Sunday, July 23, 2017

All the feels, all the finishes

My work colleagues gave me some lovely gifts on my retirement.

A big bunch of flowers.

Lots of cards.

Vouchers for quilting fabric. 

A limited edition print by Shokoofeh Azar, who was the talented artist whose work was a feature of the Seeking Refuge WA campaign.

My print is one of those signed by Shokoofeh . The painting s called 'The Night of the Poet Society (Four Birds)'. The vibrant prints featured in the Seeking Refuge WA crowdfunding campaign for the Humanitarian Group’s free legal clinic for people seeking asylum. I was involved with the Fair Go appeal committee which was behind these legal clinics, and this print means a huge amount to me.

A votive candle holder -in honor of all the vigils I have  organised and attended as part of my work. 

All of these things represent people and events we shared together. I can't look at them without thinking about all they represent. 

I finished  work on Thursday so it is a bit early to provide a report on retirement.

I have, however,  sung in my choir at St Barnabas' service this morning,

AND- just in time - I finished the baby quilt! 

This is the back I made from some fun fabric with Welsh motifs on it -castles, leeks, rugby players, choirs and, of course, dragons.

The quilt has just emerged from the dryer -it is now comfortingly crinkled and ready to come with me to visit our little family in Victoria, where a new baby is expected to add to the fun of our grandson (3) and grand daughter (5) at the end of September. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Construction -deconstruction-reconstruction

One week left at work. These lovely flowers were presented to me by one of the Commissions I work with. In my working life there is now a bit of deconstruction, as I cut loose from the roles I have had for the last 5 years. It is an emotional time for some of the people I have known in these roles, and for me too. Even my DH, who is totally supportive of the changes, confesses his mind is busy with adapting to the changes.

There is obviously some construction too -I am building new roles for my future post-employment life. Some opportunities are calling me -for volunteer work in particular. I am also planning for changes around the house -jobs we  have wanted to get to for some time, but have been prevented by circumstances. We want to renovate the kitchen and freshen up the dining room for starters. I can hardly wait to get started.

We want to build more activity into our lives. At one point we used to walk every day for an hour -lately we have managed one walk per week, and possibly an hour and a half in the garden. We are both looking forward to making this a priority.

We have signed up for Sustainable House Day again this year, which will mean a bit of focus to our gardening as we prepare for it  on Sunday 17 September 2017. The website says "This unique peer to peer education is a valuable resource for anyone looking for inspiration, ideas and the key to sustainable living". We are not one of those newly constructed architect designed homes, with double glazing and insulated walls, or made of entirely recycled materials. Ours is a typical 1970s brick and tile house which we are retrofitting to make more sustainable and grow more of our own food. We hope we can inspire others to have a go even if they have an older existing dwelling.

In the middle of this, I have been constructing a quilt for our expected 3rd grandchild. The photo below is a picture of what I thought was a finished top. If you look closely you will see that the second row is wrong! The alphabet blocks are in the wrong order! One of my friends was brave enough to ask if it was what I had intended...umm

So I had to do some deconstruction, to unpick part of the borders and the whole of the second row, and then carefully try to get them back together again (reconstruction)  It went pretty well and I am happy I did it. 

Every quilt needs a back. In looking for a fun fabric for a the Aussie alphabet baby quilt I found this piece with Welsh pictures on it. Not quite big enough so framed it in green and white like the Welsh flag. Should be a fun thing for baby to look at during tummy time. Who doesn't love castles and dragons?

So I am hoping to that I can get the quilt sandwich pinned together today, and get some quilting done this week, which is my last week in the office.  

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Freedom is coming

The big news in my life is that I have resigned from my employed position, and will be, after the 20th July, a retired person-and this is five years early! This is a culmination of a journey which began at least n 2007, as I learned about simple living from a generous group of forum and blogger people who were happy to share 'another way of living".

