Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tamarillo and Pear Chutney

Tamarillos are the ideal fruit to turn into chutney. My son brought up armfuls of these luscious golden fruit. Originally from Peru, these trees can be grown in both cool and warm climates. You are more likely to see the yellow varieties growing in warmer climates and the red fruit in cooler places, they are a very popular fruit to grow in New Zealand. They are fast growing, reaching up to 2 metres in height and bearing fruit within the first year... our trees certainly did!

There is an excellent article on growing tamarillos in the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of the ABC Organic Gardener magazine by Annette Mc Farlane. She informs us that non-organic, commercially grown tamarillos are routinely dipped in pesticide; so it really is worth having a go at growing your own and they are so easy to grow! There was no recipe for chutney in this article, so I decided to invent my own. I have decided that any recipes published at this blog will be my own; I will not reproduce any recipes from cookbooks. I am happy to give you the name of cook books that I use or direct you to official websites such as Jo Seager's but I do believe in 'buying the book'; even if I give out the recipe with credit to its owner, I am possibly denying them a sale and you will not experience the pleasure of thumbing through a cook book, savouring the photos and trying out the recipes, knowing that the best ones will soon be splattered with batter!

Tamarillo and Pear Chutney

I estimated I used about
75 tamarillos
1 and 1/2 cups of raw sugar
4 brown onions, finely chopped
4 pears, peeled and diced - you can substitute apples of course.
1 cup sultanas
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar - you can use malt vinegar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamon

1.Remove stalks and trim tamarillos.
2.Place in a big pot and cover with boiling water (makes peeling easier).
3.When the water has cooled sufficiently, drain off the water, peel and discard the skins.
4.Process the tamarillos - I used my stick blender, they don't need to be a puree.
I did not remove the seeds.
5.Place the tamarillos into your preserving pan with the remaining ingredients.
6.Bring to the boil, turn down and simmer for approximately 80 minutes.
Keep a close watch, stir frequently to prevent the chutney burning on the bottom of the pan.
7.Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

It makes a sweet, tangy chutney, we enjoyed a dollop with the leek and vegetable pie we had for dinner last evening. It will make a great accompaniment to chicken and cold meats. No doubt it will come out to go on the sourdough bread with slices of cheese. I'm storing the jars in the fridge and let's wait and see how long these jars last! It is not worth the expense of buying the tiny jars of chutney from the supermarket, they only last about 2 days at this house. Homemade is always best and I have to say I've never seen tamarillo and pear chutney on the supermarket shelves, you might find it at a deli or a farmer's market but if you can't, you might just have to grow your own!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Gorgeous Gumboots, Gardens and Gum trees

'If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce , and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.'
Leviticus 26 v 3-4

When we first found our eight acres of eden, we wondered whether we would be able to garden under the gums. We really wanted to grow our own vegetables but we realized that being surrounded by these glorious trees came at a price - less hours of direct sunlight, roots and shade to contend with and nutrients taken from the soil.

It has taken lots of hard work, research and reading, trial and error and holding onto the promise from God that our land would yield its produce, but this summer we began to see the harvest, an abundant crop of organic vegetables.

Would you like to go on a tour of our gardens? Find the gumboots! Let's go! These gorgeous girly gumboots are mine, I love them! When they wear out I'll be buying the pink paisley pair, it was so hard to decide!

The most recent addition to our food gardens is located a short walk from the house, next to the big green shed. On this big slab of concrete where my husband's 'hideaway' now stands, there used to be a derelict concrete block dwelling. It was an eyesore which I saw every time I looked out of the kitchen window and I was so pleased to see it go.

Today I survey the growth of the zucchini and spread of the cucumbers as I wash dishes at the sink and it is a joy to behold. We put in this garden last spring using the wooden pallets that were lying around the property following completion of our home extension. The pallets were cut in half and stood on their sides and nailed and wired together. Each bed is 4.7 metres long by 1.2 metres wide and 0.6m deep and we have 3 beds with a space of 1 metre between each bed. A green fence stain was used on the exterior of the pallets to match the shed and blend in with the greenery of the forest. At the far end, we erected posts and ran wires to create a trellis for beans and cucumbers.

We lined the beds with cardboard and newspaper and filled them with rotten straw from old bales acquired from a local dairy farm. The farmer was happy for us to take the bales away; a bit of a smelly job but well worth the trip down the road in the ute.

Our rotten bales have been gourmet food for our veggies; we enriched the mix with our own compost, blood and bone and a couple of bags of 'Rooster Booster'. These seedlings were only planted two weeks ago and are growing vigorously. We need to mulch these beds now and will use sugar cane mulch.

Our raised beds have been our most productive gardens and throughout the summer we harvested our first real abundant crop of vegetables. Most of our vegetables were grown from seed purchased from the 'Diggers Club' in Victoria. We also purchased seedlings from the farmers markets. Throughout summer we enjoyed:-

- Zucchini, green and yellow varieties
- Carrots, heirloom, orange, yellow, white (yes, white !) but loved the purple ones!
- Squash
- Beans, as well as the usual green beans, golden bush beans and barlotti climbing bean.
- Beetroot- heirloom red, yellow and white made excellent pickle. Also ate the leaves!
- Peppers (still harvesting these)
- Spinach, lettuce and Asian salad greens.
- Amaranth

In a separate bed but nearby, we grew tomatoes and this was the crop most affected by pests, namely, the heliothus grub; next year we will try using muslin bags tied over the fruit. Nevertheless, we planted enough tomatoes to ensure a steady supply and now I refuse to buy store grown tomatoes, even the 'vine-ripened' ones from the markets which I know are hydroponic; nothing worse than a watery tomato which was grown in water with nutrients artificially added. We are all for food grown in good soil (unless God designed the plant to grow in water, which of course some plants do) - with no chemical fertilizers or pesticides used.

