a few notes on clutter

adelaidecapybaras

We recently stayed in Adelaide for a week, in an apartment near the zoo. It was an excellent holiday. My son and I walked to the zoo each morning. We soon developed the habit of walking past the pandas and making our way to the children’s section, where he fed the quokkas, and then we would make our way back to the food area so that he could have his early lunch. After that we would look at a few different animals, with each of us choosing a favourite or two to visit. It is a wonderfully compact zoo, and it is impossible to walk along any part of it without being near some animals in an enclosure (this makes it very different to Melbourne Zoo, our regular much-loved zoo), so I made sure we saw many of those other animals too. Mid-afternoon we would have something else to eat, and then we would make our way back to the apartment. 

Usually holiday apartments have me thinking I need to make a better effort to remove clutter from our home. But not this time. We must have made good progress last year, and have sufficient space to breathe. This time I missed several of the luxuries of home. I missed the hot water system that allows me to set the temperature of the water that comes out of the taps. It saves a lot of time in the shower, and eliminates the risk of burns. I always miss the clothes dryer, with its dryness sensor (no need to guess drying time).  I also missed some of our kitchen utensils. Usually it is enough that I take a decent knife and chopping board with me. I realised just how much I love the mugs I regularly use, and the range of china we own. 

fivecats

However, since we returned I have let the craft projects multiply, breaking one of my self-imposed rules of having no more than one of any sort of project in progress. (I still laugh when I remember my brother pointing out to my mother that if she completed her quilting projects instead of leaving them at the final stage, when the binding needs to be stitched on, she would have at least eight quilts on her bed, instead of ten unfinished projects.) At least the knitting is back to a single project. I knitted a couple of hats in parallel, but they are such short projects that they are exempt – my ears were chilly then, and I did not want to wait until I had finished a large project before making myself a hat. The small crochet project, another cat (as though five are not enough to be lugging to the zoo each weekend), is excusable, as it is a secret project and there is limited time for working on it. The clutter element is in the stash of wool for making the next crochet blanket, although one is still in progress, and in the spinning. I have two spinning wheels, and both are now in use. On one I am spinning carded alpaca, so a clean fibre that requires no work before the spinning. On the other I am spinning raw fleece, so I need to do a little work to prepare it for spinning, and it makes my hands very dirty. It was the first of the spinning projects, and I only began spinning the alpaca because it rained for a week and I did not have the opportunity to card more fibre, an activity that I keep outdoors because it is so dirty.

spinning

Oh, maybe it is not as bad as I thought it was.

And I have recently read a fun clutter book, Marie Kondo’s “the life-changing magic of tidying up”. It has been extremely popular since appearing in English, and after a lot of dithering, I obtained a copy and loved it. It is one of those books where just reading the reviews on Amazon, particularly the negative ones, can be a lot of fun. (Many years ago, when I was having a bad day at work, I read some reviews of a favourite Anne Tyler novel, perhaps The Accidental Tourist, and just seeing that people could hold such negative views regarding a book and characters I loved, I felt much better, consoled that someone who seemed so lovely to me could also be a victim of such criticism.) Since reading the book, I realise that some of the reviewers had not read the book properly, and once again I realise easy it is for people to misinterpret what they read. Among the reviews I had read there were people who thought Marie Kondo was saying they should restrict their book collection to 30 books (she doesn’t, and acknowledges that for some people multiple bookcases are not clutter, and the books are used and loved), others think that she endorses tossing other people’s possessions (she doesn’t, she says this is a mistake she made as a child). Some think she has obsessive-compulsive disorder, and others think that Japanese homes must be much smaller than American homes. I thought my Australian house sounded far smaller than the spaces she was describing. I find any time anyone describes a closet, it sounds a room-sized space to me. It is a good book. I think it balances the ‘clutterbusting’ books by Brookes Palmer very well. He describes the heavy feeling of inertia that can be induced by clutter. Marie Kondo describes the lightness and joy induced by the objects we love. It was a pleasant change to read a book that gave permission to own more than some generic minimum of stuff. (Or maybe that is my wilful misinterpretation!)

