Monday, June 29, 2009

peak oil hummous

The drive shaft of my food processor is down the back of the dishwasher. Down the back, unjtil an unwelcome repair to the dishwasher or oven shall reunite us.

I didn't give up straight away. I tried to wiggle the dishwasher, realised it had no leverage room and might crack if I pushed it. I shone the torch down and saw other long forgotten relics down there, but no drive shaft (which I observed fall down the back earlier this year with my very own eyes). I got tongs out and also looked down the back of the stove, but it's gameover.

My six year old food processor, which only gets used for pesto and hummous and has no grating blade, is now at the very top of the highest cupboard, a long way from the functional hum of the rest of the kitchen.

I've been missing my hummous though. The bought stuff isn't worth buying now I'm used to my own. So today I cooked up chickpeas (and had to accept that my pressure cooker has some dangerous fault so downgraded to cooking it the old slow way) and tried making hummous with my mortar and pestle. I presume that is how it was traditionally made.

Came out nice. A bit lumpy which i could have worked harder at if it was important to me. If you are used to the shop stuff which is 'watered' down with either water or cheap oil to a runny budget consistency, then this may be a jump too far.

So, that will be an independence days thing, if I was doing the (Sharon Astyk) independence days project. Even when oil costs a million dollars a litre and New Zealand is in inflation blowout freefall and we totter along only just within the 'first world' (oh yeah, but more like that than now), I can still make hummous. So can you. Maybe by then I will even have a productive lemon tree in my garden.

The yam experiment, Whataroa potatoes

I planted my garlic this morning, fitting it in around the various rose bushes I have moved to or begun along the back of the house and in the old tobacco bed.

My strawberries, transplanted just over a week ago, now have bird netting over them. The strawberries are in a wooden raised bed which Favourite Handyman made for me last December. He used the partially rotted wood boards which he had had to replace from our largest shed. This made it fairly easy for me to nail in some black piping (hanging around from when FH built the poultry palace and the piping turned out not strong enough) and hoop it over the square bed. Then I had a raised form to stretch the bird netting over. I put lots of nails in around the edges to hold the netting. This way I can lift and replace it easily come summer.

My third gardening project today was the yam experiment. The punga raised bed was overrun with yams and they all needed to go. I pulled all the tops off, many of which were rotted or rotting and put them in the wheelbarrow. No way are these relatives of oxalis going into the compost until every little part is completely dead - I'll need to store them in a knotted black sack for a month or two.

I never mounded the plants (and I probably planted too many for the space), so lots of yams grew above the soil and are green or partly green. But under the soil was a good harvest of large yellow yams. I lifted those and filled two buckets' worth. They aren't very tasty, so I think there is going to be a lot of yam curry round here for the foreseeable future, likely mixed with a tastier root vegetable like pumpkin to pump up the flavour.

Next I brought the chooks in to fossick and lift the soil for me. They did a good job and now I have removed the yams they exposed. My goal is to get every single one.

Now I am ready for my next challenge: to lift the height of the soil by 50-60 centimetres. For it to settle to this level, I need to pile it up to almost double that. The soil has fallen almost to regular ground level, meaning that some tree roots from nearby are starting to come up. The easiest option is the most expensive: order a delivery of compost or topsoil from the garden shop or the local landscape supplies shop and spend an afternoon carting it from the driveway to the punga raised bed.

Cheaper options then. I've got two buckets of bokashi awaiting burial. Although I don't really have the depth I need to bury them in the punga raised bed at the moment ... I have a plan.

1. Bury the bokashi, even with a thin cover on top.
2. Collect all the compost from the two compost heaps and throw it on top of the soil.
3. Spread the little bit of peastraw I still have left in storage on top of that.
4. Collect lots of horse manure (I confirmed in the weekend that my 2008 source is still available) and pile it on top.
5. Buy some peastraw and pile it on top of the horse poo.
6. Save up for some soil to go on top.

Not sure of spring plantings in this bed yet. I was thinking a tamarillo tree or two but I'm currently favouring beetroot/carrots/onions. No, I'm not ready to give up on growing carrots successfully here in wetville!

Last year I had grand plans and bought quite a bit of seed. Much of which never grew and some of which I never even sowed. After some frustration with seed success or lack of it, I bought quite a few pottles of seedlings from my local garden centre and the world didn't fall over. Still home grown healthy produce, even if it wasn't heirloom seed demonstrating my commitment to the skills of yesteryear/tomorrow's oil-scarce world.

I've always bought my seed potatoes locally, but this year might be the year for an heirloom potato experiment. Despite one kilo of seed costing me $14 including postage (um, four times the price of buying most locally available commercial varieties), I am quite keen on some Whataroa seed potatoes from Koanga. These are, apparently, an old West Coast variety. Details from Koanga:
From Whataroa in the South Island. Round to oblong shape with light patchy
purple skin. Cream coloured waxy flesh with purple streaks. Good for oven baked
chips, steamed or for hangi. Heavy cropper and a good keeper.

No doubt I'll be going crazy over the Kings Seeds catalogue when it comes out next month, no matter what the evidence for restraint in my existing seed box.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Local food: gnocchi

Tonight, for the first time, I made gnocchi from scratch. I used a recipe from today's Christchurch Press, by Maxine Clark. Although gnocchi has always seemed exotic and probably difficult to make to me, I used (following the recipe to the letter) home grown potatoes, egg and sage. I used New Zealand grown flour, cheese and butter.

It turned out pretty well.

Cook 600g floury potatoes in boiling water for 20-30 minutes, until very tender. Drain well. Mash the potatoes, add 1 teaspoon salt and 200g flour. Make a well in the centre and crack in an egg. Mix together, knead lightly to yield a soft, slightly sticky dough. Roll into long sausages, 1.5cm in diameter. Cut into 2cm pieces. Lay on lightly floured tea towel.

