Well, hello my darlings :) I have missed you all.. not that YOU have gone anywhere of course.. I have spent the last month of summer having.. I don't know, a bit of a mid-life crisis? ('That means you will die when you are 86,' declares Posy, who has a literal mind. She is now writing a list of the things she would like to inherit when I die. I am now going to move myself and my laptop to somewhere Posy can't read over my shoulder. To think we actually WANT our children to learn to read...)
A very gentle mid-life crisis I might add. I did not buy a fast red car or have cosmetic surgery. I spent hours every fine day sitting in my garden chair under the pear tree, drinking tea and gazing at clouds. Sometimes I read a nice book. I didn't go anywhere, do anything, look at the internet. This wasn't a planned sabbatical, but like most things in my life, just happened. I relived the past, took out some regrets, bad choices, moments not well lived, failures of kindness. I grieved over them, folded them carefully in lavender and put them back on the shelf. They are, after all, important markers in a life well-lived. Cautionary tales as it were. I have contemplated the future. Thought about risks I might take. Been quite afraid. After all, as Posy noted, my life is more than likely half gone. When is it, exactly, that those first whispers of the cold truth of mortality really begin to echo with such insistent certainty among the chattering byways of our minds?
For me, only recently. That certain knowledge that we are indeed all travelling towards death does creep up slowly. The young truly are immortal. I have taken some time to grieve a little for my heedless youth. I don't want to be young again, it is a bittersweet condition, after all. But in order to go on without regret you do have to let go of what went before, and letting go always comes with a little, or a lot, of grief, some sadness, and also fear of what lies ahead. So, it has been a season of contemplation, this moving into autumn, a change of weather, a change of direction, some sadness, but also, a tiny stirring of excitement. Because, with the certainty of death comes a certain measure of recklessness. After all, if we are going to die, then what do we have to lose? The risks are all the more worth taking. Is this then, the secret of the power and energy that fuels the second half of our lives?
Me to Posy: Darling, we have to go and pick up the girls from school because Rosy has a sprained ankle and can't walk, or get on the bus.
Posy, lying on the floor eating popcorn and watching cartoons: NOOOOOOooooooooo. Can't The Girl carry her?
Further evidence of Bad Parenting. Posy doing obscure Japanese craft with a box cutter, while I am in the shower.
I bought these budget tissues from our odd local supermarket recently. I think they must have bought them as a job lot off the back of a truck or something. They really were very cheap..
Anyway, I am trying to work out how one would 'strive to excel' in relation to tissues. While one was miserably suffering with a nasty sniffle? During the process of wetting one under the tap to gingerly clean out gravel rash on dirty knee of shrieking child? Using one to squash a nasty bug which is causing unbearable trauma to shrieking child who is refusing to go to sleep?
Of course, due to being an supposed 'eco-warrior', striving to excel in relation to tissues would be to not use any, and get out that stash of granny hankies instead. Alas, I really hate washing phlegm, and hence, adore tissues. Sorry, no excelling today.
I am afraid standards have been slipping alarmingly around here. The Man has been gone for over a month. A month! This is the longest he has ever been away, and truly, if the children were smaller I would be seriously suicidal by now. Single parents, I salute you. As it is, most of the children are more competent than I am at most things. Sadly, now that The Boy has left home I have no driver. Add to list of inadequacies: failure to teach The Girl to drive. She has had her learner's permit since April last year. And in that time we have taken her driving once. Truly, it is a reflection of a) how terrifying it is to teach a child to drive, and b) how incredibly difficult it is to pick up the phone and organise a driving lesson, or two or three. And now my dilatoriness (probably not an actual word) has come back to bite me because now, when I really need one, I have no extra driver.
