Sunday, 30 June 2013

Bay of Plenty Beauty

Stunning Autumn leaves overhead
We took a walk.  Not a common occurrence for me.  'Twoud be the ruin of me, to become sporty!  But I am known for occasionally partaking in a moderately-paced walk.  No strolling or slow meanders.  Must be a point to it.  Get fit.  Collect rubbish.  Destination.  Return.  To what?  To work of course!

I know not whence this attitude took hold in my life.  To take time out to walk is considered as frivolous in my brain.  Somewhere, sometime, this thought took hold and became my mantra.  Better to be hard at work than to take time out to stroll.  Heaven forbid!  That would be tantamount to idle time!  I always have to be busy.  There really has to be a point to what I do.  Sad?  Well, I guess.  If I missed walking.  Or strolling.  Or meandering.  But I don't.

Very odd, but that's just it.  I always enjoy a walk but never really plan to make time to walk.  My walking is an accidental stroke of enjoyment!  But here I digress, as the point of it all, began about taking a walk!

Mike and I walked along at my normal brisk pace.  Down our driveway and 20 mins due East to the harbour at the end of our street.  Talk of breath-taking views!  Well, once I had managed to catch my breath, it was simply stunning and we marveled at how lucky we are to live in such stunning surroundings.  I recorded my visual treasures along the way (this was the reason for the walk - remember, there has to be a reason for me to walk!).

Is there anything more apt to announce Winter, than skeletal bare trees?
The fetching view across the harbour, with the morning sun bright in the sky was achingly beautiful.  Made me wonder why I don't do this more often.  Take visual shopping trips for the eyes.  I was glad of my cheap little camera to record the moment.  To own it and reflect on it later when stuck indoors while the rain pelts down outside.
 It gives one a sense of how large and beautiful the world is.  Right on our doorstep.  Never take it for granted.  Just across the road from this view a mammoth retirement village is being constructed on pastural land.  Forever changed.

Mike and I joined 30 volunteers a couple of Saturdays ago, to plant 1000 native plants along the coastal margin of a reserve in Katikati.  Such a wonderful opportunity to connect to other members of the community and to help preserve the biodiversity of the area.  We worked like Trojans and came home to rest, marveling at the idea that many hands make light work or can achieve a goal in one day that would take one person 30 consecutive days!  Makes you think..........

The tidal estuary that drains into the harbour at low tide

Lichen on tree trunks 
I have read that the presence of lichens on a tree indicate a source of fresh air, as they are extremely vulnerable to environmental changes and pollution.  Seems there is a lot of good air to breathe here - lichens on all our trees in the reserves!

As co-incidence would have it, I happened to go to a talk the following week, by Peter Kagayama, author of a book called "For the Love of Cities".  He talks about becoming involved in raising the "fun factor" of where you live and gives examples of how people can do crazy things, without official "permission" and which end up tilting the "feel good" factor of a place and increasing tourism and local interaction.  Sounds like a good plan, Stan! I love the idea of seed or yarn bombing (like grafitti with knitting and crochet work) vacant or unloved places!   What a hoot!  I feel heartened by our Kati KaiWay project, planting fruit trees in an unused, unloved reserve within our town, with the aim that one day local families or visitors can go down there for a walk and collect seasonal fruit!

Beauty Abounds in every direction

Simply stunning, take-your-breath-away beauty

I love the blue-purple hills in the background
Apart from community engagements, I have been trying to come up with ideas to recycle some of our waste.  2 ideas shared with me via the internet and a mum at kindergarten are worthy of sharing here:
The first is an old credit card - usually we bend them forward and backward in a chaotic frenzied manner fit to beat a disco competition, until they break down the middle, or snip them clean through the middle with a tough kitchen scissors.  They end up in landfill.

Take one old defunct Video Outlet card
There are some amazing ideas out there in the world wide web of information, of what one can do with expired credit cards but most projects require more than one, so this one appealed to me; I simply traced a guitar pick outline on the back of my old Video outlet card and cut them out with that super-tough kitchen scissors.  Voila!  4 guitar pics.  $1 each from the guitar shop, thus this project saved us $4!  Will gift them to my guitar playing son when next I see him.
Take your pick
Next:  my love-to-hate-tetrapak dilemma!  My husband, in his bid to move away from the cruel practices of the dairy industry, has begun to drink oat or soya milk.  What to do with the tetrapaks?  Not recyclable in our area, they all end up in landfill.  They are a composite of heat bonded cardboard, aluminium and plastic.  Nasty, when you think of them taking a few decades (or more) to degrade!
This little idea came from a kindy mum.  Turn them into coin purses.  Neat idea!  These were my first attempts, which I gifted some helpxchange friends. Great when you can give away your rubbish!!

