he sort of helped to achieve by washing the raw ingredients - I made him 6 litres of home-brew nettle beer.  Not sure what it will taste like and he was given strict instructions to wait at least 2 weeks till uncorking it.  Nasty prickly thing, nettle.  Luckily someone else did the deed for me (thanks Rex!).  I figured that even though Mike and I are tea-totallers, if our son is to drink alcohol (what young guy can resist), then it may as well be healthy stuff!  Nettle has a high iron content - wonder if the home-brew preserves the iron?  Anyway, time will tell if we were successful or not.  The other gift was a monetary contribution to a music programme he needed for his laptop to compose music - not very personal but we work on needs rather than wants.  So  to acompany his somewhat rather impersonal monetary gift, we (my husband, daughter and self) all worked to recycle 2 bits of wooden boards that had once been part of our wood store (dismantled), into a multi-use piece of furniture.

 He took one look at it and said "Random!", which in teenadult-speak means "I don't quite know what to make of it".  I pointed out it could be a bedside table - "But I already have one!",.... or a little coffee table - "We already have a big coffee table", or a foot-stool when playing guitar - "Hmmmm..." (said while deep in thought), or it could even be a laptop table if you didn't want to put your laptop on your lap  (he snorted).  A few hours later, I spied him using it as a laptop table!!  He's since declared that it quite useful in his flat.

Bits of old dismantled wood store ready for a new life

Multi-functional stool starting to take shape

Tools of the trade, along with imprint footprints

Top gets screwed onto base and cut smaller

Sanding crew

A few stamps cut out of old kitchen sponges and a coat of stain
completes the look

Home-brew Nettle Beer
Perhaps our son is sitting at his little multi-function table this very minute, sipping at his healthy nettle brew.....

4.03.13  Post Script:  A recent catchup with my son has confirmed that the homebrew is definitely worth repeating.  He is keen to make more, and may try to experiment with Kale beer.  We could call it Kale Ale!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Beauty and the Blissful Holiday

Hand made stepping stones
Okay, so I think we have already ascertained that I LOVE holidays!  Time to bliss out and work on 101 projects stewing away in my head.  Sometimes the projects work out really well and I feel such a thrill knowing that I have created something, be it out of wood, fabric or food.  Sometimes I experiment and see if I can achieve extending the life of something that little bit further (you know, reduce, reuse and recycle).  And sometimes what I do is a waste of time and a great little look-back-and-laugh opportunity.  Well here is one of those moments, captured visually forever......  the object was to extend the use of my dying jandals (or thongs or slops, depending on what neck of the woods you're from).  The heels and upper part were thinning and I thought I might just get another couple of months wear out of them if I padded them out a bit on the thinning bits.  So an old leaky water-bottle would do for the padding out bit. Yep, I'm a terrible hoarder - keep things in case I can put them to good use later on.   Actually, it would have worked a treat 'scepting that my heel of the jandal decided to actually tear right across!  Now I am sure some of you will think this is a really anal thing to do - mend a $10 pair of jandals!  But for me, it's the challenge of keeping things out of landfill for longer than is obvious.  Well, I guess that my project was only about 2 - 3weeks successful since the sole ripped right through the bottom of the sole!   Nice while it lasted - it was kinda like a reflexology feel to the jandals with the ribbed water-bottle patches!  Nice.  
But I have learned from the experiment that it would work quite perfectly next time, if the sole was not going to rip across the heel!
Thinning jandals... starting to rip at heel

Voila!  A bit of glue and we have a pair of funky reflexology jandals!
The garden:
The garden is always a source of beauty, wonderment and awe!  I have been doing some serious weeding and culling of undergrowth to create some definition between beds and pathways!  It has paid off, with lots of open spaces now and less hiding places for fungal infections and nasty bugs.  The chickens are enjoying scratching around in these newly worked areas, utilising the mobile scratching cages made out of chicken wire.  By closing them in at night (locked in their bedroom) and only letting them out when we get up, we have solved the noisy skrawking they were doing early morning, now it only happens when we forget to close them in at night!  Those mornings still elicit the response they are seeking to create - someone running to feed them to quieten them down!  
There are lots of flowering shrubs and plants - still lots of bees around!  Beauty abounds!

Echinacea flower

The beauty of an unfolding leek flower!

