Saturday, September 28, 2013

Three Things

This weekend is truly, madly busy. All the children's doing of course. I don't have a social life, because there are not enough minutes in the day...

1 Rosy painted cupcakes on Posy's fingernails. If you were here, I'm sure she'd do yours too.

2 This is Polly, the Grumpy but Intelligent Cat.

She loves to sleep on Posy's top bunk for hours every day, always in the same favourite spot, which drives me crazy because of the cat hair factor. I do not like cat hair on the bed. I have spent months chasing Polly off the bed, trying to keep the bedroom door permanently shut, devising sneaky and cunning cat traps, all to no avail. Polly is a clever cat. Then a couple of weeks ago it occurred to me to pop a cosy little rug on the end of the bed. Polly obligingly sleeps on it, and I shake it out every day, and give it a good wash every week, and problem solved. I was so busy trying to solve a non-existent problem that I didn't see the most obvious solution...

3 Here is my favourite lunch. Poached egg, toast and greens. This week it has included warrigal greens from the garden, eggs from Fran's lovely chickies, and my own yum sourdough (by the way, The Man thinks that me photographing my lunch is a little disturbing. I tell him everyone is doing it..)

Here is my question for sourdough makers - how do I get a taller loaf? Did the kneading I accidentally did for these loaves knock out the air? Does anyone knead their sourdough? My recipe doesn't include it, but maybe others do? Should I spray the loaves with water before I bake them? Apparently steam is a vital factor in the rise to prevent the bread being 'trapped' under its crust. I had a tray of hot water in the bottom of the oven the first time, but didn't spray the loaves (the flour sprinkled on top looked so pretty; I didn't want to make it sticky!). So many questions!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Litany of Disasters Leads to Sourdough that Tastes Like Angels Singing...

Ta da! OK, the title contains a teeny spoiler, so as there is no sense trying to build up the tension, I will tell you now that I truly accidentally made some of the best bread I have ever, ever tasted. Truly. I am (almost) speechless.

But the day did not start well. You know how I decided yesterday that my sourdough starter was ready, with all that bubble action? And Fran said in the comments that I would really know when it was ready, because the starter would foam up? And I decided it had, and started in on making a bread sponge anyway? Well, this morning I woke up to discover that my starter was well and truly, perfectly ready. Foaming and airy, and unmistakeably looking just how a starter should look when it is begging to be made into bread. Not just bubbly, but positively perky as well.

That is the end of this loaf I thought as I looked at my bread sponge. I will have to try again tomorrow. Sigh. But the sponge was spongy, so I thought I would give it a go. For practice. I took the sponge out of the fridge and let it come back to room temperature during breakfast. Then I poured it into the big mixing bowl. It was encouragingly glue-like. Those long strings of dough are where the gluten has developed beautifully and is holding the dough together.

Then I turned on the computer to check the recipe. DISASTER! The King Arthur Flour website was OFFLINE. Why, technology gods, WHY? The only thing I could remember was that I needed two more cups of flour. Gulp. So I added that. And some salt (not quite enough as it turned out). Oh lord. Then I guessed. I knew it needed to rise, but did I knead it? Couldn't remember, so I did anyway, my usual ten minute knead for bread dough. A bit more than the recipe requires as it turns out. Then I let it rise for about five hours because I had to go out.

After kneading:

After rising:

This time I didn't knead, because I seemed to remember that that is not what you do with sourdough. Website still not working. I just shaped it into loaves, and hoped for the best.

Now it needed to rise again. I went to dancing with Posy. Just in case you are tired of photos of bread rising, here is a nice picture of comfrey, or possibly borage in my garden. This is the old blue watering can we use to defrost the car windscreens in winter.

OK, ready for more bread shots? Here are the lovely risen loaves of bread. At this point, I am using baking instructons from Joanna's gorgeous bread website. Joanna and Fran are having arcane discussions about kefir bread, but I am only up to basic sourdough, and need all the help I can get at this point. She holds my hand and tells me how to slash the bread, and pour boiling water onto a tray in the bottom of the oven to make it all steamy for the first ten minutes of baking, which helps the bread rise better. It works! And here is something I did not know - bread is baked when it registers 92C in the middle. I took it out when it looked done, and it was 94C. Fascinating!