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clothes, food and crochet

150820 oldlegoman

I’m reading a very good book at the moment: ‘Women in Clothes’ by Sheila Heti and many others. Hundreds of women filled in surveys regarding clothes, what they wear, how they feel about them, and so on. I love the broad range of women represented. Could anyone read this book and not find someone whose attitude towards clothes was not similar to their own? Sometimes I feel an outsider at school, simply for not investing a lot of time and money in my appearance. How do women not resent the hours spent having their hair cut and dyed each month, and the time it takes to find the clothing they wear? This book validated both attitudes (and plenty of others) to clothes and having an appearance. Here is a tiny fragment of what I read this morning, written by Eileen Myles (p 362):

‘I remember a gay man I knew going on about how he resented how straight men just let themselves go and got big bellies and wore dirty clothes and the same clothes day after day and were rewarded for their gross behavior by getting great and beautiful girls. This was transformative in that I thought, You’re right! It’s not that I want a big belly, but I want a piece of that freedom to be a pig.’

A book that I find comforting in a similar fashion is ‘What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets’ by Peter Menzel and Faith d’Aluisio. It helped me overcome the food anxiety I had been suffering after reading too many nutrition books, and that reading had been a reaction to those healthy eating campaigns (2 fruits and 5 vegetables a day!). I tried reading some Michael Pollan, where he defined ‘nutritionalism’, the idea that we are encouraged to eat according to specific nutrients found in particular foods instead of just eating a good range of foods, and that book left me feeling extremely malnourished. The other books I read did not help much either. Whereas seeing photos and reading descriptions of what these 80 individuals around the world were eating during the day helped me gain some perspective on both what I eat, and the people who are more likely to be the target of the food campaigns. It was good to see what some might perceive to be the typical American diet that it is assumed that all of us in the Western world are following. I now cling to the idea of the Mediterranean diet, and take the view that the women living on those small farms were not counting the serves of fruit and vegetables they ate in a day, nor measuring volumes of olive oil or weighing nuts, etc. They just cooked and ate whatever was around at the time, and as there was a reasonable abundance of fruit and vegetables, they were well-represented in the diet. There was also a good bit of fish, while not so much of other animals as they take a lot of feeding, so not in the diet so much. If I am in the mood for some nutrition advice, my favourite book is Jane Clarke’s ‘Bodyfoods for Busy People’, in which she recommends many foods for different problems, the sort where you might not bother your doctor, but you don’t feel completely on top of things either (such as colds and mild insomnia). Usually just reading the relevant part of the book makes me feel better.

I have stopped counting steps too. I am very glad the battery went flat in the pedometer. I don’t feel so tired when I don’t see how many steps were taken in a day. I wore it long enough to know I fulfill that prescription.


150820 crochetblanketmosaic

And now for a crochet update:

I am enjoying this blanket very much. It will be small, 12 squares each way, and then five rounds for the border. I did a bit of weighing and calculating yesterday morning, a very satisfying activity. I will need to crochet another 24 squares to complete the blanket. I only crocheted one of each variation, so 120 squares (5X4X3X2), and I have joined them according to the colour of the final and connecting round. I wanted to have a completely random layout for the squares according to that colour, but it became too difficult to avoid having same colours touching, so they are not random but perhaps look random anyway because of the variation in the first three rounds. Regardless, it has been a lot of fun. 

The next blanket will be much brighter, as requested by my son. Finding a blanket my grandmother had crocheted for me was not an adequate solution.

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Lime Marmalade (Syrup)

150729 marmalade

Our lime tree has been a little too bountiful this year. I will be pruning harshly when it has finished fruiting. There is some overlap between how I harvest and how I prune at the moment. I am very fond of limes, but there is a limit to how many we can consume and give to others. Some people remind me of one of my cousins, who when given a pumpkin asked: ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ We felt embarassed on her behalf. I admit that limes do not play the same role as pumpkins do in meals, so I do not expect people to be rushing to accept limes from us.

Anyway, with the abundance I felt obliged to make some lime marmalade. I tried last year, and made four or five jars of a marmalade that did not set, so perhaps I should call it lime syrup. I like having it on yoghurt, and I found its astringency excellent for frightening away hiccups, a very effective treatment.

So this year I tried making some more marmalade, two batches, and filled more jars per batch.

The first batch set, the second didn’t. The first had a few lemons in it, the second had limes alone (although I did add lemon pips and juice at the appropriate time). The first may have had burnt bits, the second is refreshingly pale. Both contain the fruit pulp, which bothered me, as commercial marmalades are so clear and jelly-like, and when I listened to a BBC Food Programme podcast about marmalade, I could not believe that my attempts would be considered acceptable.

