i’ve always thought Calendula would make a great girl’s name

It’s like Colleen, Angela, the ‘len’ of Lena, the ‘ula’ of Tallullah all in one word, and it’s the name of a brilliant herb flower.

calendula_1

While the vegetable garden is a sea of wintery green, the one bright spot is the border of calendula which is flowering in overdrive right now. I always grow calendula around the edges of my vegetable beds, partly because they are supposed to be a great companion plant to vegetables, and partly because they’re so pretty. Apart from eating them in salads and using them to decorate cakes….(this is a cake I made for a celebration of my yoga teacher, Nat)

nats_cake

…I haven’t ever made anything with them.

Then I read these two articles on the excellent ‘homesteading’ blog, Root Simple.

How to harvest and dry calendula.

How to make a calendula infused oil. 

calendula_2

And then I bought some sticks of beeswax at a market on a whim, just because they were inexpensive and smelled so great.

So now I’m planning to make myself some calendula salve using oil infusion made from my calendula flowers and the beeswax, but first I need to dry a heap of blooms. The great thing about calendula flowers is, the more you pick them, the more they flower.

(Speaking of beeswax, August is BEE AWARE MONTH in New Zealand. A month to highlight the current plight of the world’s bees. Read the BEE AWARE page for some tips of how to help bees in your backyard.)

I think it’s one of the prettier harvests I’ve had. The flowerheads are now drying in my hot water cupboard.

calendula_3

I’ve always wanted to make my own lotions and potions and have read that a basic salve or lip-balm is a great entry level thing to try. I’m excited to see how it all turns out.

Advertisements

Pioneer cooking for energy efficiency

 

In an effort to be more energy efficient, save money on bills and be more organised with food practices, for the last few years I have gotten into viewing a warm oven like a pioneer woman would. What do I mean by that? Well, as anyone who has read ‘Little House On The Prairie’ will know, pre-electricity, getting an oven hot took a lot of human and resource energy, so people would do all sorts of things with the oven while it was hot, and even cooling – making the most of it.

Of course these days I can have a hot oven at the flick of a dial, but I try to respect the energy it took to heat the oven, and save money on my gas bill by using the heat for multiple things and trying to avoid heating it just for one purpose.

This takes a little bit of organisation, lateral thinking and time, but once you get into the swing of it, it becomes second nature.

Once the oven is turned off – it stays hot for a long time! Think up ways to use the warm but cooling oven. I have a few suggestions below but would like more…

Here are some of the ways I maximise a hot oven – if you have other suggestions, please let me know in the comments!

-when baking, if I’m baking a cake, or biscuits or muffins – I often bake a double mixture, freezing excess for school-lunches or whatever, so I’m not heating the oven to make one thing

-bake multiple things at once…a cake, a loaf of bread, some muffins…

-when baking, think ahead to dinner – could you use the heat of the oven to roast or bake something for dinner so you don’t have to later?

-when baking, wrap potatoes in foil and tuck them around the baking trays, then take them to work for an easy lunch

-when baking, pour two inches of rice into a casserole dish, cover with stock until stock is about two inches above rice. Put lid on, put in oven. Check occasionally to make sure there is enough liquid. The rice will absorb the stock, cook, and you will end up with yummy flavoured baked rice for re-heating at dinner time or for a salad base.

-when baking, why not also whip up something for lunch? Beat eggs, add greens and cheese. Grease muffin trays, pour in eggy mixture and you have a dozen baseless ‘quiches’ for lunch with minimal effort!

-put a mixture of dried fruit into a small oven dish (apricots, dates, figs, prunes, sultanas, whatever), add a couple of teaspoons of spices (cinnamon, ginger – whatever flavours you are fond of), cover with warm water, put lid on, put in oven. You will end up with delicious macerated fruit – yummy on cereal, ice-cream or by itself with whipped cream.

-bake fresh fruit using same method as above…

-put oats in an oven tray and toast the oats for muesli. You can add sweetners and oil to the oats, but you don’t have to – even toasting the oats without sweetners adds a lot of flavour

-thinly spread roughly dessicated coconut on a pizza tray and toast. Toasted coconut is delicious spread over desserts, yoghurt or curries. (You have to watch it though – whip it out as soon as it goes lightly brown. It burns easily.)

