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Friday, November 29, 2013

Gardeners Soap

I first made these a couple of years ago and they remain popular gifts. They are basic crocheted string bags that hold a bar of soap and hang from the garden tap. When coming in from the garden just hold the swinging bag under the water and massage it around your grubby hands to remove the worst of the dirt.

I started making my soap batches back in September so they would have about 6 weeks of curing time to harden. As you know I make a tallow/oil soap. Some batches are scented with essential oils which are very popular but I also make large quantities of plain soap for our home use and I have quite a few people with sensitive skin whom I supply. 

The off cuts and odd shapes are perfect for bagging into these gardeners soap bags. They can be crocheted from common string and I favour an all purpose natural string/twine from the hardware store. I use a 5mm hook and start with about 7chain slip stitched into a round. I then make as many trebles (US dc)  in the middle that will fit and again slip stitch the last to the first. Next round chain 3 and continue making tr (US dc) into the tops of the previous stitches but increasing slightly by making 2 tr into the tops of some stitches so that I have increased by about 8tr. Slip stitch the round again and continue in this basic manner. You may or may not need to increase any more stitches as you go. Basically you are just making a very rough tube shape. When you have it to the length you want bind it off and make a very long chained tie that you simply weave in and out of the last row of trebles to create a gathering pull tie.

You can very easily attach a tag and there you go. If you are not a soap maker of course you can just pop in an ordinary bar of commercially made soap but I would recommend the cheap as chips tallowate soap usually marketted as laundry soap bars. They are harder and last longer.
Another gift done
Other gifts for gardeners include:
Pea straw or Bags of cut Lucerne
Seed packets are always appreciated by the seed savers and a great project to do with the kids
just go to Cafe Garden here for some free templates to print and make with tons of different designs.

Monday, November 25, 2013

More Gifts From the Kitchen

So how are your gift preparations going?
My vanilla extract is still macerating away in a dark place but there is plenty still happening in the kitchen.
Elders are in bloom here now and the last of my late winter lemons have gone into the Elderflower cordial. Truly it is the nectar of fairies.

On Sunday I foraged for spray free rose petals of divine fragrance.
It's that time of year again for making rose petal jam.
I have previously posted here.

I'll not lie to you. It took me a couple of hours to collect the petals and then FOUR hours of sorting, cleaning (read: de-bugging) and snipping before allowing the mass to macerate in sugar overnight.
I then had the crazy idea that I could whip this jam up before work this morning....
54 jars later....
not really but almost....
8litres of jam people!!!
What was I thinking. Before work. Really?
Just finding lids to match that many jars took forever let alone the sterilising.
But it's done.
Food of the fairies

Can't you just imagine fairies sipping elder flower nectar from acorn cups and licking rose petal jam from velvety petal bowls.

I've already made my preserved peel last month. This year I also used orange peel and I have bought some special couverture chocolate from the famous Tasmanian House of Anvers and I'm going to half dip those. The bitter orange peel and rich chocolate will be a divine Christmas treat.

So get to gathering and foraging and cooking to make some unique and magical gifts from the kitchen. You still have four weeks to go.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Gifts for Knitters

Gifting yarn to a knitter is always loved and appreciated but chances are their stash is already overwhelming. There are plenty of other ideas for knitters that I bet you haven't thought of....
Like these adorable hand made needle books. Knitters need sewing and darning needles too and it's wonderful to have their own dedicated safe space in the work box.

(back view)

These beauties were custom made for me by Sweet Birdy Love. To see more of this charming work check out Claire's blog here and her facebook page here. 

Unique buttons are another great gift for knitters. They dress up scarves and cowls as well as being used for cardys and capelets.

These gift tags are another idea to give a knitter. These came from Jellywares now trading solely on line. Jodie used to have a shop in outback NSW but with three little ones now commitments mean it is easier to work from home. Every time I order she always pops a little gift in. She also has a facebook page here.

Other ideas also include project tote bags for knitting on the go. Storage for needles. Some options are decorative wine bottle holders, you know, the ones made from carved wood for single or double bottles. Multi-layer/drawer toolboxes are another. These are handy for knitters who have straight needles, double pointed needles and circular needles.

But the piece de resistance for a sock knitter is.....