Bring big pot of salted water to the boil. Cook the gnocchi in batches. Drop into the boiling water for 2-3 minutes or until they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep hot while you cook the rest. Mix 200g melted butter with 2 tablespoons fresh chopped sage. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the butter mixture over the gnocchi and sprinkle over 50g parmesan.

The sage worked well and I'm pleased about that as I almost never cook from my little plant near the back door. Time to try a few more sage recipes perhaps. We used cheddar cheese as I was out of parmesan. Still good.

So now I might have a go at Annabel Langbein's recipe for nettle or spinach gnocchi. It looks to be a more varied dish (I don't do multi-course dinners for family tea. I scarcely do multi pot dinners for family tea). As well as the green stuff in the gnocchi, she serves it with a tomato sauce. But hers calls for ricotta, which is a pricey ingredient, pulling things into the realm of special food. Maybe it would work with cottage cheese.

But anyway, fancy food from local ingredients, which turns out not to be so very difficult to cook. I would be faster next time. It is one of those dishes which look quick and might well be with practise, but probably wouldn't survive the need to drop all cooking and growl at children or inspect bike wounds... Same reason I don't bother with stir fry if I'm the only adult at home during cooking time.

Community education: stories and how to protest

Last night I got some more details on the ways in which people are protesting against the night class cuts. At my local high school there is a petition asking for the reinstatement of night classes (though they often extend beyond just nights). If you drop into the reception of your local high school, I expect you will find a petition there to sign. I've also got a postcard to send in in protest and I've found out about the Stop Night Class Cuts website. I've joined the facebook group protesting the cuts and I'll be writing to my MP also.

I've seen figures of 200 000 people doing night classes each year and also 400 000 people. Despite the huge discrepancy, it is still clear that they are used and valued in each adn aevery community within New Zealand.

In my last post I wrote about working class lives a little before jumping on to the community education slaughter. They are linked. I remember my Mum going to night classes from when I was quite small. Just as I have done, she went to sewing classes periodically - it gave her a chance to get projects finished when small children at home during the day made it otherwise difficult. Mum used to identify things in our home which needed fixing or developing and enrol in a night class to help her achieve this. She went to one class to reupholster the dining room chairs. She made a good job and we still sit on those chairs when we visit her and Dad 25 years later. We moved house when I was eight and the new place was larger, needing more furniture. Mum and Dad bought two chairs at a garage sale, known forever as the $2 chair and the $3 chair. Somewhere she also bought an old glory box, or perhaps Grandma passed it on to her. Mum went to another night class to learn to upholster the $3 chair, which henceforth looked rather flash and also covered the glory box in the same fabric. The glory box, now the toy chest, is still in their lounge now, and contains many of our old toys and games, now pullewd out each visit by my children.

Mum trained as a secretary in the 1960s and had her three children in the 1970s. In the 1980s, computers changed the face of her kind of job. Mum attended many night clases in computing skills and gained certificates in various Microsoft applications. When we got older and she moved back into the paid workforce, this effort paid off. Later on when they moved to a very small village, she took her turn and taught night classes in computers. She decided that it was time Dad learnt a bit about computers and signed him up for her class! I still have, in my email archives, an email he sent me soon after his lessons.

Those previously essential working class skills of using knitting and sewing to clothe a family? Seen as so very old fashioned, now we can exploit cheap Chinese labour for Warehouse clothes that fall apart before they can wear out, it is nevertheless a valuable skill to have and a means of being less dependent on sweated labour in order to keep warm. A friend of mine here in smallwettown has attended every session of the high school night sewing class last year and this. She is on the DPB and manages to make all her clothes and her son's clothes now, with the help of careful op shop sourcing of fabric and refashioning of garments. She found the money for the $40 sub per term charged at the high school. That class will soon run offsite with no subsidy and is going to cost twice the current fee, making it inaccessible for my friend.

Lifelong learning benefits ALL of our community. A one hundred year tradition down the drain while the government pours extra money into private schools?

We've got to fight this one until the government understands that it does not have the mandate of it's electorate to abandon this highly effective use of the taxes we all pay.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Working class facts and artefacts

Paul Maunder, a writer and a working class man who has contributed hugely to the development of the Blackball working class history project, recently sent me a draft of an article about working class heritage. I found it very helpful and will post details just as soon as I hear that it has been published (paper or web). Two things stuck with me in particular.

Maunder discusses the development of heritage parks as a commodified version of history. We've all been to a few, taken the kids and spent a fortune on expensive lunches and admiring scrupulously clean and well maintained artefacts of wealthy colonial life. Our local one, Shantytown, is mostly free to locals, but eye-wateringly expensive to anyone else. If you climb up the back of the 'village', you can see a rough pub and a prostitute's hut. There is also an old hut (an original actually used a long time ago I think) hidden up another track where visitors scarcely ever go. But few visitors see these - much better to stick to the village on the flat where everything is so quaint and comfortable. The train stops at a place where you can go gold panning which is also kind of clean, with all the equipment at a level where you don't hurt your back as you hadn over more dosh and have a go at panning for gold.

Maunder observes that working class people work for wages. They don't have artefacts of their labour. Too true. At the last Mayday at Blackball, someone floated the very good idea of a wall to commoemorate the men and women who die in workplaces and workplace accidents each year. I like this idea a lot. But it would be nice if working people could be celebrated in life and not just honoured in coffins.

