Thursday, 30 August 2012

Crochet and the fairy godmother

Once upon a time I knew 'the way of wool'. I crocheted and knitted, I made jumpers plain and cabled, I made rugs woolly and warm and everywhere there was wool. There was even home-spun and hand-dyed wool from Gwyna the Border Leicester. The world was peaceful and simple, content and cosy.

Then one day in the early days of Laptop, at a very stressful workplace, this young maiden was given a cramped workspace and a tight deadline and she got a very very bad case of  RSI  (repetitive strain injury).

The wise men of the clinic and white coat  gave me a plastic brace and lots of physiotherapy but still my RSI put a stop to knitting. I couldn't hold my arms in the right position to knit  and my arms stung each time I tried to pick up needles. I gave up knitting angry that a workplace injury denied me one of my simple pleasures. I guess I assumed that I wouldn't be able to crochet either, in any case I gave up playing with wool and instead channelled my desire to 'make things' into sewing, cooking and gardening.

Many years passed and the other day, drawn to all things textile, I wandered into a wool shop - one of those lovely  wool shops where the skeins are stunning, the patterns are not daggy and young women inhabit in threes and ask questions of wise knitting women and chatter about their next project.

I was about to walk out thinking that 'the way of wool' was behind me when the shop's fairy godmother Ruth spoke to me in her calm, soft, European accent. She said, "are you looking for something?".

I told her of my arms and my love of textile and how I wished I could knit again.  I said , "I wondered if I might be able to crochet seeing it was a different kind of action to knitting - perhaps I could try a small project, to see if my arms could manage it and to see if I remembered how to read the secret code of crochet". It was as if she drew the words from me.

Fairy godmother Ruth said, "I think you like retro, here -  try this pattern book".  She must have looked at my clothes, I was looking particularly retro that day. Or, being a fairy godmother, she just 'knew'...

The book was filled with pictures of beautiful women dressed in clothing from the time before Laptop. Beside each picture was the  'secret code' - it looked familiar, but did I still know how to read it?

Not long after I left the shop with six balls of wool, a hook and a pattern book.  "Start slowly darling, don't hurt yourself" were the Fairy godmother's parting words. I think she also sprinkled me with fairy dust...

I took the book home and, as if not a single day had past since I had last hooked,  the secret code that is only for the initiated - ch, sl st, dc, tr, dt -  was again familiar. I wrapped the wool around my left hand in the configuration that is known to all who hook and soon I was trebling (and trembling) with joy.

So far so good, I have made six  largish squares and not a twinge, not a twang, not a sting, not a burn.  I am still crossing my fingers that  I will once again know 'the way of wool'. I am hoping that the fairy dust doesn't wear off.

Here is a square in progress. 

 I think it's going to be a pretty mad scarf.

I am contributing this to My Creative Space. See what others are doing

Monday, 27 August 2012

Harvest Monday - 27th Aug

Pickings are slim at the moment. To make it even worse, this week I picked the last of my spring onions, fennel and snow peas.

As ever, the snow peas have been a delight. They have supplied greens every second day for 4 months.  Most of the time we eat them just steamed and sometimes in the yummy Chinese-inspired  meals that the lad makes.

Very often the snow peas don't even make it in the back door.  Standing and the crop eating them as picked is a special pleasure.

As for the citrus, the lemons are still coming  but I also picked the last of my limes - some were very small.

Herbs are fairing better. In the last week I picked loads of thyme and rosemary  for all sorts of dishes.

I also got stuck into the mint which is starting to wake up again after the winter slow down.

Next year I really must plan better so I don't have such a hungry gap. Bring on spring!

More harvests are over at Daphne's place.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The last of the fennel

Yesterday I picked my last fennel bulb and I didn't take a picture!

I was thinking about dinner for visitors and didn't think about blogging at all.  It was a lovely bulb, fat and white.  And then I realised that I did have a photo of it in its junior form.... so imagine this one grown up a little more.

The last of the fennel went into a this salad.  It is one of those recipes that come off those recipe cards that you can pick up at green grocers.  I don't actually normally pick these up, but I liked the look of it.

Bean, fennel and tomato salad (* from the patch)

1 bulb fennel*
2 tbls lemon* juice
olive oil
pine nuts
green beans
cherry tomatoes
parmesan cheese

Take the core from the fennel and cut finely in long strips. Place in a bowl with the lemon juice and olive oil and marinate for 30 minutes.

Place pine nuts in  a saucepan and toast, remove from heat. Steam the beans and refresh under cool water.