I didn't have instructions, only a ready-made purse to try to figure out and make my own but I have found instructions online at  if you have a lot of patience, as it painstakingly takes 26 photos to describe what could have been done in 3 or 4 pics.  I did not use tape to bind it or velcro for closing.  Mine has a little stitch in the middle to hold it together, and an old button to close it with, winding the thread once or twice around the button for closing.  A novel way to reduce tetrapak waste.  Give it a secondary life purpose.

Hand-made hand balm.
Made some more hand and body balm.  Honed this to such a fine art, takes about 20 minutes to make 5 tins of it.  Beeswax, olive oil, sesame seed oil and essential oils of choice.  Stunning to use!  All over Bliss!  If you can eat it, you can wear it!  No nasties in it.
Also made another batch of pita breads - such an easy flat bread to make.

3 cups plain flour
2 tspn sugar
1 tspn salt
1 3/4 tspn yeast
1 TBSPN olive oil
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
extra flour for kneading

Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl.  Make a well, add oil and water, stirring till it forms a soft dough.  Turn onto bench and knead for 5 mins till smooth and springy.
Return to oiled bowl and cover.  Leave to rest in warm place for 1 hour, till doubled in size.
Turn dough onto floured bench and knead lightly,  Cut dough into 8 pieces, rolling them out into circles 3mm high.  Allow them to stand for 10 mins while warming the oven at it's highest temperature, adding a flat baking tray to heat up in the oven.
When circles of dough have risen, chuck 4 onto the hot baking tray and place in hot oven for 3-4 minutes, till they puff up and turn light golden.  Remove from oven tray and repeat process for remaining 4 breads.
Stack them on top of each other, covering them with a tea towel till cool.
Very delicious and easy!  A firm favourite in our house.

Hand-made pita breads, with poppy seed
And lastly, to make a delicious dessert out of manky soft bananas, peel 2 soft bananas, cut into half and lay onto a greased baking dish.  Stir half a cup of coconut cream into a 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of carob powder.  Add a few drops vanilla essence and pour mixture over bananas while sprinkling chopped cashew nuts on top.  Bake for half an hour at 160degC.  Very deceptively delicious!
Decadent vegan chocolate banana desert
Beauty all around!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Kale Beer and Bottling Olives

Stairway to Heaven
 Our last helpxchange girls, Simmi and Franzi from Germany, have definitely left their mark on our home and lives.  Apart from helping to pick 3 bucket loads of olives (which I bottled this weekend), they also decorated our stairwell.  It was looking a little tired, scuffed and in need of a paint job.  But being on the stairs creates a logistical nightmare with placing of ladders and pots of paint.  So I set them a challenge of over-brushing the existing paintwork with a darker yellow, and pasting these little Chinese shrine offering papers onto the wall.  I love these little papers, which are printed onto hand-made paper and have gold-leaf pasted over them.  I have had them for years and used them for so many decorating purposes and had only 7 left, so they were spaced intermittently on the stair wall, to great effect.  A very artistic stairwell indeed!  Love it!
Shrine offering papers

The finished stairwell.

The artists with their finished masterpiece.

Voila, stairs with a difference.
Daffodil Delight
A couple of weekends ago, I set to cleaning up the carpet of weeds covering the ground around Josephine, our scarecrow.  I planted at least 100 daffodil bulbs and then mulched it over with wood chip.  I can't wait to see the daffodils when they bloom - it'll surely be bloomin' marvellous!