What about the lives of working people outside the work place? Maunder also mentions the survival of two banners made by the wives of miners during a bitter dispute: 'Solidarity Forever' and 'United We Stand'. What treasures. What effort (and good fortune) to make something to survive beyond basic utility. It is clear to me that working class men and women endlessly made things in the past. Wood shelters, tools to shoot and skin rabbits, structures to get veges to grow in marginal places, shelves for the house and toys for children. Knitted jerseys and socks and baby blankets. Sewn clothes and peg holders and curtains. But this effort is used up in daily living. These things are used until they are worn through.

There is a lot to do yet as we work on our working class history project, based in Blackball. But today I want to talk about working people, skills and the loss of government funding for adult and community education. Here in our town, the high school night classes face closure at the end of this year after the last budget in which ACE funding was cut by 80%. Together with the announcement that no further funding will be given by the government for polytech places, despite the expected surge in interest due to the lack of jobs, it is clear that the government has little interest in non-wealthy people acquiring life skills. They get a shot at it while they are at primary and high school and if they aren't ready then, well tough. Maybe they will learn some construction skills in prison when they build their own cells.

Do we need to go back to a Workers' Education Association? The current WEA website does not mention anythign about it's history, but I think there is a book about the person who started it


aha! James Shelley. Could we have a person like this again? This article on him from the NZ Dictionary of Biography sheds light on a name we never here these days.

Then there is truly grass roots stuff. I'm a huge fan of Paulo Friere, the Brazilian writer and teacher who empowered most of Brazil to read and write. I see the Transition Towns project as the most significant grass roots educational initiative on our landscape at the moment. We haven't got one in our twon and I'll admit to feeling a bit jaded on the history of environmentally active organisations where we live. We live in an economy based on extractive enterprises here. Some would say the systematic rape of the land and sea puts food on the tables of much of the West Coast.

I haven't got answers but I am looking for them. There are a few groups around here, gardening and crafting groups where skills can be shared. I haven't checked yet whether the funding for basic adult literacy has survived. But we need to know more than how to sign our name and write our address on the bottom of the hire purchase document which said no deposit, no interest until next May but turned out to have a number of conditions in very fine print. We need to know how to take control of our lives outside of a consumer paradigm.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Garden lust

July's NZ Gardener came through my letterbox today. There was a profile of Akaunui Gardens, near Ashburton. If you click through the link, you will see a lovely stately house. I don't covet a stately house, but I do covet a rambling rose climbing all over a shed as per the photograph on page 50 of the NZ Gardener. I quote from the photo caption: "The Noisette rose 'Claire Jacquier' covers the shed by the herb parterre." I'll have to google both Noisette and parterre, but I'm captivated by noth the romantic view and the romantic names. Favourite Handyman liked the photo too...

So I can trail a rose up over the new lean to and the shed behind it. I think it would be too shady to trail a rose up from the south side of the shed though. I can trail roses over various fences and I have the beginnings (tiny, small beginnings currently) of a structure along the back of the house for my roses (to be surrounded by garlic and in summer, lettuces and herbs). But there is room for more romance, surely? I don't think it is practical to trail roses over the chook run because a) it is supposed to be portable and b) as it is plastic lined, it would get too hot in summer and cook the plants.

I'm still thinking of some kind of special place for the children, under the big tree near the study. A shed or shelter with - ta da da da da - roses climbing over the outside of it. The shrine to Lightning McQueen part could be on the inside...

Out the front where I want to use old windows to make a shelter and bird guard for my strawberries - apparently I need a physics lesson on why it won't work. Which I look forward to. Cos then I need to find another solution before the blackbirds ruin the whole thing.

Chocolate cake

She's alright, is Nigella (Lawson). I bought her book when we were new to London, How to Eat, and pored over it, reading all the delicious, helpful wordy bits in between the recipes. She doesn't do budget - I doubt you will find her rolling out a tips to be frugal book for $25 as seems to be the rage at the moment. They make the book small so it looks like a bargain, but it is still $25 and everything in those books is on the net. From How To Eat I learnt how to make risotto, chicken stock and hummous, cooked with chestnuts for the first time (her lentil and chestnut soup, good enough to win over any carnivore visiting for dinner) and drank in some wonderfully sensible thoughts on feeding babies and young children.

Today, after deciding we weren't dying and that by afternoon, what with the DVD player dying instead, we could do some baking, Fionn and I looked through some recipe books in search of a chocolate cake recipe. Nigella's was a winner, not least because there is no creaming of butter and sugar.

Chocolate Cake

225g self-raising flour (I used 215 plain flour and 10 baking powder)
30g cocoa
200g caster sugar (I used raw, the organic kind I found in the drawer is finer than standard issue raw sugar)
100g unsalted butter (I used salted, unsalted is never on special)
200g condensed milk
100g dark chocolate
2 eggs, beaten

Oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin.

Sieve the flour and cocoa adn a pinch of salt together and put to the side.

Sugar, butter, condensed milk, 100nl just boiled water and the chocolate broken into small pieces into a saucepan and heat until melted and smooth. Stir this into the flour mix and then beat in the eggs.

Pur into cake tin and bake 35-45 minutes. When it's ready, the top will feel firm. Don't expect a skewer to come out clean; indeed you wouldn't want it to.

leave to cool for ten minutes and then turn onto cake rack.

She gives a recipe for ising, but we left that out. 250g chocolate and 250ml double cream - heat cream to nearly boiling and tiup over finely chopped chocolate and then beat. Pour on cake.

The slight gooey-ness of the cake's centre added to the experience - I was glad of the specific tip not to judge cookedness by a clean skewer. I think this recipe would make yummy brownies and am keen to try adding a little nuts and some blueberries or raspberry jam and making into a slice shape.

