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Monday, 28 December 2015

Enjoying Post-Christmas Time, Sorted Jewellery.

Don't you love that time just after Christmas? There is still so much food around that I haven't needed to cook properly for days and can keep well away from any madness in the shops.
We got some fabulous gifts this Christmas - made all the more special by the effort family made to give us things that fitted into our wishes for things that would be environmentally friendly.
Among the gifts were two wood and canvas hanging chairs, some cool recycled fifties records (we have a turntable), some bottles of wine, a box of cherries...now picture all of those together and you'll see how we are relaxing under a shady tree in the beautiful days we have been enjoying.



Every Christmas I swear that I will be more organized next year. We like to make the few Christmas cards we send and make at least some of the gifts. This year I was again making gifts at the last minute - jars of crumble topping with instructions, and I made this terrarium, which was really easy. It is low care and very quick to make, with plants from the garden and pieces collected on beach walks. For locals, the glass is a vase from Spotlight that was on sale for under $20


Boxing Day saw me reorganizing my messy jewellery box after Derek made this cool hanger for all my necklaces. The cute knobs were a find in a charity shop a couple of years ago - I bought bags of them, at less than $1/ knob.



I then fished out some plastic gift packaging (that had been received & thrown out by someone else) to put all my earrings in order.Young Katie thought that was a good idea so promptly did all hers too. (Helping her to see a use in what she throws out).

Using plastic packaging to store earrings


Another cool gift that I got (from Derek) was this battered old tin trunk, which we think looks great, tidying up a mishmash of pot plants.



We are off to Russell tonight to enjoy the other part of his gift which was tickets to NZ band The Feelers - looking forward to that!

I wish you all a Happy New Year. We will be rocking the night away with our band up in Paihia. May 2016 be good to you all.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Christmas Colour

There is nothing that says Christmas time to a New Zealander more than our own Christmas tree - the Pohutukawa, which flowers in December. New Zealanders all over the world hanker to be sitting in the shade of one of these magnificent trees on a beautiful beach around Christmas time.




It is a productive time for the garden here, so Christmas lunch will feature salad ingredients, roast beetroot, freshly picked beans, and hopefully raspberries all from the garden.



The Christmas plums are ready, and so far we have mostly beaten the birds to them.



The presents are mostly wrapped (thought I was not doing wrapped presents this year!-I should have taken a photo of the big present to show you - it's a wooden logging truck, handmade by a local artisan) - not so much colour coordinated this year, but that's all recycled wrapping paper of one sort or another, including the ribbons. Old Santa there was made by Derek's mother many years ago.




 The Christmas cake is made finally, better late than never. Just the lawns to mow and a bit of a tidy up and we're ready.
The weather forecast is for a sunny Christmas Day with the possibility of a shower. We should be able to get in a game of petanque on the lawn then, and probably down to the beach for some barbecued ham steaks for dinner on Christmas day.


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

No-Pay Garden Assistant, Eco Breath Mints, Christmas Shopping

I'm not complaining, just noting that having Spring roll into Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere makes for a very busy time if you are a gardener.
I'm always glad to have a little help - but this recently came from an unexpected visitor.
We have a native bird called a pukeko - basically a swamp hen. We don't usually see them in our garden, which I am kind of pleased about as they can do a lot of damage, eating one's plants etc. 

Pukeko flees from his weeding leaving a trail of pulled weeds


This lone pukeko however spent ages on the lawn pulling out some of our worst lawn weeds right down to the roots, leaving a bit of a hole. Go pukeko. Then after a couple of days of this he was gone and I haven't seen him since. 

Minty breath freshener
I used to like a bit of chewing gum to freshen my breath - before I discovered that I was chewing plastic that would never go "away". Those breath freshener strips too - more plastic packaging than anything - and $7 for a packet??
So I couldn't resist this chocolate mint plant when I saw it. The pot will get reused, so it's not so bad.

Recommended natural breath freshener


I have had some interesting responses when offering friends and family a mint after their coffee in town, and then whip out a leaf that I have brought with me in a little container. After accepting it dubiously, they have admitted that it is quite refreshing. Just sit the leaf on the tongue - I think they are just as breath freshening as mint strips, but so much better for me and the world.
 It's ok - I know I am a bit unusual, but I am still on a mission to find replacements for all those purchased manufactured items.