New Daffodil bed surrounding Josephine
The walkway is newly topped up with untreated sawdust

Daffie bed before weeding!  Over-run with weeds and nasturtiums
Kale Brew
Kale, glorious kale.  Highly nutritious, but oh, so tough if slightly under-cooked!  It's a popular European green leafy veg not all that well known in these parts.  They are cold-hardy and quite prolific, they keep you in green leaves for a good part of 6-7 months!  But one can have only so much kale and ours were growing into veritable trees and not being harvested much.  I have made several batches of Kale Chips last year - very very delectable indeed!  This year, I have been feeding the chooks with the leaves, so they were not going to waste, but I felt that I needed to use them for our benefit too.  So I had a little brain-wave - hey, seeing as I made very successful Nettle Beer for my son, why not Kale Beer??  Highly nutritious, in fact, I call it Iron Brew as it's rich in iron!  Harvested about a kilo or two, brewed it up and bottled it.  Not too sure about this lot, no bubbles, so it may not have fermented enough.  We shall have to see.... After 4 weeks Cam should be able to test it and give me the results.  Watch this space....

My kale tree

Brewing Kale Beer

The bottled beer.  4.5L
Potash Stramash (meaning a disturbance or racket)
Lighting fires in winter brings an added benefit to the garden - wood ash!  Every second week we harvest a 5L pot of wood ash which can be added straight onto veg beds, or strewn onto the compost heap.  It is in keeping with the idea of recycling waste back into the garden and provides potassium, phosphorus and calcium, boron and other trace elements plants need for growing healthily.  As it is alkaline, it can be useful for balancing or raising the pH of the soil.

Potash (Ashes in a pot) or Wood Ash
Chilli Chow
Tis the season of chillies!  I have 2 bags of about 1kg each, in the freezer.  I harvested a whole mass of fresh chillies last weekend, and was able to make 1 big and 1 small bottle of Sweet Thai Chilli Sauce.  This is one of our favourite accompaniments and goes well with just about anything!  Indian dishes, bread and cheese, potato wedges, you name it.....

Chillis, bananas and caspsicum harvest

Sweet Thai Chilli Sauce
Ovoid Olives 
Olive bottling Fever!  This weekend, I spent all of Saturday morning bottling olives!  Tiresome toward the end, but thinking of biting into all those succulent little fleshy treats in 3-4 months time kept me going.  Bottle after bottle after bottle.  24 in all, some 3L bottles, others just small 1/2L ones.  A year's supply of olives.  Mike figured out it is roughly $400 worth of olives if we had to buy the same weight in store-bought specimens! 
First box of olives

Our own olives - made one big jar and a smaller one.

The first batch hot off the press - the green ones.

Preparation for bottling
Slices lemon, pepper, coriander, rosemary, bay leaves and garlic in the jars

Green olives packed tightly into the jars and topped with brine and then
olive oil to seal

Black olives stacked and ready to be brined and sealed

Finished product
Cruddy Colds
Aside from olive bottling, I nursed my cold which started on Thursday with a tickle in the throat, a slight irritating cough and snotty nose.  A few cups of Indian Ayurvedic remedy and I am still standing and getting better and better each day!  Want in on the not-so-secret recipe?  This bright yellow drink is deceptively powerful and easy to drink, a cupful in the morning and one at night.

1/2 tspn tumeric
1/2 cupful hot water
1/2 tspn honey
milk to taste

Pumpkins and squashes waiting to become some lovely winter's culinary delight

Another harvest: Root treasures: parsnips

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Keeping Warm in Winter

Yup, it's cold!  Someone at work today told me she was going to light the first fire of the season.  Yikes!  We have had one every day for the last 2-3 weeks!  Being born and raised in a temperate climate did not prepare me for New Zealand winters!  Eeek!  Even at an average of 9degC, I find I am chilled to the bone unless I wear thermal merino underwear!  Hee hee, my new red boots are keeping me tootsies real warm with their sheep's wool lining!  

The beautiful colours of a persimmon leaf
We are well stocked with wood this year and so there is no need to ration our fires, having chopped up a tree we felled on our section, as well as 2 deliveries of firewood (total 7 cubic metres) to keep us comfortable.  But as with all things, there are two sides to a story.  A fire is romantic, it even looks warm and cosy!  Watching the flames in a wood-burner is soothing, mesmerising and a kind of meditative past-time on a cold winter's night.  The down-side, is the bits and pieces of wood fall-out that litters the pathway to the front door and from there to the hearth!  Now being a housewife-of-cleaning-allergy, I try to cut down on any process that increases housework, like not wearing shoes in the house (slippers only)!  So before we started our pyromaniacal winter past-time, I decided I had to improve the wood basket dilemma.  I needed to line it with something strong that would last the miles, not like the flimsy plastic liner from last year which soon got ripped and shredded in the loading department.  Mmmmmn, I knew that coffee bags were strong, so I set to sewing 3 lots of them together, and then sewed 5 of each of those 3 panels together to create one big piece.  Promising.  Might just work!