Autumn has arrived and another season for planting. We live in a region which has summer rain and this year we were blessed with lots of rain (at times too much!) We didn't have to do much watering but we did have lots of weeding. Another stinky bale has gone in and we have planted out two beds so far. I'm trying kale this year on the recommendation of a friend who says it is the best leafy green she has ever planted and great for juicing. We've also strung bird netting over the bed for salad leaves as an animal enjoyed an evening supper of the first planting. High on the suspect list is the possum and the bandicoot. The netting seems to have worked. In our third bed we will plant garlic. We tried this in another area previously, but didn't have much of a crop. We experienced our first success with carrots in the raised beds and hope they work for the garlic too.

Our other vegetable garden is further away from the house, a little bit of a trek but located close to the chicken enclosure. Along the fence we grow passionfruit which also climbs over the roof of the chicken house and its entrance creating a green arbour for the chickens as they go to and fro. Ceylon spinach also sprawls along this fence and hangs over for the chickens to enjoy a nibble. It grows prolifically, there is more than enough to share with the 'chooks'.
We are going to use these beds for our vegetable crops that need more room - pumpkins, melons and other rambling vegetables. We also have comfrey growing here, nasturtiums, sweet basil, turmeric and lemon grass. It is in need of a good weeding right now after all the recent rain but I will wait until it cools down and the snakes go into hibernation; I know there is a red belly black snake in there at the moment, he's been spotted in the same bed on two separate days.

When we first bought this property six years ago, this clearing was covered in lantana, it was well over six feet high. After two years of grubbing out and arms covered in scratches, we purchased a second-hand tractor and two weeks later it was gone and the area that was to become our chicken enclosure and orchard was ready for fencing.

The chickens have their cool retreat created from an old tin shed. It even has a 'whirlybird' installed for added ventilation but this we suspect is the route for pythons who find their way in, even though we thought we had created a snake proof enclosure. Thankfully, I have a 16 year old son who is more than happy to capture and relocate these useful non- venomous vermin control officers! So far, we have only lost one chicken (a bantam) to a carpet snake.

In the chicken's forest run, we have planted our orchard. It has its own mini-fence whilst the trees establish. As it is on a sloping section the chickens' natural fertilizer runs downhill. We have planted:-

- apples, a granny smiths and a pink lady. We sampled our first apple of a decent size today, it was sweet, tangy and crisp. Cannot wait for it to go into full production!
- pears - tropical varieties
- a peacharine
- davidson plums - a native bushfood for making jam
- mangoes
- paw paws
- tamarillos - We have two trees of golden 'tree tomatoes' that we actually harvested today, about 75 in total with some still left on the trees. I have just made three jars of tamarillo & pear chutney, my own experiment and it tastes good. I will post the recipe soon - check back!

We have also planted a citrus grove at the front of the property, and some more unusual tropical fruits such as a soursop and a dragonfruit ( having tasted one, had to have one!) To remind us of NZ there are also two feijoas. (Pineapple guava) We used to have a feijoa tree in the garden of our first home and it was laden with fruit which took hours of cutting, scooping and bagging for the freezer, for turning into crumbles and pies. This was done out of love for my husband as I'm not that keen on this fruit.

A hedge of coffee plants completes our food forest. Of course it is not complete. We watch 'Gardening Australia' on the ABC every Saturday evening or read the Organic Gardener magazine and discover a fruit we don't know or haven't thought of planting. We visit friends who have more established food gardens and orchards and they say 'try this' and we know we have to have one too!

Oh, I almost forgot the herb garden, this was the first garden I planted at eight acres of eden and some of the herbs have grown there all year round, especially the oregano, it runs wild but I don't mind, I can send out a child to pick a small bunch whenever we are making pizzas or roasting a chicken. A bay tree is a wonderful addition for the kitchen garden cook. Useful herbs such as wormwood are also found here, it can be chopped up and thrown into the scraps for the chickens - a natural remedy for worms.

Gardening is a family affair at eight acres of eden and everyone is expected to help. We find we achieve most when we all work together in the one area. Children especially need to experience this, they discover the joy of growing their own produce, they realize it requires planning, hard work, creative thinking and problem solving along the way. When they finally get to eat the results and they taste the difference they are convinced! They are the organic gardeners of today and the future. I am so thrilled to see in them a desire to grow and eat healthy food.

And now lies ahead, the challenge to grow food all year round, to learn how to plant in succession, so we always have something to harvest. I know this will happen!

'Your threshing shall last till the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last till the time of sowing; you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land safely.'
Leviticus 26 v 5

I pray that this will happen for you too!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Why I'm not a Soccer Mum

By all rights, I ought to be. I was born and raised in a city obsessed with soccer, Liverpool in the north of England.
I was an avid supporter of the reds, Liverpool F.C and I was living in the 'glory days' when Liverpool was always at the top of the league and spare a thought for the poor person who had to polish all the silverware in the trophy room!
At the age of ten, much to the horror o
f my mother, I changed the colour scheme of my room from pink to red, covering every wall with all the posters of the team and individual players I had collected.
My dad was amused and rather delighted I think; I had inherited his passion for football. He didn't go to the games, preferring to watch 'Match of the Day' from the comfort of his armchair. I was allowed to stay up late when a Liverpool match featured and we would cheer and yell and jump out of our seats whenever Liverpool scored a goal. We did a lot of leaping in those days!
I was about 16 when I realized my dream to attend a game at Anfield. What an atmosphere! The unique sense of hum
our that Liverpudlians are known for, was in full operation. It was almost as entertaining as the game itself, which I do remember Liverpool won.

