Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Sometimes, when I have neither time nor patience to sew and the Sallies have good dinner plates but nothing I want to wear, Postie Plus is a good place to go. Every spring I feel the urge to buy something new, really new. Today I bought this:
It's called a scapino chiffon overlay dress. If anyone knows what scapino means, then I'd love to learn. There are worse ways to spend $49.90

I also made fish chowder with my home made fish stock. I cooked the first part in the slow cooker throughout the day and then put the mix into a saucepan to boil with the fish pieces and kale when I got home from work. The fish stock is wobbly when straight from the fridge, indicating reasonable amounts of gelatine and probably other brothy goodness. It tasted quite good. Next time I shall attempt a Chinese style fish soup with ginger and garlic and noodles instead of today's sort of British mish mash of turmeric, carrots, onions and potatoes. And kale and fish pieces too of course. Kale for every meal. It has started to go to seed. I must check if we can eat the yellow flowers. I also added bonito to the chowder

I have lined up another person to interview for the care workers' exhibition. We are focusing the exhibition on Grey District care workers, with a commentary linking their situation to national trends.

I also even watched some telly last night when I babysat for a friend. A sky knowledge programme about a rather glamorous older woman tracing her family tree. Apart from the ridiculous especially-for tv-repetitions and gasping, it was quite good. They focused on the wealthy great great great grandparents though, when I was most fascinated by the son of the rich merchants who died in an alms house in Greenwich, who they barely touched on.

The situation regarding this sports madness in New Zealand is, in my view, quite insane. Prosecuting people for advertising anything to do with the rugby world cup and at the same time running ads trying to sell the tickets no one wants and wanting us all to support it just doesn't come together satisfactorily in my book.

Tomorrow is Thursday, known here as a mummy day as I never ever ever go to work on a Thursday and also, hopefully, going to be a garden day.

Monday, August 29, 2011


I apologise in advance for linking to the Daily Mail. I never thought I would see the day... But whilst googling in the weekend, I found this article on why female breasts are getting larger, essentially suggesting a correlation between oestrogen overload and breast size. Plastics, synthetic hormones, chemical disruptions all over again. There is a large literature on how to avoid these 'evils', but it is expensive to make all the changes which are generally recommended. For now, I have a renewed commitment to avoid non-organic chicken. A timely reminder given that I've been cooking it rather often in the last year.

So today I made fish stock. It smells good and I've made almost three litres of it. It looks terrible though - nothing like the beautiful translucent golden colour of chicken stock. The suggested uses for fish stock are not as wide as for chicken stock. I can see some fish chowder and fish risotto on the menu. I'm also on a magnesium mission once again and to that end I'm eating raw almonds each day. Because obviously you click on Letters from Wetville because you are gagging to know what I feel like eating...

I've put the fish bones in the bokashi, which I've not done before, but the literature seems to think fish bones (but not meat bones) are okay. I will bury this bucket's worth deeper when burial time comes.

Last week I bought more garden plants. Waiting to go in the garden are: primulas, cavolo nero, spinach, chinese cabbage, tat soi, pak choy and beetroot.

I've been having a look at the Wecare website which supports family members caring for elderly and disabled relatives. I like the photo messages. I don't have anything profound to say about care work although I've been reading and I've lined up another person to interview. I started a blog post about history and definitions of need and rights relating to wider support from the state and voluntary groups when I was in bed convalescing yesterday, but it's far from finished.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

fashionably blighted

Illness is hugely fashionable here in Wetville this week. Numbers at work were decimated. Almost everyone actually present at work was hoarse or flushed or very pale or otherwisely looking like they were about to go down or should be at home. I croaked a little and took a lot of vitamins.

In the middle of yesterday, the vitamins lost the fight. I sat at my desk at my work as a wave of heavy heat descended over one eye. Not so very good. The first casualty was my patience. After an afternoon of weird one sided increasing croakiness in which I was quite a good mother, I could not be bothered with the sensible option of drinking nettle tea and juicing broccoli leaves and opened the wine bottle instead. Given that I actually cooked dinner on Friday night instead of paying for takeaways and regretting the expenditure very soon afterwards, two glasses of wine were entirely warranted.

Now I am at home instead of on the league sideline, the four year old is so very quiet that no doubt she is doing something she absolutely should not be, and the heavy feeling is over the other eye instead. And my nose.

But. But but but, the world is still a beautiful place. In my garden I have the beginnings of both purple and green broccoli heads. We get one little perfectly formed brown egg each day. Not a huge haul for five chooks, but it serves us right for killing the last lot so damn early.

