Friday, August 29, 2014

Green and Thrifty

So remember how I was going to try and cut down on those long, hot showers? I tried a new tactic this week. Due to a manic weekend and funny tummy, I didn't have a shower for three days. When I finally managed to stand up for long enough on Tuesday morning, I did have a half-hour shower, granted, but averaged out over three days, that is a daily ten-minute shower. Now how self-restrained is that?

This week I planted a row of chives in the garden. At the end of last summer I dumped out a hanging basket of dead herbs (yes, mea culpa) down the side of the house, then a few days ago I noticed a clump of baby chives growing in that exact same place. There must have been a seed head among the dead flowers. So I carefully dug them up and planted them next to my transplanted parsley seedlings. So far my whole Spring vegie garden comprises of accidental vegies. This week I also found garlic chives growing in the brick path, and oregano seedlings in the gravel path at the front of the house. I think I might quit trying to plant out garden beds altogether, and just broadcast seeds over the hard landscaping. Clearly I am trying too hard.

Last week I was gazing thoughtfully at my quite spartan, though certainly adequate Spring wardrobe, thinking, 'Maybe this year I could look for a plaid shirt, and I'd really like a white shirt with little flowers. So Springy. But, arrrgh, shopping.' Then my lovely gym buddy Carla turned up with four bags of clothes she had cleared out of her closet. 'For your girls,' she trilled. But she has lovely, lovely clothes, and I quickly annexed at least half of them before the girls even set eyes on them. And look:


Plaid shirts, and a white shirt with tiny flowers. I am sure there were elves involved. Seriously, there are tiny people listening to my thoughts and granting wishes..

But do you know what I really love? Playing clothes swapsies with my buddies is so much more fun than going shopping like an actual grown up. I am sending a ballet jacket that Rosy has outgrown back Carla's way for her daughter, and also some excess baby chives. This is part of the endless ebb and flow of material goods that goes on every day between friends and family that keeps us all from drowning in landfill, and is doing a little bit to prevent more demand for that terrible tide of STUFF that is wrecking our lives and our fragile blue-and-green home.

And why yes, that is a pile of unfolded washing on my unmade bed.

Today was errand day for the week, and I bought some Paris-themed knick knacks for Rosy's Christmas stocking at a second-hand store. I was actually hunting for a bird cage for a budgie for Posy's birthday, but second-hand shopping is like a lucky dip, isn't it? You have to seize the day. I have decided I can't stand buying new 'stuff' anymore. It just makes me too sad and mad. I also feel that the short span of my life is too precious ever to have to spend any more of it at Target. This means my life will also become more complicated. It may make me a little anxious. What if I can't find a second-hand bird cage in a month? Can I make a bird cage out of wire coat hangers? These are all questions I haven't really addressed yet, but I feel sure I will hold forth about them at length in the coming days and weeks. I just thought I would warn you.

Tell me about stuff you were given, and stuff you gave away this week.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Um, Could This Be Happy?

I woke up this morning feeling very peculiar. I smiled a lot. There was blue sky, and warm patches of sunshine filled with cats. There was peach blossom and daffodils and silence, and then some other kinds of silence, only this time with added birds singing, and the kettle boiling. It took some time to work out what the particular peculiarity of this morning signified. And finally I had it - I think I am happy.

I have certainly spent many months in a long, dark winter this year. Not only was I feeling dreadfully unhappy and guilty and like a miserable failure over our marriage break-up, I was also in that dark place where everything is my fault, and I can never seem to do anything right.. it has been that way for months, and now..suddenly, it has lifted. Who can say why these things happen? Maybe it was the sunshine, maybe it was the kindness of friends, the support of family, maybe it was you lovely people who send good thoughts and happiness winging my way each day. Probably all of that goodness together.

I would feel quite guilty about being happy, except that The Man is happy too. He is such a splendid chap, so wonderfully deserving of happiness. Sometimes, when he is around, we catch each others' eye and grin a certain wry grin, which means, 'Oh my, this situation we find ourselves in is peculiar and interesting, rather odd, a little sad and nostalgic, but principally liberating.. I wonder where we go from here?'

The answer to that for me is that I have no idea. I stay here and do what I do. We both do our absolute best for the children every day. We take our moments of happiness where we find them, which for me today was weeding the garden in the sunshine.