I followed the method described in the Paddington Cookery Book, a method that involves boiling the fruit until the skin is soft, then using the same water to boil the chopped cooled peel and the juice, with a few lemon pips for the pectin. I think I boiled the whole fruit for too long, so that the interior disintegrated, making pulp and juice inseparable (maybe that could be overcome with a sieve, but ours is used to sift flour, and has been a problematic source of gluten contamination, and I keep forgetting to buy one to reserve for non-gluten use). I also skimped on the sugar, as I don’t like overly sweet foods, and I know that I am going to be the only one consuming the marmalade. This probably contributed to the lack of setting, along with being impatient to ladle the marmalade into jars. I’m even impatient when testing it for setting on the cool plate. Next time I might try crushing the lemon pips, as advised by one of the participants on the Food Programme. Or I might decide that I am making a syrup and not a marmalade, and not worry about it.

Last week I had a terrible headache, and while lying on the couch nibbling on popcorn and gulping down coffee, I decided to consult Mrs Beeton on marmalade. I was very pleased to discover that all of the methods she described included adding the pulp to the mixture (tossing it seems wasteful to me, and perhaps it did to her, too). Of course, I could not resist flicking through the rest of the book, and in my self-pitying state it seemed dreadful that I could not be an invalid with someone tempting my appetite with dainty little morsels on a tray, and that instead I had to do it all myself. I changed my mind when I read further and felt sorry for the invalids, given what was placed on those trays. However, in all that flicking, I was rewarded by the following, regarding the feeding of infants in bed during the night: “…she wakes languid and unrefreshed from her sleep, with febrile symptoms and hectic flushes, caused by her baby vampire, who, while dragging from her her health and strength, has excited in itself a set of symptoms directly opposite, but fraught with the same injurious consequences — ‘functional derangement’.” (end of section 2471) Who would expect to find such a term as ‘baby vampire’ in Mrs Beeton’s Household Management?

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Date and Ginger Cake


date & ginger cake in tin

I often feel as though I have an eating disorder. I seem to be thinking of food all the time, eating frequently. Sometimes, when I’m sleeping, I dream of taking a bite of some gluten-rich food, then I remember I shouldn’t be eating it and feeling horribly guilty while dreading the consequences. Sometimes I dream it is my doctor giving me the food, while at other times a family member will be present, ready to say: ‘See, I knew she was making it all up.’ And in the most recent of those dreams I was in a bakery, eating raw dough. Ugh. 

Last year around Easter I felt myself sink into a minor depression and I did not seem to be able to get out of it. This year it occurred to me that part of the drop in mood had been associated with the gluten intolerance and the realisation that I would not be able to eat my very favourite hot cross buns ever again. I had decided towards the end of last year that I would find out if I am eligible for the Coeliac diagnosis, and would eat those hot cross buns for three weeks, then have a blood test. Two events over Christmas caused me to change my mind. During the last week of the year I had some of the digestive symptoms return, and I briefly went into a state of anxiety and dread, wondering what food allergy I had acquired. It was only when I finished the box of chocolate truffles that I read the label and discovered they contained wheat (and later research uncovered the exact truffle that contained the gluten, the variety I didn’t share, so I had eaten two of them over the week).

The other factor in my decision was the eczma on the backs of my hands. It was mild but persistent. I could not think of what was causing it. It was not the sun block, as I was using that on all exposed skin, not just my hands. I had not changed any of my soaps or handcreams. Huh! The handcream contained wheat, and within a week of discontinuing use, the eczma cleared up and my skin has returned to normal. And now I realise I need to read even more labels as carefully as possible, glasses on my forehead, packaging near my nose. So, to overcome the disappointment of not eating the hot cross buns, to alleviate that sense of deprivation, I made myself a cake, a new recipe.

I decided to make a cake that I really wanted to eat. I looked through my handwritten book of favourite recipes, and found I could not decide between a date slice and a ginger cake. I realised both recipes began with the melting of butter and sugar, then the addition of sodium bicarbonate. So I combined the recipes. The ginger cake recipe came from a series of ‘Two Fat Ladies’, and was a long time favourite. The date slice had been passed on by a favourite aunt. But here is the combined cake, with flour substitutes, and could be made with regular flour instead, just not for me. The buckwheat flour is just what I had hanging around after making pancakes, otherwise I would have used just almond meal. It was an excellent cake. It cheered me up. I needed the intense ginger flavour (most people would probably want to cut back to, at most, half the quantity).

Notes:

I made this as a tiny square cake for one person to consume over a week, but feel free to double the quantities and bake it in a loaf tin. The cooking time will remain the same.

In the original ginger cake it was brown sugar, in the date slice caster sugar. We now use ‘LoGIcane’, which looks like raw sugar, but does not affect the behaviour of the sugar-sensitive in this house.