A wooden sock darning mushroom.
This magnificent present was made for me by my dear friend Cliff from Tasmanian Blackwood and makes darning hand knitted socks a dream.
If you are a wood worker or know one, see if you can cajole one of these old fashioned beauties.
So there are a few ideas for knitters.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tub Teas, Herbal Teas and Cupboard Sachets - Free Talk

I'm harvesting calendula for many projects. When it's dried it looks like sunshine in a jar.
I've made a batch of soap with some of the petals and will put some aside for salve but I am also requiring it for a talk I am doing at ut si market this Saturday (weather permitting) from 10-10.30.

Jasmine is flourishing too and I am plucking rose petals.
These will be dried also and be added to a mix for herbal tub teas.
I'm also drying raspberry leaf and chamomile and peppermint for home made herbal teas.
I'll also be talking about these on Saturday.

I'm harvesting artemisia absinthium more commonly known as wormwood which has great insect repelling properties. I'll be demonstrating how to make insect repelling sachets for your cupboards to protect linens and clothing using dried wormwood, huon pine shavings, lavender and cloves.

So if you live locally in Tasmania, pop down to the growers market at ut si cafe, Main Rd Perth (Tas). The market goes from 8-12 and I'll be doing a talk 10-10.30 on harvesting flowers and herbs and what to do with them. There will be some great ideas for  home made Christmas gifts too.
And it's free

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Beef Jerky, Book Reviews and a Seedling Scramble

Last Thursday we had another exciting, informative and abundant meet up of the "Living Better With Less" group. Here is what you missed....
One of our group is from Zimbabwe and comes from a family who loved to cook. Her father taught her how to make biltong, also known in other areas as beef jerky and is a way of preserving meat using dehydration and salt. Traditionally it is dried in a biltong box but you can also do this in an electric dehydrator.
Not only did we get a taste test and a recipe sheet but everyone also went home with a generous scoop of the spice mix and a take home piece of biltong. Thanks Cindy for your generous sharing and family secret recipe.

Spice Mix
 150g Coriander seeds
100g ground coriander
50g milled black pepper
1 tabs black pepper powder
1/4 teas ground cloves
25g ground nutmeg
2 oxo/bullion stock cubes

This amount of spice mix is enough to do about 10kg meat which when dry will yield about 5kg of biltong.

10kg of silverside/rump (or any cheap cut of meat trimmed)
1 cup salt
1-1 1/2 cups of malt vinegar

Trim all excess fat off the meat
Slice the meat thickly across the grain (so the slivers have short fibres)
Slice these into long strips
Place the strips into a non-metallic dish or bowl in layers sprinkling the spice mix, salt and vinegar between each layer.
Mix together until well combined and all the meat is covered in the mixture
Leave for at least 12-24 hours in the fridge turning every so often
Place in the dehydrator or drying box. It will take 12-48hrs in the dehydrator and 3-4 days in a biltong cupboard.

Traditionally biltong is made from the African game meats like springbok, wildebeest, antelope etc by the Boers during the Boer War. Here in Tasmania venison and wallaby are readily available and this method would be especially good for these meats too.

Cindy also brought in the above book for us to peruse too. It is called "Odd Bits" by Jennifer McLagan and has information and recipes for using other parts of the animals besides the traditional muscle cuts. It is a beautiful book and quite comprehensive, if I had a criticism it would only be that I would have loved more photos but it is a sizeable book as is. Beautifully produced and recommended.

We also extended our talks on bread and sour doughs with some quick cheater/simple starters. Thsi book is called "The Universal Loaf" by Tamara Milstein 

This book "World Breads" by Paul Gayler totally stole my heart though with it's simple format that methodically covered all the different types of bread from many cultures.

Here is a snap of the contents page which belies the breadth and depth of range the book covers and the photography is superb and beguiling. 

Recently this order arrived at my house and this book had everyone just a little excited. It is a simple sharing of ideas and I say this with absolute respect, a backyarder of a book with naive drawings and short anecdotes.

For instance, how to make simple seed packets....

Strawberry growing for common gardens (not an imitation of commercial mono-cropping farms)

Keeping alive the art of home made fertilisers and soil conditions rather than chemical band-aids.

The text is conversational and full of common sense and old fashioned labour saving devices. The author, Herrick Kimball, has a blog called "The Deliberate Agrarian" and you can get to know him better here
He has coined the phrase "Whizbang" for his many inventions and this segues nicely to the next book that got everyone excited....also by Herrick....

