Friday, 23 December 2011

A simple fruit loaf instead of Christmas fruit cake ~ you decide! And a few other seasonal treats ~

Too late or too tired to make a Christmas cake, or don't have all the ingredients?  You might like to make this loaf instead!  This recipe for Zoe's fruit loaf made with tea has been popular so I'm re-publishing it here as a suggested substitute for Christmas fruit cake.  It's so simple to make and serve: it requires very few ingredients, the simplest of methods, and needs no icing, buttering or decorating. 

In the picture below you can see it served with whipped cream and a little preserved apple (without it's juice).  I ate this plate of food after I photographed it and it was absolutely delicious! 

Here is how to make it:

Overnight soak:
1 pound of mixed fruit (500 grams) - available from your supermarket
2 cups of cold tea
1/2 cup of soft brown sugar
Then add:
2 cups of self-raising flour (If using standard flour add 2 tsp baking powder)
1 well beaten egg.
I've found that packs of mixed fruit vary in moisture content, which means that the amount of tea needed varies.  The final mixture should drop off the spoon easily, so it pays to have some additional cold tea to hand in case the mixture seems too stiff.  

Mix well and pour into a well greased (or oiled) loaf tin.  The original recipe says to bake for 2 hours in a moderate oven (300 degrees Fahrenheit or 150 degrees Celcius).  I've found this to be too long and ovens vary.  I suggest you check progress after an hour and possibly leave it in for another ten or twenty minutes or so.  A well-cooked loaf is likely to be a deep golden brown and have a good firm crust. 

This loaf gets even nicer with standing so you may wish to wait until the next day to eat it, but I like mine any way it comes and the sooner the better!  It's wonderfully moist and keeps well.  It can also be frozen.

If using double the amount of fruit the mixture can easily be adapted to make three loaves. 

Other recipes which may be enjoyed at this time of year can be found in my earlier articles:

I wish you all A Happy Christmas and a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year!

Christchurch's fourth major earthquake event ~ 23rd December 2011

This afternoon earthquakes of Richter magnitude 5.8 and 6, ninety minutes apart shook Christchurch.  The central city has been evacuated as have all shopping malls, and the airport has been closed down.  There is fresh liquefaction in the suburb of Parklands (where I used to live) and thousands of households are without power.


The Christchurch Quake map is always a ready source of information.  They note 5.9, I see.
A similar site, Canterbury Quake Live, provides a slightly different perspective.
When the Magnitude 6 quake occurred I was on the phone attempting to bring cheer to my mother who lives in the Sumner district of Christchurch after the shock of the earlier one.  Her voice dropped away abruptly and was replaced by a sound that I can only describe as being like a freight train passing through.  I was relieved to know she was okay!  Amazingly nothing was broken, even though household belongings have been fairly well secured against such eventualities.  Even at this distance it's shocking and I downed a medicinal brandy.

Hold on, Christchurch!
Any large shake is accompanied by swarms of smaller ones.  Today Christchurch has been shaken by 32 so far, and we still have three hours of the day to go!
  • The first big quake of 5.9 M occurred at 1.58 pm
  • It was followed by one of 5.3 at 2.06 pm
  • In less than an hour there were six quakes measuring from 3.7 to 4.8
  • And at 3.18 pm the biggest one of 6.0 shook the city.  That turned out to be the one I heard over the phone!
  • Then were were three more ranging from 2.9 to 4.6,
  • And at 4.50 pm there was one of 5.1 M.
  • ...And so it goes...
The front page of Saturday's Press on the 24th December showed this wave of high magnitude quakes:
These two articles appeared on The Press website the same afternoon as the initial quakes:
Grace Dalley of Rata Design has contributed that: the Regional council quake website has been reactivated and is a good source of info.  Thank you, Grace.

