Knitting 101 – Dishcloths!

Can’t say I had ever given much thought to what my great-grandmother used to wash her dishes, but we can be sure it wasn’t a dishwasher, and it probably wasn’t a sponge either. Enter the knitted dishcloth. The idea of knitting a IMG_1243dishcloth from cotton yarn initially seemed quite odd to me, but I can understand the rationale. Unlike sponges they can be washed, will last a really long time, will save money, and are a great way to get some basic knitting skills before moving on to more ambitious projects. I could remember the basic knit and purl stitches, but needed a reminder about casting on and off, joining a new ball of wool, and weaving in the ends. I also found a great tutorial on how to knit neat edges, so tried this as I got further along. All of these links are listed further on in this post.

I bought some cotton yarn during a recent trip to Goondiwindi and got started on my first dishcloth straight away. Of course I had to start with a more difficult pattern, and did a waffle weave. The pattern called for 68 stitches, but by the time I got to the end I had only 67. Where did that stitch go??!! I have no idea, but it wasn’t a bad first effort. For my second dishcloth I thought I would do the basic pattern which calls for a border then a row of knit alternating with a row of purl. But I got distracted and did 2 rows of the same thereby reversing the pattern. Fortunately this happened at about the half way point, so I have a dishcloth that is half knitted and half purled! This one is in use so it’s looking a little more stretched. (Well, that sounds like a reasonable excuse!) The next 3 pictured above are an improvement – much neater edges but I still have a ways to go.

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Here are some useful tutorials.

Casting on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wy9YI1DqjbI There are different ways of casting on, and easier ways than doing it using just the one needle. But I love the elegant look of this method, and working to master it I almost became best friends with Bronislava, though it was a very one-sided relationship….

Knitting neat edges: http://down—to—earth.blogspot.com.au/2011/06/knitting-neat-edges.html

Joining a new ball of yarn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cy__eVIDshE

Casting off: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tANQ3xiW3vg

Weaving in the ends: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-p4qsiyuI8

There are many, many patterns for dishcloths on the internet so I haven’t included those here. So what do you think? Would you consider giving a simple dishcloth pattern a go?

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Supporting rural Australia

Greetings from Goondiwindi in western Queensland! We are visiting this picturesque town for a few days, and I’ve been saving up both my dollars and also items for my shopping list. I once heard someone say that one of the best things you can do after an area has been hit by a natural disaster, like a fire or flood, is to go and spend money in the area. I think the same principle could be applied to rural Australia, much of which is often experiencing a disaster of a different sort, that of drought. So I have made the oddest assortment of purchases today – mostly they are things I could have very easily bought at home, but if I’m going to buy them anyway, why not wait, buy them from a small town, and support itsIMG_1177 local economy?

1.Goondiwindi has its own brand of clothing Goondiwindi Cotton from which the mauve jumper was purchased. Whilst in the store I also bought their Cottonseed Oil hand and body lotion. The clothes are now made off-shore, but the lotion is made in Australia.

2.I bought a few pairs of Humphrey Law socks – Humphrey Law is an Australian owned company and their socks are still made in Australia.

3.’Knit a dishcloth’ is an item on my project list, so I bought some cotton yarn and needles from a little sewing and craft shop in town. Not sure of the source of the cotton, but I noticed on the needles package that Birch is a wholly Australian owned company. I got the dishcloth idea from the Down to Earth blogspot. The blogger on this site, Rhonda Hetzel, has a great book that I’m currently reading – ‘Down to Earth: a guide to simple living’. Rhonda no longer uses sponges in the kitchen, hence this is both a financial saving and also a sustainability initiative. Like it or not, all my friends are getting dishcloths for their next birthday!

4.So what am I doing with Borax and a candy thermometer? The former is to make my own washing liquid; and the latter is to make my own soap. I’ve been inspired by a friend Nev who recently turned up at a dinner with gifts for the guests comprising honey from his own bees and soap he had made himself! Perhaps I’ll leave the bee-keeping for another day, but Rhonda’s book has washing liquid and soap recipes so I’ll try these when we get home.