We have made a start on the care workers exhibition. It was very interesting on Thursday and I only wish I had more time to immerse myself in it. While I was in Blackball, Brighid and I went to the Blackball Salami shop, where they had just finished making saveloys and so Brighid got a warm sav for free. I can remember being four and being given a saveloy for free at the butcher's. I bought zillions of sausages, saveloys, bacon ends, salami ends, black pudding and biersticks.

I bought a dictaphone. Firstly I bought a useless one because the shop assistant assured me it was not useless. But he was wrong and a dictaphone which won't download to a computer is useless. So I returned it and got a refund and took my business down the road to where they sell more expensive dictaphones which actually do as I want them to do and also the shop assistant checked the machine before answering my questions rather than making the answers up. Plus I was offered a discount of $11. Go Ellerys. It is true that we have spent a LOT of money with them over the last almost six years.

What I am going to do with my new dictaphone is to record some interview for the care workers exhibition and to record my Mary K's stories. Mary K is 84 and she tells wonderful stories and I want to preserve them.

This morning I decided a knitting project was in order. It is at the very early stages but when it is done it will be the pinafore below, for one of Brighid's dolls.

I don't have anything else to report because I seem to be at work a great deal at the moment.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

spiral filo pie

They had a much flasher name for it in Cuisine. But essentially it involved making up a onion-spice-mince-tomato filling, letting it cool and then rolling it in filo (two layers with olive oil in between, spread the mixture out along the long side of the rectangle and roll up) and arranging it in a pie dish in a spiral starting from the centre.

It tasted good, felt like a change from the same old meals we've been having forever and it would adapt to any kind of filo filling. The magazine said to top with sesame seeds which I think would be great, only we didn't have any.

A step up on the effort front from cheap Tuesdays at Dominoes Pizza indeed.

Ten top dress making blogs. For those who feel that this is the wrong time of night for efficiency, and is better suited to looking at blogs of clever crafty people before falling asleep without a single care for the unfolded washing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Gary Younge & Luddite Journo

Gary Younge has been my favourite Guardian journalist since I first moved to London and discovered the beauty of a liberal newspaper (it's pretty exciting when the Press, then the ODT, then most dismally, the Herald, were what passed for decent newspapers before then) which actually offered analysis of events. Today's Guardian Weekly contained this excellent piece by Younge. As a sample:
But beyond Tottenham, those who took to the streets last week failed to advance any cause, embrace any ideal or articulate any agenda. This places them firmly in the context of a weak and ineffectual left that has failed to reinvent and reinvigorate itself in the face of a deep economic crisis.

Younge has the analysis and I always love to read it. Those games of who you would like to invite for dinner? I used to fancy having Younge and Nigella Lawson for dinner. Not that I expect they'd have a lot in common with me or each other. I do wish though, that we had some better news for the achievements of the left.

Reading about welfare from a historian's perspective reminds me of the harsh judgements meted out on the unrespectable poor in 19th century New Zealand. Eugenic ideas were bandied about then and they retain or have regained currency now. Thank you Luddite Journo for your blog post Turn the Page on Hate. When we dehumanise others, we dehumanise ourselves.

Cream cheese. I've decided it is my winning ingredient in terms of making otherwise ordinary food taste luxurious and special, even in small quantities. I added about 50g to tonight's self-crusting quiche and it lifted it out of mundane Monday night fare into yum stuff (to my mind and tastebuds anyway).

No sewing lately. I've banned myself from new crafty projects until I have this care worker exhibition underway, or even finished.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

beetroot, beach & roses

I made beetroot cake from Pam Blowers' recipe in the July/August 2011 issue of Organic NZ. The original recipe has various sweetener and flour options; I've listed what I used.

300g grated beetroot
1 C brown sugar
1/2 t vanilla essence
3/4 C olive oil
2 eggs
1 C wholemeal flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 C cocoa
1/4 C chia gel (whisk the 1/4 C of water with a heaped teaspoon of chia seeds to form a suspension of the seeds - I did this by putting it all in a small jar and shaking it)
1/3 C ground almonds - I used almond flour
1/3 C ground sunflower seeds

1. Beat sugar, oil, eggs. Add vanilla essence and beetroot. Mix.
2. Sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa.
3. Add ground almonds and sunflower seeds and chia gel.
4. Mix to just combined - do not overmix.
Pour into greased 20cm square pan. Bake at 180 celsius for 35-40 minutes until firm to touch.

