nesting

Living slow - just one thing (beeswax wraps)

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I have been on a mission to slow my life down during recent years. It's going... well... I am trying. 

For me, ‘slow living’ is about taking the time to really think about what I am doing. To mean it, to put my heart into it. Cooking a meal from scratch. Turning off the TV at meal times. Writing a letter instead of banging out a text.

One thing I quickly discovered when I started on my mission of slow-living was that it was intertwined with mindfulness. They can't be separated. The very act of deliberately slowing down and putting thought and love into something is in itself mindfulness.

And with mindfulness comes, often unbidden (and sometimes unwelcome), my conscience. 

For example, I can't slow down and cook something properly for my family, taking the time to do it right and appreciate every element - the food, the cook, the company, setting the table, eating together - without thinking about where it all comes from, and the impact it has.

Here's how my brain works:

If I'm taking the time to stir and simmer a beautiful pasta sauce, I'm going to try to find a great recipe that uses the best ingredients. Thinking about what "the best" means turns my mind to organic, and then I try to reduce food miles by buying local, which starts me thinking about the livelihoods of farming families. And then my mind goes to the impact of producing this fresh, beautiful food: is it packed in plastic? Am I then using more plastic shopping bags to carry it home? And what will I do with the waste when I'm done? 

So a simple pasta sauce that once I might have bought in a jar from the supermarket turns into a trip to the farmers' market; brings the nutrients of local, organic food to my family; ensures the absence of excessive salt, sugar or harmful chemicals; is a reminder to carry my own shopping bags; forces me to explore avenues for food storage that don't involve cling-wrap and plastic; and kick-starts adventures in inner-city composting. 

But it's just a pasta sauce. This is exhausting! 

This is not an easy journey, and I certainly wouldn't say that "slow living" necessarily leads to "simple living" (although I'd like it to). But I will say that "slow living" leads, at least for me, to "sustainable living," and that is something I am proud to model for my children. 

There is so much that I want to do and want to change, but it's not always accessible or affordable or something that the rest of my family wants to do. Slow is not something that I want to drag my family into unwillingly; it has to work for all of us.

So I have decided to be kind to myself (and my family), and do just one thing at a time. I try it, I play around until I get it right, I make sure it suits the family, and eventually it just becomes part of our daily lives. Then I move on to another one thing.

Alongside broader "lessening footprint" type goals, one of my first objectives is to reduce the amount of waste we produce as a family. We generate a LOT of waste. A criminal, embarrassing amount of waste. So one milestone that I've set for myself is to reduce our weekly garbage output to just one bin-full. I can hear you laughing, because it seems crazy that this is even a challenge at all, but we send extra bags of rubbish out every week. It's shameful. 

Anyway... I thought maybe I'd share one thing I do with you each month, so we can be in this journey together as we go along. Maybe you're already doing what I'm trying, and can share some tips to make it work. Maybe you've never heard of this one thing, and it inspires you. Maybe you do just one other thing that you'd like to recommend that I try. 

So for this month, the "just one thing" I want to share is beeswax food wraps, which I now use as an alternative to cling-wrap and plastic sandwich bags. I bought these "honey bee wraps" a couple of months ago and I confess to being skeptical at first, but nowadays I am utterly sold. I have about six on the go. 

They're made out of cotton and coated in beeswax, jojoba oil, coconut oil and tree resin. You use them just the way you would use cling-wrap - to cover bowls, wrap around cut vegetables and over cheeses, to wrap sandwiches in lunch-boxes - and the jojoba and beeswax have antibacterial properties that keep food fresh for longer. The only thing you don't use them for is meat, because they only wash in cold water. The beeswax wraps are reusable again and again, so they quickly become affordable, but I also found this tutorial for making them at home, which I might try one day. It looks kind of fun. 

So now there is no more nasty plastic* in my 'fridge, and there's that much less plastic waste in our bin every Thursday night. 

What do you think of this one thing I'm doing? Have you used beeswax wraps? How did you find them? Or do you have another alternative? 

Image credit: photo is from Honeybee Wrap, my beeswax wraps of choice (not sponsored just a fan!)

* I realise cling-wrap doesn't take up a whole lot of space in the garbage bin, but we are taking one step at a time, yes? Also, according to this article in Choice, cling-wrap contains plasticisers such as DEHA or phthalates that can leach into food, and research is casting doubt on the safety of these chemicals:

"BPA and some phthalates are endocrine disruptors, meaning they can mimic the body's natural hormones and thereby cause a raft of health problems. Infants and the very young are most vulnerable to exposure because of their lower body weight and because their growth and development are strongly influenced by hormones; the effects on health can be lifelong." Even at low levels, growing scientific evidence suggests that "phthalates and BPA may be causing problems such as infertility, obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease and diabetes."

