Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Wotsit

December is always so busy, juggling social events with  extra work commitments. We rush to connect with everyone we have neglected the rest of the year to reassure them we are well and prosperous, hoping to hear the same in return.
I hate the rampant consumerism that takes hold of us at this time of the year that encourages us to spend way beyond our means. I try to make items through out the year to personalise my gifts and spread the financial load.

I am always happy to receive a card from a good friend each year that gifts seeds to a third world country. This year I sent a chicken as a gift via World Vision cards, to many people and sponsored a third world child as a wedding present. Watching the television tonight I came across a segment that urged us to give the gift of blood - extremely relevant given our holiday road deaths toll each year.I have a dear friend who lives alone and has fostered two very young kittens for the holiday period who would otherwise have spent the time in a cage.

There is always a need to be fulifilled. Regardless of the time of year or the religion we subscribe to, the greatest gift we can give is that of ourselves, in whatever way we can. 

I wish you all a safe and happy holiday, I hope you can enjoy and appreciate the people who surround you, receive with grace and give thanks for the richness of life.

With love
Nirala

Happy cats!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Voices of the river


To live in harmony we must be able to communicate with each other. The announcement of a proposal for a coal mine in the Margaret River area has created a dust storm of emails, petitions and news reports and an avalanche of letters to the local member of parliament and the newspapers.
A group of local artists and their friends expressed their opinion in a different way. It can't be ignored, become yesterday's news or marked as junk mail and deleted. It is neither imflammmatory, loud or agressive - it is quietly inspirational.

What a lovely way to make yourselves heard.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Angels in the garden

Advent begins today, a couple of days after Thanksgiving is celebrated by Americans. We may celebrate with solstice with a circle chant, remember distant relatives with a card, spend far too much money or simply look towards the beginning of a new year. Regardless of our religion and beliefs, this time of year is a pause for reflection and for thankfulness for the richness of life.

I always feel strangely out of kilter over this holiday period. My Celtic born being craves short cold days and the longest night to signal the ending of the year and detest Christmas carols that feature kangaroos. We greet the December solstice here with some relief as it heralds the end of long days, signalling some respite from the summer sun.

As part of my Christmas preparations, I am processing angelica, the herb associated with St Michael and petit fours at the Savoy Hotel, so you can see that I am tuned in on a holy and a secular level! At the start of the warmer weather I had noticed it was getting ready to bolt. It has been years since I last candied angelica stem and thought it would make a nice Christmas treat. Easy to follow instructions for candied angelica, historical, medicinal and gardening with angelica in Down the garden path and a recipe for Angelica aftershave are all on my website.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Easy as falling off a bike?

Isn’t it amazing that we can remember how to do things? I hadn’t done any large scale catering for over ten years. I hadn’t been on a push bike for at least twelve months. In the last couple of weeks I have tackled both.
My Rottnest Island bike adventure deteriorated into a farcical comedy on the first day with me falling off within a few meters of the bike hire. Feeling like a fool, I looked down to see the handlebars sat at a 45 degree angle to the wheel. A minute and a man with a spanner fixed that.  The second day saw me trying to ride with the handlebars rotated 180 degrees. I hadn’t the heart to tell the others why I was so far behind in case they laughed their way into an accident. I huffed and puffed my way up hills, feeling very unfit until...I noticed the brakes were locking on. Heaved them off the wheel and managed to make my way back to the bike shop on day three. I explained to the very nice man what was happening. His eyes scanned the bike, then me, then the bike again. “You do know why this is happening, don’t you?’ he asked. ‘Der,’ I thought, ‘well, no, that’s why I am here.’ He smirked at me ‘The front wheel has been rotated 360 degrees and is pulling the cable on, especially when you go around bends.’ Thanking him, I scuttled out quickly, wondering if I could get away with leaving the bike at the accommodation rather than having to return to the bike shop for further humiliation. Obviously, my remembered skills were directed towards the actual bike riding, nothing of mechanics remained in my middle aged brain.
The catering went very smoothly, a little panic driven over ordering and some extreme tiredness, but basically all the skills I needed were there, lying dormant in some deep recess of my brain and I flicked into automatic even having a flash of inspiration that lead to a new sugar free dessert recipe.
I guess we all learn in different ways. Certainly, my capacity for retention is greatest when I have been physically active in a task. Swimming, bike riding, knitting, Tai Chi, all need just a little prod to awaken the body memory. Names, computer programs, telephone and all other numbers, need constant use and repetition for them to be imprinted.
The newest grandee will soon be one, watching him, I can see learning in action. This new person is stretching mind and limbs, awake with curiosity and wonder. His learning is experiential, using all of his senses. He isn’t trying to remember anything. I wonder if this is where we return to as we get older, that the sensual memories are the last to leave?  I hope that the appreciation of nature, music, food, comfort, touch and companionship will stay with me long after I forget how to figure out many lettuce 26 people can eat in a week.

