Thursday, December 27, 2012

lion and pig and cat and rabbit

For a blog writer, I guess I don't really read heaps and heaps of blogs myself. There are those - like Whole Larder Love, Milkwood, the Forager's Year, and the Witch's Kitchen - which I read every day. Then there are my friends' blogs - like Feather and Nest and Happy Earth - which I read every now and then to see what's happening in their world. Then there are others which I like to save up for times when I need an extra-special injection of inspiration, or for when I'm feeling a bit down in the dumps and need a boost - a reminder that there are beautiful and wonderful things being created in the world by exceptionally talented people. While She Naps and Fog and Swell fall into this category, and I think the reason that I find them both so extra-special is because they're both crafters who work in three dimensions. Yes, I know - clothes are (hopefully) three-dimensional, so technically I also craft this way - but there is just something totally awe-inspiring about what these 2 ladies do, especially when they work together. 

A totally amazing and beautiful crab, borne of 2 clever ladies craftily inspiring one another

Makes me want to embark upon a collaborative craft project with someone!!!

One day recently while I was having a particularly crappy day at work, I lunched at my desk just so I could have a little pick-me-up fix from my favourite 2 pick-me-up blogs, and I stumbled upon a pattern on While She Naps for a topsy turvy doll. I'd never seen one before, and thought it was super-cute and maybe a good project for the kids for christmas, so I bought the pattern. Abby, the maker of the pattern, was super nice and helpful!

I've never really made any softies before, other than a stuffed rocket-ship, the odd owl-shaped cushion and occasional sock bunny which, let's face it, isn't exactly super-challenging. I suppose I was intimidated by all the small bits, all the turning inside out and stuffing and embroidering of features. And I was scared of the third dimension. But Abby's pattern was extremely well-written and well-photographed, so I felt OK. It felt like something I should be able to do, and I was up for the challenge. I even thought I was capable of altering the pattern so that the dolls were animals, rather than girls, seeing as our little kids are so very in love with all creatures great and small. I did simplify things a bit - obviously, I made them have ears instead of hair (the animals - pig, lion, cat and bunny - were decided on because I thought these were all animals I could characterise just by making different ears and facial features, so I could still use Abby's basic head shape), and I left off the opposable thumbs in preference for 'paws'. I also didn't stuff the arms because I just could not get my head around how to stuff those teeny tiny arms. It was Christmas eve, after all...

Lion and cat cavorting in the artichokes...
Become bunny and pig (yes - the pig has a 3 little pigs print frock on. Couldn't help myself)
It was an interesting challenge for me. Working on something like this forces you to focus on the detail, and following a pattern for something you're unfamiliar with (something I am very unaccustomed to) forces you to take it slow, step by step, and think about what you're doing in a careful way. Anyone who knows me will know that none of these things come easily to me. But sometimes it's nice to do things that don't come easy. And it's rewarding too.

The new loft - a perfect home for softies new and old

And when our bubbas woke up on Christmas morning and climbed down the ladder out of their brand-new sleeping loft, it was extra-lovely to see their little faces as they happily topsy-turvied their lion/pig and bunny/cat. I even feel like I could do it again!
So thanks Abby, for writing a pattern that was challenging for my dimension-phobic self, but ultimately not too traumatic, and thanks for inspiring me with your blog. 
And thanks kiddies for loving your dolls, and asking for them as you're falling asleep. It makes it all worthwhile.

Oski, loving his lion and Olive's rocket ship

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Coming down

I suppose it's only reasonable that we should be brought town from the outrageous euphoria we've been feeling since we moved to our land. Sure, we've been feeling bloody exhausted these last 5 months (can you believe it!?) but it's been a good feeling, because we're building our dreams - how can that not feel good? Take this morning, for example. We rose fairly early thanks to our little friend Oscar, and trotted off down the road to gather some fruits, which looked like this, 

and set to work cooking a delicious breakfast, which looked like this. 

