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Thursday, October 4, 2012


It's 5 years and 4 days since we emigrated to New Zealand. That's 5 very long years when there's no shortbread.

Rewind to Monday ~ at the supermarket I noticed they now have packs of rice flour (ground rice to us Brits). Imagine my excitement.

Now everyone who bakes shortbread knows that this is the 'special' ingredient that adds the satisfying crunch and texture to the biscuit. When baked without ~ well that just isn't shortbread to me. It's too soft and cloying in the mouth.

I bought some after scrutinizing the label to make sure it didn't contain any gelatine or other suspect additions as is often the case.

So what did I make on Tuesday morning?

Here's my recipe:

115g soft butter (unsalted)
55g caster sugar 
A good pinch of salt
130g plain flour
40g ground rice/rice flour

1. Pre-heat the oven to 150C. Put the butter into a large mixing bowl, and beat with a wooden spoon until soft. Beat in the sugar and salt.
2. Sift over the flour and ground rice and mix to a smooth dough; it should come together nicely. If not add a little more butter.
3. Shape the dough into a log, about 2" in diameter. Roll in baking paper and chill for at least an hour.
4. Cut into slices just over 1 cm thick and place on a baking tray lined with paper. Leave a space as they will spread slightly. Bake for 25-30 minutes until they feel firm but are still very pale.
5. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes then transfer to a wire rack. Once cold they will last for a good few days in an airtight container, unless you eat them all quickly of course.
Makes about 24 biscuits.
I often add flavourings such as grated lemon rind, finely chopped preserved ginger, chopped dried cranberries with orange rind, lavender flowers, macadamia nuts or drizzle a little melted chocolate over the tops. But sometimes, like today, I just want them plain to remind myself of what I have been missing. 
I can predict what will happen next ~ in a few days the rice flour stock will be totally gone and will never get refilled. When you ask about it at the store they will say 'there's no call for it' even though there obviously is. I've noticed this happens a lot here. That's why I bought 6 bags. Now I'm off to eat shortbread.........

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Spring Storms.

I spent most of Thursday and Friday on the phone trying to secure a motor home rental. Finally succeeded on Friday. EQC phoned Friday afternoon to say the dates have been changed but no one knew what to. I wasn't impressed. Then I received another call just before 5p.m. to say it would now be the 8th October. We shall wait and see.

Yesterday started really good, weather sunny but warm, a bit of a breeze. By 3 p.m. I could see a southerly storm moving in very quick. Did we get a battering! Hail, sleet, rain, winds, thunder and lightning. The sky was black. It lasted about 4 hours. Absolutely wild. The thunder was so loud it felt like the house was shaking.

I went outside this morning to survey the damage to the garden, all my cheerful daffodils and tulips are flattened and my peonies look like they have been through a mangle.

On close inspection of the veggie garden I found this little beauty peeping through:

The asparagus will soon be ready to pick ~ it grows quickly once it bursts through the ground. This is early for us, I'm sure we didn't see it until October last year but I did see the first of it in the shops 2 weeks ago at $18 per kg. I've planted peas, radish, salad onions and cos lettuce so far and have lots more to put in once the weather gets more reliable. The potato beds are ready to go- waiting for the early Liseta potatoes to go in, I'm waiting on them sprouting a little more before planting and I won't be storing the frost cloth away just yet.

The cherry trees are just starting to bloom

I made 36 Macarons at the weekend and the 3 in the photograph are the only perfect ones I got out of the whole batch. I've made them before and they were fine so I'm not sure what went wrong this time. They were still edible but had cracked on top.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

2 years on.....

It's 2 years since we had the first earthquake, I don't talk about it really ~ I may have mentioned it once or twice but I know there are families who are in a much worse situation than we could ever be. I always look for the positive in any negativity, but I'm all out of positives - at the point where I could pull out my fingernails through frustration with 'the system'.

Our house had an EQC assessment in November 2010, 3 months before we purchased it.

July 2011 - Had the log burner/chimney replaced as the chimney had fallen down in the September  quake. Informed that our second heat source (a range in the kitchen with wet back and chimney) would get replaced at the end of that year. It didn't/hasn't.

October 2011 ~  had a further assessment.
We received a copy of this just before christmas and again it was wrong, no mention of the range/chimney/damage to master bedroom ceiling.

No further communication from anyone EQC related until May 2012 when we had a 'scope' assessment. Told repairs would start within 3 months. They didn't/haven't.

