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Sunday, 29 December 2013

Time to Reflect and Plan

I've been having a little blogging break over the holiday time as it has been busy with travel, family and playing sax.
We have been making room for a family member who is moving in. This means that I have gone from originally having a walk in wardrobe to myself, to a double closet to myself, to now sharing that double closet. Time to organize!
We have both removed a lot of clothing (from the wardrobes) and I have just found this blog with great refashioning ideas and uses for unwanted items called The Renegade Seamstress 

I'm looking forward to some creative sewing and posting the results.

New Year Plans
I'm not big on New Year's resolutions - I prefer to set goals, make plans. You might think that is the same thing, but it is different.
 My plans include giving our old caravan a revamp for some extra chill out space, but also to accommodate family and friends when we have a houseful.

This is the before photo

Before - sad looking interior

The caravan is permanently parked in the garden and in great need of work.
I have just seen a gorgeous caravan revamp in the latest copy of NZ Life and Leisure magazine (which I got a sub to for Christmas)

This isn't the one in the magazine, but we would be happy if ours turned out half this good looking.
I will be posting some before and after photos of that too. I hope.

After the recent rain our courgette plants have gone mad, so I'm thinking there will probably be 365 ways with courgettes coming up too.

Pity I don't like cape gooseberries because there are loads of these ripening now, but we do have family members who love them. Cape gooseberries grow like weeds here, and I'm often pulling them out. I love their little fairy lantern cases though.
Cape Gooseberry plant

Cape Gooseberries

I hope you have a Happy New Year and you come back to visit my blog in 2014. I'm going to be seeing the New Year in playing with the band in Paihia.
May 2014 see you making plenty of deposits into the Bank of Life. 

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Keeping strawberries, Gingerbread Men

Christmas in New Zealand means strawberry season.

A handful of fragrance - strawberries and basil

Our strawberries have done really well this year. I wanted to check that I was keeping them the best way possible so looked on this great website which gives the best way to keep all kinds of foods, and for how long. A great idea to reduce food wastage.
So strawberries will keep in the fridge for 2 days, stored single layer, covered and don't wash them first as the extra moisture could cause them to deteriorate.
Corn cobs are also best kept in the fridge with their husks still on for approx 2 days.

Gingerbread Men
I decided today would be a great day to throw on my Kenny Gee Miracles album of Christmas Saxophone Music while there is no one else around to complain...and cook up a storm before Christmas.
I wanted to make some gingerbread men to include in the girls' Christmas Santa sacks
I'm not sure that anyone else would like to tackle making these at this stage of the pre Christmas rush...but I did today and they turned out great.

Gingerbread People

725 g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves (I skipped this as I didn't have any)
225g solid white vegetable shortening. ( I used coconut oil and it worked fine)
225g castor sugar
300g golden syrup
2 eggs, beaten

Into a bowl sieve together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices.
Put the shortening in a pan and melt slowly. Add the sugar and golden syrup and mix until runny.
Pour the fat mixture into the flour and add the eggs.
Mix well together until smooth. Wrap in baking paper until ready to use.
Roll it out between two sheets of baking paper and cut your shapes.
Bake at 180c for approx 8 minutes on fanbake - depending on how thick you have cut your shapes. Thinner = crisper, thicker = chewier texture.
This makes a lot - twice as much as what is shown in my picture, and can be used to make gingerbread houses too.

Royal Icing for piping
175g icing sugar
1 egg white, beaten stiff.

Gradually add in the icing sugar to the beaten egg white until smooth. Consistency should be of soft peaks.
I used an empty icing sugar bag with a tiny hole cut in one corner for piping. 

So Merry Christmas to you. I hope it is a happy occasion at your house. Ours will be a little spread out, with taking several days to catch up with extended family. Hopefully we will dig some new potatoes to go with Christmas dinner...fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Eco Wrap and Gotu Kola

Eco Gift Wrapping
The other day I just popped in to an op shop in the little town of Hikurangi on my way through and was delighted to find a stash of vintage wallpaper - just when I needed it for giftwrapping. 

all this paper for just a $3 donation to a charity

I thought the Christmas presents looked lovely with little added touches from the supply of things I already had.

gifts wrapped in recycled papers

I already had the old sea chart, which makes lovely giftwrap for a coastal Christmas theme.

