Saturday, December 29, 2012

Trade Secrets

Day 5 of Shopping-Free Week (Day 10 if you don't count Christmas Eve dash to supermarket and deli for sour cream and smoked salmon):

We are out of eggs, milk, bread, fruit, flour and glace cherries. Crew threatening mutiny. Captain determined to go down with the ship...

Not true. No-one even noticed, though I couldn't have gone another hour without buying milk. Cuppa anyone? is a question that reverberates around the house about fifteen times a day. When we ran out of bread I made cheese and vegemite scrolls, always popular, and when visitors came I made shortbread (no eggs, lots of butter). I used up every vegie in the bottom of the fridge, including the beans I forgot to cook for Christmas dinner, and zucchini and spinach from the garden, in a stir fry, and nobly ploughed through all the left-over Christmas salads for lunch every day (well, not that noble, I love salad for lunch, especially if someone else has made it).

I did finally have to go to the shops today, not only for milk, but because on Monday eight house guests are arriving, and I need to do some cooking before then. With eggs, flour etc. I have learned some interesting things though. My family will happily eat all sorts of things, as long as it is served up in front of them, and they don't have to make any effort. Grapes in a bag are 'yucky' because there are several brown ones among them, and the child in question will have to sort the good from the bad. The same grapes that have been subject to quality control and are presented as part of a fruit platter are 'yummy'. Same goes for garden strawberries with cosmetic defects. This may be a character defect, but it is one I can exploit work with. Also, if I have a plan and can tell everyone what is for dinner, today, tomorrow and the next day, they accept it, but if I don't know, their minds immediately turn to junk food.

I discovered something else. It is possible to serve meals that everyone likes, even when there are no eggs in the house. Sometimes I panic when we run out of an ingredient, and run out to buy eggs....and yoghurt, and chocolate, and crackers, and whatever else is on sale near the checkout. But necessity really is the mother of invention. I could learn so much just by running out of things and having to cook something else, or use up leftovers, or garden gluts. I'm sure that's how most of the world's cuisines developed.

Speaking of which, this afternoon I roasted a chicken, with lots of veg. We ate a little chicken and most of the veg for dinner, and I shredded the rest for lunch on Monday, with our guests. Now I'm cooking up the carcass for soup stock for dinner tomorrow, and it smells divine. It occured to me that it takes a long time to learn how to whip up a roast dinner, to get all the elements well-cooked and ready at the same time. You either learn it by your mother's side, or by trial and error. In my case, the latter. My mother preferred knitting to cooking. And here is a recently learned trade secret that I have never found in a cook book. After much experiment, I have discovered that if you parboil the potatoes and carrots till almost soft, then toss them in oil, butter and spices on a baking tray with raw pumpkin, they will all cook perfectly at the same time in about half an hour at 200C. I always finish them off with a ten minute burst at about 210C-220C to crisp them at the end while the chicken is resting.


Does anyone have any favourite left over roast veg recipes? I put them in mini quiches in muffin trays. What do I do with left over chicken stuffing?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Post Christmas Economy

Well, Christmas was splendidly Christmassy, twinkly and happy, and miracle of miracles, didn't start till 7.15am. I think that is the longest Christmas sleep-in we have had for nineteen years. You can see the enormous number of parcels above, all wrapped in our reusable bags, some of which must be years old now. No, I didn't go mad in the Christmas season; well, no more than usual. The children love the excitement of lots of parcels under the tree (and so do I!), so as well as one special, indulgent present, I also save and wrap all the things I would buy for the children anyway at this time of year. Summer pyjamas, next year's school lunchboxes (a very big deal when you are 8 and 12), any summer clothes they need, and this year, replacements for the ragged beach towels they have all owned since they were toddlers. I have not yet been reduced to wrapping up the new year's school text books, but I did once pop toothbrushes into all the stockings!

So now it is the day after... and as the grocery budget has taken a beating recently, I have decided not to do the grocery shopping this week. I am not telling the family this, as they would panic, whine, and feel very deprived, but I'm counting on the fact that they won't actually notice that we are living out of the pantry and back of the fridge.

My first job was to reorganise the pantry, which had turned into the sort of place that your pantry turns into when your entire family uses it every day, and always put things back in the most convenient empty spot. I found all sorts of exotic ingredients that we can use up over the next few days, and also many pots of left overs in the fridge, some of which had sadly died of old age.

This year my New Year's resolutions will include a War on Waste. Living here at Chez Blueday will be like living with your Nan. During the War. On rationing. OK, there will be more butter. Lots more butter. But waste, on a societal level, but also here at home, makes me so angry. I think of all the work and resources and labour that goes into making the things we use and eat, and so much of it doesn't even get used for the purpose it is intended. So I will start here and now, and at least try not to throw out any more food...

I started this morning by stewing up some soft apples from the fridge with rhubarb from the garden, and we ate that for dessert tonight with whipped cream left over from yesterday's pavlova.

Then I rescued some potatoes that were trying to crawl out of the potato bin by themselves, and some lovely, nutty, sweet spinach from the garden, and a little feta, and made potato, spinach, feta triangles with puff pastry. Then grated up two of the first three zucchinis from my giant zucchini pot to make zucchini muffins. This used up the last three eggs and the last third of the last tomato that I found in a pot in the fridge (why would anyone put a third of a tomato in the fridge? Just eat it people). There was a moment of panic when I thought there was no cheese in the house, which would have broken my resolve. Can a family survive without cheese? But luckily, it was a false alarm. So that is dinner for today and tomorrow.