I also have no-one to mow the lawn, and have had to work out how to do this MYSELF which seems wrong and unfair. I am nothing if completely unmechanically minded, and am sure there is a special circle of Hell designed so that every single action anyone could possibly need to undertake involves putting together a complicated machine, or even just starting one, aided only by instructions written by someone whose first language isn't one's own, and accompanied by diagrams that bear no resemblance to the actual piece of hardware in front of you. Oh wait, that is already the life of every one who doesn't herd yaks in Mongolia. So, the lawnmower. I could see theoretically how it ought to start, but just couldn't. The whippersnipper? Just no idea. So for the first week, I got A Man in, who mowed and whippersnipped very efficiently, then charged me $45 at which I nearly fainted. For 20 minutes' work? That is a very good hourly rate. I made the world's most expensive lawn trim last as long as possible by not watering the lawn, but then I felt I must have a go. Yes, it's true, I have never, ever mowed the lawn by myself. Pitiful, you might think. I prefer - strategic. If you can't do something at all, then you don't get asked to do it.
But here we were, no excuses. Except I couldn't start any of the wretched inanimate objects. I had to ask the good natured neighbour to pop over and start the lawn mower for me. Terribly humiliating. Even worse, he did the whippersnipping for me while I mowed. I am slain by kindness and my own incompetence. Next time I needed to mow I was determined to do it myself. Still couldn't start the damned mower. Called all the girls out. Gave stirring speech, highlighting female independence from hierarchical male lawn-mowing hegemony. Receive stirring applause blank looks. Rosy tries and fails to start mower. The Girl starts it. Cheers from me, some minor head shaking from her as she goes back inside to finish her tea. I mow the lawn but fail to start the whippersnipper at all. Can not bear shame of going to neighbour's again. Pretend shaggy edges is the look I am going for in the garden.
In the end I have to send off urgent messages for help to The Man. Slightly embarrassing, but then he is used to my continuing mechanical incompetence. He sends terse instructions for starting whippersnipper. Slightly mystified by most sentences, including the one about the choke. Is 'in' and 'out' the same as on and off? It takes Rosy and I some time to exhaust all possible combinations and permutations as we fantasise about machines that have only a big red button, with maybe a smiley face for confidence, and the words 'Don't Panic' helpfully silk screen printed somewhere prominent. Finally, finally, Rosy manages to start the damn thing, and I do the edges at last, which must prove something heartening, like, 'girls can do anything' or perhaps, 'two girls and a middle-aged woman can do anything any 13yo boy can do' which wasn't exactly the sentiment I was going for, but hey, my life isn't a Disney fairy tale.
In other news, I am frequently failing to cook proper meals because cooking for four hardly seems worth it. This is my idea of a balanced meal this week:
I'm pretty sure all the major food groups are covered. Luckily the girls are all well versed in life skills and have been whipping up pizzas and blueberry ice cream and similar when they feel peckish. However no-one has leapt into the breach and cleaned the bathrooms recently, and Rosy, who was supposed to be cleaning the pool, decided to practice ballet on the deck instead, and now has a giant swollen ankle which I am almost sure isn't broken, so instead of being helpful, she has to lie on the couch and be waited on hand and foot.
Luckily, The Man is coming back very soon, because without him, clearly I would degenerate into some kind of crazy cat lady, or become like that poor man with the odd name in Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist, who streamlined his entire life when his wife left, and only ever wore sweatpants so he wouldn't have to change into pyjamas, and sewed all the sheets together in a giant tube so he could keep rotating them and only have to wash them once every six months. I could totally do that, except for the sewing bit. Macon, I think that was his name. Is anyone in the whole world actually called that? Anyway, I am preserved from complete housekeeping degeneracy by imminent arrival of The Man, not that he growls if the bathroom isn't clean, but he sometimes notices if it is clean, which not many other people around here do, and I do apparently require housewifely validation, but also importantly, HE WILL MOW THE LAWN so I don't have to waste karmic energy battling The Machine.
Drop by next week and experience the aura of Zen-like calm that will be emanating from Chez Blueday once the machine wrangler is back in residence..
