Monday, December 30, 2013

This could actually be the most perfect early Summer meal...

We have been eating very very well lately. Lots of very local meats and cheeses, vegetables and Summer fruits. The best way to eat. Very real, very delicious. Meanwhile we've embarked on our own little lifestyle project which is about committing to primarily eating our own produce or that which we have bought (or traded) directly with the producer. We're a ways off yet. And really, we're not sure we'll ever get there entirely. But that's ok, it's the striving we like, and the thrill when we hit the locavore jackpot. We've discussed this here and here and here and here and here and more... Ah yes it is a bit of a recurring theme. Our little life goal is made all the more easy by the fact we grow our own pastured chickens now so we have a ready supply of delicious meat we can eat or trade with other pasture-based meat producers. 

Actually on the subject of pasture raised animals, since we've been lucky enough to raise our own or eat those raised by others we know, I have been enjoying a new kind of deliciousness. It's the sweety sweetness of the pasture raised. It seems the better the life the animal has had and the less stress on its "one bad day" then the sweeter the meat. By golly, this has transformed my understanding of just how very wonderful, some food can taste. 

We're not so caught up with the notion that we need to raise and grow and make and produce everything ourselves. To a large extent, yes, we are energised and inspired by developing new skills and learning about new ways of feeding ourselves. However we also relish being a part of our local economy and helping to strengthen the interconnectedness within our community so we enjoy supporting and sharing with other growers, producers, makers... 

As I was saying, we have this guiding ethic but we don't always succeed and to be perfectly honest sometimes we don't want to succeed. For example, the other night we ate duck. It was prepared from a recipe provided by our friend Niki. She said it was the taste of her childhood. Really, it was freaking delicious in its sweetish soy, tamarind, coriander goodness. We stir fried beans from the garden and had it with big mounds of soft steaming white Jasmine rice. We could have avoided the soft whitey rice from Thailand. Yes we could have stuck firm to our ethic-in-progress but the meal wouldn't have been the same. That rice was the best damn treat ever and went so frikkin well with our local duck and our local garlicky beans. What's my point? Sometimes we "fail" because we have little choice and sometimes we "fail" when we have all the choice in the world and we just want that delicious thing from overseas. We are human after all. I just read a nice little piece by Milkwood on a similar theme - The Ethics of Almost. 

Oh but I digress, the intention of this post was to discuss the amazingly triumphant meal we made a little while back. It was a triumph in flavour, joy and eating local ethics. 

We got a little bit Maggie Beer with one of our pasture raised chickens. Have I told you how delicious our chickens are? Yeah they are seriously good. The seriously good chicken was cut up and mixed with olive oil, salt, rosemary, our own pancetta and preserved lemons and baked. Everything but the S & P was local as... Then we dug up a couple of handfuls of potatoes and par-boiled them, rolled them in olive oil and added them to the crispifying chicken pancetta goodness. 

For the salad we cooked up some wonderful beetroots from our friend Thea, mixed them with greens from the garden, toasted sunflower seeds, lemon juice , balsamic reduction and a little bit of labna that I'd made that afternoon. Gosh, how I love yoghurt cheese. 

All in all, a truly splendid meal. In fact I do believe it was early Summer far south coast perfection. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Hilary's growing frock and spiced mandarins

Yesterday was a beautiful day. It was sunny, but not too hot, and I spent the morning sewing and preserving. What fun!
Preserved mandarin segments in spiced syrup
First up was a dress for Hilary, who needed something to see her through all the gigs she has booked in the lead-up to the birth of her second child.
She was after a simple A-line dress with capped sleeves that she could wear on stage, sometimes over jeans, and then layer up as the weather gets cooler. Oh, and of course the dress needed pockets, as all the best frocks have.
vintage floral pockets
The result is a bias-cut A-line dress, cut extra wide in the front, but with a tie at the back so that it can grow as required, and then be pulled back in once the bubba is born. The brown spotty is the last of a queen size quilt cover I picked up at some stage, that has seen me through quite a lot of sewing projects. I love the irregular polka-dot! The dress has doily cap sleeves (thanks Zara!) and pockets from a vintage floral print. 
doily sleeves and stripey bias binding
Turns out that Hilary and I are exactly the same size, so I got to try the dress on to make sure it was alright. I checked I could fit a pretty big bump in the front (yes!) and then contemplated keeping it for myself, as I very often do when I make something I particularly like for a similar-sized lady. 
Tie at the back to make it just the right size, all through the growing
Once the dress was all done, I set to work preserving some mandarins that came our way recently. Last week sometime we came home to a big bag full of mandarins sitting on our outside table. We had no idea where they came from - there was no note or signal of any kind - but we were grateful nonetheless and immediately ate several each. A few days ago Oscar and I were across the road picking native raspberries (yes! It's that time of year!! I love that we can tell the date by what we're picking and eating off the side of the road) and our neighbour's dad came up and asked us if we'd like more mandarins. Mystery solved and yes please! But what to do with them all? While they are tiny and delicious, there's only so many a family of four can put away. I thought some preserved segments in some kind of sugar syrup would make a pretty great winter dessert teamed with Tilba Jersey cream, so here's what I did:

First up, I sterilised my jars in boiling water. 