-toast nuts, or seeds. A yummy snack is stirring a tablespoon of tamari into one cup each of pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Then toast. Delicious by itself or sprinkled over salads. Also adds a yummy crunch to sandwhiches.

-in tomato season, if you have a tomato glut, or if they are really cheap and you buy a box or whatever, cut in half, brush with olive oil and put in turned off oven to make ‘sun-dried’ tomatoes. You will have to do this a few times to get entirely dry tomatoes, but even semi-dried tomatoes are delicious and intense in flavour, you will just have to use them up faster than dried.

-if you have people over and you have used the oven to make dinner, put some kalamata olives in a about half a cup of olive oil, add finely grated lemon peel, herbs of your choosing and black pepper. Warm in the cooling oven and serve with bread. Olives are delicious at room temperature, but slightly warmed with these additions? SUBLIME.

-turn elderly bread into croutons – cut into small squares, brush with oil using a pastry brush, bake

-rice crackers gone stale? Don’t throw them out – put them on a pizza tray and put them into the oven after you’ve finished baking and oven is turned off. It brings them back to life. Works for wheat crackers, also.

-if you are a gardener, keep your eggshells. Put them into the turned off, cooling oven. They will go dry and brittle, making them easy to crush up with a mortar and pestle (or just use a bottle!) for sprinkling onto your vege garden. They add calcium and trace elements to the soil. You can also sprinkle rings of egg-shell around brassicas and salad vegetables to deter slugs. (Of course the egg-shells will break down by themselves if you throw them whole into the compost, but this way they will break down much much faster and you can put them directly on the garden, skipping the compost heap.)

-if you have a herb garden, use the turned off/cooling oven to dry herbs for cooking or herbal tea. Pick herbs, wash, dry very thoroughly with a tea-towel, spread thinly on an oven tray, put into oven. (I do this with lavender and it fills the house with a heady lavender smell.)

-thinly grate lemon peel on the fine side of your grater, spread thinly on a pizza tray, put into a cooling/turned off oven. Then you have dried lemon peel for adding to cooking or making lemon salt.

-use the turn off/cooling oven to dry dishes! If you are hand washing dishes, put some of the large, space-taking items like pots and pans into the warm oven to dry. Gets them off the bench, out of the way and drying so there is room for the rest of the dishes.

OK! I hope that gives you some ideas, anyway. Now that I’ve been doing this a few years, I get all twitchy when I see people heat their ovens just to bake a dozen muffins! There will no doubt come a time when we have to return to some pioneering ways because of the world’s diminshing resources, so I am getting into the swing of it now. I hope I might have inspired you too, as well, if you weren’t already.

 

reality check at the vintage clothing sale

 

I went to a vintage clothing sale recently and had a lot of fun time-travelling through the decades as I looked through the racks. One thing really struck me though – the majority of the clothing was 1980s! Shoulder padded, two-toned, inverse triangle shaped, taffeta ball gowns….80s, 80s, 80s! And a bit of 90s. Which makes perfect sense, of course, because the 1980s are now 20+ years ago. It made me feel kind of old, however, as when I first started op-shopping – the ‘retro’ clothing was from the 50s, 60s, 70s, with majority of stuff from the 1970s. It was still possible to find an incredible 1950s cotton sundress or silk evening dress. This is extremely rare these days.

So much of the 1980s fashion is just not that attractive! While a fifties circle skirt has a timeless appeal, a 1980s two-tone cotton overall with massive baggy pockets? Well, it’s ‘quite a look’ as one of my friends says. (Translation: ‘What the hell is that person WEARING?’)

My favourite era for vintage is the 1970s and I guess that is because I was a child then so I have a lot of nostalgia for polyester evening dresses, silver floor length skirts, shirts with extremely pointy collars, floral velveteens, Laura Ashley-style cotton sun-dresses…..*happy sigh*

I didn’t end up finding anything for myself at the sale, although I did find a couple of great things for a friend. I did, however, find the above polyester dress at the op-shop recently.