Sorry, no photos yet, Blogger is playing up today!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Witches of Rottnest

The ‘coven,’ as one of the men describes us, has just returned from playtime on Rottnest Island.  We  managed to do very little for five days, saving our energy for a shopping frenzy in the big smoke on the way home.
Without shifting from our balcony we could watch other peoples‘ children at play, girls struggling to put up sun shelters, stingrays cruising by and the comings and goings of birds and walkers. Any boats pulling in to the moorings were scrutinised, commented on and categorised as to their desirability factor and the appearance of their crew and passengers  as we sat feet up, sipping tea or enjoying a tipple or a block of chocolate or two as we glanced up from trashy novels or knitting.
Great thumping noises heralded the whales that appeared many times each day to put on noisy displays of breaching and slapping while frolicking with their new babies. The Leeuwin training ship passed by carrying full sail and we were shocked the same day by a huge a navy submarine surfacing...all day free entertainment!
It was only when heading into the settlement the trouble started. On the road it was quokkas under foot (and almost under wheels) and hills to burn the fittest of thigh muscles. The shop was a minefield of gourmet nibbles, Connoisseur ice cream, imported cheeses and an array of alcohol, potato chips and every sugar confection known to woman.  Luckily the cakes and coffee at the bakery weren’t up to much and the food and drinks at the hotel outrageously expensive so we weren’t tempted back there after the first visit to each.
Rotto is no longer the rough and tumble make do sort of holiday I remember from my first visits I was thrilled to see the solar hot water systems , the wind generator and the revegetation work everywhere. The villas have been modernised and updated. It was sad to see the old Quokka Arms looking posh and exclusive and that the generic fast food outlets continue to multiply
What it does have is that wonderful aahhhh feeling when you step of the boat; the wild windswept west end and tiny bays so blue you would swear you were in the tropics.  It has the wonderful wildlife and a poignant sense of history radiates from the old buildings, the ruins and the graveyards. The lighthouses continue to mark the passage for ships heading for the busy mainland port as they have since early settlement. An easy going camaraderie exists between the visitors here; the lack of motor vehicles engages people with the environment and each other, instilling respect and fond memories.
For the coven, there was no need to weave any magic here; the island did it for us.

More Rotto adventures soon.


   

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What quiet life in the country?