Now I know you have seen this photo already, but LOOK at this bread. It is amazing. Perfectly chewy crust, beautiful, even crumb, with that wonderful tangy sourdough flavour. Apparently, you are supposed to let the loaf cool completely before you cut it. HA. As if that was ever going to happen. There was pumpkin soup ready, and Rosy had to run out to her school social, so we had to eat it right there and then. Oh my. This bread is gold. It could be used as currency. It is my new retirement plan.

I only hope I can make it again....

PS The website finally came back on-line, and I had only forgotten to add sugar. Seriously, sugar? In sourdough? And although the angels did sing, it needed more salt. I can do that.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sourdough 101

I made the decision - I am going to bake with my sourdough starter! There are bubbles all the way to the bottom, and it has risen convincingly... ish. Just in case, I have fed the starter again and left it on the bench. If tomorrow's bread doesn't work out, I can always make another loaf the next day, and so on and so on until we have perfection in a loaf...

Posy put a moustache on my sourdough baby. No, I don't know why. Would you look at the bubbles on this baby, after just twelve hours. It's going crazy.

After looking all over the web world of sourdough, I have decided to use this recipe, solely because it features a bread sponge, and I have wondered for years what one of those was. They feature in old novels, when the thrifty housewife sets her bread in the evening for the morning's baking. Even yesterday, reading Swords and Crowns and Rings by Ruth Park (love her novels, read them, read them), the camp cook in a drover's camp sets his bread in a Dutch oven overnight to be ready for baking in the morning. I never realised until I started this little baking project that everyone made sourdough bread until recently. Baker's yeast is such a modern phenomenon.

So here is a 'sponge'. This recipe uses a cup of starter, three cups of flour, one and a half cups of water, all mixed together. Here it is when I mixed it.

And here it is, two hours later. One bubble!

I know, such excitement. I can't think why anyone is still reading, except out of sheer kindness.

When I go to bed, it will go in the fridge, and tomorrow morning, when everyone has gone out, and I have cleared up all the mess, I will start kneading, then letting it rise. I do have to go out twice, so I hope it isn't at any critical point. I am hoping it will rise, and I won't have a very flat loaf to show you tomorrow night. Or a burnt one. Or one that is so acidic it is inedible...

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Days Go By..

Today there will be no illustrations. You will need to make the pictures in your head.

Things I must tell you:

I have a giant pile of library books. I am happeeee.

The Man and The Boy have been wrestling with my laptop. It was very SLOOOOW, so they took everything off it, and then put it all back on again. With Windows, so now I have to share it with Rosy, whose (very old) laptop died. Next year she will get one at school, but until then I have to SHARE. I am not good at sharing. Especially with school projects on Ancient China. Ho hum.

Four out of five of the other members of my family can now do more complicated maths than me. This does not worry me in any way, and I will not be doing any extra study to catch up. I am happy to be the family maths dunce. I currently am ahead of the eight year old, but not by much.

This weekend The Man and I have pulled everything out of our filing cabinet, and thrown most of it in the recycling. We refiled what little is left into some folders and document boxes, which will be neatly shelved in our new study... when it has shelves. I had to take some drastic action. I felt like I had been doing this job forever, little by little, but I needed it to be done NOW. So I took everything out of the filing cabinet and piled it on the living room floor. We were knee deep in paper. But it worked. I HATE mess in the living room. The Man and I have been nearly bored to tears, but we have recycled nearly our whole lives. Three piles of recycling up to my knees. So that is a pile of paper up my waist, all gone. I feel lighter. We bought that filing cabinet when we moved in here, and ever since we have been shoving bits of paper in, because it's so easy to file it (just in case). Posy and the cats have had fun shredding paper, and chasing it.

The sourdough starter has stalled. My recipe (and Fran, sourdough queen) say to feed twice a day, so I have been, but of course, that means it has to get all bubbly in the space of twelve hours instead of twenty four, and so far it is, well, reluctant. First day of twice daily feeding there was ONE bubble. I thought I had killed it. Next day four bubbles, next day eight. So we are heading in the right direction, yes? But slowly. Today sourdough baby was reasonably bubbly, but the recipe says it has to double in size over twelve hours before it's ready. It's not ready. I have run out of flour. Lucky it's grocery day tomorrow. My sourdough baby is eating me out of house and home..