5.The white jeans were a serendipitous find – my last pair went to a charity months ago and I simply haven’t been able to find a replacement. I stopped looking, and of course then accidentally came across a pair in my shopping travels today. I’m not much of a brand person, but was delighted to get these perfect fit Mela Purdie jeans for less than half price, and it added to my delight to see that they are made in Australia.

It’s probably evident that supporting Australian businesses as opposed to large foreign-owned corporations is very important to me, as is buying Australian made wherever possible. This is one way to keep our money in the country and support our own local communities.

Is there a rural town that you are visiting in the near future that could use some of your dollars? Are there things that you can hold off buying so that the money can be spent when you get there?

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My ‘food rescue’ mission

Food waste is one of the scandals of the modern age. Tristram Stuart highlighted this problem in extraordinary detail in his book entitled ‘Waste: Uncovering the global food scandal’. He practiced freeganism for many years, to prove a point that it was possible to eat extremely well by rescuing discarded food from the bins behind the supermarkets and gourmet food stores. I truly wish I had the guts to go through the bins behind the supermarkets in my area, but I just don’t. So I do the next best thing and trawl the cold food section of my supermarket every week looking for items that have almost reached their ‘use by’ or ‘best by’ date, are heavily discounted, and will be thrown out if not purchased. Here’s my stash from the last 2 weeks’ grocery shop:

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70% off the yoghurt and lasagne was something to get excited about. I simply can’t make 1 kg of yoghurt for $1.80 as the mix I buy to make it up in one of those yoghurt makers is over $4. I bought multiples of each of these items, as well as the double brie and additive free vegetarian soup. I was happy to get over $7 off 500g of prawns, which I used that night in a pasta dish, stirring through coriander pesto and a few veges from my small winter crop. The smoked salmon was a bit of a splurge and will make up beautiful salmon and zucchini patties; and noodles are a great stand-by item for a quick and easy meal with some veges thrown in.

I think the trick is to learn not to fear ‘use by’ or ‘best by’ dates. Surely noone could believe that at the stroke of midnight the food will suddenly be off. The mulitples of double brie that I bought for 50% off should carry a ‘better after’ date, not a ‘use by’ one! They just kept improving with age and I used the last one 10 days after it had technically ‘expired’.

It’s just a small thing to do, but small things add up, and collectively we could dramatically reduce what is thrown out by supermarkets. Do you ‘rescue’ food when you shop? Could you commit to making this a regular part of your shopping habits? I’d love to hear how you get on.

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Winter in the Garden

Winter was a long time coming this year in the sub-tropics, and this meant having to wait longer to plant cool weather crops like broccoli and bok choy. It was late April before it had cooled off enough to sow the seeds, and even through May we had many hot days. The bok choy came up fairly quickly and the leaves make a lovely addition to curries and stir-fried veges. The broccoli is all leaves at present, and I hope the heads start to show soon. As usual I’ve planted them too close – the spacing always looks ok at first! The bed looks particularly crowded partly because of this and also due to all the lettuce which self-seeded after I let last summer’s crop go to seed. What we don’t eat the chickens do!

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The beans have done well so far this winter. The handful of pumpkins harvested in autumn continue to keep us in soups, pumpkin and prune cake, and pumpkin pie. Oven-baked pumpkin wedges with salt, pepper, olive oil, and garlic are also delicious. My second planting of Jarrahdale seeds only resulted in 1 pumpkin, and just to be different I decided to enter it in the Mudgeeraba Show because I’ve only ever seen Japs exhibited. Because only one had grown I was reluctant to give it up, but it was totally worth it to go to the Show last weekend and see this. IMG_0965I trust that whoever got to take it home is really enjoying making lots of delicious pumpkin recipes!