I stopped following Liverpool when I married a New Zealander and moved to his home country which is consumed with another football code - rugby union. There was no soccer on television which meant I had soon lost touch with the game, though my dad, when he was alive, would update me on their progress when we spoke on the phone.

My husband supported his national tea
m, the All Blacks and enjoyed watching their games as well as provincial rugby. I was totally ignorant of this game but because I enjoyed the company of my husband, I would sit down to watch the games, quizzing him on the rules and it wasn't long before I too, was leaping off the sofa, this time yelling 'try!' instead of 'goal!'

When our first born, a son, turned five, something extraordinary was happening in NZ - soccer was growing in popularity. Parents concerned about potential injuries from rugby were signing up their children for the 'World Game' in droves.
We were keen for our son to play a
team sport and he was soon wearing a soccer jersey and running onto the pitch each Saturday.
The following season, rugby was add
ed to the scenario and suddenly, our lives were super-busy and our petrol bill super-size. We lived in a rural area which meant traveling a 100 km round trip for each game.
There were other activities too; swimm
ing lessons, ballet lessons for the two little girls that had joined our family, homeschool support groups, church activities - our car was clocking up the kms and I was clocking up the stress. We were running a dairy farm which is exceptionally demanding and in addition to trips to town for children's activities, I was often called on to go to the vets or farm supply store for an urgent requirement. My home was suffering, simply because I was not home to attend to housework or do laundry and this was a mammoth task on a farm with dirty overalls to wash and now I had sports gear which sometimes included all the team jerseys!

I was becoming tired, irritable and losing motivation. My intentions were good, I wanted my children to have social contact and enjoy the physiological benefits that exercise provides. I needed to
assist my husband with the farm, and the bookwork, visits to the accountants, vets and supply stores saved him valuable time but I was aware that all the extra-curricular activities were now detrimental to my life at home and my role as a wife and mother; something had to give.

The first to go was soccer, I was no longer officially a soccer mum. I continued as a rugby mum for one season when we moved to Australia and although we didn't have the demands of a dairy farm to contend with, playing rugby involved extensive travel on the east coast for away games plus an extra night for practice. Our new car was now clocking up kms and there were more trips to town, swimming lessons for younger children and gymnastics to replace the ballet lessons.

Each of these activities in themselves are not the problem, there are many benefits to be gained, rather it is the number of activities we allow ourselves to become involved in and the scheduling of sports which can become an issue. Most are after school, starting at 4pm and finishing at 5pm. This meant a drive home in rush hour traffic and it was interfering with an important family tradition - dinner time. There wasn't time to cook a nourishing meal and we were opting for the convenience of processed 'throw on the oven tray' type food and sometimes takeaways - not good for our bodies, kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise!

Today we are home more than we are out of the house. Life is less hectic and we are healthier because I'm not on the road and I have time to prepare wholesome, home-cooked meals from scratch with fresh ingredients from our own gardens.

The rugby was given up when my son decided he didn't really enjoy the game or the atmosphere in the dressing room, he hated the constant swearing and this was only under 13's!

The gymnastics also came off the weekly schedule. It was a huge class and they didn't receive much individual tuition, all the smaller classes were full. I realized that many of the activities, climbing, rolling, balancing and even somersaults, the children were already competent at. They had trees to climb and fallen logs make great balance beams. Our natural gymnasium offered extra benefits, zero fuel consumption, fresh air and it was free to join!
Swimming lessons continued until I felt that the children were competent and safe in the water.

But what about social contact? Well, when other children visit us, guess where they play? Outside! doing physical activities - trampolining, running, riding bikes and if dad is around to supervise, a special treat - archery practice!

No a helicopter did not drop him off! 'Goanna boy' scaled this boulder!

A balance beam in God's gymnasium with an awesome view!

We have now found a sport that fits in with our family's lifestyle and values. It's ice skating! There are no frozen ponds around here but we do have an ice rink in a nearby city. The children joined the skate school after a trial lesson produced some amazing results - they could all skate and they loved it. The lessons are for all ages, a wonderful family-integrated sporting activity. They were learning alongside other children, teenagers, adults and even a couple in their 70s! Don't you admire such courage? I prefer to stay off the slippery stuff, they definitely did not inherit any good balance genes from me!
The skate lessons are on a Saturday morning, it's the only day I usually drive into the city and I'm home by lunch time. I am able to fit in my grocery shopping as Aldi opens at 8am, less shoppers at that time means I do my shop in 20 minutes and there is another bonus but I have to go in earlier - garage sales! I don't go to garage sales every week, maybe once a month but this is where I shop for clothes saving extra trips to the mall.
Having all the children enrolled in the same activity brings other benefits - a family discount and one trip which combines all our town needs is saving us in fuel and reducing this family's carbon footprint.

Ice skating has been part of our family life for a number of years. In that time the children have become excellent skaters, progressing through the levels to advanced and beyond. They love receiving the triangular badges which are awarded for each level. My eldest son has given up the skating to pursue his love of surfing but the girls are continuing for as long as possible and my youngest son 'speedy gonzalez' is an awesome skater who shows great promise. The twins have also started their lessons and at three are already attempting spins, one can already skate backwards and I can't even stand up on the ice! I'll share more about our life at the ice rink in future posts.

I am happy to spend the rest of my week at home, though we do have a midweek trip to our local small town, a ten minute drive for a library visit and to shop local for organic pantry staples .
Occasionally, on the weekends we will meet friends for coffee after church or we'll go for a swim at the river. We are blessed with beautiful beaches a short drive away and the two older children will go for a surf and the younger siblings will paddle or play in the sand. It's another opportunity to combine exercise and family time together. I'd much rather be here than on the sideline of the soccer field in winter, dreading another long drive home.

