Friday, April 26, 2013

sewing again

It's funny to think now that this blog used to be just about sewing and craft. These days, not a lot of sewing gets done around these parts, on account of all the life-craft going on. Gone are the days of staying up all night with a bottle of red and some audio books, churning out skirts (sometimes 10 in one evening!) for Georgie Love or my market stall.
Not to say the life-craft isn't the most immensely rewarding thing we've ever done in our whole entire lives - it is. But it's also the most exhausting and the most time-consuming.
So I feel kind of out of practice writing a sewing blog. Sure, there have been the odd skirt, dress and bolero orders, but there's just so much else going on around here (this blog has more tags for strawbale-buiding-related posts than it does for skirt-related ones!) my beloved sewing machine has been a little neglected.
Testament to how neglected my sewing machine is (and how sewing-time-deprived I am) is the fact that my turnaround times for sewing jobs has crept up from 2 weeks (usually less) to more like 2 months! 
Take these dresses: Beloved and very dedicated P&E customer, Yolanda, requested these little babies back when I made this dress for Olive. Yikes! I'm a little horrified and ashamed of how long it's taken me to get them in the post. My only consolation prize is the fact that it's probably been to cold in Switzerland (where Yolanda lives) to wear them anyway.

It was, as always, fun sewing for Yolanda. It was especially fun sewing a grown-up sized version of the 'Olive', which turned out pretty sweet! One of the major perks of being a VIP&E like Yolanda is that I'm not at all hesitant to use my very most favourite fabrics for orders from these folks. In this instance, the crazy-good, immaculate flowers-and-fruits still life came out to bat for Yolanda. Pearl was a little bit miffed I wasn't using it for her (we've both had our eyes on it for years), but she recovered when she saw how cute the dress turned out.
The other dress was born of Yolanda's request for a sleeveless dress. The pattern is an oldie but a goodie, which hasn't been made since back in the days of P&E's regular stall at the Addison Rd markets in Marrickville, when it was a hot favourite of the ladies during summer.

Alas, it doesn't photograph well, especially when Florence is missing in action and I have to lay the dresses down flat on the grass. Hopefully you can use your imagination. - it's a wrap, with a tie-up kind of halter neck, and is made from a bloody beautiful West Australia Wildflowers tablecloth.

Yolanda, I hope you like your dresses. I hope they're worth the wait. I hope your Swiss summer is balmy enough to wear them as often as you feel inclined.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

This summer bounty knows no end...

This morning's pickings
Each morning I wander through the garden, picking this and that, checking what's ripe or nearly ripe. Most days I collect a basket of edibles, this morning was no different. We have eaten well this summer. And for this we are very glad. 

Oh so burgeoning...
It was just last September we hurriedly planted our zone one garden, in the hope that we'd get something edibly productive happening quick smart. 

Three months later...

Initially we were wowed by the fertility of our soil and the wonders of a north facing garden. We had never known such garden productivity. But the sun trap that is our little piece of hill, which was such a blessing in September, became quite the source of anxiety in the heat that was this summer past. Those north-westerly winds and 45 degree days tested the garden and fried many beans atop the trellis. 

Assuming that summers of this intensity and greater will be a thing of the future, it was interesting to observe what was most resilient in the face of searing, out of control, killer heat. It was the stuff we intentionally planted in a guild.  A particularly successful little combo was the tomato + cucumber + lettuce + parsley + chives + chilies + capsicum + salvia + rocket version whereby the tomatoes and cucumbers clambered across a reclaimed bed head operating as trellis and provided some shade and wind protection to the abundant under-storey. All these months later, it's still going strong. That basket of deliciousness up top is from that little bit of garden experiment. 

We've been inundated with all that is wonderful about summertime garden eating - tomatoes, chillies, cucumbers, zucchini have been resplendent and we have eaten them every which way while also preserving what we could. Rohan from Whole Larder Love wrote a lovelier piece than I could, about harnessing the energy of summer to tide us over the lean months 0f winter. 

It's not the easiest of tasks to preserve large quantities of food, without a kitchen. You may recall we live in a teeny tiny house that has no kitchen to speak of. Once I moved through the overwhelming "Oh my god, what am I doing?" feeling, the whole outside kitchen preserving thing was pretty damn fun and actually quite delightful - sun in the trees, breeze on the face, view down the valley ( you get the drift) all the while cooking up tasty and gorgeous concoctions that will tide us over the cooler months. 

We made tomato chilli jam from our garden pickings. It's rich and intense heat is pretty seductive. 

You see tomatoes and chillies, we see chilli jam

oh the beauty of the chilli jam
Zucchini pickle was been a constant the past couple of years, however joy-of-joys this year we made it with our own zucchinis. It's tasty as with cheese and butter on a seeded sourdough sandwich. 
so much zucchini, so much old school pickle
Never before have we had excess cucumbers to preserve - 
Cucumber pickling team
Oh yeah!

Yes we ate well this summer, we've devised meals around what has been plentiful in the garden out the front of our little house.  Millions of people around the world live and eat this way, so let's not pretend we're special, for it is just common sense. There's the footprint reduction and the money saving (we have implemented austerity measures while we save to build our actual real life grown-up straw bale) and there's also the creativity that comes from working with what we have. I like this. One of our favourite meals this Summer has been, once again, Moro inspired - Zucchini, mint and fetta fritters, chopped salad and just-cooked flatbreads. It's joy on a plate. So much joy on a plate. 

Soon to come - recipe sharing galore.... 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hurrah for non-smokey firebaths!

