My Sustainable Garden -Chickweed Pesto

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Tiny seedlings are starting to appear in our garden from plants that I let go to seed last year. The fun is in spotting these new plants growing in unexpected places and in being able to identify what they are. I know I have violas, sweet alyssum, petunias and begonias but I have also noticed another seedling spring up all over the garden. Web_chickweed-in-bricksThis last unknown is appearing in my hanging baskets, tumbling over my walls, and in between the pavers. Web_chickweed-basketInitially I nurtured it with water and seaweed emulsion only to have an explosion of growth suddenly start taking over the beds. Suspicion started to creep into my mind as nothing I have planted grows that quickly and I have now realised I am battling a worthy foe. Chickweed!

Web_chickweed-stalksI have been on my hands and knees reaching under the roses, through the hydrangea, around the olive trees and across the brick pavers removing this fragile but tenacious weed and throwing it into the bin. Fortunately it is relatively easy to pull out but little bits still litter the garden probably preparing to haunt me in another 12 months. I have been muttering to myself, asking where did it come from. As I have been growing my own mulch (which is another story) for the past 12 months I doubted that it was from the bag of sugar cane I had used 12 months ago. Web_chickweed_neighbourI didn’t remain in ignorance for long as crouching under the olives I glanced across my neighbour’s neglected backyard and saw a glorious carpet of light green starting right next to my fence. The ground is covered in a tangled mass of stalks, leaves and flowers.Now I had found my source; Stellaria media commonly known as chickweed, winter weed, bindweed, satin flower, satin-flower, starweed, starwort, stitchwort, tongue grass and white bird’s eye.

Web_chickweed-flowerI am trying to make my garden as sustainable as possible and I hate throwing plant material out but this weed had gone to seed and I am not going to put it into the compost bin. As I threw the fourth bag away I started to wonder if it was edible. The name surely has to be a clue; I mean chickweed? I grabbed a couple of handfuls and walked through the forest to see if my son’s chooks would eat it. No problems there and they are still alive as I write. Chickweed is easy to identify with its frill of fine hairs running up one side of its stalk, changing sides at a leaf juncture.

Web_chickweed-and-chookMy father, curious about my frenetic gardening activity, wandered down to see what I was doing. I explained that having identified that this weed was not toxic to humans I was going to put some in our salad. Curious to see what it tasted like he reached down and picked off a few leaves to nibble on.

‘Mum won’t forgive me if you die on my patch,’ I told him. ‘Hey, at 91 years old I have to die sometime,’ he said, munching like Peter Rabbit on the sprigs.
Chickweed is one of those super foods, rich in omega-6 fatty acids and saponins, high in vitamins A, C, D, and B as well as the minerals, calcium, zinc, potassium, manganese, silica, phosphorous, sodium and copper. Web_chickweed-in-mug2It now definitely has a place in my diet both in salads, as an infusion and in pesto. It is also said to be useful as a poultice or tincture for skin irritations and helpful in treating obesity not that this is a problem in our household. I am really quite excited about identifying this plant and am now keen to see what else I can use from my garden’s supply of edible weeds.Web_chickweed-pesto

The chickweed was starting to go to seed and forming stalks which might have made the pesto stringy so I pulled the leaves from the stalks. The pesto was delicious.

Chickweed Pesto

Ingredients:

2 cups chickweed leaves

1 large clove garlic, smashed

½ cup Parmesan, freshly grated

¼ – ½ cup nuts – pine nuts, macadamia or walnuts

½ cup virgin olive oil

¼ cup fresh basil leaves

salt and pepper

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Process:

In a food processor, pulse the chickweed and the basil leaves with the garlic until well broken down and blended, scraping down the sides to ensure even chopping. Add the Parmesan and pulse, then the nuts and pulse well. Slowly add the olive oil pulsing all the time. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on bruschetta, over pasta or as a dip with vegetables.

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The Dawn Chorus

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My morning visitors.

I heard something last week that was so addictive that I am happily waking up before dawn in anticipation of hearing this music again. You might be thinking, ‘Crazy lady’ and I couldn’t blame you but it is almost sufficient enticement to get me out of bed before dawn in winter and down to the nearby bushland to try recording it.

Are you a morning person? My early morning alarm is usually the cat leaping onto my bed, nudging me with his cold nose, and meowing in ever-increasing tones telling me that his food bowl is empty. I can ignore the yowls but not the nibbles on my toes.