Tell me, sourdough mavens, do I need to wait until the starter doubles in size? Will it really do that? I'll take photos soon and maybe someone can tell me when I hit that magic 'yes, you can make bread now' moment.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sourdough Adventures

Lookee, I have a cute little bubbly sourdough starter! I have been meaning to make sourdough bread for, oh about two years now. I believe that slow and steady wins the race. Or, at least turns up at the finish line eventually, generally when everyone else has gone home.

The tipping point for actually starting my starter was discovering that though I don't have Coeliac's disease, I do have the gene for it, which would seem to indicate that there is something about gluten that my body isn't really happy about, although I currently have no gluten intolerance issues at all, and hopefully never will. I have been doing lots of reading about gluten, and what do you know? Baker's yeast is a modern invention, no more than two hundred years old. Traditional societies all soaked or fermented their grains, legumes, nuts and seeds before using them, which neutralised the phytic acid in them. Phytic acid can block the absorption of all kinds of good nutrients, such as zinc and iron, by bindigng to it molecularly and taking it out of the body (you know, all that good wholegrain fibre that is supposed to keep us regular?).

Traditional societies world wide have developed ways to use grains without being nutritionally compromised by them - think of the Scottish tradition of soaking oats overnight before making them into porridge. Before the invention of baker's yeast and raising agents like baking powder, the only way to make bread, biscuits or cakes, or anything that wasn't flat as the proverbial pancake, was to use sour dough. The way that we now use grains - puffed and heat treated (breakfast cereals), dry roasted (granola, muesli bars) or in quick rise breads and baked goods - is possibly causing us all to be nutritionally compromised. Ooops! Another own goal for the modern food industry.

Does this mean that I have thrown out all the bread and muesli in the house? No, but in my usual slow way I may be making some changes to the way we eat. Quietly, without telling anybody. Because they already think I'm a bit mad. They have noticed that there is a sourdough starter on the bench, but I have promised that no-one has to eat the bread unless they really want to. I'm hoping I can make a really nice loaf that the family may actually want to eat.

Here is the method I am using to make the starter. I like it because there are plenty of pictures! I am on Day 3 today. I started the starter with rye flour, because that seems to be a generally accepted wholesomely good flour to start with, then yesterday discarded half of it into the compost, and added organic plain white flour. Today it is bubbling like mad. There is also an unfortunate ant, who will no doubt add a certain je ne sais quoi to the mixture. Thankyou, ant.

Tonight, I will discard most of the starter and feed it again, maybe with half rye, half white this time, because I like to make things up as I go along. And I won't discard the extra starter, I will be making these yummy pancakes with it. I will call them Only-Slightly-Ant-Flavoured Pancakes, and then maybe the children will leave lots for me.

Actually, having just read the instructions again, I have just realised I was supposed to feed the starter this morning as well as tonight. Ah well, I'm sure it will be fine. I am really not a details person. The recipe also mentions the importance of steady warmth for starter success. Well, it is your typical freezing cold Tassie spring here. We have heating on a couple of hours in the morning, and at night, but right now I am dressed in my winter parka as I type. I popped the starter on the bench right over the dishwasher, which warms up nicely during the drying cycle, but that is the only extra heat it has received and it seems to be doing fine so far.

Anyways, be sure I will keep you updated on the sourdough adventure. It might turn into a saga actually. It may take some time...

And I have another string to the old bow on the fermenting front. Monday morning I met lovely fellow blogger Fran in our local whole foods shop. It was so exciting to meet her and her very sweet, funny daughters in person. She is madly busily making bread as well, whipping up a vegan kefir milk as the fermenting agent for bread. Fran gave me some kefir grains, which aren't grains, but some kind of mysterious lacto bacilli (maybe - I could be making that bit up!). When I have another spare bit of brainspace I will read all the information she sent me, and work out what to do next with them. My plan is to rehydrate them in milk, and use the milk for baking, as I have a recipe (somewhere) for baking cakes using flour soaked in kefir. Somewhere...