Newly-enclosed fire bath a-fillin with the hose
As you may know, the Joys Of The Firebath have been some of our most pleasant surprises, since moving to our land. Firing up the bath and wallowing - perhaps with a beer, perhaps with some cheese and crackers, perhaps, even, with some dinner - for several hours of a weekend is an important, cleansing (literally and figuratively) and much-cherished ritual for our family.
Sure, we're still getting used to the whole shebang, and there are still things to learn (for example, the last 2 fires I've made have been a little too enthusiastic, so we've spent some time waiting for the water to cool down before we could get in, and even then, burning our bottoms a bit) but it's safe to say that we dig the fire bath.
The view: just one of the reasons we love our fire bath
One problem we have encountered as that on windy days smoke, and on particularly unfortunate occasions, ash, will blow up and whirl around when you're in the bath. Not super pleasant. My solution to this was to construct an enclosure around the bath and erect a chimney. Like pretty much everything we've done here, this is something I've never done before. Surprisingly, it worked! There are still a couple of little cracks that didn't quite seal properly, which I need to fix up, but it is a VAST improvement, and we're all pretty pleased with the results.
First, I erected the chimney (an off-cut of downpipe from the tip) and a 'frame' in the space that needed closing in using chicken wire and fencing wire and a few rocks.
Then, I cobbed the whole thing, using a straw (yep, we still have some left over) and concrete mix. I did a couple of layers of the concrete and straw, then a layer of just plain concrete.
This all took a little while, so by the time this bit was done, it was time to have another bath. it was nerve-wracking! Would the smoke go up the chimney? Would it all just billow out the fire-making hole? Maybe now the fire wouldn't get enough oxygen and wouldn't burn at all!??
Luckily, happily, here's what happened:
yessiree, that's smoke coming out the chimney (Oscar's small chimney can be seen at far right)
We enjoyed our bath that day, and marveled at the new smoke-and-ash-free experience.
Next up, decorations!
Being as live in a house where our washing up arrangements consist of a tub on our outside table and a 'draining board' that involved the bench seats of said table, and being as we live with 2 small and very active little kiddies, we have a lot of broken dishes. A lot. I save them all, because I have dreams of mosaicing things, and that's just what I did to the concrete-y fire-bath enclosure: On a beautiful, sunny day, Osky and I spent a glorious few hours glueing on all our broken bits of crockery, collected over the last few months, interspersed with a few other things like sea glass and the bottom of an old (1962) beer bottle that I found in the bush.

Oski: I couldn't have done it without him

Then we grouted the whole shebang, and our luxurious, enclosed fire bath is now complete! Well, we are planning on painting the chimney (Frida blue of course!) and I do need to block up the couple of leaky bits where whisps of smoke escape... But still!
Bonus feature is that the new enclosed bit is perfect for holding soap, shampoo bottles, beer, snacks, and, perhaps most importantly, toy horses all within easy reach of the recline position. I say: that's what you need in your life, innit?


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Nasturtium seed 'capers' finally make it to our table

I think I first heard about pickling nasturtium seeds for use instead of capers about 10 years ago. For some reason though, I've never made pickled nasturtium seed capers myself, despite the fact that I've pretty much always had nasturtiums growing in my gardens (for beauty, salad goodness and ground-covering), and have pulled great groves of them out of the bush on several occasions.
Nasturtiums: a rampant bushland pest, but a beautiful, versatile, abundant companion in the veggie garden, too

That is, I'd never made them until I read Wild Fermentation. That really spurred me on. And crikeys am I glad it did. Capers are one of those things that usually come from a long way away. The Mediterranean, to be precise. They're the immature flower buds of the caper bush, and when you buy them in Australia, they're usually pickled. They're pretty tasty, versatile little beggars, so it was high time I started to experiment with a more local version. So local, in fact, that I got a whole big jar of them from not more than 2 metres from our front door.
And they're super-easy to make:
First up, pick yourself a big bowl of nasturtium seed buds. I picked mine at night after the kids had gone to bed, by torchlight. It was rather nice to be patrolling the garden in the dark at that time of night, I can tell you. When I brought them inside, they looked like this.
Nasturtium seed pods just picked, ready for pickling

I then gave them a quick wash and, following the instructions in Wild Fermentation, put them in a jar with some whole garlic cloves, then covered them in some salt brine. Just salt and water. I then put a smaller jar full of water in the top of the big 'caper' jar, so that the 'capers' were pushed down and immersed. If they're exposed to the air, they'll grow mould - probably not what you're after.
I then just sat them on top of the cupboard for a week to ferment a bit in the brine. We tasted them after a week, and decided they weren't quite ready, so set them for another week, til they were just right.
We then just put the lid on the jar and put them all into the fridge, till we needed a bit of caper-y goodness. That moment came a few nights ago when we had  some people over and Pearly decided to pioneer a recipe found in her current fave cook book - Moro
Roasted red pepper salad with nasturtium pod 'capers' and home-made preserved lemons, local olives, hummus and home-made, still warm flatbread.. mmmmmm....

It was bloody delicious, and a perfect excuse to use up some of our favourite preserves. If you've never had preserved lemons, give them a burl. They're super-easy to make (if you know someone with a lemon tree I'm sure they'd be happy to give you a bag-full when they're on) and make all kinds of things taste, quite frankly, out of this world.

nasturtium seed pods, flowers and leaves also come in handy when constructing fairy gardens in the vietnamese mint (photo and fairy garden by Olive)

Thanks nasturtiums: Not only do you brighten our lives with your almost-year-round sunny sunny faces, and help us to cover our practical-and-recycled-but-really-pretty-ugly tyre retaining wall, but you do a pretty awesome job of standing in for a delicious morsel that would normally be shipped to us from the other side of the world. Yeah!
Secret to a happy life: always have at least one jar of nasturtiums on the dinner table