Add all ingredients to the fennel bowl and mix thru shaved parmesan. Add ground black pepper. Last night I didn't have any parmesan and so left it out but it really is much better with the parmesan in.

This salad is fresh and crunchy and delicious.  I have also in the past added torn basil leaves to this but it would be great with torn Italian parsley too. It's a great summer salad using many things from the patch.


I have some other fennel in but they are tiny and have only been out of the ground for a week.  I can't wait for my next crop.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Gifts from Half-tail

A while ago I blogged about Half-tail the Currawong.

Currawongs are bigger than magpies and smaller than ravens and are B&W Australian birds that are omnivores. (This is a rather odd photo of Half-tail -  s/he is inspecting me rather closely while sunning his/her back and thus in a strange pose!)

Half-tail visits our garden for all sorts of things. A bath in the bird bath usually each day - a very tidy currawong.

Other activities include collecting sticks for nesting, searching for worms in the vegetable patch and very gently taking the occasional mince ball from my hand.

Half-tail sometimes leaves curious 'gifts' as thanks?  This is the latest offering -  a small collection of blueberry ash berries  hardly digested and deposited on the verandah table.

These are usually offered via regurgitation from their crop just as they do for their babies. Nice, thanks Half-tail...

Blueberry ash (Elaeocarpus reticulartus)  is an Australian native plant of the wetter parts of Sydney's forests.  We planted one in our backyard and it is a magnet for the currawongs who hop about finding the little blue balls.

They hold the small berries so delicately in their big heavy black beaks before tossing them back with a flick of their head. The little blue balls result in very dark purple currawong pooh.

Strange, isn't it, why did Half-tail deliver these to us?

The table on the verandah is where we eat most meals, is this an accident or a contribution? Thanks for the mince balls perhaps? They seem so intelligent these birds that it is hard to imagine that this is just accident without some purpose.

It would be good to speak currawong so we could have a chat about the meaning of blue balls, the offering of mince, mutual curious stares and the taste of worms.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Good things come in small parcels

Today a small parcel arrived.  Well it's not really a parcel - an envelope really. Feeling inside I knew what it was, a seed swap with Bek of Bek's Backyard.

A while ago, both blogged about our seed boxes - here and here -  and the seeds we had an excess of.

That resulted in a bit of a seed swap. I took an easy option sending whole packets - probably just passing the excess on... but Bek sent small samples of several things.

I had asked for some pumpkin and some 'mystery seeds', this is what Bek kindly packaged up.

Here are the pumpkin seeds -  three types:
  • Buttercup
  • Australian butter
  • Baby blue
I am very excited... really!  I have never grown pumpkin before and hope I do justice to them. I love the idea of storing them for lots of pumpkin-focused meals thru the cold part of the year.

And two types of eggplant -  Thai green and Prosperosa.  I think Bek has noticed my eggplant obsession.

I will have to look these ones up so I know what to expect.

And wait, there is more!

I also got a melon -  Tigger - I am guessing it is striped -  cute.

And a pepper called Tequila sunrise.

And wait, there's more!

Here is the real mystery - scorzonera.  I have certainly heard of it but never grown it, and not sure I have ever eaten it.  It has amazing long stick-like seeds. I am keen to give it a go.

Thanks so much Bek, a great surprise and mix of seeds. Next time I swap with someone I will do the same, make little packages like this instead of sending whole packets on. Your idea is much better!

It made me think, that seeds are like good things that come in small parcels.  All that amazing potential in tiny little packets of suspended life.  They are pretty amazing aren't they?

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Potting, raising, inspecting

The weather here has been a bit crazy lately.  We went through a patch of beautiful spring-like days in their low 20s and then, last week, that changed.  The wind blew in and brought winter back, trees came down and the new seedlings that had emerged during the warm spell, shivered in their soil.  They did - I could see them moving and could see their goosebumps too!

Across Sydney trees came down and branches snapped off and leaves blew. We had no damage here, but I hope other Sydney bloggers kept their trees and electricity. While it's still coldish today, the wind has dropped and the forecast says we are to return to warmer sunniness.

Today I potted up, raised seeds and inspected the progress.

Potting up 
I potted up some mint and some curled parsley. I also moved some self-seeded violas around.

I always have violas in the vegetable patch.  I just think they are so pretty and, because they self-seed so easily, they just keep coming back sometimes in slightly different colour combinations than last year.

The self-seeded violas invariably pop up in odd places -  little corners and cracks between the patch boarders, in the patch pathway, or in the middle of the patch where you'd want to plant your veggies.

So digging them out and moving them around or potting them up becomes pretty essential.

