Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Magic Beans

Hi all. I bet you think this post is going to be about beans... nope. I recently joined a local FB community for swapping produce, preserves, seedlings and plants, etc - foodstuffs that have been foraged, grown, produced, or preserved by the individual, no purchased foods, and no money to change hands. It is called Magic Beans.
Although, as my regular readers will know, I have a good garden, it seldom produces excess - with the exception of rhubarb and herbs. So I offer my preserving skills instead - people can give me their excess produce, and I will return some of it as some kind of preserve - e.g plums can be returned as plum sauce, plum chutney, pickled plums, or plum jam; pumpkins I will process into a sweet puree which can be used for pie fillings, puddings, and pumpkin bread, or a savory puree for soup. The puree is packed into snaplock bags, you pop it in the freezer, then take out what you need as you need it.
The lovely lady who set it all up, Anneliese, dropped some jars off for me yesterday, and really liked my small-space garden, so asked if I would share pics and a little info. I thought rather than put a big post on the FB page, I would post a few pics and some basic info there, but do a full size blog post here for those interested in more info. So here we are.

I live in the front flat of a set of three connected flats, and have a small front yard that goes with it (middle flat has no yard, back flat has a back yard). When I first moved here, the yard was surrounded by large, untrimmed ornamental trees, which spread over most of the yard, and shaded the rest. The soil was so barren that not even grass grew, and there were no earthworms to the 3 feet down that I dug in various places. I cut down the trees on the sunward side, and trimmed back the trees on the other side, and slowly started establishing the gardens.

The first gardens I put in were the tire gardens. Six tires put side by side in two rows of three each for one tire garden. I put in three of these, which I brought with me from my last place of residence. 
There is a lot of controversy and conspiracy theory, based on anecdotal evidence only, surrounding the use of tires for growing food. But actual peer-reviewed scientific studies show that the rubber in tires is inert. It does not absorb toxins, and it does not leach toxins into the soil or plants.
Originally these were used to grow veggies in, but now I use them to grow my biennial and perennial herbs and veggies.
The first set of six tires has: wild Greek oregano (so much more fragrant and flavorful than the standard variety), Mexican marigold mint (something new I'm doing this year), Italian flat leaf parsley, mitsuba (Japanese parsley, another new one), Shiso green (another Japanese herb and another new one), and garlic chives.
The second set has: Asparagus (I grew these from seeds), anise hyssop (in theory - I'm not having a lot of luck with germination, this is also a new herb for my garden this year), French tarragon, pizza thyme and golden marjoram share a tire, winter savory (a must for anyone who cooks a lot of beans), and arugula (yes, this is a perennial, although it is usually treated as an annual).
The third set has: knotted marjoram (also known as sweet marjoram), French thyme, Texas tarragon, horseradish, sorrel, and lemongrass.
I also have a set of four tires that I put in two years ago, which I use to grow odds and ends veggies that I hadn't planned for, or ran out of space for in the main plots. This year I have sunflowers and komokomos in them.

They look a little bare at the moment, as some of them are newly planted.

Next I put in four main beds, for my annual crops. These beds are slightly raised, and are 4ft by 7ft (I had originally planned for 8ft, but when I went to get the wood for it, they had 7ft planks at a really good price - substantially cheaper than it would have cost to get 8ft ones, or two 4ft ones, so I went with those). These size beds are great - the middle can be reached from either side, and the dimensions allow for square foot gardening, short rows (in the 4ft direction), or long rows (the 7ft direction). Which ever way you prefer doing it. You can also put stakes in at the corners to drape bird netting or frost cloth over them.

