Go the Pies!

My friend Tracey needs a black & white quilt.

Carolyn's Sydney Swans quilt

Carolyn’s Sydney Swans quilt

She has quilts. In fact, thanks to my interference, she once again makes her own quilts, and very beautiful they are too.  But for her husband’s 60th birthday not so long ago, we designed and cut all the fabric for a magnificent queen sized red and white quilt with a Sydney Swans logo in the middle.  (For the non-Aussies out there, we’re talking footie teams…).  She pieced it, I quilted it, John was delighted.  His sister was green-eyed and commissioned me to make one for her too. Same team. Same colour scheme, but more girly fabrics.

Now, when footie is on TV, John can support his team in style, snuggled up in his red and white quilte, while Tracey is  forced to sit there muttering about the ‘Pies and how one day she’ll get a black and white quilt, and that’ll show him!  The Magpie, for those not in the know, is the emblem, and black and white the colour scheme, for the Collingwood footie club.

The Magpie panel. The image was printed in reverse onto transfer paper, then ironed onto the white panel. In the background, some pieced strips, ready to be cut into blocks.

The Magpie panel. The image was printed in reverse onto transfer paper, then ironed onto the white panel. In the background, some pieced strips, ready to be cut into blocks.

So, because she’s in the middle of several other UFOs, I’m making her one.  It’s going to go together very quickly, I’ve done the Magpie for it already, and the quilting will be of the wiggly freehand line variety, where mistakes … aren’t. So, I’ve got a bunch of strips already pieced, ready to cut into 6.5″ lengths and arranged in a basketweave pattern to give the zigzag effect shown on the very sketchy sketch I did before I got stuck in.  I’d recently bought a jelly roll of blacks & whites in spots & stripes, and my extensive stash produced all the mid-tone black & white patterns.  I may run short of mid-tones before I run out of the more solid ones, but they’re the easiest to find.

The highly technical and detailed design drawing. But I know what it means, and that's all that matters

The highly technical and detailed design drawing. But I know what it means, and that’s all that matters

It feels really good to be able to just rattle away at the sewing machine without much thought, knowing exactly what I’m doing, without worrying about whether I’m going to make a mistake or ruin months of work.  It’s going to be quite small, about 60″ square, unless I get the urge to add a wide border round the outside. Which I probably will. But it’s a snoozing/ TV watching quilt rather than a bed quilt, so that’s OK.

So, Tracey, get ready to support your own team in style too, and all without setting a stitch.


Chicken and corn chowder

Another soup, just to ring the changes from gardens and quilts…

No photos of this one.  It’s very dull to look at, just a boring pale beige soup, but pretty yummy to eat.

You’ll need

1L (2pts) chicken stock
2 large floury potatoes
1 medium can creamed corn
1 small leek, shredded
Leftover chicken (generally whatever bits I’ve picked off the carcase after making the stock)
3 tbsps heavy cream
Chicken stock powder
Knob of butter

Peel and cube the potatoes.  In the bottom of your soup pot melt the butter over medium heat and fry the leek. If you want a bit of garlic too, now’s the time. Toss in the potato cubes, and pour over the chicken stock. Bring to the boil. Simmer till the potato is tender and falling apart. Stir in the creamed corn, a generous tablespoon of chicken stock powder and whatever other seasoning you think it needs after tasting it.  Blitz with a stick blender till smooth.  Add the cold chicken and cream, stir through, bring to the boil once more, and then serve with hot buttered toast.

I have discovered that the Husband had unauthorised seconds; you judge for yourselves.

The Gardens of Chiconia 5

Today in the Gardens of Chiconia…

Our new, old, water feature, bubbling away gently

Our new, old, water feature, bubbling away gently

The neighbours were throwing out an old water feature from their back yard the other day.  It was still working, if not exactly brand new.  So I snaffled it.  It has been sitting in the garage since then, and every time I walked past it, I briefly thought it was time to put it outside.  Today, I finally got round to it.  While the Husband was reluctantly fiddling with his paperwork and installing anti-virus software on his computer, I was arse-up in the garden, putting in the fountainy thing.  It’s in. It’s working. I feel a totally unreasonable sense of pride that I have conquered the machine…  It’s not a glamorous item, more weathered and organic, or that’s how I justify its slightly scruffy appearance.  But it’s running, and produces a pleasant trickling noise.