I must say that one of my favourite things to do in the garden is dead head the violas... strange hey?  There is something very meditative about removing the spent flowers to make sure the flowers continue. Do you like dead heading?

Raising seed
I also started raising some basil, long cayenne chillies, lemon balm, dill and zucchini.

I must say I have grown fond of zucchini (is that a pun?). They can take up a huge amount of space and can be almost scarily productive, and you can wonder what to do with them... but last summer I decided to get into finding  zucchini recipes I liked and had some success ( and it wasn't that hard).

I am kind of looking forward now to the next zucchini glut so that I  can make make those recipes again and perhaps find others I like (any suggestions of your favourite zucchini recipes?).

Being such an easy vegetable to grow, once you do find things you like to eat with the glut, for me including them in the patch becomes essential. But I know others feel differently.

I also looked around the patch a little... things are happening.

The espaliered Tahitian limes are flowering like crazy.  I can see that, if some of the limes don't drop off, I am going to have to take some fruit off.

My relatively recently purchased blueberries first fruit are starting to swell.  The bees love these plants and are doing a good job of pollinating!

And the pests are turning up -  sorry for this blurry photo, but amongst the blur you can see the black aphids on my chives. I spent some time squashing them with my fingers.

That's where I am up to, what is getting going in your patch - fruit, flowers, pests?

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Cushions against the world

Sometimes you need to put something soft between yourself and the world. Sometimes, you need to find a cosy spot, make it comfy and relax, daydream, turn off.

Here is my spot.

All the cushions have been made by me -  none are spectacular by themselves but they all look great together. (Oh, I just realised!  The central cushion is not made by me. It is a crochet one that was given to me by a friend -  I love it.  One day I will sit down and make another one just like it in different colours!).

All the cushions have been made from found fabric from shops selling upholstery off-cuts mainly although one or two pieces from op shops.  I love the mix of fabrics and patterns yet the earthy tones unite them.

The fabric they all sit on is my grandmother's old bedspread.  I say old becasue she had had it for an age, but it is in perfect condition.

Some of the cushions I have had for a while, but some are new ones.  Here are some of the off-cuts pre-sewing. Not all have been used - yet!

Don't you love the yellow hexagon piece? It's a really small piece of fabric so I need to think how I use it.

The 'blackness on the right of the picture above is a love dense piece of dark, dark brown velvet.

Here are the three new cushions.

This is my contribution to My Creative Space for this week, see what others are doing and making.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Flowers in the rest of the patch

 I don't normally profile my non-vegetable garden in this blog but there is not much to pick at the moment and late winter in Sydney is a lovely time for flowers.

My orchids are flowering quite well, despite the flower buds on the orchid on the verandah being nibbled by an inquisitive baby lorikeet!

Most of my garden is planted with endemic natives - plants that are representative of the local area before European arrival.  It's something I really wanted to do -  a small effort in re-vegetating the city with it's original flora.  The pay off has been incredible - plants that do well and that the local birds enjoy,visit and breed.

The arch at the entrance to the patch has a big Pandorea pandorana (Wonga wonga vine) in near full flower. 

I love their little brown stripes inside the flower.

Here are some of the other things flowering beautifully right now.

This is Ozothamnus diosmofolius.

It's an 'everlasting-type' daisy or paper daisy. The flowers are tiny and grouped in large heads together - a bit like carrot and parsley flowers in flattish domes.  The buds are quite pink.

Here is a really small wattle. It really only gets to 2 meters high.  I love its fluffy ball flowers. They are only slightly lemony yellow coloured.

It's called Acacia myrtifolia (red-stemmed wattle).  It doesn't have that overpowering wattle flower smell which is quite good.

While it's called red-stemmed wattle, only it's older stems that are reddish.

One of my favourites in the garden is the Epacris longiflora.

It's long wiry stems with short  spiky leaves contrast to its incredible long red and white flowers all held in a row along the branch.

Another favourite is the Red spider grevillia Grevillia speciosa. This is a real local  Sydney grevillia, I have never seen it anywhere else. It's not a tall plant at all and the leaves are hard and grey-green.

The birds really like visiting these plants for their nectar.

Last but not least are the native violets that have well and truly naturalised across the garden floor.

They are Viola hederacea.  This is their time of the year. In winter they die back a little and in summer there is too much sun for them in all but the most shady places. But right now is when the plants thicken up, grow furiously and start sending up their little flowers.

They grow especially well around the frog pond and I suspect the frogs like hiding under their leaves.

I could have shown you my banksias and the flowering that is about to go berserk on the Lomatia silaifolia or crinkle bush but that is enough for today.


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