So after weeks of looking at recipes and tips for super healthy eating and endless chilli, ginger and garlic, it was fun to make chocolate cake instead. Fionn (6) learnt quite a bit from reading the recipe and measuring the ingredients and Brighid happily played with her play-dough on the other side of the bench.

All a massive improvement on the morning, when I wondered how I was ever going to hide long enough to read my just-arrived gardening magazine without clingy people chasing and screaming at me.

Rapahoe Wednesday

When she was inside me, I knew she would be my water baby. Conceived on the wild west coast within sound of the ocean, born on our lounge floor as the waves washed up just a few hundred metres away.

Today we knew there was more to life than cleaning. There had to be a better use of time than doing more dishes, vacuuming. That was so yesterday.

We drove out to Rapahoe beach with a pile of plastic bags in my pocket. Perfect sunshine, warmer than town had been in the morning. It has been quite calm weather here of late and the seaweed haul was light. Brighid carried the bags, one for rubbish and the other for seaweed. She added a few sticks to the seaweed bag, sure they were also of use and relevance. We wandered along in the perfect sunshine, scarcely credulous that this was mid-winter. I gasped at the tiny perfection of her tiny footprints and we inspected the shape of a dog print from earlier in the day. No one around us, no where for H1N1 to be an issue. We talked about stones and sticks, logs and waves. We chanted "up hill up hill up hill" as we climbed over the ridge back to the car.

This is a life I value. This is my child so precious. Now we have something special to do together as often as possible, to abandon the everyday jobs for the sunshine on our backs as we walk the beach, especially the particular beauty of Rapahoe. Fionn and I had our precious escapades when he was two - walking to a bus stop or to the tube station and jumping on board a different bus each time for a new adventure in London.

As I write, it is now Thursday. Word came through yesterday morning that many of the people at my work have had recent exposure to a person with confirmed H1N1 flu. My boy is under par, generally unwell, and I have a sore throat. I've cancelled work for today and kept the children home with me. The clouds are heavy outside - I've dared them to break before my nappy wash is at least half way dry. I have the fire going and appreciate that I am not an illness panicker. I'm pretty grateful for our choice to buy a tv/dvd player earlier this year. We have no signal for regular tv (on purpose), but Margaret Mahy, Blues Clues and Thomas the Tank Engine are making resting by the fire more pleasurable for my kids.

I've been sneaking more gardening in each day, pulling weeds, using the last of the broccoli and feeding the leaves to the chooks, pulling the huge red russian kale which we never seem to eat. Looks magnificent but it is using nutrients which should rightly go to the plants which we will eat. My lunar guide says today is a rest day. We can do that.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hungry blackbirds

Yesterday, being a day free of things like school in our region, the children and I gardened. Which was a truly wonderful thing as for the last far too long, I have been unable to garden without my daughter murdering along behind me. At 29 months, it appears we can do a few gardening things together, though I did deliberately wait to transplant the rose until she was otherwise occupied in the sandpit.

We filled the wheelbarrow with compost and the children helped me scoop it on to the new strawberry patch. I realised why Brighid was so enthusiastically emptying the wheelbarrow - when she finished she climbed straight into the barrow ready for a ride around the section. There were lots of worms in the compost and I looked with satisfaction on my project. In Spring, I thought, I would need to cover it from the birds.

But blackbirds are around now and they are hungry. Now. Tonight I noticed that they had been playing in my strawberry patch and made a right mess already. I hope Favourite Handyman is up for some diy this weekend. I think that I want to use two of Raelene's old house windows (which have been round the side of our house awaiting a project for 17 months now) to make a two sided shelter for my strawberries. I will pin netting to the other two sides. I seem to recall that they were very heavy windows to move so it might also be timely to invite some strong friends and make sure we are stocked up on beer.

I've been weeding onion weed. It is already flowering down by the beach, so won't be far away at our place. It forms a big circle around our oldest compost heap and our big climbing tree. So once I have eliminated the weed, I need something to go in it's place. I consulted my chief tree climber for ideas and he suggested a dirt track and some other shrine to Lightning McQueen. L. McQueen might mean nothing to you, but to a short person round here he is a movie legend, a very fast car. I had ideas of a magic garden or a fairy garden, or something organic and beautiful (not fair to take it out of children-space when it is the best climbing tree). ha ha ha. I might win yet though.

We have lost the camera completely. Favourite Handyman assured me he was happy to teach me how to download from the camera (apparently he never heard me any of the other times I requested this tutorial) but as we have not seen the camera since we are not sure when, it's all on hold. Imagine when we do have a camera again, one which we can lay our hands on, and I know how to download photos myself. Oh the multipixel glory which I will bring to this screen, to this blog, to the plans to make storybooks for the children's cousins which I have had for a looooong time. Oh alright maybe I won't get it all done. But it will be joyous splashes of beautiful technicolour all the same.

You know the winterfunk, the down in the dumps too sick too much blues? But can you write about it like Journey Mama? I spent all day thinking I shouldn't even blog anymore because how to compare to the outstanding quality of writing like hers? But that won't help me get anything written for writers' group, and blogging is at least me writing (used to every day but is now) a few times per week. Even if it is only one step up from the shopping list too often.

If you were a kid in a winter funk, wouldn't you dream of having one of these? Our kids and friends played on one yesterday and indeed they are better than sliced bread. I'm going to have a go next time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Solstice strawberries

There is a plot of potatoes out the front which basks in the last rays of sunshine each day (well the days when it isn't raining) before the sun falls behind the sea.

The most special physical aspect of our home is that it is near the sea. From the lounge and from our bedroom, you can watch the sun set across the water. You didn't used to be able to see the sea from our bedroom until one of our neighbours died and her bereaved husband and son pulled down the old shed out the front of their section.