We were quite chuffed, and talked about how (even though we are glad we didn't have to grow/harvest/grind the wheat for the flour in our pikelets) it is quite lovely to pick stuff for one's meals, and how it's sad so many people are divorced from this simple pleasure rah rah rah. We were feeling all excited and happy about the fact that, in a year or so, we'd even have our own honey to put on a breakfast like this. Or so we thought.
A few days ago I'd gone up to check on our loony chickens, and noticed a sickening lack of activity around the beehive. I actually felt ill, because I think I knew, in my heart of hearts, that this was really quite bad. The day before, I'd seen a lot of activity around the hive, and thought, for a second, "I wonder if the bees are preparing to swarm?" but promptly dismissed this thought because it's not swarming season. Pearlie, ever the optimist, told me not to worry - she'd seen a  few bees hovering around the entrance to the hive, and there sure were a lot of bees in the garden. So we left it. But my instinct about the bees wouldn't leave me, and I felt more than a little bit funny every time I looked at the hive.
Today when we did our egg run, I couldn't contain myself. I opened the hive, and the sick-tummy feeling got a whole lot worse. Our bees were gone. All of them. And our combs were looking as sick as my tummy felt, because they were infested with the larvae of the small hive beetle.

Small hive beetle larvae raiding our honey, which had been deserted by the bees 

When I did my natural beekeeping course, we spent quite a bit of time discussing the various kinds of pests that can affect a beehive. I was really affected by this discussion, and I can distinctly remember thinking "oh how awful it would be to get small hive beetle". And now, here we are. Our bucolic euphoria brought crashing down to a pretty depressing reality by some tiny tiny maggots destroying our beautiful white comb and eating our honey.

I was close to tears. Pearlie assured me it was a good learning experience, and I know it's true, but a 'learning experience' is pretty cold comfort when 1000 little guys who'd become a part of our daily lives had just up and left us, forced from their home by some grotty maggots. Somehow I feel like we failed them - our bees. And it's true I was really naive about the potential reality of hive pests. I was so in awe of the bees' self-sufficiency, I foolishly thought they were invincible. And I guess in a way they kind of are - they recognised when they had an infestation of unfriendly larvae, and they high-tailed it out of there, leaving us to deal with our bumbling, human grief.
It was big blow, for sure, but I know we'll get back on the beekeeping ride sooner or later. For now we need to declare our infestation to the DPI (it's a notifiable pest) and clean our hive, and then we need to find some more bees. But first we need to thoughtfully ponder the lessons we've learned from this experience, and take what we can from our feelings of sadness. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Bega 16

It must be Christmas time!!
The last few days have seen a good many great things come our way, like jewel-like raspberries on the side of the road near our house...

and exquisitely beautiful donkey vases (I do collect them, and I will accept them as payment for custom clothes).

We have also been the lucky and extremely grateful recipients of no less than sixteen beautiful chickens, lovingly carted all the way from Jamberoo to Bega by my mum and Jen in the back of their Prius. Quite a sight, no doubt.

They're a handsome bunch...

The chickens, all 16 of them, are a housewarming gift from mum's friend Deb, who is not only a superb chicken-breeder, but also an all-round lovely lady, as exemplified by her giving us chickens and helping out the week we built our little house. In addition to a number of barnevelder/wyandotte ladies and gents, we also received, as a christmas gift for the kids, a lady bantam, her extremely handsome boyfriend, their 4 babies, and another lady bantam who I can only assume is the nanny. 

This chicken has been named (by Olive) 'Last-time Lee' on account of the fact that he was our chicken 'last time' we had chickens. She moved to Deb's when we moved to Bega, and now she's back with us!
It is SO NICE to have chickens again! Don't get me wrong - we freaking love our ducks. But chickens, with their scratchy, clucky ways are charming in their own way. They're also yummy. I daresay that when they (and/or their babies) are old enough, we'll be engaging our new haybox cooker to send them to a state of extreme deliciousness.

The haybox cooker is the latest in streamlined, sophisticated kitchen appliances. Every home should have one (note state-of-the-art boogie-board and strawbale insulation).