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Mohair blankets are purrrfect!

Last week however, my furry intruder was early and the sun’s rays were just lighting up the hills across the valley, immersing my bedroom in that half-light before dawn. Opening my eyes, I could see a sliver of pale washed blue sky through the linen curtains that moved lightly in the morning breeze.

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Birdsong drifts across our valley.

It was a strange feeling, not knowing why all my senses were alert yet the cat was also sitting up, eyes wide, ears twitching quite obviously listening to something. It was as if the air around me was vibrating with song, and the room a tunnel with the notes bouncing off the walls. The dawn chorus was so clear and so beautiful it was like being submerged in bird song or in a painting filled with music and I lay there, trying to identify which bird produced which sound. It was early, well before the sun had risen so there was almost no traffic noise to compete with this chorus. It was also a very cool winter’s morning so this symphony dominated the airwaves.

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Tempting the Rosella

I had forgotten how truly magnificent is the dawn chorus in Australia. Gloriously melodic notes floated on the air, a soft warble, a chirrup, a twireep, a trill and more and more songs. All these sounds cascading together to form one of the most beautiful natural chorus anyone could wish to hear. I am no expert but I think I could make out at least some of the following bird songs from the magpies, the grey butcherbirds, the blue-faced honeyeater, the common myna, the black-faced cuckoo shrike, the willy wagtail and of course the kookaburra. There were probably others I didn’t identify.

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Shy Rosella feeding on sunflower seeds.

Listening to this music I tried to remember other dawn choruses and I think Australia does it better than anywhere else. They sure sound louder than other choruses I have heard. Perhaps this is because songbirds originated in Australia about 23 million years ago.

Although our dinosaur bones have survived, our very fragile bird skeletons tend not to, making it difficult to determine the migration of songbirds.  Now a team led by Dr Rob Moyle from the University of Kansas, USA is using DNA to study the migration of these songsters. They are thought to have occurred travelled across the chain of islands called Wallacea that lay between Australia and New Guinea and the Indonesian archipelago.

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Map of Wallace (Sunda & Sahul) Sourced: Wikipedia.

Australia has many eucalypts and paperbarks as well as grevilleas that bear nectar producing flowers which attract the honeyeaters and lorikeets. These birds which feed voraciously on the flowers and fight over their food patch, have become the primary pollinators of trees and shrubs.

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The wattle flowers are like star bursts of fireworks.

At the moment my local park and bushland has lots of  flowering wattles, eucalypts and grevilleas.

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Ducking and weaving amongst the flowers.

Each afternoon when I go for a walk and I see the myna birds feeding on the Grevilleas and there was even a very shy Rosella munching on the last of the sunflower seeds. Sometimes it feels as if the trees are starting to vibrate with the bees feeding on the flowers.

In the Northern Hemisphere it is small birds such as the hummingbirds that act as pollinators and most trees are pollinated by wind or insects.

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Bee raiding eucalypts flower.

On other mornings this week I have also heard the dawn chorus but it hasn’t been as loud or clear and I wondered why on that one morning it was like being in a tunnel of sound. Perhaps winter is the reason. I was intrigued to read a description using the same words in Nature’s Music: The Science of Birdsong by Peter R Marler and Hans Slabbekoorn. Apparently in winter you often get an ‘inversion’ layer of cold air sitting just above the ground and when the birds sing, their songs are reflected off the warm layer above them and beamed along the ‘tunnel of cold air’. Sound travels better in still cold air than warm air which may be why the bird song at dawn seems up to 20 times louder than in the middle of the day.

At least I have this beautiful sight every morning.

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Morning chorus

I lost Autumn

Autumn has eluded me.  Occasionally when I wake, the western hills are cloaked in a thick, grey fog dampening the sounds of an awakening suburb. It fills the gullies and swirls around like a dancer clothed in a cape of moist air teasing me behind a mask of summery temperatures warm enough for a t-shirt when I work in the garden.Web_fog_9127
This morning, I heard, over the shrill squabbling of the lorikeets feasting on the bread, milk and honey mixture I put out for them, an unfamiliar chirruping outside my kitchen. Coffee in hand, I wandered into my front garden and squinted up into the early sunlight. Perched high in the spindly branches of the crepe myrtle, surprisingly well camouflaged despite its bright blue and yellow colours was a Rosella, visible only because the leaves have finally started to fall. This drought tolerant deciduous tree is a delight in summer with its bowl-shaped canopy of mauve crepe flowers attracting lots of bees and in winter its beautiful bark is a stand out feature. I think I lost autumn, I am not sure it occurred and now this elusive season has segued into winter.