This blog started on Anzac Day 2008. It documented our journey towards living more simply: setting up our wicking beds, building a new garden in the front yard, putting up a shed. In those days I was working full time but dreaming of another life -a simpler life. We started working hard at finishing the payments on the mortgage so that, if I wanted to find a part time job, we could afford to live on less.  We learned to budget, menu plan and buy in bulk.

Together DH and I have learned to grow food and make things at home. He has become an expert jam maker and preserver of pears and plums. We set up passive cooling structures like our grapevine pergola and shade sails. We installed a water tank and solar array. Our bathrooms were renovated so that they would support us when we are older.

Over time DH and I were able to take part time work. We had by this stage paid off our mortgage and had no debts. We had learned to cook from scratch and found that we enjoyed the process very much. He now has a workshop full of tools so he can enjoy making things for us to use.  We finally installed some roller garage doors front and back on his workshop this month, so his 'shop' is now dry and tidy.

I am going to be able to enjoy more of this simple life we have been working our way towards for nearly a decade.

My life will include some volunteering, because I want to give back to the community. I know I am lucky to be able to retire! I have some volunteer work already locked in, and some opportunities to explore.

I will be baking bread, making quilts, singing in a choir and pushing myself to learn new skills.

I will be able to enjoy visits to and from my grand children, without worrying about work schedules.

DH and I are really looking forward to being together more. We are a good team, and we have plans for more improvements around here- including a new kitchen and a revamp of the dining room. As we get older these things may take more time, and require a bit of outside help, but we will enjoy the process very much.

Roll on 21st July! Freedom is coming!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Plastic Free July -the wins and the losses

It is Plastic Free July, and I am participating again this year.
You can find out more here

Our challenge is to try to eliminate 'single use plastics" like plastic film food wrap, one-use plastic shopping bags and produce bags, coffee cups and straws and of course plastic bottles like water bottles.

Choose to refuse single-use plastic by remembering your reusables and reduce plastic packaging. Signup today on our website and share with your friends, family and workmates. Avoid landfill waste, reduce your eco footprint and protect the ocean. Join us and together let's make a difference.

We have the coffee cups and straws thing down pat -it is easy. If we are out to have fun, we sit down at a coffee shop and drink coffee from a ceramic mug. Recently I was disappointed that the coffee shop near where I work has eliminated their ceramic mugs and plates, even for dine-in customers. I told them I wouldn't be back until the crockery was back too.

The plastic bag thing is a bit harder. I have shopping bags and about 80% of the time take them with me to the shops, but we are kind of "hardwired" to have some plastic bags around the house to line bins with. We don't subscribe to hard copy newspapers so we can't use them to line a bin instead.

We also have got used to using freezer bags to store food in the freezer- although I have a fine collection of glass and Tupperware-type containers which are also used. I read today that it was possible to freeze things in silicone type baking paper -that might help us achieve our goal there. So this is a partial win-we are reducing the amount of plastic we use.

Food wrapped in single use plastic in shops is harder to avoid too. I found some wax wrapped local cheese in my IGA but it was twice the price per kilo as the plastic wrapped version from the same factory. I didn't buy it, so am a bit of a failure at the 'refuse' option in this case. Maybe there is a shop nearby which will cut cheese from large pieces and put it in my own container, nearby? This is something I need to investigate.

My bulk food store provides me with some options to buy food in cardboard and tins . For example, the bulk bag of bread flour I bought today was in cardboard..

DH loaned his plastic barrow to a group of mulch spreaders at the church, and it came back with a large crack in it, probably due to the brittle plastic getting a bit too much UV. He thought he would have a go at repairing it, so the hardware store provided some repair strapping. If we can do another of the 4 Rs -refuse, re-use, repair, recycle - this time repairing something-that is good too. Might keep this plastic barrow out of landfill a bit longer.

Today we set up yet another of our wicking beds which are made out of used olive barrels-see the first two here . This is a "re-use' option -thus saving the barrels from landfill, whilst giving us cheap large pots in which to grow herbs and veggies.

