Motherless

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Mum’s birthday today,
A void where something good was.
The first without her.

I dreamt last night
Of hard arms, and her warm scent,
The hug I’d wanted.

Not a void really -
A wealth of good memories.
But I still miss her.

 

April 23, 2014 at 9:43 pm Leave a comment

Dyeing Stained Glass Eggs with Onion Skins

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Beautiful natural dyes.

We had a low key easter this year, leaning more towards family get-togethers than large scale chocolate massacres, but the one traditionally eastery thing we did get up to was stained-glass eggs.

If you’ve never made them before, it’s worth it. It’s great fun, and unwrapping each egg to discover its decorative paint job is always exciting.

Materials:
Eggs
Onion skins
Foil

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Wrap each egg in a few scraps of onion skin, enclose in foil, and boil as usual, though using as little water as possible will result in deeper overall colour.

One layer of skin fives a pleasantly blotchy dye job with higher contrast, and two or more creates deeper golden/butterscotchy tones with intriguing mottles. The dry outer skins seem to have the darkest pigment, though the lighter inner layers sometimes dye up surprising acid yellows and greens.

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Red onion skins provide a nice variation too. Not as bright as I’d expected, but on closer inspection the red skin egg had some lovely subtle colours, including a touch of blue-green (perhaps created by some alkaline egg white seeping out of a crack that formed during the boiling stage?)

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The Unveiling. Bottom left had the red skins, and the odd one out had none at all.

As an experiment, I left one egg au naturel to see if it take on some colour, and it became a more even, brighter yellow hue. Looking at the remaining water this is not surprising. It is the one in the centre of the bowl in the top picture.

 

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Brown skins on the left, red on the right.

If you haven’t tried this before, I hope you’ll be inspired to give it a go and make your own one-of-a-kind masterpieces!

(And if you were wondering, none of the onion flavour carried over into the eggs, even the ones that cracked during cooking.)

April 21, 2014 at 10:55 pm Leave a comment

How to print your own tshirt

Or possibly how Not to print your own t-shirt!

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Hand printed t-shirt. (Lego makes a useful coat hanger rack)

MATERIALS

A t-shirt
An image you can turn into a stencil
Some stiffish flat plastic or card
A craft knife
Fabric paint
A brush or small piece of sponge
An iron
Some recycling paper to top paint soaking through onto the back of your t-shirt
and some tissues for clean up.

Last Christmas one of the kids asked for a brown t-shirt with a meerkat on it. Right, not specific or anything? That should be easy to find, surely?

Strangely it wasn’t. So I figured I’d try to make one myself.

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The 5 of us zoomorphised into meerkats.

I used a sheet of ultrasound/X-ray negative, because it was what I had on hand. Any sort of plastic firm enough to stay flat, but thin enough to cut through would do the job. Or even card. Clear plastic would make the job easier though.

The trick is to use a design with minimal thin lines or ‘unattached inside parts’. I cheated. I printed out a photo of a family of meerkats and blu-tacked them to the window so I could trace around them, tinker with sizes and reorder the figures. Then I traced this onto the plastic sheet using a pointy pen to gently score the outline onto the plastic. (Another option if you are more sensible than me, is to use clear plastic and lay it on top of your image so you can trace directly onto it!)

Cut the inside out with a sharp craft knife. I used a Stanley knife, an Exacto would work well too. You now have your own handmade stencil. And permission to feel decidedly smug!

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Test stencil placement prior to pinning.

Here is where your iron first comes in handy. (I seem to have lost ours. It should be a dream come true, but this happens to be one of the approximately 3 times a year when I dig the little blighter out, and can I find it? No. Maybe it’s paying me back for months of neglect.) Give your t-shirt a quick press so your printing area is nice and flat, then insert some newspaper, or in my case an empty box of tacos, inside the shirt so that the ink doesn’t seep through to the back.

I seem to have lost the iron. It should be a dream come true, but this happens to be one of the approximately 3 times a year when I dig the little blighter out, and can I find it? No. Maybe it’s paying me back for months of neglect.

Lay your stencil on top of your t-shirt and weigh of tape down so it doesn’t move around while you are putting the ink on. Because I had unattached shapes inside, I stuck things down with blu-tack (double sided tape would work too, or possibly porridge – that stuff sticks to everything!) I pinned the t-shirt to the carpet too, to minimise movement even further.