Some people hate polyester and I understand that. It feels weird and plastic-y if you aren’t used to it. But here are some reasons I love vintage polyester – it keeps it’s colour, doesn’t fade, it is extremely easy-care – you can treat it mean in the laundry room and it keeps on bouncing back. It dries super-fast – twenty minutes on the line and it’s good to go, and you never, never, never have to iron it! It’s true that polyester doesn’t feel that nice against the skin, but you can get around that by sticking to polyester skirts, or wearing cotton singlets under dresses.

I’ve been wearing 1970s polyester skirts and frocks since the 1980s. I guess I always will, until there are no more 1970s artefacts to be found.

 

indoor plant life

I had this idea about myself that I couldn’t do indoor plants, after killing off a few African violets and cyclamens…but then one friend gave me some unkillable mother-in-law’s tongue and another friend gave me a cutting off her giant begonia which is now growing in my living room window like a triffid so I got my indoor plant confidence back a little…

…then at the op-shop last week I spotted these wonderful 1970s kitchen canisters (they came with wooden lids). I didn’t really need more canisters, though, and I thought they would make very cool planters. I went to the garden centre and got these tiny house plants for $2 each:

That fired me up and then I remembered a 70s pottery drippy green shallow planter a friend had given me – so I potted up some ‘baby tears’ fern.

And then I potted a cutting of a friend’s aloe vera plant in this pretty vase? cup? handmade thing I op-shopped a long time ago because I liked the flower motif on it…but hadn’t really used much. The aloe-vera is on my kitchen window for instant aid for cooking burns! (Of which I suffer many – I have so many grill burns on my hands, they are stripy and it almost looks intentional.)

Now I just hope I can keep them all alive – if they die I will go back to my indoor-planting self-doubting ways. My friend who is an expert indoor-plant grower – her house is like a jungle- tells me indoor plants usually die of over-watering, not under….so I will restrain myself on the watering front and see if that’s the trick!

the garage sale

All summer, as I went through the house room by room, cupboard by cupboard, this corner was full of a growing pile of stuff for a garage sale.

It grew and grew and sat there in the corner – reminding me to keep clearing out and to try not to accumulate so much in the future.

Sometimes I would put things on the pile, and then take them off again. Usually I returned them to the pile. The strings of attachment – tugging, twanging.

On Saturday we had the garage sale. The finale for the summer of decluttering.

We sold heaps and made just over $300. Given the most expensive thing was $30 and most things were priced at $1, this might give you some idea of how much stuff we got rid of.

Without wanting to sound ungrateful to the people who came along and bought our stuff, lining our pockets…some of them were very eccentric! Firstly, we had people door-knocking the night before – wanting to get a first look. We politely told them to come back in the morning.

Then in the morning, although we advertised the garage sale as starting at 8am, people starting arrive just after 7 and many of them stood, in the fairly brisk windy weather, at the gate while we set up, waiting and calling out to us to let them in. Now, that’s keen.

There were the two women who had a physical fight over a rusting enamel jug, whacking me in the chest in the process, because I got in their way.

There were the record collecting people – who were all great, actually, but quirky as anything. Especially the older guys who reminded me very much of Harvey Pekar, in his comic strips about collecting ‘sides’.

There were the hard-core hagglers, who pick up five things costing a dollar and say – ‘Would you take $2? How about $3?’

But like I say – we are grateful they came! And spent their hard-earned money on our unwanted possessions.

I sold a lot of my records. It was a big decision to sell my records and I thought I would feel quite pained to see them go, but the morning was mostly pain-free – the only pang I felt was when someone bought my Velvet Underground record. Pang! Pang! Bye, bye iconic Andy Warhol banana. Then off it went down the driveway and I was $5 richer.

Now the corner, which had started to ressemble the trash-heap from Fraggle Rock is clean and clear and empty. I mopped the floor and placed this chair in the corner and a deep sense of peace came over me.

All around the city are people pleased as punch with their bargains while here at my house, I am happy about my empty corner, my lightened load.

 

 

 

new year intentions

As the new year approached, I wasn’t feeling the optimism and sense of ‘a new day’ (in the NINA SIMONE vein) that the change to the new year often brings. Mainly I was feeling tired from a crazy 2011. New Year’s Eve came and went.