We are also nearly out of cereal, so The Girl made a batch of her irresistible muesli to pop in the oven after the dinner finished cooking.
This is seriously the best muesli in the world, and very easy to substitute ingredients for whatever you have on hand.
Yummy Breakfast Muesli
3 cups (300g) rolled oats
3/4 cup (75g) chopped nuts
1 cup (90g) assorted seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, chia, poppy)
1/2 Tbspn cinnamon
2 Tbspns butter, melted
3Tbspns brown sugar
2Tbspns golden syrup
1Tbspn coconut oil
1/2 cup dried fruit
1/2 cup choc chips
Pre-heat oven to 165C
Mix dry ingredients in large bowl (except fruit and choc chips)
Melt butter, oil, sugar.
Pour onto dry ingredients and toss until well coated. Spread into high-sided, oiled tray and cook for 25 mins. Stir occasionally so it cooks evenly.
Stir again after it comes out of the oven, and after 5 minutes or so, add fruit and choc chips. We find you can cook dried apricots but not sultanas.
The origins of this recipe are lost in the mists of time, but The Girl has tweaked it so many times it is not the original recipe anyway...
This makes a large jar (love those Moccona coffee jars!), squashed down tight to fit it all in.
Very cheap and easy to make, but there would be about $20 worth of gourmet muesli in that jar, if we bought it from the local gourmet deli...



Monday, December 24, 2012

Escaping Christmas Mayhem

When Christmas preparations get a bit insane - the Bluedays go camping. Well, this actually made Christmas preparations more insane, but at least we got to sit by a river for a couple of days as a calming interlude.

Because it is hard to be stressed when walking under giant tree ferns...

or dabbling toes in a waterfall..
There was a platypus in the river, and wrens and robins and wallabies and possums, and toasted marshmallows around the campfire, and I think my back is permanently ricked to one side due to dodgy camping sleeping arrangements, so all par for the course, really, camping-wise.
Now we are back for the Night Before Christmas, preceded by the day before the Night Before Christmas, which includes a house full of camping gear, half wrapped presents and fights over the sticky tape, last minute dashes to the supermarket for forgotten ingredients, but also homegrown srawberries, and homegrown raspberries from friends for the traditional Christmas Day chocolate pavlova, The Boy playing his guitar, the girls doing cartwheels on the lawn, The Girl humming in the kitchen. The Man and I are truly blessed, slightly manic, but very thankful.
I would like to leave you, as a Christmas treat, the remarkable sight of Posy walking on water.
There, I knew you would love it.
Merry Christmas to all...



Thursday, December 20, 2012

More Frugal Christmas Cheer


I am thinking of renaming this blog 'Clever Things My Children Do So I Don't Have To'. I am really hoping they never leave home. This week it was Christmas cards from bits and pieces in the craft drawers, The Girl cutting and pasting using tiny cardboard scraps, and the little girls using up the button stash for bauble cards for their teachers.
Every year the girls make gingerbread houses, usually with friends, usually coating the entire kitchen in a layer of butter and icing sugar. Looking on the bright side, this ensures that the living area gets well mopped for Christmas..
This year I am trying to think of alternatives for those one-use Christmas items, and cake boards are one of those annoying things - you buy them, and they are ruined after one use, as the foil gets cut or ripped. I contemplated making my own wooden boards, and then I realised it would be so much simpler to use serving platters from the cupboard. One of those blinding revelations that's a no-brainer ... once you've thought it..
The Girl made stained glass windows by baking boiled sweets in the window spaces when she cooked the gingerbread. A tea light inside the house makes it very Christmassy indeed.
I am so glad my girls get so much pleasure out of making things, and know they can take raw ingredients and drawers full of recycled bits and bobs and make something useful and beautiful and delicious.
Me, I would rather play in the garden. Remember that pot I planted out in October? Actually, I don't think I had even got the seeds until about a week after that photo. Well now it houses two giant zucchini plants, and a cucumber and Tiny Tim tomato which are valiantly struggling against a sea of zucchini leaves.
Here they are, the poor poppets.
I think we will have our first zucchini for Christmas. You can imagine the excitement...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Craft for the Manifestly Incompetent

I really don't do craft. It is NOT MY THING. However, it is the thing of three girls I know, who are clever and artistic, so there are two sets of old card catalogue drawers in the dining room (I rescued them from The Man's workplace several years ago). They are choc-a-bloc with every conceivable bit and bob that might come in handy one day for creating marvellous things.

I rarely buy any craft supplies, except for glue sticks and sticky tape. Grandma sends parcels of collected ribbons, lace, stickers and shiny paper, and I save every piece of coloured paper, card and ribbon that comes into the house, and file them into the designated drawer. You might be imagining a lovely, organised Martha Stewart-style craft set up here. Well, don't. There are children involved. No matter how often I reorganise it (OK, not so often), it entropies back into a glorious tangle of craft supplies, and sometimes you can find what you were after, but mostly you use whatever is on top...