You can grow a LOT of variety in these.
This year's autumn crops (I have already started planting out seed in the back two beds) will be: 
BED 1: peas, brussels sprouts - red, daikon radish,onions - red cipollini , radish - purple plum, miner's lettuce (not actually a lettuce), spinach - bloomsdale, beans - dwarf yellow, onion - borettana, radish - watermelon, salsify
BED 2: spinach -santana, shallots, rocket, chichory - sugarloaf, cauliflower - yellow, onions - red brunswick, brussels sprouts - green, komatsuna, endive, Dutch cornsalad, silderbeet - yellow stemmed
BED 3: broad beans, mustard streaks (salad green), rocket, mustard - purple wave (cooking veg), mibuna, radish - easter egg, radicchio, beans - dwarf green, tat soi, spring onions, chervil, cutting celery (different from standard celery)
BED 4: dill, onion - purplette, kale, carrot - pusta (a sweet, deep purple variety), spinach - santana, pak choi, radicchio, coriander, leeks, beetroot, radish - fire candle, carrots - nutri red, lettuce

There is a Mayer lemon tree in one corner of the yard, and Old English mint and apple mint growing under it, with self-sown borage doing its thing in a little area I leave kind of wild, by the overflow compost heap - I have a compost bin but at certain times of the year there is more than it can handle.

In the border gardens, along the edges of the yard, I grow a variety of flowers for the bees, and a few fruit bushes and trees - a blueberry bush, a blackboy peach - which should start producing in a year or two, a Seville orange and a blood orange - both of which are still a few years off from producing, a pomegranate tree, and a redcurrant bush and a blackcurrant bush - both of which are only starting to produce. Also lemonbalm, pinapple sage, chocolate mint, and comfrey (that's new this year).

In a small area by the flat I set up a little sitting area, and have put a trellis up with passionfruit planted on it, to eventually give a privacy screen from the neighbors. Underneath the passionfruits are some strawberry plants, and behind the seating are a couple of pepinos. In an old bathtub, I have Chinese water chestnuts growing.

There is also a small garden under the kitchen window which has lavender, rhubarb, Purple sage, green sage, rosemary, and a key lime that I just planted this year (so it is a few years off from producing).

I had wanted to include a beehive or two, but sadly I am highly allergic to bees, and while there would be no problem having them on the property (bees only sting if provoked or stepped on), I wouldn't be able to manage them or harvest the honey because of the sting risk.

As you can see, you can get a LOT of variety in a very small area. Not a lot of any one thing, or enough for preserving (for most things), but enough to keep you in fresh food.
So if you have only a small space, go ahead and give it a go. And remember, it doesn't all have to be done at once. I have done all this across an 8 year span, as money, health and energy has allowed.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Butter Me Up

Here we are, heading into the home stretch of January. While the days are hurringly hot, already the nights are cold enough for an extra duvet, and the early mornings are so cold that you can see your breath, and your feet go numb (that's what you get for wandering around the garden barefoot at 6.30 in the morning). 
Tomatoes, summer beans, and zucchini did very poorly this year and are already on their way out. I will be starting planting for the autumn garden this week - a month early, but already the self-sown seeds from last year's autumn plants are sprouting. The wind has picked up again this evening, but it was the first day for months that we didn't have roaring winds - which really ripped the spring/summer garden apart - and I was able to spend some quiet time just sitting out enjoying the garden.
The 3 year old self-sown peach tree - an heirloom variety (Blackboy), so it has bred true - has its very first peaches. This year I planted a Seville orange, for marmalade, a Blood orange, and a Key lime. A few years, and I should start getting some good citrus.

Heirloom variety of Aqualegia - First year to flower
The sock class got put on hold shortly after my last post, in favour of The Shetland Hap Shawl class, when the yarn for the shawl arrived. I finished the knitting on the weekend, and now only have the ends to weave in, the lace end-seam to sew, and the blocking to do. 
I ordered a set of blocking mats back at the beginning of December, and they are supposed to arrive on Thursday, so I will hopefully block it on the weekend. Once it is blocked, I will post photos, and give a review of the class. Meanwhile, I have started a pair of knee-high stirrup socks (no toe or heel) which are knitted flat, as my project for the next class - Knit Faster With Portuguese Knitting.