We have finally had some winter weather -the rains were a month or more late this year, and our poor farmers were distraught. Hopefully the rains have penetrated enough into the farming areas to mean that there will be feed for the sheep. I don't know that the wheat harvest will survive everywhere, though. Our climate is changing -rainfall is much less than it used to be.  That is why anything we can do -no matter how small -in changing our patterns of behaviour to protect the earth more -whether from plastics or carbon in the atmosphere -is worth the effort.

On the quilting front, I have started the baby quilt! This is for grandchild number 3, due in September.

I am now working on the borders which are 4 patches in the medium to dark colours.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Mid Winter feast

It was time for our Mid Winter feast last Friday: the nearest weekend to the winter solstice. It has become a tradition for us to have friends over for a meal to celebrate the end of the time of the shortening of the length of days,and the start for the days to get longer again. 

The menu this year started with wine and nibbles -home made dukkah and dips, followed by roasted lamb with parsnips, cauliflower cheese, baked pumpkin and a herb salad from my garden.

DD made the dessert: rhubarb and apple crumble with custard.

There were plenty of candles to encourage the light to return! We decorated with evergreen trees and some of my belsnickles. 

We dragged the furniture out of the lounge room and brought the dining table in, so we could extend it and make a long table for our guests. 
We missed some of our friends, who were not able to be with us due to sickness or family obligations, but those who were able to come had a good time I think.

It is our tradition to give a bag of produce as a gift when the evening is over. This year's bag had a jar of preserved limes from our garden, some kaffir lime leaves and one fruit, a jarrah soap dish made by DH in the workshop (we added a cake of soap to it), and a jar of DH's marmalade. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

My quilt is finished!

My Citrus Harvest quilt is finished! 
It is bright and cheery. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Quilting finally gets some time!

Did you hear my sigh, as I finally sat down to sew this weekend? It had been too long -too many other priorities, so that my poor yellow quilt was languishing, and the list of 'quilts to make before the end of September" seemed quite impossible.

My DH encouraged me to get some slabs of time -we usually split the housework and shopping, but he did the shopping on Friday so I could get started, and did the housework on Saturday so I could get some more quilting done after my volunteer roster at the asylum seeker agency.

There is some big news about my quilting too - I HAVE JOINED THE WA QUILTERS!  I have been attending their exhibitions and following them on FaceBook, so when they said there was an open night last Wednesday- and it was quite close by- I took myself off to see what it was like. In all the years I have been a quilter (about 8 now) I have never been in a group, apart from the classes I took to start off. I joined online groups, but never in person. 

 I think I might join the community quilting sub-group, and see how I go. 

Free motion quilting adds such lovely texture! 

A friend asked me about bread recipes - I have added these two to my "from my kitchen" page. 

I took a walk in the winter sunshine during my lunchtime last week -over past the cement factory and the marshalling yards to the much nicer part of East Perth where I walked along a little brook and enjoyed the antics of the birds splashing. 

I hope for a peaceful week -as I have now finished the quilting, all I have to do is the binding on the yellow quilt. Hopefully it will be done by next weekend and I can then feel a bit more up to date! 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

World Environment Day -Connecting with nature

It is World Environment Day today, the 5th of June, and the theme is "Connect with Nature". Maybe the reason they chose this theme is that we need to go out into the environment, enjoy it and notice its changes, if we are to care for it and protect it.

Vandana Shiva coins the term "eco-apartheid" when she writes: “Separatism is at the root of disharmony with nature and violence against nature and people. Today, we need to overcome an eco-apartheid based on the illusion of separateness – the separation of humans from nature in our minds and lives. This eco-apartheid is an illusion because we are part of nature and Earth, not apart from it. Read more here 

One thing I really love about living simply is that it gives me time to do that -to walk on the beach as I did today-the picture above was taken this morning at Sorrento, or to take pictures of the unique flora in this part of the West Australian landscape. The picture below is an acorn banksia, or banksia prionotes, a native to this region.