Yes, today was our inaugural attempt at cooking a slow-cooked  Greek lamb stew in a haybox cooker, an awesomely old-school, lo-fi way of slow-cooking that uses about 90% less energy than a normal slow cooker. How so? Basically, the cooker uses the same principles as our little strawbale house, ie. straw is a kick-ass insulator. And if you tightly pack it around a pot of boiling stew, the straw will keep the heat in for hours, slow-cooking the contents without using any more power than it takes to bring the thing to the boil. Ace!

The lamb stew being unpacked after around 4.5 hours in the haybox.

I'd first read about haybox cookers in good ol' Grass Roots magazine maybe 10 years ago but, for some reason hadn't actually gotten around to making one and giving it a go. But since we've been living this kinda (comparatively) lo-fi life where, in order to take a hot bath we need to collect and cut firewood and build a fire, we've become really acutely aware of the resources (water, power, fuel) we used to take for granted. For example: Pearl usually makes a christmas pudding, which we all enjoy. When she read the recipe recently though, she got to the bit about boiling it for 6 hours and thought "What the?? Did I really boil it for 6 hours???" only to realise that she did, of course, always boil it for 6 hours. But because she was using an electric stovetop - she just switched it on - the reality (and associated energy-use) involved in the 6-hour boil hadn't really been in the forefront of her mind.
Anyway, the point is, we now know a little bit more about how much things 'cost' in terms of energy, so things like haybox cookers have taken on a whole new level of appeal.
And the stew? Totally amazing, melt-in-the-mouth amazingness.

Trust me when I say that it tasted even better than it looks

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ode to the pinus...

Little baby stone pines

Sometimes we like to play a little game where you have to decide what foods you'd take if you were going to live on a deserted island and you can only take five things.  My list usually looks something like - tomatoes, eggplant, pine nuts. eggs, pears.... How good are pine nuts? I so love their creamy deliciousness. Pine nuts in a basil pesto are a pretty perfect classic flavour combination. However, despite my deep pine nut love we don't eat so many of them these days. When I'm at our local co-op and I'm confronted by the conventional pine nuts from China or the organic almonds from Australia I always err on the side of the latter. I guess I just think that we can do without something that has had to travel so far for us to be able to eat it. Though having said that, we are not total locavores. Increasingly we are, because it's so easy to eat so well with food that has been made or grown so close to us. However we still buy some food from far away. My thinking around this is that it's important for us to support farmers in developing countries. So we buy fair trade sugar, chocolate and coffee, all generally from South America and when we really want to lash out we might get ourselves a little organic Basmati from Pakistan. But really, I don't want to stand up on my food ethics pedestal. Food ethics is complex and complicated terrain and the reality is that it is the terrain of the privileged. We can make choices about what we eat because we are just so damned privileged. Sometimes I worry about what happens when all us privileged types exercise our privilege in particular ways. What happens to the farmers and workers in the Chinese pine nut industry when we all decide not to buy pine nuts from China anymore?  I worry a little about the anti-China stance that so many 'good' lefty (including myself) types take. I can't help but think there's a tinge of racism there. A bit of broad brushstroking whereby China = toxic + workers oppression and we can all pat ourselves on the back if we just avoid this stuff but really we make not one iota of difference to anyone's lives except our own because we think we're so good. So in thinking through my response to the Chinese pine nuts I have mused on my own internal racism, my own snobbery, my fear of chemicals in food and so on.... And my conclusion is that now it's not so much about avoiding some things, it's more about supporting things I want to see flourish. We need local food because we need food that is produced and distributed with the least carbon input. We need resilient local food systems if we are to survive climate change and peak oil.  Someone told me the other day that, in the event of a major catastrophe preventing transport into Sydney, there's only 3 days worth of food available at any one time for the entire Sydney population. Holy shit! If that's not enough to start (a) creating edible gardens, verges, roads... and (b) hoarding... I don't know what is. 

Oh but enough of my incomplete ranty rant. I could go on forever about local food, food security, sustainable farming etc etc... But like everything it is complicated and my head is too tired for anymore ranting. 

