Friday, February 27, 2009

Biggest Kitchen Table – Preserving in a Water Bath

This month’s topic at the biggest kitchen table is preserving using a water bath. Preserving is something that most people put into the “oh how cute, you make your own instead of buying one from the shops” category. I find a lot of people think preserving is now a waste of time and is old fashioned.

Now, I completely disagree with this. Firstly, have you ever read the ingredients list on a store bought jar of relish or chutney? There is usually a long list of ingredients that are added to preserve, flavor and colour the product. I like to know exactly what is in the food I am giving to my family. A lot of preserves are also imported and one of our goals is to reduce our food miles so that is another strike against the store option.

I also get an immense satisfaction when I make my own preserves. I enjoy seeing the delight on people’s faces when I give away extra jars as well as the enjoyment people get from eating my preserves. I suppose homemade preserves are reasonably rare and they are treated as something special (as compared to a store bought jar).
When I researched preserving I was concerned about the risk of botulism contamination. To minimize the risk, I decided to buy a Fowlers Valcola Preserving Kit (actually, it was a birthday gift – thanks again Mum). This ensures an even temperature of the water and so far I haven’t had a failed seal. It's very easy to use, comes with really easy instructions and recipes and I would recommend them to anyone thinking of preserving. Here is the link to a site that sells them.

I also have some FV jars but when I made my first chutney, I had too much for the jars and ended up using some jam jars I had in the cupboard (never throw out glass jars, they can be used for so many things). I actually found the jam jars to be just as good – better than FV because you use the same screw top lid when the jars are opened. I now prefer to use glass jars that I have saved. The lids do need to be checked to make sure there isn’t any damage done to the underside rubbery bit. You can buy new lids here and here.
I store my jars in my storage pantry which is under the house. It was once a dark room and is, of course, dark as well as having an even temperature and is dry. Each jar is also labeled with the date, the contents, and which recipe I used. Storing them on an open shelf in the kitchen may look fantastic but it will quickly ruin your hard work. Perhaps a recipe is needed that will look good on the shelf but isn’t for eating? Note to self: google.

There are heaps of recipes on the web for all sorts of preserves. I started with a recipe from the web for my mango chutney and tweaked it here and there until I was happy with it. I also borrowed a few books from the library on preserving, but my favourite is A Year in a Bottle by Sally Wise.
Sally has heaps of recipes that are easy to follow and I think it makes a great book if you are just starting out or are unsure about adjusting recipes – there are so many different recipes in this book you don’t need to adjust anything.

I tend to be a bit of a sucker for homemade preserves from markets. I also like to support cottage industries. When we were down at the Sapphire Coast in January, I picked up some tomato pickles at the Bega markets. The man selling them was either old enough to be my grandfather or he spent way too much time in the sun. He said it was his mother-in-law that does the cooking and preserving and he travels to the local markets to sell them. Now that I think about it, he must have just spent too much time in the sun, otherwise his mother in law would be 110. As you can see the jar is almost empty – Mr Berry puts it on just about everything.

My favourite though, is beetroot relish. I haven’t been able to find a recipe I am happy with yet but I did find a yummy jar at the same markets at Bega. I am the only one in the house that likes it so it should last me long enough to continue tweaking my recipe. Beetroot relish is great on homemade burgers.

I know I haven’t really talked much about the technique of preserving. If you are after clear instructions please visit Down to Earth. There really isn’t any point in re-inventing the wheel and Rhonda’s instructions are fantastic (as always). Here is also the link to my mango chutney recipes.

If you have been thinking about preserving then the best way to start is to jump right in. It can be a bit daunting at first but once you get going it really isn’t any different to making a bolognaise sauce.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Commonsense in the Garden

Now that the weather has improved (not that I don’t love and appreciate the rain – but it does hinder my time in the garden), I have been outside the past few days weeding, sowing, preparing beds and cleaning. I was tidying up an area with lots of pots down the back of the garden when one of the biggest red back spiders I have seen came crawling out from between the pots.

There was a pot in the space in the photo, that is where the spider was living.

His body was about the size of my thumb, which for my overseas friends is big. I won’t show you any pictures of him because photos of spiders give me the heebie-jeebies and also because when I saw him, I grabbed my weapon of choice – the back of my shovel– and mooshed him. For the record, red backs are extremely easy to moosh (their bodies must be soft) but can play dead so you need to see guts to make sure they really are dead.

