22 August 2014

Weekend reading

I hope you have time to relax on the weekend and read this week's selection. I'll see you again next week.

The push to ditch renewables could hand coal and gas industries billions.  If you're as angry as I am about this move to dilute what all Australian should be doing and moving to more sustainable energy options, I encourage you to email your local federal member. I am. You can find their contact information here.

21 August 2014

Wabi-sabi - a reminder

I've been thinking a lot about wabi-sabi this year. If you've never heard of the term, it's a Japanese concept about being comfortable with imperfection. I'm very close friends with imperfection and have been all my life but as I grow older, I see it in almost everything I do and in all the beauty that surrounds me - including my family and grand sons. Nothing is perfect and it seems to me that if you strive for perfection, you'll be disappointed more often than not. I don't want to spend time being disappointed when I can just as easily be accepting and even look for wabi-sabi and celebrate it, just like the Japanese do.

The kitchen on my wall.
The kitchen - a print of the original.

A friend of mine, Gerri, who lives in France and who I met through this blog, sent me a petit point tapestry of Carl Larsson's The Kitchen. Carl Larsson was a Swedish painter (1853 - 1919) and is a favourite of mine, has been since I discovered him when I lived in Germany many years ago. The Kitchen is the depiction of a young girl with a toddler, possibly her sister, in their Swedish kitchen. The older girl is churning butter and the little one is watching her, possibly knowing that one day it will be her job to do that for the family. On the sideline a wood stove holds simmering soup pots, a tiny white cat is almost out of sight, the washing up sits beside a wash bowl and the curtain blows softly in the breeze. And it is that curtain that gets me every time. Little things.

When Gerri sent it to me she said it had been sitting on the wall in her kitchen for many years and now she wanted me to have it. She explained she'd never finished it and if I wanted to, to go ahead. Well, I didn't want to finish it off because to me, it held the history of Gerri and her kitchen just the way it was. I wanted the tapestry to be what it was, not what it was supposed to be. It was more interesting to me as an artefact the way it was. It now hangs on my kitchen wall. Authenticity framed, captured under glass, a wabi-sabi masterpiece. A reminder.

Also in that frame I placed a letter from Gerri, in an envelop with French stamps, and a tiny note on the back of the frame asking: "do you know what this is? Blog 21 August 2014" I suspect that when I die, my family will go through all these things and I hope they'll discover what it is and keep it as their own reminder.  

In her wonderfully descriptive explanation of Wabi-sabi - the art of imperfectionRobyn Griggs Lawrence,  says: 

Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.

Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.

I guess that says it all and also reminds me why I've been thinking about it more as I age. I think that when I die I'll be a case study in wabi-sabi. And I have to tell you I'd rather go out as a frayed edged, grey haired, spectacled, wabi-sabi grandma than anything else. It comforts me knowing that the history of things, and of people,  plays an significant part in what we are and who we become.

20 August 2014

Spreads, dips and sandwich fillings

This may not be the most exciting of posts but it's sometimes a struggle to find good wholesome crackers, dips and spreads for snacks, lunches and to accompany drinks when friends drop around. Add to that the ongoing need of parents to send children to school with a good lunch, and you'll know that having a few recipes for these things up your sleeve is a real plus.

If you do have children going off to school, any of the crackers and dip or spreads, along with a container of salad or chopped crisp vegetables, such as carrot and celery sticks, would make a nice change in the lunch box. Add a banana and apple and you'd have the perfect lunch for an older child.

School lunches and snacks

I try to home produce as much as I can and biscuits, crackers, breads, dips, spreads and fillings are high on my list because so many of the commercial products contain preservatives and artificial additives. I prefer not eating anything like that, and want to serve wholesome food to my family and friends. Many of my recipes are based on my farmers cheese and cheese crackers. The recipes for both are here, they contain only natural ingredients and they're very easy to make. I hope they provide a good basis for some of the goodies you'll make up. And here are some other cracker recipes:

Food additives to avoid

Last year, my sister Tricia gave me a lovely book called Vintage Tea Party. It holds many old favourite recipes for high tea, morning tea and light meals that are more a snack than a meal. One recipe caught my eye a while ago and I've made it a couple of times since.  It's potted salmon and you can make up a jar of it and keep it in the fridge for serving on toast triangles or crackers.