The horizon line hosted burnt orange rays this evening as I planted my strawberries. I'd sneaked out during the day to lift the last of the potatoes, weed the onionweed which poked up in several places and to fork in a bucket of wood ash from the fire. Later I sneaked out in the car to buy some strawberries.

Winter solstice. Death and new life. If I wasn't a migrant from a culture rooted for thousands of years in northern hemisphere living, then I would be celebrating the new calendar year along with winter solstice. We were invited to a couple of Matariki events and I would have loved to go. But as with each shortest day since we returned to New Zealand, there is illness in our house. Vomiting this time. So I watched the last rays of the dying year, felt the earth through my fingers as I gardened and felt my spirits lift as I contemplated new beginnings.

Next week I will plant my garlic. I think it is about time I sowed some seed for indoor basil and coriander. I had a look at one of my compost heaps today, turned it a bit. Nowhere near the activity I witnessed this time last year. The missing ingredient is horse poo - I had loads of it in the compost last year. But then I remembered the role of comfrey as a compost activator. Tomorrow I'll be tipping some of my green magic brew onto the compost heap behind the gate.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Our town runs on raffles. When we first moved here I was a bit puritanical on raffles - didn't buy them and never asked anyone to buy them either. Three and a half years later, scarcely a week goes by without me buying a raffle ticket. At a quick memory flick, in recent weeks there has been the raffle for P- school because we have many friends at school there and the prizes were garden things; there was the Catholic Women's League raffle because it seemed like some kind of insult to my Mum not to; there was the local high school netball trip raffle - I know some of the players; the quilt raffle to get one of the Catholic high school students on an exchange to Australia; the flash sewing machine raffle to support a big South Island quilting conference being hosted here this winter; the stroke support group who had a trailer load of wood as one of the prizes. I can't remember whether I caved on the municipal band raffle or not. If nothing else (and there is always more gained than publicity), a raffle raises a group's profile in the community and often helps increase membership of community groups.

So far, we've one three prizes: a year's sub to the toy library and two meat packs.

But somewhere along the way, I've won a lot more than that. In a society where the supermarkets and the Warehouse overwhelmingly remit profits out of our town, community raffles involve gifts from local businesses and generous individuals, are sold by volunteers who make links with people from throughout our community and enable groups and individuals to achieve things which are unthinkable without community support. Our neighbour Jordan and his Mum sold raffles for a long time to help Jordan get to an international athletics competition in Australia last summer. Pretty exciting when you are only ten and are also very very good at discus. I loved to buy tickets for Jordan's raffles and encouraged him and his brother to bring over any new raffles to our front door.

Tomorrow I am helping sell raffle tickets outside the Warehouse for the lovely Cheryl McCabe, who is raising funds for education development in Zambia through Child Fund Challenge. Two very talented women in our community have made a beautiful quilt for the first prize. Elaine and Karen made a beautiful quilt for another project last year, to get our local high school Kapa Haka group to Australia for a big conference and concert.

I expect I'll see people I know and make links with many I do not currently know. I'm counting on Brighid's winning ways to draw some more people in and sell lots of tickets and hoping that she doesn't eschew charm and spend all her time trying to escape into the carpark. Of course we will buy some tickets and if we are incredibly lucky enough to win the quilt, it will be a family treasure, taonga, forever.

Monday, June 15, 2009

turning poo, squashing dirt

There I was, bravely striding into my third day running of intense cleaning. It was true that the lounge floor was now clean and clear of crap and that I'd put on my domestic goddess hat at just after 7am and whipped up ginger spice biscuits in time to put in Fionn's school lunch box. It was true that 176+ pieces of dubious possibly once food stuff had been lifted from the dining room. We were all wearing sock pairs.

Something was wrong. Seriously wrong. The washing had gone out and the rain was ignored - another rinse would be fine. I was still inside.

So the washing machine made a stronger statement. You should be outside in your garden it said. In a kind of passive aggressive language. Passive-aggressive behaviour from a washing machine involves it refusing to carry on, mid-cycle.

I got the message. Outside in the garden where I belong, I put some chickenwire on stakes for one of the roses to grow up. I weeded the once infamous fleahouse which is now just a pile of old chicken poo and straw which has sprouted it's own potatoes and grass and, as a special treat, a dock plant. I weeded one of the planned garlic beds and hiffed some old chicken poo and straw on it. I lifted the raspberry plants and hoped the oxalis hasn't left babies in the soil. The raspberries can go out the front. Likewise the blackcurrants can move out front and leave more room for the cabbage trees (which will not be moved, they have our children's placentas underneath them) and the plum tree.

I turned the compost heap and redistributed some air and some worm colonies. I collected a ridiculous number of pieces of plastic flotsam which were laying around the garden.

Tomorrow I'll be chatting to the washing machine repair person. Again.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

myrtle ugni

On Friday I bought myself a myrtle ugni. Sounds like something from Dr Seuss. It's also known as a Chilean Guava. It's going out the front beside my glove artichoke, when it ever stops raining. Next pay I might buy a real cranberry.

And the one after, a plum tree.

Which just goes to show that I'm not one of those voluntary simplicity girls after all.

I found another way of getting garlic into us, read it in a newsapaper food column, I think it was in the Chch Press. You pound garlic and olive oil and parsley together and then spoon it on top of your bowl of soup. I tried it tonight and it was nice. I spread the leftover from the mortar bowl on a piece of bread (home made of course skitey skite) this evening and that was pretty good as well. Local garlic, home grown parsley. Oil from a looong way away though.

World wide knit in public day was Saturday and we had a lovely session up at Frank's Lounge Bar. Wine, wool, women. Then live music as well. Shame when it was time to go home.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Not buying local

There has been a small truck around town of late, looking interesting but mostly out of my reach. It had an advert on the side for meat, eggs, fish and veges. Just plain writing, looked kind of localish and suitably small time.