I am not trying to scare you away from your garden or make your skin crawl, but I would like to highlight the importance of taking some safety measures. There are some creatures that do have the potential to kill you and they can be found in the average Sydney backyard, the main two are the red back spider and the funnel web spider (the funnel web being by far the more deadly of the two but thankfully I have not seen one except in captivity). There are also some very dangerous snakes like the king brown and they can come into backyards that are close to bush land. The Berry Patch is well and truly plonked in the middle of suburbia and is not likely to get any snakes, thankfully.

Still, commonsense can reduce the chances of being bitten. Simple precautions like always wearing protective shoes (I have been very lax in this – way too hot for my gumboots at the moment) and leather gloves. It also isn’t particularly smart to stick your hand into small places that can be a favourite for spiders or snakes. Also for the record, I did not do that when I met my red back spider. I was moving the pots with my shovel to check for spiders before lifting them.

It’s not just the deadly creatures either. Even crickets can give a nasty bite if you are digging around in the ground barehanded. Blue tongue lizards are another than can really hurt and the bite can easily become infected. Then there are rose thorns and other spines on plants that can cause damage. All of these things can be avoided by using proper gloves.

There is also the sun to consider – perhaps that can be the most deadly. Covering up, wearing a hat and sunscreen are a must for most of the year.

It sounds dangerous doesn’t it? The reality is that other than skin cancer, life threatening happenings are extremely rare. It should not mean that we throw caution to the wind though. All it takes is a bit of common sense and the flat side of a garden shovel within easy reach at all times.

On a less creepy note, here is what I have been doing in the garden.

Here are red cabbage seeds I planted in punnets on the weekend.

Here is my purple basil and thai basil seedlings. I sowed too many seeds but couldn't bring myself to only use some of them so they will become a border in the front garden. To the left of them you can see some dwarf sweetpea seedlings.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Where have I Been?

I know it’s been a while since I have written much of any interest (assuming of course that at least some of my previous posts were interesting). I have been feeling a bit disconnected to my surroundings lately. The weather has prevented me from doing much in the garden – first it was too hot and then it rained. The heat also melted my brain somewhat and most of my usual housework chores were put aside.

I am also using the car a lot more than I used to. I am finding I am driving almost every day. Last year I was having two or three car-free days each week. I am really unhappy about the amount of time we are using the car but I am not sure what to do about it as public transport isn’t an option.

I know that by using the car for say 30 mins each day I am not exactly raping the earth (we have a low emission car – not a hybrid though), but that really isn’t the issue. If we all had the attitude of “it’s not much – how can that possibly make things worse” then all out little actions would add up to a huge action. I am deeply concerned about our society’s detrimental impact on the environment and that as a whole we aren’t really doing too much about it. I feel guilty about using the car. I feel it is wrong and I should re-adjust my life and my daily habits to reduce my driving time.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons I haven’t written much lately. I feel a bit like a hypocrite writing about my eco-driven life when I actually think my life is becoming less eco-friendly, not more.

I just read that last few sentences and it sounds really extreme. That’s ok. If we don’t feel passionately about something, we are less likely to do anything about it.

So, I am going to work my way back onto the eco-wagon. This weekend I have gone back into the garden and played in the dirt, talked to my worms and admired my compost (I would have squelched my toes in the mud but – eww). The house has had a good clean and a bit of a de-clutter we are thinking of how to re-arrange our lives to reduce my driving.

My inspiration - current issues of Organic Gardener, Earth Garden and Gardening Australia.

I am also looking to books and magazines to give me inspiration. I splurged on some magazines and this week I will head to the library and see what books they have on the subject.

I suppose that when we are trying to live a life that is so different from society’s norm, it can be a challenge to stay on that path. So, for anyone else that is having the same problem – you are not alone. Remember your ideals and stick with them.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Growing Challenge – Seed To Seed

I have decided to take part in a couple of challenges this year to help inspire and motivate me. The first of these challenges is Melinda’s New Growing Challenge – from Seed to Seed at One Green Generation.

Last year I began trying to grow the majority of our veggies and I am now ready to begin learning how to save seeds for the next season.