But perhaps, you are a soccer mum who enjoys the atmosphere of the soccer field where you meet other mums and your children play what is, after all, a great game (I'm from Liverpool remember!) You may live in town and don't even need to drive to the ground. You enjoy the walk to and from the park, the company of your children, tired and excited from the game. They are exhilarated, their team won or maybe they need commiseration - their team lost. This is your family time and it's a good thing.

However, if you are starting to feel burdened, as if you are never home, always on the road, a driver rather than a mother, losing patience with toddlers who are understandably cranky from being confined to car seats for long periods, in order to transport older children to yet another practice. You don't have time to prepare meals, the fast food and fuel is blowing the family budget. Then it's time to take a deep breath, to slow down, stop and consider 'Is there a better way?'

Are there too many extra curricular activities in the weekly routine?
Are they scheduled at inappropriate times?
Is there something that can be dropped?
Do the children really enjoy the game they play?
Is there an activity that all the children can join in on the same day? OK I know the boys will refuse the netball but there are many activities which may be suitable for both boys and girls. Think outside the usual codes or popular games.
Can extra time for outside play at home provide many of the physical and social benefits you are paying money for?

For those who are planning to overhaul their hectic lifestyles, there is a great book I would recommend. It's challenging and insightful. It is 'In Praise of Slow' by Carl Honore. He addresses many areas of life - work, home, play, recreation and shares many real life anecdotes of people who came to the same realization - that they needed to slow down. And this is his exhortation, the essence of his book, 'Slow down!'

He says 'Bucking the hothouse trend can be nerve-wrecking. Parents who allow their children to slow down invariably suffer from the nagging fear that they may be short-changing them. Even so, more and more are taking the plunge.'

He reminds us that children 'are not born obsessed with speed and productivity - we make them that way.' He makes the case for unstructured play and informs us that it is not ' a ballet lesson or a soccer practice.' 'It is digging for worms in the garden'... 'building castles with lego'... 'or just gazing out the window.'

Carl Honore pleads with us to 'rescue the next generation from the cult of speed' by 'reinventing our philosophy of childhood'.

I am pleased to join that rescue mission and would invite others to join me. You can still be a soccer mum, a 'backyard soccer' mum (or dad) and who knows you might get asked to play too! In stepping off the sideline, you will rediscover the joys of staying home and simply being a mother or a father, rather than doing all the activities you have been led to believe that parents should do. You will not always be 'confined to barracks'; there will still be 'town time' for the sports you truly love (as we love our ice skating) and for family holidays and trips to the park or the beach for games of cricket. This is where we go for games of cricket; hit a six here at Eight Acres of Eden and the ball is lost forever in the undergrowth and it's a lot more fun retrieving a ball from the ocean than crawling under prickly vines!
And I do hope you will find as we have, life is wonderful when you slow down.
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Simply Sweet Handmade Gift for Easter

As most people realize, when it comes to Easter eggs, you are paying for the packaging, lots of cardboard and not a lot of chocolate! You could buy a slab of chocolate but children (and adults) still like to receive something special at Easter. This is a simple but stylish idea for an Easter gift that can also be used to dress up your table on Easter Sunday. I have called them 'Easter cones' and have created three versions of the same idea.

For the first, I used pretty card that I had saved from the boxes of two standard 6'x4' photo frames I had purchased at Target. I love it when manufacturers use lovely packaging that is not emblazoned with logos, it means it can be reused and recycled. I'll probably reuse the card again to make pretty gift tags. The green paper in a similar design came from a catalogue.

It's so easy, a child can follow these instructions.

1. Roll up the card into a cone shape - about the size of a waffle ice cream cone. Glue or tape into place. (I used a good craft glue.)

2.Roll up some cellophane into a cone shape to fit inside the cardboard cone and tape to secure at the bottom. The cellophane sheet should be taller than the card to allow for filling and gathering.

3. Fill with whatever goodies you desire - small wrapped chocolate eggs or chocolates, handmade biscuits (biscotti works well). If you want an alternative to chocolate or sugar-laden treats at Easter, consider little gifts such as soaps, scented candles or for those who like to take tea - their favourite tea and maybe a vintage spoon to add to their collection. Use your imagination, whatever you can fit into the cone.

4. Gather up the cellophane and tie off with a co ordinating ribbon. The silver ribbon I used on some of the cones was tied around the picture frame boxes. An extra bonus!... the frames were gorgeous too and on sale for $10.

5. Finally, add a finishing touch. I glued on a silver dragonfly embellishment and used adhesive silver letters to add names to the ribbon. You could make name tags and use the cones at place settings.

The second version is really lovely and will appeal to those who love vintage style. I used vintage lace hankies that I found at a garage sale for 50 cents each. I used a small cardboard cone inside the hankie to give it some shape and to secure the cone I pinned on heirloom brooches - costume jewellery that belonged to my daughter's great grandmother, so I'm not giving these away! I use them for 'styling'; at Christmas I used these same brooches to add sparkle to gifts under the tree. Look out for costume jewellery at garage/yard sales and in thrift/op shops. The tea time gift works well with the vintage hankies. Of course you could use men's hankies for a masculine gift or bright vintage children's hankies. If you don't have hankies you could use fabric but with hankies there is no cutting or sewing involved!