Web-Lorikeets_9234-2We get excited about the leaves dropping in our cooler months. I get excited as they are a useful dry leaf matter addition to the compost bin, but my gardening assistant sees them as a chore to be swept up. I have uttered serious threats to this individual, because after sweeping up the Wisteria leaves, he tends to toss them into the rubbish bin rather than into the compost. As punishment, I have set him a task to install a light under the Frangipani to highlight its sculptural bare limbs in the evening. Now the Birch has started to drop leaves around the garden, the yellow colours mimicking the yellow paint on the house. Suddenly there are enough leaves to scrunch beneath my feet, a true sound of autumn and winter.Web-autumn-birchleaves9475

The shorter days are still perfect for long lunches on the deck although we have dusted off the gas heater so that as the sun disappears below the hills we can continue the conversation over another bottle of wine.

Soon it will be time to bring out my collection of old rugs under which guests can snuggle to ward off an evening’s cooler temperature. I have an assortment of old tartan rugs inherited from various members of the family plus those knitted or sewn by myself. None are so precious that I get upset if a glass or two of wine is spilt over them. They need an airing to rid them of the smell of lavender that I store with them to dissuade the clothes moths.Web_blankets_9481

Now that the cooler evenings have arrived, we have moved from eating outside with tea lights for romance to dining under soft candle light at the dinner table. Our barbecue is still frequently used, but now I am beginning to plan meals around warm soups and casseroles accompanied by winter salads incorporating the delicious flavours of vegetables such as cabbage, brussels sprouts and beetroot.

I am impatient for the colder nights to arrive so that we can light the first of only about 20 fires that we have each winter. Our winter evenings are not really cold enough to warrant a fire, but I have been known open all the doors and windows to let in as much cold air as possible. My idea of bliss is to sit having a drink after dinner, feet encased in uggies, books and knitting beside me, soaking up the warmth of the flames.  Web_pinecones_9470

If I am really lucky next morning there will be enough coals left, that with the addition of a few pine cones, the fire will reignite. This is definitely one of the pleasures of not having to rush off to work in the morning, because I will make a coffee and curl up under a rug eating breakfast in front of the flames.

This week in anticipation of a cooler night, I put a light winter blanket on the bed which was a total waste of time as it is still too hot to sleep under anything heavier than a summer blanket. This didn’t stop the cat who leapt onto me in the middle of the night pitter pattering with his claws, purring loudly and commandeering more than his fair third of the blanket. If I get tired of being squashed between the two males in my bed, and try to shift the hairy one, he digs his claws in and bites. Ouch!

I am however, the eternal optimist and have started on a list of tasks for the elusive autumn and winter:Web_kindling9472

  • Get the firewood and pine cones ready for the first fire. Set the fire in preparation. This can be a very competitive business in our household.
  • Buy more candles for the dinner table
  • Fill up the gas bottle for the heater on the deck
  • Wash the old rugs and give them an airing.
  • Start thinking about recipes for soups, winter salads and pies
  • Finish knitting the baby rug for number 11 grandchild before he goes to school!Web_meatpie_7205

An Anzac food parcel of love

Can food speak as words of love from a mother? I certainly tried to make this happen.

PoppyAnzac Day always has special meaning to our family as we have had so many members serving here and overseas. I try not to let it pass without thinking of what it means to Australians and today as I was listening to a speaker talking about letters sent home by Australian soldiers in previous wars I started to think about the words and messages my son and I used in our emails during his two stints overseas and of how I tried to communicate my love to him.

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I remember sitting at an early morning Anzac Day service in Los Angeles, feet in thin soled shoes getting wet from the heavy dew on the grass, pulling a pashmina tight around my shoulders as a shield against the thick early morning fog that hid the gravestones surrounding us. Even the podium a few metres in front of us had swirls of grey mist clinging to its supports. I was still, tense, with hands in my lap, staring at the speaker without listening to his words, absorbed in my effort not to think of what my son might be doing on the other side of the world in Iraq. I looked with unfocussed eyes, beyond the speaker into the grey distance where urban shapes were emerging from shadows. Gradually one shape impinged on my consciousness and it was like being hit in the chest with a fist. A Bunya Pine, that tall untidy tree planted near Australian homesteads to act as a landmark to travellers and those who were lost and now would find their way home. I sat, tears sliding quietly down my cheeks, images of my son flooding my mind, reassuring myself he would be fine. ‘He is trained for this,’ was only temporary reassurance from my husband.