Even though it’s the height of winter, the mulberry decided to set some fruit after I pruned it. Not sure if they will ripen though. A trellis has been built for the passionfruit which monstered the chook run in summer – Mr Simply Will is renowned for over-engineering his building projects, and it’s sure never to fall down! And when spring approaches I’ll be keeping a close eye on my tropical apple tree, hoping for some flowers that might signal a small crop next autumn. I have visions of crunching into a just-picked apple, making apple crumble, and trying my hand at apple cider….though this might be several years away! And finally, there is lots of turmeric, ginger, and lemon grass growing, and I must find some more uses for it all.

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It would be wonderful to be able to go into the garden every day and pick armloads of vegetables, but for now I’ll be content to pick a bit of this and a bit of that every couple of days to add to meals, and to give a little away here and there. Do let me know what’s growing in your garden in winter. And any recipes using turmeric and ginger would be appreciated!

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In praise of the to-do list

In praise of the to-do list

I think that it has become automatic for most people to say ‘oh I’m just so busy’ when they are asked how they are. Busyness evokes images of frantically rushing from activity to activity, being constantly stressed and running late, and having a lengthy, endless, and unwanted to-do list. Because of this I prefer to describe myself as ‘occupied’ – most times I feel a sense of flow in life, with my various interests and activities integrating to make up the wholeness that is ‘life’. A friend recently described me as ‘productive’ and I think she is pretty much on the mark.

I admit to finding it hard to do nothing, and regard myself as a ‘human doing’ rather than a ‘human being’. I always have gardening, cooking, and craft activities on the go as well as paid work. I love to keep a to-do list of everyday things that need doing, and always have projects unfinished. Meanwhile I’m thinking about what new projects I want to start, and not necessarily after the current ones are complete! My never-ending wallaby will need to be renamed soon, as I’m hoping to get it finished to exhibit in the Mudgeeraba Show in a couple of weeks. Once it’s done I’ll get on to finishing the tablecloth I bought in Salzburg in 1999! There are always more cards that can be made, and whilst my scrapbooking is currently up-to-date that will change after our traditional family day at the Show. Learning how to do drawn threadwork is also on my project to-do list. Apparently my great-grandmother was exquisitely skilled in this art, and I recall reading in a family history book that a drawn threadwork tablecloth she did ‘has to be seen to be believed’. I hope to channel her spirit whilst closely following instructions in a very old booklet passed on by a friend’s elderly mother.

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Do we ever get to the end of the to-do list, and have all projects completed? What would it mean if we did?

At one point in his book ‘Night Letters’ author Robert Dessaix, who is waiting for almost certainly adverse test results writes “…..and I refuse to put my affairs in order, to clean out the cupboard in the bedroom, get the side gate rehung, sort out my tax and generally tidying up. It’s a temptation, but I refuse to start crafting a neat ending to my life, as if I were some minor short story. The more loose ends the better.” He seems to suggest that the absence of any untidiness or mess in the form of things half done or not done at all could lead to a quickly forgotten life. It would also be symbolic of a disengaged life. Not having a to-do list either means that our earthly existence has come to an end or that it doesn’t feel worth living.

So whilst we are all still here there will always be loose ends, unfinished projects, and a to-do list with more things to be added to it even as other items are satisfyingly ticked off. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The ‘collective unfinished’ is not only a sign of life, but also of our engagement with the process of making that life more meaningful and fulfilling.

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My Favourite Soup Recipes

There’s nothing like a cold snap to start me thinking about making and freezing soup for the winter IMG_0861months ahead. I don’t know about you, but I can make a meal out of a hearty soup. I harvested a handful of pumpkins this autumn, and wanted a thicker and more spicy alternative to this roasted pumpkin and apple soup. With lots of ginger and turmeric also growing in the garden, I created a spicy pumpkin soup recipe. Curried potato, tomato and garlic soup is another favourite; as well as a simple minestrone. And if you still have some sweet potatoes left from your last harvest, you could try this curried sweet potato soup. All served with home baked bread of course!

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Spicy Pumpkin Soup

IMG_0868 This is a thick and hearty soup, and is spicy in more of a fragrant rather than a really hot way. If you prefer a thinner soup, do try the roasted pumpkin and apple soup.