Cheers Fran, and please tell me, have any of you baked sourdough bread before, or made a starter? Send me all your tips, and tell me about your projects that you have been going to start for two years now (please tell me that I am not the only person who procrastinates indefinitely..).

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Forward Planning... Should I Just Plan to Fail?

So yesterday was your average Saturday if you have kids... hockey final, school fair, ballet x2. Three children at four events at different times, and some of them at the same event, but at different times, and also some of their friends are commuting with me, and at one time, one of mine commuting with someone else. The Man is away, the minivan gets a workout, and so does my poor brain.

We did pretty well, considering. We only forgot the ballet bag, which I had to go back for, but luckily when I was swinging past the house anyway. Rosy was only five minutes late for ballet, which was, I think, a win in the circumstances.

However, in concentrating on one thing, our schedule, which is all my brain can cope with, the environment lucked out a little, which brings me to the point of this post.

It takes Planning with a capital P to drive less, make less rubbish, use less plastic. And that is not my forte. To wit: I had left the eight year old with The Girl at the fair while I watched Rosy's hockey game. Posy appeared, beaming, laden with three giant plastic bags loaded with plastic tat that she had bought with her pocket money. Glow sticks, plastic slurpee cups, tiny plastic toys. Aargh! At least the show bag from the fire service was all paper, with paper colouring books, and a cardboard fire engine money box to make. Well done CFS. And I bought some backyard chicken eggs from the CFS people as well, as a fundraiser. That's a plus.

There was lots of food in plastic and paper containers, and no recycling bins in sight. I bought a cup of tea from my lovely daughter at the cake stall in a paper cup. Then I bought a side of locally farmed lamb. 7kg of lamb in a cardboard box, wrapped in one big plastic bag. OK, it was a plastic bag, but really, very little wrapping for that much meat.

Until I got home, and realised I had nothing to store 7kgs of lamb in the freezer, except in plastic bags. Oh no. So now I have a freezer full of meat in plastic. Sigh.

But failing is good in that we learn from our mistakes, right? So, here is my plan. I need to keep a reusable cup or two in car. I've asked the next door neighbour to save ice cream containers for me so I have a stack to store unexpected largesse in the fridge or freezer. I'd like to find some sort of container that I can get take away food in, that maybe sort of looks nice too. Maybe something in stainless steel?

I need to talk more to the children about what they are buying, whether they do need 'stuff' and about what their 'stuff' is made of. The lucky dip, at least, was packaged in plain paper bags. And face painting didn't produce any rubbish. It would have been so much better to steer Posy towards spending money on the bouncy castle or pony rides..

If I was the sort of person who didn't prefer to gnaw her arms off rather than sit in a meeting, I could get on the school fair committee and have the conversation about reusing and recycling...

Friday, September 13, 2013

I'm Not Dead Yet... I Think I'll Go For a Walk..

                                        July                                                      September

Ten things I love about iron, a whole ocean-liner-load of iron in fact, pumped into my left arm a month or so ago:

1 It makes me bounce around like the energiser bunny.
2 I don't feel like I might keel over when I walk up a  hill anymore.
3 I'm now not so pale that you can see every one of my freckles.
4 I smile a lot.
5 I've stopped being so shouty.
6 I can stay up past Posy's bedtime.
7 I can stay up past Posy's bedtime and get off the couch. But only if I really want to.
8 I don't cry when I lose the car keys.
9 I don't lose the car keys. Let's not get carried away here.
10 I don't seem to be able to panic. I think I've transformed into one of those calm, serene people who do yoga and drink wheatgrass juice for fun. Except it turns out you don't need yoga and wheatgrass juice, just a boatload of iron.

So now I'm not pale and languid anymore I have had to stop doing my celebrated impression of a mid-Victorian invalid. I've bounced up off the chaise longue and keep helpfully reminding everyone who looks a little pale to go and get some iron.

Seriously. Iron, people. Every time I had a newborn I was slightly anaemic and slightly post-natally depressed. The midwives would look critically at the inside of my eyelids and say, 'You need iron, go and get a bottle of Floradix immediately,' and of course I wouldn't, Well, ignore the midwife at your risk. I strongly suspect now that my post-natal anxiety and mini-panic attacks may have been all the better for that bottle of Floradix.

