Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Eve

After a very hot week,  today has been a little cooler, though still no rain at all.  As we near the end of the year,  this will prove to be one of the driest years for a very long time.
The tomatoes are beginning to ripen and summer vegetables are beginning to flower... beans, eggplant, capsicum and there are plenty of zucchini already.
The garden has provided minimal parts of the Christmas menu,  but it has provided the Christmas tree.  I cut quite a bit of the olive trees down today.  These trees do produce olives though they are not the  best bred varieties... these are feral and probably more like the original trees that grew in the area of the Mediterranean thousands of years ago.  Meanwhile I kept the best bits for a "Christmas tree" and installed it in the usual olive oil tin (ooking a bit the worse for wear) with gravel and water...
 ... and it is looking pretty good.
The decorations are minimal,  but I am pleased with the tree.
It should last for the twelve days of Christmas (until January 6th) provided I supply it with enough water.
It is interesting that people in this part of the world still attempt to have conifers,  usually Monterey pines (Pinus radiata) despite the problems with these trees in spring and early summer... they have soft new growth that doesn't last very well, even with water supplied.  The trees don't last very well inside, in summer.  I have found that olive trees (or at least the prunings from them) seem to be one of the best and most long lasting Christmas trees for our summer solstice/christmas/saturnalia festival.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Painted dragon?

I have been busy in the garden and preparing for Christmas.  The blog has had to take a "back seat" for a while as real life took over.  The weather has been warm and sunny and the summer vegetables are growing well... tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, zucchini, eggplant, potatoes and plenty of summer herbs....  more about those in the coming days.
Last evening,  I had a visit from my son, Chris.  We were sitting out on the front verandah and enjoying the last of the sunset when Chris suddenly exclaimed...  "look at that" but I couldn't see what he was looking at.  A lizard.  The amazing thing is where we were, and where the lizard was....  this is the view that Chris had.....
 ... and the lizard was on the ground beyond the white rocks.

It was a beautiful creature, about 20cms long (about 8 or 9 inches) and seemed quite unperturbed at me uncovering it to be able to get a photograph.
Chris had at first seen it in the dried watsonia debris and it returned there after a few minutes....
I cna't imagine how he saw it,  but this is the person that, as a child, would point out a possum in a tree as we drove past.  Apparently such skills remain throughout life.

I have seen tinier ones than this previously, but none as beautiful as this.  I think it is some kind of painted dragon, but I'll be checking again about that.

The only other thing to note is that when I first moved here some years ago,  lizards were rare...  the whole yard had been defoliated with glyphosate prior to my arrival.  I have been told that reptiles are poisoned by such chemicals, and the fact that after more than 12 years I am now beginning to see frogs, an assortment of lizards (and larger and larger ones) and a few snakes makes me think that perhaps the ground here is recovering, finally.

Recently, I took some photographs of the path to my back fence.....

.... and then the "defoliated" ground on the other side of the fence....

The bare, dead ground cannot be healthy for animals, and I suppose that is why it has taken so long for my own patch to recover....  the painted dragon gives me hope.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Seed saving: kale

Some time ago,  I showed the kale that was growing outside my kitchen window...
 ...  I like kale and use it a lot,  so I allowed the best plants to go to seed.  By now,  they are dry and ready to sort...

The little seeds are in dried pods.....
 and these are easy to break open and release the seeds....

I put the whole branch on a white sheet on the floor (before sweeping the floor) and I broke open the pods.... a few ended up on the floor, though I saved most of them.

Then I made this all into a pile in the middle of the sheet...
... and when I move the pile of "straw" in the middle away, there is quite a pile of little round seeds...
 ... and they are easily sorted, not perfectly,  but well enough to store and use.

There are probably a few hundred seeds here.... plenty for my purposes.

I will be planting some of these soon after the solstice, along with the other brassicas that will feed me next through next winter.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The chickens miss out...

I live alone,  and I cook meals for one.  It has been interesting, and I have even looked online for ideas about how to go about this.  For most of my life I have had huge households (six children and often unexpected extras) to cater for.  In many ways,  that is easier because there is a much greater margin of error.   The other problem is that the cooking ideas that I have found often cater for more than one, suggesting that I freeze leftovers for later.  Apart from the fact that frozen leftovers don't appeal to me, and are no better than other tinned, frozen or preserved options at the local shop,  I don't really think that this is a healthy option.  I have cooked a few meals that were surplus to requirements,  and the chickens have done well.  But these days thay are missing out.  I am cooking for one.