Here are the rules for the challenge (the italics come direct from Melinda’s blog):

1. Plant at least one new crop from seed, grow it organically, and save the seed to plant next year.
Well, I already am growing my veggies from seed. I use open pollinated/heirloom seeds from Eden Seeds. I am using organic methods so I can check that one off too (of course there is more about organic gardening I need to learn). I have so far saved 2 types of seeds from my summer harvest – lazy housewife beans and a small pumpkin (I forget the name of it and I have lost the tag. I know, rookie mistake).
2. Check in here when I post Seed To Seed or Challenge posts (more or less once/week). Or if you have your own blog*, you can write about your gardening there instead – or in addition. The point of #2 is to learn from one another, inspire one another, and build our growing community. So please share questions, thoughts, and discoveries as they come up.
I will of course be posting regularly about the challenge and commenting on One Green Generation.
3. Sign up in the comments below!
That’s not my comments but the comments on One Green Generation. Interested in signing up? Here is the link direct to Melinda’s post.

So, what have I been doing in the garden lately?

Here is a photo of the seeds I have saved so far. The lazy housewife beans are on the right and the dried pods are beans I haven’t taken the seeds out of yet. The seeds on the left are pumpkin seeds. I bought pumpkin the seedling at a local nursery and lost the tag so I am not sure if I have an heirloom variety or not. The pumpkins were so yummy and it was a lovely compact plant that I figured I would see what happens. Pumpkins grow so quickly that it won’t take long to see if any fruit form or not. I will either get yummy pumpkins or compost fodder.

Here is a lettuce that has gone to seed. I need to cut the top off and put it in a paper bag to collect the seeds.

My summer veggies are pretty much finished. That week of 40oC plus temperatures really knocked them about so all I have are a couple of lettuce plants that haven’t bolted and a few bunches of tomatoes. I have begun to prepare the beds as they empty with some chook manure, compost and some dried grass clippings for mulch. In a month or so I will begin planting my autumn crop.

I have written about my seed purchasing frenzy here. And here are some pics of the some of the seeds I sowed the other week (I got a bit impatient).

Thai Basil

Dwarf Sweet Peas

From the left: Purple Basil, Lavender, Pennyroyal, Chervil

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What a Nice Man

It stopped raining for a bit yesterday afternoon so I bundled Miss Berry into the pram and went for a walk. On my way back home it began to drizzle and then began to rain. I wasn’t getting very wet and I had the rain cover on the pram so I wasn’t worried, but I passed a nice man who was in his front yard and he offered me an umbrella.

This is not me (obviously, since I am female) and this is not the aforementioned umbrella. It is an image by atomicjeep and I thought it was appropriate to my post.

I thanked him for such a lovely offer but declined the use of his umbrella as I wasn’t getting very wet and only had a few streets to go. He was a complete stranger and had no idea whether I would return the umbrella or not (of course I would have – but he didn’t know that).

Such a simple, friendly gesture gave me a bit of hope that the community spirit in my area is still alive, even if it is only smouldering.
So, man-that-I-do-not-know, thank you for your offer – you buoyed my spirits.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Stitchery 101 – Part C

Here is Part A of Stitchery 101.
Here is Part B of Stitchery 101.

Here is the pdf pattern

In the Part B I included instructions for backstitch. There are two more stitches in the pattern – french knots and satin stitch.

French Knots

The French knots are the centre of the small flowers and to save time and thread, it is best to stitch the centre and the petals of the flower at one time. (If you have already gone ahead and stitched the petals don’t panic and don’t unpick anything – it really doesn’t matter and will have no bearing on what your finished stitchery will look like).

1. Bring the needle up from the back of the fabric in the position you want the French knot.
2. Wrap the thread around the needle twice. (Note: there is much discussion – mainly heated - on whether a true French knot has one wrap or two. I am not a stitchery nazi and I like the bulk of two wraps. Wrap as much or as little as you want or as you think is ‘correct’.)

3. Put the needle down in to the fabric a few threads away from where you came up. Don’t pull the needle though. You also need to keep the thread taught.

4. Keep the wraps against the fabric and the thread taught and pull the needle thread through the fabric.

There is your first French knot. You start and finish the thread as you normally would. See here for instructions.

Satin Stitch

Satin stitch is basically back stitch but the stitches lie next to each other. Your needle will always come out of the fabric on one side of the shape (I prefer the bottom) and go into the fabric at the opposite side (again, I prefer the top). It can take a bit of practice to make the edges of the shape smooth but take your stitches slow and practice. If you make sure you are stitching (going in and out of the fabric) on the outside edge of the design line, your shape will be smooth. Keep your stitches close together (a thread of two apart – more depending on the thickness of the thread you are sewing with) to prevent seeing the fabric under the stitches.

