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Saturday, April 30, 2011

L.O.V.E. U

Do you reckon the Duchess of Caimbridge will come home one night and find Prince William has been getting creative with the pizza toppings?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Is Your Name On The Guest List?

Prince William is set to marry the commoner Kate Middleton tomorrow.
Is your name on the guest list?
Start with Lord or Lady,
then choose one of your grandparents names as your first name.
Your surname consists of the name of your first pet hyphenated (of course)
with the name of the street that you grew up on.
Have a go and a giggle,

Yours ever-so-right-royally
Lady Ellen Rinty-Bowley

(yep! My first dog was named after Rin Tin Tin!)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sweet Birdy Love

Today in the mail I got Sweet Birdy Love!
Claire's blog posts read like a letter from home. They remind me of the letters that my grandmother and I used to write back and forth; day to day things, a bit of weather, what the family was up to....

I follow Claire's creativity closely too. She uses lots of polka dots and one of my favourite themes is chickens.
When I saw this beautiful needle holder on her blog recently I just had to have one. I was only lamenting that week the muddle I was getting in with all my embroidery and sewing needles.

Don't you just love the little saying on the back.
Suits me so fine!
And inside my needles will stay sorted and ready as I do a lot of my embroidery on the go in waiting rooms and other peoples' places.

I was overwhelmed with her generosity though, not only did she gift me the needle book, but also
the red chicken tea towel and an egg cosy. Did you notice the chicken design in the first picture and in the one above the other side is an egg.
I've said it before and I'll say it another million times before my life is through,
there are many beautiful and gentle folk out there and there is certainly hope for humanity yet.
Nearly everyday I read about random acts of kindness and I know that this must be happening ten-fold because these people are doing in our community circles too.
Thank you Claire with all my heart.
Thank you for making a difference.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Eating Out of my Hand

Over the Easter weekend, my girls and I went to the zoo near Richmond.
They have some exotics like; monkeys, tigers, lions etc
but we really had the best time with the good old natives.
There were a number of (amazingly) tame marsupials. I think this is a Red Forester kangaroo.
There were Eastern Greys and Wallabies of many types.
I didn't quite trust them; note how I stand to the side....
that's because I am always wary of them "standing" on their tales and double kicking one in the chest.
Not a peep out of them.
Look at this gorgeous guy.
He was the biggest and probably about my height but he didn't deign to partake in the food/photo exchange.
I love painting kangaroos (with oils) (pictures not the literally the animal) and I was able to get some really great close up anatomical shots.
They are so cool and laid back.
Wonderful feet shots.
Beautiful face shapes.
Look at the musculature here.
Emma is about 5'4" so I reckon this roo is about 4' or a little under.

We also took a "safari bus" ride (read very tongue in cheek) and fed voracious emus, ostriches and camels.
The kangaroo and emu were chosen to be the symbols supporting either side of the Australian Coat of Arms because neither animal can move easily backwards and they represented a young country moving forward.

That's Emma engrossed in her mobile phone...
"Ehem! There is a camel right behind you"

Tegan feeding chaff to an ostrich from a bucket.
The wind and ostrich was scattering the chaff down everyone's tops.
Lots of hilarity and hysterical giggling.
Emma even fed the pet sheep and goats and found out quickly that they are very single-minded boisterous animals when it comes to food. Suffice to say I almost wet pants!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"The Little Black Hen"

The Little Black Hen by A. A. Milne
Illustrations by E. H. Shepard
from the book "Now We Are Six"

"When I wake up
On Easter Day,
I shall see my egg
She's promised to lay.
If I were Emperors,
If I were Kings,
It couldn't be fuller
Of wonderful things."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

This image looks very much like a scene (sans robed shepherd) in Tasmania.
Good Friday is a day kept in sombre thought and reflection in  my family.

I have travelled to Hobart to spend the Easter period with my daughters.
I will accompany my mother-in-law to Good Friday Mass in the afternoon.
We eat very simply and plainly.
It disappoints me greatly that people hold "seafood feasts" in the name of Good Friday.
 I look forward to the Charlton Heston movie on ABC in his starring role of "Moses".