Further coverage:
There are many ways of measuring earthquakes and their effects.  In the article below the ground acceleration of this particular quake is described:
The student volunteer army has swung back into action once more to help clean up the new mess and lending very practical muscle power:
The call for red-zoned land along the Avon River to be designated as park land is mounting:
Liquefaction and service loss in Parklands - how the locals fared: 
These two articles include comments from residents of the same street: the first reflecting the high of a community which has pulled together against adversity and is celebrating that success; the second reflecting frustration and despair over the grind of on-going difficulties - after yet another earthquake.  These responses are characteristic of Christchurch residents where everyday life is unpredictable and the wear and tear of on-going earthquakes is taking its toll.

All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen:

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Christchurch in Dec 2011 ~ earthquake safety measures, empty sections and gradual progress

When I visited Christchurch last week I found it an odd mixture of an increasing number of empty sections and flourishing plant life.  The image below of a massive tree by the entrance of a now empty section illustrates this point.  Until very recently a grand old wooden house stood within the grounds:

Another massive tree lives on in the back of the section.  The only house that remains is the elaborate tree house constructed within its boughs:

Next door, a similar but smaller house survives in good condition and a well tended garden basks in the summer warmth:

Safety standards and earthquakes:
I often hear complaints about the conservative nature of safety standards, with the opinion being aired that many are too strict or may be unnecessary.  I think that on the whole they are eminently sensible and in the case of the Christchurch earthquakes a cautious approach has certainly saved many lives. 

But how can an earthquake save lives?
Prior to the deadly earthquake of February 2011 Christchurch had an uncomfortable wake-up call - the earthquake of September 2010.  That major quake caused extensive damage all over Canterbury, but the epicentre was some distance to the west of the city and it occurred at a time of night when few people were up and about.  Miraculously no one was killed.  As a result buildings across the city were inspected for damage and stability.  Unreinforced masonry buildings presented a major hazard and many were condemned.  Others buildings were closed until repairs could be carried out, and adjacent areas were cordoned off.  This meant that these areas were not occupied when the much more devastating quake struck in the middle of a busy weekday, directly under the central city.  
  • September's quake 'saved 300 lives' - article in The Press, 7th November 2011.  The writer of the article notes that "Unreinforced masonry is a construction of clay brick, concrete block or natural stone units bound together using lime or cement mortar, without any reinforcing elements such as steel reinforcing bars."
However, mistakes and policy errors do occur with the result that information about unstable building structures did not always reach those it should have.  The item below describes how information which was withheld caused the death of two women: they were crushed by the collapse of an unbraced brick wall from a neighbouring building.  EQC has now changed its policy about the availability of information to those of neighbouring properties.
I reflected on all this when visiting Christchurch last week, and considered the places I was familiar with where friends and professionals I knew well had lived and worked, which have since been razed:

Photo Warehouse used to be on this site on Durham Street in an old brick building which I often visited.  The February earthquake struck at the busiest time of the day.  Fortunately the business had moved some months before the September earthquake. (Their new premises is on Fitzgerald Avenue.)

A good friend used to live in the old brick building that was on this site in Selwyn Street.  Fortunately he had too had moved before the quakes:

Our much loved family optometrist, Paul Dunlop, died in the building pictured below, the Durham Street Methodist Church, which collapsed in the February earthquake.  The church had been damaged in the September quake and he and seven others were in there dismantling the organ for removal when the quake struck.  Five of them got out; three of them did not.

Opposite my mother's place the old brick house which was there is now gone.  It was one of the earliest houses built in that suburb.  The elderly couple who had lived there for decades mercifully were no longer there:

The Redcliffs supermarket where I used to shop is now an empty section.  In the image below you can see it fenced off, deemed too dangerous even to enter to collect anything.  My guess is that it is likely to have been of concrete slab construction:

Now only the shop sign remains:

Redcliffs took a heavy pounding in the third big earthquake event, on the 13th June 2011:
The sewer is being re-laid along the centre of the main street meaning that traffic is diverted to one side of the road along much of its length.  That's Clifton Hill in the background:

Apart from extensive road works and continuing demolitions progress there is slow.  Redcliffs Primary School, which is adjacent to the cliffs and resulting rockfalls, is closed:

A close-up of the cliff edge above shows how perilous the cliff face has become:

Looking back along Redcliffs Main Road towards the Causeway little has changed in recent months:

In central Christchurch the streets are increasingly empty of buildings: 
This view into the cordoned off area from the Barbadoes and Tuam Street intersection shows some of the high-rises that remain.  An obliging service station attendant identified which ones are coming down.  All but a couple of these are scheduled for demolition:

I asked if the building overshadowed by the crane was under construction or de-construction.  It's the Grand Chancellor Hotel - without its distinguishing and somewhat hat-like roof.  The question of how to manage its demolition has been a continuing theme in news coverage since the February earthquake. 

