Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Cereal for simpletons ~ rolled oats and muesli for a good meal

Oats is an excellent food: the Self Nutrition Data web page advises that:
This food is low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol and Sodium.  It is also a good source of Dietary Fiber, Thiamin, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Manganese. 
Those interested in nutritional values may wish to note this website for further reference.

Rolled oats is the most commonly available form of oats and the basis of the two food suggestions given here.  The quantities given make enough for two portions.

(1)  Muesli 
This comes in many shapes and sizes.  If you buy it ready-made, it's likely to be costly and loaded with sugar.  If you make it yourself you are likely to find that many recipes include a wide range of ingredients which one might not otherwise have. 

In contrast, this muesli recipe is simple and thrifty: it has no added sugar, five ingredients at most, all of which are reasonably priced, and takes less time and effort to make than poaching an egg.  Watching a piece of toast cook might take as long.  Eat it fresh and enjoy the fragrance as well as the flavour.
  • Rolled oats - 1 cup
  • Coconut - shredded - a third of a cup
  • Sunflower seeds - a quarter of a cup
  • Vegetable oil - 1 tablespoon
  • Sultanas if you have them and want them in it.
Heat the oil, add sultanas first (if it occurs to you!), then the oats, stirring briskly.  Add the coconut and sunflower seeds and cook for a couple of minutes until it's lightly toasted and smells delicious.  Take off the heat to avoid scorching, and serve immediately with whatever else you like, fresh or preserved fruit, milk, yoghurt and so on.
    You may wish to experiment with leaving out the oil entirely.  It's all a matter of personal preference. 

(2) When you want a change or if you are digestively challenged here is an alternative.  
It takes about the same amount of preparation but you do need to think about it in advance.  As with the above recipe, measures are approximate.
  • Rolled oats - one cup
  • Sunflower seeds - a quarter of a cup
  • Sultanas or chopped dates, if you like them
  • Apple - one fresh
  • Fruit juice - perhaps about a cup.
Soak the sunflower seeds or other nuts in fruit juice overnight or for an hour or so.
Soak the rolled oats and dried fruit in a small amount of fruit juice diluted with perhaps the same amount of water (undiluted fruit juice may make the flavour too concentrated).  Let it stand for perhaps ten minutes.
Grate the apple and mix it all together.
Serve as it is or with fruit and yoghurt as desired.  It is quite tangy.  If you like cottage cheese you might enjoy a spoonful or so of this with it.  The flavours are good together.

(3) Porridge:
I'm sure you don't need me to tell you how to prepare this!

(1) The most commonly available form of rolled oats looks more like flakes of oats than the traditional equivalent which really are oats which have been rolled flat!  Anyone who has tried these will know that they are a much a more challenging grain to prepare and eat.  While I'm sure they are an excellent food I have yet to acquire a taste for them.
(2) Harraways is a big supplier of rolled oats products here in New Zealand and is locally owned and operated.  I buy their product in preference to others.  They have their own line of fully certified organic products about which their website provides details. 

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Springtime ~ and the garden bursts its winter seams!

The last few weeks have marked a decisive change of season.  While weather has remained changeable lawns have begun to grow with a vengeance.

The big clump is the Shasta daisies
Insects are suddenly everywhere: last week I came across a little enclave of ladybirds as I pulled clover out of the side of a path; later when I was weeding another path I disturbed a colony of ants; at another crevice a family of baby earwigs swarmed out in alarm; plump worms have writhed at my unexpected intrusion as I've weeded along the edge of the lawn; and birds have later enjoyed pecking over the loosened earth. 

Round the back our three households have clubbed together for a shared vege garden.  Already it is striped with promising green rows as new growth shoots forth.

The garden is bursting with life.  It's even a little dry in parts.

I was up unusually early this morning.  Skies were clear and the air crisp.  I wanted a cup of tea, and so my day started.

Not so long ago an intelligent person told me that it's best to water the garden during the day as watering in the evening increases the chance of mildew and so on.  Early morning is ideal.  Keen to give the dryish parts a drink before the heat I went outside. 

It was lovely out there.  Carefully breaking through spiders webs I cautiously reached for the tap giving resident spiders a chance to scuttle for cover.  I clicked the hose into place and it sprang to life.  Water gushed forth and also spouted from unexpected splits where the plastic has finally given up.  I'll tape them up later when the hose is dry.

I swished out the bird bath and sprayed the water about happily - I rather enjoy water play.  It seemed wasteful, but this early in the season there is plenty.  Spiders webs sagged with fresh droplets. 
I squirted aphids off the pink growing tips of my roses...

Tender new rose leaves

...And attempted to do the same with the irises less successfully.