Sentences I do not want to hear from my builder, 'I just moved your mandarin tree while you were out. I needed to put a post there.' This was at 9am on one of the hottest days of the year. We were having a new fence built, just behind a row of two-year old citrus trees, oranges and mandarins, which are a little marginal in our climate, but are on the edge of flourishing, due to their protected position and my continual mollycoddling. They are my BABIES, and one day they will be a gorgeous green hedge of golden citrus goodness. I think the poor builder was rather startled at my shriek, and sudden disappearance, and just as sudden reappearance armed with secateurs, seasol and the garden hose. No, I did not tie up the builder with the hose, prune him and waterboard him with seaweed concentrate, however tempting that course of action seemed at the time. He is, after all, a very good builder, and they are as precious and rare as mandarin trees around here. I tried not to weep as I pruned a good third of the foliage off the poor baby tree to reduce stress and water loss by evaporation, watered it thoroughly with seasol concentrate to help with transplant stress, and left the hose trickling on it all day. I think it may survive. The builder was completely bewildered by all the fuss. I think he regards plants as some kind of green, fluffy landscaping accessories that you can move around like fence posts.
Meanwhile, back in the kitchen I have been keeping a tight hand on the grocery budget. The thing I absolutely loved about my week of not buying groceries, was not going grocery shopping. I just hate shopping, and grocery shopping is right up there on the list of jobs I like to procrastinate about. So my bright idea on the Monday morning following my week of no shopping was to take twice my weekly grocery budget in cash to the shops, and shop until it it was gone, then stop, and that is it for groceries for two weeks (I kept some back for milk). I shopped with menu plan in place and list in hand, and actually went under budget. I couldn't believe it - I never go under budget for the groceries. It did get used up when we went blueberry picking at a local farm on the weekend, but I am not complaining there of course, and we have a few kilograms of blueberries which will keep us in fruit for weeks. I am still using up odd and hitherto unused exotic ingredients from the back of the cupboard, but I am also buying a few things in bulk which will last for weeks - oats, potatoes, lentils. We are eating very normal dinners, and aren't wanting for anything, so I can't understand exactly how it is that it is suddenly so easy to stay in the grocery budget, other than that without popping out every couple of days 'just' to get sour cream, or extra chicken, or icy poles because it is so hot, we are not picking up those tens of extra items over a week as well that normally sneak into the shopping basket on those occasions.
But I do think there is an extra reason as well - I have discovered this convenient truth about the store cupboard. There are certain staples that I keep topped up all the time - flour, dried beans, sugar, dried fruit, nuts. What occurred to me this week is that all of this is not necessary if I make a menu plan. If I am not going to be baking with dried fruit, why buy any that week? Also, if I have one kind of a basic food, I don't need five other varieties. This week I will be out of brown sugar and caster sugar, but I have plenty of raw. Sugar really is very interchangeable in most recipes, even meringues. Raw sugar makes meringues look rustic, and their texture gets chewy and delicious. I suspect most recipe breakthroughs come from the 'necessity is the mother of invention' school of cooking. I am thinking that the secret of saving money on the grocery bill is not to be afraid of slashing the shopping list, and being willing to experiment (and have a family who is willing for you to experiment!). Also, if I am running out of an ingredient and 'not allowed' to pop out to the shops to pick up 'just one thing', then I am forced to rummage around in the back of the cupboard and use up what I find back there. And who knew that when I ran out of vanilla extract that we would discover that meringues and cup cakes taste very exotic and delicious flavoured with years-old bottles of orange blossom water and rose water, bought for who knows what forgotten recipe now? It actually makes cooking more fun to have to make do, certainly more fun than rushing around in traffic at dinner time hunting for one vital ingredient, which ends up as half a bag of other indispensable items, which mostly consist of, though are not limited to, chocolate and chippies. Just think how thin we will all be too:)
Has anyone else out there been doing a cook-from-the-pantry challenge? Please tell me about successful 'make do' ingredient substitutions, and go on, we all want to read about the unsuccessful ones too..
Here, as promised, The World's Yummiest Chocolate Cake, which, as a surprising bonus, is egg and dairy free, and therefore vegan as well. The recipe came from a friend whose adorable two year old is severely allergic to dairy and eggs. She in turn found it in a years' old Women's Weekly magazine. We use it when we run out of eggs.
World's Yummiest Vegan Chocolate Cake
1 1/2 cups plain flour (all purpose flour)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 cup castor sugar (or any sugar, I substitute freely)
100ml rice bran oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp apple cider (or white wine) vinegar
1 cup water
Preheat oven to 160C
Sift flour, bicarb, cocoa, sugar and pinch of salt.
Whisk oil, vanilla, vinegar and water in jug.
Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until combined.
Bake for 30 mins or until skewer comes out clean.
Cool in pan for 15 mins.
Yum yum. Ice as desired. The Girl has determined that the average cake requires 1 cup of icing sugar to ice the top. She has a scientific mind, and works these things out. I never even thought of measuring in the 20 years I have been baking. That is why I will never take up Chemistry.
Also, do not do as I just did and accidently set the oven on 200C instead of 160C. I am afraid it will be very dry. Luckily the one in the photo above was made by Rosy. Clearly I should just stay out of the kitchen.
Well, Friday is upon us again and the refrigerator is looking very bare, which I must say makes cleaning it much easier. We are powering through our grocery challenge, which surprises me no end. I thought this was going to be really hard. Even the girls are on board. When I pulled crackers out of the back of my wardrobe (hidden in a stash from the end of the last school year - unopened, I hasten to add!) to add to today's school lunches, Posy glared sternly at me.
'I thought you weren't going shopping this week!'
I had to confess my hoarding tendencies.
We are all out of tomatoes, cucumber, or indeed any salad vegetable except lettuce and half a capsicum. I was going to put the slow cooker on for beef stew, but it is just too hot, so I tried this carrot soup instead, adding a handful of red lentils for bulk and protein. Now there are only carrots, yellowing celery, broccoli stems and some shrivelled up mushrooms in the crisper. Perfect for beef stew, but this weekend will be a scorcher. I may put the slow cooker in the shed in the morning, cook the stew and eat it next week when it is cooler. I don't want to waste that lovely yellow celery! For fruit we have apples and oranges and a couple of pears from our tree. Oh, and rhubarb, so apple and rhubarb crumble on the horizon.
I kept a bit of a 'green and thrifty' diary this week, to see if I could accomplish something every day:
Saturday: Children were begging and whining for take away, as I had prepared exactly nothing for dinner, and it was 5.30pm, but I STAYED STRONG. I pulled English muffins out of the freezer, which we split and made into mini Hawaiian pizzas with the last two slices of ham cut up very small, tinned pineapple, cheese, and pizza sauce. Not gourmet, but acceptable fast food substitute.
Home made pizza sauce: Dollop of tomato paste, pinch brown sugar, tsp dried oregano or basil. Thin mixture with boiling water until you get required consistency, stir well. Thanks to my dear friend Ange for this brilliant tomato paste extender!
Sunday: Too hot to do anything except water the garden pots multiple times. A no-driving day! Also, I have my brilliant idea about not buying groceries this week.
Monday: Rosy does some painting. For Christmas I had planned to do a bedroom makeover for the two big girls. Well, I managed to achieve a couple of bits and bobs, and bought several things for Christmas, but it is turning into the longest room makeover ever. However that has meant that the girls have enthusiastically taken the project on board and are doing it much better than I would, which proves something positive about lazy parenting I expect.
So today Rosy is painting baskets to store her precious treasures like 56 bottles of nail polish.
Take one pot of any kind of water-based white paint from the shed (we used undercoat). Add water about 50/50. Apply with rag for rustic shabby-chic look. Add another coat if you want it whiter.
Tuesday: Hemming Posy's secondhand uniform, and sewing up bits of seam that had come undone.
Wednesday: Planting capsicum seed which I was given at Tanya's brilliant Living Better group. I took my saved seed to share from a brilliant, locally developed non-bolting lettuce imaginatively called Slo-Bolt.
Thursday: Planting out tomato seedlings which popped up in a pot a few weeks ago. I am almost certain they will produce tomatoes before the first frost!
Friday: I was going to go out to the art gallery with a friend, then out for tea and cake, but had to stay home to receive a delivery of fence posts and palings, so my friend came to me, and we drank rooibos tea and ate Rosy's fabulous vegan chocolate cake (no eggs!). Tomorrow I will post the recipe for that.
This week's greatest achievement has been managing to eat out of the pantry and refrigerator. So far I have spent $9.50 on 4l of milk. Let's see if we can survive until Monday. My next challenge will be to stick to my $160 budget next week, and not go crazy restocking.
What green and thrifty projects have you been up to this week?
