My sister and I are off to the epicentre of woollen fashion, fine food and beautiful fibre  at ridiculous o’clock tomorrow morning and my thoughts have thus turned to all things knitty. Yes, I knit – in public and in private, pretty much whenever the opportunity arises and my hands need something to occupy them to pass the time. It requires little in the way of special equipment, is portable, relaxing, sometimes frustrating, can be done in company and generally produces something that’s, at the very least, useful. An all-round winner, really.

I feel as though I’ve always knitted, but in actual fact knitting isn’t something that came naturally to me at all. My first attempts were thrust upon me by hard-hearted junior school teachers who appeared to believe that all girls could (and should!) knit. My tangled, grubby yarn and overt lack of enthusiasm eventually disabused them of this notion, but it took great diligence on my part to achieve this.

Congratulating myself on a narrow escape, I moved on to senior school. To my horror, the knitting-monster was lying in wait when I got there. The teachers ‘encouraged’ all the girls (yes, a girls school) to knit squares every year. These were then sewn into blankets (presumably by the teachers or some gullible mothers) and donated to a local age-care facility that the school helped to support.

It seemed like bad form not to participate and, to my surprise, squares turned out to be something that I could knit. Indeed, by the time I left high school, I could churn out a pretty good square over a couple of days, knitting at recess whilst chatting to friends. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this simple knitting project – and the feeling that I was helping to contribute to a good cause – changed my attitude to knitting and almost certainly encouraged me to develop a social conscience.


Angel top 1983

Several years later, a knitting-pro friend encouraged me to try knitting again, starting with something small. She taught by example, become the then-equivalent of my personal YouTube knitting video stream. I could ask her to show me the same thing again (and again) and she’d patiently ‘replay’ the bit I didn’t get without being ‘judgey’ about it. The result is that I’ve dabbled  with fancy stitches, fair isle, used intarsia as a way to create pictures on jumpers for my children, tried socks and created toys. My latest adventure is to join a knitting group and to give interlace knitting a try.

So I guess this means that, whilst I’m certainly not a pro-knitter, I’m no longer a rank novice. This is oddly satisfying, considering the rather rocky start. I’m looking forward to meeting some extreme knitting-nuts, perhaps learning a new technique or two and seeing (and buying) some beautiful yarn.

Bendigo, I hope you’re ready for us!


Much-loved dungarees 1982

reindeer coffee cozies 2014

reindeer coffee cozies 2014

On Sunday we headed off to Gidgegannup to enjoy the annual Small Farm Field Day. It was a day of talks and demonstrations on sustainability, an opportunity to try some local produce and to see our friends Tim and Bronwyn in action presenting a Punch & Judy show. With various kinds of goats and poultry, lots of beautiful alpacas, a camel train, llamas, working dogs, ponies in abundance and a petting zoo, it was definitely my critter-fix for the month. I was quite captivated by a baby pig that snuffled around in a very friendly sort of way and considered – however briefly – the merits of getting a tiny little piglet of my own…

Despite that brief lapse, however, the real win in the animal department was the Dexter cattle. They’re a delightfully small and placid breed (averaging about a metre the shoulder), making them a viable option for a small property. If I was in the market for a cow, I think a black Dexter would be at the top of my list. It’d be rather nice to have a reliable known source of fresh milk and a Dexter kept as a ‘house cow’ apparently produces about 5 litres of milk a day, which is a plausibly manageable amount if you like milk and are into making your own yoghurt, cheeses and so forth. The milking might be an issue, but I imagine it’s a skill that can be learned much like any other… or done auto-magically by a cunning milking machine… or, in my case, by simply waiting for daughter-dearest to get one and then enjoying it all from a comfortable distance!

We also chatted to burly men about machinery, ate tasty food, drank bad coffee and went to a number of talks. The first of these was by Eric McCrum, well known naturalist and wildlife expert. He appears regularly on ABC radio, where he generally expounds on some or other wildlife related topic and then answers flora/fauna questions from the public. His segments tend to be both entertaining and informative, and this one was no exception. We heard all about enjoying flora and fauna on small landholder properties, although Eric did tend to get side-tracked onto one of his favourite rants – feral animals and their impact on native fauna.  It was the first time in ages that I’ve attended a talk where the presenter has chosen to be low-tech and the bizzzt-click of the slide projector slotting slides into place added to the general enjoyment of the session.