I've also been getting back into the kitchen. It is still way too hot in the day to do any bread baking - I'll wait until late autumn to get back into that full time. But I am doing butter again.
Our local 4 Square (small "corner store" grocery), often over orders on cream, and when the cream passes its printed "use by" date, they put it in the 99c area. There is nothing wrong with it. If you keep cream at around 2C (35.6F), it will keep for months (yes, really). It will eventually start to separate though (after about 6-8 weeks), then it really isn't any good for putting into coffee. But it is fantastic for making butter! It turns into butter a whole lot faster that 'fresh' cream does - under 5 minutes with a hand churner. And considering how expensive both cream and butter are ($5 - $6 per 500g/lb for standard butter, up to $10 for organic/free range/artisan butters), it's a real win. I always buy up large on the 99c cream if I have the money at the time.
A hand churner actually works better than a blender/food processor for making butter. I find with the blender/food processor, it happens so fast that by the time the cream has turned into butter and you stop it, the buttermilk has already been whipped back into the butter, then it is quite a chore getting the buttermilk out again. With a hand churner, once it separates, it stays separate, and you just pour the buttermilk off.
I had been looking for a hand churner for some time, but didn't have any luck, so pretty much gave up once I got sick. Last weekend I was at my friend Tui's place, and she mentioned that she had been looking at a little hand butter churn on the Fly Buys reward page. Being an expensive item, naturally it took a lot of Fly Buy points to get it, and none of the places I shop do Fly Buys rewards anymore - fewer and fewer places are staying with that rewards program. I only had 1/3 of the points needed, with basically no chance of getting more. Tui said she had a ton of points (petrol stations still do Fly Buys, and she does a lot of driving), and offered to do a swap - I would get something on her rewards wishlist for her to the value of the points I had, and she would get the hand churner for me. Woohoo! I was certainly happy with that! Thank you Tui!
So here is the wonderful little hand churner, and two jars of butter - the one on the left a honey cinnamon butter, and the one on the right is a Mediterranean butter (shredded fresh basil leaves from the garden, chopped sundried tomatoes, and grated parmesan cheese).
The churn does a manageable, 300 ml (1/2 pint) of cream, which makes a nice amount to mix with herbs or spices for spreading on toast or fresh bread, or enough (about 120g/4.2oz) for most smaller baking needs, in around 5 minutes (10 minutes if you are using 'fresh' fresh cream instead of older fresh cream). Love it! It is easy to use, easy to clean, and doesn't take up a lot of storage space. A definite must-have for any DIY kitchen.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

New and Improved (OK, Old and Attempting to Improve)

Hi all! "Omg!" you say. "We thought you had disappeared! Just dropped off the face of the earth". Well, almost but not quite.
At the beginning of 2015 I was diagnosed with cancer. I know, who isn't these days - and we are all so over it. I think it's about time for a newer, more exotic disease. (Trust me - bad humor is the only way you get thru it). Anyway, I had surgery, then started chemo. My reaction to the chemo drugs was so severe they had to stop, so I got all the side effects and none of the benefits - kinda sucked, but that's life. The chemo left me with permanent nerve damage in my hands and feet, and it is only recently that I have been able to start doing my crafts again. 
So that's my cancer story, and that's all you get. I didn't blog about it because, frankly, I just didn't have the energy, and - to me - there is nothing more depressing than reading about someone's illness(es) post after post, month after month, moving into a few years.
So now I'm getting back on my feet - metaphorically. The nerve damage in my feet means I'll probably never be able to spend too much time on my feet without a lot pain. But I can live with that. Between the crafts and Netflix, who has time to stand up much these days anyway.

I crocheted my first afghan (since the diagnosis) - a beautiful 24 point ripple afghan. I was really pleased with how it turned out. 