Christmas Shopping
I ventured into the shops yesterday looking for something specific, but with my increasing awareness of not buying "stuff", it felt like a nightmare that I wanted to rush home from. Long queues of people and trolleys loaded...shudder.
Our Christmas shopping this year has mostly been done online. We have purchased tickets to concerts, the Waiwera Thermal Pool complex, Grab One restaurant vouchers etc. We want to give experiences not stuff. It will also mean very little time wrapping presents (exquisitely in recycled paper). They will be presented, probably with a home made food gift to make it feel a bit more personal. I'm pretty sure no family will read this so my secrets are safe.

One gift that I got last year was thoughtfully tailored to my ethics, and was lovely.

It was this cut glass decanter, with a pretty cameo decoration, both upcycled.
It now graces our bathroom with home made bubble bath in it.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Food Forest and Pruning Tomatoes

Last weekend we visited a local private property along with about twenty other people as part of the Transition Towns Movement.
It was a beautiful spot at Pataua North, with a rammed earth home, a food forest (picture yourself in a forest where nearly everything around you is food) and great views.

That mulch is kikuyu grass - cut like hay - horrible spreading stuff, good to see it is useful for something.


It was a beautiful morning - and always pleasant to meet like-minded people. It was the first Transition Town garden we had made it to, but will definitely try to get to more. All the ideas you gain from other people's experience make it so worthwhile.

Love that gate


At this particular garden they are able to harvest ripe bananas all year round.

Paths meander through the wilderness, no mowing of lawns here

The utilities side of the house. You can just see the door to a concrete tank, built into the bank, which makes an effective cold cellar.

We all found the tour of the composting toilet and the operating instructions interesting too - thanks Hans for the entertainment.
We both came away with enthusiasm to plant more food bearing trees, and to add more ground covers like kumara (sweet potato) and nasturtiums.
We are on the right track, but could do so much more. We have friends and family around who are happy to take any excess fruit and vegetables.

Do You Prune Your Tomatoes?

A garden tip that I have read about recently in Organic Gardener (Australia) Oct 2015, concerns to prune (nip out the laterals) or not to prune tomato plants.

Tomato lateral - to nip or not to nip...?


The Diggers Club study showed that unpruned tomato plants had greater yields, and that there was less chance of disease. The downside being that more staking would be required. 
I have always tried to nip out those laterals, so any excuse for less work looks good to me - I'll be leaving most of them this year.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

On Being a Scrooge

Frugality - also known as Make Do And Mend

I have some nifty little frugal tricks, some of which I don't let out in public, but seeing as my family don't read my blog yet (that I am aware of) these things are safe on here and won't be one day added to my eulogy.



I have not managed to find my favourite tea other than in teabag form. The packaging and bags of this tea are fully biodegradable, so I feel better about that. However, I have discovered that I can get two uses out of each teabag - hence saving myself at least $50/year. The second cup is as good as the first. Anyone else that frugal? 

My next frugal trick has to do with those wretchedly expensive vacuum cleaner bags. In a previous post here I wrote about emptying and restitching them up, but recently I reclaimed a pack of bags from my daughter, whose vacuum cleaner has died. I was just going to donate them to a charity as they are not the same make as mine, but on closer inspection, the bags from my daughter had a cardboard backing. So I just traced around the plate on my bag to get the cardboard one to fit into my vacuum - hey presto, works perfectly. So from now on I will be looking in charity shops for discarded packs of bags which I can alter in this way.

Reclaimed bag marked out ready to cut to fit my vacuum cleaner


I can also happily state that after 14 months of not buying any clothes new (apart from underwear) I have embarked on my second round of buying no clothes at all for 12 months. So that includes no shoes, underwear, material. Although I will allow myself to buy recycled trims etc to work refashioning what I already have, and will allow for one purchase if I have a social emergency - ie really unexpected special event, but will hopefully manage without this.

And finally a make-do in the kitchen. Sometimes I can't believe that I have got to this age without knowing/ doing some things. So this is for anyone who hasn't tried this yet.

Pesto - made from all your garden greens



My basil crop is not large enough yet to make a full pesto from - requiring about 2 cups of leaves. Recently I read about someone who uses kale (remove the centre rib), silverbeet/chard, lettuce - or really whatever greens are available. So all of those went into my pesto, along with parsley and a little coriander and much less basil than usual. The result was scrumptious! Katie liked it even more than the standard basil version. I use cashews instead of pine nuts, which are so expensive.

If you already do these things, give yourself a 10/10 for frugality. 

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

It worked! and A Useful Refashion

So first up - how did my fruit leathers turn out from the Solar Dehydrator? (Previous post)


Woohoo - look at this!

Rhubarb & apple fruit leather from the solar dehydrator

 One tray was ready after 24 hours, the other took an extra few hours the next day. The speckles that you can see are my ground home-grown stevia that I used to help sweeten them up a bit.