Another very interesting talk  was one on slow food by Vincenzo Velletri, who  augmented his presentation with tastings of a wide range of delicious preserved foods he’d prepared. The pickled aubergine was particularly good, but then so was the strawberry jam (sweetened with quince instead of sugar), the bacalhau (dried and salted cod fish), tomato relish, olives and pickled zucchini (recipes provided). So much yum in one tasting session!

Vincezo’s very passionate about good, clean and fair food – the slow food mantra – but also about minimising food waste. It was eye opening to be confronted with statistics on just how much food is wasted worldwide and how little is done to address the problem. France has just introduced new legislation to try to combat some of the food waste there, but nothing comparable appears to be on the horizon here in Australia at present. Instead, we were told, about 25% of farmers’ crops are going straight to landfill, either because of oversupply or  because the product isn’t ‘beautiful’ enough for the consumers, supermarkets & restaurants bin ridiculous quantities perfectly useable foodstuff and individual homes throw out about 20% of the food they purchase.

Like me, you’re probably thinking ‘surely that can’t be right, can it?’ It seems implausible that families would waste that much food. To answer that, simply look around your home and think about your personal food use and that of your family and friends. Do you (they) regularly bin food instead of using it? If so, why is that? Is it perhaps that we’ve grown up in a time of relative plenty? Or because so many of us are jumping on the celebrity chef bandwagon and purchasing recipe-specific ingredients, of which only part gets used and the rest gets wasted? Whatever the reason, in a world where increasing numbers of people are going hungry and the price of food continues to climb, this simply can’t be considered a sustainable practise.

My take-home message from the Small Farm Field Day is that we should all try to take up the challenge to actively minimise food wastage. We can start to do this in our own homes by checking the pantry and fridge before doing the grocery shopping and then buying just what we need. Next might be trying to use leftovers instead of binning them. If you’re not sure how, you could always think of them as a starting point to creating Tapas. Yup – tapas, the tasty little morsels we pay top dollar for at trendy restaurants. Try making one night a week ‘tapas night’ and re-purpose your leftovers as small plates of random tasty tidbits. If that doesn’t work for you, try cooking smaller quantities, invest in a compost bin and/or think about getting a couple of chickens to feed your scraps to. Bottom line is that  you’ll save money and will feel good about reducing waste cutting down on pollution.

It’s been a while since I ran any sort of workshop – but I’ve elbowed myself some creative space, both mentally and physically and it’s all systems go. With the cooler weather here at last, it’s a good time to get stuck into some mosaic. In addition to this, my outdoor (undercover) area no longer has three kittens living in it, so there’s abundant space in which to have some messy fun.

The plan is to run this workshop as a tester to see how it goes. If it’s a success, I’ll do more of them and get Perth mosaiced to the max 🙂

In this workshop the group (aka my willing guinea pigs) will make mosaic trivets, rather like one of these.

trivetsYou’ll learn about the basic tool set, select or draw a design and transfer that onto a backing board. Then we’ll all spend some time getting used to the tools and practise cutting and laying mosaic pieces. After a tasty morning tea you’ll all get stuck in and each a create trivet to take home with you. We’ll break for lunch and probably end the afternoon with a glass of something to celebrate our mosaic adventures.

Because the grouting has to happen at least 24 hours after the mosaic pieces are glued down, this step can either happen in your own time or you can pop back to do it on another day. I’ll also give you some tips on how to finish off the piece with some sealer and felt backing.

Date: Sunday 7 June, 10am – 4pm
Venue: The ex-kitten outdoor area, my place
Cost: $0 for my test-run guinea pigs 🙂
Bring: your lunch, apron or work shirt, an ice-cream container and an Artline 200 marking pen (if you have one).
Provided: morning tea, backing boards, some simple designs, tiles, glue, grout, tile nippers, safety glasses.
If you have spare ceramic tiles you’d really like to use, bring them along. Likewise, if you own or can borrow a set of tile nippers, bring those too.

To book: contact me directly – spaces are limited, so get in quickly.

Gcon Sausage Sizzle_25apr15Last week saw us gearing up for a sausage sizzle fundraiser barbecue outside our local hardware store. The preparation phase included getting up to our elbows in raw onion a few days before the event – and the miasma continues to permeate my house and fridges, car and numerous plastic containers. 40kg of medium sized brown onions is a whole lot of onion. In fact it’s two very large sacks of onions. Being involved in peeling and processing them individually made me realise much more clearly just how much ‘a lot’ really is – and it’s heaps!