‘Hope the sandpit is treating you kindly. Take care, duck and weave when you have to. Love ya.’ xx Mum

As a mother there really isn’t much you can do when your adult child is serving overseas, other than write or send the odd parcel from home. And if I was lucky I occasionally had a few snatched moments on the phone and then I would pass the information on to our huge extended family voracious for news about G. These conversations were always hit and miss, because you could never return his phone call as his numbers didn’t exist.

 ‘Hi all, I just spoke with G, he’s good, his normal self, no news really. Work is keeping him busy enough but other than that he was more interested in finding out what is going on at home than talking about his side of things…’ Susie

 So write I did, frequently, about nothing in particular, just the news of what our lives were like, about my work, people we were dining with, meals and recipes I cooked, activities with friends and family and places I visited. I tried to make them the most interesting and funny letters I had written. Every time I whinged about no contact, I would think about my Italian Grandmother writing from Proserpine to the family in Piedmont and that it might take 12 weeks from sending to receiving a letter. Italy was so far from Australia that after leaving at 21 years of age, she never saw her parents again. The only time I felt that living in Los Angeles and London was a long way from anywhere was when G told me of his postings.

‘Dear G, I woke up last night and decided that I needed to see you and K for a night before you go away to the other sandpit!!!  … Therefore I think we will come home from London for about five days….’ Love ya, xx Mum

His two sisters felt his absence as keenly as I did and wrote as often. We kept each other in the loop which later expanded to include his fiancé. Food of course was an easy topic of conversation.

‘Mumsie, Just for future reference, you might already know (I didn’t), he says bring on nice cereals and antipasto-type goodies, …, and he has a small bar fridge so he can store jars of olives etc, just don’t send cheeses or anything similarly perishable.  No other tips for care parcels, just make it edible.  Typical, he’s not happy with boring digestives cookies, nah, he wants the fancy deli goods!!’ xx G

 However, just because he wasn’t at home, didn’t mean that I wouldn’t occasionally ask him to provide brotherly guidance to a turbulent sister who had issues at work or disappointments in love.

‘Mumsie, Yeah yeah, I spoke to S the other night, usual brotherly thing, all sorted, I should probably give J a call and see how her job is going. I might do that tomorrow.  I actually got a couple of little love packages from L and S the other day.  These were absolutely great as food was starting to run low out here.  It’s not that we ever run out it’s just that you get a very limited choice, not too bad but weird flavours, ie; Ham and onion sandwiches…’  xxG

I was curious about the people he worked with (on both sides), and would raise cultural issues that I had run across when living in the United States, such as the advertisements on television shows and in the Gourmet magazines that I read but got very little information other than…

‘The Americans do take a little getting used to, we’ve got a team working with us and there definitely is a bit of a culture clash, not too bad but it’s the little things.  The radio plays ads supporting abstinence and lot’s of happy clappy god fearing stuff.  Very bizarre.’ xx G

Desperate for any news at all, I would discuss politics at home and abroad but G was always the mastermind of reticence and self-censorship with a little cynicism creeping in…

‘Yeah life over here for the ordinary person might be better if we left, and I think there will always be conflict where respect is gained through firepower.  Only now are we learning, yet again, that modern western democratic ideals cannot be overlayed onto all countries.’

And so I would go into great detail about my life of museums, art galleries, coffee with girlfriends and teaching at a Muslim girls’ school, keeping fit by swimming none of which I am sure he was particularly interested in but perhaps he was, as he did once say he had saved all our correspondence,  and he would send me details of his day ….

‘Mumsie, Well I’ve finally got here and am starting to settle in.  It’s one hell of a barren place, I don’t think the surface of the moon could look any worse than this, it’s dusty, rocky, mountainous, sandy, windy, and actually quite cold.  … There’s supposed to be a ‘coffee shop’ of some description run by the Dutch and a local store run by some international company as well as a weekly local market which everything going to plan I’ll get down there soon enough and check it out.’

We knew he didn’t want or need clothing or books but food was frequently a subject discussed in our emails as he is a terrific cook. So my sister, my daughters and I all sent food parcel after food parcel, including Anzac biscuits and the heaviest fruit-filled cakes I could carry.