The Flame Tree, now topping the fence

The Flame Tree, now topping the fence

I just love the colour of these new leaves on the dwarf Bowen Mango

I just love the colour of these new leaves on the dwarf Bowen Mango

Elsewhere in the Gardens, the young trees are making progress.  The young flame tree is now wearing a completely new set of leaves and has, I believe, grown at least 10cm since we acquired it.  So that’s good.  The Husband may yet get to see it flower.

The mango is unstoppable.  More new leaves, in that gorgeous bronze-plum colour of young mango leaves.

The dwarf lychee, which I’ve been worried about, is finally sprouting a whole regiment of leaf buds, which is good, because the older leaves are looking a bit tragic: spotted, browning and rather droopy.

New leaf buds on the dwarf lychee

New leaf buds on the dwarf lychee

On the whole, things are progressing well, even if the unusually hot spring is giving the more tender and delicate plants something to think about.

Every day, I look at one or two of them and think they’ve died; they’re prostrated, limp and tragic.

Every morning I’m pleasantly surprised when I’m watering to find that they’ve made it through the night and are looking positively perky!

Gardening in the tropics.  One huge learning curve….

It’s done, it’s finished!

Regular readers will not need me to tell them how relieved and happy I am.  Morning Tea at the Quilting Bee is finally finished!

Morning Tea at the Quilting Bee.  Machine and hand sewn, Dresden plates, English paper piecing, hexagons, hand sewn and machine applique, and the dreaded scalloped edge...

Morning Tea at the Quilting Bee.
Machine and hand sewn, Dresden plates,
English paper piecing, hexagons, hand sewn and
machine applique, and the dreaded scalloped edge…

It’s been a long pull.  I conceived the idea just after finishing chemotherapy, and part of the reason for its very extended piecing phase was that I just can’t sit down and do 4 hours solid at a sewing machine any longer.  There are still chemo side effects to contend with; poor memory and a lack of concentration due to ‘chemo brain’, which has forced me to unpick, fix and generally rethink a lot of work because I’ve made stupid mistakes; and residual pain in my scar and arm which makes sitting with arms out to the sewing machine at times too uncomfortable.  Of course, there have been good reasons not to work on it too: meeting my husband, a whirlwind courtship, moving north to Mackay and getting married.  All, I’m sure you’d agree, very good reasons not to sew for a while.

But now it’s done.  And I’m very happy, not only for myself, but also because I’ve been able to do something for the wonderful people at the CanDo Cancer Trust – http://www.candocancertrust.com.au – in Coffs Harbour.  The hanging is theirs to raffle, auction, whatever, to raise money so they can help more people like me.

I’ll be sending it off by courier in the next couple of days, but it’s going to hang behind my worktable for a little while longer so I can gloat a bit…  Meanwhile, the black and white Magpies quilt for my friend Tracey is beckoning…

Smug self gloating in front of completed wall hanging

Smug self gloating in front of
completed wall hanging

Off to investigate the contents of my fabric cupboard…

Stay safe

To my family and friends in the UK, France and the Netherlands: we’re seeing scary stuff about your big St Jude’s Day Storm.  

Down here in the tropics, we expect that stuff and are prepared.  You guys just don’t get cyclones and hurricanes.  I hope everyone is OK…. Trees down, power out to hundreds of homes, an unlucky few actually killed by falling trees, and thousands of people stranded as planes and trains are cancelled, roads are closed and men and women at sea in grave danger.

Be careful, stay safe.


Purslane: the volunteer vegetable

I’ve been allowing a small volunteer plant to grow in my desert garden out of curiosity; I couldn’t identify it as a tiny seedling, then it became clear it was a succulent of some sort.  Now, a week later, it’s powering ahead, and I’ve got Edible Purslane. 

Portulaca oleraceae, Edible Purslane

Portulaca oleraceae, Edible Purslane

It was the Edible bit that made the light go on in my head.  I did a bit of research (how did we function before the internet?), and discovered that it’s a little gem. This stuff is amazing. Once I realised I knew what it was, I remembered that I used to nibble it as a child for the sappy, tangy taste (very good when you’re thirsty and far from the next drink), but I didn’t know its virtues and properties then.  Now, they’ve discovered some incredible things about it.