Catching our rooster that had been living next door didn’t fix the problem of the feral bantams. The two girls, with their clipped wings, had been leaping the fence to head for greener pastures. We hadn’t seen one around for a while and assumed that she had jumped one fence too many, ending up in a yard with an unfriendly dog. Last week she reappeared, fifteen babies in tow, all happily jumping backwards and forwards through the wire to have a drink of water in our pen.
The neighbours hadn’t mention the sudden explosion of numbers in their yard but their grass was two foot high since myxamatosis kicked in and killed all the rabbits that lived in the warren under their shed and used to keep the grass and everyone elses vegetables, trimmed.   I came home during the week to find they had whipper snipped their jungle. No sign of the feathered family. I heaved a evil secret sigh of relief. (We had agreed NO baby chickens this year. Our girls are so well treated they never die although we do eat the young boys and we reached our feathery limits in the Chook Palace last year.)
We awoke the next morning to find the renegade and  eleven of  her babies had travelled though two fences to end up in the veggie garden. All the plants that had been lovingly tucked into beds of manure and hay were now bare rooted, mulch flung everywhere. Lady (our dachshund) managed to kill a baby and then later grabbed the mother around the neck so the dogs were forced to spend the rest of the day locked in the house while the chickens roamed free.
At dusk, we spotted them all settled down close to the other chickens and with great stealth and much squawking (some of it from Amita screaming, get her! Get her!) Taking her to the front pen we chased the babies through the wire into the main chicken run where everyone had got out of bed to see what the noise was all about. On the way we managed to clip one wing down as far as we dared. The neighbour was soon out to see who was being murdered as the mother screeched for her babies while they headed off to hide in a tangle of jasmine next door. It was dark by the time I had herded them through the fence to mum and we settled down to a few wines to settle our nerves.
Next morning we were greeted by the whole family happily chirping...OUTSIDE OUR BEDROOM WINDOW! The front garden was looking a mess; the scratching had been going on since dawn. Herding them back in the pen, we barricaded the chicken wire with planks, filled in the excavations under the gate and threw in lots of yummy things for them to eat. They were out in minutes.
By the second morning out of their ‘safe’ pen AGAIN, they had knocked over pot plants, dug out some bromeliads, destroyed the ground covers and shat all over the verandah. Enough!  In my nightie, sitting in the dirt, I sewed a piece of shade cloth to the fence and the gate to a height of about 60cm, chased them all in again and went off to work.
When I got home, there they all were again, living the life of Riley in the FRONT GARDEN. This was war! I let the dog out to help me, again with sneaky evil intent. She happily ran off into the ferns to herd them. The next few minutes were pandemonium...the mother stood up to  the dog who ended up  howling, on her back trying to surrender to the bantam who  was attacking her in a frenzy of beak and claws. I rescued the dog, herded the chickens inside, shovelled soil up against the bottom of the shade cloth, returned the planks and propped them up with pot plants.
This morning we were greeted by mum and four babies, outside the window AGAIN. Things were looking up.at least the remaining six were still in the pen. No, by breakfast time another two had figured out how to escape.  Amita to the rescue, a drop cloth is now draped over the whole lot and is scarily blowing in the breeze. I have swept, raked and watered and generally tidied up the garden. Some of them are going to a new home today so I want them all contained so we can catch them. They are going to another neighbour two doors away who apparently took one to the vet to get a bandage for its sore leg!
I only hope they stay there.
I’m going away for a week without chickens, dogs or men...I've had enough of the quiet life!  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So soy easy

You only need to read the labels to know that processed foods contain heaps of additives. There has been a recent outcry about the use of GM soy beans in food including baby formula.  If you enjoy soy, you can avoid the whole issue of genetically modified beans by making your own products from certified non GM beans. The most popular of these would be soy milk. Many shop bought soy milk brands contain sugar in some form, added oil to make them creamy, salt to enhance the flavour and often a lot more, especially the cheaper brands.
Soy milk made at home is quick and easy and tastes absolutely delicious (and this from a person who is a confirmed soy milk hater.) You can control the additives and cost you under fifty cents a litre and half an hour of your time. You will need to start the night before.