But we were way beyond a need for Floradix this time. None of the extensive number of tests I've had so far have showed any reason for me to be catastrophically anaemic. 'At least it's unlikely to be cancer', trills the doctor cheerily, 'If you were this anaemic from cancer I'd expect you to be dead by now.'

I have a lovely doctor, but she tends to get carried away by professional enthusiasm, 'Don't worry until I tell you to be worried,' she instructs me, 'There are lots more tests we can do yet!'

Oh, yay.

I think I'll go for that walk now. While I still can.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Another Day in the (Rather Long Countdown to the) Zero Waste Kitchen

Here is a little update on our reducing plastic packaging project. Sometimes, when we're good, we're very, very good, but sometimes we're just not...

I have discovered this - it takes a reasonable amount of organisation and forward planning to keep a family fed and watered, even when you shop at the nearest supermarket and are happy to have plastic bags coming out of your ears. If you want to do something different, it takes extreme organisation, a character trait I do not possess. I cannot tell you the number of times I have left the house without my calico bags for collecting bread from the bakery, or not planned sufficiently for all the dinner ingredients, and I can tell you this - the bulk bin wonderland that is our wholefood shop, or the local butcher, are not open at 6.30pm when you realise there is nothing for dinner, or you need cous cous, so calling The Man to pick things up as he swings by to pick up a child from ballet on the way home from work inevitably means plastic packaging.

So menu planning is high on my list of priorities to be more...consistent about.

There have been some good moments though. Above on the right is our old butter packaging. On the left - a giant 2.4kg pack of the best local farmhouse spring butter, yellow as primroses, buttercups and daffodils. Discovered it in the fridge at the whole foods shop. Posy found the butter dish when she was rummaging through the 'granny crockery' cupboard, and insisted that we use it, like people in 'the old days'. We are storing the butter dish in the cupboard, and the butter is spreading beautifully, and tasting divine. I'm not sure whether to keep the 'mother lode' in the fridge, or freeze it. Its use-by date is December, and we will definitely get through it by then, but I don't want it to start tasting like whatever it sits next to in the fridge..

I've been very good and cut up this week's celery and stored it in airtight containers instead of an old plastic bag.

Posy is happy because now she can help herself to her favourite afternoon snack of celery dipped in peanut butter, instead of waiting for me to hack a bit off the side of the bunch and cut it up for her.

I may have linked to this before, but here is a wildly advanced zero waste family's refrigerator interior, photo at the bottom of the post. I love the celery sticks in the jar, so neat, although I am more of a bulk-buy girl myself. The salad mixes in the tall jars are a clever idea. But why isn't their fridge full of left overs and bottles of beer. Or is that just me?

Now the bread. When I first started buying plastic-free loaves, I was storing them in a big plastic container, but that wasn't very flexible. Now I use a hippy-tie-dyed calico bag which can fit a couple of any-shaped loaves at a time. I find that as long as I fold the bag down firmly over the cut surface it stays fresh. Also, we use about a loaf a day, so if you would use less, freezing half a loaf might be an idea.

I had no idea how I was going to freeze bread without using a plastic bag. For a while there I bought bread every day from the local shop. Then I read that Bea from Zero Waste Home uses a pillow case to freeze her fortnight of baguettes. Mad, I thought, they'd go stale. But it works! A whole loaf freezes beautifully in cloth! I didn't have a spare pillowcase, but I had plenty of the old Coles calico bags. I did think of sewing patches over the Coles logo, but, well, the sewing fairy hasn't visited recently.

Here are four loaves in two bags, just folded over at the top. Now I can't guarantee how long these will freeze nicely for. I haven't kept them for more than a week. I imagine freezer burn would set in eventually.

Of course, the thing you can't do if you aren't using plastic, is to buy a pre-sliced loaf. It will fall apart in your calico bag, and then go stale. The breadknife is our new best friend, and we are learning to cut sort-of straight slices. No, that's a lie. We are learning to eat very odd-shaped slices of bread. The bread is much sturdier, yummier, locally baked, and better for us. But decidedly odd-shaped.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Fighting Food Waste and Monday

Today I have done... pretty much nothing. It has been one of those days. It rained. I am trying not to get a cold. You have to feed a cold, right? So I did, all day. Then I had a nap. Now I am feeling like I possibly never need to eat again. I am cleaning up the kitchen while the girls do their homework. Well, I sort of am. Clearly I got a teeny bit distracted from doing that.