Ingredients:

1 kg pumpkin, cut into pieces

1/2 knob garlic

1 onionIMG_0869

1 Tbs finely grated ginger

1 Tbs finely grated tumeric

1 can coconut milk

Method: Roast pumpkin and garlic in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, at 180C for about 40 mins or until cooked through. Meanwhile, finely dice onion, and saute gently in a little oil with the ginger and tumeric, until the onion is softened. Add pumpkin, garlic, and onion mix to food processor and blend. Return to saucepan, add coconut milk, and gently heat without boiling. Serve with home baked bread.

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Curried Potato, Tomato, and Garlic Soup

This is probably my all time favourite soup recipe. It is vegan, gluten free, and freezes very well.

Ingredients:IMG_0880

1 kg potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 kg tomatoes, quartered

1 small knob garlic

1 Tbs olive oil

1 Tbs curry powder, or to taste

3 cups water (adjust for desired consistency)

Method: Place potatoes and garlic in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast at 190C for about 20 mins. Add tomatoes, stir through curry powder, and roast for a further 20 mins, ensuring that the potatoes are tender. Puree in a food processor and scoop out into a large saucepan. Add water, stirring thoroughly, and heat through. Serve with home baked bread.

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Minestrone

Minestrone, packed with veggies, pulses, and pasta, makes a hearty and filling meal particularly when served with home baked bread. By using a bacon substitute this recipe is suitable for vegetarians, and choose a gluten free pasta if you wish. Please note that the bacon substitute I use contains gluten.

Ingredients:

1/2 packet Vegie Delights rashers (or 3 rashers bacon if you wish)

2 carrotsIMG_0876

1 large potato

3 cloves garlic

4 cups vegetable stock

300g can kidney beans

425g can tomatoes

1/2 cup tiny pasta – shells or alphabet

Method:

Saute diced rashers in oil, add peeled and diced carrots, potato and garlic. Pour in stock and simmer until vegetables start to soften. Add drained and rinsed kidney beans, tomatoes, pasta; and season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until pasta is cooked through.

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Even more eggs!

Our 4 lovely girls continue to lay 3 – 4 eggs every day which means I’m on the lookout for more recipes in which eggs are needed. I was really keen to try Miss Chardy’s pav because she promised it would be easy. This was also an opportunity to use some of the passionfruit pulp I had frozen after a big harvest in summer. So the day for making the pav in preparation for lunch guests arrived, and I followed Miss Chardy’s instructions almost to the letter, making an adjustment to the recommended oven temperature because my oven runs very hot. I cooked the pav on 130C for 20 minutes, and 75C for the final 10 minutes, then left it in with the door ajar for a couple of hours. It’s still perhaps a little too brown, and I might slow the oven down even more next time. I’ve read that the idea is to dry the pav out rather than cook it.

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I didn’t want to waste the egg yolks, or put them in the fridge with good intentions about using them later only to forget about them and then throw them out. 2 of the egg yolks went into making passionfruit butter. I made custard with the other 2. Yes you can make your own custard without using a packet mix! The custard is beautiful served with chocolate sweet potato cake, pumpkin and prune cake, or pumpkin pie. We also love it simply poured over a sliced banana and sprinked with coconut. Does anyone who wasn’t raised in north Queensland eat banana custard like this? For some reason I always think of this as a ‘northerner’ thing to do.

But back to the pav, which broke up a bit when I tried to transfer it to a platter. Smothered in whipped cream, who would know the difference?

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IMG_0836Along with our lunch guests, we critiqued the end result, and all felt that the texture was just right. Miss Chardy is also right! It is an easy recipe, and I don’t know why I’ve put off trying one for so long!

Hello, I'm Jo, and I live on a couple of acres in the hinterland of the Gold Coast. I love to grow, cook, and make things. My intention is to have a slower, more simple, less consumption-focused, and more thoughtful lifestyle. If you are also thinking about these ideas then please browse my new blog. I'd love you to subscribe to updates via the link. Thanks for stopping by!

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