When we grow our own food, we are much more alert to the changes of the seasons and the needs of living things to be in a clean, cooperative environment. Below is our seed raising set up.

This weekend we have been setting up wicking beds for herbs close to the back door, using recycled olive barrels.  This bed gets a lot of western afternoon sun, and nothing we grew really thrived, apart from the citrus trees. We do put up shade sails in summer, but it wasn't possible to get enough water to the herbs. This set up will fix that, we hope.

I have 4 more like this to do. Each one holds 2 bags of blue metal as the reservoir of water (holds about 18 litres each) and then there is a shadecloth barrier before a bag and a half of compost.  The plants grow towards the reservoir of water, and there is very little evaporation to contend with. We top up the reservoir through the stand pipe, and there is an overflow valve to let water out if it rains and the plants are in danger of drowning.

I like the idea of using these olive barrels in new ways -re-purposing them rather than have them find their way to landfill.

When we grow our own food, we are much more aware of waste and freshness.

This is a picture of a rustic veggie pie I made with my own short pastry and herbs from the garden.

Finally, I thought you might enjoy this clip from Australia's CSIRO: beautiful location, important scientific work monitoring the changes in atmosphere over time.

Cape Grim Station: Measuring atmospheric composition since 1976

Monday, May 29, 2017

Going back to the beginning

I have been trying out new techniques in my bread making.

As I wrote about here , I have been using a stand mixer for my bread.

This week I found a second hand copy of this classic book on bread.

I describe this book as a graduate course in bread making. It is amazing, and if you can find a copy -and are interested in bread -I thoroughly recommend it. You never know, you might be able to get it from a library.

One hint which I will now use all the time in winter, was to warm the flour in a low oven for about 10 minutes -this has greatly improved the speed and the rise of my bread.

I tried Ms David's technique of the overnight rise, which she said makes a better tasting loaf. It produced a huge rise in my sourdough on the first rise. Bread making is funny though. I didn't think the second rise would be so quick! I quickly turned on the oven but it was a bit too late. The dough was over-proofed and sinking fast . Then I thought I would make made cuts in the top of the bread ...and the whole thing deflated a little like a balloon with a slow leak. I haven't had a flop in bread making for a while, so it was like going back to the beginning and learning all over again.

I have been trying to make free form loaves rather than loaves baked in tins . I have tried Ms David's suggestion of using wooden bowls or trays to hold the dough as it is rising. The problem then became -just how do I transfer this soft squidgy dough into the oven when it doesn't have a tin that I can hold? DH made me a wooden paddle to get the bread into the oven, but my loaf was too big for it! I found my pizza stone and tipped the bread dough from the wooden tray onto a baking sheet and then onto the pizza stone.

Anyway, the bread mostly tasted good, especially as I took Ms David's advice and worked on adding the flavour back into the bread by mixing my white bread flour with wholemeal and extra wheat germ. The picture below is of the best loaf this week -my free form sourdough which rose well and had a yummy crust and a crumb with just the right amount of holes in it!

Apart from these culinary adventures, the week was memorable for a wonderful concert at the Government House ballroom, from The Australian String Quartet and Slava Grigorian. 

In the winter garden my blueberries have flowered for the first time, which is very exciting! I have planted my mizuna seedlings, and more lettuces and dill.  The days are much shorter now, and we have had a few days of rain, but nowhere enough for this time of the year. Cooler overnight but still quite mild days The garden mostly thinks it is spring. 

As for my quilt -I am still quilting it! Not much progress to show as yet -maybe next week! 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

All the Citrus! What we are doing with ours

It is citrus harvest time. We have been blessed with a gift of a bowl of  navel oranges, but in our own garden we have Meyer and Eureka lemons, pink grapefruit and limes ready now. Our mandarin tree has not produced fruit this winter, but as it is finally growing, I am happy just to let it be. (Four years of sulking brought us near to giving up on this one). 