1. Draw some parallel lines inside the shape in the direction the thread will be sewn. This helps you to keep your stitches straight.
2. Bring your needle and thread up at the bottom middle of the shape, making sure you are on the outside edge of the design line.

3. Following the lines you just drew inside the shape, put your needle into the fabric at the top middle of the shape and pull thread through.
4. Bring your needle and thread up again at the bottom of the shape right next to your first stitch.
5. Put your needle into the fabric at the top of the shape, again right next to your first stitch and pull the thread through.
6. Continue making stitches in this manner, completing one half of the design and making sure you keep your stitches parallel to the lines you drew inside the shape.

7. When one half is finished, turn your work over and thread your needle through the back of the stitches only so you can complete the other half of the design, starting from the middle.
8. When you have completed the shape, finish off your thread.

Tips for Satin Stitch.

This is one stitch that I think it is vital to use an embroidery hoop. If you don’t use a hoop it is very easy to pull too tight and pucker your fabric.
Make sure that even with a hoop you do not pull the thread too tight. It should lay flat on the fabric but will look slightly padded when finished.

After the Stitching

Now that you have completed the stitching, you need to remove any marks. If you can’t see any design marks and you haven’t used a blue wash our pen then you can probably skip this step.
If you have used a blue wash out pen you must get rid of the lines, even if they are covered by stitching. All you have to do is thoroughly wet the fabric in cold water. I fill a container with cold water (no soaps or detergents are needed) and dunk my finished piece in the water and swish it about so everything is wet. I then take it out and gently squeeze out the water without wringing it, which may distort the design. Place the fabric on a towel and roll the towel up to remove more water. The design can then be hung to dry. If it is a large piece it is best to lay it flat to dry. Keep any peg marks on the very corners of the fabric as you should not iron the piece as the pellon will flatten. If you must iron it, use a light hand.

Your stitchery is now complete.

What to do with your Stitchery?

Because it is such a small design, I am going to frame mine. The design will fit into a standard 4” x 6” photo frame which you can pick up almost anywhere. I am searching op shops for one that is a bit different.
You could add some borders around the design and make it into either a larger framed piece or a cushion. You could also incorporate it into a quilt as the centre of a block.

I hope you have enjoyed making this. If there is anything that isn’t clear in this post please let me know – it has been a long time since I have written instructions.

Happy Stitching

Monday, February 16, 2009

I Will Get There Eventually

I have just updated my blog with a new look (hope you like it).

I know it still needs some work but frankly, I'm beat. All I want to do is sit down to a new season of Ladette to Lady because you can never have too much class in your life.

Let me know if something is completely unreadable and I will see you all tomorrow.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rain, Rain Go Away

Well not really, my garden is loving this rain.

We are now in the middle of a week of rain and the temperature has dropped to about 20oC. I can’t believe we are wearing trackies in February. (Super comfy though)
Even though it is now too wet to get into the garden, I will be out there as soon as the rain stops. It is so much easier weeding after rain.

In the meantime, I am working on the handmade items for the bushfire appeal. Here is a sneak preview.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bushfire Appeals – How to Help

For those wanting to help the Victorian Bushfire Victims, Hello! It's Meet Me At Mikes! has a list of links for crafty and non crafty appeals.

I have decided to put my crafty hat on and contribute to:

Here you can donate a handmade item to either give to the people affected by the bushfires or to auction on eBay or Etsy to raise funds for the Red Cross


These are packs for little ones to provide some comfort and distraction whilst the parents are dealing with the aftermath of the fires. The packs contain a comfort toy and a distraction toy and can be made for all ages.

So, I had best get making. I will keep you updated with my progress.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Weekend’s Heat

Well, this weekend was terrible.

My heart goes out to those suffering in the bushfires in Victoria. Here is a link to the latest report from the Sydney Morning Herald. At the time of writing this, over 100 people have died and they expect this figure to rise and 750 homes have been lost.

Sydney got through the weekend relatively unscathed – we were lucky. Today is quite cool so far, a huge change from the weekend. What we need now is some of the rain that is flooding parts of Queensland.