Today I met Mr Smalltime.

Not Thompsons' from Hokitika as I had speculated. Not from Nelson or Christchurch as are the next most likely options here in Wetville. Mr Smalltime hailed from Otago. He had genuine Southland swedes at prices which seemed a little posh. Especially considering I could buy genuine Reefton swedes on the roadside for one sixth of the price last year.

He had sausies from Mosgiel and savs too. He had fish from Talleys. I had to grill for both of these pieces of information. I didn't quiz him on the eggs. The apples weren't cheap and I was unexcited about the spuds, seeing as I'm still digging my own.

Mr Smalltime tried a little charm. He comes all the way to my town because of the beautiful women.

No, really? You come all this way to make silly comments to a 37 year old woman in a huge overcoat with children hanging out of the car and a mini-lecture about buying local?

Took me a while to realise that people under 37 probably didn't stop at his truck.

I bid him farewell and climbed back in the car to head off to Runanga, where Jonesy the butcher sold me local sausies (new variety - Mexican - big excitement), savs, black pudding and some more bones for stock. Bugger about the trotters, hocks and other bacon bones I wanted - big wedding in town cleaned the butcher's out of pig meat. Jonesy doesn't muck around with telling women stupid comments about beauty. He was more interested in my boy's progress on the league field.

On the way home we passed Mr Smalltime and Fionn asked why we didn't buy his meat.

"Well he has come from Otago and I like to buy local meat."

(Plaintive six year old voice) "But I would like to try meat from other countries."

Might be time to get the atlas out.

From the countryside Helen Clark labelled feral., goodnight and sweet dreams.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Blackball Working Class HIstory Project

I'm in need of some technical advice. We've made a small start on our blog to go alongside the offical website of the Blackball Working Class History Museum. I've got a fairly clear idea of how I want it to look/be organised, but I'm not sure how to go about achieving it. I would like to have labels along the top, rather like the way this blog has. I could not see that feature on the template options when I set up the history project blog. Can anyone tell me where to look or what to do to achieve this please?

I would ultimately like to have a section on stories of our working past, stories of our working present and discussions of where we go to as working people together in the future. So that's three labels to organise each post into. On May Day Eva Brown read some lovely poetry and I would like creative work like hers to feature as well as stories and discussions. At some point I also need to get myself a podcast tutorial as I would like oral histories and interviews on the blog as well.

I have a list in my mind of articles I would like for the Blackball Working Class History Project. If you have any to suggest, or would be happy to write a guest post, I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments of this post, or in the comments section of any post on the Blackball blog itself. I would like to create an online centre for discussion and resources which complements the physical shrine and information boards which are due to open in Blackball in October. Baby steps at the moment, but I think it's time for me to push my technical boundaries and make stronger progress.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Home made washing powder

Extreme measure? Piffling playtime while the world burns?

Maybe/probably/who knows, BUT given that Persil have changed all their formulations as a covert way of significantly raising their prices...

...leaving Fionn with eczema again...

Removing myself from the grip of the big brands and their annoying, nonsensical and patronising advertising campaigns seems worthwhile.

I used this recipe from Towards Sustainability's blog. I opted for the second version. The first load seems fine - no fragrance which I like. I'll do a nappy load tomorrow to give it a decent test.

I've also been playing round with my cromarty cob bread making method. I did a triple batch today and cooked it in three loaf tins. Excellent results. I have worked out how to knead the dough in the bowl (a giant plastic one from the supermarket) which makes a lot less mess than on the bench top. Actually I made the bread in the bowl on the dining room table as there was no room in the kitchen due to mess. Why I make bread and my own washing powder instead of running an orderly and tidy house is not exactly clear. There is a part of me which totally resists my day involving plain cleaning for more than an hour. Perhaps it is the part of me which has wanted to sneak down to the back of a pub with my writing pad and actually do some creative writing. Writers' group this Wednesday and I haven't written for weeks. I need to get away from here in order to get some perspective and new thoughts to develop.

I also played nurse and mother all day and only left the building to collect more wood for the fire or to feed the chooks. I think a walk along the beach is in order tomorrow before I implode with domesticity.

I have learnt that I can sneak chilli into many things without it tasting particularly hot. Chilli is supposed to be good for the lungs. I put a whole chilli (chopped finely, no seeds included) into the slow cooker with sausages/tomatoes/onion/carrot/pumpkin/celery/herbs today. End result was warm and yummy but not classically hot.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Small Wet Town

ginger garlic echinacea vitamin C chilli bone broth orange juice probiotics onions leafy greens astragalus

and wait there is more


Fingers crossed for a full recovery from the latest lung infection for Favourite Handyman. Many prayers offered up for him as I housewif around and around and also for some improvement in my mothering skills. Specifically my patience.

But the good news is that the children are in bed right now and I am back where I belong of an evening - doing my own reading/writing/crafty stuff. The dishwasher can wait. It does every other night.

Two good DVDs this week. Buying that tv was a great idea. This is England with it's sobering portrayal of the lure of the National Front to the dispossessed, the lonely, the lost. Then Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006). That was brilliant. Unutterably sad at the same time. Set in Ireland in 1920, as war against the Black and Tans gives way to civil war.

The book I have just finished: At the Edge of Memory: A Family Story by Michael King. Just as I have seen enough of Ken Loach's movie to know that I want to see each and every one he has made, so I feel about Michael King's books. I remember Being Pakeha, the one on Whina Cooper, writing on Catholicism and most recently his Penguin History of New Zealand. I've watched the documentary on his life - it filled in some gaps when we got back to New Zealand after five years away.