Home made Roll ups


So I'm going to be making lots more, making use of those sunny days, plus will be doing sundried tomatoes and little feijoa bits when they are in season. All for free!

Something to do with Tee Shirts
I really don't suit tee shirts - the standard neckline doesn't look good on me, and now that I'm a bit older, I find anything around my neck a bit suffocating. If you are over 50 you might relate to this.
I found this blog Boundless Beauty via Pinterest. She gives good directions for converting a standard tee shirt into an off the shoulder tee. I didn't cut mine quite so wide, but am so happy with the result. From a tee shirt that I wasn't wearing, to one that will get lots of use.
Another thing that I did differently - apart from not bothering with all the measuring (typical of me), was to hand stitch a little rolled hem around the neckline. I also turned the sleeves up and stitched them in place to shorten them to be more feminine, and to suit my (short) stature.

Ok, so here's the evidence. No before photo - you all know what a band tee shirt looks like and I struggle with putting photos of myself on here - but too bad.



Derek bought me that tee shirt, so I did a dummy run on another one first, just in case it failed, but he agrees it looks better too.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

My Homemade Solar Dehydrator

A few posts back I let on that I intended to make a solar dehydrator, like this one that I found pictured in Mother Earth News. (The instructions are there too)



Well now it's finished and has my first batch of rhubarb and apple fruit leather in it to try it out.
It took me a couple of hours to make - most of which was searching around here to find the materials - it cost me nothing! Yep, I had everything right here.

My home made solar dehydrator


Double layer of apple and rhubarb fruit leather
I used:
2 cardboard boxes - one long and narrow, the other a banana box type.
1 acrylic sheet, that Derek had previously saved from being thrown out when his work office moved (yay, score!)
Some duct tape to join it all and cover extra holes in the banana box
A blade to cut the holes at the ends of the long box
1 mesh window screen for the top of the box
2 cake racks
Some black weed mat, in lieu of black paint, which I was too lazy to do

The construction (typical of me who never measures anything) is a bit wonky, but hey, it works.
I tried the heat producing part out yesterday - wow, the hot air was pumping through there.

Ok, so it has only been going for a couple of hours, and I expect the fruit leather will take maybe 24 hours to dry?, but I'm all excited about it so I'm putting on here today. Then there will be an update next time - success or fail?!

Make Do And Mend

Don't you hate it when you buy stuff, and they have spent so long designing it to be ergonomic but it fails to actually function efficiently. I was on to my second bottle brush. With the first one the tip was too big to actually fit into a bottle neck, the second one I made sure would fit in - but it had such a fat handle (and was too short) that it would only reach halfway into the bottle, and we all know the bit that really needs cleaning is the bottom of the bottle.
Well I was not going to buy another one. I found that the brush bit just unscrewed, then I found a nice slim piece of bamboo, drilled a wee hole in it and screwed the brush tip securely into it.
Bottle brush - new bamboo handle, old handle next to it.


 Man, I felt like a winner! It doesn't take much to make me happy.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

If You Like Butter Chicken, You Will Love Butter Chickpeas!

This recipe, which I found in The Ultimate Vegetarian Cookbook, by New Zealanders Alison and Simon Holst, is a winner.

It's quick and easy - which meets my cooking criteria, is a tasty meat alternative and is healthy too - no butter in this butter chickpea recipe, and the flavour is that of butter chicken.

Butter Chickpeas - now I wish I had picked up that piece of potato that fell over!


I cook my chickpeas from dried and soaked, then freeze them, but you can use canned chickpeas. Likewise, you can use ready-made garam masala or concoct your own, as I did (recipe for this at the end)

Butter Chickpeas

310g can of chickpeas
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons of canola oil
2 tsp curry powder
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp  ground cumin
300g can of condensed tomato soup
1/2 cup of cream (I used canned reduced cream)
200 grams of boiled, cubed potatoes
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the canola oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and garlic, cook.
Stir in the curry powder and spices, stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Add the tomato soup, cream, chickpeas and potatoes.
Simmer for about 5 minutes.
Serve topped with chopped coriander on a bed of Basmati rice, with some Naan bread.


Garam Masala

2 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp cardamom seeds
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cloves
2 dried chillies (no seeds)
2 Tbsp ground turmeric

Toast the seeds in a frypan, then grind all - or if you are like me, I just approximated the above ingredients using the powdered forms that I already had in the pantry and the recipe was still delicious.