Although they won’t be reading my blog, I would also like to mention the heroic efforts of the volunteer fire fighters. Without them, I am sure that the damage from Australia’s bushfires would be much worse. Thank you.

Friday, February 6, 2009

I'm Pretty Sure My Brain is Melting

We are having a heat wave in Sydney at the moment and the southern states are even worse. It’s more than just being really hot; the humidity seems to smother you. I am finding it so hard to do anything at the moment as all I can think about is how hot I am. I now know why people spring clean – it’s because summer is too damn hot to be doing any real housework.

Miss Berry and I have been spending most of the week at my Mum’s house with her beautiful, cool pool and her very un-eco-friendly air conditioning. But, for the time being Miss Berry’s heat rash is being kept under control and I am really enjoying the one on one time I am spending with Miss Berry without all the normal household jobs screaming at me.

So, that is why I have not been posting his week - my brain has stopped working because of the heat. This weekend is going to be even worse with temperatures set to exceed 42oC on both days. Hopefully, things will cool down next week and things can get back to normal.

What do you do to cope with the heat?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Stitchery 101 – Part B

Here is Part A of Stitchery 101.
Here is Part C of Stitchery 101

Note: from now on I will have all measurements in inches. Even though I live in Australia I am a quilter and in general, quilters work in imperial. Sorry if this confuses anyone. Persevere and I am sure you will get used to it quickly.

Click here to download the pdf pattern.

Cut your fabric and pellon. Approximately 7.5” x 9.5” is a good size as it leaves you with enough fabric to handle and get into the hoop.

The easiest way to trace your design onto the fabric is to stick the design onto a window (during the day of course) and then stick the fabric over the paper. Make sure you centre the design by folding both paper and fabric in half and then in half again. Line up the creases on the paper and fabric. Use the blue wash out marker to lightly mark the design onto the fabric. Gently remove the sticky tape from the fabric to avoid fraying.

Note: The blue wash out marker is heat sensitive. Once you have marked your design do not iron the fabric as it will set the blue pen and it won’t wash out.

Place the pellon on a flat, hard surface and layer the fabric design side up on top of it.

Thread a needle with a cream cotton and baste the two together. Basting is a large running stitch. For this size stitchery we only need to baste 2 rows horizontally and 2 rows vertically. Space them out evenly. This will keep the pellon in place and make sure your finished work will lay flat.

Place the basted pellon and fabric into the embroidery hoop. The fabric needs to be taught but not stretched.

We are now ready to begin stitching.

This design is mainly back stitch and we will complete all the back stitching first.
Take your stranded cotton and cut a piece about as long as your forearm. Separate the strands of cotton so you only have two and thread them onto your needle and tie a knot in the other end.

Back Stitch

1. Come up from the back and pull the thread through. (Point A)

2. Bring the needle down about a quarter inch away from point A along the design line. (point B)

Pull thread though so that it lays flat on the top of the fabric. This is your first stitch.

3. Come up along the design line a stitch length away from point B and pull thread through (point C).

4. Bring needle down into the same hole as point B and pull thread through. This is your second stitch.

Continue stitching by repeating steps 3 and 4.

Keep back stitching until you either run out of thread or design line.

To finish off the thread make sure you leave about 4”of thread to work with. Finish a stitch with your needle at the back of your work.

Loop the needle under the thread only of the last stitch and make a loop.

Pass the needle through that loop and pull the thread through. This forms a little knot.

Loop the needle under a few more stitches after that and then trim thread.

And that’s a back stitch.

Continue backstitching the design, following the design line as closely as possible. The things that aren’t backstitched are the centre of the small flowers (they are French knots) and the heart on the birdhouse (that’s satin stitch).


When you are backstitching around curves make your stitches smaller so that they sit on the design line.

Also, the centres of the large flowers are small circles. To backstitch them, use five small stitches to give you a circle rather than a square. The petals of the small flowers are one back stitch each, but you don’t need to start and finish each stitch. It will also be easier if you leave these flowers til next week so you can do the centre at the same time as the petals.

Next week I will cover the remaining stitches as well as what to do with your stitchery once it is finished.

It has been quite a while since I have written instructions for a project so if anything is not clear please email me.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Almost there

Ok, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth. I am trying to figure out how to upload and link to a .pdf file so I can post the second part of Stitchery 101.

I will get there - eventually. Any ideas are extremely appreciated and needed.
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