I haven't forgotten the children! I created this pair of colourful cones for my twin girls. I used bright scrapbook square sheets and rolled them into a cone to hold a set of crayons, crumple up tissue paper to place in the bottom of the cone so that the gifts don't fall to the bottom. I also popped in an Easter chicken (I'm over bunnies and rabbits don't lay eggs!) The finishing touch for these is a chocolate ladybird. I found my chickens and ladybirds at Aldi. I have some left over so we'll use these for an Easter hunt in the garden; the ladybirds will look sweet on plants!

So there you have it 'Easter cones' or 'cornucopias' but cone is easier to say! You can adapt this idea for any occasion - they make excellent party favours for children's birthdays. Don't forget to personalize the cone for the recipient. You could use sheet music for a musician, maps for a traveller; for a bookworm, photocopy a cover of a favourite author to make a unique book voucher holder, think beyond the card!

It really is these little personal touches that say so much. It may take a little time, a little thought, a little effort; it's easy to go and pick an Easter egg off the shelf (not so easy on the pocket) but in making something special for your family and friends this Easter you convey that you cared enough to create something unique, especially for them, and in doing so you will find pleasure, not only in the making but in the giving and in the joy when the gift is received.

With love and joy,

P.S If you use this idea I'd love to hear from you or to find out what you create for an alternative to commercial packaged eggs at Easter.

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The Craft Cupboard

I have a wooden cabinet in my family room. It is close to the dining table where my family not only eats meals and shares the day's news; it is also where we read books, write letters, do puzzles and craft. It is very conveniently located!
It used to be the library cupboard until the number of books we owned far exceeded the three shelves the cabinet holds. The cupboard stored china for a short time when the house was re-tiled. With the interior home renovations almost complete and the kitchen reinstalled, my cabinet became what it was always destined to be - my family craft cupboard!
It holds a good selection of craft materials and some of my favourite gadgets, my hot glue gun (hint - hide from husbands!) and my Brother P-Touch labeler. Love my labeler! When I first got a hold of this wonderful device I labeled every jar in the pantry, every paper file I could possibly lay my hands on and I even labeled the kids in case I forgot their names! Only joking, I do remember their names, though I admit to occasionally mixing up the twins - they are very alike!
Of course, I did use the labeler to identify the contents of the clear storage boxes I use to hold our crafting materials. Would you like to peek inside?

Much of my current stock of card, paper, ribbon, lace and embellishments came from one garage sale. Yes, one garage sale! A lady with a garage full of crafting and scrap booking supplies; I couldn't believe it was all owned by one woman, there was enough to open a craft store, which I suppose is what she was doing by holding a garage sale or maybe her husband needed somewhere to park the car!
I came home a happy woman, I spent about $40, probably the most I have ever spent in one hit at a garage sale but when I added up the cost of the materials I had purchased, many of them new and unopened in their packets, I realized I had hundreds of dollars worth of materials. I had been running low on crafting goods especially ribbon which needed replenishing in time for Christmas. Christmas is the season when all my creativity is unleashed. I make my own bon bons and I love to wrap gifts in unique ways, so the ribbon and embellishments were truly appreciated.

I am not a sewer even though I do own a sewing machine and I have been known to to make the occasional cot cover, roman blind or girl's dress but as I find lovely children's clothes (often designer labels in excellent condition or brand new clothes with their sale tags attached) at garage sales for a fraction of the cost of buying patterns and fabric, the sewing machine only gets an occasional workout.

I'm not a scrapbooker either, though I do love the look of some of the heritage style scrapbooks but I have always felt that the actual photos are lost in the clutter of some scrapbook pages I have seen. (Not all I must say! Some are fantastic and a real expression of the creativity of those who love to scrap.) I use my scrap paper to create gift tags and to make special collage cards and folders to hold children's work.

I'm much more of a crafter and my favourite materials are silk flowers, shells, cinnamon sticks, seed pods and other natural items that are arranged and secured into place on the wreaths, garlands and table centrepieces that I design.

'A Glimpse of a Garland' This adorns my craft cupboard at Christmas time and apologies for the daddy long-legs in the picture! Didn't notice that when I took the photo!

My cupboard also holds my craft books - lots on Christmas and designing with natural materials. My all-time favourite book and the one book I would choose if I was allowed to own only one homemaking/design book is 'Home Living Life Beautifully' by Sandra Kaminski. She is a NZ stylist who creates the most sumptuous table settings you have ever seen. Her 'entertaining' ideas feature in NZ House and Garden magazine and when she bought out her own book I was overjoyed! I used to buy this magazine just to see and savour her work. It has inspired me for many years and I often adapt her ideas to suit my own home and tastes. I've just done a quick search and found she has a website. As she is a southern hemisphere gal, it's in sync with our seasons, so at the moment, it features ideas for autumn.

The pictures on the website are from her book, so if you like what you see, you'll have to buy the book; it's divided into seasons with a section dedicated to Christmas. You will not be disappointed, she is simply a most talented designer who is passionate about creating memories, family gatherings and living in harmony with nature - someone after my own heart! Her ideas are simple but stunning and she uses everyday materials - fruit, nuts, candles, fabric, ribbon, jam jars and they are easy to recreate. Nuts surrounding votive candles on a platter, a ribbon tied onto a pear at a place setting. Go and visit her website but please come back to me! If this results in more sales of her book I'll be pleased, it will be my way of thanking someone who has inspired me to live life beautifully. www.sandrakaminski.co.nz

I love this definition of creativity by the author and speaker Emilie Barnes.
'Creativity is a God-given ability to take something ordinary and make it into something special. It is a openness to doing old things in new ways and a willingness to adapt other people's good ideas to suit our personal needs. And creativity is an ability we all possess.'

