Wednesday, June 28, 2017 value in the home...Setting an Example....

One of the things I love most about where I am in life, is that I have so many opportunities to set a good example in the way I run my home.
I try to set an example with what we grow in the garden, what we store in the pantry, and what we save in the craft cupboard and sewing room. Much of that activity, is largely guided by my own memories of my Mum, Nanna and other significant adults, in my own life, and the wonderful example they set for me.
In this day and age of chasing eternal youth and the next notch in our belt as far as fitness goes, of houses that are bigger than big, and credit card debts to go with, and retirees busy spending the kids inheritance, I think it's important to remember that there was a time when adults really did, set the example.
When I was a child, the adults around me worked hard.
And by that I mean physically hard, not in an air-conditioned office. Dads and Grandads, and Mums and Grandmas all worked very hard to establish a comfortable lifestyle, and their idea of comfort was very different to ours.
If you had a roof over your head, a Kelvinator fridge with a tiny freezer just barely big enough for a 'brick' of ice cream, and a cozy bed, you were doing just fine.
TV was a luxury, and even when it became more commonplace, they were tiny things about the size of a modern day microwave. And the pictures were black and white. Television broadcasting commenced at 9am with Romper Room or Playschool for the children, and halted at about 9pm after Pick A Box and Alfred Hitchcock Presents were over. We were then treated to a holding pattern on our screen, and a high pitched hum that woke many of us from a peaceful slumber on the couch.
The Milkman, The Fruit Man, The Baker, The Soft Drink Man, The Fishmonger, The Butcher and The Grocer all delivered, or had a truck that did the rounds every day, and you'd just wander down to have them weigh what you needed in their big swinging scales. They always threw in a bit of extra, be it some imperfect apples, or an extra fish, or the shank from the lamb, and garnered a loyal customer base in the process. No haggling. It was respect both ways.
Being a little self sufficient was important
Everyone grew stuff and many kept chickens. I don't recall ever in my life living in a house that did not have at least a Mango tree and a Macadamia tree, and usually there was a Mulberry, a Lemon, sometimes a Peach tree, and often a Banana tree. My childhood knew no pre-packaged snacks apart from a very occasional packet of chips and that was usually in a showbag (also known as a sample bag) from the annual Show, which was like a sort of Carnival on steroids and greatly anticipated. No theme parks back then either. Afternoon tea consisted of an hour of grazing on what grew in the back yard. Sometimes that was an hour spent cracking Macadamia Nuts, sometimes it was picking Chokoes and steaming them to enjoy them dripping in butter, salt and pepper. Never did it mean something in a plastic cup, unless it was a Tupperware cup with cold, icy milk and 3 spoonsful of Milo. You'd get the Milo barely wet with milk, by stirring it in, then enjoy eating the crust of Milo granules that would settle on top.
Everyone knew how to insulate themselves from financial hardship
My grandparents had a Strawberry farm and picking the berries was back breaking work and they didn't earn a lot of money from it. But they also grew a choko vine, a passionfruit vine, a fig tree, and raised their own chickens, geese, cows and lambs. Grandpa would be up early to milk the cows. Nanna would rise and make Semolina for breakfast, and she'd serve it with a little of the top cream from yesterdays milk, brown sugar and cinnamon. She'd spend the morning collecting the eggs, pruning things in the garden, baking, and even sometimes slaughtering a chicken for the dinner pot. This would entail a process that would send some of you screaming from the room if I were to detail it, so I'll keep mum on that one. Suffice to say, I certainly understood the Food Chain from an early age!
Nanna and Mum both cooked, sewed, embroidered, knitted, crocheted, baked, made amazing cakes for birthdays, christenings and weddings, grew food, grew flowers, made do, made from scratch, and generally conjured up life from nothing more than fresh air and water, or so it seemed at times.
Not for them fretting about lines, or freckles, or excess weight, or what their resting pulse was, or who knew who and what their 'connections' might be. Yes, they looked after themselves, but it was a less conscious thing. Exercise routines were embedded in their day, so no gym membership was necessary.
As far as occupations went, nobody cared if your were a doctor, lawyer, tinker or tailor. In fact, mostly people felt sorry for doctors as they were frequently called upon at all hours to tend to all injuries both great and small. Emergency treatment in big, shiny hospitals was a few years off. I still remember when an accident at the local train station had the adults talking in whispers for a full week. Our doctor was asked, with no support or well lit hospital operating room, to tend a man who was so badly injured, he would not survive. I don't think he was ever his jovial self again after that. Life was cruel sometimes.
Teachers were a bit scary, headmasters more so. The local Methodist priest, scariest of all. But relatively speaking, the strange occupational hierarchy that exists now, was a long way off. Back then, so long as you paid your bills and were a good, decent person, that was enough.
Mums and Nannas, Dads and Grandpas, neighbours and teachers were, and continue to be, my example in life.
What worthy examples they turned out to be.