And being thankful to the sad version of me, who one day in the Autumn looked up from being sad for a little while, and planted daffodils for the sake of the me I would be in the Spring.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mujadara - Thrifty Comfort Food


For the last couple of days I have had a nasty tummy bug, and did not eat for twenty four hours. Or stand up even. This morning I woke up feeling slightly better, hungry, but only for very specific things. Breakfast was a perfect, crisp apple.

Around lunch time my body decided it needed mujadara and nothing else, so because I am practising being kind to myself, I made me some. This is a Lebanese lentil and rice dish. The recipe was given to me by my friend Jane who often makes it for her family for breakfast. I sometimes eat it for breakfast, but it is more often a warming winter lunch dish. It is one of those dishes that tastes even better the next day. The original recipe calls for brown or green lentils, but I always use red. You can make a dry, fluffy version by boiling away more of the cooking liquid, but I prefer it like this, a soupier, more dhal-like texture which is so comforting for gently settling a delicate digestion..

Mujadara

Bring one cup of green/brown/red lentils to the boil in a saucepan of cold water, which covers the lentils by about one inch. Cook until done, around 15-20 mins.

Chop 2 onions and cook very slowly in olive oil over a low heat, 15 mins or so, until they are a golden brown. Add a teaspoonful of black cumin seeds which you have bashed a bit to crack them, also some cracked black pepper. A teaspoon each of ground cumin, coriander and cinnamon. A good pinch of salt.

Add 3/4 cup basmati rice to the onion mixture and cook for a minute or so, stirring gently.

Now the original recipe requires you to drain the lentils, and add them. I don't, because I like the soupy mixture. If you want an authentic Lebanese dish, do drain the lentils, and cook the rice mixture in the next step until the liquid is completely absorbed, and you will have a lovely dry, fluffy rice and lentil dish instead. If you want the soupier version, tip the lentils in with their cooking liquid.

Add 3 cups of water to the rice mixture, bring to the boil, boil until rice cooked, or until water absorbed, around 15 mins to my preferred texture. I must confess to having made this in the past, becoming a teensy bit distracted and coming back to a very dry dish indeed, with rather a smoky flavour underlying the spices... still tasted good though.

I like to serve this with a squeeze of lemon or lime, a big dollop of yoghurt, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

This makes about six serves.

Comfort food from the store cupboard, which is meditatively calming to cook, and only costs pennies.






Sunday, August 24, 2014

How to Potter in the Garden

The garden bed last Spring. That kale and red chard is doomed to bolt and die as soon as the warm weather arrives.

Recently I have wanted to fix up a garden bed in our front yard. Last year I attempted to plant vegies in it, kale and red chard, but it is full of tree roots from all the trees I planted in our tiny garden, and the poor vegies didn’t stand a chance. So I have decided to fill it with perennial food and flowers instead. I wondered if I could do it without spending any money on plants.

So far I have dug out an underperforming rose bush with Rosy’s help (you wouldn’t believe how deep and tough rose roots are. No wonder they survive bush fires), and moved a poor little gooseberry bush into its space. The gooseberry bush was being menaced by a bunch of plant bullies elsewhere in the garden. Hopefully it will recover and fruit splendidly. I love gooseberries. This effort took about a week.

Then I divided the artichoke plant which in turn was given to me as a division a few years ago by a friend. I ripped up bits of lambs’ ears (the plant, that is, not actual lambs. I am not a monster) from another bed, and planted them with some trepidation. They are so pretty and sweet and innocent, and try to take over everything the minute you back is turned (somewhat similar to nine year olds in that respect). Still, I am prepared to be alert and vigilant and keep them in check. I also planted out a seaside daisy (erigeron) with the same caveat. These self-seed prolifically, and are so tough they grow happily in the asphalt of the driveway, so yes, I will be alert but not alarmed with this other plant terrorist. I found a clump of pinks which had been taken over by a wave of terrorist seaside daisy, saved it, pulled off a couple of bits of that had roots attached, and planted that too. All of this pottering, weeding, feeding and moving took another week.