Its tilting structure and awkward location make its demolition one of the most difficult and expensive known anywhere.

In Christchurch brick chimneys have largely become a thing of the past although some mock-brick chimney pieces have been designed.  Unless special strengthening is included in construction they have been deemed hazardous as a falling chimney can cause extensive damage.  One man was very nearly killed by one:   

Earthquake nearly fatal for Oxford farmer - published in Star newspaper, 14th Sept 2010.
The man standing in this chimney space was putting in a shiny metal one which appeared the next day.

Away from damaged buildings, vacant sections and the bustle of road repairs areas of the city basked in summer sunlight and were a delight.  
A friend and I wandered across Beckenham Park...

...and along Eastern Terrace:

Here is the view to the south of dear old Sugarloaf, the hill in the distance:

Grass and toetoe at the left flank the banks of the Heathcote River.

The following day I set out from Christchurch on the long drive home.  
It was raining and cold: the weather, like aspects of the city, was a stark contrast.  I pulled over from traffic on Bealey Ave to photograph the equally stark remains of Knox Church.  I was distracted by rain and traffic, but am reasonably sure that the big signs in the foreground are for the church hall just out of the picture to the left.

Beyond the shell of the church a new building is under construction:

The bright stripe at the right is the back of the bus in front of my car.

Visible progress in Christchurch is slow, but continuing:
People's plan approved for Christchurch - TVNZ video, 15th December 2011
Christchurch courthouse reopens - TVNZ video, 15th December 2011

Right now nature looks to be the clear winner, and for a city long known as The Garden City, this is hopeful and reassuring.  In this respect locals need all they can get: the jumble of disappearing landmarks, construction, deconstruction, detours, bumpy or closed roads, and relocated shops and services, continue to be a strain.  Newly built or repaired and revamped buildings are coming along slowly.  Meantime, kia kaha, Christchurch, and may the summer bring you all relaxation, pleasure and a clear view of better things to come.

All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen:

    Monday, 7 November 2011

    Post-earthquake progress in the Christchurch cental business district ~

    Warwick Isaacs, who is in charge of demolitions in Central Christchurch, takes viewers for a quick look around still-closed areas of the Central Business District.  The purpose of this is to give those viewers not able to take the bus tours a chance to see beyond the barricades. 

    While I appreciate being able to see it I wanted a better look at things: although I know this area well I found myself frequently scrambling to figure out which street we were looking at and which direction the vehicle was travelling in.  It's a sobering look and we see that once these operations are complete little will be left of what once seemed so permanent.
    On a more cheerful note, part of Cashel Mall is now open to shoppers after a mind-blowing makeover: from rubble to sparkle!  
    • Christchurch earthquake: ravaged retail centre reborn, which was published in the Press on 30th October 2011.  Lois Cairns reports that "Christchurch's new [shipping] container mall enthralled shoppers yesterday".  Watch the video which gives a little look around.  It's fun and has a nice sound track of the buskers playing there.
    I provide the link here to a heart-rending as well as heart-warming story about Nathan Pilkington and his daughter, Nevada, re-visiting the mall from which they had narrowly escaped at the height of earthquake chaos.
    Things are definitely looking up!
    All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen:

        Monday, 31 October 2011

        Springtime ~ life and death in the balance

        Everywhere spring has brought a celebration of blossom, flowers, burgeoning growth and an almost palpable hum of new life bursting forth.

        Clematis flanked by ceanothus

        Yet death hovers in the shadows even at this time of year: in a single day the cat caught and killed a young rabbit, a bumble bee lay on the lawn its brief life over, and an elderly neighbour lay in Intensive Care in a coma, hesitating at the gateway between the worlds. 