The thing that annoys me most of all is how they presume:

  1. You have a spare empty house that you can move into while the repairs are carried out.
  2. You have an invisible storage facility of cavernous proportions on your property capable of storing the contents of your home while repairs are carried out.
  3. You can drop everything to accommodate them wanting to visit at 5 minutes notice.
Observations I have made:
  1. Trying to get any information out of the 'system' is like pulling teeth. No-one knows anything.
  2. Our second heat source seems to have been forgotten about ~ yet EQC regularly advertise in the newspapers telling everyone how many heat sources they have replaced to date. Save the advertising costs and invest the money in point 5.
  3. Conflicting information ~ for example, some people can only choose wallpaper at $45 per roll while others have no set price limit.
  4. If 1 wall in a room is damaged they will only paint that one wall once repaired, so you will have mis-matched decoration, which beggars belief when there are people who had a small crack in their foundation slab yet got their house demolished and completely rebuilt. Now they are splitting hairs over a bit of paint?
  5. EQC needs to use some of the cash that we have paid into this fund to pay for eye tests. Our assessor was adamant he couldn't see ceiling/wall cracks that are clearly visible to everyone else. 
  6. They believe seismic waves don't travel through interior stud walls and affect the room beyond. See point 7.
  7. Most of the assessors don't have any qualification to assess anything.
  8. They need reminding that some exterior damage looks old ~ it's 2 years since the damage occurred. Of course there will be moss and dirt in exterior cracks after being exposed to 2 winters, gail force winds, snow and -11 deg temperatures.
  9. The paint called 'half black white' is actually grey.

We were told yesterday that our repairs are now booked to start on 1st October ~ I spent most of the afternoon trying to sort out a storage container and somewhere for us to live. We decided the best option for us is to rent a motorhome and live onsite. It would be ok for a week, maybe 2 ~ but we may be in it for 4 weeks or more. I will have my knitting to keep me sane. It's going to be a tough time in many ways but we have been through worse. I will be looking forward to getting nicely settled back in our home before Christmas. It will be such a relief to get it over and done with, we will be pleased to finally move on from what has happened during the last 2 years.

Monday, August 13, 2012

TdF & Ravellenics...

As soon as the Tour de Fleece over I was straight onto the Ravellenics.

I didn't manage to spin everything I had hoped during TdF, but at least I spun every day which in itself was a challenge for me.

Here's what I spun:

I managed to reduce my stash by 440g. I then added to the stash by purchasing 300g of Polwarth that I couldn't resist. I really enjoyed taking part in this and will look forward to participating again next year. I won a prize, and it was one of those wonderful prizes that I usually fail to win:

It's a hand dyed silk brick. I keep looking at it and touching it, wondering what it will become.

So I signed up for the Ravellenics as a last minute thing and then wondered what on earth I was going to knit ~ I knew I wanted to use some of the yarn I spun during TdF. I finally decided on Pear Drop with the singles silk/merino yarn I had spun but wondered how it would work out as I usually stick to semi solid or tonal yarns for lace work. I worried that I would run out of yarn or that the yarn would keep breaking on me. Neither happened:

This is how the yarn looked after skeining and lightly fulling. I was very cautious with the fulling as I know there's a very fine line between fulling and ending up with an unusable mess.

The yarn was still a bit too energised for my liking at this stage so I set up the ball winder and skeiner at opposite ends of the room and let the yarn relax while travelling between them. This seemed to do the trick and removed the unwanted energy.

I used 93g of yarn.

I went to spinning today and came home with a bag of unknown fleece. There's 500g of crimpy sheepy lanolin scented beauty. Staples are 7" long, it's a fine and fairly soft fleece. It's definitely not Corridale. The lady who I got it from thinks that it may be Romney. I know Romney can vary enormously, I've had some awful carded Romney when I first started spinning which is why I thought I hated the stuff, then I got some carded top from a local coloured sheep breeder and it's one of the nicest fibres I have ever spun, so maybe this is Romney after all. A few of the very experienced spinners thought it could be a merino cross or halfbred because of the crimp:

I'm planning on flick carding just the tips and spinning it from the locks, in the grease. I just spun a mini sample skein and washed it to see how it finishes. I have it drying now by the fire on this extremely wet and grey cold day.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tour de Fleece, so far so good...

Day 1:
Serenknitty batt, 39g

Day 2:
 Above singles plied ~ 98 yards, DK weight
Sweet Georgia yarns merino/silk singles

Looking forward to day 3 :-)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Little Bird

Every morning for the past few weeks when I open the kitchen blinds just after sunrise I see this little chap:
Little Bird
He sits there warming himself up in the sunshine and half an hour later he'll fly off but always returns the next day. I like how round and plump he looks.