And this is the theme of Christmas craft this year. Using up what we have, and not buying new stuff until we have no old stuff anymore... So I am wrapping up Christmas parcels, reusing last year's Christmas bags and paper, of course, and I came to the last of the gift tags, and so spent a surprisingly relaxing half hour making more out of reclaimed card, and some stickers I found in the drawers.

And, just so you know there is more talent in the house than I display myself, here are past creations from the rest of the Blueday family.

The Girl, assorted embroidery thread from Grandma Hazel's stash on red felt.

Rosy, felt and dolly peg angel, with bead trimming and gold pipecleaner accessory. Also, in background, polystyrene ball bauble with glued-on fabric strips, a Posy school project (sadly I had to miss parent help that day...).

Posy, felt and beads again, with much patient assistance from a big sister.
And the last voluntary craft The Boy indulged in, this star he made at playgroup when he was two...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


A few weeks ago, when Hurricane Sandy swept through the US, I got to thinking about emergency preparedness. Now, I am normally not prepared for anything. I am the person with no umbrella/sunhat/food/drink bottles for my poor children when such items would be appropriate, and I like to think they are very tough and resourceful due to this character deficiency of mine. I also make sure I go places with people who are very organised.

Still, I thought it would be a pleasant way to spend half a day, checking that we were all kitted out for emergencies, and besides, then I wouldn't have time to clean the bathroom. So I put new batteries in all the torches in the house, and then realised that most emergencies (small ones, I mean, like inclement weather, not imminent death or destruction by cataclysmic natural causes) tend to happen when we are in the car.

So I changed the torch batteries in the car torches, and added an umbrella to each car, and a two litre bottle of water, and those microfibre towels I bought from a camping shop (The Girl needed one for a school camping trip, but they were three-for-one on sale. What could I do? See, this is how our houses fill up with consumer ordure). I added sunscreen and lip balm, and antibacterial handwash to each car, and discovered that one car had both pocket knives, and one car had two first aid kits, and The Boy's car none. I opened the first aid kits for the first time since we got them several years ago, and discovered that though they were packed full of gauze dressings and wrappings, there weren't any thick pressure bandages for snake bites, one of the most likely hazards facing picnicking Tasmanians. Upon reflection it seemed rather silly to have snake bite bandages in my suburban kitchen rather than in the cars, so out they went. Then I topped up the packs with bandaids and painkillers and we were good to go for every emergency, which meant of course we would never have any...

Fast forward to Sunday afternoon, and we are eating lunch and reading the paper, when I get a phone call from The Boy, who has been camping with friends (and you have to love this conversation. The Boy is one of the most laid back people I know):

Er, Mum, are you and Dad busy right now? Because I'm at the hospital, and I have a few stitches so I can't drive the car home...

Turns out he had tripped over while running, broken his fall on some glass, and had lacerations down the length of his inside arm, you know, where that GREAT BIG VEIN is, the one one that causes you to bleed out and die.. and apparently there was a LOT of blood, and they were over an hour away from a hospital, on dirt roads, and all they could find to stop the bleeding was a sanitary pad, and a flannelette shirt. Gotta love teenagers! Then they opened the glove box in The Boy's car, and there was a first aid kit, so they could wrap his arm up properly, which slowed the bleeding, and took him to the nearest hospital, sat with him while he got stitched up, bless their dear hearts, and then brought him home to our hospital, doing amazing tag team relays with the car, as The Boy was one of the only drivers, and then, once he was all fixed, taking gory photos of his grazes, bandages, and blood soaked clothes to send to his girlfriend, who is overseas, because teenagers are kind like that.

And while I thought that the whole exercise was a little bit of overkill at the time, I am so grateful that the one time in my life I was prepared before an emergency, was the time it mattered.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Lemons, lemons... I love them, all my friends and neighbours love them, and yet there are more. Time to make lemon cordial, and lemon peel, in time for Christmas baking.

I bought some bottles, picked a lot of lemons, and used this recipe, which is no different to every other lemon cordial recipe, but happens to come from a lovely local blog.

One and a half litres of lemon juice is a LOT of lemons. More than this. There had already been one trip to the compost... very wearing on the wrists. But once you have juice it is a very quick and easy process, and the cordial is divine, and so is the wonderful lemony aroma in the kitchen while it is warming. I am so excited to have another use for lemons, another preserving skill, another yummy product made entirely in my kitchen from my garden (well, if I had a sugar tree...). Posy demanded homemade lemonade for her birthday party (lemon  cordial, water, soda water, floating lemon slices, ice cubes), and now we have something nice for children to drink when they come over, so I don't have to offer fruit juice (yes, those children, who don't believe that water is a beverage..).

All those lemon halves left over? Well, inspired again by Tanya's blog, I cut some up and used Stephanie Alexander's recipe from The Cook's Companion (best cook book in the world for kitchen gardeners, arranged by ingredient. She has never failed me) to make lemon peel. First you slowly bring the peel to a boil several times, in fresh water each time, to take away the bitterness, then bring to the boil in a sugar syrup until the peel is translucent (takes ages), then drain and dry it. I dried mine in the dehydrator because I didn't want them cluttering up the kitchen for days. Then roll them in caster sugar, and store in a jar to snack on use for baking. It's a recipe that keeps on giving because you are left with a lemon-flavoured sugar syrup. Pancakes? Poaching fruit?