At one point, I kept having to tear out the same six rounds to fix a mistake (had to be fixed or would throw off the placement of the last set of point increases). So I took a week and a half off to knit a hooded cowl.
I'm a self taught knitter, and while I'm good with what I do - beautiful stitches, even tension, looks machine knitted - my skill is very limited. This hooded cowl is actually the largest thing I have ever knitted, and I avoid all patterns with abbreviations I don't understand - which ends up being a LOT. So I decided this coming year, I would do more than just get back on my feet. I decided 2017 was going to be my "Knitting & Bread" year, where I would concentrate most of my efforts on those two thing, to become proficient in them.
To that end, I bought a butt-load of Craftsy classes. Between the 'Take your first class' discount, Black Friday sales, Cyber Monday sales, and '12 Days of Christmas' sales, I got a lot of classes, at really great prices (some as low as $10 on a 24hr 2-for-1 special with classes already substantially marked down for the sales).
The first one I took - and have completed - was "Knit Faster With Continental Knitting" with instructor Lorilee Beltman. I knit English style, but continental style is much faster (I can knit 4 times as fast now with continental), purling is easier, and doing ribbing is a breeze. The hooded cowl was done in continental style - it was my class project. Lorilee is a fantastic instructor, encouraging, patient, and just a lovely person to deal with. I can thoroughly recommend her class.

Now I have started class number two - "My First Toe-Up Socks" with Susan B. Anderson. Another good teacher. I expect this class to take quite a bit longer to complete.This is where I'm at so far - the toe of the first sock.

I discovered yesterday that there is such a thing as self patterning sock wool - who knew?! Probably everyone except me - lol. It is so cool though! Of course now I want some, and I'm also wanting some fine wool yarn to try doing a Shetland style shawl. I asked someone online where I could get the shawl yarn I was looking for, and they recommended a shop up in Tauranga. I figured I could probably get the sock yarn there too. I went to the website to buy yarn, and had problems with trying to register. When I phoned to try to get help, the first thing Lynette (the shop owner) said was "well it's your fault you are doing something wrong", and then she just kept saying that as I was trying to explain what I had done. Even if I had done something wrong (which it turns out I didn't), that is certainly no way to treat a potential customer.
I then moved on to ask about how to browse for yarns, as I couldn't find any way to do that. She was quite snippy about the fact that I had to know what I wanted - the exact brand and yarn - if I wanted buy, that I couldn't just browse. There is a search facility which I did try to use, but again you need to know exactly what you are looking for. I tried putting keywords only in - "sock" for one search looking for sock yarn, and "lace" in another search looking for lace weight yarns - both came up with nothing. I mentioned this, wondering how to find sock or lace yarns in general, and again was told if I didn't get anything from the search that it was my fault, I was doing something wrong, and anyway I should know exactly what I am looking for and should be searching for that. She did ask what I was looking for (in a very exasperated tone), and I told her. She replied "of course we have that" and told me, very curtly, I should be searching for Opal brand. Apparently I am supposed to know what brands - and yarns within the brand - are for what, and I'm being rude by asking for information or help.
I'm told the shop has an exceptional range, and as a shop it is probably very good, but the customer service is appalling, and I will definitely be taking my business elsewhere. At the moment I buy mostly from the US and the UK. There are a lot of complaints from NZ businesses about people buying from overseas, but the attitude and service displayed here - which are endemic in NZ businesses - are why.

Not wanting to buy from overseas this time - it takes so long for the orders to arrive and I wanted it kind of now-ish (as in, you know, right NOW) - I did a Google search for Opal sock yarn in NZ, and low-and-behold a shop in Hastings came up: Knitworld. I knew we had a yarn shop here (other than Spotlight), but quite a while ago someone told me that the only yarn shop here was really expensive, so I completely forgot about it. I thought "OK, they may be expensive, but maybe just get one ball there now, and then order the rest from overseas".

I phoned the shop to see what they had, and what the prices were. I could not have met a nicer person anywhere - the woman was so nice, and so helpful. The shop is a small one, but it is a franchise, so I can order online, but it wouldn't support the local shop if I did that, so I decided to make the effort to go into town to buy, to support the local shop - especially since the woman on the phone was so nice. The range of yarns she has is fantastic, and the prices are definitely NOT expensive. I go through a ton of cheap acrylic with my crocheted afghans - I wouldn't be able to do them at the rate I do otherwise. Her cheap acrylics are cheaper than Spotlight (or Warehouse or K-Mart). She has really nice wool/acrylic blends that are about the same price as the 100% acrylic at those other "cheaper" stores! Don't even get me started on how much wool and wool blends are at those "cheaper" stores!
I got everything I wanted, including stuff I didn't know I wanted until I got there - lol. Four different color self patterning sock yarns (100g balls); 2 different balls of 100% merino self patterning DK (I think that is called worsted in US lingo - knits on US7 needles), to make a couple of hats with; 2 hanks of the most gorgeous burgundy 4 ply - 75% merino 25% NZ possum fur, for a shawl; and a large hank of 100% merino 2 ply to do a Shetland shawl with. I'm a happy camper now.
They even have a small knitting/crochet/hand sewing group that meets there on Thursday afternoons. I'll start going to that in the New Year - it will be great to meet up with some other knitters.