I started knitting the alpaca yarn I spun a few weeks ago. I finally decided on Age of Brass and Steam, as much as I wanted to knit the Northumbria Cowl there would have been lots of yarn left over and I'd like to use this up. I have a smaller batch of this same fibre that I aim to spin during TdF and hope to knit some matching mitts. The yarn is knitting up beautifully, it's the most consistently even yarn I have ever spun and it's perfectly balanced. It has a wonderful sheen which isn't very visible in the picture and I think it will have a nice drape after blocking.

I'm off to batten down the hatches, there's a big storm/weather bomb heading our way.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The countdown begins....

It's going to be a busy week. TdFstarts in 5 days. My To Do list:

1. Make sure all my bobbins are empty (that means I have heaps of plying to do)

2. Oil and service my wheel (wouldn't want it breaking down on me or going clunky)

3. Change the drive band (apparently it's recommended you change it every 2 months, I never knew that, did you? Mine must be 2 years old lol)      

4. Sort out what I would like to spin  Already done, see below for new additions.

5. Have fun and be realistic, I'm never going to spin all this fluff!

Corridale/Kid Mohair/Silk in Paua

This is my new pet, Patch.

Merino/Silk Chocolate & Gold
Ashford's Corridale Striped Sliver in Summer Days
Southern Alpacas pure carded alpaca fibre

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tour de Fleece

I've signed up for the Tour de Fleece over on Ravelry. I'm in Team Ashford and joined the Rookies group  ~ being a TdF newbie I may be in need of some guidance.

I'm hoping that participating will push me to do more spinning full stop. Currently I go to a spinning guild twice a month which equates to two half days, sometimes I spin for a couple more hours in the afternoon after the meet up, but not always. More often than not I go to get my wheel to go to the meeting and realise that I haven't touched it since the lastone. Then I feel sad :-(

So back to the TdF ~ the guidelines state that you are to spin each day that the tour rides. The dates are 30th June - 22nd July. There are 2 rest days ~ 10th & 17th July.

I'm still thinking of personal challenges/aims but I'm thinking my aim will be to spin every day for the duration and hope this will get me into the habit of spinning on a more regular basis in the future. On challenge day we are to spin something challenging and I'm thinking that will be the braid of fibre in this pic:


Sweet Georgia Yarns merino/silk 50/50 blend in the stunning Midnight Garden colourway. Happily received in a recent swap. This will be challenging for me because I've never spun anything with such a high percentage of silk. The fibre seems tightly compressed so I'll do a fair bit of predrafting.

The HiyaHiya needles are working out great. I would highly recommend them, the swivel action on the joins is amazing and actually works. I'm using them to knit the Ramona Cowl.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Winter Wonderland, Spinning and Interchangeable Needle Sets..

A winter wonderland:

A big surprise, it's very early for us to have snow. The temperature got down to -10 on Wednesday night and we awoke Thursday morning to find all of the windows were iced up on the inside. The electricity was off for nearly 2 days so we could only heat the lounge with the log burner. It's still hanging around out there and is still extremely cold. We had damage to a lot of the trees and shrubs in the garden.

So I stayed indoors and got things done. I spun these 2 bobbins of Romney mainly by candlelight:

Approx 800 mtrs on each bobbin, I plied 2 strands together to give me 400 mtrs on each skein. It's a much deeper & richer brown than I can capture with the camera. I just have about another 1.5 kg to spin.

Now onto knitting needles ~ I've tried lots of different brands, I now mainly knit on circular needles and use DPN's for socks. I love my Addi turbo circs and I have a few of the Addi lace circs. Here's a summary of the interchangeable sets I have tried and loved or hated:

Denise Interchangeable Knitting needle set: 
I loved this set solely based on the wide range of needle sizes you get with it. Love soon turned to hate, after a few months of usage the connectors were starting to unfasten themselves on a regular basis, usually when I had a large amount of stitches on the needles. Sadly it had to go, and was replaced by.....

Knit Picks Harmony Interchangeable needle set:
I was drawn to these because they are wood, I love the warmth and slickness of them and the colours. Loved the pointy-ness of the tips. Love that I could connect the cables together to get the size I needed.
Hate that I have to get out a needle gauge every time as the sizes aren't printed on the tips. Hate that I have had a lot of cords come apart at the metal screw connector, usually while holding many stitches. Hate that the last few spare cords I have received don't seem to be threaded properly at the screw part and the tips won't fit on = unusable. The tips break easily, I have broken 2 pairs already. So I looked for something different and was drawn to .........