Fat iris buds

I misted the strawberries.  They are bravely showing fresh growth and a few flowers after being rudely pulled out of my sister's garden and buried in mine.  Scattered amongst them a good crop of nettles is coming through.  I'm pleased as I like to have them for the Admiral butterflies.  Gloved hands when at close proximity mean they are not a hazard.

Peonies planted out last year are showing fat buds amidst lush greenery.

My peony

My indefatigable Shasta daisies are growing fit to bust and are already nearly two feet tall (see above).  I've promised myself I'll keep picking back the growing tips this year to keep them at a manageable height as last year they grew over my head creating a ridiculous amount of work as I tried in vain to stake them upright.

Freesias remind me of Zoe...

I harvest the happiness of the day with care.   Spring is not a season I welcome, a reminder of past losses and griefs which still lie bruised beneath the surface.   I acknowledge these and bless the day for what it is: beautiful.

I look out the window as I type.  I catch sight of an Admiral butterfly fluttering over the nettles. 
Magic happens!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Kiwis are... two very different sorts of two legged creatures

This article is for readers outside New Zealand who may be interested to learn a little about local life and customs:

Both types of kiwis are native to New Zealand: one is a shy, flightless bird about the size of a domestic hen which is nocturnal, has large feet and an exceptionally long beak; the other is the human population of New Zealand.

Just how New Zealanders came to be widely associated with this distinctive bird is clarified in this Wikipedia article - scroll down to the heading 'As a national symbol'.  The kiwi began to be used as an easily identifiable national symbol as early as the 1880s, and became common as a term for New Zealanders during World War One when New Zealand soldiers were referred to as such.

Beyond shared nationality and having the same number of legs there is little similarity between the two types.  Indeed, far from being flightless, the human sort rank among the world's keenest air travellers perhaps spurred to do so by the relative isolation of our island habitat. 

Modern air travel places New Zealand within easy reach of the rest of the world, but geographically our island home has a very long history of isolation, separating from the nearest land mass, Australia, over 80 million years ago.  This isolation meant that existing species developed to suit distinctive environmental conditions and over time became very different to related species elsewhere.

Within the last thousand years humans arriving for the first time brought with them predators such as rats, stoats, possums and many others, as well as ways of life which have caused the extinction of many species and extensive loss of habitats.  For this reason news items about conservation work with endangered species are commonplace and are the subject of close attention for many.  Kiwis are an endangered species.

In the video below you can see a kiwi being rehabilitated after breaking both legs in separate accidents.  He is being given his exercise, and seems reluctant.  I think I'd peck my handler too if made to do the same thing!  There is no additional value in the sound track so if you find it tedious, you can turn the sound off or go to the link to the news item below it.  It includes the same video but differently edited and without music.  It didn't play the first time I attempted to view it, hence the YouTube clip:

Here is the full news item as published on 29th July 2010.  

If you're wondering what sounds kiwis make you can listen to them here:
I've linked to the whole Department of Conservation (DOC) bird list so that you can find the birdsong of other birds as well.  The song of the tui is particularly engaging.

If you're interested in learning more about efforts to build up the kiwi (bird) population, you can view details of one such project on this clip:
(Be aware that the end of the recording accidentally includes some unpleasant electronic feedback and be ready to turn your sound down.)

Lots of additional information can be found through further exploration of the Department of Conservation website.  

Friday, 15 October 2010

Make your own moisturiser ~ good bye to shop-bought lotions forever!

The best moisturiser I've ever come across turned out to be a great surprise: it's a simple one I can make myself!  It's a combination of vegetable oils and a little beeswax in a base of aqueous cream - magic!  Over the years I've tried many different skin care products, most of which have been not only costly but disappointing, and for me this is The Clear Winner.  Not only is it cheap, but I can make it up in varying consistencies for lip balm, face cream, hand cream and body lotion.  It's so good everyone should know of it.  Here is the recipe:

The wax and oil formula is given here in quantities likely to last you for quite some time.  