As I move into the latter half of my life, I find I am more and more drawn to simpler living, and a way of life that upholds the lessons learned at my Nannas knee. Perhaps it is the pleasure of spending time with my own grandchildren that transports me so fiercely and vividly to my own childhood, and beckons to me invitingly.
Whatever it is, I am determined to ensure that I live my life as an example. Not by collecting accolades, awards and celebrity status, but by demonstrating the joy of a life that is unencumbered by the expectations of others. A life that says something about who I have been in my time on the Earth.
Society needs examples.
What sort of example are you setting?
My granddaughter has visited for Sleepovers twice in two weeks. Both times, I gave her my undivided attention. I remember my Nanna giving generously of her time to me at the same age. She died when I was 11, and I miss her still. My memories of her have not faded one bit in the ensuing 46 1/2 years, and I feel her example in my life, every single day. From rising early, to baking from scratch, to growing figs and mulberries, and teaching my granddaughter to embroider. She is right there with me.
Likewise, Mum, now gone nearly 15 years, was a teacher of so many important life lessons. The one that said don't live beyond your means. The one that said that friends who want you to spend money you don't have, be it on clothes, cars, homes or gifts, aren't friends. They're competitors in some weird life game, that you shouldn't feel compelled to participate in. And the one that said, no matter what it was, We Can Make That Darling. And she was right.

Already my 17 year old daughter makes gifts and cakes for her friends as seen here above. This gift was 100 Happy Thoughts in a jar, some individually wrapped chocolates, a sweetly customised wrapped soap, and some dried rosebuds. How beautifully she wrapped it too.

My eldest granddaughter who is 5, loves nothing more than to bake and pick flowers in the garden when she visits. Exactly as I did at her age with my Nanna. What a joy it is for me, to recreate that experience for her and my younger granddaughter, her sister.

Our times together are spent happily baking, creating, reading, crafting, colouring...

...and she loves nothing more than to imitate what I do. Her hand embellished dinner plates are a joy to behold, and she tried so hard to imitate my kitty kats above.
Pipe cleaners are fashioned in to Tiaras....

And finally, she tells me it's time for a cake and a cup of tea, and brings me a book to read.

We don't go out for gourmet meals much either. Sure I can rustle up something pretty swish when the mood takes me, but mostly it's simple, tasty, and warming at this time of the year in the Southern Hemisphere!
Corned beef and roast vegetables one night, becomes Corned Beef Shepherds Pie the next. The lesson of planning the meals to ensure minimal waste, another wonderful example.

Fast food here means tinned beans forming the base of a Winter Stir Fry, with the addition of bright vegetables, cubes of Chorizo, and a little seasoning. Ready in 7 minutes. That's less time than it would take to drive to the local takeaway.

Excess fruit becomes jam, which in turn becomes these gorgeous Crostadas, enjoyed as dessert, afternoon tea, and gifted for a housewarming. One simple recipe, used three times, three different ways. And at a cost of around $1 for 12, a real lesson in the value of home made. We'd seen similar Crostadas, one third the size, in a posh deli that day, at a price of $13 for 12.