        In that one short day I buried the still, small, unmarked body of the young rabbit, gently placing it into a shroud of freshly pulled grass in a sandy grave; dropped the deceased, yet still perfectly formed, bumble bee into the long grasses of the field where it will not be trodden on...

        ...and our neighbour awoke from his unprecedented fortnight of sleep, rather confused but full of life.  It was quite a day. 

        Pandorea pandorana - Wonga Wonga vine

        Spring marches on undeterred: at the last count early this afternoon, sixty nine potatoes were vigorously putting on height in the vege patch, and thirty one stems of iris buds had elegantly emerged from within their leafy fans. 

        Miniature iris

        Everywhere I look the gardens are full of glory:



        Pandorea pandorana 'Ruby Bells' - Wonga Wonga vine

        And here's one lady who will not take back answers, unless she agrees with you in advance, so mind your manners everyone! 

        Chook in charge!

        Spring will not be denied...

        Monday, 10 October 2011

        Creating the garden you want ~ it's springtime!

        Springtime is an ideal time to re-model a garden: the earth is warming up and drying out a little, the days are longer and the upsurge of energy which comes in this season is worth a great deal more to growing plants than at any other time of the year.  Get plants in now and you'll have a garden full of flowers and produce within a few short months - that's nature for you - bountiful!

        I love gardening, and landscaping in particular, but there's no escaping that it is hard work - good work though and amazingly rewarding.  I don't believe at all in the one day make-overs that have been popularised on television - the best and most loved gardens evolve gradually over time and with personal involvement.  How can you love a garden that others have made for you in a day?  And how can you be bothered to look after it?  That's a different thing entirely.

        Hoping to share the concepts and know-how I've worked so hard to learn I've outlined these in a series of articles published last November.

        Here is what I've been up to in my new garden in recent weeks:
        We moved here in the midst of winter and my multitude of plants from the old place had to wait patiently in pots during the cold months.  That suited me fine as I had much to do settling into the house and getting things there the way that suited me.  There had never been a garden here as such - just lawn and a few tiny borders around the house itself.  The big section at the back had been terraced, but never developed.  I have carte blanche to do with it as I wish.  No money to do anything with it either, but that need not be too much of a constraint.  Gradually my idea of how it could be made fruitful and beautiful has clarified. 

        The middle terrace has been designated as the vegetable garden.  The potatoes have been planted and the silver beet is thriving, but much still remains to be done.  Here is how it looked in the early stages:

        I had laid newspapers on two parts and placed my potted plants on top to anchor them.  These were a big help with the lawn grass which died back considerably - much less work than digging it out!  

        I had a big job removing a patch of montbretia which had established itself in the front left hand corner:

        Montbretia's pretty flowers are deceptive:

        If left to their own devices they create no end of bulbs which then have to be got rid of.  Here are some of them.  If you must have this plant grow it in a tub!

        Finally I finished clearing that corner, and in their place I planted rhubarb surrounded by rocket which you can see in the front left hand corner of this image.  The rhubarb was still a set of knobs in the ground at that stage.

        Up on the top terrace I became dissatisfied with an existing brick pad on which the garden seat was tethered.  

        I decided either to re-lay the brickwork or move the seat.  Disappointingly I found that all but two of the bricks had bits of cement attached - relaying them was not an option and they duly found a new home neatly stacked under the house!  After we had removed all the bricks a metal peg remained sticking up out of the ground at just the spot to trip anyone up, or ruin the lawn mower.  I decided it had to go.  It was rather harder to get out of the ground than I expected!  On the way down I found, among other things, an empty feed sack... and more and more of that metal post...

        It took me three days to get that problem sorted out!

        Levers, a post hole digger, an out-sized sledge hammer, as well as my trusty spade were involved.  The post was revealed to be a full-sized fence post which came up to my arm-pit!  There it is lying among the tools, a bit rusted and bent, but very much intact:

        Minus it's fence post that corner of the garden felt ruptured, as indeed it might!  The next day I dug it over as fully as I could and re-contoured it:

        I've put in a couple of shrubs and some ferns which I'm sure will do well and make a nice display of colour and foliage, a great improvement to a corner which is always going to have an ugly fence. 