The more I learn how to cook from the garden, the more exciting cooking becomes. I would never have dreamed of poaching apples in lemon syrup, or that you don't need expensive Canadian maple syrup on pancakes, except that I had a by-product to use up. This, I imagine, is how local cuisines develop. From the gardens of cooks who can't bear to waste anything they have put so much time and effort into.

Well, after Lemonade Experiment No 1, a chance word with Rosy's teacher revealed that the Grade Six class were going to be responsible for the Lemonade Stand at the school fair.

'If only I knew someone who knows how to make lemonade.' sighed her teacher. Well....

A week later I was making lemon cordial with twenty-four twelve year olds in their classroom. You have never seen such enthusiasm, such a lot of lemon juice, such a lot of sticky..

The children had brought along bags and bags of lemons from backyard trees, plus lemon squeezers. One of the other mums provided twenty screw-cap wine bottles (she will remain nameless..). One teacher, three mums, the gas cook top from the classroom next door. Five children cut lemons, fifteen squeezed and strained, right at their desks, and four helped to measure and stir and cook the lemonade on the bench next to the sink. We ended up quadrupling the recipe, using six litres of lemon juice, and making sixteen litres of lemon cordial concentrate, which later made up about eighty litres of lemonade with water and soda water. They sold out at the fair.

This was such a fun, if exhausting experience. It shows how simple it is, really, to bring sensible, practical knowledge into the classroom. I was astounded that this all happened in a regular classroom with only a sink and a portable gas cooktop as equipment. And how quickly knowledge can be passed along. One week I read a recipe on the internet, the next day I had a new skill, the week after that twenty four children and four other adults also had a new skill, and something good to do with all those lemons!

It is, of course, one thing to plant a lemon tree, but if you don't know how to use lemons, they will get put in the compost. I heard so many stories from the kids about how their neighbour/granny/cousin's hairdresser were so pleased to get rid of the lemons from their backyard trees. I so often talk to people who feel that their fruit trees are liabilities, quite decorative, but then they drop all this annoying fruit on the ground...

My mission is to rescue all this unloved fruit, and find ways to use it. How wonderful if I could manage not to buy fruit, but visit the backyards of all my friends through the year, and turn their garden trash into my pantry treasure. Or even just share recipes. At least one of the other parent-help mums from our lemonade day went off with the recipe to go and make lemon cordial from her own lemon tree. More lemons saved from the compost.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How to be a Heroine..

I was going to write about so many things: artichokes and lemons and calendula infusions, and my favourite Canadian novel, but I'm too busy reading Mansfield Park.

Today was cleaning-the-bathroom day, but who can scrub grout when Fanny is being bullied into marriage with the personable but odious Mr Crawford? It's not like I don't know what happens, because I have read it at least half a dozen times, but every time the suspense kills me.

And I like Fanny, though I don't know why, because she cries all the time. Amelia Smedley cries constantly throughout Vanity Fair, and I just want to slap her, because she is so stupid and helpless, but I sympathise with Fanny. Maybe because there are not many heroines who are shy and awkward, who blush at all the wrong moments, and who are unfashionably exhausted after half an hour of walking in the shrubbery. She is the anti-heroine, with only her kind heart to recommend her. But that is enough for her to triumph over the Mean Girls.  Moral integrity, and a fondness for books and gardens. It's all you need...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

After Decluttering Comes Mindfulness, or Never Shop Again

Before our current renovation I spent about six months decluttering to remove approximately half of our possessions so that we could fill up our house with plasterboard, drop saws, cans of paint and a set of stairs that came in kit form. It went against all my natural hoarding instincts to get rid of all those really indispensable treasures, but I honestly can't remember any of them now that they are gone.

Now that we are (mostly) done with renovating and refilling our house with furniture and stuff that was packed in boxes, we are having to be incredibly tough on our acquisitive instincts. If there is no cupboard space for it, it has to go. I now have a smaller, but much nicer kitchen. All the storage space is taken up, and there is simply no room for any new kitchen doohickeys. Well, I could buy a new spatula, but not the salad spinner I was thinking would be nice, unless I get rid of something else that is the size of a salad spinner. While I contemplate what else we could do without, I continue to pat the lettuce dry in a tea towel.

I moved out of home at nineteen with hardly any stuff, and have spent twenty years accumulating it, with the happy assistance of family and friends. Now we realise, we're kind of done with stuff. We're going to need to replace towels and broken crockery, but lots of our stuff will last longer than we will. So barring the house burning down, I can contemplate a future without shopping. I am very happy about that.

All we have to do now is somehow dispose of a shed full of boxes that we haven't unpacked yet. Maybe we could just burn it down...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Baking is for Other People

Unlike, oh, everybody else on the whole world wide web, I am not such a good cook. Not terribly organised or efficient, and I tend to get distracted at completely the wrong moment. I invariably under- or drastically over-cook something at dinner (last night it was limp steamed vegetables). However, I do give myself points for turning up. Every day, come hell or high water, there I am, making something nutritious (not always appreciated by the children. They would prefer a feckless mother who fed them junk food or fish fingers).