Even the basic lesson of serving food on nice platters is an important one. You might notice that whilst restaurants serve meals on large plates, usually only the very centre is utilised, allowing for lots of space around the food to enhance the presentation. Large plates aren't for filling up with unnecessary calories. They're to give you space to make the food look appealing. A little lemon zest, a sprinkle of chopped chives, a spring of rosemary, a dusting of paprika or freshly ground pepper. These things go a long way towards giving your food that restaurant look, without the price tag. I don't think my Nanna and Grandpa ever visited a restaurant in their entire life. But they knew the value of a beautifully set table.

Mum and Nanna also knew how to make just about anything. There was no internet, but women talked. Over the fence and at church mostly. Recipes were exchanged, hardships shared, love celebrated, and tragedies grieved.
Foods like Cottage Cheese were a by-product of a simple life. If you had excess milk from your cow, you had to find a way to use it. Someone else's Nonna or Nanna or Ya-Ya always had the recipe you needed to use up what you had too much of, or to stretch what you needed more of.
When you realise that you can make Cottage Cheese/Ricotta, from nothing more than milk, salt and either lemon juice, vinegar or citric acid, you'll be wondering what's with the hefty price tag. Especially when you realise it's something that came out of avoiding food waste!
Once you appreciate the joy too, of growing just a few fragrant herbs in pots or in your garden, you'll likely be wondering the same thing. There is a special happiness in clipping some chives from your own sunny porch to stir through scrambled eggs or freshly made cottage cheese....

Here's how I made a cup of delicious, creamy cottage cheese of my own the other day. My granddaughter helped. She didn't appreciate the cheese, calling it Yucky Nanna, but she loved the process.
To one litre of Reduced Fat Milk, I added a 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/3 teaspoon of Citric Acid. You can find Citric Acid in the Baking aisle with things like Baking Powder.
Line a kitchen sieve with muslin or paper towel, and set it over a jug or bowl where the whey can drain.
Bring the milk and additives to a fast simmer, and remove it from the heat.
Let it sit undisturbed for 10 minutes.
It will form curds which you then scoop out with a slotted spoon, into your waiting lined sieve.
It will look a bit like this.
Keep the whey if you wish. It makes great skin toner, and can be added to shakes, smoothies, chutneys, and sauces. I sometimes keep it, and other times I don't bother. It doesn't keep indefinitely though, so make a plan to use it up, or discard as you see fit.
Allow your curds to drain for up to one hour. I changed my paper towel three times to get my cottage cheese to this consistency. This is quite firm and scoopable, and I can add herbs to it and use it as I would feta, haloumi, or grated tasty cheese.

Chopped mint and chives makes a lovely fresh tasting cheese.
I served this as a salad one day...
..and as a sautéed vegetable medley the next. Planning to use things up, like the corned beef I mentioned above, is an important example too. Waste not, want not!
These two meals used exactly the same ingredients, but one was served cold with the mushrooms marinated as a salad, the other stirred in a hot wok for a few minutes as a delicious Saute`.
Another lesson learned.

What lessons did you learn at your Grandmothers knee?
I'd love to hear.
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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Motherly Advice...Pretty pictures do not a pantry make....

Are you someone who adores spending time on Pinterest? On Instagram? I know I am. I love a pretty picture, and confess that I am greatly influenced in what I achieve in my day, by how visually pleasing the effect will be, when I am done.
I love the gleam of my hardwood floors when they're freshly swept and mopped (yes that is my new Falcon oven peeking at the right hand edge of this shot...delivered yesterday...

....and so too, the gleam of my beautiful Tasmanian Oak laminated beam bench and buffet tops....

..I love looking from my kitchen bench, across the living area, to our bank of louvres and out into our shady tropical garden. It's a special pleasure...