Equipment
2 saucepans, at least 2 litre size
A spatula and a wooden spoon
A colander lined with a damp tea towel
A stick or jug blender (must be hot water proof)
Well washed glass bottles with clip or screw tops to hold 3 litres

Ingredients
300g soy beans
Water (rain water if you have)

Soak the beans in water 10 – 12 hours or overnight.  They need less time in really hot weather, more if they are older beans. If the beans are more than a year old, they become too starchy and you will not be able to strain the liquid. They are ready to process when the husk comes off easily and the inside of the split bean halves are slightly concave.
Drain and rinse under fresh water.
In the first pot bring two litres of water to the boil.
Boil a kettle with extra water.
Jug Blender:  put half the beans in the jug with 2 cups of hot water from the kettle and process until fine and creamy Add to the water in the sauce pan, turn off the heat and put the lid on. Repeat with the rest of the beans and add to the pot.
Stick Blender: Put soaked beans into saucepan after the heat has been turned off and blend carefully in the hot water until fine.
Place the other saucepan in the sink with the lined colander inside it.
Gently pour the slurry into the colander and let drip into the pot below, scraping the pulp into the middle with your spatula.
When the liquid has drained through pull the corners of the tea towel together and make a twist, squeezing the pulp to extract as much liquid as possible.
When you are tired of squeezing, open the tea towel and pour an extra two cups of hot water from the kettle over the pulp and repeat the process of squeezing. You can do this again with two more cups of water to extract more milk. After the final squeeze the pulp is called okara.
Put the pot on the stove and bring to the boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for about eight minutes, stirring occasionally. Fill the sink with coldwater and place the hot pot in the cold water for about 15 minutes to cool, replacing the water in the sink a couple of times as it becomes warm. The quicker you cool the soymilk down, the creamier it will taste and the longer it will keep.
If you prefer a lighter taste, leave it to cool slightly in the pan before bottling. Tighten down the lids and refrigerate. Of course you can add sweeteners, vegetable oil and salt at this stage if you wish or flavour it with chocolate or fruit juice.
 
For more information including instructions on making and using soy milk, soy cream and okara follow these links to my website or try to find a copy of The Book of Tofu by William Shurtleff, who writes fabulous books on all things soy.  It is out of print but copies often turn up in second hand book stores.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lizard legs and the Melbourne Cup

Monday I had spent the previous day moving all the winter clothes to the furthest corner of the wardrobe and inspecting my summer clothes.  Spring brings new challenges to our self esteem in the realisation that our bodies are a year older.  Where did those bingo arms come from?  How did my mother’s cellulite suddenly appear on my thighs? To add to the mix, brilliant sunshine shows off the newest grey highlights kindly provided by nature and children that has been hidden under a beanie for months.
Tuesday is the day our writing group meets, also the third day in a row over 20 degrees C.  As I placed my bag on the floor II caught a glimpse of my ‘lizard leg’s and scrabbled around for a tube of hand cream to rub on. While under the table I noticed  two sets of toes flashed fresh nail polish and that everyone was wearing sandals.
Summer clothes create their own dilemmas. Nearly all my friends admit to owning black one piece bathers for  public beach displays.  What about Melbourne Cup Day?  Can you get away with wearing your orthopaedic shoes with a new dress with spaghetti straps?  In the clothes shops I find myself perusing safe flowery crimplene – I have to slap myself soundly and quickly move away before anyone I know sees me.
Wednesday, one of the painted toenails helped me with spring cleaning project. Winter had returned overnight and we were happy as bag ladies in our old, faded and grubby layers of work clothes, dashing up and down between sheds in the break between showers. Exposing the body has been avoided and thoughts of fake tans and liposuction have faded away for now and look how clean my rocks are!




Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chillean Celebration

Life has accelerated, the spring sunshine must be activating the ‘busy’ molecules.
In the last ten days I have:  been helping with house moving, had lunch with visiting friends at Cullen’s, a birthday dinner at the Tav, an afternoon tea at Voyager, received  news of a new baby, attended the open day for the 20th anniversary of the Margaret River Community Centre, held the first pizza gathering of the year, attended the farmer’s market, dealt with Telstra (again), walked with the girls, visited a friend with the flu and, sadly,  attended a funeral. I have also been at work, made 60 jars of various creams and driven hundreds of kilometres. They are the memorable events. Most were happy ones, some frustrating, and others unbearably sad.
The list of things to do gets longer every day. What has happened to time? Is it really moving faster or is it because the world has become a chaotic and complicated place in which to live? Looking over my list, I can see that I chose to spend time with people in my life I care about. Who cares if the cobwebs still dangle from the ceiling or the bags of sheep poo still haven’t been spread?
Watching the Chilean miners appear from underground after so long, seeing the joy on the faces of their family and friends has given me heart, faith in the way we can come together to support each other in times of need and respect for those valuable connections we share. When I saw the joy on that small boys face as he saw his father after an agonising wait, I remembered that in matters of the heart, time stands still.