We have been seeing some Mediterranean fruit fly in the garden and the fruit, so it is important that we harvest the fruit, and don't just leave it on the trees.  We have bought and made our own fruit fly traps, but the other control trick is to ensure we don't leave the fruit on the ground, and dispose of the spoiled fruit by freezing first so there are no live larva in the compost.

In this picture you can see some of the ways we deal with the citrus harvest. I was given a dehydrator, and we absolutely love having dried grapefruit peel (right hand jar) , as it adds so much depth of flavour to a casserole.If you don't have a dehydrator, I guess you could do this with the residual heat in your oven after a cooking episode. I need to do this with lemon zest -in the past I have also frozen zest and it has been very useful. I freeze it in tiny packages -one lemon's worth at a time. This year I want to dehydrate it as there is only so much space in my freezer. 

DH makes marmalade (left hand jar) . He likes small batches, and recently has taken to making it with just the juice of the fruit -not the pulp. He made some this week with lemons and a variety of spices including star anise, and it is SO GOOD. 

My jar of preserved lemons (behind at the right)  is more than half empty, and has gone that wonderful deep amber colour. Time to make some more! A small jar makes a great gift to someone too. 

Lemon juice ice blocks are versatile -I add them to cooking and to my G & Ts when necessary! They have a strange property -if left in the freezer uncovered -they evaporate! It is necessary to take them from their trays and pack them in a covered container.

We had to remind ourselves recently that we can make fresh fruit juice out of our crop! It feels utterly decadent to drink freshly squeezed juice for breakfast! I like to think that, as my poor DH recovers from a serious bout of illness -he was eventually diagnosed with pneumonia- that this will help to boost his immune system again.

We also have some great recipes for using citrus in our meals: we had grapefruit & red onion salad the other day. I have a couple of new cook books with great ideas to try.

Finally, I guess my yellow quilt is continuing the citrus theme! Now pinned together as a quilt sandwich, it is a burst of lemony goodness. 

I am going back to work this week. I have another trip to Victoria in a couple of months to look forward to, but meantime I have my lovely simple life with it's seasonal workload to keep me busy. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Not an Instagram holiday

Do you have an Instagram account? I do, and I am not very regular at posting there. It seems that every post needs an award winning photograph to accompany it -spectacularly lit and staged, with everyone's lives being equally glamorous.

Well, we have returned from a two week trip in Victoria, and it was by no means an Instagram worthy holiday. It was full of joy and adventure, however.

The first week we spent in country Victoria, up by the Murray river, visiting our son, daughter in law and grand children. The weather was sunny almost every day, but a little cold in the mornings for those of us coming out of a WA autumn.

Rochester Town Hall in the afternoon sun

The Campaspe river.

We spent a lot of time playing with our grandchildren, of course, and enjoying family time with their mum and dad. We played all sorts of games, read stories and watched them jump on their trampoline.  

MR DGS with his granddad, playing "Wake Up Pa!" in the hammock. 

After having a really lovely time, we went by train back to Melbourne, intending to have some luxurious times in one of our favourite cities. 

It did not exactly work out like that! My DH and I both were sick with colds, but shortly after we arrived, he came down with bronchitis, and we spent most of the days either attending medical appointments or resting in our hotel room! We both were on antibiotics by the time we got on the plane to come home. 

We did manage to have one nice dinner and lunch with friends, and we saw some of the NGV art collection. We took ourselves out to a  couple of  lunches when it was warm enough. We ate breakfast in our room, and dinner too on a couple of occasions.  

I was able to visit a couple of hidden-away fabric shops when a friend took me to see them, and came away with these nice pieces:

Fabric from Kimono House, which I am planning to make into a quilted wall hanging. 

For a few days, we weren't sure we would be well enough to make it onto the plane, so when we arrived in our lovely home we were most grateful. We are still on annual leave, but taking it quietly as DH is still coughing badly, and I am in a lesser degree coughing too. The weather has turned cool and showery today, so we are quite content to do what our energy levels demand.

One good thing is that Mother's Day brought some new books and DVDs, so we should be capable of entertaining ourselves quite well at home until we are recovered properly. 