....and in the Master Bedroom, I love the soothing ivory and blue colour scheme, with my hand embellished faux Moroccan blanket...

...and toning throw rug, fringing elegantly draped over the antique blanket box that I bought with my very first pay packet 41 years ago. The framed photograph was produced by a local primary school class, for their school fete. I won it by Silent Auction, for just $50. Isn't it the sweetest?

So, when it came to my kitchen, I was similarly influenced by how darling it could look. Over a period of years, and aiming for this sort of idea, below...
...I assembled an extensive collection of vintage Harlequin kitchen canisters. Different types, but mostly full sets. The anodised metal one at front right you see in the next picture, being the exception. I had some wild idea (not entirely misguided), that I would find mates for that one in my thrift store shopping expeditions. I augmented this with my collection of recycled jars, seen bottom right, which I topped with a rainbow of crystal door knobs. I loved them. Husband less so. He says he doesn't mind a bit of Vintage Charm in the kitchen, but I think he means!
On the occasions when Husband, or my lovely sons or daughters-in-law cook for the family, it's been difficult for them to navigate my Rainbow canisters. The canisters say Flour or Sugar, but which one is Plain Flour or Rice Flour? Which is Raw Sugar and Caster Sugar? Where is the Quinoa? And which canister holds the teabags, and where is the filter coffee kept? Sigh. It sure was delightfully dreamy looking at those sorbet hued canisters, but jeez...not easy to find stuff.

My recent win of kitchen appliances, gave me a whole new viewpoint. Suddenly I didn't have to make do with pastel canisters, and a sorta, kinda half French Farmhouse, half 50s Retro kitchen any more. The centrepiece of my kitchen would now be my Falcon Range...
 ...and I could fulfill my dream of a true French Country Farmhouse kitchen.
Cupboards were emptied....eee-yew...scary what gathers in there over the years...
...cleaned and painted white...

...even cutlery drawers were before...
 ...and here, below, after...
...and new clear canisters sourced for just $8 each set of three in graduating heights. 
Fifteen sets of three in all, plus some chalkboard style labels and a white pen, saw my kitchen changed from chaos to calm...

 My favourite pink vintage canisters and bread bin were retained and given pride of place. They still make me smile...
...and now a calm, harmonious arrangement is in place for my extensive array of cooking ingredients. No matter who the designated chef is, ingredients can be found easily, levels checked instantly, shopping lists made simply, and order reigns supreme.

It's been a real lesson for me. I was so focused on having a Pinterest Perfect idea of a kitchen, that I neglected to appreciate who uses the space, when and how it's used, and why it needs to be a space where anyone can walk in and find what they need. Sure, it needed to be an area in which I loved to work, but I am not the only one working there!
It's now time to pretend I've had a windfall of a longed for appliance or piece of furniture in other rooms of the house, and evaluate those space for functionality, and not just the pretty picture they make.
After all, this is my home. Not a Pinterest board. Right?
What about you? Are you influenced by the plethora of pictures with which we are bombarded these days? How do you keep your home, yours, in the era of Pinterest and Instagram?
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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Nannas recipes in four sentences...Crepes and Crepe Stacks