It tasted good. My pan was 20cm x 28cm so it was more like beetroot brownie than classically shaped cake. The texture suits brownie-ness. I don't think the flavour is just right but I'm not exactly sure what is missing. Next time (it's definitely worth making again) I shall add a pinch of salt and some mixed spice.

During much of the rest of a very beautiful sunny day, I gardened. I weeded the creeping buttercup mini hedge. According to some organic gardeners, all weeds perform some kind of valuable function in an environment. Creeping buttercup thrives in compacted, acid soils. I don't know about the acid part, but the shape of its root structure means that it does break up the soil, particularly as it is weeded out. Unlike its partner in crime, dock, it is fairly easy to weed out with the aid of a fork. I buried bokashi in the trench where the buttercup used to be, and sprinkled some lettuce and welsh bunching onion seed on top. The seed is past its best-by date but I thought I would scatter it on the ground rather than throwing it in the rubbish.

Then I went to prune the roses along the red fence. Prune is rather a fancy word for trying to slash the jungle. But I couldn't find the secateurs anywhere and I know I had them last and lost them. Ooops. Brighid and I set off for Mitre 10 to buy some very bright red secateurs which would be harder to lose. Somehow we managed to bring home even more iceland poppies for the garden, which I planted in a curve around my salad greens garden. Back home, I filled a cardboard box with prunings and made a small inroad into the rose jungle.

But before we got home, we stopped to feed the ducks. The sense of space (and the literal space) so close to our amenities (that's the hospital in the left background) still amazes me. I remember in 2006 Mum driving Fionn and I into our new town, our new life, and wondering how I would adjust to all the space, the odd spread-outness and seemingly isolated houses after London life. I did.

We also spent time on the cycle way. Our end is still just a rough bulldozed track, but a huge pile of gravel in the distance promises that improvements are not far away.

Kale for dinner. Like breathing, y'know [except for takeaways nights]. Slice an onion. Chop sausages into 3-4 pieces each. Wash and chop kale. Sautee onion in olive oil. Add sausages. Put lid on frying pan and turn down low. After a while, add the washed kale and some splashes of balsamic vinegar. I served it with raw carrots (there is some kind of religious taboo on cooked carrots as far as my children are concerned) and potato wedges, which had paprika, lemon and pepper (that very useful packet premix stuff) and turmeric and olive oil on them. Between the turmeric (anti-inflammatory and other good things I forget about right now) and the ingredients in the beetroot cake, I think I did quite well on sliding extra good stuff in without fanfare today.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Garden Day

Gardening day! I've waited a long time and it was worth the wait.
My beer traps a few months ago seemed to stave off the slugs from my broccoli seedlings and now they are middled sized - hopefully ready to feed us in a month or two. I've left some of the borage seedlings to grow for the bees and today I planted soldier (flanders/ANZAC) poppies amongst the broccoli. I thought the red and black would contrast well with the blue-green of the broccoli leaves. At the very foreground of the photo is my ever present companion, creeping buttercup. I left a green wall of creeping buttercup to the left of the photo (not visible) when I planted the broccoli, with the idea of it being a windbreak for my salad greens which I sowed at the same time.
This is my salad greens plot, and the windbreak does seem to have helped. Tomorrow I plan to dig out the windbreak before it breaks out as the ground warms and takes over.
Globe artichokes doing okay. Perhaps this year will be the one when I actually cook and eat them. Again, several self sown borage plants left to flower.
My rhubarb has gone to seed here. Last year one (different) plant did this and I cut it out. This time I will leave this one to nature and see what happens next. Although all round it are miniature rhubarb plants and the entire plot seems to need uplifting, weeding, mulching and replanting. I gave lots and lots away not long ago.
In the closest corner of the punga raised bed is the celery which I planted today. I added blood and bone and plenty of lime first. I had wonderful celery in my first two gardens at this house and pretty terrible ever since. I think it has been the absence of calcium in the soil, so fingers crossed this time. The piles behind and beside the celery are from the poultry palace. I did think it was fantastic fertiliser at the time, but reading since has me wary. The wood shavings are not broken down so despite being mixed with chook poo, it may still steal nitrogen from the soil, the opposite of what I want to achieve. I may yet shovel it back into the wheelbarrow and then into the compost bin. Alternatively, I have considered leaving it there and spreading fresh grass clippings on top.
This is the old chook run garden, which Brighid considers to be hers. The clump of daffodils (leaves only at this stage) used to be in the front garden until this afternoon. It rarely flowers, and then only one, out the front, because of the low sun levels. Today I planted iceland poppies in front of the kale. We are still eating kale regularly and what doesn't get eaten in the next few weeks will turn into beautiful yellow flowers for the bees.
This is the other end of the old chook run garden. Brighid chose the pink of the polyanthus. I chose the pansies colossus. In the back left corner are leeks for spring eating.
Today I was almost all about flowers. I bought a red begonia and a blue Chatham Island forget me not. I would love to have blue forget me nots along the back of the wall and the deep red begonias all along the front. One step at a time, given they were $5 each. It's new for me to splash out on flower plants apart from the occasional rose, but hobbies do evolve...
The convalescents on the home run to good health. Is her face always dirty or just in photos? Hmmm.
This manuka is currently in a pot in front of the lounge. I'd like it in the ground but I'm a bit wary of the cables underneath.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Changing conceptions of need