  • Beeswax - 65 grams.  In Dunedin this can be bought by the block from health food stores. When melted you will have about a third of a cup.
  • Olive oil - 1 and 1/3 cups
  • Apricot oil - 1/3 cup
  • Almond oil - 1/3 cup
  • Vitamin E oil - 1 tablespoon - optional.  It's expensive!
  • Glycerine - also called Glycerol - 1 tablespoon - optional.   This makes it more moisturising..  It also has anti-bacterial qualities - refer link.  It can be obtained from chemists or some health food stores.  Aloe gel is an alternative.
  • Essential oils for scent if desired.
Melt the beeswax in a double boiler, or place it in a container immersed in or directly over simmering water.  Once it has melted slowly add the oils over a low heat.   Allow it to stand for a little so that the ingredients can combine properly.  Once it has done so the mixture will be ready to pour into containers.  When cooled it sets firmly, but is still soft enough to easily take a little of at a time.  Here is the mixture once all the ingredients have been added - I had the glass bowl sitting in a basket-style steamer and the pot full of simmering water:

This is the perfect lip balm just as it is.  If you have any tiny pots suitable to tuck in your handbag these are ideal; small pill bottles from the chemist are also good.  If you have hygiene concerns about applying the lip balm when you're away from the usual means to clean your hands, use a lip brush.

To make lotions and moisturisers of any sort simply add aqueous cream.  This ingredient can be obtained cheaply from chemists.  If you have a troublesome or especially sensitive skin you may be able to get a prescription for it from your doctor.  Aqueous cream has a mineral oil base about which you can read more below.

There is no set quantity of aqueous cream as it depends on how waxy or creamy you want your lotion.  I've found that the simplest approach is to keep quite a generous portion of the basic beeswax and oils formula in one jar for future supplies of lip balm, and combine the rest of it with a smallish quantity of aqueous cream, which gives you a concentrate.  The concentrate is  easier to mix than the pure oils and beeswax formula which sets firm, and from it you can produce fresh pots of lotion very simply by scooping some of it into a third container along with dollops of aqueous cream where they can be combined with a dining fork: 

Alternatively, you may opt for a more predictable result in which case a ratio of one part of the basic formula to three parts of aqueous cream might suit you.  

To achieve the smoothest lotion allow the oil and beeswax mixture to set very slightly then gradually combine it with the aqueous cream beating it rapidly until it's smooth.  An electric beater may be helpful; the sort with a single whirling blade is ideal.  If it doesn't combine smoothly the waxy formula may be too hot in contrast to the aqueous cream so allow it to cool a little longer.

In general I'm less exacting and am happy mixing mine up with a dining fork: it doesn't combine it quite as well but I don't mind the lotion being a trifle grainy with the beeswax and oil - it melts in rapidly when applied and reminds me that I created it myself - with a minimum of equipment. 

Grateful thanks to my very capable niece Lucy, who created this splendid recipe.  If sharing it with others please acknowledge the source.

A further variation:
If your lotion seems a bit rich or oily you can make it lighter by adding equal quantities of pure vanilla essence (avoid the one with sugar and bits in it!) and lemon juice, say half a teaspoon of each per cup of aqueous cream, more or less depending on your preference.

A very fast and easy light skin cream:
Aqueous cream can be diluted with equal parts of lemon juice and vanilla essence as described immediately above.  The ingredients can be combined using a fork.

MORE ABOUT MOISTURISES, OILS AND VARIOUS INGREDIENTS: A high price tag definitely does not indicate a better product: for years I paid $80 dollars plus for a little pot of Elizabeth Arden face cream until a change in circumstances put it out of my reach.  After that I switched to a locally produced one with a lanolin base which was about tenth of the price and my skin improved thereafter.   

Lanolin is an entirely natural substance produced by sheep to keep their skin nice and their wool waterproof.  It's obtained from their fleeces which are pressed after they are shorn.

Skin care products with this as a base suit my skin very well but in recent years I've been unable to source it in its pure form.  It used to be available from chemists.  At some point I must try harder to see if I can get it from an organic provider which should be possible given that some sheep here are raised on organic farms.  Just for the record: although its wonderful for the skin it is not edible!

For reasons which defy any kind of logic, lanolin-based products are mostly stocked only by tourist and souvenir shops.  In fact, I've never found any stocked with other skin care products in the usual shops where I'd expect them to be.  This seems completely weird and possibly indicative of a blind spot in local marketing.  So if you haven't seen these sorts of products where you'd expect them, this could be the reason why!  

The efficacy of lanolin skin care products varies greatly.  All the Wild Ferns products I've bought have been very good.  The ones I used are the hand cream, the body lotion, and the face cream with green tea.  They are beautifully packaged and in the medium price range.  The package in front of me assures the buyer that the product is paraben free, contains no mineral oil, and has not been tested on animals.  I'm surprised there is no mention of this on the company's website. 

Parabens are the subject of considerable controversy as to whether they are safe products or not.  They are used very extensively.  So far scientific studies conclude that they are safe and have found no discernible link between them and the incidence of cancer.  However, conjecture continues.  Discussion of this can be found in the Wikipedia article about them.  The Green Party's website has a list of skin care and cosmetics products which do and don't contain them.  Although the posting is from 2004 and therefore bound to be somewhat out of date, it does give an indication of pervasive usage and perhaps some pointers for those who are interested.