I bought a shirt and a pair of trousers at the Sallies last week. I took some kiwifruit in for their food bank and somehow ended up perusing their clothes racks. The trousers are for summer but the scarlet red fine corduroy shirt is for right now. I didn't fancy the existing buttons so spent $6 on a pack of red buttons at the Bernina shop only to get home and find the perfect buttons in my button jar after all. So the red corduroy short has brass fish down the front now.

I'm still knitting. Every work day I bemoan that I don't have the clothing that I need in order to use my t-shirts without revealing all bulges in shocking detail. Every week I remind myself that when I have finished my vest I will have the t-shirt cover and warmth that I covet.

So much seems both poignant and wordless at the moment. I drove home last night in the half light and wished for a camera. That grey shroud of a winter dusk which is so characteristic to me of small town New Zealand. Rain threatens, promises like a cloak around the skyline. But holds off while a break in the sky reveals the last beautiful colours of day - pink by now not blue. The way that vistas beyond low buildings stretch into empty space. So different to the crammed views of citylife, esepcially the cityscapes I became attached to in the UK.

I remember these views as a child, a teenager. We would go on holidays to other small towns and arrive just before dusk. Low buildings, a wetness or a chill in the air depending where we had gone and then not much else. This is where I come from. A land with spread out buildings built close to the ground. With a corner shop even miles away and each house framed by lawn and shrubs. And somehow, in this town where it rains more than most other places in the country, where the squat buildings, flat land and lack of architectural shape is part of what I once ran from, to university, to Auckland, to London, has seeped into my heart.

Maybe it is the mountains. The Paparoa ranges do not squat close to the ground and leave nothign to see beyond them. They rise, provide a backdrop for the barber, a ferociously cold wind which whistles down the Grey Valley and threatened to slice off the ears of my father as a boy. He came with his father once and the memory of the cold stays with him, nearly sixty years later. He also remembers going up to see his uncle working, either milling or felling wood/trees. He remembers seeing too many of the workers with missing limbs and deciding he would keep clear of working with wood as a future career.

Between the mountains and the sea lays a flat terrain of squat houses and a cluster of shops hiding behind the flood wall. It is those mountains and that sea which give shape to my day.

Monday, June 1, 2009

a bag of flour

some lentils, spuds, onions and carrots. Useful stuff if you need to limit your food spending severely. We already had the latter items and indeed quite a lot of flour, but I went to the supermarket for just one thing this afternoon - a bag of plain white flour. Once I had that, I could carry on with the cooking fest. Yes, a public holiday in New Zealand, with a window for a bit of serious saving through making yummy food. I can attest that feijoa and ginger muffins taste good, though I can't post a recipe as I had to adapt to a terrible online one as I went. After next time. The last half I hid in the freezer for school lunches before they disappeared.

I made two different kinds of bread. The Cromarty Cob, which I cooked up an hour ago, was a success. I put it in a tin this time and I can see that will be a lot more practical for making school/work lunches than the sprawled-out shape I have previously made with this recipe. The other kind was Caraway Rye Bread and that is still proving - I'll cook it up first thing in the morning. Both kinds start with a sourdough and use both rye and wheat flours. This seems to be my favourite.

Remember the mutton soup? Well there was still mutton stock to be used and I didn't feel like soup two nights' running. So I made a kind of spaghetti bolognaise and replaced most of the tomato/red wine liquid in my usual recipe with the mutton stock. I still squirted tomato sauce in there and added some dun dried tomatoes for tomato-ness without added liquid. It came out pretty good. Made with kale of course. I noticed some coughing and sneezing and poorliness this afternoon amongst my tribe, so into the bolognaise sauce went garlic, onion, celery, ginger and chillies. I was pleased to be using the stock as well - it is the mineral boost in stocks which I am so keen on.

Any quibbles on all of this? Yes. Time. You need to be home based pretty much full time to keep this up if you are upgrading to home made bread as well as home made most other foods. I won't touch a breadmaker machine now that I am so much more aware of the ways in which intense yeast and rapid rise breads disagree with me. I'm pleased that when I do make bread, even two loaves per week, that that is a saving compared to those two loaves being shop bought. They are better quality as well.

If usually you buy your lunch from a cafe or takeaway lunch shop (as indeed we do sometimes, just not right now and not if we can at least half easily avoid it) and you start making it at home with bought fillings (e.g. sliced meats, cheese, marmite), then I agree with you - you need a medal. Don't worry too much about the days you miss. Treat it like exercise, build slowly up to making home made lunches a routine part of your day.

Do I need a medal? You betcha. And I got it. Three empty plates of dinner and a request for seconds. A husband and two kids who love me and show it. I'm not saying it to be twee, I'm saying it because I cannot imagine finding the drive to make our own food so often if my family did not appreciate me or my efforts. I hope someone gives you a medal for your next meal.

The garden lives!

Despite such neglect, the cold winds and cooler nights, the rain and sometimes even the hail, my garden continues. We are eating kale every second day and there is still plenty more. My favourite is the cavolo nero, but I am going to stake it next year. I had been assuming that taste from my pumpkins, which grew in partial shade, wouldn't be so great. But last night when I was short of ingredients for my soup, I grabbed the little pumpkin from the windowsill and decided it would be soup fodder instead of a jack-o-lantern. It seemed to taste good. There is hope! Perhaps I can grow pumpkins here after all. I think it is time to get some more horse manure and pile it on my best spot at the top of the garden, ready for another go at pumpkin growing next year. I'll go for Musqee de Provence again - they are so beautiful to look at and eat.