Thursday, 5 November 2015

Something For The Allergy Sufferers and a Simple but Clever Idea

Derek's two daughters are fondly referred to by me as Sniffy and Sneezy, the Allergy Sisters. This time of the year (Spring in New Zealand) is not fun for them, finding them often with stuffy noses from allergy.

I made an essential oil concoction that I read about, with equal parts of eucalyptus, peppermint and lavender essential oils, of which the sufferer puts a wee dab just at the entrance to each nostril. And it worked! Nose cleared.

So I stopped in to the Himalayan Trading Post in Whangarei where they sell lots of these dear little cork-stoppered glass bottles - lots of different shapes and sizes. This one was $1.50. 



I added a tiny little screw-in eyelet to the cork, and a silver jump ring. The little bottle was then filled with the essential oil mix so that the girls can wear them and use as required.

A Good Idea To Reduce Single Use Coffee Cups
This idea came through on my Facebook page the other day and I thought how simple but clever, by the Cuppow company. We don't have this company's products here, but I just loved the idea.



I could have left it there, but thought it was an idea worthy of sharing. I have started messaging local cafes with this picture to see if any of them will run with it.
The beauty of the idea is that it doesn't just reward a single patron who brings their own refillable cup, but encourages a group effort and makes it an interesting concept - right there on their counter. 

A Giftwrap Idea
It has been years now since I purchased giftwrap - preferring to recycle all manner of paper and materials to make a gift still look as attractive as possible.
For a culinary themed gift last week, I pulled out one of the old cookbooks that I bought for not much, and that I use to cut up for collage etc. 



The page on celebratory cakes made perfect giftwrap for this little gift don't you think?

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Finding Inspiration


We had a young English family member visiting last week and she was telling me that she would like to paint, but can never think what to paint. I laughed and pointed out to her what she had just been photographing - a cool shot of ducks swimming around mangrove trees and suggested she should look among her photos. Inspiration is everywhere, we just have to grab it.

I've just finished reading Think Like An Artist...and Lead a More Creative, Productive Life, by Will Gompertz, where I found the above quote (the one on the mossy tree). The author talked about how we all steal ideas, but a real artist twists that idea to make it unique.
One artist he includes is Luc Tuymans, who photgraphed paintings by Henry Raeburn, but then painted the faces very close up to make unique paintings - you can see them here.
He profiles many great artists, with how they got to their point of greatness, what made their point of difference. Interesting stuff.
There was another quote in there that I liked...
             "Creativity is contagious, pass it on"
                                                              Albert Einstein.

More Inspiration
If you have a spare 30 minutes to get inspired have a look at the talks and podcasts on Creative Mornings - fabulous for starting the day, especially if it's raining. These are by some creative, interesting people - I love them!


Inspiring Blooms?
Derek brought home these gorgeous dried blooms the other day, that grow at the side of the road. We've put them in a bowl to admire - love the colours.



They are Rewarewa, an evergreen New Zealand native tree which grows to 30 metres. It was known as New Zealand honeysuckle by the early settlers as it's flowers are a great source for honey production.





Monday, 26 October 2015

The Power of the Mind

So, I've been a little distracted lately preparing for an event that our band played at last weekend - the It! Festival in Paihia. We were on just before The Black Seeds, a top New Zealand band.

The wet weather didn't dampen any spirits


My point is - what you imagine often comes true, in sometimes strange ways.
Since I was young, I have always thought that being able to do what you love - and make a living from it has got to be the epitome of a good life. I thought that being a paid singer or musician would be just the coolest thing.
I didn't have this in mind at all when I decided to learn to play the saxophone at age 42, it was just that I loved it.



Then sometime around age 52, I found myself playing in a classic rock band. It has taken me quite some time to get comfortable with that - but then the boys wanted me to start adding backing vocals in there... and that is how I found myself playing and singing in front of a crowd of about 2,000 people last weekend. Oh, and we got paid to do it.


What you form in your mind can come to be. So you might as well make it something great.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

I Have Always Aspired To Be....

A hippie! Right from when I was a teenager, but not your weed smoking type out of the 70's. I just wanted to live in the country, grow things, make things and not have to go to work. Tick.



So this week as I was out working in the garden on yet another beautiful morning, I reflected on how perfect it all is. I'm out there in my swimsuit top and shorts, working gently on a healthy tan to suit my outfit for this weekend coming, when our band will play at a wine and food festival in the Bay of Islands - for about 2,000 people. 