This raises the question of what exactly is in the products we use on our faces and bodies?  Have you ever attempted to read, never mind understand the contents of these products?  Does anyone know, for example, what octyl methoxycinnamate, dicaprylyl carbonate, glycerol sterate are?  I certainly don't.  The Skin Deep site looks into some of these mysteries and rates them from a safety-for-humans angle.  I haven't looked into this site in detail but a quick overview indicates a considerable amount of data about a wide range of specific products.  I came across a reference to this site in the Wikipedia article about moisturisers.

Some discussion about skin care products is entirely for the use of vegetable oils and against mineral oils, as the latter are said to be drying, but it's not as simple as that.  Nor is it as simple as the ingredients being edible or not, or natural or not.  Wikipedia's article about vegetable fats and oil outlines some points.
On the other side of the equation, aqueous cream contains paraffin which is a mineral oil.  It often contains the preservative phenoxyethanol.  Some formulas contain chlorocresol as an alternative to phenoxyethanol.  Paraffin has many industrial uses, some of them to do with food.  Does this make it a no-no?  The answer is that its fine as is made clear in this article about aqueous cream from the Gaia Organics site.  This article from the net doctor site gives similar information.

Discussion about the safety or suitability of ingredients is always in the end going to come down to what suits the individual.  We are all so different.  There are always likely to be some individuals who react badly to any product however harmless it may be to many others.  Some people are allergic to wheat germ oil, some to lanolin, others to aqueous cream, whereas others will benefit hugely.  The good thing about making up your own applications is that you can work out what suits you best and simply exclude those things that don't. 

Those interested in making a shift to organically certified, vegan, and ethically sound cosmetics may wish to consider the Inika Mineral Cosmetics range.  On the 12th October, TVNZ's Close Up screened this item which includes an interview with co-founder Miranda Bond.  Very nice, Miranda, your make up looks lovely!

However, while these cosmetics may be at the top of their particular field I don't think they'll top our recipe for moisturisers!

If you like this article you may enjoy other recipes for personal care items which include:

Others are such recipes and suggestions are listed on the pages linked to below - once there scroll down to find them:

Friday, 8 October 2010

Shepherds pie, vegetarian ~ an easy crowd pleaser

Everyone I know enjoys this meal, which is simple to make and appealing in all but the hottest weather.  It could be described as a casserole of thick vegetable stew baked under a topping of mashed potato.

If you put the potatoes on to cook and start sautéing your onions at the same time, you are likely to find that your stewed vegetable mixture is cooked at about the same time as the potatoes.  The method below reflects this approach. 

You will need plenty of mashed potatoes. 
To serve three to four people you could expect to use about a kilo (2 pounds) of potatoes. 

For the stew you will need:
  • Onions, chopped - 2.  Alternatively use one onion and a stick of celery.
  • Cumin, ground - 1 tsp
  • Marjoram - 1 tsp
  • Carrots - 2 large - finely chopped
  • Peas, frozen baby - 1 cup 
  • Baked beans - one tin (420 grams)  Alternatively you could use cooked lentils or red kidney beans just as effectively.
  • Soy sauce - 1 tablespoon - I use Kikkoman soy sauce
  • Tomato relish - 1 tablespoon
  • Cornflour - approximately 2 heaped teaspoons
  • Cider vinegar - 1 tablespoon - optional.  I've listed it last as it may be an ingredient to add if the stew seems a little bland.  A dash of a good cider vinegar can pick up the flavour wonderfully!  I use organic cider vinegar produced by Goulter's, a company based in Nelson, New Zealand.
  • Put the potatoes on to cook and grate the cheese so that it's ready to add later
  • Sauté onions well (and if using celery, this also).
  • Add marjoram and cumin and cook lightly
  • Add carrots, peas, baked beans, soy sauce and relish
  • Add a little water if necessary and simmer to allow vegetables to cook and flavours to mingle
  • Turn on the oven and set it to heat to about 160 - 180 degrees Celsius.
  • The potatoes and the stew will be ready at about the same time.  
  • Add about a cup of water to the stew along with the cornflour to thicken it slightly.  It's nice if it's a bit gooey but not too much.  Leave it on a low heat while you...
  • Drain any water from the potatoes and add the desired amount of salt pepper and, if you want it, the cheese.  Recipes for mashed potatoes often include milk or butter as well, which I find I don't need.
  • Tip the stew into a casserole dish and top it with the mashed potato.
  • Put it into the oven to stand in the heat until the stew bubbles up a little which is likely to take about 20 minutes - if you can wait that long, and brown it a little on top if you wish by switching the bake function to grill for about five further minutes.
If you're in a hurry to eat, which we usually are, you can skip the bit of putting it in the oven and simply serve the stew flanked with the mashed potato.  However, it must be said that baking it does change the flavour and texture of the whole thing which, in my view, is improved.