For now, in response to my pine nut love we have gone and gotten ourselves three Pinus Pinea or Italian Stone pines. They are native to the Mediterranean region and are a coniferous evergreen that can grow to almost 25 metres. Word is that is it a very dry tolerant and wind tolerant hardy kinda tree. Given we know nought of what our changing climate will be like in years to come, I am liking the sound of the hardy Pinus Pinea. It takes about 10 years for the tree to start producing cones and then it takes 36 months for the cones to mature! Yep so we are in this for the long haul. Annie and I jokingly decided we couldn't let our kids ever sell this land because there will be so such abundance in years to come. Yeah so we'll keep you updates on the Pinus Pinea but don't hold your breath, the next instalment could be more than a decade away. 

The Pinus is a perfect little Christmas tree. Post-Christmas we will plant it in our burgeoning Stone Pine grove. 

In other news from the farm, 

Oscar loves to chop things up. We have quite the zucchini crop and each day he chops up a couple for me while I work out how to use them - salad, pasta, fritter, fry, frittata....

The raspberries are here! Hurrah.  Having our own just feels like the ultimate garden decadence. 

We shovelled A LOT of recycled crushed brick gravel down to our burgeoning fire pit to create a comfy space for gozleme and conversation around the fire.

Thank you, that is all for now. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The story about the German hankies

On my birthday last year, my gorgeous friends Ruth, Cam, Edie and Oscar gave me a rather unusual gift. It looks like this.

It's full of carefully ironed and folded hankies, of all sizes and designs, and it was bought from an old lady at a flea market in Germany. Cool, huh? 

The main thing I love about this gift (apart from the sheer beauty of some of the hankies inside) is the fact that even though a special hankie-folder is kind of a random gift to buy for someone, my friends just knew that I'd love it. And I did.
Every now and then I pull it out and look at the hankies and think about what I could do with them. Until now, though, no projects lent themselves to the special hankie collection.

But now it's summer, and we need of an alternative to the heavy wool curtain adorning the eastern window in our loft.
So I decided to make this, using just a handful of the beautiful hankies, all the way from Germany, and a piece of white cotton I found at the op-shop. 

It's partly inspired by a project of Soule Mama's, which utilises the hankies in the same way, and partly inspired by a book I recently borrowed from the library which was all about, you know, making stuff out of other stuff. 

Goes nice with the hardwood and pale-blue corrugated iron and very nice jewel blanket

We love it. It's perfectly light and airy so lets the breeze flow over us as we snuggle and read of an evening, and we all love just staring at it, trying to decide which of the hankies is our favourite. 

Pearl and Olive are rather partial to the spots

Oski's keen on the lace, bottom left
And this one, which is not done justice by the photo, is pretty magical

It's hard to choose, don't you think?

But best of all, the curtain always reminds us of our beautiful friends and the vision they showed at a German flea market a couple of years ago. Thanks beautiful ones. It's so lovely to have you in our home.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ye olde brew

Last week, while we were visiting and staying with people in houses with crazy luxuries like hot and cold running water and inside cooking arrangements, Pearl and I were very conscious of how these luxuries would affect the way we felt about our little house.
On the long drive home, we analysed our feelings and talked about the things we missed about living in a fully-equipped house. We both enjoyed having hot showers, though we were also happy to hop back into our fire bath. And that was about it. That is, until it came time to bottle my latest batch of home brew, my first since we moved onto our land.

Outdoor brewing/bottling set-up. A bit cumbersome, but also kind of nice in its sunny airiness

When I first started brewing, I read a lot of books. I talked to people at the local home-brew shop, and then I read some more books. In all of these learning ventures, one thing became clear: 90% of successful brewing is making sure your equipment is clean and sterile.
Sterilising the actual brewer was easy enough. I just filled it with sterilising solution and left it overnight, like I always do. When it came to bottling though, it was a different story. Usually, for the bottle sterilisation, I use all of a commercial-scale double sink, with hot running water and an electric kettle. Now, I was faced with the task of sterilising 40 long-neck bottles using only a couple of plastic tubs, a ground-level hose coming directly out of our rain-water tank, and a big saucepan of hot water boiling away on the barbeque. There were a few times, as I was squatting down rinsing bottles when I thought "hmm... a kitchen with a proper sink would sure be handy right about now". But I soldiered on, hoping everything would be clean enough, and I got it all done, with a little help from my Oski-friend who, in true 2-year-old style, needed to have a hand in everything.