Last week was Zero Waste Week, I believe, so true to form, I am writing about it this week. Particularly thought I would write about food waste, because I am trying very hard on that front right now. Today I furthered the cause by making sure I ate up all the cheese, and the nice bakery loaf.

I need to have systems in place for using up left overs, because, as with most other areas of life, without a system in place I am very, very vague. I try to always eat last night's dinner for lunch the next day if there are left overs. I love left overs. That's how I judge the success of a meal - are the left overs yummy? If a pot of leftovers sits in the fridge for days and dies there, probably no one liked it in the first place, so I shouldn't cook it again.

There are things that I should do, but don't. Like chop up the celery into sticks when I get it home and store it in an airtight container. I have a friend who does this religiously, and her celery never dies. Last week I had to compost slimy celery. Sigh.

I did save half a beetroot by making pink salad yesterday, and ate the rest today, between cheese fixes. Pink salad is one of those wonderful dishes that improves the next day, as all the flavours meld. And it gets pinker, too.

Up above are two pumpkins. The Boy's girlfriend brought them over. Her dad bought them, then left the country, and her mum works full time and has no intention of cooking up giant pumpkins. I am glad they thought of me, but I wonder what it is about me that says, 'Bring me your pumpkins, your huddled masses of unwanted garden produce..' Possibly the fact that the kitchen bench is always covered with some kind of vegetable matter, and I make all the children's friends eat zucchini cake and homemade jam. Posy made the pumpkin happy.

Now the egg whites. Chocolate macaroons are what these little beauties are destined to become. I was going to make them today and take photos of the finished product, but... didn't.

Here are some of my food saves:

Chopped, frozen banana. I used to just throw whole blackened bananas in the freezer. They defrost into mush, absolutely perfect for banana cake - no need to mash! But I make terrible banana cake, like bricks, and the family complained they made the freezer smell like banana. Then, after seeing this post, I started chopping bananas, freezing them on trays, then tipping them into the freezer container. Brilliant! Simple ideas are often the best. Now the kids pull out a few slices to throw in their smoothies.

Under the banana is the flavoured breadcrumb box. I save frozen bread crusts, throw them into the food processor with oil, salt, spices, herbs, whatever is in the garden. I use them for gratin toppings and coating chicken nuggets!

Terrible photos! On the left are cubes of frozen cream for cooking, on the right, cubes of lemon juice. So easy for throwing into the dinner.

Something I do a lot. Accidentally dry mushrooms in their paper bag at the bottom of the fridge. These can be crumbled into a stew or rehydrated in a teacup of water. You have to stick a saucer over the top because they float. The mushroom water makes a good addition to stock.

Ok, the photos are getting really terrible, I should stop now. This is not technically left overs. It is a crumble mixture. It is a brilliant freezer staple to have on hand, because any slightly squishy fruit can be stewed up quickly, you can pop frozen crumble mixture on top, and ...almost instant dessert!

This recipe is adapted from one of Jamie Oliver's. I halved the sugar.

Throw 100g plain flour
100g cold butter
50g sugar
100 g oats
1tsp ground ginger or a thumb size piece of grated ginger or orange or lemon zest
into the food processor.
Whiz till crumble-like.
Add mini choc chips if available.
Store in freezer. Try not to use this as a snack food...

I believe this may be called a fruit crisp in the US?

For some really very sensible and motivational ideas for zero waste food, see Frugal Queen's list. She is the bomb.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Use What You Have

When my brother and I were very young we lived in a little town in the highlands of New Guinea. There were no toy shops. Our grannies sent us toys and books for birthdays and Christmas, but mostly we had the toys that we had, with no real changes from year's end to year's end.

My mum had a cunning plan though - she would hide a box of toys in a high cupboard, and every few months she would produce this box - I am thinking probably at the end of a very trying day, and ta da! New toys! It was like seeing old friends after a long break. They are simply delightful companions, because we all know absence makes the heart grow fonder. It is the same with toys when you are four. Oh, the joys of toys not seen for months!