 Potted Salmon 
  • Tin of salmon (skin removed), or if you're lucky enough to have fresh, cooked or smoked salmon, use that.
  • 40 grams/3 oz melted butter, hold some back for sealing the top of the salmon
  • Pepper
Place the ingredients in a food processor and process until a smooth paste forms.  Add the salmon to a sterilised jar and pour over the remaining melted butter. This is how the salmon was traditionally stored in the fridge, with a butter seal. Serve with crackers or as a spread for sandwiches. It is delicious served with pickled cucumbers - homemade, of course.

  Potted tuna 

This is a similar recipe from Not Quite Nigella but it can't be stored as long in the fridge. It makes a great cracker or bread spread and is excellent with drinks when friends come over.

 Triple layer dip  - another great dip for a party.

 Chicken spread  
For this spread you'll need to get into the habit of saving a cup of cooked chicken when you've made a roast chicken.  Or you can cook a chicken specially for lunches, finely dice the chicken and store it in one cup portions in the freezer.
  • 1 cup farmers cheese (see my recipe above)
  • 1 cup diced cooked chicken
  • Small red onion or one green onion, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • As much chilli as you like - either fresh or powdered
Combine all the above, mix well and serve on bread or crackers.

 Beetroot dip 
  • 4 beetroot, cooked, skinned and cooled
  • One clove garlic, crushed or finely grated
  • 1 cup farmers cheese (see my recipe above)
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper
Place all the above in a food processor and blitz until the cheese and beetroot is just combined. You don't want a smooth paste for this, it needs some texture. Serve as a dip with crackers.

  Yoghurt cheese - labneh/quark  
When you finish making your yoghurt, or using good commercial plain yoghurt, pour about two cups of yoghurt into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. You need to drain the whey off and as this will take a while, place the strainer in a large jug and store it in the fridge overnight. The following day you'll have a ball of fresh cheese and a jug of whey. Use the whey in your baking or fermenting. If you store it in a sealed jar, whey will keep for about six weeks in the fridge.

To make your cheese, finely chop some chilli and herbs of your choice and add it to the cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Store in a sealed container in the fridge. This is delicious on bread, particularly rye bread, crackers or toast.

These are all good recipes so you can steer clear of those additive-packed dips, spreads, biscuits and chips you buy at the supermarket. All these recipes are delicious and easy to make.  Do you have any recipes like this to share? Please only add those with no additives or artificial flavourings, and no soup mixes or MSG. We all need to have a good selection of these kinds of foods. I'm looking forward to seeing what you can share with us.

18 August 2014

Bathroom renovation DIY

I am often praised for just living the way I want to live: I want to sew, bake, mend, tend the garden and spend time with my family. And that gives me a lot of pleasure as well as structure and purpose to my days. When the praise comes, I appreciate it but I never receive a compliment without knowing that this is a team effort - Hanno is here too, working away and helping both of us live our simple lives. 


As some of your know, we're slowly preparing ourselves and our home for a time when we can't do as much as we can now. Hanno has good days and bad days with his health and occasionally he can't walk due to the pain of crystal arthritis/gout in his ankles and feet. He has a good GP whom he trusts and between them they work out what is best for his health. What is obvious though is that prolonged heavy work is no longer possible and whatever work he does, is done as it can be done and not to a timetable.  Part of Hanno's treatment is an emergency supply of cortisone tablets prescribed by his specialist. He is to take it only when the other medications don't work. About a month ago, we had one such time and he started taking the cortisone for the first time. Within the first couple of days the pain and swelling went but he had to continue taking the pills according the instructions, and that would take him through the following month. During that month he renovated the bathroom.