There seems to be a need for information about cooking for one.  With the increase in the prevalence of "single person households" here  (currently 30% and increasing) there would seem to be a need for "downsizing" our cooking means and methods.  Single person households also have a particular problem with the negative side of "economies of scale" that we are used to.  So where to from here....

There are bound to be some meals that are inapproprate (enormous roasts and spectacular puddings)  but I am willing to forgo those and I'd rather think about what single people have eaten in the past... when there were no take-away or frozen options and, most likely, ingredients were restricted to what was growing in the garden...  I imagine that the frugal lifestyle must have puzzled the people from larger households... even to the point of calling those single household residents witches.

Where to begin.... perhaps with breakfast.  I eat porridge every day.  It is inexpensive, healthy and easy to change the quantity.   I use 1/3 cup of rolled oats, one small pinch of salt, one pinch of cinnamon and, when it is almost cooked,  four dates cut and added to sweeten the mix.  I eat this with almond milk (made every two or three days, using 100gm of almonds) and I don't need any sugar.

This evening, for dinner,  I had risotto (after a hurried salad for lunch) and once again the amounts for a single serving are the issue.   I cook with a "stock" that is made with the peelings of garden vegetables and leftover salad ingredients.  (The stock pot is ongoing...
it is added to and used as necessary.)  But for the risotto,  I used onions, ginger,  1/3 cup of rice, and 2/3 cup of beans (broad beans from the garden) and stock from the saucepan.
Once the rice was almost cooked I added a small amount of grated parmesan cheese and cooked it for a little longer.
It was very good... and so much better than any re-heated leftovers or takeaway meal.

Dessert was another creme caramel... small, sweet and plenty.
My aim is to make precise sized meals that are good to eat, healthy and not dependent upon the takeaway shop.  
The difficulty with the smaller quantity is merely the greater accuracy needed in measuring quantities.  After years of "near enough is good enough"  I am having to measure ingredients much more accurately.  

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Epicurus; pleasure, happiness and contentment,

I have referred to the work and writing of Epicurus previously, and I often read quotations of his or the translations of them.... or even the translations of Lucretius who popularised Epicurianism in Rome.  It's no surprise that the multiple translations have made the message a bit vague or distorted and there is one particular idea that seems to have been distorted rather badly, and that is the idea of pleasure and happiness.
Epicurus founded a school of philosophy in his garden.  An inscription on the gate to his garden was reputed to have said  "Stranger, here you will do well to tarry:  our highest good is pleasure."  It is easy to say...  of course,  sounds good to me...  and enjoy that pleasure.  But was it "pleasure" or "happiness" that the translation should have said.  Once again,  the inscription is no doubt translated a number of times and, like Chinese whispers, I think that the meaning may have changed.

Pleasure, in English, has a connotation of more than merely happiness,  but also enjoyment, ecstasy and euphoria. Pleasurable experiences are wonderful and cause people to attempt to re-gain that feeling even when the long term outcome is disastrous.  I'm thinking here of addictions.  It is pleasure that leads to the addiction, but not always to happiness.  Pleasure and happiness can be at odds with each other.

This hedonistic seeking of pleasure seems to be, at least for "first world" people, hard to avoid and many  self indulgent occasions have been dedicated to Epicurus... as an advocate of living the pleasurable life.  (Just google "epicurean feast" and there are any number of menus that Epicurus would have found to be excessive.)

In past times, when it was harder to acquire the means to survive, let alone become fat or lazy, there was no need to distinguish between pleasure and happiness.  Times have changed.  The ease with which many people in my society are able to acquire the means of survival makes the striving for pleasure almost irrelevant, at least when striving for happiness.   Many people have plenty and are still not happy.  They have any number of pleasurable experiences but they are discontented.

Epicurus seemed to be advocating for a happy and peaceful life (contentment?) with freedom from fear and pain.

In English,  the difference between the ideas of "pleasure" and "happiness" seem to have confused the ideas of Epicurus.  Contentedness seems to mean that one is satisfied with one's life; pleasure is that positive feeling that one seeks in activity;  but happiness is a state of wellbeing that is achieved when needs are met and one is able to live a life that is consistent with ones moral obligations.  Happiness is subjective,  no doubt,  but there is ample evidence that having more food, more money or more "stuff" than is necessary does not increase happiness at all.  I think that it was this kind of happiness that Epicurus referred to in the many quotations that are repeated, rather than the pleasure of the hedonists or the joy of acquisition that the advertising people depend upon.

I have been reading "The Swerve" by Stephen Greenblatt.  It has made me think.