So that is where I am at the moment. I will keep blogging as I do classes, and make stuff. For now, I will leave you with a couple of pics of my fur babies, which I got just after chemo so haven't posted here yet.

This is Arnold, a red-point Ragdoll - 6 kg (14 lbs) of fur and whinge. 

This is Sheba, a Bengal - 3 light kg of mostly claws and attitude.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Arlene's Blocks

Finally, long awaited, Arlene's blocks for both the Garden & Flowers DYOB and Garden & Flowers Traditional are finished.

For Arlene's DYOB block - because Arlene is an Aussie, I chose a selection of flowers from Jenny Bradford's Little Book of Wildflowers in Silk Ribbon. All the flowers in the book are Australian Wildflowers.

First things first - putting lace on the edge of the fan. After going through my basket of beloved antique laces, I finally settled on a beautiful handmade torchon lace. There was only just enough of this one to fit, but it suited so well. It had obviously originally been made for going on a curve - probably along a neckline or cuff, as once it was pinned into place with the edge even with the fabric edge, the lace still had a nice little ruffle to it.
I used a basic blanket stitch in rose coloured No 8 pearl along the edge of the lace, then did small ribbon roses in a variegated pink silk ribbon on the lace itself.

The first seam was done with sprigs of Red Boronia on each side of the seam.

The second seam was done with native Flax on one side, and Buttercup on the other. It wasn't until after I started the flax that I realized the blue ribbon I had chosen for it perfectly matched the blue in the fabric on that patch.

The third seam was done with native Gorse (yellow) and Hovea (mauve) intertwining.

At the top, above the fan, I added a flower called Leatherwood.

To finish off, I did a matching row of blanket stitch along the inner seam, and filled over the flower print in the corner with silk ribbon to match.

For Arlene's Traditional block. I did the last two seams and the remaining patch.

The first seam I did was the long one that bisected the block. I did a random scattering of small ribbon roses in a variegated dark pink silk ribbon along the seam. On the second seam I did a stylised vine with flowers. The petals of the flowers were alternating Kiko stitch and lazy daisy, with a pale purple glass pearl in the centre of each flower.

On the patch I did a large dragonfly. He ended up a bit fat, but it was the first time I had done this style of dragonfly, and overall, I was quite pleased with the way he turned out.

I hope Arlene is happy with the final results for her blocks.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Elizabeth's Block

Last night I was able to finish Liz R's block for the Garden & Flowers DYB RR.
Liz's block was a joy to work on. I simply adored the colours. Most of my stitching was kept in the colours of the block - various greens and purples, and a rusty red-ish touch pulled from a small section of the flowers in the silkie - with gold silk highlights to lift it.

The lace on the bottom left is the second of the two oldest antique laces I have, being cut from a bodice overlay (the other oldest lace was used on Flora's block). This was sewn into place with purple crown stitch on the seam, and gold silk and beads on the lace itself. The flower centres on the edge are done with metallic gold seed beads and gold glass pearls, the flower centres in the body of the lace are done with very light gold tinged Swarovski crystals topped with a metallic gold seed bead. The one on the far left is very close to the seam, but has been sewn on separately from all other stitching, so it can be removed for sewing the block up. It was just as easy to sew it in place where it belonged, as to sew it one inch over into the seam allowance for 'holding'.
Next were the rest of the seams, done in a variety of silk ribbon, Caron Wildflower hand-dyed pearl threads, DMC pearl threads, glass rice pearls, seed beads of various sizes, and some of the wonderful glass flower beads I recently bought from Kathy S.