We needed new Santa sacks for the girls, as red and green ones weren't going to cut it this year. I was pleased to use some old crocheted table cloths and a gauzy food throw - all of which had seen better days and were waiting to be repurposed.
Santa sacks made from old table cloths and food cover.

Gotu Kola
Gotu Kola - wonder herb.

I read about this the other day as being a wonder herb, but nearly didn't buy it as I thought it looked like a weed. However the list of it's benefits goes like this...antispasmodic, antibacterial, anti inflammatory, antiviral, an adrenal strengthener, blood purifier, sedative and tonic, compounds to heal all manner of injuries.
Probably it's best known use is for it's ability to improve memory and cognitive function.
It's also used to reduce high blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. Numerous studies show that it can improve circulation to the lower legs and reduce swelling.
It also is known to reduce arthritic pain.
Is there anything this plant can't do - and how come the whole world is not taking it?
The comprehensive 2 page article I read is in the NZ Gardener December 2012. It gives instruction on how to use the herb for different purposes, and what time of day is best to take it - as apparently it can keep you awake if taken too late in the day.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Of Aubergines and Christmas Trees

Our amazingly productive aubergine's 2nd year

At the end of last Autumn I nearly pulled out the aubergine plant that we put in last Summer, thinking that it was looking a bit sorry, and it had already produced 40 - 50 awesome aubergines off the one plant. (I think it's name was Black Magic). I really didn't expect it could give us another good season - but I'm glad I listened when Derek persuaded me to just prune it back, because just is loaded with flowers and dripping with fruit again. Unbelievable! 
The secret is the warm position, plus horse poo, lawn clippings and lots of water (and no frosts here over Winter).

dripping with aubergines

Lovely Old Lady
I'm sure if this piece of furniture was alive she would be a woman - she is so shapely and beautifully proportioned.

After oil and vinegar treatment

But she needed some attention at the beauty salon when we moved her into the house so that we had somewhere to store all our kitchen gadgets, like the pasta machine, juicer, apple peeling machine, and big serving platters. 
I got out the white vinegar and olive oil 50/50 mix, and it has brought up the wood finish beautifully.
The old book sitting on the sideboard is approximately 350 years old. That's really old for something in New Zealand when you consider that Captain Cook was the first European to land in New Zealand in 1769 - 1770, just 243 years ago.

Xmas Decor
Just a few pics of the decor which is vintage and coastal themed

coastal themed, with shells and strands of sea glass
Keeping The Christmas Tree Green
It is a dilemma for some people how to have a Christmas tree and be environmentally friendly, so here's my take on it.
These trees are grown especially for the Christmas market. They raise money for St John Ambulance every year and when we are finished with the tree it can be chopped up and used on the fire. Plus I have read that blueberries particularly like pine needle mulch, so that's where some of last year's one went.
As for keeping the tree looking green, I have a pump-misting spray bottle which I spray the tree with - sometimes twice a day when it is really hot - just not when the lights are switched on. Pine trees absorb a lot of their water requirements through their needles.
Having to water the tree so much must seem strange to those in the Northern Hemisphere. 
Derek has also kindly fitted the tree with a large funnel attached to a hose (well out of sight) into the bucket that the tree sits in so we can keep it easily watered. 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

A Great Use for Silverbeet

If there's one thing it seems everyone can grow here (at has a glut of) it's silverbeet. At present we have also got lots of both types of spinach too, so I've combined them all to make up this recipe from a great 80's cookbook - Jan Bilton's "The Great New Zealand Cookbook".

this is what 500g of spinach looks like - it will take care of the glut.

500g spinach
25g butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 cup cottage cheese
3 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons of parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons of cream (or substitute unsweetened yoghurt)
wholemeal pastry (recipe follows)

Wash the spinach well, drain, trim and chop coarsely. Cook in butter with salt, pepper and sugar.
Beat cottage cheese and eggs until smooth. Add cheese and cream. Combine with spinach then spread the mixture into the prepared pastry case.
Bake at 190c for 35 minutes.