This is what Good Friday means to me.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)

Autumn is usually the time when I make Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie) and I think it is because after finally lifting my cooks' head from the glut of zucchinis I realise that the English spinach and silverbeet is galloping away to luxuriant proportions.
After soaking and washing thoroughly allowing all the ladybirds to escape, I make full use of my food processor and chop it finely along with onion and garlic. I sweat all this in just lemon juice.
Once cooled I add a couple of eggs and instead of ricotta and cottage cheese I usually use a mashed block of firm tofu and maybe a cup of cheddar or some feta cubes.
I find this is a great protein/iron/calcium/folic acid boosting meal with much less fat than you think.
I bake my mix in a filo pastry pie and sprinkle with poppy seeds.
Instead of brushing the pastry layers with butter, I find it easier to use a spray oil.
I'm all for big impact, easy make, little mess.
When the children were little this was the best recipe for feeding them spinach and tofu,
smiles all round.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pumpkins- A Garden Bonus

We didn't plant a single pumpkin.
We ended up harvesting about 20 pumpkins.
They come up so easily from the compost and grow so lustily that I haven't the heart to pull them out, well not the peripheral ones anyway.
I'm guessing they are QLD Blues, especially judging by the tough skin.
On the up side they keep so well but they really are a challenge to cut.
I know some who make the initial cut with a tomahawk or axe.
As a retailer of housewares for many years, I have seen some of the worst abuse perpetrated by people upon their kitchen knives. If you must attempt to cut your pumpkin with your kitchen knife, make sure it is a cooks knife and nothing smaller. DO NOT twist or be tempted to even slightly move the blade sideways, the blade is forged steel and it will snap. After making the first couple of inches incision, it will become almost impossible to cut further so use a wooden spatula as a wedge and insert it into the cut to hold the edges apart allowing the knife to cut further and keep working knife and wedge patiently around until you have fully cut through.
I now have some pumpkin soup made and frozen in portions ready for me to grab for lunches.
The skin was so tough I decided not to fight it and after cutting the pumpkin into natural crescent wedges, I simply brushed with oil and roasted on a tray in the oven.
Once they were softened, I could then more easily remove the skin and add it to the sauteed onions, garlic and chillies and cover with water. After simmering a bit longer I blended it all smooth and added......
The caramelised onion and roasted pumpkin flavour does not need any additional stock flavouring etc.
It's just pure glorious flavours. Doesn't get any cheaper than this and you save a fortune by not needing to buy lunches. If you keep soup in the freezer you are never caught on the hop.

Pumpkin goes well with black pepper, nutmeg, cous cous, sweet caramelised onions, honey, feta....
My favourite is nutty chickpeas with their beautiful texture contrast.
So along with the pumpkin I have cooked a huge pile of chickpeas for putting into the soup after its finished or for mixing with roasted pumpkin cubes and baby spinach, dressed with a honey chilli dressing and a sprinkle of sesame seeds (excellent Vit A, calcium, iron, folic acid and protein. a complete meal)
First soak the chickpeas in plenty of water for at least four hours.
Drain and cover again with plenty of fresh water.
Simmer for about 10 mins, there will be lots of froth.
Drain and rinse completely.
Cover with more water (yes this is the third lot of water)
and cook until tender. When I drain, I rinse again.
You could also try using a pinch of asafatida powder to the final cook as chickpeas are known to cause flatulence.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Vitamin B Complex

Look what I found on my travels today!
A vintage Vegemite jar, I think the base is milk glass and the lid is old tin.
Do you remember the marketing?
"Vitamin supplement for your diet"
I love my Vegemite....
please see previous post.....

Monday, April 18, 2011

Vegemite Scrolls with a Twist

I had a very busy day today.
Lots of cooking and gardening.
I made a batch of Vegemite cheese scrolls with jalapeno peppers for our lunch boxes.
I was inspired by the recipe Lee posted at Killiecrankie Farm.
Its very frugal and I have frozen half the batch to enliven lunchboxes or maybe take to the football on Saturday.
The dough is very simply made in the bread maker while you get about other chores.
Once its done roll into a rough rectangle and spread with the desired toppings and cut and bake.
Lee provides a how-to on her post and also a cost break down.
Lee also gives a version for cinnamon scrolls and really you are only limited by your imagination.
Next time I am planning a batch with chutney and cheese.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gardening In Small Spaces Part III - Add Chickens

A bright cheery Sunflower you might think.
But its more!
It is a form of natural protection for the chickens who live behind the wire
and it is a source of food also for those chickens at the end of its life.
Izaac also has constructed a fowl yard in his tiny backyard for two hens. They have a coop and nest box and a fenced yard built in under his back stairs.
They have room for a dust bath and seasonal protection from various plants in summer and he can stack insulating hay bales along one side in the winter.
When he is gardening he lets them free range alongside him.