Vomit over. I spent much of the day on the couch while the convalescing children seemed increasingly to have more energy than me. I re-read gardening magazines and decided I want to paint our outside table yellow and did some garden re-arranging in my head.

Then Past Judgement: Social Policy in New Zealand History arrived and now I am considering ideas like 'changing conceptions of need' across a range of contexts. It is a pleasure to read such thoughtful, intelligent prose as in this book. I guess I spend so much of my non-fiction reading time on op-ed style short texts which pale by comparison with this product of months and years and sometimes decades of research, thinking and writing. Our Blackball exhibition on care workers will be squarely focused on the workers themselves, but I want a sense of the wider issues in which their real, individual lives play out. There are another half dozen or more books in the footnotes which look very interesting but I will be ruthless - less dreaming and more interviewing once I've read this book and the other one I have ordered.

Confined to the house for the better part of three days, I imagine that when life turns away from nursing to something erroneously known as 'normal', I will burst forth with energy and find the discipline to go walking each morning before 7am. Ha ha ha. Certainly if I wait until after the kids are at school and kindy, I'll never fit walking in.

In the garden collecting leaves for my salad this morning, I heard a distinctive crowing that I've been listening for for weeks now. Indeed, there were two eggs in the coop. Both very soft shelled, and one broken because of the extreme thinness. I recall that the kinds of eggs are irregular at the beginning of laying, but I threw in extra handfuls of grit all the same. By next weekend, we could be back to eating our own poached eggs for Saturday breakfast.

Still no actual gardening, even though the outside weather has been superb here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

vomit zone

It was lovely while it lasted. Absolutely, utterly lovely. A healthy household that is.

Yesterday, just as I was running around in a state of medium level torment over how many things I had to do and how mu multi-life was spirally out of control, firstly I came in from the washing line to find a message to say I had no childcare that afternoon due to a tragedy involving the family cat. That's not an insurmountable problem, just another task. So I can't get my friend on the phone, so next choice is I make Brighid's lunch really quickly and head to kindy ready to ask the favour at kindy pick up and at the same time I'm running through the steps needed if Brighid needs to stay with one of us at work.

But none of that turns out to matter. I walk into kindy and am immediately called over to a corner by one of the teachers. Brighid is on a makeshift bed and looking dreadful. We leave with an ice cream container just in case. Fifty metres down the road I stop the car and Brighid fills the container with her kai (morning tea). I drive to work, run in very fast to tell the two key people I can't work and run out and take her home. Since then, Brighid has vomited and slept and done nothing else. The vomiting was mostly at night and the sleeping has been mostly in the day. As I've cancelled everything I'd planned for today (and tomorrow for that matter, given her current state), life is not actually nearly as stressful now as yesterday morning.

I love that we have a reliable washing machine. I love that we have plenty of spare bedding and linen. I love that we have plenty of coal to keep the house warm.

Fionn is home as well. His cough sounded like a seal barking in the night so I decreed he was staying home in convalescent land as well. This morning we played Monopoly and now he is writing a letter to his Auckland Grandad. Homeschool for a day or so I can do. Actually he wants to play on the computer, but because those far off days when I was going to parent without bribery are so far off that I'm not totally sure they ever existed, he has to write the letter, to my satisfaction, first.

Yesterday morning, one of the tasks preying on my mind was the Blackball working class history museum exhibition on care workers which Denise and I haven't started. Last time we planned to meet, her family vomited, and today was my turn to cancel. But I did choose my non-fiction purchase for 2011. Other years I've bought nutrition or cooking books (e.g. Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions and Paul Pitchford's Healing with Whole Foods) but this year I've gone for history. I miss having a university library at my disposal very very much and I haven't been organised enough to interloan through our local library. So I ordered two (ooops) books by Margaret Tennant. The first is Past Judgement: Social Policy in New Zealand History and the second is The Fabric of Welfare: Voluntary Organisations, Government and Welfare in New Zealand 1840-2005. I loved Margaret Tennant's work on Victorian charitable aid and ideology when I was studying in the early 1990s, so I hope these books are similarly wonderful. My idea is that I will a) enjoy reading them and b) get the wider context I want from an up to date source before I launch into the real substance of the exhibition, which is local interviews with care workers.