This is a good way to add interest to anything of course - make sure it is unavailable for a while, because as humans we prize anything with scarcity value, and also love the shock of the new. But clearly we have short attention spans, because it doesn't have to be really new. Look at the hipness of retro-anything.

Anyway, my mum's brilliant ploy to extend the value of a small stock of toys and books is a useful way to make the most of lots of the other things we have, instead of buying new gear and stuffing up the planet.

Sometimes I rifle through the children's book case and bring out ones they haven't seen for a while, or some that are pertinent to something they are studying. I leave them casually stacked on the coffee table. As if by accident. And they pounce on them, squealing gleefully, 'Oh, I remember this!' and then we've lost them for the next hour. The books have been there in the bookcase all the time but they just needed to be SEEN.

I keep big construction collections, like Scalectrix, and boxes of puzzles and games in the shed, and bring them down periodically, like today. All the girls have been playing Twister and Battleships and Scrabble all day. Actually, I brought them down because finally we have a games cupboard downstairs that I could store them all in, but I'm having second thoughts about that...

And it's not just children that enjoy this activity. Who has a mending pile? I do. Sometimes I'm very good and mend everything during movie marathons, but mostly, I have a pile of clothes sitting in the mending basket for months. Lucinda did too, but yesterday she sewed on two buttons and now has two pretty new spring tops. I did the same thing recently ie, rifle through my mending basket, because I was desperate for something to wear that wasn't jeans, but was warm enough for cold weather, and I found this summer dress I have had for years. It had an annoying sewn-in belt, so I unpicked it, and now I have a tunic dress to wear with leggings, long-sleeve top and red cardi:

I also hit the jackpot - back when I was chronicling my autumn wardrobe I mentioned that I would love some black pants. Well, I pulled some out of the mending pile. I think I threw them there in a huff when I realised I had actually bought a size 6 from the op shop (didn't try them on, did I? They just looked about right). I don't know why I threw them in the mending - maybe I thought I would magically become stick thin? Anyway, I tried them on to see if there was anything I could do with them, and they fit perfectly! Magic? No. They are a US size 6, which makes them an AUS size 10. Miracle!

OK, next place to ring the changes - who has a cupboard filled with granny crockery that needs to be pulled out, dusted and used? Both Lucinda and Libi mentioned in the comments that they bring out their best tea sets and teapots for a lovely weekend tea party. I will be joining them tomorrow, and maybe pottering about hunting out some more pretty crockery for spring flowers and cupcakes.

And look up there on the tops of the cupboards - those baskets can come down for a week, and be filled with fruit, and we could pop daffodils in old bottles - an idea I snitched from Townmouse this week.

Has anyone else found something new and interesting in the back of a cupboard recently? Who else rotates collections, whether toys, clothes or crockery, to satisfy their itch to see something new, without buying new? I have a friend who moves her furniture around all the time. By herself. Including the piano. Her chiropractor profits from this.

PS Who had sausages in bread after they voted today? Is this a particularly Aussie thing? Here in Australia we line up to vote at the local school hall, where we meet all our neighbours, then we stand around and eat sausages and hamburgers and chat, because the school Parents and Friends association has inevitably set up a barbecue as a fundraiser. Sometimes there are cake stalls. This makes voting such fun (well, it would be better if there was a sensible party to vote for..).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Perfect Cup of Tea

This is the story of the long journey to a perfect cup of tea. Ever since I discovered tea at the age of fourteen, it has been a vital part of the day. White with none, at least three times a day. Warm and comforting, all is well with the world when my hands are wrapped around a mug of tea.

But then I became enraged at a world suffocating in plastic and started to wean our family away from using plastic, one product at a time. And I started in on tea. It was very tricky to find a teabag where the bag or the box wasn't shrouded in plastic. So I started to experiment with making tea in a pot, with loose leaves which are packaged in cardboard, and then, following hints from ever-helpful readers, found I could buy loose tea from big jars in a cute coffee shop, or from my favourite wholefoods shop. So far, so good, right?

