Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hurrah for lovely woolly hat action in the Winter time!

Many years ago, my friend Kim knitted me this hat.
It is so so beautiful and has been my favourite hat every winter since. At the time she gave it to me I asked her about the provenance of the pattern, and she explained that it came from a chemo hat website. We both laughed that laugh of young people who don't really think they'll ever get cancer.

And now here I am!! 

When the prospect of losing all my hair DURING WINTER became a reality, I quickly ramped up my hat collecting, mostly via donations from generous and crafty friends and family. But I just had to have another of these lovely hats, called, amazingly, the Amelia Earheart Aviator cap. I love it so!! I can't knit, so I sent the pattern out to some crafty knitting friends, and now have a couple more of these amazing hats in my special hat repertoire, each so unique that it's like having 3 different hats that are all related by their awesomeness - a super-soft most beautiful blue one from Linda, and a gorgeous pinky one from Carol that's a little bit bigger so perfect for sleeping, in addition to the lovely most gorgeous green with fancy embellishments from Kim. How special is that?!

In addition to my collection of aviation caps, I've also received a delicious fire-engine-red beanie from my Nana (instantaneously snaveled by Oscar), and couple of fab-o hats from my ma, including this perfectly-coloured crocheted rasta-hat-cum-beret, which is - wait for it - LINED IN FLEECE, so is officially the warmest hat I own. 
This is very very handy. I had completely underestimated just how much warmth my hair provided for my poor little noggin, which is now so exposed to the elements. Not that that's all bad. I absolutely love it when it's warm enough to go hat-less, to feel the sun and breeze on a part of my body that hasn't felt the sun and breeze since I was a teeny baby. But after about 3pm, when the sun sinks, the hat goes on, and stays on, til I'm safely inside sitting in front of the fire.

In addition to these gorgeous hats so kindly and warmly created for me by people I love, I also recently completed a hat for myself which I'm pretty bloody proud of. It involved me teaching myself a new crochet stitch (thank you YouTube!) and making a few false starts, and it was a challenge, but it was bloody well worth it because it's a pretty lovely hat, if I do say so myself. And my crochet confidence has increased exponentially!

Let's all hear it for triple crochet lattice stitch with a speckly rainbow trim- oooohhhhhh!
 When I fist started looking for hat patterns (when you're bald, and it's winter, I think multiple hats are definitely justifiable) I was a little bit frustrated because all the ones I liked were knitted, and learning to knit was just too much of a challenge at this point in my life. And then I found Knits for Life, who, amongst other things (like totally amaze-balls yarn bombing including a Very Hungry Caterpillar bike rack cozy!!!!!), boasts 'crochet patterns that any knitter would envy'. Hallelujah to that!
The top of the hat was actually the trickiest bit for me... Lots of counting - I'm a bit challenged in that department.

The pattern was lovely and easy to follow (once I got the hang of the new stitch), and easy to custom up a bit (I can't help myself) and I am very very happy with my hat. Probably going to make another one, sooner rather than later.

How about you? Have you taught yourself something new lately? It's such a great feeling!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Through other people's eyes, part 2

Recently we were blessed with a visit from some dear, old friends, who made an epic journey to Autumn Farm to help take care of our little family while I had my second dose of chemo.

Jay and Poe took care of us in the way that only old friends can, and we felt peaceful and loved.

Jay, as you will see if you have a look at her beautiful blog, takes the most gorgeous photos, and the photos she took of our little farm, of us, of the kids are like treasures to us.
 As I've said before, to see your life reflected through another person's art - through other people's eyes - is like a gift. Pearl and I were so so touched by Jay's words about her visit, and her beautiful photos, I wanted to share a few of her pictures, and also a link to her blog, so you can see and read for yourself.
Thank you Jay for the beauty and love and care you brought to us when we needed it most, and thank you for translating this through your photos. It is a wondrous thing...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What can you do when you're being treated for cancer? Crochet pink skull scarves for your friends!

When I first found out the likely trajectory my cancer treatment would take, I was freaked out on many levels, for many reasons. One of my main fears was being out of action for an extended period of time. As someone who, for better and/or for worse, derives a large part of my self esteem/sense of satisfaction/deep joy from Getting Stuff Done, a mastectomy (8-10 weeks recovery - no lifting with my left arm!!) and 12 weeks of chemo (a whole lot of feeling quite ill and immuno-compromised to the point where chicken farming and gardening are completely out of the question) was a pretty terrifying prospect. That's even if I momentarily forgot the fact that it all involved GETTING MY BOOB CHOPPED OFF and POISONING MY BODY!!!


Sage words of wisdom came from my Dad's partner, Connie (a cancer survivor herself) who told me to stop focusing on the things I couldn't do, and start focusing on the things I could do. Given that the main things I can do are crocheting, reading, writing, and the odd bit of preserving, it's actually not too shabby, really, and I'm kind of enjoying having a bit of a rest.

Once I resolved to focus on my new crocheting opportunities, I went to town (actually, the internet-town, but you know that I mean) searching for crochet patterns. In the melee, and quite by accident, I stumbled upon a pattern for this cute-as crocheted skull. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to make one for my pal Carly (seen here looking pretty bloody gorgeous in the graduation dress I made for her). I dunno why, I just thought she'd dig it.
Can you see? You thread the scarf kind of through the skull, to keep it snuggly-secure round yer neck...
After much deliberation I decided to make it like a neat little skull and crossbones, where the skull itself helps to keep the scarf secured in a snug kinda way. The scarf is just single crochet where the rows form the length of the scarf, and I did some chunky triple crochet shells at the ends to form the 'knuckles' of the 'crossbones'.