In my next post, I want to share an idea for a craft that can be easily adapted. You can use this idea to dress up your table at Easter or to give as a gift to children or friends, it's a lovely alternative to heavily packaged Easter eggs. It is simple to make and uses recycled materials. I've written out the instructions and taken the photos ready to upload, so check back soon.

With love and joy,
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Monday, March 16, 2009

The Fossicking Family

Learning to fossick

We have just returned from a weekend camping trip which incorporated a favourite family activity - fossicking for sapphires. The New England Tablelands in New South Wales are renowned for their gem fields, most notably, sapphires at Glen Innes and Inverell. This was our third trip to Glen Innes. On our first trip we stayed at a camping ground that offered on-site fossicking for sapphires and zircon; with a friendly chap to teach you the basics, my husband and children were soon fossicking madly! When my son found a sapphire that could be cut (about 1.5 carats worth around $200) he was officially addicted.

We had the stone cut and faceted before returning home and although reluctant to part with his treasure, he handed over the sapphire for safe keeping to his mother. Today I wear the sapphire in a ring, a band of white gold, the blue stone is off-set by four diamonds on either side. We didn't have this ring custom made. We looked into this and decided it would be too costly. One day when window shopping in a jeweller's store which had a '50 % off everything in store sale' I spied some rings on a tray with settings which had no central stone. They were designed to hold a gem stone of your own choosing. There was one ring in particular which caught my eye and guess what, the sapphire fitted perfectly, what's more it fitted my finger perfectly. That ring became a beautiful 40th birthday present. It's not just a ring, it reminds me of a very special time in my life. A gift from a loving husband, a precious stone found by a son who still calls it 'his sapphire', a memory of a wonderful day spent with my family which we will always remember.

We have also tried the 'real deal' fossicking which involves clambering down banks, wading into streams and digging up the gravel which has to be washed and sieved. You get dirty and wet, not for me thanks! But my husband and older children wanted to enjoy the experience of true fossicking. They didn't find anything of real value but did gain lots of tiny sapphires to add to their collection until my daughter tripped and 'kicked the bucket' losing all their finds in the grass, she wasn't too popular that day!

One collection of sapphires and zircons

For our third trip, we decided to go to the 'Minerama' at Glen Innes which is an annual event for the town.There are field trips to fossicking sites and a gem show with traders displaying and selling jewellery, gem stones, fossils and mineral specimens of every description.
We joined a self-drive field trip designed for novices and families, which offered pre- dug wash which you had to dig from a pile. My children who were by now, well versed in the fossicking process were into it, shaking their sieves, washing their gravel, tipping it out as one removes a cake from a tin, their tweezers poised and shouts of 'Oh yes!' Finding yet more sapphires for their collections. We will soon have enough to set into the pavers for the new patio we are building, it could look quite unique, inlaid with blue stones. Only joking kids if you're reading this!

Fossicking is a wonderful family activity and it costs a lot less than a trip to a theme park. It is so exciting for children who are natural 'treasure hunters'. If you ever travel to regions of Australia where you can go fossicking for gem stones, it is something you should consider trying out. It is an activity the whole family can participate in and there is always the chance that you might find something very valuable.
On this occasion we didn't find any stones of real monetary value, (a few were assessed as worth having cut) but we did find something of much greater value, more precious than the most beautiful gem stone we could have discovered, it was simply time spent together as a family enjoying the great outdoors.

We camped in a National Park at a nature reserve that permits camping. Much to my relief (literally!) it had toilet facilities (composting loos). There were also fireplaces and picnic tables and it was free to camp! This campsite was situated on a river, a beautiful river with natural rocky outcrops, pools and mini rapids. The children had so much fun swimming, paddling and 'riding the rapids'.

We cooked on the campfire and enjoyed hot chocolate and marshmallows as the sun began to set. There were only a few other campers and they were further down the riverbank. Our closest campers were birds that wag their tails, the willy wag-tails and wallabies that whip their tails, the whip-tailed wallabies who surveyed us with interest from a short distance away.

Time to take down the tent!

We drove home through World Heritage rain forest with tired, happy, contented children who were asking 'Can we camp there again?' and 'When can we get our sapphires cut?'

This week the geology field guides will come off the shelf again to be perused and consulted. Our first fossicking trip fostered an interest in geology which has shown no signs of dying out. A comprehensive guide to rocks and minerals was initially 'fought over' - on Christmas morning, their individual gifts forgotten, as they excitedly turned the pages exclaiming ' I found one like that' and the reply 'No you didn't, when did you go to Mexico!'

Each child has their own collection of rocks and it looks like the twins will be following the same path or should I call it 'the rocky road'! On this weekend, the girls filled their pockets with stones off the ground, later at the campsite, one of the girls turned out her pockets and onto the seat of the picnic bench fell lumps of gravel and would you believe it, five small, bright blue sapphires!

Later today, I will ask the children to write about their latest fossicking adventure. My eldest daughter has already researched sapphires and created a folder for the information she found. I like to encourage them to build their knowledge, taking what they already know and expanding it, deepening their understanding. With the subject of rocks and minerals this is not difficult, it is an established interest, so it really is 'delight directed learning'. Today, we are going to do a Bible study on the twelve precious stones that were used for the 'garments of ministry' to be worn in the tabernacle, the Holy Place. The twelve stones represented the twelve tribes of Israel and were set into a breastplate. Sapphires were used alongside turquoise and diamond. I will ask the children to read this passage from Exodus 39 10-14, then try to find pictures of the gem stones in their field guide. I want them to draw the gems in rows as described, using the correct colours for each stone. I'll ask them to label the stones and perhaps add a description, stating where they can be found in the world. This is now not only an art lesson, it's a Bible study, English assignment, a science and geography lesson. It is the type of discovery learning that I love to see my children undertake. I'll draw some outlines of gems for the twins and have them colour in with their crayons, the colours... Can you find blue for the sapphire? Green for the emerald? In this way I include the little ones in our home learning, they are working on the same subject as the older children but at their level. This is one way in which you can tailor home learning to teach children of different ages at the same time.