Spinach Quiche. Got all excited and ate half of it before I remembered that I was going to take a photo


2 cups of wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup corn oil (or whatever you have - I used ricebran)
1/4 cup of cold milk

Place flour and salt in a bowl and mix well. Pour in oil and milk. Stir until lightly mixed, pressing any crumbly pieces back in.
Form pastry into a ball and flatten. Roll out between 2 pieces of baking paper to fit a 20 - 23cm pie plate
Now this is where the recipe and I part is one of those bake blind pastries that I can't be bothered with, so I just whack the filling in and cook it immediately and it comes out fine. However if you want to stick to the rules...
Chill the case for 1 hour then cover with tin foil.
Bake 20 - 30 minutes at 200c (really??!) until browned. 

Just a peek at how our potatoes and corn are coming along.

potato and corn patch

We ran out of soil to mound over the potatoes so have piled kikuyu clippings around them. (Those clippings had better not grow)
The corn is mulched with newspaper and lawn clippings. 

There's so much to do at this time of the year that some of my good intentions have flown out of the window. I think from now on any handmade items for Christmas need to be done by August or it's just not going to happen, as I get too busy with the garden in Spring and the band starts to get busy too. Ah well...there's always next year.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Coastal Christmas - a Revamp

Last year we had a Pacifica themed Christmas tree - with mini flax ketes, shells, tapa cloth wrapped little parcels, and we loved the change from tinsel etc. It felt really peaceful. So this year we are going to change it up just a little - to have a "Coastal" themed Christmas.
Now I'm not going out to buy a whole lot of new decorations, so here is some of what I have been doing. The big reveal will come later.

Almost before photo - I'd just started to paint then remembered to take a photo


The baubles are supposed to look like mini fishing floats, and there are lots of instructions on Pinterest. But I just wanted to use what I had, so they look like they've been in the sea a while or something, not quite as I had pictured them.
miscellaneous gold decorations before

Ta daa! Fishing floats and neptunes pearls

A can of spray paint (that I already owned) can change a whole lot of random coloured ornaments into a colour theme.

Shabby old wreath before...

Transformed with spray paint, beach combings and a glue gun

Now I am busy gift wrapping. It all has to be recycled wrap for me, plus it has to look beachy and all tone in while it sits under the tree. It takes more effort, but still looks better (I think) than if it was done in a hurry with cheap paper, and is eco friendly.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Drinking Vinegar? Divine!

I had never heard of drinking vinegar until a couple of days ago when my daughter found a recipe and asked if I could make her some.
My daughter, who is 20, just loves vinegar flavoured anything and often uses cider vinegar as a dip for her fresh vegetables.
Well today we made up this recipe for Rhubarb and Ginger Drinking Vinegar and it is divine. You will find the recipe and more info about drinking vinegars here on The Skillet Chronicles.

Rhubarb and Ginger Drinking Vinegar

 It is really an interesting cordial that gets mixed with sparkling water in a 1:4 ratio. My daughter also suggested it would be very nice with ice and a shot of vodka.
I think it would make a lovely hostess or Christmas gift, with a tag with the instructions and recipe.

My Budget Book
I have always said that budget was a dirty word, but because I am naturally thrifty that has not caused me a problem. I am one of those people who can keep a mental tally roughly of income and outgoings.
But this year - my first year of living without a real job, I decided to actually write down all income and outgoings, which I have found interesting to see how well I can live within the smallish amount that I have allowed myself.
At this point I am just looking to break even in the new year. I think that's ok for the first year without trying too hard.

flourish  (flur'ish), v.i. to grow and thrive ; to live, be active; to be healthy, vigorous, successful, or prosperous; v.t. to wave, brandish; to wave about showily, to flaunt; n.the act of flourishing something; a fanfare; an ostentatious advertisement; a fanciful decorative curve or line in writing or printing

Great word - something to aspire to.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Lovely Rain

Hurray, we've just had 2 days of fairly solid rain. Our three water tanks are full but that doesn't mean we will stop saving grey water. It just gives some security at this time of the year. 
I have just read Depletion and Abundance - life on the new home front or, one woman's solutions to finding abundance for your family while coming to terms with peak oil, climate change and hard times.

