Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Simply making your own bread.

So to continue on my path to a simpler life.
 I made my own bread! I have made bread in the past, mainly using a bread maker. It hasn't, however, been all that successful. I found my loaves ended up very heavy and quite doughy in the middle - a bit like spreading butter and honey on to a warm sponge - not as tasty as I had hoped.
 Following these attempts the bread maker went back on to the shelf and I headed back down to the bakery conveniently located at my local shops.
However, with my mind set on a simpler, more frugal and sustainable life I had another go at this bread making thing.
 I was reminded of a recipe I have tried before by Rhonda in her gorgeous book, Down to Earth. The recipe comes from a book called The Thrifty Kitchen. This is a great book with lots of ideas about menu planning and bulk cooking. Also easy recipes that don't require unsuual ingredients (my fave type of recipe)
The "No Knead bread" is ridiculously easy. Basically mix all ingredients in a bowl, wait 12 hours, turn dough, wait 8 hours, cook - done, beautiful bread to eat!

It turned out so well, a little like a sour dough in consistency but so much nicer than the bread maker version.
The only downside is that you have to think ahead, the whole process takes about 24 hours. However, I'm thinking that  I could get into a bread making rhythm and start the process every two days ( a loaf lasts approx 2 days in our household).
Alternatetively I can try an bread dough that you knead rather than the "no knead' variety.
Hmmm... back to the cookbooks.

So on Sunday, a gorgeous sunny autumn day in Canberra, we sat on the deck and devoured far too much homemade bread, butter and honey.
I have to say I felt just a little bit pleased with myself.
Megan xx

Monday, 21 May 2012

Simply washing

I am finding myself reading more and more blogs/books on "simple living"
It's a very seductive thing, this "simple living". When life seems chaotic and to be pulling you along in a rather out of control manner it is incredibly soothing to turn to the basics, chores at home, cooking, knitting. Those routines that can feel onerous but can also feel like a life rhythm that gives order and sense to the day.
 I have been aspiring to this rhythm for a while now and just recently, just occasionally, I am getting a whiff of it.
 It could be the stages my children are up to. With my oldest son working full-time and my other two sons at school it is only my 5 year old daughter at home with me. We have  our weekly routines with playgroup, meeting up with friends and Preschool but we also have our daily routines. The most regular of these is, of course, the washing.
 Now, call me weird, but I actually don't mind doing the washing. This is a good thing because I do a lot of it!
 I get a real sense of satisfaction from dirty clothes at the beginning of the day ending up as clean dry clothes at the end of the day.
 This is dependent entirely on the weather.
 I don't have a clothes dryer so I really need this:

the sun.
 Fortunately, in Canberra, the sun shines a lot. When it doesn't I have a clothes rack and central heating to help me out.
 But most of the time, the mornings find me out in this part of the garden.

And, to be honest, I'm very happy to be there.
Simple living and washing? Is there a connection? Seemingly yes. Lots of info on simple living seems to advocate for drying your clothes on the clothesline. Who knew that slowing down could start in such an easy place to get to?
So, I'm giving simple living a go. Hanging my washing on the line has been part of my life forever but I now realise that it is actually a really important part. I can look up into the sky, say hello to my neighbour over the fence,inspect my very small vegie garden, play my part in the family routines.
I bet you never thought washing could deliver so much.

Megan xx

Saturday, 19 May 2012


I have mentioned more than once that I have a big sister. And that I am spending quite a bit of time with her in Sydney at the moment. She is sick, pretty damn sick actually.
It's a difficult time for her, her partner, her children... and for me. It's hard to see someone you love feel really crappy.

Sometimes, though, amidst the doctors appointments, the hard hitting discussions and all the other generally crappy bits that crowd her life at the moment, my sister and I have some pretty nice times. We settle ourselves in her cosy lounge, surround ourselves with screens and craft and just chat.

Forgot to mention plates of food
We talk about our kids, our mother, quilting, art, dogs,
Because she is my big sister, I ask her advice and she very freely gives it to me. Because sisters can do that, they can speak their minds. My sister and I have been through lots of stuff as a team and all those experiences provide the glue that sticks us together.
It's a unique relationship this sisterly one.

Megan xx

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Library book cake

I am a really big fan of the local library. Whenever I have moved house, or city, even country it has been a priority to find the local library.
In fact in another life I could easily have been a librarian instead of a nurse. Maybe it's not too late....
 Anyway, back to cakes.
 My local library has an excellent selection of cookbooks which is an equally excellent thing for our bank balance. I do love to buy cookbooks but boy, are they expensive!!
Off I go to the library, borrow a whole lot of books and the only downside is that I have to lug them all home.
Some I will just glance at, but others I use heaps, cooks lots of meals from them and end up renewing them from the library over and over again. Either way it is a saving.