Last night while waiting for Rosy at ballet I also pulled off a couple of carnation tips from the church garden next door to her ballet school, which I will see if I can strike. And last of all I found a self-seeded feverfew plant and some violas and forget-me-nots which pop up all over the garden, and planted them in little groups so it looks intentional. Looking at the bed now, it is a mass of pea straw mulch with a couple of sticks and tiny leaves poking out. It does NOT look like the Backyard Blitz team spent the weekend in my garden. It requires eyes of faith, but I think it will look very nice in a couple of months.

 

My ‘rescue remedy’ for garden beds requiring attention:

Whenever I am replanting a bed, a pot, or a bit of vegie garden, I give it the same treatment – first, weeding. Then feeding. The most useful tool in my garden is a couple of big, black plastic (ughh - but in this case, so wonderfully useful) trugs. I use these for everything. So, into the trug goes:

Pelletised chicken manure (a couple of double handfuls per square metre – that is 3 feet, you inexplicably non-metric ‘others’J)

Blood and bone (ditto)

A handful of agricultural lime (looks like icing sugar). Most plants and vegies in the garden benefit from a bit of lime, which makes the soil slightly more alkaline, which is what most flowers and vegies love, and it helps to make other nutrients in the soil more available for their use. Fruit trees, peas, beans, brassicas, potatoes, garlic and onions love it, and you can spread it around with abandon. A teeny, tiny bit in the mix for tomatoes. Any plant that likes to grow in more acid soil will NOT be happy about lime, so do not spread it around strawberries, blueberries or citrus, native plants, rhododendrons, azaleas, heathers or camellias.

Gypsum. My garden is built on heavy, sticky clay. Over the years I have improved the soil with lots of organic matter and compost, but every year or so I also add a few double handfuls per square metre of gypsum (also sold as ‘clay breaker’) which looks like sand, and does indeed break up clay clumps by some magical alchemical process (I can only assume). If you have sandy soil, add LOTS of organic matter instead, and an organic soil wetting agent to prevent water from just sitting on the surface of your soil.

Compost from the bottom of my compost bins. As much as available.


Reading all this for editing purposes makes gardening sound exhausting, and as if I labour out there for hours. Nothing could be further from the truth. In order to stay relatively sane in the garden, and not have huge areas of half-finished projects (something I am distressingly prone to), this is my modus operandi:

Choose a small area or bed not more than a few metres square. (See bed above. Two metres by two metres. Six feet by six feet). Weed. Put weeds straight into the bin or compost. There is Nothing Worse than being interrupted and having a pile of weeds sitting on the garden path for a week. Yes, I am often interrupted for a week at a time. Aren't you?


Feed. I keep all of my bags of plant food in a galvanised bin under my potting bench (which clearly needs work in order to clear it enough to actually pot anything at it). I throw all the plant food on to the freshly weeded space, and dig it in a bit, not deeply, just turning it in at the surface a bit. With a trowel, not a spade. Water it in.

Mulch. I use pea straw, because that is what is mostly grown locally. If I am planting the vegie garden, I don’t do this bit, because I will need to plant seeds later.

This will only take an hour or so. PUT EVERYTHING AWAY. See that wicker basket up above? It holds all my gardening hand tools. If I don't carefully place them there after each gardening session I lose them under the weeds until next Spring. Now sweep the path. Go and have a cup of tea. It is best to leave this bed for at least a week before planting to avoid having the fresh fertiliser burning delicate plant roots.

If I don’t have an hour, sometimes I just do one of these jobs at a time. It might take three days, (or in the case of the bed above, a week) but hey, then it’s done. As opposed to having palpitations for three months about the state of the garden, and how it will never all get done.. OK, so now that is all finished, I can start all over again the next day on the next little patch, and eventually the whole garden will be weeded and fed and replanted.

The planting bit is then ridiculously easy. So it’s a week after you renovated your first couple of square metres of garden bed. If it’s a vegie garden, you choose your seeds or seedlings, pop outside with a cup of tea and plant that little space before your tea is even cool enough to drink. If it is a garden bed, you part the mulch, dig a hole, add a little bit of compost to the bottom of the hole, and add the new plant. Water. I always water in new plants with a watering can of combined seaweed solution (good for roots) and fish emulsion solution (good for leaves, fruit, flowers). I buy both of these as bottles of concentrated solution and add three capfuls of each to the watering can, and fill with water. These plant teas are brilliant. Smelly, but good. 