The girls loved making their jewels. I found noodle boxes to store their treasure in.
For boys you could create a pirate's treasure chest. This was also an opportunity to remind
them of how precious they were to mum and dad, their brothers and sisters and to God,
More precious than jewels, 'worth far above rubies.'

It also prompted me to do some further study of God's word; it is so interesting to read that God considered the gifts of artistic workmanship to be so important. In Exodus 35 v30-35 we learn that Bezalel of the tribe of Judah was filled with the Spirit of God in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze and and.... in 'cutting jewels for setting.' (verse 36) This must have been quite a feat, as it was truly handcrafted without the use of modern day devices. This really brings home to me that the ability to work with our hands and create something beautiful comes from God and it is something that He bestows and reveres alongside wisdom, knowledge and understanding. The ability to teach was also given to Bezalel, it was 'put into his heart'. It is wonderful that today, there are so many people who are passing on their artistry to others, writing books and blogs, running workshops, whether it is making jewellery, cooking, creating gardens, sewing or weaving (another art which is mentioned in this passage incidentally.)
If there is something 'in your heart' to pass on to others, which will inspire them, please do it. If there is something ' in your heart' that you have always wanted to try, give it a go, for every quilter made their first quilt, every sewer their first garment, every jeweller their first bracelet or necklace. You will find so many people willing to share their skills and knowledge with you. And don't forget to 'pass it down' to the next generation. I will not master every craft but I will develop and refine those that God has given to me and I will not covet but delight in the talents and workmanship of others.

With love and joy,

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Baking Bread with Heritage Sourdough

My bread making machine has been made redundant, the blade is missing and it hasn't turned up yet. I did once use the machine to make bread but found its results on the bake mode too variable. You've heard of mud brick houses, I was making enough 'bricks' to build a house from bread! It became just a dough maker and I used it mainly to make dough for sweet breads such as Swedish tea bread and French brioche. However, the main reason the bread maker is out of action, missing blade aside, is that I have rediscovered the joy of making bread by hand.

Three years ago, I was invited by a friend to visit her neighbour who makes her own sourdough bread. She was more than happy to run a workshop for a small group of ladies. I jumped at the opportunity as I was growing rather fond of a shop bought organic sourdough bread and this was not good for the family grocery budget!
We had a lovely morning making bread and touring the extensive food gardens of this older lady who passed on her knowledge so cheerfully. We each came home with a bowl of dough ready to bake in our own ovens, lots of cuttings from her garden and best of all, a jar of her heritage sourdough starter. I say heritage, because it has been passed down several generations of her family; it was her mother's and I'm not sure if she started it or whether it was also passed on to her by her mother. I believe it may have been brought to Australia from Idaho.
Regardless of its origin, my sourdough is really old and affectionately known as 'Grandma'.
The lady implored us not to let grandma die!
I've kept 'grandma' alive by keeping her in the fridge when she is not in use and feeding her regularly with organic rye flour and water. She seems to enjoy the rye and bubbles on the surface tell me there is plenty of life left in the 'old girl'. She smells good too, a healthy, yeasty, fermenting aroma. Before obtaining the services of grandma I had tried to make my own starter. I'm not sure what I captured from the air but it wasn't good, it did not smell right, in fact, it was quite offensive and I didn't attempt to use it. I had read that, if you can obtain a starter from someone else you would be more likely to experience success with sourdough. Not long after reading this, the offer of the bread making workshop came my way, an answer to prayer indeed.

My 3 year old loves kneading!

I make a sourdough loaf almost every day. Some people prefer to bake once a week, make several loaves and freeze them but for me I believe in daily bread, warm and fresh from the oven. I make my dough in the morning before we start lessons and if I am delayed I have been known to knead dough as I give a reading lesson to a child - multi-tasking!

Here are the ingredients I use to make my bread. Remember this is my method and it works for me. My starter is a very stable one and I have found I do not need to do two proofings as many recipes require. This saves me a lot of time. You may wish to take your starter out of the fridge in the evening,place it in a bowl,feed it with flour and water in the proportions the recipe requires, cover and leave overnight, you will reserve some of this culture returning it to the fridge and use the amount required for the recipe.
It is all very approximate as I make my dough by 'feel', adding more flour as I go until the texture is smooth and elastic.

Into a BIG mixing bowl I add

about 1 cup of starter
about 1 cup of lukewarm water
a few drizzles of honey
a slosh of olive oil
several cups of flour.... e.g, wholewheat, spelt or a multi-grain flour
a generous pinch of celtic sea salt (good sea salt should be grey in colour)

I start mixing with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to clump together, and once it is not looking too wet or sticky I use my hands forming the dough into a kneadable ball, if it seems too sticky, I just add a little more flour. Then for the fun part, the therapy session - kneading! I find I only 'need to knead' for about 7-10 minutes. The ball of dough then goes into a plastic container with a lid and I place it somewhere warm to rise, usually this is on top of the oven; as the biscuits or muffins bake, the warm rising air does a wonderful job of expanding the dough. If the oven is going to be used for long periods or if it is turned on again later in the day, I remove the dough from the stove top away from the heat, too much heat can kill off the yeast cells.It also becomes too warm to shape into a loaf and the result will be a flat loaf.