So my latest acquisition is this one, I really like Bill Grainger's recipes. They are not too complicated and the ingredients are all pretty accessible. My lifestyle doesn't lend itself to chasing around getting lots of obscure things to cook with. Young children and boutique food shops are not such a great combination.

This is what I cooked the other day and it was delicious.

Unfortunately, I only realised halfway through the process that the recipe called for polenta. I had to toss out my polenta because it was full of weevils so just used almond meal instead. Turned out just fine.

I had to hide it from the hungry teenagers because it was made for Playgroup morning tea but it was pronounced a success the following morning by my Playgroup buddies.

Free use of a great cookbook! What's not to like about the library!

Megan xx

Monday, 14 May 2012

Town mouse, country mouse

As I've mentioned before, I'm spending a bit of time in Sydney at the moment, whiling away a few hours with my big sister.
 Last week I hit the freeway again and found myself, four hours later, in the thriving metropolis that is inner city Sydney. The day before I left for Sydney I was reading "Town Mouse, Country Mouse" to my gorgeous girl. When I got out of my car (after spending quite some time finding a park), in my sister's street, I felt like that country mouse. I felt myself a bit taken aback by all the noise, people and concrete that make up the suburb where Jane lives. After all, if you walk for 20 minutes down the street, round the corner from their house you find yourself in the centre of Sydney. If I walk for 20 minutes round the corner from my house I find myself in bushland!

My sister's local park!

It takes me a day or so to get the hang of it all.To start walking a bit more purposefully, to work out the "good" cafes from the truly hundreds that are in the street over from my sister's place. How do all those cafes make a living!! To stop waiting for the green man to cross the road - all the locals completely disregard that green man! To stop feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the people that are talking on their mobiles, whilst walking their dogs, whilst drinking their coffees whilst helping their kids on their scooters!
After all, I have come from this,

,to this,

But, you know, it doesn't take long for the country mouse to bcome a bit more citified. I find I can sit in harbourside cafes and drink coffe with the best of them. And even though I'm a bit clumsy when juggling that same coffe with the dog and the child I can still keep smiling because all the other dog owners are so friendly and chatty. This inner city hustle and bustle is really just a front for a different kind of community. One where the park is your backyard and the cafe is your kitchen table.
So this country mouse did feel pleased to see the highrises disappear on the way back home yesterday but I am starting realise that country is not better than town, not more friendly than town, more pretty or even more safe. It's just a different form of community and at the moment I'm lucky enough to have foot in each.
Hope your weekend included some chatting, some walking and maybe even some dogs.

Megan xx

Saturday, 12 May 2012


There is something intensely gratifying about growing food. It's not like other gardening. For me, it so much more satisfying. We are just coming to the end of a very late tomato season and the last harvest came in. The patches were a little bare so these past few days have been full of renewed energy and life. The vegetable gardens are looking good but smelling awful (thanks to composted moo poo and seaweed solution). We've been busy planting broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, garlic and a myriad of seeds including silverbeet, peas, beans, beetroot, parsnips and parsley.

While we were on holidays, we ate so very many fresh raspberries and crisp, just picked apples. That has inspired us and included in our plantings were two apple trees and ten raspberry canes - we are all eagerly anticipating the rewards!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Learning to knit...

Knitting, like so many craft/gardening/cooking projects, has been on the list for a very long time. Sewing however, really is my thing. My machine and I are very good friends but I'm equally satisfied with hand stitching. My Mum is an amazing seamstress and as a result of her skill and teaching, my whole life I've been able to sew. I sat beside her as a child and learnt by osmosis, soaking in the technique, and now the stitches come naturally. I know and understand sewing and I'm reasonably competent at it.

And knitting? Well Mum doesn't knit. Nan did but would never teach me because "I'm left handed" (still not sure what that means - perhaps I would have knitted backwards - can you knit backwards?? That might be interesting to try...).

So I've never been there, mostly through fear of failure. Yes, crazy, I know - it's just yarn and sticks and it can always be unraveled. With that in mind, I've been trying to knit and I'm being kind to myself, talking to myself like I do to my children when they learn a new skill. Letting me know that it won't be perfect and that's an unrealistic expectation that anything is ever perfect. I first practiced on holidays with some beautiful yarn that is a wool and silk blend and it's slowly turning into a scarf (above - the little flashes of colour come from sari silk - recycled and spun into the wool).

Then I got bored with just a knit and I want to try something else. Megan has lent me a book so I'm going to try a real project. Check back in, oh perhaps three years from now, to see how it's going!