There is no rule to say you have to plant out a whole garden bed at a time. Standing and thinking is also a very valid form of gardening. Slowly but surely you will realise that there is only one possible position for the feverfew plant. And that purple violas will look quite nice next to it. And that planting two different silver leaved plants together won't work, so you will have to find something green to put in between..

Now I would love to say that my whole garden is marvellously organised and weed-free with this method, but that would be patently untrue.  When I get out into the garden, this is how I go about it, and after at least a year of more-or-less continuous neglect, I am nibbling away at little bits of it at a time. If you pop back in another year though, I am almost certain that I will be able to show you the evidence of very many cups of tea drunk in celebration of many very short spurts of garden pottering, interspersed with moments of standing idly watching birds and amusing bugs, talking to the cat, eating apples, strawberries, plums and peas, admiring violets, roses and daffodils, and trying very hard to avoid hearing anyone yelling for ‘Muuuummm!’





Wednesday, August 20, 2014

At Home With Mother

                                                                                                                         Image from the Graphics Fairy



Will you believe it, my house is dirty again? Once I had this very depressing vision of my housekeeping life - that there was a conveyor belt leading in through the front door and out the back door, with food, stuff and dirt coming endlessly in at the front door, and leaving the back door as sewage, garbage and vacuum cleaner fluff. And this cycle is JUST SO endless, particularly in the case of food requiring processing, and clean clothes that turn into dirty clothes in the blink of an eye.

I believe that there are people in this world who find cooking for their families a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. I am not one of those people. My reaction to the next meal is one of quiet panic, along the lines of, 'Oh dear God, they all want to eat AGAIN?' I once knew a woman who had four children under three, who popped them all into the play pen and cooked for relaxation. This seemed completely insane to me, because whenever my children leave me alone for more than two minutes I head straight for my book, and I am waiting for the the children to leave home solely for the reason that then I can exist on toast and apples forever, and never cook again.

It seems unfair to me that there are people who are born loving to do things with their hands. They cook, they sew, they build houses or telescopes, or, like the Home Economics teacher at the girls' school, make the Eiffel Tower out of gingerbread. What incredibly useful people they are. I have two children who do indeed cook and paint and knit for relaxation. And two that don't. Last week Rosy knitted herself a head band, and Posy wanted one too. She started knitting, and got bored after about three rows. Last night Rosy asked if Posy minded if she did some, so Rosy happily knitted and listened as I read Posy her bedtime book chapter, while Posy bounced around like the energizer bunny, bothered the cat, and lay on the floor with her legs in the air, because she can.

The difference between Rosy and Posy is that Posy thinks knitting is a nice idea, while Rosy actually does it. I think cooking and housekeeping are nice ideas, and sincerely WANT to be able to do both with enthusiasm, but can always find something more interesting to think about and distract me. I have lots of good ideas, but I need staff to carry them out.

So here I am, not particularly practical, not feeling the joy of cooking, or cleaning, or painting, or sewing or any other domestic skill, yet not only existing as a perpetual housewife, but also increasingly convicted of the idea that a return to domesticity, not just for the housewife, but for all of us, is one of the few sensible ways forward in a world that is running itself into the ground via over-consumption in every sphere.

But let’s not pretend that it’s all frilly aprons and trilling with bluebirds over the housework here on the home front. Mostly it is a grim battle with ennui and cobwebs, and fighting with veg and the vacuum cleaner, while attempting to persuade the fourteen year old that helping in the garden is fun.

I have no actual solution to this problem in any way. There are tiny things that I have found that help, a bit:

Getting rid of almost everything. Ooh, it feels so good not to be cleaning or mending or worrying about things that I don’t even need or like. Let’s face it, cleaning the things I absolutely love is irritating enough. Also, I find if I only own beautiful things that I love, they don’t look so messy and annoying when left lying around.

Making very, very detailed lists of things to do. I adore crossing things off lists. I will actually do quite tediously boring jobs, just so I can cross them off a list. The more tedious the job, the more steps I add to my list so it feels like progress is happening. For instance, cleaning the bathroom – getting out the cleaning things is definitely a step forward, right? Tick. See, it’s nearly done already..