He is very particular about ensuring rodent control. He keeps their food separately in a vermin proof container and feeds them well before sunset and ensures all food is eaten so none is left around for mice or rats.
He originally fed a diet of mostly organic grain but found that their health suffered and has since switched to a layer pellet which is a balanced and complete food. This diet is supplemented with food preparation scraps from a local cafe where his girlfriend works and of course the hand sourced bugs and caterpillars from his precious vegetables.

He cleans out the area every second day and does a thorough clean with a change of straw etc every week to ten days.
Again, this material is all valuable for the garden and compost bins. He gets about a dozen eggs a week in summer which suits the two of them perfectly.
He has made the coop from recycled materials and to his own design; he can enter the yard and stand comfortably, the chickens are safe and secure and they have easy access to the nesting box.

I am so darn proud of what this young man achieves here and the beauty of the complete systems he has within his environment. He demonstrates that it is not only possible to garden meaningfully and productively in a few square metres, but that it is also possible to include animal husbandry to compliment the cycle. He is also exploring the idea of raising meat rabbits too. I have no doubt that if additional funds were available he would have an aquaculture system going too!

In a typical year he grows; rhubarb, carrots, broad beans, spinach, silverbeet, peas, herbs, eggplant, cabbage,lettuce, sunflowers, beetroot, kale, tomatoes, popcorn, sweet corn, zucchini, strawberries, chillies, capsicums/peppers, garlic, onion, chives, pumpkins, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, mixed Asian greens, mixed Italian greens, climbing beans......

His garden is low cost requiring a spade and a fork and a hose. Straw is purchased.
Borders and pen all made from recycled and sourced materials.
Thank you for sharing your garden Izaac. I think it should be featured in the open garden scheme.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Gardening In Small Spaces Part II

So lets walk down the path from the front to the back past the wall-fixed clothes line (and squeeze past his beautiful wheelbarrow)
That tall foliage is climbing beans and he even has a string line going to the clothes line for added trail.
Yonder from the beans towards the fence is the strawberry patch. There is another zucchini and some more herbs.
Now we find ourselves in his "back yard"
The stairs you see are the next door neighbours. The vegetation at the bottom is the end of Izaac's yard.
It is in actual fact a narrow strip of land about 4 metres long and at its widest point it is 2 metres.
Here you can see another variety of climbing bean, taking up very little space, using vertical space instead and yielding profusely.

Here he is growing Blue Lake and Purple King.
Izaac makes use of the fence and baling string from the straw bales.
This area on the eastern side of the unit gets sunlight from dawn till about 1pm. When he first started this garden I was very skeptical about enough sunlight in this narrow tract but I have been proved wrong and it goes to show what can be achieved in perceived impossible situations.
In front of the beans are tomatoes, capsicums, silverbeet and leafy salad greens.

Again the fence railing is used to good advantage to tie up the tomatoes and again utilising vertical space and allowing more planting.
Izaac tells me that one of his most important methods though in the small garden is "ruthlessness".
He said he has to be absolutely ruthless and can't afford to nurse plants along. They have to preform per square metre or they are out! If something isn't working, if the seed isn't good strong and viable then it is replaced. If a plant is past the production peak, it's gone.
He said there is no room for gentle sentimentality and often has to cull plants that a gardener in a larger garden allows to become old and spindly. He simply doesn't have the space.
Perhaps also this is the secret of his success in managing fungal disease of which he has very little incidence.
At the bottom a pumpkin vine is running rampant even with the best efforts to train it along the perimeters.

His crowning glory is the chili bushes laden with slim bright red chillies that have yielded thousands. They love being near the brick wall of the unit and in a sheltered corner they have found their ideal micro-climate that other gardeners struggle with in Tasmania.