We had this for our dinner this evening and the recipe is exactly as I made it.  Silver beet planted in the autumn has come away well and when steamed is meltingly delicious at present.  It was a good accompanying vegetable.  Sorry, no photo due to the afore-mentioned haste!  

This is a meal which reheats well, either in the microwave or oven, but it's fairly unlikely you'll have any left!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Seed saving: facts and practicalities ~ an informative talk by Bart Acres

I've been a habitual saver of seeds in a general way for many years, proof of which can be found in a box in the garage labelled 'Seeds': it's stuffed full of old envelopes marked in scrawled ink which contain various oddments I might like to grow again one day, chiefly flowers and grasses.  Plants provide these free of charge, so it seems a sensible thing to do, but I knew very little about the science of it.

I still know very little about it, but after attending Bart Acres talk last Friday I know quite a bit more.  It's a big topic and a science in itself.  Bart is nonetheless keen to convey that with a little knowledge, ordinary gardeners can do much to improve their own crops as well as preserve varieties for future generations.

A photograph of a box of various seeds carefully stored in stoppered test tubes showed how one elderly man had put aside seeds years ago which are still good today.

Bart set up the local organics site, Otepoti Urban Organics.  It's a not-for-profit organisation which has been running for some years.  The seed savers network known as Symbiosis Seed Exchange is part of its operation, and makes a wide range of vegetable seeds available at the rock bottom price of a dollar per packet.  The site provides this page where you can read about the basics of seed saving: selecting for desired traits.

Here are a few memorable points from the talk:
  • Vegetable seeds mutate with each generation.  I had no idea of this.  As I understand it this depends largely (or wholly?) on the process of pollination.  It therefore makes sense to save seed only from plants that do well and from a range of plants rather than just one or two as each is likely to have slightly different genes which produce varying traits. 
  • Bart made the excellent point that plants don't care about feeding us, they care about reproducing for the continuation of their species, so they will do this any way they can as fast as they can.  Part of their strategy is to be as unattractive and as unpalatable to predators as possible, which will make they inclined to be bitter and unappetising if left to their own devices, so if you want the most appetising flavours it can pay to be rigorous in the care and de-selection of your crops as they mature. 
  • De-selection is therefore important and the term for it in the plant world is 'rogueing'.
  • Most vegetable seed available for retail purchase in New Zealand comes from China.  It hasn't been grown in New Zealand.
  • Seed available from retailers for back yard gardening isn't designed for this purpose - that market is too small to bother with.  Seed is selected from a range of top-producing crops designed for industrial cropping.  
  • Crops grown for industrial purposes are designed to withstand cropping by heavy machinery, mass packing and transportation, and to be ready for a single harvest.  Each of these requirements is different from what is desirable to home gardeners. 
  • Varieties of vegetable which do well in one part of New Zealand may not do nearly as well in another due to differences in climate, hence varieties which do well in Northland where the climate is semi-tropical may not flourish in the cooler, drier south; Canterbury, Otago and Southland are much more similar to each other than other parts of New Zealand.
  • Through careful seed selection local growers can develop the crops that work best in their own climate niche.  
  • Alternatively they can be obtained from the Symbiosis Seed Exchange!
Other seed banks operating in New Zealand:
Those interested in the work of the Koanga Institute may enjoy this Radio New Zealand interview of Kay Baxter by Kathryn Ryan on the 14th Dec 2010.  She talks about the history of Heritage seeds collecting in New Zealand and also of the setting up of The Community Land Trust Project in Wairoa in Hawkes Bay.  Nice one, Kay!

Seed banks operating on a global scale are
Thanks for a most interesting and informative talk, Bart, and I look forward to learning more about seed saving over time.
Thanks also to the Dunedin Botanic Garden for hosting the talk in their Hort Talk slot.

Sunday, 3 October 2010 ~ photographic wonders of the natural world

This collection of time-delayed photographic sequences is a delight and second to none: these are images to refresh the soul and focus our appreciation of the natural world.  It is extra special to us here as many sequences are taken in New Zealand. 

While I find the watermark in the images a little distracting I quite understand the photographers need to protect their work in this way; also, it helps me identify their work - bravo!

Here is a recent favourite:

Click here for their YouTube collection.
You can click on the title of the embedded image above to find others in their collection but what you find there is not specific to them.
Click here for their website which is something different again.