If gluten is not an issue, just use 3/4 cup regular flour.

If gluten is a problem, use whatever flours or nut meals you prefer, adding them slowly until the cake’s consistency looks right – the flour part of cakes does not need to be as precisely measured as the baking powder and such (active ingredients).

date & ginger cake slice

GINGER & DATE CAKE

Quantities for 10 cm square cake tin, double for loaf tin. This won’t affect cooking time.

INGREDIENTS:

60 g butter (1/4 of 250 g)

1/4 cup (60 mL) sugar 

1 Tab golden syrup

1 Tab treacle

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

3/4 cup chopped dried dates

1/4 cup almond meal

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

2 tsp ground ginger

sprinkle of other spices (cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, tiniest bit of cloves)

1 egg, beaten

METHOD: 

Melt butter sugar and syrups in saucepan over low to medium heat while stirring.

Add bicarbonate, stir, mixture should ‘whoosh’.

Stir in dried dates, allow to soften for a few minutes, then remove from heat. 

Allow to cool. Good time to turn on oven: 160*C fan or 180*C regular, and to prepare cake tin.

Add flours, nut meals, spices, stir in. 

Add beaten egg, stir in well (don’t want scrambled egg in the cake).

Transfer mixture to cake tin. 

Bake for 35 minutes. 

 

 
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small frying pan

frying pan

I dithered for months before buying this frying pan. It is one of those small ones that seem to be everywhere at the moment, 14 cm diameter across the top, silicon handle, non-stick interior. I dithered because I don’t want to accumulate objects I don’t use, and I am over-proud of having very few pots and pans. This is a small kitchen with correspondingly small cupboards. I can’t afford to have anything in it that we don’t use, although there are exceptions and they are kept in the cupboard above the fridge, and on the top shelf of other cupboards, the spaces I can’t reach without a chair. There is empty space above the cupboards, where we keep Easter chocolates while they last, and where we used to place confiscated toys for very short periods of times if our warnings were ignored. 

Back to the frying pan. It has been incredibly useful. It fits in well with how I eat, and I imagine I will use it even more this winter. I used to be very fond of the toaster as a means of quickly preparing warm food when I felt cold. That is no longer an option due to my resistance to eating breads that have lists of ingredients that give the impression that they were created in a lab (I am referring to those gluten-free breads that I did not like during my gluten-rich days, so I have no desire to try them now). Instead of the toaster, I will be using this frying pan. 

At first, I bought it to make frittata, single serve single egg variety. It is perfect for that.

frittata

However, I succumbed to the appeal of a punnet of plums that turned out to be lacking in flavour, as stone fruits so often are when bought at a supermarket. I sensibly cooked them in the frying pan. Wow! I have been fiddling about ever since, and even buying plums with the intention of cooking them.

fruits in frying pan

So, a few ‘recipes’, or at least a few combinations that have been successful in the pan. 

Note: I keep the temperature of the hot plate (13 cm diameter, electric) medium low, a position corresponding to 4 o’clock on the temperature dial. I don’t want to risk cooking away the interior. And I always use a silicone spatula.

Fruit: 

Plums, apples, strawberries tried so far.

Sometimes with the juice of a lime (the tree has been bountiful this year).

Sometimes with a slice of fresh ginger.

Always with some ground spice: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, speck of cloves – usually just one, but sometimes a combination.

Frittata:

Cooked vegetables (leftover roasties, or cubes of pumpkin and sweet potato, boiled for 12 minutes).

Small tin of corn kernels (125 g). 

Broccoli and mushrooms were not so nice, but that could be due to my mild aversion to broccoli (I prefer it cooked differently).

Many other vegetables to be tried, and I am especially looking  forward to asparagus in spring.

Warm the vegetables for a couple of minutes in the pan.

Then add 1 beaten egg.

Sometimes I add grated parmesan and sweet paprika to the egg, and the pepper is added whenever I think of it…

I let the egg cook with a larger lid balanced on the pan. Once it looks set, I remove the lid and place the frying pan under the grill until the frittata browns, and use a pot holder when retrieving the pan from the grill, as while the handle is covered with silicone, the pan came with a warning regarding heat transfer, and it is good for me to maintain the habit of using the potholder regardless of what is under the grill. 

