Monday, June 19, 2017

My quilt is finished!

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Quilting finally gets some time!

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

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

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

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

Free motion quilting adds such lovely texture! 

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

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

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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

World Environment Day -Connecting with nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cape Grim Station: Measuring atmospheric composition since 1976

Monday, May 29, 2017

Going back to the beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

All the Citrus! What we are doing with ours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Not an Instagram holiday

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

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

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

Rochester Town Hall in the afternoon sun

The Campaspe river.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transfer to an oiled bowl and leave for 2 hours.

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

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

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

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

We usually put half the slices in the freezer.

Pumpkin bread ready for soup! 

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