Only expect to complete tiny increments of projects every day. This may seem like quite a self-defeatist attitude (especially if you watch those evil telly programs where entire houses get renovated in a week end. These only have one single goal, and that is to make you feel so unsatisfied with your own home that you will run out and buy thousands of dollars’ worth of DIY products at Bunnings). But seriously, there is nothing to combat grievous self-loathing at the end of the day better than to be able to look back and say, ‘I planted six parsley plants today.’ (which I did). I have a grand plan for my Spring garden, which once I would have tried to achieve in a weekend, driving myself and my whole family insane. Instead I having been setting myself tiny goals that just require fifteen minutes each time. Rip out the dying winter veg and pop it in the compost (that took two days), dig in fertiliser and gypsum. Transplant parsley seedlings. That brings us to today. Tick. Sometimes I just dig out and fertilise one pot. Or plant out two pots. Or bribe a child to help me dig out some compost from the bottom of a compost bin. This is a much more sane way to achieve anything than a crazy marathon that is exhausting for everyone and means you have to neglect every other aspect of family life.


I think in those crazy renovation and gardening and cooking shows we have taken the worst aspects of modern life – competition, perfectionism, an insane work ethic - and applied it to the few remaining areas of life that are really all about pottering, making mistakes, bodging, and slowly creating something beautiful. Speed and cut-throat brilliance require huge inputs of money and materials, and energy and stress. Pottering is gentle to the soul, family life, and the planet. Pottering means if it takes a couple of weeks to source a gently used zip, a ball of wool, a piece of wood, a plant cutting, well, it does. And in the mean time, we can spend another week making another part of the project beautiful (or reading some more good books). Let's all slow down.

Let go of perfectionism. Somehow, I am both a perfectionist, and rather practically inept. This makes me quite irritable. Also, although I have no real desire to cook or clean anything, when I do, it is supposed to be perfect. If it isn't, I get a bit shouty. Perfectionism, it seems to me, is very much linked to fear. Fear of letting go, fear of being unable to control outcomes, a failure of trust. Perfectionism is about keeping up appearances; the opposite of perfectionism is being able to say, 'I like who I am right now. I am enough.' This one, I am still working on. 

It is kind of linked to the point above. A project slowly realised in fifteen minute increments still gets done. I will have a Spring garden this year. A bit later. It didn't all get done in a week end. I cannot say proudly, 'I renovated my whole front garden in a week end.' There are very few bragging rights in, 'I dug a hole.' 'I swept the path.' But it is slow and gentle and kind to my family. I did not go and buy a bunch of pretty plants from Bunnings. The garden does not look picture perfect. It is full of bits of plant dug up from the rest of the garden, or from friends' gardens. It all looks a bit woeful right now. But given time and patience, it will be beautiful.

Let's refuse to be defined by our housekeeping standards, what we serve for dinner, or how elegant the furniture is.

Let's all tell the perfectionist gremlin to go and live with the Joneses, if it likes them so much..

Meanwhile, I'll just pop another load of washing on. Tick.



Friday, August 15, 2014

Green and Thrifty

Tasmanian Native Pepper Berry

This week, oh lordy, I got the sewing machine out. I know, such a bold, and possibly misguided step. It has been years since I used the sewing machine, but Rosy came home with ripped sports shorts, and you just can't imagine how ridiculously expensive a new pair of regulation school uniform sports shorts are. Luckily, it had ripped up a hem, so I just zipped along and fixed it in no time. Well, I say no time. First, I had to remember how to thread the wretched machine, then I had to get out the manual to remind me how to thread a bobbin, then I had to swear at the bobbin a tiny bit, and then I zipped through the sewing. And while I had the machine out I sewed up the zip in the bottom of Posy's sport track pants. They have that zip at the bottom of the leg to make them easy to get on and off over sneakers - a thing Posy never does, so how the zip broke I will never know. For months she has been going to school with the zip held in with a safety pin. Imagine, as a lazy mother, how marvellously grateful I am to the inventor of the safety pin. Thank you Mr Walter Hunt, benefactor of ballet mothers and persons responsible for the maintenance of school uniforms everywhere.