I am grateful for the care we received from the medical people we turned to, when DH was sick. I am also grateful for this coming week, as I do enjoy pottering around at home. I have chicken soup in the crock pot for tonight's dinner, and bread rising near the heater in my sewing room. 

In a couple of months we will be back to do some babysitting. We hope to have a better run of health on that occasion.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Making bread with a stand mixer-and progress on the quilt

About ten years ago, a relative handed on to me a bread making machine that she no longer used. This seems to be the way with these machines -given the numbers I see being sold or given away.

I was just starting on my simple living journey, and was keen to give it a try. I made loaves using the bread making packets you buy from the supermarket, and experimented with the breadmaker. There were some failures as well as successes! After I was told that I needed to weigh all the ingredients -including the water- and use tepid water - things improved. The mixes used sachets of dried bakers' yeast, and the flour was often quite soft and  made a wet mix.

After about six months that bread making machine died, and I bought one. I had come to enjoy the control of making bread using all natural ingredients, without preservatives or sugar added. I started to buy bulk bread flour -local wherever possible -and use my own ingredients. Here is a home made foccacia_ so yummy with our own rosemary and salt on top.

We learned to slice bread -which is quite a skill! At one point we bought an electric knife, but I was convinced I would cut my fingers off so it has now been relegated to the dreaded "second drawer" in the kitchen!

The years went by, and the bread-making got better. I have now a number of recipes I make regularly: fruit bread, Russian Black bread, and a mixed grain loaf.

After a while I realised that I could take the dough out of the bread making machine before it cooked it, and finish it in my own loaf tin in my own oven We preferred the shape of this loaf, it didn't have the funny hole in it from the bread-making beater, and the crust was crustier.

I then learned about making sourdough, and after one catastrophe in creating a starter, I developed a sour dough starter and since then have been making sour dough bread at least once per week.

This week the story took a new turn: my bread making machine died! 

I had been expecting this for a while, so I had my plan ready. I had done some research and discovered that it was possible to get a stand mixer with the capacity in both motor power and bowl size to mix the sour dough. I had toyed with the more expensive KitchenAid, but careful reading of its capacity for dough made me turn to the Kenwood Chef XS model, with a 1200 W motor, which can make up to 2.4 kg of dough. My usual sourdough is half that, so I knew that I would not be overloading the motor. The nice thing is that the Kenwood was about 2/3 of the price of the others, and has a 5 year warranty.

The method is pretty easy. I add the ingredients according to my normal sourdough recipe:

  • 350mls warm water
  • 150 grams of sourdough starter, at 100% hydration. (when I have used this amount of sourdough starter, I replace it with 75 g flour and 75 g of warmish water). 
  • 50g olive oil
  • 600 g bread (strong) flour
  • Salt (about a teaspoon) 
Use low speed to mix, then 5 minutes on Speed 1 with the dough hook.

Transfer to an oiled bowl and leave for 2 hours.

Back in the machine for 5 more minutes, then into the  oiled or buttered tin for the second rise.  I have a large plastic box I put the dough in, and put it somewhere warm. Sometimes this is outside -in winter I chase the sun coming in the windows which face north. When it is outside I add my 'bread rock" to the top of the plastic box in case the wind comes up and blows it off.

On very cold days I have been known to stand the bread tin in warm water in the sink. Warmth is vital at this stage!

When the dough gets up about 2cm beyond the top of the loaf tin, I put the oven on to warm up to 230 C. When the oven is hot, I slash the top of the bread, and put it in for 15 minutes. Then turn the oven back to 180C for 25minutes. At this point the house smells wonderful -baking bread is fabulous!

I turn it out onto a rack and leave it until quite cool. This is important to getting good slices, and also the bread steams out of the oven. It will last longer if it is cold before you slice it up.

We usually put half the slices in the freezer.

Pumpkin bread ready for soup! 

Finally, a catch up on the quilt -it now has a funky pink inner border and an orange outer border!