My Kings Seeds order has arrived. Time to get started with some windowsill coriander, assuming I'm not needed on vomit support.

Monday, August 15, 2011


I've just finished Room by Emma Donoghue. It was ghoulish. I don't like the genre of really nasty stuff in lots of detail at all. Once I read one of Martina Cole's novels when I was pregnant and we were travelling through Spain which seemed to accentuate my reaction. It was all about a pimp and drug dealer and the women he seduced and then exploited. I had nightmares. For the record, at the time of these nightmares stemming from reading a novel, I was 30 years old. Last night I started Room and couldn't stop until Jack and Ma were out of the room (prison) and I even cheated and read bits at the back to make sure they would get out sometime in this novel, preferably early.

I'm not even attempting to write more about capitalism and socialism and alienation and social isolation and racism and the UK riot court verdicts having echoes of Victorian England only this time there are no colonies to send people to only ooops lots of the people who were arrested for looting were indeed from the very colonies which 'Great' Britain looted and plundered and made people already there feel like foreigners in their own country.

Today we had snow. Not as much as most of the rest of the country, but still enough to make the house very cold and me not care at all about global warming and pollution because I love the heat that coal creates on days like these. I walk round the garden each day watching for signs of spring. So far, we have an iris, a crocus, the new polyanthus and pansies I planted, the tat soi and some of the kale getting ready to go to seed and quite a lot of broad bean flowers. Every year I don't much like broad beans and every winter I plant or sow some anyway because planting in winter is such a rare and wonderful treat. Movement on the asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli and green broccoli fronts is what I really want.

The chooks seem happy, but haven't laid any eggs yet. I just looked back on my old blog to read about our first lot of chooks back in 2008. Seems like I was gardening all the time then. They started laying after two weeks with us. We have had our new chooks for two weeks and two days.

This is what I have just ordered from Kings Seeds:
Basil Sweet Genovese

Coriander Slowbolt
Sunflower Incredible Dwarf
Carrot Rainbow Blend
Mesclun Organic
Bergamot Bee Balm
Beetroot Colour Blend
Sage White
Stock Perfumed Giants
Aquilegia Shady Garden Scatter
Sunflower Ikarus
Tomato Suncherry F1
I wanted marshmallow as well but they had run out. No kale as in late summer the white butteflies are such a nuisance that it is easier to buy it as seedlings from the garden centre.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Pollyanna's socialist crisis

A few weeks ago, doing kitchen stuff at the kitchen sink with National Radio on beside me, I started to question my Pollyanna approach to rejecting capitalism. No doubt it had been brewing for a while, in a similar way to when I started to question precepts of the Catholic Church as a teenager. Tonight's post is an attempt to put into words the conversations I have with myself in my head during the day.

I had hippy tendencies long before I became a mother, but when I did give birth, the green movement filled an almost emotional gap. My vision of being an earth mother was challenged from the very beginning, as feeding turned out to be very problematic. Putting my baby into cloth nappies and sourcing organic baby salves and eschewing much that was plastic was something I could control, and it meant I got to hang out with the other earth mothers.

An interest in peak oil scenarios was a logical development from this. Once we had our own garden, first in London and later on the West Coast of New Zealand, I could marry this to my love of gardening. The vegetable growing project continues.

But frankly, given the current scale of global financial uncertainty, I'm more inclined these days to pin my apocalyptic horror fascination to financial narratives. I've lived a very sheltered life and never ever gone hungry because of lack of money. Despite a blue collar and blue voting family background, I've been a leftie as long as I can remember. To a large extent, I'm all about redistribution of wealth for the greatest breadth of good. I tend to only do competition in limited forms.

But given that the consequences of the global situation maybe really widespread and long lasting drops in living standards even in New Zealand, then I just may have to accept Darwin and accept more competition.

Which doesn't quite fit with being a socialist. Being good at my work job or at my home jobs is not the same as being competitive. Competitive, taken to its logical conclusion, means others will miss out.