Anyways, two pieces of school uniform mended, and I was on a roll. Then I sewed up Rosy's blazer pocket. It required hand sewing, attaching the pocket to the coat without catching the lining, and has since fallen apart twice. Hmm, epic fail for hand sewing. I will have to be tougher and use double thread this time. I have always considered sewing an arcane science which need have nothing to do with me. My thoughts are that if I don't bother sewing, it won't bother me. BUT, not sewing equals buying more clothes. And apart from the cost, new clothes are part of a very wasteful and inequitable industry. And I do hate clothes shopping. So mending it must be. Sewing is unfortunately a very green and thrifty enterprise. Hence I forsee more sewing in my future. Sigh. I expect it will be awfully good for my character development.

In other news I pulled everything out of the bathroom cupboards and cabinets, gasped at the amount of STUFF that was in a very small space, and threw a lot of it out. What I have this week is a collection of tiny bottles of shampoo from hotels that The Man has brought home, and a pile of various sample products of creams and potions in little packets from who knows where. This week I am using them all up, and vowing not to let any more into the house, ever.

Our no-sugar diet is having a positive effect on the grocery budget. Not buying cereal, fruit juice or muesli bars has made an appreciable difference. We are obviously using and buying less sugar, but also buying more fruit and veg, nuts and yoghurt. I am not sure how it is that we are not spending more, but I am not complaining. Rosy's new breakfast is local oats with local yoghurt, and decidedly non-local bananas. Posy eats brose - oats and milk (with a spoonful of honey. Yes it's a sugar, but it's not hidden sugar, it's sugar I can see, and it's no more than a spoonful a day. Well, when I'm looking, that is). I stewed a big pot of cheap apples this week, and The Girl has been eating stewed apple and yoghurt for breakfast. My breakfast is a boiled egg and a piece of fruit. While The Man has been here he has been eating porridge. I feel so much better seeing my family eating oats than cornflakes.

Harvested from the garden this week - warrigal greens, a tiny amount of lettuce, bay leaves, rosemary, lemons. And Tasmanian native pepper berries. I bribed Posy to come out in the garden with me to pick them, so we could have a mother/daughter bonding moment. We all know how that sort of thing ends. Luckily, she didn't throw the tub of berries as she stomped off, so I saved them, stripped the rest of the bush and dried them in the dehydrator. This week we will be eating our own home grown black pepper:)

Tell me about your thrifty green moments this week.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Snow Pea Miracle!



Well, I told you you would be the first to know if Posy ever ate a vegetable at school. I know you have been on tenterhooks:) The Man is home for a few days, and yesterday morning he asked Posy if she could choose any vegetable to put in her lunchbox, what would it be? Amazingly, I have never thought to ask her this, just offered her whatever is available on hand. Her choice was... snow peas. Yes, the most out of season, outrageously expensive vegie at the supermarket. Seriously, I think she does this on purpose.

So I remortgaged the house, bought some snow peas and popped them in the lunch box this morning ('Oh goody,' says Rosy, 'Snow peas!' And proceeds to liberally add the vegetable gold into her daily collection of vegie slices). And the moment of truth, my first question when Posy came home from school, 'Did you eat the snow peas?' 'Well, yah,' she says nonchalantly, as if she ate vegies at school every day of her life. Praise be! My daughter may not die of scurvy after all!

This made me scurry outside to check on the progress of our own snow peas. Hmm, may be a little while before I can supply demand. To be on the safe side, I am increasing our snow pea square footage as of today. Of course, being August, it is on the chilly side to germinate seeds, but here is the secret to fast pea germination - soak them in lukewarm water for 24 hours or so before planting, or as long as it takes until the pea just begins to sprout. Then plant them, sprout side down (it is a root), water them once, after which you don't have to water them again until you see them sprout. Peas like very rich soil, lots of compost buried in a trench below the planting holes. They also like a sweet soil, so add a sprinkling of lime, and hopefully, this means lots of lovely fat snow peas for Posy.

Traditional English gardening lore says plant peas when the daffodils are blooming. Well, there are daffodils popping up all over Tasmania, so now is the time. If you want an Australian twist, plant peas when the first wattle starts blooming, which is also now. Enjoy the wattle and the daffodils and go plant peas everyone:)

Of course, by the time the peas are ready, they will be so last week, and Posy will be demanding cherry tomatoes.

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