Winter's coming

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I have trimmed all the wild and rampant late-summer flowers of my garden back into neat, stumpy little mounds. Bending close, I can just see the buds of spring's growth waiting there, sleeping now until the southern hemisphere circles back closer to the sun. The pomegranate, crepe myrtle and Japanese maple trees are all putting on colour, and dropping leaves like golden confetti at our feet.

Twice a week when I go out early to exercise in the still-dark, the cold air hits like a slap when I open the front door, and my fingers and toes are numb from wind and wet grass* before we even get started. But when we all lie down on our yoga mats to prepare for crunches, I look up, up, beyond the black outlines of the trees, to a sky that is so full of stars they look like rain-drops, frozen in time, and it is perfect. And is that Venus I can see, glowing so big and bright? Why is the sky so much cleaner and more... precise... when it's cold? Dawn breaks somewhere in between plank-holds and left-hook punches, and mist makes clouds of our puffing breaths, before real mist rolls up and over the park, and swirls like a familiar cat around our ankles. 

We have pulled our winter hats and scarves and coats out of storage, and I have turned my thoughts once again to soups and casseroles and mulled wine and home-baked bread. I am even ready to befriend the slow-cooker

Knitted gloves and wooly socks, wading and dancing through rivers of fallen leaves, watching the Christmas pine-cones pop and crackle in the open fire, toasting marshmallows, baking good things with apples, and lighting candles at meal-times. Winter's coming, my friends! 

 

*Wet shoes and socks are the WORST

Help! I need your slow-cooker recipes!

sylwia-bartyzel-87907 Every year, as the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, I promise myself that this is the year I will learn how to properly use my slow-cooker. I'll prepare everything after breakfast, I tell myself, and the house will smell good all day. By dinner-time, delicious food will be waiting for us all with NO EXTRA EFFORT from me. It's like the promise of paradise! 

But instead, on the days that I do pull out the trusty old crock pot, all that waiting and sniffing and anticipation ends in really tasteless, insipid mush. All the good flavours seem to stay in the juice, and none of them seep into the vegetables or meat. What am I doing wrong?

Admittedly, my crock pot recipes were probably written in the 1970s (brown! so much brown!), but I've not had much better luck with random Internet searches either. There's just so much out there that promises plenty and delivers so, so little. 

So, can you help me? What are your best slow-cooker recipes? Hit me with them my friends! 

Photograph is by Sylvia Bartyzel, licensed for unlimited use via Unsplash. I really want that mug!

 

ps. Just a quick reminder that the next issue of my print-and-paint snail-mail newsletter goes out TOMORROW. Subscribe here if you want to get your mitts on some free mail-art templates

A touch of green. Some inspiration for you

flower “A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in - what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.” Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

* I'm not ordinarily a fan of embroidery as art on the walls, but I'd make an exception for these little vegetable bouquets

* What a lovely alternative to flowers in vases

* This spring salad looks beautiful and sounds delicious

* I've never seen an office organiser like this. So pretty!

* Such a pretty expanding origami pot for plants

* Always walk on the grass

* I would like to live here, please

* Really love these lazy season pots

* Sweet little mini vertical garden made from vintage jars and bottles

* Where to find free botanical artwork

* Potted plants in Taipei

* Wouldn't these edible terrariums be wonderful for a garden party!

So much inspiration for your indoor plants

Nature bingo looks like fun!

* Gorgeous waterfall of leaves

* Perfect for summer nights: caramelised pear salad with goats cheese toast

* The Forest Feast for Kids: Colorful Vegetarian Recipes That Are Simple to Make

* How to make natural dyes from plants and flowers in your garden

 

Image credit: photo by Jaime Spaniol, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons

 

 

 

What's going on?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA In breaking news, I made homemade bread AND homemade butter. Colour me smug!

This is a kind of "taking stock" post, inspired by Pip from Meet Me at Mikes. The idea is to stop, or at least slow down, and put some thought into what has been taking up your time and dwelling in your thoughts of late. Only, I wanted to make my list a liiiiittle bit shorter and I really liked the prompts created by Michelle from Daughter of the Woods, so I borrowed hers...

Carousel of Life // More than 12 months after my first letterpress lesson, I have finally saved up enough to get another lesson, and to buy some supplies to start practicing. I can’t wait to begin making beautiful, printed things and hopefully, if they’re good enough, to send them to you guys!

Heart-moment // On the weekend the children and I wandered up to Lygon Street, and we didn’t do anything special but with them it was all special. Walking together up a hill, looking in on everyone’s gardens; catching a tram (“A tram with STAIRS, Mummy!”); smiling at all the people outside Readings Bookstore who were wearing Griffindor scarves and round, black-rimmed spectacles; introducing the children to chocolate cannoli; trying on a shirt and hearing Scout breathe “You look lovely, Mummy, that really suits you!” for all the world as if she was my girlfriend and not my four-year-old daughter.