Dab your fabric paint into all the exposed areas, and wait until it’s dry before lifting. The white paint I used on the green top was a little too thin and soaked into the fabric, so I waited a little longer and gave it a second coat before removing the stencil.

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While painting, be sure to stop the stencil moving around.

Once it’s dry, follow the setting instructs on your fabric paint, (here’s where the iron makes its reappearance) and admire your work. Or in my case, rue the compulsion that made you buy the cheapest fabric paint Spotlight had on offer that day, because it was so thin it took 5 coats before the colour was opaque, and it also bled. Oops.

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Look for fabric paint that is not too runny!

As a side note, I got very excited after making the first two tops for the kids and thought I’d be very clever and make one for my husband with some text on it, using the kids set of alphabet stamps. Uh-uh, no go. The ink didn’t print clearly at all, and the letters managed to be blobby, fuzzy and faint all at the same time. I didn’t iron set it, and fortunately it mostly came out in the wash.

Next I might have a crack at making an alphabet stencil!

 

 

April 11, 2014 at 8:38 am Leave a comment

A Vegetarian Quandary

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Vegetarians eagerly waiting for their chickens to kick the bucket.

I’ve been vego more than half my life. Certainly long enough that I have developed a wide and varied repertoire of recipes and rarely miss meat.

Sometimes people ask if there are any circumstances under which I would eat meat. I usually jokingly answer ‘maybe if the animal had died of old age’. After all ethically* there is no objection surely? The animal has presumably lived a long and full life, and now rather than wasting its precious resources, wouldn’t it be sensible to make use of its protein? It was something to ponder in the small hours of insomnia. Would I?

Well I recently had opportunity to find out. Some of our chickens are getting a little geriatric, and in the heat of the summer, one poor girl decided she’d had enough.

Would I?

No.

No, it turns out I definitely would not. There was nothing appealing whatsoever about her slumped and sorry little form, moulded to the shape of the nest box. Without a second thought I carried her down the hill and laid her in a dense patch of undergrowth where she could either go back to earth by herself, or more likely, provide a meal for one of the local foxes, thereby saving some poor sitting duck out on the hillside, or better yet one of the local endangered bandicoots, from being dinner that night.

Oh, and RIP Flora, you were a lovely old girl.

*Not that I claim to be consistent in my ethics, however much I might try! I console myself with the reflection that paradox, inconsistency, and the spaces between what we believe and what we do are part of what makes humanity so interesting. There is almost inevitably logic to any sort of behaviour or belief, though it is often a convoluted and twisted path to trace!

April 10, 2014 at 11:49 am Leave a comment

The Adjustable Snack Bar

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Cranberry and almond muesli bars

I seem to be having trouble finding something that everyone can eat. We have coeliac friends, dairy free friends, egg free friends, the kids and I are vego, and now that boy #2 is at kindy, we also have to be mindful about nuts. There is also a general trend in the local child raising community towards low sugar, or low GI, less grain, whole food, additive free, and made with superfoods (preferably by Norwegian virgins wearing cloth-of-gold and singing harmonics under the light of the new moon ;). This can make finding a shareable food quite a challenge!

However I may have found it. Well, minus the Norwegian virgins. Though I’m sure they could make these bars too if they want to..

The trick is using mucilaginous seeds to bind the whole thing together. This way you don’t need to use half your body weight in honey to make them hold together. Plus you get the added nutritional smugness of using chia and linseed. These two seeds, along with basil seeds (also occasionally called mangluck seeds, which I mention purely because I think it’s such a fun word to say..) absorb many times their own weight in water and produce the nice binding gel.

This recipe is extremely adaptable, you can experiment widely with ratios and flavours depending how sweet you (or the kids) like things, what fruit, seeds or nuts you prefer, or what you happen to have in the cupboard on that particular day. However to give you something to start with, here is a basic recipe.