Some of the tiles on the bathroom floor had been stained for some time. The original tiler had left traces of glue and who knows what else on the tiles and although it was invisible, over the years it stained and continued getting worse. We also had an old vanity unit in that bathroom that needed replacing. Neither of us want to live in a home that is falling to pieces and if we can repair and replace while we still have the strength and will to do it, that is what we'll do.  We decided to buy a new vanity and taps and when Hanno removed the old unit, we discovered it had already been moved three times - we'd moved it once.  He started off by removing the old vanity, lights and plumbing, then he painted the walls and ceiling and retiled the toilet floor.

Each day Hanno did the work he felt he could do, he took frequent rests and slowly it all started coming together. We realised that to replace the bathroom tiles would cost us about two thousand dollars and we didn't want to spend that much. We got a quote for a few hundred dollars from a local floor tile cleaner, and when they cleaned the tiles we were both amazed at the change. The tiles look new again. We bought the new vanity, taps and mirror and just had the plumber come in to connect it all up again. Kerry helped with some of the heavy lifting and with putting the new mirror up, Hanno did the rest of the work. And now it looks amazing. Sadly, the effects of the cortisone have worn off now so he's got some pain back but he's really happy he did the work and I'm happy and proud of him for doing such a fine job. I cooked him a favourite meal to say thanks.

If you can do your own house maintenance and renovations, it will always be much cheaper. I think we would have spent about four thousand dollars if we'd had someone do all that work for us. In the end it cost us about one thousand; one quarter. It makes sense to keep on top of all these jobs so they don't get too damaged or expensive to fix, and certainly to change what you need to change as you get older so you can live in your own home as you transition from young old to old old.

We're changing our vegetable garden later in the year, and I'll write more about that when it happens. Small slow steps are not always easy or fast, but they get us to where we want to be.

16 August 2014

Shopping in the country

As you know, I have a small number of sponsor ads on my side bar. I don't generally promote commercial enterprises but I share these small businesses with you because I use the products they sell and I'm happy to recommend them. I often get emails from many of you asking me to recommend various products or wanting to know what we use here.  I'd like to reassure you that I only promote what we use and what I'm happy with, even though I'm asked every day if I'll advertise a wide variety of businesses and products.

Small businesses compete with big business, paying the same advertising rates, and many of them can't afford to advertise. I'm pleased I can give the businesses I deal with a wider audience. I don't charge the businesses I promote, we have a barter arrangement. Some years I order a few things, in other years I don't need as much. I think the arrangement benefits both of us. I recommend these businesses not only for the products they sell but also for the service the owners give and the values they share with us. I know you'll receive excellent service and that you can trust these people.

One of these businesses is Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores in the New South Wales country town of Nundle. Megan and Duncan run the store which was established in 1891. I'm really pleased to know they can still earn a living operating a general store that is packed to the rafters with goods that I use but are quite often hard to find. When I found Megan and Duncan's store online, I thought all my Christmases had come at once. I found my favourite (of all time) teapot there - the Falcon enamel 1.5 litre,  they have a good range of cleaning tools, enamel ware, brushes and brooms, gardening equipment, kitchen ware, toys, soap and men's shaving products. The aerosol shaving products Hanno was using were causing rashes until Duncan recommended some old fashioned shave soap and a brush. The rash went soon after and Hanno is very happy now using his shave soap and brush.  

If you have time over the weekend, have a look at the Odgers and McClelland Exchange Store. I'm sure you'll find it a delightful surprise. If you order now, you'll have your goods before Father's Day.

Vivian at Ecoyarns has Soak back in stock. Soak is a washing liquid for fine wool, silk, cotton and linen yarns that doesn't need to be rinsed out.  You can find out all about it here. While you're there, check out my favourite organic cotton. Vivian has it on special at three 100gram 8 ply skeins at $35. This is the cotton I use for my shawls, face and dish cloths.  It's strong, unbelievably soft and beautifully coloured. Ecoyarns is another NSW country store, located in Budgewoi.  