That is as far as I can manage tonight. The UK riots came along while I was still grappling with how to express myself on capitalism and economic apocalypse (I do love the sound of that word), and they are far more challenging and yet also related. I think my deeper question is not so much why did the riots happen (many better conjectures than mine are out there) but rather 'how do I make peace with a world in which this happens?' It's safe to say that the answer doesn't come in a neatly packaged box.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stopped and searched

Still thinking a lot about the riots throughout the UK. This Guardian article: 'Being liberal is fine, but we need to be given the right to parent' deals with some of the challenges which the left need to consider as clearly empathy for the sense of hopelessness of estate life in a recession is not to be conflated with carte blanche for people to loot and riot. The stop and search law came in after we left the UK and I had not considered how it impacted on the lives of quite young men until this week. To think of my own son being stopped and searched by the police at the age of 14, on the way home from school, makes me shudder.

Yesterday I planted flanders poppies, polyanthus, pansies and snowdrops along the front of the house. Today I did housework. Tonight I aim to learn why my chooks (not laying yet) have red in their poo.

Update: this very useful page has photographs of all kinds of chook poo, explaining what is normal and what is problematic. So now I know that at least one of ym chooks has shed intestinal lining and that this is quite normal and not at all problematic.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Please read this excellent post on the London riots from Penny Red.

I have thought a lot about the riots, about social exclusion, about the structural deficiencies and amorality of capitalism, but I lost lucidity sometime around the moment when I burnt the stock pot and, had we not had a smoke alarm, would have caught the house on fire.

The rioters, burning and looting and attacking police, did the wrong thing. They all did very wrong things. There is not a time to be listened to if you are dispossessed. You are always required to go back to the queue and wait quietly. Not everyone is prepared to wait forever.Link

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Tonight I am grateful for my own safety and that of my family. I think of the police and their families and the horrible fear which must accompany every shift in the UK at the moment. I think of the people living in the midst of the riot areas, their loss and devastation. I think of the families of the rioters, some of them unable to account for their children, wondering what they could have done differently. I think of the rioters, people who made bad choices, who allowed greed and the heady effects of mob mentality to override their better instincts.

I think of the consequences of a deeply unequal society.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dances with Fat

My favourite blog find this weekend is Dances with Fat. Go read it. She writes well, thinks intelligently, is all about genuine respect and the vids look like she moves pretty fantastically as well. Thank you to the Wellington Young Feminists' Collective for sending me the way of the Articulate dancer.

Another link worth following is my mate Peter Clayworth's piece on the 1981 Spring Bok tour (scroll down past Jock Phillips' piece to find Peter's). There are more pieces on the tour memoirs which I intend to follow up, courtesy of John Minto's guest post on Liberation.

The gala was great. Crap weather, despite my determination that if I willed it to be sunny, then the heavens would obey. We had more people painting faces this year so the kids didn't have to wait for long to be painted. My guess is they made plenty of money despite the bad weather.

Look at the blank floor space. Massive project this afternoon. Massive achievement. What you can't see is that the lego, duplo, puzzle pieces, toy vehicles, alphabet blocks, dolls' clothes, pens and pencils and crayons, are now all in their own dedicated boxes, not mostly scrambled up together. What did that cost? Four glasses of wine at the end. Fionn helped but he didn't do enough to earn wine.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Food day

Three fruit loaves, two fruit cakes and one banana cake. Plus roast chicken for dinner. Not a single moment in the garden :( But I did buy a beer kit for FH's birthday though. Recipes below.

Moist Fruit Cake

Put in saucepan:

1 small cup water, 6ozs sugar, 1-lb mixed fruit, 1 tspn mixed spice, 4ozs butter

Bring to boil and simmer 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool (not cold)

When cool add ½ teaspoon baking soda.

Beat 2 eggs well and add to mixture, then add 8-oz flour and 1 teaspoon baking power sifted together.

Bake in moderate oven. Great Grandma's instructions are for 60 minutes but mine was cooked in 40.

Fruit Loaf

Put in bowl: 4-oz sugar 1 cup sultanas ½ oz butter 1 tablespoon golden syrup 1 teaspoon baking soda

Pour over 1 cup boiling water and stir well.

Cool mixture

When cool add 8 oz flour and 1½ teaspoons baking power.

Pour into lined loaf tin. Bake approximately 45 min at 350F

The banana cake is from the Edmonds recipe book. I made that for the children, because Brighid insisted. I've frozen most of it for school and kindy lunches. Brighid helped me for a while. My pace picked up a lot after she wandered off to do other things.