So he faced impossible soil which he improved with compost, manure and mulch.
He faced an impossible space but he uses it to best possible advantage and grows verticle as well as horizontal.
His other technique for gardening in a small space is ruthlessness. He assesses and plants on a regular basis maintaining an optimum turn on production.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gardening In Small Spaces Part I

I'd like to introduce you to Izaac and his garden.
Izaac is 25 years old and lives in a rental unit complex. He has a small piece of land front and back on a sloping block which faces basically north/south.
He is at University studying a bachelor of science with a view to environmental science. He also works three jobs; forestry (planting, pruning etc), catering and also at a hotel in the dining side of things.
He has a keen interest in food and worked as an unqualified chef for many years. He loves animals and plants and many, many other interests.
He has been working this garden for four years now.
The above photo is his "front yard" and is about 3m x 3m and is on the western side of the unit.
You can see sunflowers, potatoes, eggplants and many herbs. You can see his compost bins over towards the back close to the stairs.

Composting plays an important role in this small garden. It has been used to improve the otherwise poor soil structure and encourage worms. It is a place for all the scraps to which he keeps the microbial action balanced with additions of straw and sometimes water.
The black compost bins deter rodents as they are fully contained. Healthy compost should not have unpleasant odours but the lids prevent smells in times of imbalance and deter swarming insects.
Important points to remember when you are living in high density housing.
Here his supply of straw is stacked under the front steps staying nice and dry ready for use; as mulch, for composting and for his chickens.
The compost bins are also a great place to recycle all the waste material that comes from gardening too.
In addition to the compost and straw, Izaac has added lots of stable manure.
He uses no chemicals, commercial fertilisers or herbicides. The only thing he does use is pet friendly snail pellets. He hand picks off grubs and insect eggs feeding them to his chooks (yes chooks, we'll get to that later)
From this small plot this year he has harvested about 10kg in potatoes alone.
He grows a lot from seed using half toilet rolls for his "tube stock" but he tells me that he prefers to buy seedlings for things like his brassicas as he only needs a couple of plants of each.

Near the front steps is; his Christmas tree, some rhubarb waiting to be transplanted to the right spot and a native pepper tree.

On the other side of the front path he has created another little bed of about 2m x 1m and you can see here the last stages of his Cavolo Nero (Tuscan Kale). He just keeps successively picking. To be honest I think he grows it mostly as a fresh treat for his chickens. This bed has also had a zucchini, corn, rocket and various lettuce and Asian greens.

So in just a few square metres already we can see a wealth of vegetable variety and a healthy ecosystem.
He is growing food for humans and chickens and composting and recycling.
But there is more to see out the back.....
in an even more challenging space and I hope you will come back tomorrow for more of Izaac's garden.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Someones Got To Do It

Over towards the east, where the roads lead towards the coast lies a small range of very large mountains.
They are snow capped through winter.
We travelled some dirt roads and crossed a fishing spot or two,
.....till we reached ....
power pole tower #110....
These towers deliver the electricity supply through Scottsdale, Derby and on....
What you have probably never thought about is the maintenance.
Periodically they have to have the taller brush removed from beneath these lines like wattle and native pepper and other eucalyptus.
See that gully (a bit hard I know), somehow the men have to traverse this area and spray herbicide to take out the growth in a strip underneath the lines.
Craig looked forward and backward, up and down, and he said;
"This point is 2400 metres"
He had no maps and so I retorted a bit disbelievingly "How do you know?"
He said simply "I've flown over it"
"Oh......"I guess an altimeter would give you that kind of info.
So down one hill and up the other side and down one.....
The scenery was breathtaking as we checked out the job but I don't think I would feel the same way about doing it....actually it would be breathtaking...literally.
So there you go....
another job you probably have never thought about.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Country Football - Community Staple

Yesterday we went to Bracknell to watch Craig's son in his first game of football.
It occurred to me it was so much more than a bunch of men being all footy and everything....
The teams are in fact made up of so much more than 22 men.
There are of course the coaches and assistants, but there are also the water runners, umpires, scorers, ticket seller at the gate, ground keepers and canteen ladies.

People of all ages from children to grandmothers come together to make the team.
A team needs; a ground to play on, guernseys, change rooms, club rooms, canteen, scoreboard and
It takes a lot of money and fundraising is hard work. Lots of meat raffles and quiz nights. Scores of volunteers to keep it all happening.
Into the breach also steps the local businesses who "sponsor" the teams.
On footy day, they gather, wearing their team colours in a unification of support and solidarity. It's community at it's best. Mothers pushing prams, grandmothers selling raffle tickets, sisters helping in the canteen, junior players running water bottles.
It's not just a bit of sport for the boys, it's the backbone of life here, and it's just one of the things that keeps community strong and coming together, yarning, laughing, yelling, playing and sharing.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Five Things You Cannot Recover

I have been pondering some words of wisdom that a friend shared with me today.