        The garden seat has moved to the other end of the terrace where it is much more comfortably placed.  I've cleared the back boundary and planted a solid row of ferns at the back of it where they will look good and keep the paddock grass at bay.  The rest of the top terrace is still a work in progress.

        Over the fence in the paddock the daffodils have been glorious:

        Having tackled those two top priorities my next most pressing task was to get my irises planted: they had been struggling in shallow crates.  If I got my act together soon enough they just might flower this season.  I decided that the border immediately at the back of the house would be the best place - nice and sheltered.  When we first came here that area was particularly overgrown and neglected:

        At the far corner the border goes around to the main entrance.  It didn't look much better there.  Entrance ways are so important and this one let the whole place down:

        I set to work along the back:

        Then around the corner:

        I wanted to have more depth to the back border which meant I had to dig up quite a bit of lawn.  I cut it out more or less in diamond shapes which I could use again:

        This gave me plenty of turf to fill in the expanse of garden by the front door which had been such a trap when we were moving in: we had all had to step in and out of it to carry large items into the house - hopeless!

        Gradually I reached my goal and fitted the last pieces of turf into a pleasing curve:

        And planted the irises in with my roses:

        What a difference!  The neighbours leant on the fence and said I was giving the place a bit of class, which was nice!  I had so much else I wanted to do, but I'd made my hands sore.  I had to take a day off at least to rest them.  I put my gardening clothes in the wash and my gardening shoes in the basement where I'd have to make an effort to get them out.

        Coming back from lunch I eyed the step in the back path with disfavour.  Perhaps if I just levered those poorly placed concrete blocks out with the grubber it would be easier to get on with that little problem the next day...

        Nature makes such an effort to fill in and beautify every dull and neglected spot.  I couldn't bring myself to pull these out even though they are 'weeds':

        I tugged and slid the heavy brick down the path and parked it tidily in the border where it can continue its existence uninterrupted.  

        It was a small step from there to lever up a dozen or so well chosen bricks from another path I intend to re-do (sometime) and put them ready for laying.  Oh well, I wasn't getting exactly dirty, so I got to work with the spade and worked out the layout and gradient of the finished top where a compromise had to be made with the sloping path next to it.  But I couldn't get very far without mixing up a sort of mud pie to fill in the back to settle things properly.  I enjoyed that!  Then it was no trouble at all to settle the bricks into place one by one: three lengthwise across the step's width, then the remainder on their sides going the other way.  Fantastic - I was really pleased!  

        It was then the most minor of tasks to back-fill it so that the lawn was more level.  Then it only needed hosing off and I was done!  I was so pleased!  I put away the tools, and went inside for a wash!  So much for having a day free of gardening!  I hadn't put on my gardening clothes or shoes, which rather defeated the purpose of not putting them on, but never mind.

        The back entrance looks so much better now.  It may not be smart in other respects, but at least it's cared for and as good as I can make it.

        Last week I made a herb garden out of a disused corner by the clothesline - after I had dug out another sackful of montbretia!  It's always handy to have herbs next to a paved area where they're easy to reach whatever the weather.  My herbs look delighted to be out of their pots and we are delighted to be picking them - fresh from the garden.  The empty space is for new seedlings yet to come:

        These are some of the projects I've been busy with in the garden here.  None of it was difficult, but it has taken thought, care and a lot of work, and how rewarding it is!  As I complete each project the ground feels newly free and harmonious, and the plants can really get their feet down and get going.  That's good energy to have around our home.  The place is beginning to look loved and lovely. 

        So that's what I've been up to here.  And none of it has cost me a cent - except the seed potatoes!

        I do encourage you to think creatively about your own garden.  Get help if you need it.  Whatever you do I hope it brings you pleasure, which is the whole point - to get out in the fresh air and weather and to enjoy the growing things.  It's a good feeling.  
        Happy gardening!