Wrong. Turns out I was absolutely pants at making tea in a pot. I was outraged. I made tea that was stewed, I made tea that was watery, I tried using a tea infuser, but I could not get it right. And I NEEDED a perfect cup of tea. Several times a day. And then I got sick, for weeks and weeks, and felt so miserable that I just gave up the fight. Lovely reader Judy let me know in the comments that Twinings 100 bag boxes were packaged without plastic. Hooray! But now I was drinking tea that wasn't grown pesticide-free in Australia, and wasn't fair trade, whose only positive was that it wasn't wrapped in plastic. Buying food is a minefield of ethical dilemmas!

Then the very brilliant and helpful Libi wrote in a post that I had inspired her to go and buy unpackaged loose leaf tea. She took her own container, and got a discount from the properly impressed tea lady at the MOST wonderful tea stall I have ever seen. Shopping envy. Go have a look. Anyway, I was mortified, having totally given up on the whole tea in a pot thing. I confessed my shortcomings to Libi, and then she made the suggestion that has CHANGED MY LIFE.

STIR THE POT before you pour it out. Prevents watery tea, and you don't have to leave it so long it stews to get the right strength. I guess it's like jiggling the tea bag. BRILLIANT! Total game changer. This morning I set myself up with tea caddy, kettle, tea pot and strainer, and made tea over and over again, using the stove timer, until I got a consistently perfect cuppa. Oh, I am so happy! And it took a Proper British Chick to sort me out. I love the internet!

Admittedly, there is a tiny part of me that is saying, 'You still drive a car and stand under a hot shower for an unconscionably long time, you still buy cheese and muesli bars wrapped in plastic - why are you making such a fuss about tea bags?' It's true, it seems a bit OTT, but every time I make a little change in the way I shop, or eat, or think, something clicks inside my head, and I feel a little bit more whole as a person. I do not need to rely on a tea bag to make a cup of tea. I can make a cup of tea like my granny did.

It's odd, because though my grannies must have made thousands of pots of tea in their time, I only remember them using tea bags, so I never got to stand next to them and watch them make tea in a pot. I inherited my granny's tea caddy, as you can see, with the gorgeous tea pots all over it, but she always stored crackers in it as far back as I can remember. In  the space of one and a half generations, that knowledge just suddenly disappeared. And that is only the knowledge of how to make a cup of tea. How much else has disappeared, or is dying with our grandparents' generation, knowledge that is so important for living in a world where there may not be quite as many resources in the future to squander on making our lives convenient?

Anyways, just so you know, here are instructions for making Jo the perfect cup of tea:

Pour boiling water in the pot and sit for a minute to warm. Try not to wander off and forget what you are doing. Jo does this often.
Pour hot water down the sink; this is good for the drains.
Put one barely rounded spoonful of reasonably robust tea leaves in the pot. Note: if you are not making a cup of tea for Jo, and you have different tea leaves, you will need to experiment at this point!
Reboil kettle with fresh water (one mugful of water only - let's save power as well).
Fill mug with right amount of boiling water, pour in tea pot.
Cover with tea towel/ tea cosy, set oven timer one minute thirty (yes, exactly). You may need to experiment here too.
Pour into mug through strainer.
Tip tea leaves into compost.
Add milk.

Happy Days!

Is anyone else this anally retentive about making tea? Do share!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Father's Day and Spring!

The Girl recently discovered pinterest, and made good use of it to whip up Father's Day confectionary. Mini cherry ripe bars, tiny teddies and the new Smarties with natural food coloring.

Then she made these up herself: UFOs

Wagon wheel biscuits, topped with marshmallows slathered in melted chocolate, and more Smarties. Very low calorie. I keep telling her she should go in for children's party catering...

On Father's Day The Boy took his dad to play golf, with a family friend and his son as well. Meanwhile, all the girls of the two families, and some more who dropped in, all had a girlie afternoon tea with  homemade treats. It was a lovely Father's Day all round, and a plan highly to be recommended.

Hope all you Australians were nice to your dads because it was Father's Day, and everyone else was nice to their dads because you are all lovely people.

Oh, and happy Spring! There are daffodils! And fruit blossom! And all the snails are rejoicing and eating all the lovely tender green leaves in the vegie garden. But only until I put my Gumboots of Death on. Then there will be no more mollusc rejoicing going on...