50g whole linseed
50g chia seed
1T soy sauce
1T honey (or skip this to go vegan, and use a little stevia, or more fruit for the sweetness)
1T cinnamon* or cacao (or both!)
2c water, mixed with the above and then add
650g of mixed seeds, nuts and dried fruit, in this case sunflower, pepita, sultana and cranberry (I use about 2:1 seeds to fruit, you’d drop the fruit ratio down to make this more paleo friendly, and you could substitute the oats for more nuts/seeds too in that case)
100g rolled oats, oat bran, or quinoa flakes if going gluten free

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Currently I pile this into the biggest cake tin I own and bake it for an hour at 160, then cool it on a rack before cutting to help it dry out. If I was less lazy I’d spread it thinner over several trays, or put it in a dehydrator (if I had one..)

I’m keen to try this out as a savoury snack too, swapping the fruit for almonds and using more seasoning – soy, smoked paprika, maybe some chilli.

Or to load it up with choc chips.

The variations are endless really! Have fun!

*Interestingly cinnamon has a host of nutritional and medicinal benefits, as well as being anti microbial, anti fungal (particularly effective against candida!) doing good things for blood sugar and cholesterol levels. I sneak it into everything now!

April 4, 2014 at 9:17 am 2 comments

Poetic Thursday

Square of orange sky,
Striated with grey.
Window or giant tiger’s eye?

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April 3, 2014 at 10:47 am Leave a comment

Counter Cultures – how cool is this yoghurt?

I mean that literally. These are yoghurts you can culture at room temperature on the kitchen counter!

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A large kefir ‘grain’

Most yogurts are thermophilic, that is they need warmth, usually quite a specific temperature, to breed and culture milk into yoghurt. But there are quite a few strains that are mesophilic, that is they grow best in the middle range of temperatures, (18-26C ish.) Interestingly these yogurts originate from all over the world – viili, fil mjölk, and piima from Scandinavia, matsoni from Bulgaria, kefir from Turkey, and so on.

They are absurdly easy to make, generally you just reserve a tablespoon or so of the current batch and use it to inoculate the next batch of milk, and as they can live on for many generations in this way, they are sometimes called heirloom yoghurts.

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A dollop of stretchy viili

 

They vary in texture, density and sourness, and respond well to experimentation, and seem to be remarkably tolerant of inattentive hosts. So far we’ve tried kefir, matsoni and viili. Viili is also known as Scandinavian ropey milk, due to its remarkable self-clinging texture. Swirl it around the bowl and it behaves like a barrel-o-monkeys, grabbing onto itself and leaving the sides of the bowl all but clean! The kids affectionately call it slime yoghurt, and are endlessly fascinated by it. Possibly it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s certainly an experience!

Matsoni seems remarkably similar. (So similar in fact, that I wonder if I accidentally cross-pollenated it with the viili and made a mutant crossbreed?) It, like the viili, is also of a great thick texture, very mild in flavour, and surprisingly not sour.

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Mysterious kefir

 

Kefir is heavy artillery of the yoghurt world, and really warrants its own post. Briefly for now, kefir is a SCOBY, aka Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeasts, which means it forms elastic nodules of up to about walnut size, called kefir grains (though they are ot grains) and these culture the milk, creating a thinner, drinking style yoghurt with a slightly farmy flavour, and chock full of a complex balance of probiotics. Kefir devotees speak of all sorts of wonderful health benefits, and if the gut is the first line of defence for the immune system, then having a diverse and flourishing range of flora makes a great deal of sense.

This makes a refreshingly sour drink by itself, or can be used in smoothies, frozen treats, dressings, sauces, etc. anywhere you would use yoghurt really, though cooking it would kill of its probiotic qualities. Kid 2 loves it, Kid 1 doesn’t, but he does like to chew on the grains, which is also a very effective way of consuming the good bacteria!

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Fro-yo

When you’re yoghurted out, you can start a new batch, pop it in the back of the fridge and leave it to daydream for up to a month, though it may be a little thinner than usual for the first couple of batches after you start it up. If you’re mean like me (or you want to keep a back up in case your main batch has a disaster), you can even freeze it. I’m yet to test my frozen kefir back up, but the viili and matsoni frozen in mini silicon muffin cups started up straight away. I scraped off the freezer burn from the surface to avoid cross contamination, and they were good to go.

So whether you’re a yogophile, a health nut, a food historian, or simply curious, why not try going counter culture?

March 31, 2014 at 4:11 pm Leave a comment

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