‘Dear G, Here is my latest offering. If you don’t need it, use it as currency for something you do. The lady at the post office in LA couldn’t believe how heavy the fruit cake was, but her eyes widened and she smiled in delight, when she made me unwrap its many layers of brown paper and alfoil and smelt its aroma…’

‘Mumsie, One good thing though…  the food here is phenomenal, it is without a doubt the best food I have ever eaten during 11 years in the Army.  We get T-Bone steak, Eye Fillet steak, curries, fresh Naan, fresh fruit salad, good cereal etc.  That being said I’ll never turn down any home cooked goodies (or spicy stuff…).

Cooking the biscuits and cakes let me pour all my love into that food to nurture him and keep him safe. I felt I was contributing. Although after receiving that email, I did wonder if our gifts were redundant…

‘Dear G, Glad to hear the playpit is feeding you well. It sounds as if there is an opportunity for a good barista – what are your entrepreneurial skills like?  Perhaps we could dip in chocolate and send you the cockroaches that are said to be hatching in plague numbers in Queensland due to the unseasonal heat. Unseasonal, in November, unlikely.

Today, full of memories of other cakes, after the Anzac service I came home and cooked a fruit cake as a  message of love to my children. I found a recipe from my Grandmother, born in 1902, who lost a brother in France in World War 1.  Flexible as always, I fiddled with the recipe a little because fruit cakes are like that, using whatever was in my cupboard and fridge. Into a large packet of mixed fruit, I added raisins, chopped apricots, a few figs and some dates. I didn’t have sufficient hazelnuts so I made up the mixture with walnuts and almonds as well. I had plum jam so used that instead of apricot jam.

I poured my love into this cake as if it was my children, I chopped the nuts and crushed their obstacles, added spicy ginger to give warm love to their life and sweetness with home-made plum jam. And as I incorporated the flour with Granny’s old spoon, and gently blended the fruit, I was whisked back to the many times they sat around my bench, licking the bowls, stirring the alcohol into the fruit and always helping to make and eat the fruit cakes for past Christmases, christenings and birthdays.  As this cake rose it reminded me how integral baking and cooking is to binding our family together.

 

web-fruitcakeGranny Young’s fruitcake

Pre-heat oven to 180ºC. Butter and dust with flour a 25 cm (10 in) round cake tin.

250g butter

1 cup brown sugar

375g dried fruit

½ cup dried figs, chopped

1½ cups prunes, chopped

1½ cups hazelnuts, skinned and chopped

3 eggs

1¼ cups self-raising flour

1 tablespoon cocoa

1¼ cups plain flour

1½ teaspoons mixed spice

3 tablespoon apricot jam

1 tablespoon instant coffee mixed with 2 tablespoons water

web-cake-ingredients1In a mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then mix in the eggs one by one. Sieve together the flours and cocoa and mixed spice. Mix together the fruit and nuts. Add the coffee to the jam, mix together and add to the fruit. Add the flours and fruit in alternate batches to the mixture. If it feels a little dry, just add a small amount of milk to moisten the mixture.

Cook for about 1¼  to 1½ hours and remove when a skewer inserted into the mixture comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin. For additional flavour, trickle a couple of spoonfuls of brandy or rum over the warm surface. (Great for when you send it to an alcohol-free base!).

 

 

 

An upcycled sweater quilt

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Remember growing up with the three R’s: reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmatic? Now I have moved on to the 4 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Perhaps I should add Reflect in there as well because a little reflection every now and then on my spending habits would certainly assist with the budget. Hmm! Naval gazing is a seriously off-putting option for the middle-aged and no, that doesn’t mean I am going to gaze lovingly at my ex-Naval husband over the breakfast table while he reads his digital newspaper.

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The finished upcycled sweater quilt

Which leads me to the point of this exercise, as we are endeavouring to move towards being a zero-waste household. I don’t think we will succeed in the immediate future but there are measures we are taking that contribute to this aim. An obvious indicator is the weekly wheelie bin which is now generally one third full when we put it out for collection. Our recycle bin is heavier, but that is probably an indicator of how many friends join us for a teensy glass or two of wine as we don’t subscribe to print newspapers.

 

Paper is an obviously easy resource to recycle as I shred it into the composting heap, make my own gift cards with home-made paper and use all envelopes as scrap writing paper.