 

cooking in frying pan
 
 
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Bike Pouch


bike pouch 

I did not buy a mobile phone until my son had been at school for a term. Until then, when he was at kindergarten or school, I was at home, where there is a perfectly functional landline phone. However, after that first term that I spent on the major uncluttering effort, I was ready to go out occasionally during school hours. So out of respect for my son’s teachers, I bought a mobile phone. I gave the number to a very limited number of people, because I don’t want to be contacted when I am out of the house during school hours. Generally I don’t want anyone phoning me when I am not at home. So most people don’t know that I have the phone, and those who do are aware that it is only on during school hours when I am not at home, or by pre-arrangement. I particularly do not tell the people who think that phones are to be used to summon people at their will. Several people have complained to me about friends or family who don’t have their phones turned on, or who did not answer their calls, or did answer while on the toilet. The list goes on. They are the people who don’t know about the phone, and probably consider me a crank. I don’t mind.

Recently, in a noisy shop, my phone rang and my son heard it while I did not. The phone was in my backpack and we were expecting the call. I began to wonder about other calls I had missed. Perhaps my cheap phone was not faulty, and perhaps I hadn’t left it in silent mode after a yoga class. Perhaps I just wasn’t hearing it behind me. So I have changed my habits, carrying it in my hand or pocket when using the backpack. And I made a little pouch for my bike handlebars, to use when everything else is in the basket on the back of the bike. 

The design is remarkably simple. I cut the leg of a pair of my son’s jeans that were on their way to the rubbish bin (nobody wants to buy jeans with holes in the knees, so not suitable for the op shop). I stitched across the cut edge to make the bottom of the bag, and across the corners to form a base. The velcro loops to attach the pouch to the bike handlebars were inspired by the velcro loops that held the pram bag in place – and those four velco loops reliably held many heavy loads. Then, to close the pouch, a couple of buttons and elastic loops – the open end just folds over, as on some fancy bike saddle bags. It was a very quick effort, and I am happy with the result. 

bike pouch other views

 

 
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too much crochet

sparrowatzoo

It’s been a while.

My friend did die, just before Christmas, ten years after diagnosis, which occurred six months after the first seizure, the first sign of the tumour. I am still amazed by how well he was for so many of those years. Of course there were times when he was not well, when the seizures returned, when he went through treatments and so much monitoring of a tumour that could not be completely excised due to its position. I felt I was lucky to have him as a friend for so long. The sadness is only hitting now, four months later. It is strange to realise that I knew him for almost half his life, and that he had his tumour for half of that time. The death was a much greater shock for our mutual friend who seemed to think that when an abnormal growth is called a tumour, it is not a terminal condition, even when it is a brain tumour. And that would explain the difference in our responses when it was diagnosed – I was almost hysterical, she was calm. I spent the next ten years enjoying every moment I spent with my friend, appreciating all that was unique in our friendship. So of course I wanted to email him when he died, to tell him he had chosen a terrible time, so close to Christmas. Could he not have waited another month? It would have been so much better for his family. And as with all other significant deaths, I find myself saving up anecdotes to tell him, or looking forward to asking his opinion on some matter. That is all a part of someone dying.

crochetblanket

On a happier note, I did finish the cotton blanket I was crocheting. It was only after joining all of the motifs (crochet slip stitch) that I noticed that people can crochet motifs together as they go along, and felt a little demoralised that after so many years of crochet it had never occurred to me that I could do that. I knitted too much, hurt my right index finger, but could still crochet, so in no time at all I used a lot of my scrappy 8 ply wool stash to crochet another blanket, this one copied from a really beautiful photo on Pinterest (that I did not reference at all, and I don’t have a Pinterest account, sigh). The main motivation was to use the approach of joining motifs as I went along.

crochetsquarestogether

After making a central square of motifs, about four or five motifs wide, I began to crochet enough centres for a side or two, then connected them to the blanket.

blanketwithcircles

I don’t know the origin of this pattern, and did come across it on another blog a week ago, slightly different in the final round… I am happy with my finished blanket, and the border that just happened on its own – the corners are very strange, I just made it up as I went along, then had to refer to previously worked corners to make them match.

blanketcorner

And now I have started another blanket, what an addiction! The motif is my favourite from the cotton blanket, with an extra round to be worked, and motifs to be joined as I go along. I especially ordered the yarn for this one, a special edition from Bendigo Woollen Mills. That shade card is very worn now, with all the folding I did as I kept changing my mind about one or two colours. I am very careful to avoid having multiple projects in any single craft, as I don’t want to ‘end up like my mother’, whose house is cluttered with works in progress (and probably just as many completed projects).

athenacardandsquares

We do use the blankets. But just how many do we need? Answer: as many as I need to make!

 
 
 
 
 
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