And I am also on the turning-on-the-oven-once-to-cook-everything bandwagon again. Yesterday Rosy made brownies, I made apple and rhubarb crumble, and dinner, and banana cake, which I grievously over-cooked, but which still came out flat and rubbery. How does that happen? I think I will skip banana cake in the future, as it is a reliable failure in my kitchen. Except when The Girl makes it. Everything she makes turns out light and fluffy. If you detect a note of sour grapes here, it is because the grapes are definitely sour. How does one person make fluffy cake, and the other not, in the same kitchen with the same recipe? My grandma used to say it is how you hold your mouth. My mouth is a little puckered, what with all the sour grapes...

Still, it is wonderful to have turned out one brilliant and two competent cooks, despite my shortcomings in that direction. The eight year old, like me, prefers other people to cook for her. Lillies of the field, that's what we are!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Christmas Cake Made Easy


Christmas Cake Without Tears, or Indeed, Trouble of Any Kind. Here is the secret...

First, spend years putting up with children in the kitchen, breaking eggs all over the floor, splattering the walls with chocolate mixture from the beaters, and inadvertantly leaving the lid off the blender...

Then say, 'Oh yes please!' when they want to make the Christmas Cake by themselves. Well, what actually happened is that The Girl weighed all the dried fruit, zested and juiced the lemon and mixed in the sherry while Posy and Rosy ate the raisins.


Then the next day The Girl creamed the butter and sugar and mixed in the flour and spices while the little girls watched TV. Then it was time to mix in the fruit and make a wish. At that point, Rosy and Posy were very helpful. Also with the licking out the bowl part. Meanwhile The Girl lined a baking tin with paper and baked the cake for three hours.

Now it is my turn. I get to pour brandy over the cold cake every evening for several days. I am quite good at this. Then I shall wrap it up in baking paper and foil, and store it in the wardrobe until Christmas.

Here is my grandma's recipe if you would like to try it. This is one of my first posts. The children are small and cute, the kitchen slummy..

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society

The Girl often finds tasty literary treats for me, turning over her library stack, and saying, 'I think you'd like this, Mum.' So last year she brought home The Guernsy Literary & Potato Peel Society for me, and I loved it, so much so that I actually bought a copy, and one for my sister-in-law, and one for Posy's teacher for Christmas...

It reminds me of Helene Hanff's charming 84 Charing Cross Road, in that both are written as a series of letters, they both concern the years directly after the second world war, and Juliet Ashton, of TGL&PPS bears a strong resemblance to Helene Hanff, a lover of literature, a writer but not an academic, direct, kind and endlessly curious about everyone she encounters.

I had known peripherally that the Channel Islands had been occupied by the Germans during the war, but never had the reality of it brought to my attention. At the beginning of the war, the Germans took nearly everything the Islanders grew to feed their armies, and by the end of the war, the British established a blockade, which meant that neither the Germans nor the Islanders had anything to eat, or wear, or use, other than what they could produce on their tiny islands. I must admit to being completely obsessed as a child by survivalist fantasies. I loved Children of the New Forest, The Swiss Family Robinson and Little House on the Prairie books, but this novel puts it all in perspective. What would I have left to cook with after meat, flour and sugar were off the menu, there was no oil or salt for cooking, and all the trees had been cut down for firewood? After five years nobody had a decent pair of shoes and all their clothes were in rags, there was no soap. Most of the children had been sent away to England a week before the Germans arrived, those who were left were skin and bones. They lived on potatoes, turnips and greens boiled in sea water in lieu of salt and went to bed when it got dark.

It sounds horribly grim, but this novel is funny and charming, without belittling the terrible times the Islanders had to endure. It concerns Juliet, a London writer, who travels to Guernsey after the war to write about life under the Occupation, as revealed to her by the eccentric members of the Literacy Society, and her subsequent adventures. It also features a fierce and determined four year old, who likes ferrets, and has invented a game called Dead Bride, and the local witch who develops a passion for phrenology and has a parrot called Zenobia. What's not to like?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Homemade White Oil

Oh, how boring housework is! I try to be a little Pollyanna about it, and I truly am glad about so many things - I finally have a lovely house to clean, which is more fun than cleaning a renovation-in-progress, I have a happy, healthy family who are often even appreciative of my efforts, I love the state-of-cleanliness that prevails for oh, several minutes after the house is clean, and I am truly grateful that I have a roof over my head to start with... but, oh dear, I do not find the joy in cleaning AT ALL.

So I bribe myself to get things done. Luckily, I am easily amused, and seriously, every job in the garden is a hundred times more fun than any inside.. yesterday, after doing all the tedious dusting and vaccuuming, I got to experiment with homemade white oil.

I have two lovely apple trees which I planted the year before Posy was born, which makes them about nine years old. They are beautiful in every season, and produce delicious apples which are ridden with codlin moth, so that you can never eat one off the tree in case of a nasty surprise, and I mostly have to cut them up to cook with. So this is the year that I am attacking the hungry hordes with science. My personal gardening guru, Peter Cundall recommends four or five applications of white oil from petal fall, every ten days for apple trees to smother the wretched little creatures' eggs. Also citrus - there is some pesky little white fly thing on my lemons, laying eggs everywhere, and also scale causing sooty mould. Solution - white oil every ten days, three applications during spring.