Light as air crepes...
In a large jug, whisk one cup of flour, one egg, one tablespoon of oil or melted butter, a pinch of salt, and enough milk to make the batter resemble the consistency of pouring cream, and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Heat a non stick pan over medium-high heat, and barely moisten it with some oil wiped over with a paper towel. Pour in a scant quarter cup of batter and swirl it to spread the batter thinly, allowing it to dry out and lift at the edges, before flipping. Slide from the pan to a waiting platter and repeat with remaining batter.
I like to layer this to form a sort of cake, using Nutella, Jam and Cream or even just lemon or lime juice (freshly squeezed) and caster sugar between the layers. Yummy!
Some tips for crepe perfection...
1. Only use a non stick frypan.
2. Find yourself a stainless steel spatula with a squared off edge. Plastic spatulas with rounded edges make it very hard to lift and flip your crepes neatly.
3. Do not use too much oil. A light smear or spray is all that's required.
4. Don't use too much batter per crepe. You only want a couple of tablespoons of batter to give you enough to swirl for a side plate sized crepe.
5. Don't make the crepes too large, as they'll be hard to flip, and won't look as pretty when stacked.
6. Make sure the crepe is dry and frilly around the edges and bubbly on top, before you try to flip. It should be virtually cooked on the top, and only require browning once flipped.
7.  Serving variations are only limited by your imagination. Savoury fillings can include leftovers, vegetables, meat, fish or chicken in a white sauce rolled inside cigar style, topped with cheese, and baked in a moderate oven. Sweet fillings can be fruit, mousse, spreads or simply citrus juice and fine sugar. 
8. Start with the pan on the highest setting, and be prepared to discard the first crepe in each batch as you get the technique and temperature right. Reduce the heat to medium high after the first crepe.
9. Crepes make a great substitute stacked as a sort of layer cake, used instead of lasagne sheets (especially for those who eat gluten free), and served as an inexpensive and elegant brunch or breakfast.
10. Roll them like cigars, fold them into little half circles or quarter circles, or simply enjoy layered with sugar between the layers.

How will you enjoy your crepes?
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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Motherly Advice...Finding Contentment in less...

I've written copiously on this topic over the years. You can read about my thoughts on surviving depression and disorganisation here, and here. I wrote here, about what children remember. Here we discussed Nurturing of Self, Home, Spirit and loved ones and how that brings contentment. And here in one of my Insourcing posts, and thanks to a friend and reader, Mel, I found much in my own life, for which I was thankful.
I've had periods of plenty and lean periods both. You too? Life does have a swings and roundabouts way of things sometimes. One year you're up, the next you're down. Relationships break down, life moves on, new relationships are discovered. Todays career promotion, is tomorrows stress. Toddlers become human (lol), before reverting to toddler like behaviour in their teens.
If you let every little swing this way, and roundabout circle that way, dictate your mood, you'll never find contentment.
I confess that when I was younger, I was convinced that contentment lay in self-fulfilment through my career. I certainly gained a great deal of financial satisfaction that way. I was respected by my peers and I liked that as well. But, I missed out on much of my sons growing up while I was at it.
That said, I do not regret my career girl days, and nor should you, if you're in that position now. They taught me a great deal about myself and the big, wide world out there, and certainly rubbed off some of the naiveté`, that was part of me back then. I should add though, that the cut and thrust of car/hair/jewellery/childs achievement type conversations, at School pickup probably did the! Hair raising stuff, I tell ya!
Thankfully the Universe saw fit to bless me with a daughter later in life, and the contentment that I have found in being a full time Mum and Caregiver, has been abundant.
Stage of Life?
Sometimes I think it is a coming-of-age thing, this contentment. You have to live a bit of life, to appreciate what's really important. And what seems important at 25 or 35, can only be deemed less so with the tyranny of distance. Certainly what makes us happy at 20, is not necessarily what brings us joy at 50. What is achievable at 50, is perhaps impractical or simply impossible, at 20. 
It helps to accept that part of the swings and roundabouts of life, is that each stage has it's own joys and relish them as they come. Your children will never be 3 again. Sometimes I wish for the days when mine were 3. But then I wouldn't be enjoying the fact that they're 23 or 33, now, would I?
Social Circle?
Some people think that you have to have a group of like-minded friends to find contentment. There is a little grain of truth in that. But quite frankly, I don't have a single friend in my day to day life, who is at the same stage of child rearing, financial thinking, and Nanna-hood, that I am. I do however, have a close circle of online friends who fulfill that need admirably. Thank the stars for blogging! Maybe you too, can find support and contentment that way.
Visitors Eyes
Anyway, the main thing I've learned in my lifetime, is that contentment has little to do with acquiring the small stuff. I confess I've been as guilty as anyone of thinking that filling my home with knick knacks that make a statement about my personal preferences, was the path to contentment.
One day I had this epiphany. I don't actually know why. But I was just about to pay for something in one of those glossy magazine worthy shops. You know. The ones that smell divine, and have something playing on their muzak that sounds like it's coming from an old French film noir. They also usually have lots of mirrors, twinkly lighting, and a great deal of temptation, right down to the divinely wrapped and scented soaps next to the register, that like the candy at the supermarket register, implore you to part with just a little more of your hard earned cash.
It truly was like a bolt out of the blue. I just suddenly realised that even when I got my purchase home (frankly, I don't even recall what it was), my own home was still not going to look anything like the shop in which I was currently standing. Because the thing I had in my hand was only appealing, nestled amongst the plethora of other similar items. All that twinkle and shine, all that crystal and glass. All. That. Stuff.
Without warning, I felt a bit claustrophobic. All That Stuff was suddenly Too Much Stuff. Both in the shop and in my home. I returned home, and looked at things with fresh eyes. With Visitors Eyes. Do you ever do that? It's actually a trick I learned in my career girl days. Whenever the Big Boss was visiting from wherever, we looked around the office with Visitors Eyes. Pot plants would disappear in a flourish, desks would be cleared, and office refrigerators cleansed of their stash of month old home lunches.
It's a good strategy. The Visitors Eyes.
Don't get me wrong. I still love my little pretties around me. But these days, I am far more discerning about what I have on display. I choose judiciously, and only display my current favourites. Those can change seasonally, or with my mood. Rarely do I have more than a handful out at any given time, and no longer do I hand over my hard earned dollars to glitzy homemaker stores. I make my own 'home'.
A Peaceful Life?
One thing I've decided unequivocally, is that Contentment for me, means a peaceful life. One begets the other. Peace = Contentment and vice versa.
Not for me a noisy Café` breakfast that relieves us of $40-$60 of our hard earned cash, when I can cook mouth watering Crepes in an instant at home for mere cents...
I find an odd contentment in having an organised home. A recent investment of just over $100 in clear kitchen canisters, actually saved us several hundred in renovations. We thought we lacked space, when what we lacked was organisation.