Food wrappings are on my target list. I read about a French woman who suggested taking your own containers to the supermarket. After purchasing the products, she suggests discarding the containers that the meat and cheeses come in, and placing them in your own reusable containers whilst leaving the original wrappings for the supermarket to dispose of. That might be a workable solution if you are going to cook the meat that evening but the meat wrappings do have a purpose such as extending the life of our meat and protection against contamination. https://blog.csiro.au/meat-our-scientists-helping-to-explain-meat-packaging/

We have always composted our food scraps or fed them to the chickens and we try to minimise our water usage. Although encouraged by my husband who cites his experience in the Navy, I do draw the line at 10 second showers which scarcely lets the water get to the skin below his chest hairs.

I love sewing and knitting so this is an easy area to start thinking about reusing and recycling.

Old t-shirts are converted into yarn and in a fit of enthusiasm this year, I arm-knitted a wreath out of old t-shirts and put it into my daughter’s suitcase when she was relocating to Auckland.

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Arm knitted wreath

Saggy jeans have been converted into a skirt and fabric scraps are cut and saved for a future rag rug. I have started collecting patterns and ideas for reusing these scraps and in a fit of enthusiasm, I cut lengths of linen left over from making curtains and knitted a bathmat which turned out to be very durable.

Last winter I put my elbows through my jumper. This might be an indication that I lean on my bony elbows too much but I prefer to believe that it is just a sign of a well-loved 10-year-old garment. As the rest of the jumper was still in very reasonable condition I was reluctant to throw it into the gardening pile so it went into my sewing pile to await darning.

Realistically, who darns jumpers these days? So rather than reuse, I decided to upcycle my discarded jumper into a quilt. A few quick moments of research on Pinterest and I realised I wasn’t the only person who had this novel idea. It could be done, but the first challenge was to find sufficient material, aka, discarded woolly jumpers. Eventually my husband wore holes in his elbows and I purloined that sweater. I know downsizing and decluttering is in vogue but I am now in need of more storage to hold my discarded clothing awaiting upcycling.
I also went in search of other cold weather gear that wasn’t being worn. I found a scarf that had felted up with its 40 years of use and a felted woollen jacket that had looked wonderful in the 80’s but its style was dated and definitely too young for me. While my daughter was packing her house up, she found a couple of jumpers that had been munched on by clothes moths. I scooped them up with glee. Eventually, a colour combination began to develop. Now I had my project; a quilted woollen rug by upcycling unwanted garments.
rug-on-chair_9070Before storing these woollen items, I placed them in a ziplock plastic bag and stored them in the freezer for 48 hours hoping to kill any clothes moths that might be lingering in the fabrics. After this I washed the jumpers which helps get rid of any moth carcases then stored them in fresh ziplock bags to prevent reinfestation by the clothes moths.

Although they were old, the jumpers hadn’t felted up so to avoid the wool unravelling when I cut it into squares, I tried felting it.

Felting the jumpers.

Some jumpers just won’t felt up due to the type of wool. Check to see what percentage of wool is in the jumper because if there is too much silk, rayon or acrylic the fabric just won’t felt. Remove any buttons, zippers, tags and ribbons which might catch and tangle. Also, if you have a few jumpers, wash in colours so that you don’t get the dye running in the hot wash.

I start with using a 40º wash to check the shrinkage. Some jumpers might need a second hotter wash to achieve the shrinkage you are seeking. It is also a good idea to put the jumpers into a pillowcase and secure the opening tightly so that you don’t fill your washing machine with felt. Use wool detergent as well to clean the jumpers before quilting them.

After they are washed, I put the jumpers, still in their pillowcase into the dryer on a long hot drying cycle to felt up.  This saves filling the filter with felted wool.

Creating a pattern
Once I had a sense of the colour combination, I cut the jumpers into squares 13 cm x 13cm (approx. 5in x 5 in). I also made a cardboard template to check I was cutting to the right size. This is the really tricky part as you have to be as accurate as possible with your cutting because the squares will be sewn into strips and then lined up to match the rows. I use a rotary cutter on a square cutting mat with a clear plastic ruler to make my cuts as clean and accurate as possible.

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Stacking the squares of wool

I collected these piles of squares until I thought I had sufficient for a quilt and then played with the colours to determine a design. Fortunately, no-one was using my spare bed-room which meant I had a spare queen-size bed with a plain Indian cotton quilt on which to work. I shifted and moved squares around until the pattern fell into place. Naturally I had considerable help from Colin the cat who has an uncanny knack of finding a soft rug to lie on.