I am grateful that we do not live in the USA after reading that in certain parts it is illegal to utilize your own rainwater off the roof, in some places citizens are not allowed to plant vegetables in their front yard, nor are many people permitted to hang washing outdoors. I know that apartment dwellers here can't do that either though. I think we have a lot more freedom here in New Zealand.
I am also reassured that we are already doing many of the things she suggests.
So when the sun came out yesterday I zipped outside to pick things. Everything had grown so much in one day!
Here is a photo of my little harvest, although I added a few peaches to that after the photo. Mostly the strawberries are much better, but they didn't like the rain so much.

They are the first of our plums from a new tree and we are particularly delighted because we seem to have beaten the possums. They have left all our tree crops alone at this point.
There have been some failures in our garden though..the broadbeans are a disappointment with next to nothing in many of the pods, and the one garlic I sneaked out had no head - it looked more like a spring onion - this does not bode well for the rest of the crop. The peas did not germinate well so are patchy. But other veges are great..courgettes, spinach and silverbeet, lettuces, rhubarb (my heritage plant that I am very proud of), spring onions and beans, with tomatoes and cucumbers coming on.
An old market umbrella has died so Derek has refashioned it into a frame for our climbing beans, although I have just realized I might need a ladder to pick them hmmm.
recycled umbrella frame for climbing beans 

These have been mighty producers last year - beans for months, unbelievable. They are McGregors Climbing Kentucky Pole Beans.
Potting Mix
Derek has told me that a colleague of his reported that his father made his own potting mix from grinding up desicated cow dung, and that everything grew amazingly. That's some legend worth considering.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Waiheke Island

This is one of our favourite places in New Zealand. Waiheke Island is only a short ferry trip from Auckland - but it is a different lifestyle altogether. It is home to artists, creative types, escapees from Auckland, wineries and olive plantations, beautiful beaches. The Island is 9324 hectares, and has a resident population of 8,730 people.
 There is a myriad of managed holiday rentals to choose from.
We stayed in Nikau Cottage in Onetangi. It was the cutest little chalet set in the bush, with lots of lovely arty touches.

Nikau Cottage - Onetangi, Waiheke Island

Nikau Cottage

Shell Mirror - Nikau Cottage, Onetangi

One of our favourite beaches is Man O War Bay - and there just happens to be  a winery there. 

There are some great characters living on Waiheke, it was where the hippies lived decades ago - and some are still there.

Waiheke locals

Oneroa is a small township, plus there are scattered stores and eateries over the Island.

Oneroa, Waiheke Island

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Making Soap

I've finally got around to making my second batch of soap, and having ensured that it is a successful recipe, I can now blog the instructions which I got initially from Green Ideas magazine issue 4 (June-July 2013).
 The coconut and olive oils make it suitable for using as shampoo, which I have been doing for months now and find it good.
Coconut oil and caustic soda were both bought from

175g of caustic soda 
600g coconut oil
600g olive oil - cheap is fine, don't use extra virgin as it gives a greenish hue
475ml water
1 tablespoon of honey (optional, for caramel colour)

Kitchen scales
stick mixer or handheld beaters
large stainless steel saucepan
large measuring jug
thermometer ($16 from
tablespoon, mixing spoon and rubber scraper
tea towel
molds - milk or juice cartons are good, but this time I have used a shoebox lined with a cat biscuit bag, but you can use baking paper.

Wear gloves, glasses or safety goggles and mask (optional)

Caustic soda can burn your eyes and skin, so be careful. Never add water to caustic soda - it can react, blasting the chemical out of the container. Instead add the caustic soda in small amounts to the water.
Also don't wash your utensils until the next day so the caustic nature has cured and won't get into the waste water system.

Step 1
Gather all your equipment and ingredients together - you don't want to be doing this when you have your gloves etc on.

Step 2
Get your protective gloves, and glasses on. I mixed the caustic soda and water outside, but otherwise put the extractor fan on and try not to breathe the fumes.
Step 3
Measure out your caustic soda ( I used a plastic container on my scales, rather than the  scales dish) and add it to the 475 mls of water in your jug. Remember to always add the caustic soda to the water - never the other way around.
Stir and watch the temperature instantly skyrocket.

after caustic soda was added to the water - outside.