A beloved and extensive collection of vintage Harlequin canisters, was whittled down to just my favourite pinks. And they now shine as they are no longer jostling for attention amongst the many. Clutter begone!

Spending time passing on skills to my children and grandchildren brings me peace and contentment. I lost my Nanna at aged 11, but she has continued to be an enduring influence upon me in everything from baking to gardening. I want my children and grandchildren to have those same memories when I am gone.
My daughter recently baked this cake...

We enjoyed it with Passionfruit Curd made by her also, using home grown passionfruit. I used this as an opportunity to also teach her how to make 3 minute vanilla bean custard.

My Granddaughter looks forward to baking with Nanna, as I did when I was her age. And the fact that the icing isn't perfect, is completely irrelevant.
I've spoken often about drying inexpensive bouquets of supermarket roses, to use in craft projects, or simply to display as is.

And a recent decision to hand paint our own existing crockery, in preference to purchasing a set in the colours we wanted, has seen everyones creativity come to the fore, making memories in the process.

Everyone has a favourite flower or herb. It's always been a special joy of mine to grow a single favourite in abundance. Once upon a time, that was garlic chives and jasmine in tiny pots near my rented front door. Now I am privileged to grow fruit trees and flowers in abundance in my own back yard. My French Lavender is an ongoing pleasure.

And our citrus trees attract all kinds of wildlife. You cannot imagine my granddaughters excitement at finding this butterfly right at her eye level yesterday.
And then there is the supreme contentment of knowing that our own example, sets the tone for our loved ones.
After a busy morning of fun with my granddaughter yesterday, she declared it was time for a cupcake and a cup of tea. I made the tea, she found me a book (ironically A French Woman for All Seasons which I don't think advocates!), and brought me a cupcake she and I had made together.
Lessons learned, memories made.

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