Moment of Tears // Poor little Ralph is sick. Not only that, but just before Mr B and I were about to go out two nights ago (and trust me this is a VERY rare occurrence), Ralph dislocated his elbow. Driving him to the hospital was the most heartbreaking experience, with the poor little man clutching his arm and sobbing “too bumpy” at every twist and turn in the road. He followed it up with a fever that night, and all the next day, and his suffering is all just too sad.

Looking forward to// A healthy family. And also, a trip to Tasmania that we are planning for spring. I am dreaming of clean salt-sea air. Of seagulls and forests and fruit-picking and smooth river pebbles.

Pieces // I had to buy a ball gown for a gala ball I will be attending on the weekend, so I used the app The Real Real to find something pretty great at a budget price. I got a call from the couriers yesterday: my dress had arrived, but they were holding it until I paid $278 in duties and taxes. Whaaaaaat!? Suddenly my budget dress is not so budget, and I don’t really have a choice as I can’t return it to get my money back until I actually have hold of it. Lesson bitterly learned.

Music // I am bereft. Bereft of music! I can’t get the SONOS to work with my new phone, it’s very frustrating. And if I have to hear "Let It Go" from Frozen one more time…

Series/Movies // Oh my gosh Manhattan. Have you seen it? I love how real the characters are, how they grapple with fear and secrets and ambition and love and family and the ethics of it all, of what it meant, in the middle of World War II, to build an atomic bomb.

How about you? What's going on?

Rituals: the first cup of tea

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA What do your mornings look like, first thing?

Mine start before the sun. I tip-toe into the children's room and turn on the AC to take the chill out of the air before they wake up, then I walk downstairs and, before anything else happens, I fill the kettle and flip it on.

All those little morning tasks: letting the cat out, turning on the downstairs heat, finding the kids' clothes for the day... all performed to the whoosh-and-hum soundtrack of rapidly boiling water.

Click. Kettle's done. Steaming water over tea, a dash of milk, that first sip so hot it's almost painful but oh so good on the back of my throat.

I take my tea and sit down. Sometimes I write, sometimes I draw. Or I write letters, read letters, listen to podcasts, read a magazine. But always, there is the first cup of tea of the day. The early morning is my special, quiet time, while the rest of my house sleeps, and I could not imagine starting it without tea.

I didn't always keep this ritual. For many years I was a "breakfast first" kind of gal, only moving to tea or coffee mid-morning. But many years ago, while visiting Melbourne on a work conference when I lived in Sydney, I stayed with my good friend Deb in her home. I was feeling a little (a lot) lost in my new job, but I mostly remember that week as a wonderful time of celebrating my friendship with Deb. She was an extraordinarily generous host. She chauffeured me around the city for my conference; took me to different pubs and restaurants every night (where we were ridiculous and believed we were hilarious like only old friends can be); and every morning, as soon as we woke up, she made me a cup of tea. The first cup of tea of the day.

All these years later, I can still picture the corner of her share-house where a tall, gas radiator was attached to the wall, like so many other old houses in Melbourne, pumping out new heat. I can still feel the warmth of the tea Deb had made me, as I cup the mug in my hands.

And every morning, when the scalding hot tea soothes my throat and kick-starts my day, I smile a little smile, and think about Deb.

What about you? What are your morning rituals?

 

Pistachios and eggs

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Recently I purchased a time machine. It was humble to look at: a recipe book, printed in 1893, called Cakes and Confections à la mode by Mrs de Salis.

You know how scent and taste can transport you to a moment in your past? Take you right back to that first bite, and to everything that happened around it? This book represented someone else's food memories (Mrs de Salis' food memories), and I knew that her words on the page, if I followed them, had the power to carry me backwards 123 years in time.

Mrs de Salis was a famous home-cook, the Nigella Lawson of her time, with a best-selling range of "à la mode" titles covering everything from "Dressed Game and Poultry à la mode" to "National viands à la mode" and even "Floral decorations à la mode," among many more.

But that was a long time ago, and her techniques are foreign to me, and some of her ingredients even more-so (angelica? alum? greengage? ammonia!? pyrogallic acid!?). How were these cakes supposed to taste? I have no idea. What did they look like? Again, no idea. Mrs de Salis leaves no hints, assuming that her readers are already familiar with these types of dishes.