The skull bit was surprisingly easy to do, I think due to the fact that Kirsten's instructions are SO AWESOME. And funny. And low-key. And descriptive. And the photos are completely ace-balls. It's the kind of crochet pattern I'd hope to make myself, if I ever crocheted anything in an organised-enough way to actually write down what I did. Like my sewing, my crocheting is extremely organic/haphazard/experimental, depending on which way you look at it.
Look how cool she is! Oh and the scarf's pretty sweet too
Anyways, I was super pleased with the results, and I think Carly was too. And now I'd like to propose a toast to focusing on what you can do rather than what you can't. Words to live by, methinks!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Shallots forever

At our last community food swap (which was outstanding, by the way - sausages! Lemon butter! Bread!) I was lucky enough to snavel a massive bunch of shallots, and was talking to our friend Anneke about our method of planting the root bit of veg like shallots and leeks. To my surprise, she was highly dubious and highly suspicious of the practice - she'd never heard of such a thing! Given that she's basically the queen of Bega Valley Seedsavers, and a well-known guru of all things to do with propagation (if you've seen Pip magazine, you will have seen Anneke's gorgeous house), I was super-shocked, as it's something we do regularly, and have had great success with. I thought I'd better do a little post to spread the good news, in case some of you are also unaware of the awesomeness of the perennial leek and shallot action that you can get for FREE, by saving your cut off ends from the compost.
The cut-off shallot root ends, headed to the garden for infinite re-sprouting
Basically, by planting the chopped-off root bits of your leeks and shallots, you'll get another leek or shallot. If you cut this one off at ground level, rather than pulling it out, you'll get yet another. In this way, you can pretty much have perennial shallots and leeks. The leeks do get skinnier with each successive re-growth, so won't go on indefinitely, but we have a few shallots in a pot out the front that have been going for well over a year. So next time you get shallots or leeks from the shop, market or your local food swap (if you don't have one - start one!), take the root bits out into the garden, make them a little hole, and bury them, roots down, with the soil level just above the cut top. They're great, because they don't take up much space, so you can just tuck them 'round the place as the root-ends avail themselves to you. Within a week, they will have sprouted, and you shall have shallots forever. 
Olive the mulching queen

Sunday, June 8, 2014

I love eggplant pickle

Today was a perfect early-winter's day. A little windy, gloriously sunny, a little cool but also kind of warm in the sun. I spent the majority of the day on the day bed out the front, resting and sipping kudzu elixir and bone broth, crocheting and willing my body to recover from the annihilation that is chemotherapy. Around me, Pearl and the kids bustled, collecting kindling for our brand new fire, cooking a slow-cooked beef stew, tending chickens, playing, making pancakes, creating, and stopping by my bed every now and then for a story or a cuddle. It was pretty beautiful, and when we did our regular dinner-time round of "what was your favourite thing about today?" there was no shortage of stories and we all had to tell our second and third favourite things too.

Towards the end of the day, I mustered the energy to jar the eggplant pickle I've been working on, intermittently, for the last week or so. Yes, that's right: preserving is still happening, it's just happening veeeerrrrry sloooowly....
For me, there are few things more satisfying than a bunch of hot, upside-down jars cooling (and hopefully sealing!) on the table. They go into the extra-satisfying category when they contain something as glorious as eggplant pickle. Eggplant pickle, if you've never had it, is an outrageously sweet and spicy condiment, which we mostly serve in enormous quantities on the side of dahl and curries. It is insanely good and I love it, and feel very sad when we run out.

Luckily for us, the last few weeks we've been looking after our neighbour's place while they're on holiday - goats, chooks, geese, ducks, a crazy (but cute!) dog called Ollie and a massive veggie garden. It's a nice little ritual to trot down the road each day and tend what needs tending. And here's the thing: the garden, when we took over its care, was fairly heaving with late-autumnal abundance, most notably in the form of eggplants and chillies. I ask you - what would you do with such a gift?
The recipe we used was adapted from Christine Manfield's Fire cookbook. For some reason her recipe is for only a tiny amount of pickle (maybe her neighbours' gardens aren't as bountiful as ours...) so we increased the amounts to accommodate a bucketful of eggplant, and made a couple of other adjustments along the way. This is a delicious pickle, and you should make some, if you can still get your hands on some eggplants. Here's what you do:

In the food processor, pulse about 30 red chillies of various shapes and sizes, 6 tablespoons of chopped garlic, 6 tablespoons of grated ginger, 6 teaspoons of ground tumeric, and 6 tablespoons of black mustard seeds into a chunky paste. If you don't have a food processor, you could just grate or finely chop everything.

Heat about 500ml of oil in a big pot, then add the spice mix and fry it up for a bit until it smells so good you almost start crying, then add a big bowl full of chopped eggplant chunks... Pearl reckons we used maybe 2kg for this quantity of spice.

Keep it cooking over a low-ish heat, and stir it so it doesn't stick.

When the eggplant is soft and has sucked up the spicy oil deliciousness, add about 2 cups of raw sugar, a couple of tablespoons of salt, and a stubby of home-brew-that-didn't-work-properly-and-turned-into-delicious-malt-vinegar. If you don't have the (mis)fortune of having an endless supply of (accidentally) home-made malt vinegar, then shop-bought is probably OK as well... Or you could come 'round to our place and get some of ours. We have a LOT.

Then all you need to do is simmer it up til it's gorgeous and gooey, then seal in sterilised jars. If you're feeling generous, you could even share it with your neighbour.