 

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Take a photo before your assistant messes up the pattern

Once I had the pattern I photographed it to make sure I could remember it. I stacked the squares into their rows and numbered them clearly such as first row from left, second row from left etc.

 

One of the cashmere and silk jumpers that my daughter gave me didn’t felt when washed. It was a fine knit so to give it some strength I attached it to a square of cream linen left over from the bedroom curtains and reinforced it with Sashiko stitching in a windmill pattern that I found on Pinterest.

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Tufting with embroidery thread

Sewing the woollen quilt
I chose a straight seam to sew the squares together in a row. I also placed tissue paper under and over the seam while sewing it, to reduce the amount of woollen fibre getting into the sewing machine. Once sewn, I pressed the seam flat with my steam iron

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Using tissue paper to reduce fluff in the machine

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Make sure you don’t lose the order of the rows so that you don’t change the pattern. After the rows were sewn, I then sewed these together two at a time in a straight seam which I pressed flat. Check the rows to make sure the squares were lining up.

 

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Attaching the backing to the quilt

After sewing the rows together, I reinforced the seams by oversewing on the right side, in a curving stitch which helped to flatten the seam.

 

Finishing
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I decided not to insert a felted layer behind the wool as I didn’t want it to be too thick so I lined it with a lovely soft blue and cream striped cotton that matched the colours in the quilt.

Because the squares were different thicknesses, I secured the quilt to the backing with a tuft at each corner. I did this with embroidery thread to match the blue squares.

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Knitting the border

To finish, I knitted a border with yarn I had bought in Los Angeles about 10 years ago. It is a lovely combination of silk ribbon, cashmere, mohair and wool and matched the colours absolutely perfectly. I sewed this border onto the quilt with fine wool that again blended in perfectly in a series of running stitches secured with knots every now and then to prevent unravelling.

 

I didn’t realise just how much time goes into making one of these rugs but it has such a gorgeous feeling that it is worth all the hours that went into it.

ready-to-use_9079It is now sitting on a sofa while I decide whether to keep it, give it to a grandchild or sell it.

 

Fig leaf ice-cream

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All the world may be discussing American politics but I have my own disaster, which is particularly sad news during summer. My KitchenAid Ice Cream maker has sprung a leak and nothing we try seems to be able to repair it.  I am sad that such a reliable piece of my kitchen equipment hasn’t stood the test of time and use as it was only 10 years old and I know it hasn’t been dropped.

I noticed iridescent blue droplets in my freezer drawer and wondered where it had come from. I knew we hadn’t been drinking blue curacao cocktails so thought it might be the purchased icy poles that my husband had bought for the grandchildren.

Because I can be quite spontaneous in my cooking, I prefer to keep the ice-cream maker in the freezer so that it is always ready to use. As I lifted the ice-cream maker tub from the freezer I saw small droplets down the side under the little prongs. Not realising that they had originated from the ice cream maker I wiped them away and used it.

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I adore making ice cream and my family love eating it. They will eat it for breakfast if they think they can get away with it. When I take the lid off the container, I often find finger marks swirling around on the surface and the volume gradually decreases whether I have served it or not. The mysterious freezer night raider strikes again. Even the 2-year old grandson knows where to find it in the freezer drawer and boy does he look disappointed if he cannot find any. I mean really Nanna, you have let the side down!

My fig tree has been bursting with beautiful foliage and I was thinking of what I could do with these flavoursome leaves. I wrap fish in young fig leaves and cook them under the grill for a quick and delicious summer meal.  The leaves impart a citrusy coconut flavour to the food and this is one of the nicest ways to serve fish.ww_fig-leaf

I leafed through the emails my sister had recently sent over in which we discussed our favourite restaurants and chefs in London. She has a professional ice-cream making machine which I envy but then again I don’t need to feed 12 people very often.

One of my treats, when living in London was to go to Brett Graham’s Michelin star restaurant The Ledbury. His food is imaginative and delicious and I have been enamoured with the flavour of fig leaf ice-ream and granita. I also follow another wonderful chef, Maria Elia who uses fig leaves to flavour a panna cotta.

Now I planned to make fig leaf ice-cream. I pulled out the recipe my sister had sent me which uses yoghurt to lighten the custard base. I picked the healthiest looking, most luscious unmarked fig leaves, prepared the custard and pulled the ice cream maker from the freezer.