There are 5 things you cannot recover in life:

The Stone...after it is thrown,
The Word...after it is said,
The Occasion...after it is missed,
The Time...after it is gone,
The Person...after they die.

I don't know where she got it from but it touched my thoughts today.
(I googled to try to find a credit but couldn't decipher the original author)
As I get older I think I am getting a handle on the last three,
but dear Lord, grant me the patience to learn the first two.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just a Suburban Backyard


This is a photo of our ordinary suburban backyard in 2008. It's winter.
Immediately to the right out of shot is the clothes line.
Upper right is the cubby house.
Upper left a small structure attached to the garage is the old wood shed, now a hen house.
The hen enclosure also contained the apple tree (3 grafts) and has a run behind the garage of 5mx2m.
The hens are situated at a point far from any dwellings (including neighbours) and have plenty of sunshine and protection from wind.
Their house is a small tin shed with cement floor. It has been fully lined with old timber boards.
Over winter I stack straw bales around the exposed walls for added insulation.

Ostensibly this photo was taken to show my brand new arch that Craig had made me for Christmas.
It is welded from scrap stair and fence railings.

initial bedding going in

As you may know from previous posts, we are chemical free (to the point of me running around with a butterfly net after cabbage moths!)
We believe in a harmonious eco-system. All things have a right to eat so long as the balance is maintained.
Insects eat some plants but in turn are eaten by other insects, frogs or my chooks....
In the photo above you can see the black compost bin in the upper right. The planting to the left of the path provides natural protection for the hens and they love to come out and free range under the plants. It feels safe and teems with interesting bugs.
same beds now

So with compost, horse manure bits and bobs of scrap. We have a thriving garden that not only feeds us every day but also has excess going to the growers' market every fortnight.
Many people at the market would ask me how much land I had and couldn't believe it was just a backyard.
Anyone can feed themselves and it may take on average an hour a week. Some weeks may take more, some weeks none at all.
In fact a post in the near future will show a young man living in a unit complex growing his own food in what I would have called impossible positions.
We tend to roughly grow things together in rows. For corn to self pollinate it's a must. But we don't get anal about partitions and separations. If crops are grown on a large scale all of one kind then it is like a laid out banquet for the predatory pests. All they have to do is move directly from one plant to the next! So we mix it up a little, make them work hard for their forage! Encourage a balance in who might be preying on whom.
We have tried different borders. Some timber and raised. Some stacked bricks but Craig has found his  preferred easy maintenance style is the spaded mounded style with lawn mower width walkways. This way he doesn't need the wipper-snipper.
So what if a pumpkin vine winds its way through the front roses.
What about coloured chard lining the driveway.
Mostly there are no rules really but as much sunlight as possible is a pretty biggie. We also rotate; in that we grow things in different places each time we plant. Again it's about natural balance. In the past a lot of "advice" for gardeners was based on commercial growing principles....IGNORE that! Most commercial growing means things are out of balance and cannot be grown without the additions of pesticide, herbicides and added manufactured nutrients. You are backyard growers and lets keep it that way.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Some Special Followers

Lucy and Bella (aka The Girls)

I'd like to take this moment to thank some of my special followers.....

Emma and Tegan (aka The Girls)

Too numerous to mention, you know who you are!(aka The Girls)

Seriously though, we all blog for various reasons.
Some will throw their stats at you every couple of posts and thank all their followers like its the Acadamy Awards.
For me, blogging is about shared knowledge in a world fast losing some important but ordinary skills. It's about finding community again and along with that some humanity. The nightly news and current affairs shows have been increasingly a) dumbing us down and b) desensitising us with more and more sensationalist journalism. When a disaster happens, we don't get informative facts, we have reporters pushing distraught people till they get a "cry on camera".

So simply thank you for your friendship, and thank you especially to those who take the time to comment and create that conversation that leads to so much more.
Thank you to the generous people on other blogs willing to share their knowledge and patterns for free.
Thank you for your frankness and your different points of view.
( I feel I should be carrying some sort of gold statue of this stage now)
Thanks to Sweet Birdy Love for the blog shout. I have done a couple of rounds with the awards and you can read this post also,
but the intention of this award was to highlight three blogs with less than 300 folllowers.
I would love to recommend to you;

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