And because I'm playing with yarn, the biggest small decided she wanted some too so she could finger knit:

Monday, 7 May 2012

Lasagne confessions

I am a bit of a slacker when it comes to making lasagne.
It just all seems a bit fiddly. You have to make meat sauce, grate cheese and worst of all, make the bechamel sauce. That's a lot of pots. A lot of washing up.
So... I do find myself at the supermarket buying readymade lasagne. Dreadful, I know, but I feel it is time to let my secret out.
 The crazy thing is that I love to eat lasagne and the shop bought ones never taste as good as homemade - never.
 However, now I have found a straightforward recipe and it's delicious.

The recipe is from one of my favourite cookbooks, The Pioneer Woman Cooks. Ree Drummond writes in a fun and non threatening manner and has a heap of great recipes on her web site here.
 Her lasagne recipe is quick and easy and you don't have to make the bechamel sauce - yeh - you just use cottage cheese, low fat cottage cheese at that!
 Lots of pictures along the way so I can see if my concoction looks anything like it is supposed to look.

So lasagne made and enjoyed by all, except the 16 year old vegetarian, sigh... However, it looked great and tasted good. Wasn't fiddly or time-comsuming. Even managed to clean the bathrooms whilst the meat sauce was simmering - a very productive afternoon.

No more shop bought lasagne for me - a personal cooking milestone reached.

Megan xx

Friday, 4 May 2012

Homemade gifts part 2

Feeling rather proud of myself that I can now notch up my second handmade gift in the past month. As you may remember I knitted up these two a few weeks ago and a couple of weeks ago I did a couple of hours of simple applique and voila!   a birthday gift for a four year old. Well, a bit of effort was required but by most people's standards it was a simple project.

I got the idea from a friend of mine who made this gorgeous top for my daughter's 5th birthday.

Unfortunately have just realised that this tshirt was not altogether clean when I took this photo

My little one loves it. I'm very taken with it too and wish that 40 something women looked as good in heart appliqued Tshirts as 5 year olds do. Sadly, though, this is not the case.

So I took this idea and did something a little bit different but also very much the same.

 Only problem was trying to convince my girl that this was a present for someone else and not for her.

This photo doesn't make it very clear but I used chain stitch to outline the flower and leaves and do the stem. I think chain stitch is my favourite embroidery stitch. I love doing it and I love the bulky look of it. It is a lot more substantial that just doing a backstitch and just looks more effective.

I'm not sure if I can keep up all this handmade present goodness but I think I can feel a self - imposed challenge coming up. Even better...maybe I can convince Jules to join me...

Megan xx

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Cooking for more

We are a family of six but quite often our well worn dining table tends to look like this.

A table set for eight, not six.
 So, I need to provide food for eight, not six. Now don't get me wrong, I actually love this about my life. Back in my single days I would have run a thousand miles from the idea of cooking for more than person. Even then, even if it was only me, I would be more inclined to buy my dinner rather than make my dinner.
Now, however, my life contains a lot more people and quite often these beautiful people in my life ask friends, girlfriends, others over for dinner.
 If this is done at the last minute I spend large amounts of time gazing into the fridge and working out how I can "bulk up" my preplanned meal.
This delicious looking concoction (and I am being sarcastic) was a combination of vegetable korma (the orginal meal), leftover refried beans and leftover quinoa and sweet potato soup! I put it all together then made it go even further by adding one of my very favourite pantry staples - evaporated milk.

I could do a whole post on how much I love cans of evaporated milk but suffice to say that when I presented this stew/curry on a bed of rice. (Have I mentioned how much I love my rice cooker?) I got an extremly positive response from even the fussiest eaters.
So even though those single days meant less work in the kitchen I wouldn't swap that crowded table for anything.

Megan xx

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

more on figs

Making jam is one of my all time favourite things to do. It's one of my husbands least favourite things I do. I'm messy. And he's the dishwasher. But I was given figs. So I made the jam. I had it on toast this morning. It's delish.

As an aside, if you so desire, you can find great tasting GF bread here.

Fig Jam notes

Figs (not important how many, just weigh them)
Sugar* (half the weight of the figs - if you have 1 kg of figs, use 500 gms sugar)
Lemon juice (2tbsp per kilo of figs)

I was fortunate enough to have picked these figs off a friends tree - she had too many, oh what a shame ;)

Chop figs roughly in big or small chunks, depending how you like your jam to spread.

Cook figs with lemon juice until very soft - you want them to be at the spreading consistency.

Add sugar and bring to boil. Cook for about half an hour until all sugar has dissolved and jam has thickened. Keep an eye on it as it has a tendency to catch on the bottom.

Drop some of the jam onto a saucer that has been in the freezer. When it sets on this, it's ready. Spoon into sterilised jars and seal. Enjoy!

*As I only use half the amount of sugar in conventional jams, this may not keep as long as others. I have kept jars for up to two years but it is always dependent on the seal of the jar and if they were sterile when the jam went in. I dare you to resist it for that long...