While they were boiling away, I peeled the mandarins, getting rid of all the white stuff. That stuff is the pits, though I did force myself to eat it when I was pregnant because apparently it has something good in it... 

Then, I made my sugar syrup, which was about 2 parts sugar to 5 parts water. I added to this a couple of cloves, a star anise and half a cinnamon stick, which I fished out of our chai mix for extra tastiness. 

When the sugar was dissolved I packed the mandarin segments into the jars, poured over the syrup, then closed up the jars and boiled them in a water bath for 20 minutes. 

I haven't tasted any yet (gonna wait 'til fresh mandarins are all gone and I'm hankering for some sweet citrus) but they sure do look purdy.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The belle of the ball

You know sometimes you meet a person and you think to yourself: "Wow. If my kids turn out half as awesome as this person I'll be happy"? Well that's how I felt when I met Ella and her brother Rhys. They're incredibly lovely, warm, talented kids (kind of like their parents, really...), who are interested in the world and passionate about the things they love. 


When Ella recently confronted the project of finding a year 12 formal dress, she found that the dresses in the shops were not her style, didn't make her feel good, and just didn't fit her properly.

Happily for me, Pearl mentioned to her mum that I'd be happy to make her something perfectly suited to what she was after. And what a fun and rewarding project it was for us all! I was thrilled to be making a special dress for such an awesome young lady, and she was thrilled to be having her first custom-dress made for her.

After an initial consultation at our place, involving some drawings, some looking at pictures of other fancy dresses I've made, and some looking through the fabric stash, we set upon a dress that was a little bit 50s inspired, and quite similar to a couple of the wedding dresses I've made for people in the past. My mum scored the fabric for me (not a lot of choice here in the Beegs) and then I set to work.

Part payment for the dress came in the form of Ella picking up some of our slashed grass and making a hay-stack for us, which she did while I sewed away and occasionally called her up from the paddock for fitting and trying on.

And we were both very very happy with the result. There's purple piping around the neck, and a series of tiny purple bows down the back, above the big bow from her purple sash. The net petticoat is separate, so she can wear the dress out without it, if she wants, and we made it short to show off her legs!! Part of what was great about making this dress for Ella was really listening to what she wanted, and helping her to have something that she felt (not just looked) really good in.

The photographer who took this amazing photo of Ella at the formal, Angi High, said that it was the standout dress of the event. And while it is a pretty lovely dress, Ella is pretty amazing, so she probably would have looked stunning in anything. So thanks Ella for asking me to make your dress, and thanks Angi for letting me use your gorgeous photo!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

And then I got asked to write an article for my favourite magazine...

Like many people interested in alternative building techniques, I've been a big fan of The Owner Builder Magazine for a long while now. It's inspiring, informative and instructional, which are all pretty great qualities for a magazine, in my book.

So imagine my amazement and excitement when, a few months back, the editor of TOB magazine found our blog (via a port on the Grass Roots mag facebook page) and then contacted us to ask if we'd write an article about our house! Yep, I was really really excited, and started writing pretty much straight away. 
And of course it was super-fun to write about our adventure and to reflect on all the bits and pieces we learned along the way, and to (hopefully) inspire or inform or entertain some of the magazine's readers.

And now, the magazine's out, in the shops. Exciting! So if you fancy a bit of reading-about-building-fun-times, go get one. In addition to our house (hee hee!), it's also got mud-brick, hebel, DIY termite treatment, portable homes and tons of other good stuff.

Special message for the lovely people who helped us build: you should go and look in the newsagents because you might be in the picture of the half-built house that "looks like a hay-stack". And THANK YOU for helping us to build our house. In case you didn't know, we love it to bits.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Skirts for Stella

After I made my friend Niki her pair of preggo skirts, I got an email from a work colleague of hers, who also wanted some skirt action. How exciting! I love making custom skirts!

Stella was after some bright, 'jewel' colours and, perhaps most excitingly of all, she suggested that she'd be up for some New Zealand fauna teatowel action. As luck would have it (or perhaps its just a testament to my enormous collection of teatowels...) I happened to have a very pretty 'Birds of New Zealand' teatowel in pristine condition, and a lovely piece of complimentary emerald green drill. Jewel colours, birds, New Zealand - check, check and check! With a cute striped waist-band and a bow at the back, it came together pretty well!
The second skirt inspired a bit of a new design, as I had only a small piece of the beautiful vintage floral print I used, and wanted to integrate it into the skirt in a bit of a fancy way, rather than just a panel. The answer? A scalloped, layered front. I suppose it's kind of like an overlapped wrap skirt, except it's not a wrap, so Stella won't have to worry about flashing her undies on a windy day. Win win! I'm pretty keen on this now (kind of wondering why I've never done it before...) so will probably be making tons of these in the weeks to come. Look out anyone who orders a P&E in the next little while!
Thanks Stella for ordering some skirts from me, and for inspiring the new P&E scallop-front skirt!I hope you have fun wearing them.