Here is the recipe - it is SO simple, so non-toxic that it doesn't matter if you are a klutz like me and spill things everywhere.

White Oil Recipe

Shake one cup vegetable oil and a quarter cup washing up liquid in a jar. It will become immediatley obvious why it is called white oil.
Label, store in a cool place for up to three months.
Dilution rate: two tablespoons per litre of water.

It works by smothering pests, so spray under leaves where they hide. It is lots of fun to use a pressure sprayer, because you get a continuous spray, and you can spray really high into the canopy!

In approximately four months there will be a review and star rating... has anyone else used this to effect in the garden?

Initial thoughts: more fun than vaccuuming...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Recycling in the Garden

Today I fed the citrus hedges, strawberries, blueberries and fruit trees with a combination of dynamic lifter, blood and bone, and a little dolomite lime. I pulled the snowpea vines out of this wine barrel (note for next time - snowpeas on a bamboo tripod was bad idea. Turns into a giant jungle with snowpeas growing on the inside... peas need a trellis with horizontal bars). The wine barrel will house zucchini and cucumber for summer. I disattached the drop side from Posy's old cot to be a cool cucumber trellis. Maybe I will grow Tommy Toe tomatoes up there as well. Planning for the Summer garden is such fun. I went and bought seeds this afternoon, as most of mine were out of date. Now I have three years' worth of local seeds in paper packets for the same price as about five plastic punnets of seedlings, and I feel very good about that.

Meanwhile we are eating snowpeas, red chard, rocket, lettuce, rhubarb, artichokes, herbs, and plenty of lemons from the garden.

Well, less snowpeas now.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Report Card

One of the more awful sights of my day is the state of the kitchen after the children leave for school. A couple of months back I blithely announced my plan of cooking breakfast and having lovely family time around the table in the morning. Ho ho ho. You'd think I might be a little more self-aware so far into my life, but no. Anyway, needless to say, breakfast is not being cheerfully prepared by this domestic goddess each dawn. The two smallest children still glare at me sullenly from the other side of the breakfast bar while I slap sandwiches together, and about two minutes before they are due out the door, they finally decide to drag themselves to the cupboard and fridge, sigh, and choose the most peculiar combination of food they can see to prove that there really is 'nothing to eat' and it's all my fault.

This morning Rosy ate apple and rhubarb crumble and cream (see, nothing at all to eat), and Posy had chocolate milk, crackers and cheese. Yesterday Rosy had juice and ham, and Posy had pineapple chunks. It's amazing how far a tin of pineapple chunks can spread across a kitchen..

Still, I've added all those hypothetical breakfast menus to our dessert list. Dessert around here is weekends only, and pancakes and waffles are high up there on the list for the days I don't turn the oven on. Because, alas, another confession: I have fallen off the 'saving electricity' bandwagon. This quarter we have used fan heaters endlessly for drying paint, The Man put heaters in the children's bedrooms, and of course they turn them on to get dressed, then forget to turn them off again, we still all use hot showers as therapy, and we've gone back to our bad habit of turning the oven on for a batch of cupcakes. Then, I got the bill, and, miracle of miracles, we had still used five percent less than the same time last year. I can only imagine that all the energy saving features we built in with the renovation are actually working, and offsetting our other terrible habits. It has inspired me to get back onto the wagon again, and return to my nagging ways, because just think of the savings we can make if we actually try...

So, to sum up: cooking breakfast: fail, saving electricity: could do better. Mean mummy: go to the top of the class. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


The picture above is an illustration of how hard my life is. I get to sit in those chairs sometimes, with a cup of tea and a book, and often a cat. The pear tree has been in bloom a full two weeks, but now all the blossom has blown off into the pool, making it look like a wedding setting in Country Style magazine, and two little girls hide up there among the new green leaves whenever I want them to be doing something else.

See the problems I have to deal with? Recalcitrant children and pear blossom. So it will come as no surprise that I am suffering from a mild existential malaise. This is a term I have coined for those, such as myself, who live a really spectacularly pleasant life compared to nearly everyone else in the known universe, but who still want to do a little whining, you know, about having to clean the bathroom, pack lunches, turn up at parent help. I have tried to solve the problem by lying on the couch with a stack of murder mysteries all day, and informing the family that dinner is toasted sandwiches and cereal, and yes, there is a certain measure of satisfaction in that course of action, but only up until the point where they've all gone to bed and I get up to find just how much mess four children can make with a toasted sandwich maker and every dish in the kitchen.

In the end, after many years of painstaking research, I have concluded that the only real solution (and it really hurts me to write this), is to clean the bathroom, pack the lunches, turn up at parent help, and then spend two hours weeding the garden. Oh, and then sit under the pear tree with a cup of tea.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Busy Chitting

I have been everso busy recently, chitting the oca. Chitting, for non gardeners, is the process of exposing tubers to light so that they sprout a bit before planting them so they grow quicker and are less likely to rot in the cold spring ground. It is very complicated. You put them on something airy so they won't rot (wicker basket excellent). You find somewhere light but secluded to leave them, so that cats and children won't play with them, and husbands won't throw them away, thinking they are on the way to the compost. Top of the laundry cupboard, perfect. Then you wait.