Nice tasting swede

3 C coarsely grated swede (1 small swede)

2 T water

2 t butter

1 T brown sugar

1 t soy sauce

Combine all ingredients in a heavy based saucepan. Cover and cook gently, stirring frequently until they are tender-crisp (about 5 minutes).

The swede is from a few weeks ago. It ticks budget and nutrition boxes. It also looks good on the plate beside kale, in case you were wondering if I had abandoned my primary vegetable alliance. I made pumpkin soup for dinner on Monday night and then on Wednesday night I cooked pasta and used the leftover soup as the sauce and grated parmesan cheese on the top of each individual bowl. It tasted fine and I thought the wolf would not break down the door if I keep this careful use of food thing going.

Tonight I cooked roast chicken. The oven had been getting so vile it would smell before I cooked food in it and even I could not stand it any longer. So I cleaned it and as I think the culprit for making all that oven mess was roasted chicken fat, I cooked tonight's roast in an oven bag. It tasted fine, but as I was pulling the bag off it I thought about how endlessly bad plastic is supposed to be against hot food. I need a third solution, and I would like one which preserves a proper crispy chicken skin, doesn't make a mess of the oven and doesn't involve plastic. It's time I started chopping up the chicken carcass before it is cooked and doing more interesting things with the meat and keeping the bones for raw bone stock (as opposed to using the cooked bones). I'd done enough kitchen time today though, long before dinner prep time.

Tonight was book group. It was great to hear what everyone else has been reading. I've brought home Jeanette Winterson's Lighthousekeeping and Emma Donoghue's Room to read by the end of the month.

I've no idea when we will get as far as painting the dining room, but we still talk about possible colours and in the meantime I'm liking the Habitat of the week series. My latest idea is to pick up the rose red and cream of the dining room table (which is wooden with a red and white formica top) by making three walls cream and a feature wall of rose red. It took a long time to even consider something as gentle as having the bold colour on one wall instead of four.

I did manage to share a little creative love yesterday at kindy. Brighid had worn her button necklace the day before and proudly answered questions about it with "My Mum made it". Awwwww. (NB: Remember this when she is sixteen Sandra, and tomorrow when she is obstreperous). The teachers asked if I would show them how, so I brought some cotton thread and buttons down to kindy and made necklaces with kindy kids. Only one kindy kid made her own and the others preferred to choose the buttons for me to make one for them. I might source some thick bright braid or rope and do another session on plaiting, this time set up so the kids do the plaiting. I've also got a book out from the library with some cool string dolls which might be doable... Then I snuck off to Mary K's to borrow her baking tins and after kindy and lunch was done, Brighid went to Sharon's and I went to work. I find myself feeling like I should be doing something else no matter what I am doing and am making myself shake it.

The new chooks are still very shy and skittish. I don't think they've had much human interaction before now. I think next time (which of course won't be for years) I will buy from a smaller, local source.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tips from a cake stall queen

Today is the southern hemisphere Imbolc. I remembered as I drove away from Dominos pizza (cheap Tuesday) and FH commented on the beautiful weather and how it was a sign of his favourite season about to come.

So the very special meal we had celebrating Imbolc was pizza from a cardboard box. Very nice it was too. I wandered round the garden and gazed out at the sea and it does feel like positive change is in the air. The first iris is out.

Tonight was the last PTA meeting before the gala. It all looks like it is going to be fabulous. If I can remember the various things I have committed to, then I too will be a good brownie and community member. This morning my Mum sent through her best fundraising baking recipes. Tomorrow I'll buy the ingredients and borrow the tins and on Thursday Brighid and I can have a bakeathon. My Mum is a cake stall queen. Even when I was a teenager and she was working almost full time, I remember getting up at 7am and finding she had been up since five and the top of the large freezer was covered with baking for whatever worthy cause was asking that week. She seems quite chuffed that a) I've asked for her recipes and b) that I'm doing the community goodness thing and not being a delinquent. She spent a bit of time when I was a teenager worrying that I would turn into a delinquent. I didn't even come close to whispering at proper delinquency, but then that's the thing about motherhood - it invokes insanity on a daily basis.

One of the recipes Mum has given me is from my Great Grandmother, a fabulous woman by all accounts, whom my Mum adored. I'll post it later in the week if indeed I find it to be failsafe as Mum has indicated. The word 'failsafe' feels a bit jinxsy.