And if this book doesn't make your toes tingle then you have obviously never plucked a quantity of chickens before. The last bird processing Craig and I did was seven between us and we were well and truly over it simply because the plucking is such a time taker. Brad who also attends our group admitted that he more often than not just skins his fowls simply because of the time it takes. Here is a video of the machine in action and you have got to see this...

So after pouring over books and learning about meat drying we talked about artichoke recipes and seasonal plantings. We were lucky to have David with us again from Inspiration Seeds 

He had a packet of free seeds for everyone and Asian Greens were certainly flavour of the month.
Next month we will have as our guest Lee from Killiecrankie Farm Nursery and Christmas Tree Farm and ahead of her visit she sent along a taster of the lesser known seedlings that you won't find in the chain store nurseries. We had punnets of  senposai, kai lan, khol rabi and a type of perpetual spinach.
Martin also had seedlings to give away that he had started. He had the lovely "Santa" tomatoes that David had brought along for us to taste test at the end of last summer. They are a perfectly round tomato the size of about a large walnut and they have that old fashioned tomatoey-tomato flavour.
Brad and Elisha brought in excess lemons which also added to the take home piles.

Katherine had done some bread recipes out for us also so with our spice mix, biltong, seedlings, seeds and lemons......
It was a very exciting, informative and abundant meeting indeed.
It's free and we do it on the last Thursday of every month except December from 7-9 upstairs at the Launceston Workers Club and everyone is welcome.
On the 28th of November as I said we will welcome the knowledge of Lee from Killiecrankie Farm as she takes us on the next step of herbs beyond the parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme....
January is not booked yet but in February we have a naturopath Inge Kaiser coming along to talk about alternative therapies and home remedies.
Are you still with me? It was a long post and I wish you could have been with us but I hope this was the next best thing for you.
Till next time, take care

Friday, November 1, 2013

Civic Duty- Is It Dead?

Is Civic Duty dead or perhaps it absconded with Common Manners
The following is my opinion and certainly not meant as a blanket judgement on all circumstance but I use the following as an example.
First let's define what I mean by civic duty and I would like to use this definition as proffered;

"civic duty is to be a good citizen, obey the laws, serve in the military in time of need, be active in community activities that are supportive of something positive. These are the types of things that enable masses of people to live in proximity and prosper."

A patient at the clinic once commented to me that when he was in paying his rates that he also asked them for a sum of money to cover the petrol he used to mow his nature strip. He didn't expect to be given the compensation but he was serious about his resentment. But surely that is just a part of civic duty I said whereupon he shifted uncomfortably. I remember asking my Dad when I was very little why he mowed the footpath and he said it was just being a good and helpful citizen and made pedestrian ways more pleasant and enhanced the surrounding environment (or words to that effect as I was very little but I understood the meaning). It was always once generally accepted that this was appropriate practice but there is a strident note creeping into people's voices on all matters and it centres around "my rights", "I pay" and "not my responsibility"
It is yet another way we have decided to turn our backs on our neighbours and bunker down in our own little environments. 
I believe council resources are stretched and I think we all have to take part and pitch in. Shop keepers once used to sweep their paths but I never see this any longer. Some people have impossible verges but most people still have some sort of access along their road or to their letterbox.

There is no-one living next door and the grass is mostly long all year round except for a strip that Craig mows so the postman can access next door's letterbox. It's just a common care and courtesy he extends that says I care about your comfort and safety as you go about your job performing a service for us.
When we visit a park or walk along somewhere and we find rubbish, we clean it up. We didn't make it but does arguing the point make things right? If we just pass over rubbish in public areas we are sending a message that leaving rubbish lying around is OK. Gradually things become the norm and habits form. I would much rather the habits be for good.
Our local environment is just one small insidious effect of the erosion of our decline in civic duty.
More alarming is the decline in volunteer groups like the Parents and Friends at schools, The Lions Club and Rotary. Even our Neighbourhood Watch that Craig and I letterbox drop for looks like folding because there is no interest. Our communities are in real crisis and we need to step up if we are to continue to live together and prosper. 
Please tell me some feel good stories in your community. Convince me that civic duty is not dead in your area.

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