An enclosed humble leek flower head - stunningly designed Arabian architecture!

Visiting Monarch butterflies caught momentarily sipping away at the Flower Bar

Yams a-growing

Another thirsty patron at the Flower Bar

Handy having your own straw at your constant disposal

Garden delights... oranges, strawberries, nectarines, artichokes, leeks, figs and lemons
In the shed:
Putting some old jandals into artwork was another crazy shed project.  Made a junk crucifix (no offense meant) out of bits lying around - an old broken Aztec necklace, bits of copper foil, an old red beaded Thai sandal upper, purple rubber jandal strapping with diamante studding and an old Indian-inspired watchstrap.  Quite happy with the end result, using up bits that should have long ago ended up in the rubbish!  I love all religious artifacts and icons, hence the crucifix.  Not meant to be blasphemous by calling it a junk crucifix - it's just that that is what it is made from!

And on repurposing goods - Mike got a new phone for work (from work) and the protective case he used to hang it off his belt did not fit anymore - look at the great new job it is assigned to:  safe secateurs pouch!!  Many years ago, the secateurs lost it's safety catch and was always a bit dangerous to use as it never closed, I was often poking myself as I would put it into my pocket to keep it safely stashed till I needed to use it.  Now I just attach the old phone holder to my belt and it keeps my secateurs safely within reach!

Handy dandy secateurs pouch!

Junk Crucifix
Remember our cat got stuck in the lining between the wall and roof when our solar panels were installed?  There was a gaping hole left behind where my husband had desperately punched through the boarded up hole.  Concerned that Shanti might try to explore and get lost again, I enjoyed a little girl time in the shed (who said sheds are a guy thing??) figuring out how to make a little door out of our off-cut pieces of wood.  I know you are supposed to make a Z door for strength, but mine ended up as an back-to-front N door, as my pieces of off-cut pallet wood had to be used horizontally rather than vertically!  End result is a pleasing little door which can be opened if the solar guys need to get to the wires in the future, but can be safely latched to keep little kitties out.  Now why didn't they think of that in the first place instead of boarding her up inside there???

Doorway to the inside....

Safe little kitty door!

Of course no room is untouchable when I get let loose on holiday!  My husband had scored 2 shutters from a company that he collects sawdust from.  The shutters were made for an order but were the wrong size and the company was just going to dump them.  What a score!  Each one costs about $80 - $100!  One was used as an insert in our bedroom wall.  It acts as a ventilator between the solarium and our upstairs bedroom.  It can be closed in cold weather, or opened up to allow the accumulated hot air to rise from the solarium below, into the upstairs bedroom  in winter.
Bedroom ventilation shutter
What to do with the second shutter......... too good not to do something with it....... so after mulling it around for a while, I figured it would fit one of our bedroom windows, with a little space all around.  So I set out to install it.  Hinges cost $3 and latch cost $2 and with my son to hold it in place, it was screwed into position and a little latch attached so it can be opened to allow access to the window.  It works a treat!  These last few weeks it has been really warm at night and we can leave the window open and control the amount of air passing through!  Am very pleased with my $5 cedar shutter!

Window before... A makeshift curtain out of an old sari

New shutter in place, can be opened to allow light or draft through.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Marmalade Jelly Bag

Take one basket full of old-fashioned hard-to-peel mandarins.......... no-one is eating them, so what to do......... a quick recipe hunt comes up with mandarin jelly.  So let's go for it - try it, nothing to lose really.  Waste not, want not!

 For mandarin jelly recipe, one needs a jelly bag.  This can be easily made from an old cotton t-shirt.  Cut off the lower half of the body, cutting rounded edges for the bottom.  Sew up the rounded edge and then thread ribbon through the lower hem (which forms the top of the jelly bag).  Pulp can be spooned into the bag and strung up overnight to drip into a stainless steel pot.
One cotton shirt ready for jelly bag surgery...

Cut a rounded edge and stitch it up.
Thread ribbon through the bottom hem.

Some kiwi ingenuity - a wood clamp to suspend the rope to the overhead beam.
Stainless steel pot placed under jelly bag to collect citrus juice.

End result: golden Mandarin Jelly.  Great with kumara and pumpkin dishes or spread on toast.
Think of the endless jellies one could make with excess fruit............. apple, quince, crabapple, mint, orange......