Each day I am grateful to wake to the sound of chickens and birdsong.
The views from all the windows are green and at night I can see the stars.
Hide your ironing in the cupboard and enjoy the moment!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I never knew your second name

This morning I stood and watched the bees busy in fragrant flowers and thought about the day to come.

The town gathered in a state of shock - the older to attend a familiar ritual with sad resignation, the young for an event not of of their time.
Your friends clung together to scatter petals as random as the emotions that flared in bursts of laughter, sobs and muted words of comfort. The silence between words thrummed with the feelings that brought us together in a tribute of flowers.

You were only nineteen, Grace Jasmine.

I will remember this day each time I smell that delicate scent of the white flowers with your name that grow on my fence.

Go well bright spirit.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Spring is a time for romance - a melodrama of plants


Asparagus makes suggestive gestures at her as she drifts draped in a gown of palest daffy down dilly through the spring garden. Past where the love in a mist waves its feathery fronds above the forget me nots. Past cherry pie, sweet peas and Chinese lanterns hinting of romantic dinners. On past the shaded glade where the music of bluebells accompanies the poetry of Chaucer, to the seat under the plum tree.
Her violet eyes narrow under her hazel hair, her red budded mouth purses as she wonders  ‘Will I meet the golden Graeme Thomas tonight or am I doomed to dance with the elder Mr Lincoln?

Just a flight of fancy from me today, messing about trying to get as many of my plant names as I could into a paragraph!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Knitting with grass


Much as I love spring, I get a bit sad about the longer days as it usually marks the end of the long evenings of knitting. This year I spotted has an amazing range of bamboo and bamboo blended yarns at our fabulous local wool shop that could keep the obsession going a bit longer.

I first fell in love with bamboo fibre when I discovered bamboo t shirts. It was soft, light weight and  drapes like silk. It is highly absorbent .and hypo allergenic. Bamboo, hemp, Tencel™ and cupro are all natural plant based fibres. Bamboo in particular is of special interest.

Because bamboo is a fast growing clumping grass, it can be harvested without the need to replant every year as with cotton and hemp. It grows faster than all the other natural fibre plants and is tolerant of drought and flood, holds soils to prevent erosion from runoff and gives a huge yield per acre without the need for pesticides or fertilisers. 

Unfortunately some processors use chemicals such as caustic soda and carbon disulphide to extract the cellulose from the plant material.. This is no different from the treatments given to cotton waste and other cellulose based fibres, including the treatment of organically grown cotton.  This is changing with the lyocell processing used to make Tencel ™ which uses chemicals in a closed loop process where over 99% of the chemicals are recycled for reuse.  It is possible to process the yarn without chemicals and the garment or yarn should be labelled as such.

The bamboo currently used for yarn is Moso bamboo, a variety from China that can grow up to a metre a day as a timber source. The Chinese have recognised that bamboo has a unique agent they call ‘kun’ that has anti bacterial and antifungal qualities that prevents odour causing bacteria to grow. That’s got to make for less washing! It is the same antimicrobial agent that makes bamboo resistant to pests and diseases (though has no effect on pandas!) Better still, the fibres are more wrinkle resistant while washing and that means less ironing too. The yarn is thermal regulating – keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer. While bamboo is touted as hypo allergenic, chemical residues may cause reactions on sensitive skin but can be avoided by always washing new garments thoroughly before wearing.