I'm not the young thing I once was however, and was thinking I need a better swimsuit - one with a bit more, ahem, support.
I found this idea somewhere under refashioned clothes, and it has worked perfectly. I've just sewn a previously unused strapless bra to the lining. Huge improvement!
Sorry, not modelling this one - too shy


Back to the garden - I love how the flowers work in there. I've grown alssyum and lavender, calendulars and geranium, and they bring in the bees. 
We had visitors from Auckland last week, and I'm proud to say the 14 year old boy got his first ever bee sting here. It looked really red, and I wondered out loud if maybe he was allergic to bees, but he said it was because his Dad told him to slap it, it would help. I've never heard of that before (chuckles to self), so I got out the lavender oil, which takes the sting away almost immediately.

The rhubarb and peas have grown back nicely since we caught all the possums, and there is barely any evidence of other pests in there at the moment.


I'm about to be feeding courgettes to hundreds of people soon as all four plants start producing - but I am prepared. I've bought myself one of those gizmos that turn courgettes into healthy spaghetti - will keep you posted. 

This is our other overflow garden - not so pretty and needs more work on the soil, but it's getting there. That's my garlic crop.
Thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Makin' Bacon - Vegan Style

 Some posts back, I shared the recipe for this Raw Broccoli Salad which is totally delicious. I am always looking for ways to make recipes healthier, and in this instance cheaper and better for the environment too.
One of the changes I now make to that recipe is to leave the sugar out of the dressing altogether. The other change is using ....

Vegan Bacon

Crispy and bacon-tasting! Made from coconut.


This is simple to make, and there are a few different recipes around - some using maple syrup, oils, and others with smoke flavouring, but mine just uses

1 cup of coconut flakes
1 tsp of tamari soy
1/2 tsp of smoked paprika
salt to taste

Mix these ingredients together, spread it on a tray and bake at 180 Celsius for approx 10 minutes.
Watch that it doesn't burn!
Cool and store in a glass jar. 
Add to salads, sandwiches, and other places where you would use some crispy bacon. 


And a shot of our apple tree - so hoping for another good crop in autumn.

Apple blossom - love Spring!


Last year's apples lasted for months and months, individually wrapped in paper and stored in the studio fridge.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse!

As I mentioned in my last post, Derek's work has moved office and has cast out lots of old office equipment, which they have auctioned off to staff, or donated to charities, and then what was left unwanted has gone to the dump.
We have scored several new shelves, which has finally prompted a tidy up of the studio store room. Bliss, I can find things again. I have a lot of art and sewing supplies in there!
The little paintings? - the old house is a copy of one done by Derek, the other is one of mine


As someone who has pledged not to buy more giftwrap, I badly needed a place to sort all of my collected paper. I now have this really ugly pigeon-hole cabinet, which I will be covering up with a vintage tablecloth.

Organization of sorts for my stash of papers

The new paper section is for those among us who struggle to use recycled paper and were freebies from magazines.

One of the stranger things to come home was this out of date surveyors instrument. Derek has great vision for such things, and one day in the future this will become part of a sculpture of some sort. (Hopefully). Along with a big pile of the bits of ply, which are great for painting on, or making signs.



And my latest find, from the Habitat for Humanity shop - a great little stainless steel container with lid for $5 - perfect for storing leftovers in the fridge.



Reuse, reuse, reuse - it's actually much more fun don't you think? I think it requires far more creativity.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

A Great Freebie and Why I'm Not Composting Kitchen Scraps

Strange Coincidence?
Last week as I was making my cold frames I thought - what I need is perspex to cover them. Well Derek arrived home from work that night with 6 sheets of perspex! His whole office has just moved and he has come home with a few things that were about to be thrown out.

The vege garden is full of constructions using free materials. Not pretty, but well, free.


The perspex had been covering some posters and was a bit scratched - but perfect for covering my plants. I'm saving one sheet to make a solar dehydrator like the one below for the abundant tomatoes I'm hoping to grow. 



Eschewing the compost bin with the kitchen scraps
I remember when I was young that we always dug the kitchen scraps into a trench in the garden. So when I discovered that we had rodents in our compost bins again, I decided burying it all was the way to go. Since then I have read, in "Organic NZ" magazine, that it is far better to bury scraps than to compost them. The scraps break down much quicker, and "much more fixed carbon stays fixed, incorporated directly into live cells and bodies that will become food for other life forms in the web of soil life".
The garden soil is looking great and is full of worms. I usually throw a handful of sheep pellets in with the scraps as that encourages those worms to get in there.

So here's where that compost went...

Before and after


.. because I couldn't stand the thought of using it around the food crops. It made an instant garden, along with free driftwood from the river, and free plants that I split up from the garden. 
So now I just use the compost bins for lawn clippings and garden waste and use the contents on the ornamentals.