I usually bake my bread in time for dinner. If you like your sourdough ultra-tangy you can bake it the next day, the longer you leave it the tangier it will be! Many recipes advocate at least a 12 hour rising period. I like mine with just a hint of tanginess. I shape the dough into a vienna loaf, slash the top with a sharp knife and bake it on the top shelf of the oven at 190 (celcius) for about half an hour.
I know when it is ready for when I tap the base it sounds hollow, if it seems too soft, I return it to the middle shelf of the oven for another 5 - 10 minutes.
Every time I bake, I feed 'grandma' before returning her to the fridge, usually this is one cup of rye flour and one cup of water. Don't worry too much about lumps they tend to settle out as they are digested! I use a clean wooden spoon to stir in the flour to avoid contaminating the starter. As 'grandma' rises up the side of the jar, every few weeks I pour her into a clean jar. I cover the top with plastic film secured with an elastic band, never use a metal lid.

The dough starting to rise, it can reach the top of
the container. I usually leave it at least 9-10 hours.

You never achieve a high-top loaf with sourdough as you would with ordinary baker's yeast but I don't mind as I much prefer the health benefits and taste of a good sourdough bread.
My family is now enjoying extra health benefits from our bread as I am using freshly milled flour. From my reading of books such as Nourishing Traditions, I knew that wholemeal flour goes rancid and loses it nutrient value after a very short time. I also read in the Bible:

'Bread flour must be ground; Therefore he does not thresh it forever,
Break it with his cartwheel,
Or crush it with his horsemen.
This also comes from the Lord of hosts,
Who is wonderful in counsel and excell
ent in guidance'
Isaiah 28 v 28-29

People believe the Bible to be only a spiritual book, yet it offers so much wisdom on physical health and well-being. There is a beautiful passage in Psalm 104 that offers much insight on God's natural provision for our health and it really does highlight how far man has strayed from God's original plan.
It says in verse 14a 'He causes the grass to grow for the cattle'
But today cattle are confined to feedlots and fed genetically modified grain. That is why we always try to source meat and milk from cows that have been pasture fed.
Verse 14b 'And vegetation for the service of man that he may bring forth food from the earth' Food in its natural state is there for our benefit but man in the pursuit of profit and convenience has taken that food sprayed it with pesticide, processed it, taken from it and added to it artificially, stored it for long periods (result - mushy supermarket apples - yuk!) and probably the worst disservice has been, to alter its very nature through modification of its genes.

Bread has suffered considerably as a result of the industrial revolution when factories took over the making of bread; the removal of the best parts of the grain and the aggravated promotion of an inferior white product adversely affected the health of the population which the makers had to try and rectify by adding back in artificially, the vitamins and minerals they removed. The final part of this passage in Psalm 104 mentions 'bread which strengthens man's heart' (v15b) Our most vital organ is sustained by bread! This is why I want to give my family good bread to eat. Even if you are buying wholemeal packaged bread or if you think because it says 'fortified' it's going to be good for you, you are being misled. Even at your local bakery which bakes daily, ask what percentage of wholemeal flour is in their wholemeal loaves. You may be surprised. Thankfully, there is a movement happening which I am proud to be part of, that is seeing bread making returning to the home and for those who are not in the position to make their own bread, there are entrepreneurs starting up small bakeries all around this country and in other parts of the world, who have returned to the old ways of making bread, artisans who care about their product. You will find them at the farmer's markets and judging by the queues at their stalls and the fact that they often sell out of their bread, people are discovering there is a big difference between this bread and what is sold in plastic bags in supermarkets.

So on to my wish list and the prayer list went an electric grain mill. We did some research and decided we would, when finances allowed, go for a Schnitzer or a Whispermill. This year, my prayers were answered when we were able to purchase a new Whispermill, saving over $200 on the retail price. What a blessing. I bought my first 10 kilo bag of wheat and I have been using the flour in all my baking with good results. I have only one reservation and it concerns my sourdough. I read on someone's blog (can't remember where) that when she used freshly milled flour to feed her starter it died. Has anyone heard of this happening before? I know that heat is the starter's enemy, so was her flour too fresh and still warm perhaps? I was going to buy some rye to grind for the starter but I don't want to kill 'grandma' by changing her diet.

I do use sourdough to make other types of breads, adding extra honey, dried fruits and macadamias to make a sweet version.
I have a great little book about sourdough I purchased for 50 cents from a garage sale. It is really interesting as the author has researched the history of sourdough around the world.

My children have grown to love sourdough; sometimes we just eat it plain with a little butter or cream cheese. It's lovely topped with a poached egg and fabulous to dip into pumpkin soup on a winters day.

So will the bread making machine end up at the recycling centre? If I don't find the blade soon, it may. As my 9 year old son once famously remarked 'It's not lost, I just can't find it'!

I still use conventional baker's yeast from time to time.(But never in my sourdough bread, that's a no no!) I do love a light 'melt in the mouth' brioche filled with apricots and drizzled with a little icing and I make barmbrack (thanks to Rhonda Jean! Go and visit her blog for the recipe, it is beautiful bread.)

Making bread has become such an important part of my daily routine here at eight acres of eden, I was compelled to write about it. I love to make bread and I am saddened when I see parents stacking up their trolleys with white 'cardboard'. Even if you are not into making sourdough, I do hope this has helped you in some way. If you haven't tried sourdough bread before, give it a go! On my first tasting I wasn't sure about sourdough, it was strange to my tastebuds but it grew on me. And if that bread machine has seen better days and is starting to churn out bricks, destined to end up in a garage sale, why not return to making bread by hand and find the delight in this wonderful home art.

With love and joy,

Coming soon 'The Craft Cupboard' and a sweet, simple craft for Easter.


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