The last seam done was the one on the top right as that was the most time consuming. It is a continuous drizzle stitch vine, with purple beads scattered through out for buds (or berries - depending on your preference).

Then the web was added, along with Mr. spider at the top of the block, and the dragonfly in the bottom right corner.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Barbara's Block

On Monday last I finished Barbara W's block for the Garden & Flowers DYB RR.
I actually found this block quite difficult to do. For me, crazy quilting is all about the seams and seam treatments, with motifs and other embellishments an added extra to fill in blank spaces. So having to treat a block as a single whole canvas for a picture was very hard. Seam work breaks a block up into pieces, which isn't really desirable if you are treating the block as a single unit to 'paint a picture' on. And when doing a scene, things really need to have a reasonable degree of proportion. It doesn't have to be an OCD level of exactness in proportion, but you can't really have a dragonfly bigger than your flower cart - not unless you are doing a scene of a flower seller who has been zapped back 300 million years to the Carboniferous period. I don't think that was what Barbara had in mind!

So I started, as always, with doing the seams. I chose simple stitches, done in thread that matched the patches, to avoid breaking the block up. Then I added matching beads, to give it some sparkle and texture.

Next I did a variety of flowers in the cart - Shasta daisies, Forsythia, Cyclamens, Agapanthus, Alyssum, rosebuds, and Forget-me-nots. I added a basket-of-flowers charm on the path next to the cart, a butterfly charm above it, and finished it with a little green caterpillar inching its way along the top of the wheel.

Then I embroidered a flowering cherry branch at the top of the block, imagining the cart to be parked under the shade of a tree. I concluded the piece with a lone dandelion growing up beside the pavement, having gone to seed and the seeds starting to be carried off on the spring breeze.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Ain't Life Grand!

Oh lookie, lookie, lookie what just came in the post! A wonderful pressie from Beverlee in Aussie! A fabulous selection of her gorgeous lace, all in various purples - my favourite colour! I can't believe how small you have managed to get them Beverlee! They will definitely be a big hit with CQers - especially for use on the smaller blocks, as it can be so hard to find laces that small. And they are definitely going on my "Ultimate CQ"! *Big smile* Thank you so much Beverlee!

For the most part I just roll with the punches these days - you know, "no biggie", "these things happen", "the pendulum always swings back up", that sort of thing, although I do still battle the occasional bout of depression - mostly in winter. So after ending up in the ED of the hospital a few days ago - acute inflammation of the lining of the stomach - wasn't that fun (not!), and the sudden plunge back into winter just as summer was supposed to be arriving, days like today are always welcome. The sun is shining today, it's a bit warmer, the wind, although gusting fiercely, doesn't feel like it's blowing a iceberg into the house, and it has been a day of "nice things happening".
I pay all my utilities and regular bill by a weekly AP. That way I don't end up getting them all on the same week, getting overwhelmed, or getting into debt and in trouble. I divide the monthly payment (for bills that are variable, like power, I choose an average winter bill to base it on), and I divide that by 4, then pay that much each week by AP. Because there are actually 4&1/2 weeks in a month, this means I always end up in credit.
Last week, I rather unexpectedly had to get extra data on my internet (it's all these auto-playing videos and streaming adverts in the pages - they just suck up the data allowance!), so when my phone/internet bill arrived yesterday (they are both on one bill), I thought "that's not too bad, I can cover that next week, no problem", but then I got the "thank you for your payment" text from the phone company this morning - my last weekly payment hadn't been taken into account for the billing, so I turns out I don't have to pay anything next week. Then about an hour later I get a call from the storage place "Hi, you are too far in credit now, can you put your payments on hold for 3 months please?" It's only a couple of dollars extra each month, but over the course of the past two years it has built up. Ooo... I can see beetle wings in my near future! And then about 40 minutes later the post arrives with Beverlee's surprise goodies! I'm a very happy girl today! Well, back to playing with the laces!