But if I attempt these recipes, and follow them faithfully, I will be stepping into a late-Victorian kitchen. Cooking by the light of the window, squinting over the words on the page as the afternoon shadows gather, by candle-light or maybe, if I am lucky, gaslight. The fire burning in the cast-iron AGA stove keeps me warm. There must be hens in my yard because many of these recipes call for copious numbers of eggs. For the same reason, I imagine I will be serving up smaller slices to my family than my 21st-century counterpart might do; these recipes read heavy! Victorian-era Naomi will have wonderful muscles in her arms, patiently grinding almonds or pistachios into meal to be used in place of flour.

In the process, lost flavours are rediscovered, forgotten meal-times reignited. This is time travel.

 

Pistachio Cake (Mrs de Salis, 1893)

Blanche a pound of pistachio nuts and pound them in a mortar with a little orange-flower water. Then add the beaten white of an egg and a little grated lemon-peel, six ounces of castor sugar, the yolks of ten eggs beaten lightly, and the whites of eight beaten to snow. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly, have ready a buttered mould, and bake for an hour in a moderate oven. When cold, ice it with pistachio-nut icing. 

Ten eggs, my friends! Yeesh! Also, as far as I can see in my book, Mrs de Salis doesn't actually supply a recipe for pistachio-nut icing. She does however provide a general icing recipe, which I have copied out for you here:

Icing for Cakes (Mrs de Salis, 1893)

Take some icing sugar, mix twelve ounces of it, and mix it in gradually to the whites of four eggs whisked to a stiff froth, beating it well to make it smooth; mix in the strained juice of a lemon and two drops of pyrogallic acid*, and lay the preparation on the cake with a very broad knife. Put it in a cool oven to harden, but be careful it is not hot enough to discolour it.

Let me know if you bake this. I'd love to know how you go.

* NOTE: Please skip the pyrogallic acid if you try this recipe, as it is apparently poisonous!

The first of June

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Last night I had a dream that it snowed in Melbourne.

I was awake before the rest of my family and I looked out into the still-dark garden and saw whorling white. Raced upstairs, and woke everyone up. We played in the blanketed garden in our dressing-gowns until we were all wet and frozen, and then came inside for hot baths and hot chocolate.

The mornings are growing colder. My garden is gathering into itself for the coming winter dark, and thick steam from the shower in our cold house has more than once set off an over-enthusiastic smoke alarm.

Comfort-food cravings. Warm, oatmeal porridge in the mornings. Hands wrapped around steaming mugs of tea, cold fingers tingling against hot porcelain.

I return inside from training climbing roses, tending straggly gaura, pruning back salvia, and wash my cold-stiffened hands. Boil the kettle for a cup of tea. Sit down to write another postcard, and make tiny envelopes out of century-old transparent paper.

(Smells like old books).

All in good time

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Pulling out towering, still-flowering cosmos, taller than my head. Shaking the soil from the roots. Lopping dead flowers and seed-heads from a hundred different plants, tossing them into the garden bed to nestle and rest and seed to grow again another season.

Cutting away the dead and decomposing once-green things that had suffocated beneath the cosmos’ enthusiasm. Gently tending, trimming, clearing, watering, anything that had somehow survived in the floral dark. Training the climbing roses up and over fence and pole, and cutting back the potato-vine, inviting flowers.

Tending, training, trimming, trusting. It is a precursor to the big winter cut-back, settling the plants for rest and eventual rejuvenation. The autumn harvest, the garden clean, planting and sowing for fresh new blooms in spring.

And in life, the closing off of long-worked projects, the handing over of harvest, a preparation for hard-earned rest (learning to say no!) and hopes of new growth to begin again. All in good time.

Sickle moon

moon It was a sickle moon last night. Did you see it? Wavering and watery, paper thin, I stopped to greet it on my way back across the road, with a $12 bottle of rosé in my hand. "Good night moon," I said (good night stars, good night air*). That was a little bit embarrassing because it turned out I said it out loud without realising, and two people coming out of the bottle shop with wine that probably cost a lot more than $12 looked at me kind of funny.

Anyway I have been absent from this little blog for the past few weeks, while I finished the photography for my book (eek!) and the illustrations for Wendy's book (woot!) and another big pile of letters to send to you folks (coming soon!). I always miss this space when I am away, but I have learned to (try to) be more realistic with my time and with what I can and cannot do.

But then I saw the moon last night and I thought of you.

I thought about how strange and magical it always feels to learn that people are reading my blog, reading it from all over the world... Melbourne and Bendigo, New York and Illinois, Russia, the Ukraine, France, Germany, Portugal, Singapore, Mexico, Argentina, and so many other places. Last night, when I looked up at that sickle moon, I thought about how maybe you were looking up at that same sickle moon (or that you would, in just half a world's rotation's time), and I felt strangely close to you.

(*Good night noises everywhere)

Image credit: sickle moon by Nousnou Iwasaki, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons