Stuff That Matters

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Watching how the backyard garden has grown overnight takes on a mindfulness that isn’t often present for the rest of the day. Tracking bees on their pollen paths, and seeing how the calendula has unfurled overnight. Solitude is fleeting, even at 6am. I’ll grab it in handfuls wherever I can, it’s really important to me. I need it.

Passionfruit kombucha experiments. I thought it was delicious, and two out of three kids thought it was good one. The other one?…I might have to keep working on that palate of his. Keeping them healthy is a huge priority to me.

(And when not so healthy) there’s Master Tonic or Fire Cider, it’s damn good stuff and this time of year it’s almost a necessity. With half the city echoing with their coughs of the stricken down, my kids adding to the list of the afflicted, it was all a little ill timed that I ran out of my batch of the stuff. (I did a how-to over on Milkwood last year if you are keen to make your own.) Lucky for me, and thanks to a lovely instagram connection some of Hilbilby’s good stuff landed on my doorstep just at the right time. Health isn’t something that I take for granted, ever, and with the smallest coming down with an associated ear infection. I’m pretty damn thankful that I have access to really great medical advice and care when I need it.

This week I finally got to meet the lovely Fran. Fran is 100 kinds of awesome. Some of this I know from her instagram account that I’ve been following for awhile, some of this I know from her blog and some of this I know from the hour we spent together after she drove 5 hours to my place to deliver a table and not eat lunch (too busy talking you see.) I feel super lucky to have people like that jump into my life.

While this week has also had its fair share of arguments, tears, crossed wires, and crappy news (real life always exists behind the sunshine filled walls of a blog.) I’m still thankful for them. I could wish that they had never happened, (but they did) or they are happening and wishing away won’t change anything.

What I can do is, learn from them, grow from them, possibly define my own ideas and thoughts a little better because of them. At the very least I can hug my kids a bit tighter at the end of the day and I can say to dear friends, hey thanks for spending time with me today, that was bloody awesome and I loved every minute of it.

The connections, the tiny moments, the community ties, the freshly cut bread, the hugs, the long conversations…

This is the good stuff of life.

This is the stuff that matters.

 

Best (yet) Buckwheat Pancakes

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When a gluten free diet was suggested by my well loved professional holistic caregiver, there might have been a slight whimper on my part.

Gluten, there’s no denying it. It’s delicious.

Not the actual glutenous fibres themselves but the food in which that gluten is often encased. Anyone who has been a long time reader of this blog might have subtly noticed I bake a fair chunk of the time. Mostly, because I like to keep costs down, like to feed my ravenous family with great food, and I also want to know what’s going in all those breakfasts, lunches, dinner’s, morning teas, afternoon teas, and snacks.

All sounds very wholesome and love fuelled right? Well it’s also fairly gluten based when it comes to my baking, (even if a fair chunk of it is wholemeal spelt flour based.)

So, a gluten free diet for me eh?

Well that would wipe out the two thick slices of delicious homemade sourdough in the morning then wouldn’t it?

It would probably leave out the healthy backyard vegetable salad with a tasty little pangritata on top.

It would also probably wipe out the custard tart eaten with my equally gluten loving friend with a side order of books, photography and belly laughing chitchat.

Dinner would look a little less like orechiette alle broccoli and more like…well broccoli.

But that was fine. It was just a trial to see where things were at, to see what was what and well, why was why? Something like that anyway. In a nutshell, gluten was off the menu for the next three ish weeks.

Now I knew with any changes in dietary requirements the key to success was preparation.

P.R.E.P.A.R.A.T.I.O.N.

After a gluten fuelled “see you in a bit” honorary party the night before I started, the first day arrives and I happily head to the kitchen ready to embark on all things un-glutenous. It’s Sunday which means pancakes round these parts, and the kids laid the table out in readiness. But me, what about me? What was a poor gluten-free woman to do when it’s Pancake Sunday? Wholemeal Spelt pancakes weren’t going to cut it, and it seems my very first meal was a fail first up.

I hadn’t prepared a damn thing…and I was hungry. Step two in successful dietary changes is don’t let yourself get too hungry (especially on the first day!) as it will be easy to slip into the habits of old.

I admitted defeat. Enjoyed 5 gluten filled pancakes and declared I would start at lunch.

Now what I should have done and certainly did in subsequent meals was swap the spelt flour for buckwheat.

Buckwheat Pancakes, I’ve made these countless times over the last few weeks with varying degrees of success. Some with rice flour in there as well, some with egg whites, some with ricotta, but the best and most dependable seem to be a simple ratio of egg, flour and milk. It’s nothing crazy but for my own reference I’m putting these up, best (yet) Buckwheat Pancakes.

(Also for all future references, buckwheat pancakes and lemon curd is an entirely acceptable trade off for gluten.)

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Buckwheat Pancakes

25g melted butter

1 beaten egg

1 cup buckwheat flour

1/4 tsp bicarbonate soda

1 cup milk

Whisk all ingredients together and cook in pan. Stack ’em high and eat with enthusiasm.

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growing buckwheat

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The Song of Spring

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She’s been whispering for weeks now,

just a hint of a melody at first,

and a soft warm breath noticed at the base of the neck.

The light longer and brighter,

changing with the fastening beat of the season,

tickety tick, tickety tick…

no longer the slow deep boom of winter,

it’s a light footed dance from grass blade to flower,

notes skipping from one side to another.

This is spring and she’s drawing us out,

with promises of picnics, new garden beds and ideas,

a warbling magpie joins in with an accompanying beat,

she too knows this annual tune,

this is the Song of Spring.

…and then the slugs moved in

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It wasn’t the first time I’d had run ins with slugs, but it was the first time I had ever grown anything in this much abundance. Not a nominal amount that had been the case when it was a potted garden in the big smoke with 1-2 hours of sunlight. No here, I had much more sunlight and things (after a few trial and errors) were actually growing.

I proudly showed several heads of lettuces off on instagram, and really it had all be pretty darn exciting watching things grow and then following that up by eating them. We even toyed with the idea of there nearly being enough to cancel our vegetable box delivery. Options like that were suddenly no longer sounding completely unachievable.

And then the slugs moved in.

One evening, dusk was snaking it’s way in and I had ventured out to the compost. Suddenly I’m stopped in my tracks by a multitude of glistening bodies, slimebagging their way along my prize winning* vegetables. Cue stampede music and old school horror music piano pieces. Those little bastards? They were everywhere.

I start picking them off. I keep picking them off. I get a container, and still keep picking them off.

Everywhere.

They are bloody everywhere. At this rate I won’t have a vegetable in sight by the end of the week. I traipse inside, slip my shoes off as they have become a little slidey from all the slug guts and declare war on the slime bags. Vowing words of action the very next day.

Except I didn’t.

I actually forgot the next day.

So when I hear a concerned voice coming in from the back door, (after a visit to the compost again) saying “…there’s a lot of slugs out there tonight!”. I write a post-it-note with a big black marker and stick it on my forehead for first thing tomorrow. Must sort that slug issue out.

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So what are your options when you have a plague of slugs stampeding across your carefully tendered urban permaculture patch?

Eggshells… you are supposed to keep them dry and the sheer amount I would need to try to make this work didn’t seem workable.

Beer traps…I have done this, but it’s simply not enough. I’d have to have a beer filled moat for this to be effective and with a wandering whippet (whom I suspect would be a bit of a light weight drinker) it’s not really a long term option either.

Ducks… I like the idea, actually I love the idea! But…I’m not there yet, and again, not sure about the whippet.

Grow extra’s… I actually do have enough lettuce to share (regrettably) with my slimebag friends, however they’ve taken more than their share and are simply not playing fair.

Slug and snail bait… nah, not going to happen.

Copper…I’d read that I could strip wires and use the copper parts as a barrier method to stop them. I didn’t have any wires, and didn’t have the time before my vegetables are reduced to stubs to go seek some to strip. A quick trip to the hardware store get’s me back home with 8 metres of copper tape. I thought about taping the beds up Mission Impossible laser style scene, but decided that’s probably overkill at this stage considering I don’t even know if these things will work. I go with the disco look instead and line the edges. Not enough of the edges but if it works**, I’ll get more and disco everywhere the slimebags lurk.

So did it work?

First night, I can’t see any slugs in the garden that had been previously looking like Bondi Beach in the middle of summer. I had wrapped the tape around all the edges. The garden beds where I had only done a portion of the tape, the bodies once again glistened in the light. So at a quick look, I’d say yes, yes it did work where I had placed the tape all the way round.

The following day was all day slug weather, the slimebags didn’t even have to wait until dusk had set, as it was so wet and bleak out there they could just munch on down, breakfast, lunch and dinner. My problem was I hadn’t finished the taping and couldn’t do it again until the garden bed edges were dry so it would adhere properly.

Once again, I go inside mumbling war cries and take off slippery shoes from slug guts.

Will the copper tape keep the suckers at bay? Not sure, to be continued folks…

In the mean time What are some of your tried and true methods for slug control? Or something you’ve tried and it didn’t work?

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*Yes, I know I haven’t actually won any awards.

 

Love in a time of Pokemon

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I recently listened to a podcast with Alain De Botton on the topic of love. The first time I was interrupted 26 times before it came to the end. A concoction of three children and a mischievous whippet was the source of the interruptions.

Despite the stopping and starting, I didn’t turn it off.

I couldn’t turn it off.

The conversation was fascinating and I knew I would be listening to it a second time, if only to hear the lines I had missed the first time in their entirety. (I did listen again and was happy that I had. )

Alain de Botton’s way of describing our culture of romanticism, and also why you should be upfront with your own fault’s from the beginning of a relationship was quite wonderful to hear.

So is there magic in some people’s relationships? Or is it an incredible amount of work, effort and kindness that creates this thing called love of which isn’t made by two perfect single creatures with an ambition to live happily ever after.

Alains’ words had me musing for far longer than the podcast, that’s for sure.

[The conversation with Richard Fidler can be found here. Or the rather condensed version of what he talks about in his book, found here.]

But what does Pokemon have to do with love I hear you ask?

Well, over time my small people have spent many happy years with heart eyes for Pokemon. With the eldest two being marginally obsessed, the third was drawn in almost by osmosis by her older siblings. Pokemon, of course she shall LOVE it! they cried.

At the announcement of Pokemon Go, the small-sized ones pricked up their ears and declared…awwwwwesome. Can we get it on your phone Mama?

Nope, not a chance, I said without barely raising my head.

At least I didn’t really disappoint them there, they really didn’t think there was a chance at all of me actually saying yes to that, but it’s always worth a crack eh kids? And yes I still love you all, even though we aren’t getting it.

They then moved pretty swiftly straight on to the kids they knew with their own phones and the crucial app. Straight after school there is a small beeline as kids begin charging around pointing phones in trees. Hastily mumbled hellos to waiting parents and conversations continue, spoken in the garbled tongue of Pokemon.

I recently (happily) caught a conversation between two arborists up a 20 metre tree. With me unintentionally listening in on what started out as some typical tradey talk between two up-a-gumtree fellas and ending in talk of Pokemon Go, strategies on playing and the Pokémon they had managed to happily capture the night before.

I couldn’t stifle the laughing longer than a minute so had to come on inside, where my attention was instantly brought back to that mischievous whippet. All I had to do was follow the trail of chewed objects, she’d lovingly left out for me.

Luckily for me, as I picked through the wreckage of my lounge room, I already knew that any relationship was built on a fair amount of work, effort and kindness. Whether that be with the man I’ve chosen to create a family with, my three Pokemon loving children or that mischief-making whippet. Which I think, keeps things far more interesting than any happily ever after that Disney or Hollywood would have you believe.

Best flowers to grow for you and your bees

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Looking around my garden, while it certainly wasn’t a total sea of blooms and wildflowers, for a garden that was 7 months young it had a decent selection of flowers both for us and our local bees. I was actually pretty happy with how it was all shaping up. Some flowers had come and gone, some flowers were still to be planted when spring officially raised her head again, and somethings had been there since we began.

When we had first started ripping up agapanthus and gardenias (which is what this garden had solely had before us; alongside grass and crap soil) I had vehemently said, we shall not grow anything that doesn’t serve an eating purpose and is useful! While I still stand by that statement, I have added a little bit more flexibility to it. Kangaroo Paw and and Daisies have earned their positions in the sun and while we don’t eat them, they look gorgeous and are a great addition for our bees to choose from.

For the bees and other local beneficial pollinators my wild plans of having a year round selection of changing seasonal foraging options… well it’s actually shaping up quite well.

Here’s a list of some bee friendly (whether they are native stingless, solitary or honey bee) plants that have made their way into the garden or will be in the next month or so.

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Alyssum– sweet scented, great for a ground cover.

Borage– you can also eat the slightly spiky leaves, just finely chop them first. Edible flowers, great for decorating and salads.

Blueberries– Hopefully they’ll turn into blueberries at some stage, they do seem to have a long flower stage, (this is their first year out of pots.)

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Calendula– Not on the excellent end of the colour chart for bees but it has many other uses so I’d be mad not to include it.

Clover– Tiny soft scented flowers, loved by bees and adored by small hands.

Comfrey– It’s been lying fairly dormant in a corner of the yard, biding time for warmer weather ((I hope!) A good soil conditioner, great for compost and a medicinal plant.

Cornflower– Not yet planted but the seeds are ready to go, come warmer weather. Plant too early and the seeds won’t germinate in the cold wet soil.

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Cosmos– these were such a joy over the warmer months, with so many flowers coming from a single plant. They also gave great shade to some of the more delicate vegetables.

Daisy– and oldy but a goody, and I can pretty much completely ignore them in terms of maintenance.

Dandelion– They grant wishes, don’t really make you wet the bed and are a super simple flower addition to your bee flowers.

Kangaroo Paw– a gorgeous Australian native that doesn’t require much attention at all.

Lavender– They happily sit in my “Mediterranean Corner”, sounds far more exotic than the dry corner where it cops the most sun.

Lupins– great green manure crop, where I was supposed to cut them down before they got to flower stage…nah, just couldn’t do it. I loved seeing bees on the flowers.

Marigold– again not at the good end of flower colour chart but still a favourite and easy to generate more seedlings, so they are here to stay.

Nasturtium– Good ground cover, will climb if you train it up and flowers look lovely for food decorating.

Rocket– My first rocket crop was a failure due to rubbish soil, I’ve learnt from it, can now grow great rocket and have let the rubbish crop go to flower so still creates a garden benefit.

Sunflowers– I haven’t planted these beauties yet as still a bit cool, but the seeds are good to go and I’m just a little bit excited about have 2.5 metre flowers within my garden.

Thai Basil and Holy Basil– I’ve got patches of both, and while not quite at the large bush stage, they are looking promising.

Yarrow– this beauty is doing wonderfully well, conditioning my soil, providing seasonal flowers and is a great medicinal garden addition.

Zinnia– currently not flowering due to winter but summer gave a wonderful crop which helped with shading some of my more vulnerable vegetables during the middle of the day heat. They were also remarkably easy to generate more seedlings with the dried flower heads.

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If you are creating your own bee flower garden, do keep in mind, they can see the purple/blue coloured flowers the best, with red flowers being at the end of their scale. I’d say skip the red roses this year and head for the borage!

What plants do grow for the benefit of both you and your bees?

For more reading on bees and their colour preferences see here

 

 

 

Spinach and Fetta Bread

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While two of my children gagged their way through dinner, the other one couldn’t get the second, third, fourth slice in fast enough. The problem and in equal measures, the highlight of the bread, was the spinach.

Spinach is one of those vegetables that seem to be hated by many and adored by all others. I think spinach is delicious and and will happily eat it in any form given to me. In a bread, you’ve got the benefit of a vegetable hidden (or not so much) in a high carbohydrate baked good, where you can’t go wrong really.

(Although two round here would contest that.)

So while I showered my spinach eating child in heart eyes, deep seated love and adoration, I loaded up his plate with slice after slice of green infused bread goodness.

I ignored my other two who continued to gag their way through the meal, feigning food poisoning, swallowing inability and general parental wickedness at even placing such a thing on our family table.

I instead focussed on the crusty sided outside of the loaf. The soft inner crumb, the subtle taste of the spinach and fetta infused throughout and the slappings of cultured butter to bring it all together.

As sunk my teeth in, I mumbled that I might make another one tomorrow.

Predictably this was met with a one sided cheer and two tragic noisy wails worthy of oscar nominations…luckily for me I’m well practised at ignoring misguided spinach wails.

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Spinach and Fetta Bread

2 tsp dried yeast

5 cups (750g) strong bread flour

600mls tepid water

2 tsp salt

200g fetta

1 bunch of finely chopped spinach or rainbow chard

In a large bowl mix through your yeast, flour and water, with a spoon then cover bowl and leave for 20 minutes. Then add salt, spinach and fetta, turn dough out on to bench and knead dough until it comes together. It’s a bit of a messy one with the spinach and fetta, but the dough will start to feel smooth and more elastic.

Pop the dough back in to the mixing bowl and cover for about an hour or until roughly doubled in size.

Fold the dough over once, and then proof again.

Dough out on to the bench and gently shape into a round, laying it on a baking tray. Rub a little extra flour on the top and leave to proof again until roughly doubly in size.

Score the dough just before it goes in the oven and bake with steam at 230C.

 

 

Focus… on just one thing

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Outside it’s blowing a gale. The sun shines bright through the windows and if I wasn’t paying close attention I’d think it was a perfectly lovely regular sunny day out there. Watching the eucalypts bend in the wind, tell me instead it’s a day with mixed feelings.

I get that.

Jumbled thoughts and distracted actions, I’m certainly no stranger here. It seems this week is one of those times. Time to pare it back a little, concentrate on one thing at a time instead of adding more and more to the circus show.

So how am I doing that? I’m dropping in little things that make the heart sing into the everyday, where I know the exhaled breath will be taken back and might be, (hopefully) just a little longer…instead of being unknowingly held.

I’m reading ‘Optimism’ by Bob Brown. What an incredible man, he can come round for dinner any time.

Singing along to Paul Dempsey, because he is awesome, (and equally encouraged to drop round for dinner any time.)

Swapping eggs and lemons for Lemon and Olive Oil Cake with my neighbours. Bonus chats over the back fence, always included.

Stopping in the winter sun, looking out to the water, grounding myself, and taking a minute just to focus on the one thing.

Because that stuff right there?

Yeah, it’s important.

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How are you travelling? If this post reminds just one person to take a minute to stop, breathe and practise a little mindfulness for a minute or too, I’m happy with that.

Also try here for an interesting read on the Japanese method of self reflection: Naikan

 

 

 

 

 

For the love of bees

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I hadn’t seen the bees for awhile now. It being winter and actually feeling like winter, I’m like a concerned parent. Silently hoping for a day over 18 degrees, just so I can check in on them all, make sure the hive is ok. A reassuring healthy buzzing bee off on a foraging trip, that’s all I need to see.

That day comes, it’s warm, it’s crazy warm and the first thing I do after ripping my too hot woollen scarf draped around my neck is scamper up the hillside (err, slight slope in the very urban backyard but who’s paying attention to those details) to see if the bees are out. They are! My little native stingless friends are out and about and there is rather a lot of them.

In summer, first thing in the morning. I can sit outside, close my eyes, and hear a bunch of different bees and other pollinators amongst the tomato flowers. Opening my eyes I would often find a variety of different bees crowding a flower peppered plumbago. The hedge really should have been pruned back long ago but I can’t seem to do it with so many bees sourcing their daily foraging needs within the blue flower buds. It would feel a bit mean.

Ever since I did a Native Stingless Bee course, bees have been a constant source of intrigue and curiosity. Not just the native stingless ones, but the whole lot of them. European honey bees, solitary bees, they really are incredibly interesting creatures.

Gina Cranson

I adore this poster by Gina Cranson. Copies of the poster can be bought through a variety of places, but you can start with her Etsy site if you are keen, (there also now available QLD versions). One of these posters sits above my desk- learning the different types just by glancing at the pictures several times a day.

When we lived in Sydney, I had organised for our local council to fund some native stingless bee hives to set up residence within the school grounds. There were 3 when we left which opens up the possibilities for either splitting the hives and passing another on to another school or harvesting the honey. Either way it’s a wonderful lesson for school kids, and I’m hoping to do the same here at our new school.

Another option for bee lovers is to host a honey bee hive. Not technically yours for keeps, but a wonderful alternative, which gives a pollinated garden and proportion of the honey as a trade off. It’s a winning system I tell you.

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More reading and information for all the bee enthusiasts out there

Earth Garden magazine frequently writes on a variety of our wonderful bees.

Awhile back I wrote about how to create your own Insect Hotel, over on Milkwood.

Tim Heard is the Native Stingless Bee master with his book The Australian Bee Book, (he also does frequent talks and workshops up and down the East Coast of Australia several times a year.)

Urban Hum hosts hives if you are in Newcastle, NSW.

Doug Purdie from The Urban Beehive, has you covered for all things honey bee related.