And this is absolutely the crucial step. You now have a window of opportunity to do nothing that you don't want to, as in:

Child: Mum, can you iron my terribly complicated tartan kilt with all the pleats that only a complete sadist would include as part of the school uniform?
Me: (lying on the couch reading an Agatha Christie novel) Sorry darling, can't, I 'm too busy chitting the oca.

School Mum: You know there's a P&F meeting on Thursday night, we need to have all hands on deck for the school fair.
Me: Oh, I'd love to, but I have to chit the oca.
School Mum: Does it take long?
Me: Yes, weeks sometimes, I'm terribly behind with it, so sorry....

Of course, you could chit potatoes too, but oca sounds more exotic. Oca is also called the New Zealand yam, but is really a form of oxalis. I buy it from the green grocer in its short season, and eat some and plant some. Some people like to roast them, but I prefer to slice them thinly into stir fries.

And chit them.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Succulent Feast

We have had a week of school holidays, which for me means a week of ferrying Rosy to dance competitions. Luckily it is only a five minute drive, or actually, a three minute drive and ten minute walk, because I believe in stopping just where the free parking does... We need all that fresh air and sunshine due to spending hours in a dark theatre. For a week I get to grab a slice of bread and butter and maybe an apple in between the taxiing. The house slowly disappears under a layer of dust and grime, and the other children live on what they can find, or they bake cupcakes.

So when I finally had a day at home today, I ignored inside, and decided to tackle outside so I could absorb some Vitamin D and not get ricketts. It was all a bit overwhelming though, because Spring has definitely sprung, and everywhere I look there are jobs to do. In the end I decided to go with my trusty technique for cleaning the house when I've been skipping the boring bits for too long, that is, start at one end and just keep going, dealing with absolutely everything as I go, until I fall over from exhaustion or one of the children requires first aid.

I started at one end of the courtyard and pulled out weeds from between the pavers, and washed grimy windows, and brushed out cobwebs, then I came to a bag of bits of succulents that I had brought home from our trip to Bruny Island a couple of weeks ago. Bruny has cottages along the beach with banks of naturalised echiums and succulents cascading down to the sand in wild profusion. I had never imagined that aeoniums had flowers, but here they are, with hundreds of daisy-like, yellow blooms.

I knew that all of these succulents wanted to come home with me, but I was very cruel, and chose only a select few.  I filled a plastic shopping bag with cuttings, then brought them home and stuck them under the table in the courtyard until today. Let me assure you that I am not intentionally mean to plants. I almost always take good care of them and water and feed them, but I think it is only fair to let them know, right from the start, that if they are not tough enough to withstand two weeks in a plastic bag before planting, then they probably won't find life in my garden super enjoyable. Luckily, succulents enjoy tough love. So I emptied them all onto the paving, echiveriums, blue chalk sticks, pig face, aeoniums, and that big grey one whose name I can't recall, we'll call it elephant ears.

Also luckily, the first instruction in gardening manuals for transplanting succulents, is to leave them for twenty four hours to develop a callus on the stem cut to prevent rotting. Two weeks also works. Really, this gardening job couldn't be easier or more fun. I chose pots from my stash, stuck a bit of broken pot over the drainage hole, filled with potting mix, stuck the cuttings in artistically, then mulched with white gravel from the front path. Pretty, pretty.

The bird house is a school project by Rosy. One thing I have discovered about succulents in pots - all mine seem to like having water in their saucers to slowly wick back into the pots. This may be because they are positioned to catch the fierce afternoon sun, but they seem quite happy, and it keeps the table dry. The tiny pots are citronella candle pots. They don't even have drainage holes, I just don't water them as often. These plantings would be about a year old, and are thriving and reproducing, against all the gardening advice I have ever heard...

The tiny blue pot is from The Girl's brief foray into bonsai when she was ten. There was a potted succulent I really liked at our holiday rental, so I took just two little leaves from it, which I am hoping will magically increase into whole plants. Succulents mostly do that..

Well, I have now advanced about eight feet into my Spring garden jobs. Hope all your garden work is going just as splendidly!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Contemplating Calendula

Twelve years ago when we moved into this house, a friend gave me some half packets of flower seeds she didn't want any more. I swear every seed came up, and for years I had garden beds full of continually self-seeding cosmos, calendula and love-in-a-mist, due to the generosity of a friend and the universe. The cosmos got a bit jungly after a few years and I pulled it all out, but the calendula and love-in-a-mist comes back faithfully year after year, even though I pull most of it out after flowering. It pops up in the gravel paths, between paving, all through all the garden beds. I can't quite understand why the whole earth isn't carpeted with calendula. I've been picking and drying it for a week now, and I have a jar full of dried sunshine, with no noticeable dent in the number of flowers in the garden. When the children were little I would make an infusion of calendula flowers in my fat blue teapot whenever they had sticky, weepy eyes with a cold. Bathing their eyes with calendula tea always fixed them up right away. It will take a while to organise the other ingredients I want to make my calendula tea, so I am going to use my dried calendula to make an infused oil. I'm hoping it will be helpful for family members with eczema, also I'd like a moisturiser for summer for my ageing skin!

The love-in-a-mist turns out to be useful too. I discovered that though it is not nigella sativa (black cumin seed), it is nigella damascena, very similar, and also edible, more nutmeg-like, so I collect the seed and use it in naan bread. It is also the most wonderful Arabian-nights bejewelled slipper-like flower, in every colour of blue imaginable.