We had a good system going, though: five people and an industrial strength slicer/dicer machine. This combination of teamwork and machinery peeled and shredded all 40kg in about four hours. This was followed by a fair amount of cleaning up, because little bits of onions somehow just went everywhere. Then we had to find somewhere to store 16 bags of onion slices for two days, whilst leaving space for about 400 sausages. My fridge and freezer may never recover from this little exercise…

The adventures with onions was just one part (but definitely the smelliest part) of the preparations. Other aspects included ensuring that the group’s public liability insurance was up to date and that the venue was booked – these things needed to be done well in advance. Then there was costing, sourcing and purchasing the onions (!), soft drinks, sausages, sauces, bread rolls, cleaning equipment, oil, serviettes and so forth at the best prices available. We also had to acquire 30kg of ice and a 135 litre esky (giant cooler box) to store the items that had to be kept below 5 degrees on the day of the ‘sizzle,’ specifically the onions(!) and the sausages. The hired esky may also never recover completely, despite the enthusiastic application of bleach after the event…

Next time round we’ll try to get some of these items donated, which would no doubt help our bottom line.

Only one the helpers on the day had had any prior involvement in running one of these events – and her input was invaluable. Nevertheless, there was a very steep learning curve for all of us. Fortunately we had a relatively short day of trading, since it was a holiday. This meant we could only set up to start selling by 11.30am and finished up at about 3.30pm. Generally the stalls run for twice that long, which would have been quite a stretch for our little team.

Next time round we’ll also try for some extra helpers so that we can work in shifts, rather than flat out for the whole day.

Things I learned along the way:
* Shopping wisely (like pre-ordering the bread rolls in bulk and keeping and eye out for special offers on soft drinks) can bump up the bottom line considerably
* You can NEVER have too many helpers
* Aprons are amusing
* Onions are smelly… really, really smelly… and the stench lingers in a house (my house!) for an awfully long time


Confit d’Oignon, almost ready for bottling

On the up side, it turns out that Confit d’Oignon (French onion marmalade) is a cunning way of using up a LOT of leftover sliced onion – but it’s quite a lot of work and once it’s made it needs a home… I don’t need that much onion jam – so all offers of rehoming a bottle or more of onion jam will be considered.

After all the dust has settled we made about $650, which is an excellent start towards our fundraising goal of $4,000 for the year. We raise the funds in order to cover the venue hire and insurance for our annual convention (GenghisCon). If we didn’t do this, we’d have to bump up our membership prices (like every other local convention has) and we quite simply don’t want to go there.

So sausage sizzle #2 is booked for 21 November – put it in your diary now and come on down to support us 🙂

We attended our first ever house concert this weekend – and what a joy it was! Mikaela and Stephen Castledine hosted a very enthusiastic crowd of over 50 people, who filled their house with laughter and song on Friday evening.

sparrow house concert

The draw card was Sparrow – a delightful progressive acoustic Celtic quartet. Supporting them was Darling, a local ten-piece all-girl acappella group.

So what exactly is a house concert? More than anything else it’s an opportunity to enjoy music in an intimate setting, usually in someone’s home or garden. It’s an informal and very sociable event, with most people being friends or acquaintances of the hosts.

For an event of this nature to work, there are any number of logistics to consider, ranging from the capacity of the house to the selection of musicians and what their fee might be. Then there’s whether or not to have a lead-in act, how to publicize the concert, how and where to sell tickets and the complicated juggling act involved in getting the crowd seated in time to start the music.

The Castledines managed all of this with panache. Although house concerts often don’t provide much in the way of sound systems, thanks to a family friend this one was completely plugged in. There was only one very brief power outage, but Sparrow had been warned that this might happen and simply carried on ‘un-plugged’ without breaking stride, much to the delight of all. Most people took along food/drink to share, which added to the sociability of the evening, as did the very generous catering and outgoing manner of the hosts.

Seeing just how much work they put into preparing for the concert, it would be easy to wonder why they would even consider hosting such an event. The answer was there on the night, however. The happiness quotient in the room was very high, both on the part of the (very interactive) audience and the musicians. It was a pleasure to listen to Darling, who will undoubtedly go on to greater things. Fiona Rea, Charlie McCarthy and Jon Edwards from Sparrow seemed delighted with the response that they received from the crowd. Apparently we (the audience) have lovely ‘fronts of heads’ – this from Fiona, who said that they often play in pubs and mostly to the backs of people’s heads, which are not nearly as responsive 🙂

I could blather on ad nauseum about the wonders of finding a bouzouki player in a Celtic band, about the extraordinary fiddle playing of Charlie McCarthy and the joy of Fiona’s vocals, but instead I’ll just say that I take my hat off to the hosts and the performers – and can’t wait for the next one!