This time I didn’t see any blue droplets so unknowingly I poured the mixture into the freezer bowl and set it to work. The ice cream took a long time to get very cold and naturally I blamed our hot weather. Eventually I decanted the still soft mixture into a container and put it in the freezer. That is when I noticed the disaster waiting to happen.

There was a blue ring of liquid coating the bottom of the ice cream maker and leaving a mark on the kitchen bench. Sadly, I think this means it is the last time I can use this machine.

However, the ice-cream was delicious. Here is the recipe my sister sent to me. I don’t know it’s origin but it may be from Brett Graham or Maria Elia or she may have adapted a recipe and created this one. ww_fig-leaf-ice-cream1

Fig Leaf Ice-cream

 

250 ml milk

250 ml cream

250 gm sugar

2 tablespoons liquid glucose

Finely grated rind of ½ lemon

½ vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

6 medium-sized fig leaves, washed, dried then torn

500 ml yoghurt

 

Combine milk, cream, sugar, glucose, lemon rind and vanilla seeds in a stainless-steel saucepan. Bring to the simmer then remove from heat, add fig leaves and leave to infuse for 20 minutes.

Strain the mixture into a bowl and once it is cool, add yoghurt and whisk vigorously to incorporate. Strain again before churning in an ice-cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.

 

 

 

Developing a child’s imagination and creativity

ww_monkey-on-deskIn January I decided I would be more organised but February (as you will learn later in the story) will be the creative month. I remind my husband that being organised needn’t equate with tidiness. However, I am hugely excited that I can see at least part of my desk’s surface. I celebrated by placing a new stack of books on my desk; my husband celebrated by decluttering his bookcase which is always a concern.

I watched his hand move in the space above the row of travel guides we have, hovering over some, stroking others as memories flooded in then pausing on the books deemed redundant or unwanted.

One of the books he decided to discard was a Lonely Planet guide to Libya. I picked it up, and flicked through its pages, reflecting upon how fortunate we had been to visit Libya before the Arab Spring movement and the removal of Gaddafi propelled this country into turmoil and unrest. This was one of those books that very few people if any would want but as he tossed it towards the bin I had an idea and grabbed it mid-air. An idea was already careering like a camel across the sand dunes of my mind.

Harry, my 5-year-old grandson was spending time with us and we had exhausted the usual activities I use to keep him occupied. I leafed through the book, examining the pictures of far-off places, people and exotic animals.

‘Your cousins are visiting the Canberra zoo soon, but why don’t we make our own zoo?’ I suggested. He looked a little puzzled but expressed interest. I tasked him to get the scissors and pencils, directed him to where the craft and brown paper was stored, while I made a paste of water and flour for glue and ‘a collecting we went.’

‘Just like Gerald Durrell,’ I told him and I had happy time telling him about this amazing man and how he had travelled the globe collecting animals for zoos.

We had a glorious time. An entire afternoon was spent discussing the places we would visit and the animals we might find. Harry cut out the images and pasted them onto the brown paper. As he did this, we talked about the animals, where they lived and what they ate.

ww_creating-the-zoo-with-harryAfter this Harry drew the zoo with an entry gate and pathways to visit the various animals. He wrote their names on signs then drew trees and plants to feed the animals and a café with tables and chairs for Nanna Sooz and Harry to have an iced coffee and a chocolate milkshake when we got thirsty.

This led to a ‘Zoo’ game where we visited the animals and talked about where they had come from. After that Harry wanted to continue the game, with him choosing to be a monkey and Nanna the elephant chasing each other around my small garden.

ww_creating-the-zoo-with-tomThis game made me realise how powerful our imagination is. Using my life experiences, I could gently nudge him towards imagining a world he had never seen and create a story and a game that filled hours of our time. I have been reading a lot about brain development in children and how creative play and using imagination encourages a child’s cognitive development particularly in the areas of language articulation and self-regulation of emotions.

Recently a travel brochure landed on my desk, filled with beautiful illustrations for holidays to faraway places which for many reasons this year I am unlikely to visit. I couldn’t stop Harry from getting a brain tumour but I can darn well do everything a Nanna can do to help his young brain recover.

Harry in November 2016I foresee some wonderful expeditions with Harry as we explore exotic lands, go collecting and meet strangers in other countries. Who knows what all this information will be used for later in life. He may study conservation and sustainability like his clever uncle, become a zoologist or scientist, be an explorer or spend his life travelling and writing. As Shakespeare said, ‘…the world’s mine oyster…’.