This is a product I heartily endorse. The problems in processing are being addressed and I feel these problems are outweighed by its sustainability and the fact that it can be grown, chemically free without the need for large machinery or soil tillage in a range of environments. Such are the desired qualities of bamboo that nano technology is being developed that traps particles of bamboo charcoal into other fibres for use in socks and blankets. Won’t it be great when you don’t have to look outside for the boys’ dirty socks?

Meanwhile, back at the farm...I will continue to knit with my beautiful yarn.

A free pattern is available on my web site and here’s the Margaret River Wool Company.

Knit on!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bees, bluebells and blossom




freesias

geranium















The first warm days of spring have bought out the blossom on the fruit trees, the bluebells and Dutch  iris. The jasmine and honeysuckle sent out pungent puffs of perfume as the sun tops the trees. The bees busy everywhere. The roses are suddenly thick with new red leaves and tiny green figs are visible as the first leaves unfurl on the fig tree. Walking at the beach this morning we found a patch of fairy orchids only metres from the ocean, their faces all turned to the east.

bluebells

This  quickening of life calls me into the garden.
So until the next rainy day, here’s  some photos.

Enjoy,

Fairy orchids
nirala

protea








  
spikenard

fig



Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Baking, babies and boob jobs

I am a sucker for kitchen gadgets. I have a kitchen full of them. Amita came home with a ‘garlic roller’ from town. It is a little tube of silicone, open at each end, that you pop garlic cloves into, roll them around and then hey presto! Peeled garlic, not squashed and no waste. Brilliant!
But here we are again, back to the silicone debate.
There is no doubt that silicone is a marvellous substance. In its various forms we can: glue the aquarium, clothe our mobile phones with it, bake in it and enhance our breasts with it if we are so inclined. Teats for babies bottles  and toys are now being made from it too. It has uses in medicine, electronics and engineering, and it is long lasting and odour and stain repellent (there is some debate about both these issues though.) Its flexibility worries me – surely it needs to stand on a normal metal tray to get safely in and out of the oven?



It does come in many pretty colours (are these food safe too?) and there is no doubt that it is light, durable and long lasting and makes the best juggling balls. Does that make you want to bake with it?
It is claimed too that although it is not biodegradable, it is recyclable after a long life of use, though not in Australia.
One safety issue regarding silicone cookware is that the cheaper items may contain fillers. This will not appear on the label and could be any type of plastic. One hint I have read is that if you twist the item and white shows up in the bend, the item could contain filler.
On the net, most of the research parrots a report published in May this year from the FDA (US) in Scientific  American. The pros are outlined but basically, any good research on the down side is yet to be published even though the product has been around since 1979. I was concerned to see that the recommended maximum temperatures for use varied from 300 to 482 degrees Centigrade! Apparently this varies with each manufacturer and is marked on the packaging. But who keeps the paper wrappers for every item in their kitchen?
I think we all need to choose for ourselves. My spatulas show no signs of wear although I use them regularly on my Thermomix, where they outperform the original scraper which is now pitted and worn from its contact with the blades. They are not stained after a year of intense use including curry making and have no melted parts although I have snapped the plastic handle of one of them mixing a heavy loaf. The brush is a nuisance, I will return to natural bristles which work well and are about the same to keep clean. The brush has also become stained with use so I suspect it is of the 'cheap and nasty' variety. 

I boughta silicone baking sheet today but it won’t be going in the oven. I am going to try and de-hull roasted nuts and cooked broad beans with it.
Check out the links and decide for yourself.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Whole Children

Jude Blereau has been my whole food hero for many years.  A wholefood chef, food coach, real food activist and author are some of the hats she wears. This, her third book is written from under her most important hat – that of a mother.

It includes careful explanations of the nutritional and emotional needs of children, a practical grounding in wholefood preparation and loads of yummy recipes. Covering the needs of children from 6 months to 7 years, she caters for allergies and food intolerance of all kinds and includes recipes for meat and fish.  These are not the bland meals we feed children from jars, they are certainly not boring and adults will find them irresistible too.  Certainly not a load of old lentils!