Oski guards the fruits of our afternoon's labour

The bottles are now all safely stacked in our little house now, (hopefully) going through their secondary ferment as they rightfully should. In a week I'll crack one and see if ye olde outdoor-brewing shenanigans worked out OK. Because it is, in fact, a ye olde way of doing things. It kept going through my mind (in between "damn, kitchens are great" and "I sure hope that beetle hasn't contaminated my sterilising solution") that surely, at some stage in history, people did (and I'm sure still DO) brew this way. And they're OK.
One thing that was REALLY interesting was the way that this process allowed me to actually see (and then carry out and pour onto the veggies) the amount of water that goes into a batch of home brew. In total, including the sterilising and rinsing and actual beer content itself (which is in fact only 23 litres) I reckon it was around 300L. Quite a bit eh? But I reckon it's worth it.
That afternoon, as the sun was sinking in the sky, my reckoning was confirmed as Pearl and I kicked back with a few glasses of last summer's ginger beer (with a twist of lemon!). 

Home-breed ginger beer. It's a beautiful thing - give it a go! Recipe in the link above

Damn it was good. But it's almost all gone, so I think a little more primitive home brewing is definitely on the horizon.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The old and the new

I did some sweet sewing a few days ago. It was a beautiful combination of tried and true - a bolero and a classic P&E A-line skirt - and kind of experimental - a new pattern, complete with puffy sleeves, a pocket and a waist. The dress came first, and it was a pleasure and a challenge because it was for my little girl. 

Our Olive is a particular little thing. She's particular about most things, but she's especially particular about her outfits and costumes. We love how expressive she is, how she takes her time and deliberates over the wild and wonderful combinations of clothing and accessories she comes up with. I love how she loves colour, and how her favourite colour is "rainbow". 

A little while ago we made a trip to the fabric shop together, and I let her pick out a few things for a couple of items of summer clothes. I have to say, I was pretty impressed with her choices! The pattern and shape of the dress, though, was up to me, and I was nervous. So I stuck to the things I know she likes: puffy sleeves (the whole time I was sewing I kept thinking about Napoleon Dynamite), a waist, and pockets for keeping her myriad small treasures in. 

The verdict? "It's the most beautiful dress I've ever seen!" What more could I ask for?
I do hope that Yolanda, recipient of my other recent sewing ventures and very loyal P&E supporter, feels the same about her recent wardrobe additions. Though this may be a tough call, given that she's also the owner of what may be the best skirt I've ever made.

When I picked up a rather spectacular scalloped horse hankie in the op shop, I immediately thought of Yolanda, though I also thought quite a lot about myself, given that I'm a bit keen on a spot of equine fabric myself. But then a few days later, as fate would have it, Yolanda contacted me to let me know that she'd like to support the Pump up the Dam sale so I decided the hankie was meant to be hers. Yay!

Green was the theme for her bolero and skirt, and I have to say  I'm a bit chuffed with the result. The bolero in particular is a bit of a fave, made from an immaculate still-life-print vintage teatowel.

One of the things I love about this sewing-with-found-fabrics shindig is that even though I'm basically making the same thing over and over again (unless someone asks me to make something extra-special like a wedding or bridesmaid dress), each piece has its own character on account of the fact that I'm using different fabric every time. How fun! And this bolero is the perfect example: I must've made a hundred boleros (probably more) but this one is so unique, with it's little complementary mustard-coloured cap sleeves with polka-dot trim, roses on the front and a bowl of fruit on the back. And the colours!

Enjoy your wares Yolanda and Olive! And please remember to do a twirl for the joys of unique handmade in all its many and varied forms.