cracking walnuts



I bought some new season walnuts, in their shells. I remembered my sister saying how delicious they were last year, while her children were cracking nuts open at Christmas (one of the family Christmas dinner traditions, which seems a bit crazy given the amount of food already consumed before the nuts appear). 

I searched through the utensil drawer. As I suspected, we don’t own a nutcracker. However, we do own a meat tenderiser, a bewildering utensil in our kitchen. I don’t know where it came from – had it been my grandmother’s, or was it already in the house before I came here? Anyway, it turned out to be a very effective tool for opening walnuts. One sharp tap and the shell is broken sufficiently to be removed. I seem to be far more skilled in its use than I have ever been with the myriad of nutcrackers that have appeared at Christmas. 

And the walnuts do taste good!


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sorting lego



School holidaysare almost over again. Time passes quickly, with little time for the computer. We are staying home for the two weeks. My son needs a good play with his toys, and I think it is good for children to experience mundane everyday life occasionally. I belong with the grandparents who moan about how overstimulated children are these days, with the constant succession of activities after school and on weekends. I even know of a grandmother who is denied access to her child because the only day he is home is on Sundays, and that is ‘family time’, not to be interupted by a grandmother. Another suspects that her granddaughters are cranky when they come around for family dinner on Thursdays because they have been exhausted by the number of activities crammed into their week. Just the time in the car would have me cranky.

Anyway, we are having a relaxing time, with bits of origami, painting, walks to the local shops and such. And there has been a good chunk of Lego time every day. 

My way of playing with Lego these days is to provide voices while putting away loose pieces. It sounds insane, but that is the way it has evolved, and we are satisfied enough. I tend to be clumsy with Lego, and the more I try to avoid breaking it, the more it dissolves into pieces in my hands. I think the connections work themselves loose over time, which makes sense in terms of high school physics lessons, with inanimate objects subjecting each other to forces just by fitting tightly together – there they are, trying to get a bit more space around them, pushing each other apart. So I sit on a footstool, plastic containers around me, piling pieces of Lego onto a dusting cloth, giving them a quick wipe, then dispensing them a handful at a time into the appropriate container. Our Lego storage has gone through a few stages. There was the single tub, but it was difficult to find anything. Then there were the cat litter trays, and large flat pieces were kept separate from the others. Soon I learned to keep tiny pieces in their own container too, those with a single hole in them, or those special pieces such as tools and accessories. The people now have their own box that they share with the animals. Train track has a container. Wheels go in the container with the browns and oranges, as there are few pieces of that colour in my son’s collection. At some stage I realised that it was best to keep contrasting colours together, and a little later the accumulated fluff annoyed me, so cat litter trays were replaced by containers with lids.


For all of that, most of the Lego is on the floor, made up into buildings, vehicles and goodness knows what else. Occasionally I gather up loose pieces in a plastic container (one of those litter trays), and that might sit around for a week before the pieces are recycled into another creation, or before I get around to sorting them into their containers. One day my son will do this, but not yet. I used to be the one finding the pieces when they were wanted, but that service is no longer required. It is a relief that my role and his capabilities keep changing.

I used to frantically ask other mothers in the school yard about how they stored Lego, and received some peculiar looks. In some houses, once the model is built, it goes on a shelf, sometimes behind glass doors. Others have a single large tub for loose pieces. They do not assist in the building, and never did. A few mothers put the sets away in containers with many compartments, sorting according to size and shape, and keeping sets isolated. Their peculiar looks were returned. 

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crochet blanket completed

150910 blanketinsun

This project was a joy to work on, and the border far more pleasant than I expected, even though I had to pull it out and substitute a second, less yarn-consuming stitch. And it was fun weighing the yarn remaining at the end of each round. So little left of the 200 g balls – 41 g total!

100910 yarnremaining

The details:

5 X 200 g balls of yarn, 8 ply (approximately 400 m of each).

4 mm crochet hook.