There is sensible advice about fussy eaters and attainable goals for parents wanting to provide the best nutrition they can without losing sight of the demands of a busy life. It is a book written from her vast experience of life and of food.
It is a book written from the heart.

Murdoch Books 2000 $45.00

Monday, August 30, 2010

Perfect winter pears

Half the people I invited to dinner this week were recovering from the latest nasty recurring cold that has been around this winter. The other half were worried about catching it! Chicken soup has always been my ultimate comfort food for illness and as it made sense to feed everyone copious amounts of garlic and chilli, I made a huge pot of chicken laksa with extra hot crunchy blachan on the side.

I was really stuck about what to serve for dessert. Whatever I made had to be quick to prepare and no fuss. Pears have been a good buy lately and I bought a couple of kilos of not quite ripe Packhams. I still had no idea of what to cook.  An e mail has been circulating on the health benefits of cinnamon and honey and I was sure the pantry would bring further inspiration.

Here's what I came up with:

Poached Pears in Ginger Wine

8 Pears, peeled but with stalks and cores left intact
1 C clear apple juice
1/2  C green ginger wine
3 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla pod split lengthwise
2 Tbsp honey


Cut a slice from the base of each pear so it sits flat.
Place in a slow cooker or a deep baking dish.
Place cinnamon, juice and wine into the dish, pouring the liquids over the pears.
Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add seeds and pod to the dish.
Drizzle the honey over the pears.
Cover and cook on high for six hours in the slow cooker or covered in foil for an hour in 180˚C oven.
Baste occasionally with the juices.
The cinnamon will turn the juice a lovely pink.                                               

Serve pears with some of the syrup, which can be reduced to thicken if you wish, with crème fraiché, yoghurt or custard.  

Perhaps the vanilla pod was an unusual addition but as Amita had just arrived back with the softest most luscious smelling vanilla pods from Indonesia, how could I not use them? We have more than we need, so we have a limited amount for sale. If you would like some, click here.                      

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tulips and tigers


About 90km as the crow flies east and inland from here, Nannup has a frosty winter suited to plants from the northern hemisphere and each year holds the Nannup Flower and Garden Festival. The old timber town is also the home of the 'Nannup Tiger' the elusive beast featured in Tim Winton’s scariest novel, In the Winter Dark. The animal, believed by some to be a thylacine, is sometimes glimpsed or heard at night on the lonely forest roads. 
It was a delightful day with displays of tulips and daffodils, ‘tigers’, local handicrafts, photographs and vintage cars, a market and open gardens. The whole community had contributed in some way, from the kindergarten’s emu to the ladies from the CWA with their morning teas. One proud young man was showing his mothers’ friend his rather wonderful photograph that he had on display and children were mesmerised by a fairy grotto that had been created by other children amongst the displays in the Town Hall. There were many people with walkers and wheelchairs, they were able to easily enjoy the many bulbs within their reach in planter boxes along the roadside.

I have never experienced an event like that here. It is rather sad that this timber town has gone the way of the winery and the cashed up tourist. The Margaret River brand aims for the posh and trendy top dollar tourists. The locals are surfers, aging hippies, craftspeople and dairy farmers along with a transient community of casual workers and many young families. This leaves the community splintered into groups with differing agendas. The fantastic community spirit that had created the event that transformed the sleepy little town now abuzz with families enjoying the winter sunshine might exist here; I’ve yet to see it - Maybe we’ve got a ‘bit big for our boots.’



Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On and on...lifelong learning

My life has been taken over by a voracious beast. The more I tend to it, the more it demands. The tasks it sets are many and varied, each demanding a different skill, some of which I don’t have and never realised I needed.  Just as I think I am maybe just starting to understand, the rules change and I despair that for every piece of learning I attempt there are twenty other things I need to know beforehand.

I know there is growth in challenge, in reaching beyond boundaries. A wise lecturer told us recently that the biggest hurdle to learning as an older (!) person was that of putting aside the ego.  We wear our many life skills proudly as a badge of achievement. There is nothing wrong in that, we do have a lot of experience to draw on. It is arrogance that gets in our way.  My personal challenge is to avoid letting my perceived stupidity erode my hard won self confidence.