Purslane contains more omega 3 fatty acids than any other vegetable source.  Also antioxidants and a wide range of important vitamins and minerals. It’s an anti-mutagenic, which means it protects against cancer, too.  It’s commonly grown and eaten in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America, and makes a delicious addition to salads. It can be cooked and eaten as a green vegetable or pickled for a winter hit of nutrition. Just Google it, and you’ll find a load of info, including recipes. It’s also used in traditional Chinese medicine.

You get the most distinctive taste when you pick it first thing in the morning; something to do with how it photosynthesises. The process involves malic acid (what makes apples tart) during the night time phase, so early in the morning the concentrations are highest and the acidic flavour is strongest. It works well with tomato and cucumber in salad, and as a foil to mild and creamy foods such as potato salad or yoghurt dressing. It can be eaten raw or steamed, integrated into stews or used to garnish.

You do have to be a little careful about identification, as it closely resembles another plant, Creeping Spurge, which is slightly toxic.  Purslane has smooth leaves and stems, and clear sap. Spurge has hairy stems and milky sap.  DO NOT confuse them.  Purslane will grow pretty much anywhere, and I marvel at how much nutrition is being conscientiously weeded out of flower beds, nuked with weedkiller when it appears in paving cracks, and dismissed as a ‘weed’ by those in charge of producing our food. It’s the only one of the Portulaca family that’s truly edible, so don’t try with the specially bred ones with big, bright flowers (P. Grandflora, P. Umbraticola). They won’t kill you, but they won’t make you stronger either.

It also makes an excellent ground cover, is brilliant at drawing up nutrients from deep in the soil, creates a low level humid microclimate, and as a bonus, has pretty yellow flowers.  What’s not to like?  Is it taking over?  EAT some of it.  It will, however, self seed liberally, so keeping it under control will depend on removing seed pods when they appear.

I’m going to wait a little longer till the valiant volunteer is larger before I start stripping it for dinner’s side order.  But given its performance so far, I’m not too worried!

Curried ham & pumpkin soup with dumplings

Here we are, the recipe that wasn’t quite ready yesterday.

Curried ham & pumpkin soup with dumplings

Curried ham & pumpkin soup with dumplings

It doesn’t look that fascinating, but it’s very, very tasty.  It’s been driving the Husband into a frenzy, filling the house with fabulous aromas.  The dumplings were an afterthought, but took it over the line from good soup to pig-out country…

You’ll need:

1 medium hard fleshed pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cut up into chunks
2 large potatoes, a variety that mashes or bakes well, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large ham bone or a smoked ham hock
2 litres/4 pints water
1 teaspoon mild to medium curry paste
125g/4oz self raising flour (or all purpose flour and baking powder)
50g/2oz chilled unsalted butter
Dried sage & thyme, salt & pepper
Smoked paprika

The night before, cook the ham bone or smoked hock in the water until the meat is falling off the bone.  Cool the bone and strip the meat, reserving it for the soup. Next day, bring the vegetables to the boil in the ham stock, and then simmer till they’re all cooked and very tender.  Using a stick blender, blitz the soup till smooth.  Add the curry paste and a good shake of smoked paprika. Return the ham to the soup, and continue to simmer.  Check the seasoning; at this point you may want to add a teaspoon or so of sugar.  The soup will be good like this, but will also be very happy to have a glug of cream added… Dust the flour with salt & pepper, dried sage and thyme. Grate the chilled butter into the flour, then rub in. Form a dough by adding about 100ml/3floz cold water.  Roll into balls about the size of a large cherry tomato.  Add to the soup with a slotted spoon and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until light and puffy and tender.  I also added a handful of brown rice after blending and cooked the soup long enough afterwards to ensure the rice was tender.  It’s not necessary, but makes it a bit more filling as lunch for the Husband.  As if the dumplings weren’t enough…

I’m definitely on a soup roll here.  The Husband’s in hog heaven, something new to try almost every day.  I’ve got a big pot of chicken stock waiting for the next extravaganza.Wonder what’s next….?