13 August 2014

Menu planning

Menu planning can help reduce the cost of living for most of us. It encourages you to think about your food choices, it helps create a healthy balance of meals throughout the week, it gives the potential for less food waste and, for most of us, it reduces the amount of money spent on food.  I think there are two main ways to plan your menus:
  1. you plan before you shop
  2. you plan after you shop
Everything else is dependent on how your household runs. Variations that will impact on what you have to buy include growing food at home, bartering, the amount of time you are able to spend in the kitchen, the number of people in the household, the distance away from the shops, how food is stored in your home, and possibly many other things. So for those reasons, I won't be giving you a list of menus, it is up to you to start working on your menus and shopping lists, dependent on your own circumstances. Basically, you use a calendar-type form containing all the meal times you need meals for. When you decide on a meal you write in down in place then work out if you have everything to make that meal. If you don't, the ingredients you don't have are added to your shopping list. Put aside a couple of hours to set up and prepare your first menus but it won't take that long every week. Keep all your weekly menus because they can be reused when you have enough of them to provide a good rotation.

How to use a menu plan
Menu plan templates

I encourage you to use what you have on hand and what you grow yourself before you think about what to buy. If you shop weekly, the produce you already have in the house shouldn't be too old to consistently do this.  When you start writing up your menus, this produce should be used on those first couple of days.  If you have the time, make as many things at home as you can and if you do that, it will mean you buy more ingredients and less ready-made meals or jars of sauce etc.

 If you menu plan before you shop,  read through the flyers, know by experience where the best value for money is found and shop in those supermarkets. Make up your menu plan and your shopping list at the same time and try to make a regular time to do that every week. Go through your fridge and pantry and note what you have on hand and what needs to be used first and plan you menus accordingly. If you have food  left over from the previous week that should be the first item on your menu, that makes way for the rest of the week which will be based on what you buy that week, what you're growing or bartering, the season and your food preferences.  Try to plan double batch cooking into your plan so you cut down on cooking time, and make sure you plan for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Make up your menus and your shopping list at the same time.

  If you menu plan after you shop,   some of the above will apply but your main focus will be on shopping for fresh seasonal food, what you can find that you want to cook with, and the rest of your week's groceries, and all for a good price. A problem you might find with this method is that you overbuy and then waste food, so keep that in mind and have a general idea of your week's menu in mind when you buy. Before you shop, check your pantry and stockpile and make sure you stock up ingredients that you're running short of. When you come home with your bounty, sort out what you have, then plan your menus around it. Again, double batch cooking is a time and money saver and make sure you have a plan for every meal and snacks.

Just a quick note on loss leaders: a loss leader is a popular product advertised at a much reduced price. It's a real temptation to go to the store to buy that product. The people who place the advertisement hope you'll buy the loss leader then stay and do all your shopping in their store. Don't be tricked into moving away from your preferred supermarket. If you want to buy the loss leader, make it worth your while and buy as many as you can afford, then leave the store and continue shopping back at your local best supermarket.

Don't forget to mark your special family days, such as birthdays, on your calendar because these will have to be planned for in your menu plan. And if you're cutting down on the amount of meat you eat, maybe you can consider buying organic/free range meat. You might spend the same amount but you'll be eating healthier meat from animals that have lead a decent life.

If you're a new cook, make sure you start building up your recipes to include favourite meals as well as new meals you think the family will enjoy. Always think of the nutritional value of new meals as well as the time they take to prepare and the cost per meal.

I know quite a few ladies from the US and Canada use coupons to cut down on what they spend but here in Australia coupons are generally only for takeaway food or processed food that's not worth buying. I'd be interested in knowing if you've found coupons for healthy food and groceries.

But this post is about menu plans and I'm mainly interested in reading how you do that. Tell us your meal plan secrets.

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If you want to be more prepared this Christmas, Judy has started a Christmas gift, decoration and card list over at the forum. There are lots of good ideas there and plenty of motivation to get started so you can avoid rushing later in the year.
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