On the subject of budgeting. I start off thinking that we need to make changes to reduce the supermarket bill. Then I think about how privileged I am compared to so many on lower incomes. Then I think I should both reduce my spending for us AND contribute more to others. This process does not necessarily occur in a linear fashion. Today I stopped and talked to a lovely potato farmer from Methven who was selling his wares outside our swimming pool. His agria spuds are superb apparently, not just cheaper than the supermarket ones (by several dollars) but better tasting. Oooh but I was tempted. So what I did, and I claim no logic for this, is I took my only just started 10kg supermarket bag of spuds down to the Sallies for their food bank and then I bought a new bag from Mr Methven Spuds for my family.

Still loving my new chooks.

Monday, August 1, 2011

spirulina & hummous don't mix

I've got a pagan wheel of the year on the wall in front of my computer. I'm interested in the southern hemisphere versions of the rituals surrounding the solstices, equinoxes and the mid points between. When we were looking at names for our daughter, I thought she would be born on February 1st, St Brighid's Day. She came a bit earlier, but we stuck with the name we had chosen (no scans, just weirdo hippy confidence that she would be a girl). Imbolc is one of the other names for the festivals surrounding St Brighid's Day, and the southern hemisphere equivalent is tomorrow.

Much as I'm drawn to the ideas in a pagan calendar, the reality for our family is that we are governed by the seasons of school terms and school holidays. Seeing the second day back at school as a significant turning point does feel artificial to the rhythms of our lives. But still. I'm certainly ready for a sense of spring and of hope. The new chooks, the snowdrop, the onion weed flowers, the iris which is nearly out by the kitchen, the beautiful Sunday walks along the beach we've had recently, these are all potent omens of joy.

Apparently the tradition is to clean ones home for St Brighid. We cleaned the house yesterday, that will have to do. I would like to think of a fitting meal for Imbolc tomorrow night. All suggestions welcome.

Like everyone else who ever shops for food, I'm aghast at how much food prices are rising. It occured to me today at an action level that I'm going to have to make some changes. I've played round with various money saving food changes in the past, all of which involve extra time, and I'm not wild about doing it again. I've learnt that I prefer to earn some extra money rather than stay home and use my labour to save money in all directions. Only, like a whole pile of other middle class people in New Zealand, I can see I'm going to have to get my head round doing both, and probably for several years.

This afternoon, I made hummous, as is my habit. Bought stuff is very expensive and a fraction of the quality of home made. I thought for the hundredth time how I should save money and reduce my exposure to whatever nasties in tin cans the Organic NZ people warned me about by buying the chickpeas raw and cooking them up in bulk and then making hummous and freezing it. Instead of doing just that, I opened the cans and thought it incredibly wise to try putting spirulina in the mix. It was hanging round the cupboard, the product of one of my many hippy health food shop random purchases, and I thought I would spread the green love.

Don't. The colour is putrid (rather like the green on our wallpaper, a green we have disliked so much we've ripped much of it off even when we can't afford to paint or repaper over it) and the taste is definitely altered, and not for the better.

Pumpkin soup for dinner, with red lentils and kale in it for goodness and padding. The short people made dissenting noises and I told them there was more soup on the horizon. The world is on the brink you know. Once upon a time I was all about peak oil, using cloth nappies, eschewing a tumble drier or car and embracing lots of walking. Now I'm more wound up by the looming threat of economic disaster.

Geraldine Brooks' March is a wonderful book, creating the life of the father of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I had to get up and finish it last night as I couldn't sleep without finding out what happened at the end. Yay for the local library.

Gala preparations are hotting up. I've emailed Mum for her best fundraiser fruit cake recipe. Apparently fruit cakes sell well, so that's what I'll make. I'm down to do an hour on the raffle table at the supermarket on Friday and I've a meeting tomorrow night which I should attend and some wonderful teenage girls to paint nails as one of the fund raising activities. Brighid will no doubt be lining up for that.

All this for an affluent school where no one has a swollen belly from lack of food like the children in Africa on the news, or routinely goes without breakfast like in many areas of New Zealand. I wonder why I'm doing it sometimes but ultimately I do know why. Firstly, communities are only made by the sharing of responsibility and of tasks and communal activities and our school gala is all of these. Now that Fionn is old enough to go to and from school alone (I've not been allowed up the drive by Mr Independent in the morning for the last four years), activities like the gala are particularly important so I get to know the other school families and pick up tips on what is really going on in town, which is not the same is what goes in the town newspaper. The second, more important reason to me is that because of the efforts of the PTA, school trips and visiting performances are available to all children. No one misses out on going to the big local swimming pool because their family can't afford the bus fare. No one misses out on the orchestra or juggler or storyteller when they visit the school because the power bill was about to be cut off and had to be paid instead of the school. I'm prepared to put in a quite a bit of effort to keep user pays out of our school.