The first day of school for Posy today, who had a terrible, horrible, no-good morning. Her silly putty fell in her milky cereal, she choked when she tried to drink out of her water bottle, and the zip of her jacket attacked her, all before 8.30am. Luckily her day got better from there - this afternoon her new class and teacher were pronounced 'totally awesome'.
And me? Oh, the serenity! I realised today that over the whole summer I have had a total of three hours home alone, when all the girls went to a movie together. So this morning I looked around at a considerably less than pristine house, ignored it, made a cup of tea and sat down to watch Poirot. Ooh, I do love the first day of school.
On the no grocery shopping front, yesterday morning I had two appointments, three quarters of an hour apart, right near the supermarket, wholefood shop and bakery. Normally, I would have grocery shopped, but yesterday I was forced to sit in the car and read my book. Oh, the trials of my life.
I am reading Food Firstby Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins. I know that the production and distribution of food is a highly political enterprise, predicated on keeping power and wealth in the hands of the few. I want to eat and feed the family outside of that system, and I think this is the book to describe that system, and make me even more irritable about the state of our, erm, civilisation..
...it is a single system, supported by governments, corporations and landed elites, that is undermining food security both in our countries and the Third World. The forces in Africa, Asia and Latin America cutting people out of the production process and therefore out of consumption turn out to be the same forces that have converted the food system into one of the most tightly controlled sectors of our own economies. Food First, prelude
The other book I am reading is a jolly dalliance in the garden - collected Independent gardening columns by Anna Pavord. Unfortunately, the issues of unsustainable globalisation and the horrible propensity for our luxuries to be paid for by other, faceless people who live far, far away, seem to follow me whatever I am reading.. here is the first February entry:
I've gone off red roses in a big way since a trip to Ecuador this time last year. Vast tracts of the country were covered in polythene tunnels filled with bushes of red roses and further vast tracts of native wildflowers were being bulldozed to prepare for yet more of this rapacious monoculture. Production was just coming to a peak for St Valentine's Day. The compounds were guarded by blockhouses and sub-machine guns. From the barbed wire of the perimeter fence, you could see girls picking the flowers, the air in the tunnels (and outside) thick with the acrid smell of sulphur. It's burned to destroy pests and disease. It does a good job on lungs too. The Curious Gardener, A Year in the Garden
Her pick for Valentine's Day? The tulip. Of course, in the Southern Hemisphere, our gardens are full of roses, and hopefully, so are the farmers' markets. But for true romance, take a leaf out of my neighbour's book. He texted me last night, 'Can I borrow your sledge hammer? It's my wedding anniversary..'
They are at the end of a landscaping project, and he still hadn't knocked down the other half of a brick wall which was on the end of his rather long list, and at the top of his wife's list. So that is all she asked for for their anniversary. I can hear the wall coming down as I write. So romantic.
So, to dinner. Tonight we were going to have Korma curry. I could have sworn there was a tin of coconut milk left, but no. So dinner changed to teriyaki chicken stir fry. Over the summer I borrowed a Japanese cook book from the library. I only tried one recipe, and it was brilliant: teriyaki sauce. This apparently does not come in a jar in Japan!
2T mirin (or sherry)
2T tamari (or soy sauce)
Add anything you like to this sauce. I added grated ginger and garlic.
Stir all the ingredients together. Saute your meat with a little oil. Remove from pan. Pour in the sauce and bring to the boil. Let it reduce a little, return meat to pan, and coat. If you want to turn this into stir fry, add vegies (that is the broccoli, beans and spinach used up), and a little water to stretch the sauce. If you want to thicken the sauce, mix a half teaspoon of corn flour with a spoonful of water and tip into the pan. Add more half teaspoons of cornflour until the desired consistency is reached. Never tip dry cornflour into hot liquid or you will get lumps!
This is delicious and divine, and even certain children who were completely wedded to the idea of Korma curry and naan, were convinced that this was an acceptable substitute.
Tired, but determinedly cheerful mother of four. One grown up son, three girls at home, The Girl (18), Rosy (14), Posy (9). Occasionally see The (lovely) Man when he drops in between business trips. Trying to buy a little less, make a little more, live a little lighter, not mess up the children too much..