…but then, hanging out at home with the family on holiday…mooching around, finally some time for reflection, a few things rose up into my mind about changes I would like to make for this year. It was interesting in that it felt like they quietly presented themselves in my mind and I mulled them over and thought, ‘OK, that feels about right’…..they seemed to come ‘organically’ rather than being the usual overly-ambitious, top-down imperatives of New Year’s past.

Also, rather than the harsh denotation of ‘resolution’…’I hereby resolve to do this thing perfectly from this moment forward….’ kind of thing, these feel like ‘intentions’. These are things I intend to do. If I do not do them, it is because life is life and I am me and there won’t be any punitive thinking around it!

My New Year’s Intentions

to do an hour of gardening per day, rather than the current non-system of doing big binges when I can, which isn’t often enough, meaning that the garden gets out of control in between them, which means I start to feel stressed and low about the state of my garden, which I love and want to tend well. I always tend my vegetable garden, because I like to eat out of it as much as possible, but the rest of the garden gets very neglected. Currently the back of the garden is a wild jungle…

I bought a small 2012 diary with a page for each day. When I get into bed at night, I’m recording what garden tasks I did in the garden in my garden hour, making observations, and noting what we ate out of the garden that day. It’s very motivating and I’m enjoying it.

Like most things in life, the hardest part is starting! Once I’ve grabbed my trowel, put my sun hat on and ventured outside to pick a task, the hour flies by! I feel like the garden is looking more loved already after only a week of this new practice. I can tell that if too many days go by with blank pages in my garden diary – it will be very motivating!

-to be more conscious of my spending, to save money and to make money by decluttering. I have always been fairly thrifty, so this is not a major change for me, but I know I can improve. I’ve started by buying a two cup plunger for work so I won’t dash out for cafe coffees. (I know, I know – I started my thrift regime by spending. Call the irony police!)

Usually when I declutter, I just donate things to charity or give them away to friends, but we have a lot of financial pressures on us this year, so I am going to try to turn my decluttering into cash, through a big garage sale and trademe sales. The decluttering will be great, too, as we are into our second year of living in this house and it is starting to feel like the zen state that happens when you move house and have to evaluate all your posessions has gone and there are piles of ‘stuff’ around which can go, go, go…

I think that trying to be more conscious about my spending will also result in: being more ‘green’ with money – buying less, buying local, mending and making do.

That’s it!

*

Every year, I have a word or phrase to represent something I am working on in myself. For about five years in a row, the phrase was ‘say yes to no’ – because I had a real problem with saying no to people and asserting my own needs. I feel like I’ve done a lot of work around this and although it remains ongoing, I am so, so much better at it than I used to be!

This year I want to work on focus. I get so easily distracted by the newest, shiniest thing! So, I’ve written in large writing in my journal: FOCUS: Family/Friends :: Writing :: Yoga :: Garden.

Those are the things I want to give my energy and focus to this year. In that order.

*

So there I was on the 31st of December feeling cynical and jaded about the turn of the year and thinking I had no energy for any New Year planning, but it ended up happening anyway….I feel like all of the above is gentle, achievable, self-loving and I am starting to feel a little ‘Nina Simone’ about the year.

Do you have any New Year’s intentions? I’d love to hear them.

I wish you all the best with your 2012 projects and intentions!

and Iran*

Further to yesterday’s post – I also made this giant floor cushion on the weekend.

Fraser and I travelled to Turkey in our 20s, and while there I bought some textiles made in Iran. This was a fringed tablecloth, but somehow I never felt right using it as a tablecloth. It seemed too beautiful to drop food all over.

So I decided to make it into a floor cushion. I recently changed the boy’s duvets from polyester ones to down ones, so I recycled one of the old duvet inners for the filling of the cushion, and like yesterday’s cushion, I used grey wool army blanket for the bottom.

In this photograph, the cushion is sitting on the rug we also bought in Turkey – it’s been the centrepiece of every living room we’ve had since and I still love it:

*this title will only make sense and be amusing to those who were teenagers in the 1980s