I love my self-seeding garden. Pretty and useful. And plants itself.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Madam Weeds the Strawberry Bed

My mother always turns up to visit with all sorts of odd bits and bobs she has picked up in various places. This last visit she left these vintage haberdashery items - cards of necklace thread.

The one on the left reads: New Improved Pack of Original Article Which Enables Madam to Securely Rethread Her Own Pearls Exactly to Her Requirements.

Good old Mum, she knows I am always obsessing about ways to rethread my pearls.

During the intervals of the day Madam wasn't mentally rearranging her pearl collection, she was weeding the strawberry bed...

... trimming the rosemary hedge by the back steps (so many bees in the blue..)

... and picking orange calendula flowers for drying to make tea.

There are only two herbal teas that I like at all. One is lemon and ginger, and the other is calendula, lemongrass and spearmint. Upon reading the lemon and ginger packet I have discovered that most of the lemon is lemongrass, with just one percent lemon peel. I would love to make my own teas, and it should be doable, because I drink so little herbal tea I won't have to grow much! Lemongrass and ginger are both tropical plants, but Kate seems to think I can grow lemongrass here if I keep it safe and warm in winter, and I was talking to someone the other day who grows ginger in the same way, just taking it inside in winter. I have asked at the nursery, and they will have lemongrass in a couple of weeks. Now I just need spearmint. I think I saw some while I was walking the other day, in a boggy patch on the riverbank. I will have to take wellies and a trowel to investigate. And maybe a field guide.

So herbal tea prep is going well. I have one out of the four ingredients. It shouldn't take more than a year to grow all the rest. Slow food.

Continuing our mini vegie tour, here is the garlic, growing in a long bed down the side of the house, next to the clothesline. Every day as I hang out the washing, I talk to the garlic. I'm sure it appreciates hearing all the news.


 And last of all, the red chard has finally started to grow. May was way too late to plant anything, and it has sulked all winter. Next year I will be planting all the winter veg in March. However, it is putting on new leaves now, which I am taking right off again to put in salad. Mmm, crunchy, crinkly spring salad leaves.
Madam is obviously too distracted by the vegetable kingdom to be bothered with the pearls today. Maybe tomorrow..

Friday, August 31, 2012

At Least I Have All My Own Teeth

Well, back to that other life, the one without grandparents to entertain the seven year old, the one where you wake up one morning and the dirt fairy has been, leaving a thin film of grime all over the house, and magically making all the clothes jump into the dirty washing basket at once. The life where the cat suddenly has fleas, and the flea medicine disagrees with her insides, and you are woken at 6.45 am to the news, 'Mum, the cat's been sick again.' (Incidentally, I married a magnificent man, he sorted that one) The life which for a whole week revolves around extra ballet rehearsals, requests for extra ballet gear, new ribbons to be sewn on ballet shoes, bits of bling to be sewn on costumes, and hooks and eyes which were meant to be sewn on costumes, that have now disappeared. The life where you hear sentences like, 'Mum, I have a tutor group breakfast tomorrow at the museum cafe at 8 o'clock, then I have a class trip to the university for the day, here is the form to sign, can you drive me pleeeeeease.' (at least she sweetened the deal with a batch of choc chip cookies) That is also the morning that The Man leaves on a business trip at dawn, The Boy goes off to the snow for the day at dawn, and the little girls somehow have to get to school as well.

It's also the life where the plum blossom on the neighbours' tree is so icicle-white against the impossibly blue spring sky that it makes your eyes hurt, and the sun is so shiny that every leaf is sparkling, and the mini peach trees are blossoming at the same time as the forget-me-nots...

And when life gets a little tedious, it always seems to throw up moments like these:
Yesterday I was standing in line at The Vegie Shed, go-to place for local vegie bargains, and I had my trolley piled up as usual with 10kg bags of spuds and onions, and giant bags of cheap apples to keep the hordes happy. The old man in front of me was jolly and white-bearded, and I smiled at him. He fixed me with his piercing blue eyes, leaned towards me and whispered conspiratorially, 'Always try to keep your own teeth, dear.'
I assured him I would indeed endeavour to do so.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Kindness of Grannies

My very extremely nice parents child-cat-guinea pig-sat last week while The Man and I ran away from home. We rented the world's tiniest cottage on the beach...

...with possibly the world's best views. This is the one from the bedroom window. Why would you ever get out of bed?

To go through the red gate of course, down to the beach, to find rocks, starfish and fossils, and look at sheep and echidnas. Well, lots of sheep, one echidna.

And to sometimes get in the car and go and look at other beaches...

...climb high cliffs, and go for supplies to the one place on the island actually open in the winter season. Providentially this was a blessed cheesemaker, who also baked sourdough in his wood fired oven. The gods were smiling. We ate bread and cheese for days from the cottage's retro crockery collection, circa 1974, and drank some very nice pinot noir.

Every evening The Man lit the fire, which gave us the perfect opportunity to eat more cheese, and of course, drink more wine.

But then, oh no, The Man ran out of coffee, so we had to come home. Nothing less catastrophic could have torn us away. But at least we got to ride on the ferry.

Thanks Mum and Dad, couldn't have done it without you.