15 coffee bags all sewn together

I figured out that I would like to use 2 tea bag box liners for the bottom to break the busy-ness of the Inca Fe' pouches, and then I needed to come up with an idea for securing the top of the liner to the basket.  The little sealing bits that get cut off each time we open a new pouch proved to be just what I needed to do the job, also ensuring nothing was wasted.  I sewed several of them into loops around the top edge.
The bottom of the liner is made with 2 tea box liners

Details of sealing edges used as loops for rope tie

End result, a snug fit 

The solution to the problem!  And  an answer to our coffee addiction waste fall-out
The wood basket has been in use for 3 weeks now and is holding up and proving to be a real bonus to keeping all the dust and debris out of the house and off the pathway.  Yay, solving 2 dilemmas at one time.  In our bid to reduce our waste and live more sustainably, we need to look for novel ways to achieve that.  My solution cost me nothing more than time, cups of coffee (a pleasure) and a piece of cotton rope lying around in the shed!  Oh, and I still have plenty more coffee bags if anyone is interested........?

Kindling from all the pruned fruit tree branches too big to be put through the chipper

Shanti's new Best Postion, a box with shredded paper
 (that was destined to be bedding for the chickens), alongside the roaring fire.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Living in Gratitude

Sometimes we do crazy little things at the dinner table, just for fun, or to provoke some thought or to dissipate any grumpiness.  I ABSOLUTELY will not allow myself to live with grumpy moles!  No, Siree!  There is no need to be grumpy around others!  If one is feeling unsocial, take yourself to bed!

Dinner Table Character Improvers.  There are times we have had to think of one nice thing to say about the person sitting to the left and then right of you.  Or we may each have to disclose one good and one not so good thing that happened in our day.  Or like last night, I asked my husband to write down 10 things he was grateful for.  An exercise in gratitude.  These little exercises are great conversation stimulators, and they provoke discussions in families, which is not always easy when you have monosyllabic teenagers at the table.  This lightens the mood and sets the tone for conversation.

So last night, I too wrote down 10 things that I was grateful for.  And I thought about sharing them.  They are, in no particular order, just what came tumbling out of me at that moment, through the pen, onto the paper:
  1. My life - I wouldn't change a thing!
  2. My family - grateful to share my life with them.
  3. My house - a comfortable and loving sanctuary.
  4. My garden, which feeds us and gives so much pleasure.
  5. My husband, who works hard, is a non-drinker/smoker and is sexy (he really liked that one!)
  6. My children, both talented, beautiful individuals.
  7. My job, which is interesting, challenging and rewarding.
  8. Our financial situation - we can pretty much buy what we want when we need it or budget for it (it wasn't always that way).
  9. We aren't limited or imposed upon by outside community, country, poverty, war etc.
  10. Food - we have so much!  And Health, which goes hand in hand!
Curious little bell chillies offer up a bright flash of colour in the garden
Making a gratitude list is a really great way to appreciate what we have in life!  If I had to sit down and think upon such a list, it may be a lot more well thought out and planned, but the above list is what tumbled out in that moment.  It made me feel humble and blessed for all that we have.  Mike's list was totally different (of course, he HAD to put his wife as one of the 10 points, for fear of losing his life), but his list was pertinent to him and his journey.
In a way, I find blogging is kind of my Gratitude Journal, documenting all our activities, experiments, processes and successes.  It is a great way to reflect on one's time and journey in Life.

I have read about people overcoming depression by keeping a Gratitude Journal at their bedside.  They are encouraged to write 3 things they are grateful for before going to bed each night.  This makes them focus on the positive, ensures a better night's sleep and eventually becomes an ingrained pattern of positive thinking which burns the blues away!   What a lovely way to end a day!  
Day Lilies
So what are you grateful for?  List 3 things right now off the top of your head........