I have known the beautiful young boy in the picture since he was born. He is about to leave school but for now each Friday he sits across from me in the Photoshop class. This is a world in which he is comfortable and familiar. The average age of the class members is probably fifty and all but two are women. The youngest, he generously answers our questions, silly and otherwise. His life challenges are different from mine. I hope that during his life there is someone to help him when he needs it.

Meanwhile, I’ll make the cake!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Opening windows


By this stage of winter we have usually had a run of bitterly cold, windy days. The type of day that I have to resist my normal routine of flinging doors and windows open wide. The house has become decidedly musty with smoke and cooking smells and I don’t have time to constantly refill and monitor oil burners or clean up after incense.
Going through the filing cabinet (another winter job) I came across some old craft articles I hadn’t seen for years and a reminder of the winter pot pourri.
Winter pot pourri is a wet pot pourri that uses the woodier dried herbs, citrus peels and spices. It can be used hot or cold. I often use dried flowers for their colour, looking into a wet pot pourri is rather like gazing into an aquarium!
BASIC RECIPE

Take a handful of dried material, place in a heat proof container or jar and cover with hot white or cider vinegar. There are no strict measurements, just make sure the vinegar covers everything. Cover and leave until cool. The full aroma will develop after a week.
You can enhance the aroma by adding essential oils.
Air freshener: Simply remove the lid from your container to release the aroma or strain the vinegar, add a few drops of essential oil and place in a spray bottle.
Ironing: Use the spray diluted with an equal amount of distilled water in a spray bottle or in your steam iron to freshen your clothes.
Cleaning: Use undiluted on glass, stainless steel, tiles and non porous surfaces. Do not use on waxed or oiled timber.


SOME COMBINATIONS:

There are no rules to this, try whatever you like. I started with a few ideas and then got carried away as I walked around the garden and dug into my pantry and my cosmetic making cupboard.

Baking Day

Cinnamon sticks, a piece of vanilla pod, allspice and a strip of fresh orange peel. Boost with cinnamon leaf, coffee essential oil or vanilla essence.
Christmas

A sprig of cypress or pine needles, a pinch of myrrh or frankincense gum, a cinnamon stick, sandalwood shavings, a swirl of orange rind and allspice or juniper berries. Boost with orange essential oil, it makes you happy!
Blokey

Bay leaves, allspice, cloves, black pepper, lemon verbena, fresh lemon peel. Boost with petit grain, lemongrass or lemon scented gum essential oils.
Pink! Don’t be tempted to use this as a spray on fabrics, the hibiscus flowers produce a wonderful pink dye.
Rose petals, lavender, hibiscus, whole coriander seeds, lemon balm, a piece of vanilla pod and fresh mandarin peel. Boost with jasmine, frangipani, lavender or ylang ylang essential oil.


STOVETOP HEALING

The strength of the wet pot pourri is enhanced by simmering the mixture. A Pyrex or ceramic casserole can simmer gently on a wood stove or fire or sit in front of a gas heater. Not only will it help prevent the air in the room becoming too dry, the oils given off by the pot pourri can have a therapeutic effect. I like to use cider vinegar for therapeutic blends.
Place dried material in a heat proof casserole, cover with hot vinegar and put lid on. Leave on top of your wood burning stove, away from the hottest part of the fire .Remove lid when the fire is lit to release the fragrance. Top up with half vinegar and half water as needed and add extra dry material weekly.
Sickroom
This is a great blend to ward off winter colds. Cinnamon sticks, eucalyptus leaves, dried thyme, whole cloves, tea tree leaves, half an inch of root ginger, a whole chilli and 2 garlic cloves. Boost with eucalyptus, tea tree or thyme essential oil.
Headache (remember Jack and Jill?)
Use  dried or fresh rosemary sprigs, lavender and cloves with cider vinegar. Boost with rosemary or lavender essential oils.