Step 4
Add honey if you want to colour your soap. Cover your jug with a teatowel and leave it outside, out of reach of children, until the mixture cools to 30 - 40 degrees.
change of colour when honey was added

Step 5
Melt your oils together in the large saucepan, then leave them to cool to 30 - 40 degrees.
olive and coconut oils melting together

Step 6
Once both bowls are within 30 - 40 degrees pour the caustic soda mix into the oil mix, stirring with a spoon. Use your hand held beater to thicken the mix into a creamy custard.
At this point I disagree with the magazines instructions, where it says it will become "trace" in a few minutes. This is where you can see the ripples appear and stay on the surface. This didn't happen at all last time I made the soap, nor this time, and after referring to my soap making book, which said this step can take up to an hour, I took my chances at 45 minutes, when it looked custardy, but no trace and the soap was perfect. 

beginning to mix the soap with electric beaters

The other thing the magazine said to do at this point was to add essential oils, but everything else I have read says that until the soap has cured the caustic nature kills the perfume, which is why you get milled soap, where it has been grated and remelted after it has cured and the perfumed oils added then.
Step 7
Pour your soap into the molds, using your rubber scraper to get it all.
Last time I used milk cartons, but forgot to save some for this time, so have used a shoe box lined with the cat biscuit bag (clean), but you can use baking paper to line a container. Just don't use anything made of aluminium, as it reacts with the soap.

Step 8
Cover your molds with a teatowel so they cool slowly.
Leave for a few days, or at least 24 hours.
Turn out of the molds and cut into bars.
Leave on a cooling wrack, covered, for 4 - 6 weeks to cure.
Curing ensures that the caustic soda has time to become inactive.
If there's too much caustic soda in the mix, or you don't stir it enough, the soap will be brittle and may have streaks of caustic soda in it and must not be used.

It sounds like a lot of hassle (and it is a bit) but it is worth it - and I think I only need to do it twice a year, if I don't proudly give too much away. It means no more plastic shampoo bottles or liquid shower soap.
Also, if you consider that I was paying $6 for a bar of this type of handmade soap, and the magazine has estimated that it costs approximately 50 cents a bar to make, that's not a bad hourly rate for today. I think it makes about 20 bars from memory. 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Of Healthy Noodles, Seeds, n More

Six Minute Noodles
This is Wendyl Nissen's version of 2 minute noodles, which although it takes 4 minutes longer, is not full of fat or too much salt or MSG or the other additives. It tastes pretty good too.

1 cake of Highmark Egg Noodles fine cut.
These take 6 minutes to cook in the microwave per cake.

1/2 cup of low salt soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons of chilli sauce
1/4 teaspoon of sesame oil

Keep the sauce in a bottle in the fridge. Wendyl Nissen says add 2 tablespoons to cooked noodles - but I found 3 teaspoons was enough.

Growing Our Own Mulch

banana grown from seed - ready to plant out

We can't seem to get enough mulch at this time of the year without resorting to buying it - and it is essential here.
We think we have solved the problem. The ornamental banana palm that we took out after it had flowered has provided us with hundreds of new plants which we are going to make a jungle out of over the soakage field. At present that is covered in thigh high kikuyu, so we hope the bananas will crowd this out, whilst growing quickly and providing lots of vegetation to mulch.

I've had really good success with growing seeds that I have saved. It has given me heaps to give away, mainly of parsley, basil, hanging basket flowers, coleus, pumpkins, lettuce, sunflowers, rengarenga lilies and calendular.

First sunflower out today - grown from saved seed.

I'm about to replant the asian greens that went to seed before I knew what to do with them too.
From now on I will be trying to buy only heritage seeds that I can save productive seeds from, as opposed to hybrid seeds that are sterile.

Unusual Goings On
The other day I heard voices across the valley and the sound of tools clanging and a weedeater in the bush. Having read that police are expecting cannabis growers to be busy planting now I was alert to this possibility, so was covertly checking them out with the zoom on my camera, but could see nothing. 
A little later I heard vehicles leaving so zipped out and got a photo......note the hives on the back of the truck.....not so illegal after all haha.

No wonder we have a lot of bees around here.

So Cool
We love old books here. Derek collects 'em, I use 'em for art - but not his books. So I just love this - sorry can't credit it to the artist as I found it un named.
Village of Books