144 squares worked, joined together on the final round.


make a loop (just yarn, or 4 chain ring if preferred)

rnd 1: 12 tr in loop

rnd 2: 2 tr in each space between trebles

rnd 3: *(2 tr, 3 ch, 2 tr, 1ch) in space, (2 htr, 1 ch) in next two spaces, repeat from * total 4 times

rnd 4: *(2 tr, 3 ch, 2 tr, 1ch) in 3 ch space, (2 tr, 1 ch) in 1 ch spaces, repeat from * total 4 times

** to join squares on final round, substitute sl st for a single ch – the second of 3 ch when working a corner (and insert hook into ch to fix st), the 1 ch spaces when working along the sides.

150910 blanketborder


4 rounds identical to rnd 4 of the motif. Spaces where corners have been joined are treated as 1 ch spaces. Just work corners at corners.

Final round: *(tr, 2 ch, tr) into each 1 ch space, repeat from * for the length of the rug.

At corners: (tr, 2 ch) 3 times, then 1 tr in the 3 ch space.

(I liked this better with 3 ch between the two trebles, but realised I would have insufficient yarn for this variation. I liked the spikiness.)

150910 blanketborder2

 Original Border, which I loved, but had insufficient yarn to complete:

Final round: *(2 tr, 3 ch, 2tr, 1ch) into 1 ch space, (sl st, 1 ch) in next 1 ch space, repeat from * for the length of the rug. 

At corners: (2 tr, 3 ch,2 tr, 3 ch, 2 tr, 1 ch) into 3 ch space, (sl st, 1 ch) in next 1 ch space.

150910 awkwardcornerstogether

Where previous space holds a group of trebles, I tried to compensate the following way:

In 1 ch space before corner: (2 tr, 3 ch, 1 tr, 1 dc, 1 ch), (sl st, 1 ch) in next treble (before 3 ch space),

then (2 tr, 3 ch, 2 tr, 1ch) in 3 ch space, (sl st, 1 ch) in next treble (before 1 ch space), (1 dc, 1 tr, 3 ch, 2 tr, 1 ch) in next space for symmetry, continue as before.

Of course, if I had worked one more or one fewer border rounds before this final round, I would not have had to fiddle about at the corners. (Even number of squares, so even number of spaces along the edges. With each round, an extra space is added, so alternate rounds have an odd number of spaces, and for this sort of edging, an odd number of spaces is required, so that each end of the side will require the same stitches in its space to make the corner.) But I wanted to use all of the colours in the border, and to use up as much of the yarn as possible. I don’t mind if the corners are not identical.

150910 blanketborder3

A third border I tried, but did not like so much for this blanket, but will use in future:

sl st,*( 3 ch, 2 tr in next 1 ch space, 3 ch, sl st in next 1 ch space), repeat from *. 

Like the abandoned border, strange things would need to happen at corners where the number of spaces along the side of the blanket is even, and I am not sure what I would do at the corners, maybe some variation on the corners I worked on this blanket.

I don’t know if any of these final rounds have been printed anywhere. I found myself thinking of Elizabeth Zimmermann and her ‘unventing’ of knitting techniques. It seems unlikely that nobody would have done this previously (particularly the ‘V-stitch’ variation I ended up using). I was just too lazy to go hunting about for border patterns, and I did not want to risk using much more yarn than on a conventional round, as for the other colours, only 8 g of yarn remained (from around 32 g at the start of the border). And then I can think of how while no part of the rug is unique, others have used this yarn, others have crocheted this pattern, the final product is unique. 

150910 blanketsection
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150906 plainpopcorn

Normally I eat this with just some salt, pepper and dried oregano. If you haven’t tried popcorn with freshly cracked pepper, but do like popcorn, I recommend this variation.

150906 popcornsnack

For added variety and health benefits, add a little fruit. Mandarins and chunks of banana shown here.

150906 popcornolivesandlettuce

To turn it into a lunch, I added chopped lettuce and a few olives. Very enjoyable.

Now I am wondering if I can present this as a salad for general consumption. It would be unique. In summer I could substitute pineapple for the mandarin, and there are loads of other variations based on such substitutions. 

Or maybe it would be better, certainly more conventional, to omit the popcorn.

And while this might seem an attractive way to entice a fussy eater to broaden their food range, it held no attraction for the one bearing that label in this house. I was not surprised. Perhaps when he is older I will have to drag him off to France to replicate the experience Michael Booth describes at the beginning of “Doing Without Delia” (also published as “Sacre Cordon Bleu”).

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a few notes on clutter


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. 


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.


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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