The oldest garden bed is in need of a revamp. The brick path which we laid between two garden beds succumbed to the weeds. The main trigger for this is the birds, who send compost flying all over the place in spring. It is probably them who drop the weed seeds as well. So I dug up the bricks, layered the area with newspaper and pea straw and put a sheet of old roofing iron on top to stop it all blowing away. It can do it's thing over winter and hopefully by spring I will have sorted out where my new paths are going. Because we are blocking off one side of the garden with the lean-to, I need to change the paths to keep access to the beds without standing on them.

Tha yams are starting to fade a bit on their leaves. They are supposed to die off before we eat them. I'm still digging potatoes and picking rocket direct from the open garden. The rocket keeps on growing no matter how much I pick off for my sandwiches. I've also got some bok choy making progress despite the cold.

It is nearly time for planting garlic. We need to start eating our radiccio at a much faster rate than just a few leaves for my sandwiches each day, because it is one of the spots I want for garlic. I move garlic around each year and am aiming for a four year rotation. My rose cuttings have good signs of 'taking' and I have some from out the front to move to the old tobacco patch yet. Garlic will grow all round the two long rose beds of roses. I hope raspberries don't mind garlic because they are going to be neighbours as well. I have noticed that some of my gifted raspberry plants have come with another gift - oxalis. I didn't have oxalis in this bed before now, and had I realised, I wouldn't have been so enthusiastic about the raspberry plants.

I took hydrangea cuttings from my cousin Mary's place yesterday. Her bush of deep red hydrangeas is over fifty years old. I am going to interplant the six cuttings amongst the young flax bushes we have out the front, down one boundary which was bare when we moved in. The flax seedlings were a gift from a friend a couple of years ago. It is going to be wonderful to create an entire border, probably 12 metres long, without spending a cent.

mutton soup and fancy beetroot

I think of my Mum and of strikes when I think of mutton soup. She used to (probably still does) cook up veges and split peas with mutton bones in her big soup pot on rainy days. I also associate childhood soup with freezing works strikes. Dad worked at the local freezing works (abbatoir) for most of my childhood and for much of that time the freezing works was a staunch union with a penchant for striking. Sometimes they were six weeks long and during strikes, we had a lot of soup at home, no ice cream and us kids knew without being told not to ask for pocket money. I recall from a very young age the hushed silence as Mum and Dad watched the news each night at six to find out whether he would be back at work the next day or not. It wasn't a sign of worker empowerment to be dependent on the news like that, or not that I could see through six year old eyes. My parents were not union enthusiasts at all. I've gone on to be a lefty, but I retain a suspicion of union execs, particularly at the moment. Last month I even began to suspect that I had anarchist leanings, a word which sounds more radical than I imagine myself to be.

So, the soup. I make it differently to Mum, but retain a preference for ingredients mostly pulled from the garden. I made mutton stock last week (mutton bones, carrots, onions, thyme, bay leaves, celery, cooked with water in the slow cooker for about 20 hours) and the gelatinous, wobbly jar has looked out at me each time I opened the fridge since. Last night I sauteed carrots, onions, garlic and pumpkin in a pot and then added the mutton stock to bring it to 3/4 full. Once that was bubbling, I added chopped cavolo nero kale and quinoa. While it simmered, I made cheese scones to go with it. When our preferred bought bread is $4.50 per loaf, anything which provides a home made alternative is a saving worth making. The scones are from the Edmonds book (where ever else?). Once I have mixed the dough and lightly floured the cooking tray, I put the dough straight on the tray and press it out, cut into pieces and spread them out directly on the cooking surface. If you run a messy kitchen like me, this is very useful when space is short. I also think the minimisation of handling encourages a soft lightness of the finished product.

So the soup and scones were yummy and I was pleased to have staved off bought fish and chips for another night. Yup, we are on Project-no-bought-food again. All in honour of Project-pay-all-our-bills, you understand.

The night before was out for dinner with/at friends'. My contribution was a salad. There will be no supermarket lettuce for us in the heat of summer if I can help it, let alone winter. All those nasty sprays held together by some limp green stuff. So I made beetroot salad. Four medium sized beetroots (in season now) peeled and grated. Then add a slug of olive oil, the juice of one lime (yup, in season) and some black pepper. Mix well. Add a peeled and partitioned mandarin (also in season now) and a chopped up packet of feta cheese. Mix these in gently. Feta is a preserved product, so it doesn't matter if it is in season. Certainly the goat cheesery down the road from us has closed for winter already.

Home made

I think I'm making some progress on this home made from scratch crafty lark. For a slapdash clumsy sewer like me, this is no small feat.

Given the recent gift to me of two huge boxes of fabric and the birthday invitation on the fridge door for Fionn to attend, I decided to have a go at making a dress for Alice, soon to be six and lover of dresses. I toyed with a few skirt ideas and discarded them for a dress pattern which I found at our local Bernina shop. New Look 6195, easy one hour. Which translates to do-able four hours for me. Fionn picked out the fabric from the boxes - garish pink with some lace which must have been left over from an eighties ball dress to go on top in the front. I had several hiccups but the most important thing is that I overcame them! I made an entire garment without having to return the machine to the repair man. Progress, I promise you. Despite all the wobbly stitching and the rough edges in places, when it was time to turn it the right way and press it, it did definitely look like a functional and even pretty frock.

I'm still knitting my vest, though I've had a week off while I sewed Alice's dress. In a fortnight's time it is World Wide Knit in Public Day. Down in Hoki, half an hour south of us, they have an event organised. We may yet do something of our own in Small Wet Town. I'm still waiting to hear whether I am away in Christchurch that weekend for work - perhaps I'll be popping in for a bit of a knit and a wine at the Dux de Lux after my course.

I'll do a separate post for my recent home made food projects.