HiyaHiya interchangeable small needle set (steel):
I ordered these from the U.S.A. last week and they arrived in record time. I admit I bought them because they were a steal, US$65 but I had a 40% discount coupon so paid $39 plus $10 shipping. I wasn't exactly sure what would arrive as there was only one pic on the site to go by and you didn't get a choice of colour either. Here's what was in the box~

The case was the one I was really hoping for.
It seems good quality and very well made. The fabric is brocade.

When you open it up there is a band of fabric attached a the side with velcro which keeps the needle tips covered and protected. This is the small tip set and contains 7 pairs of tips in sizes 2.75 - 5mm. There's a useful zippered compartment on the top flap.
On the back of the case is a zippered pocket which stores the cables. These are 16, 24, 32 and 40 inch in length. You get a pack of 2 grippers for tightening the connections.
It seems like a nice set and the connectors swivel so no more tangled and kinked cables hopefully. The downside for me is that they are steel and I prefer wood. I haven't had time to try them out yet, this last week has been spent either spinning, shoveling snow and ice or trying to keep warm. I shall let you know how I get on with them.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


It's June already? I don't know what happened to May. I just got back from a trip south to Dunedin~

A wonderfully busy weekend spending time with my family, plenty of shopping (in a city that isn't smashed up), eating way too much & far too many nights out. I can't wait to do it all again!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Quince, 2 from 1 recipe

I love making preserves, I've been doing it for years. Friends used to think making jams and such like was weird and say to me "why don't you just buy it from the shop?" I don't care for shop bought preserves, they are far too sugary and often I find it hard to taste the fruit they are supposed to contain. The jams I make are mainly from organic fruit that I grow myself. I love being able to open a jar of peach, raspberry or strawberry jam in the depths of Winter and have a taste of the Summer. My quince tree has fruited this year for the first time, but my new Damson tree hasn't, I'm hoping it will next year.

My favorite Autumn fruit has to be quince, I can eat them in any form and always make jars of jelly, pots of quince paste and a big slab of Membrillo every Autumn. The jelly is good with cheese, poultry, cold meats and a tablespoon full whisked into gravy gives a delicious taste. The membrillo is traditionally eaten with Manchego cheese, but I like to eat it with crackers and cheese, with nibbles and a glass of wine or cut into small bits and added to home made quiche and pizzas.

A bowl of quince sat on your kitchen workbench will perfume the whole house and when they are cooking ~ there's no other way to describe the smell except to say it's heavenly. The mix of floral, honeyed scent will waft through the house.

The recipe I use ~ I can't even remember where it came from as I have had it that long is in imperial measurements. I make a 2 from 1 recipe, you make the jelly first and then make the paste/pate/membrillo with the left over cooked fruit.

The recipe is based on volumes so it doesn't really matter if you have 2 or 20 quince, but don't make too much at once as that can affect the setting of the jelly (and I can't fathom why that happens). I make a maximum batch of 2 kg uncooked weight of quince and I always get a good set. The process is done over 2 days.

You will need:
For the Jelly
Quince, wipe all the fluff off but don't peel
granulated (regular) sugar
Juice of 2 fresh lemons, sieved

For the paste/Membrillo
Cooked fruit left over from the jelly
Granulated (regular) sugar
Juice of 1fresh lemon, sieved
1 vanilla pod

Chop up the quince into rough chunks, they are very hard to cut so be careful. Keep the chunks fairly large to make skinning them later on quicker and easier. As you are chopping pop the chunks into a large pan containing a little water and the juice of a lemon. Quince start turning brown very quickly after cutting but this will not affect the recipe in any way.

When they are all chopped add some water, you want it to just cover the fruit. Place a lid on the pan and simmer for 1-2 hours, depending on the ripeness of the fruit and the size of the chunks. You want the fruit to be nice and soft when you pierce it with a knife.

Set up a large colander (or sieve), lined with a double layer of muslin or cheesecloth over a large bowl or a clean bucket. Carefully pour the cooked quince mixture into the colander. Don't press, mash or poke the fruit, just cover it with a clean tea towel and leave it to drain overnight.

Day 2
Jam jars, to sterilize them in the oven ~ wash in hot soapy water, rinse well, stand them upside down on a clean baking tray then put in the oven at 130 deg for 20 minutes. Take them out and leave them to cool, don't handle them. Don't put the lids in the oven, sterilize these in a saucepan of simmering water for 20 minutes and hook them out with clean tongs.

Put 2 saucers into the fridge for testing set.

You need to measure the volume of liquid that has drained out then put it into a pan and weigh out the sugar, you will need 1 lb of sugar for every 1 pint of liquid. Add the sugar to the pan and the juice of 1 lemon.

Cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved into the liquid. Bring it to a rolling boil and boil for 5 minutes. Take off the heat and test for a set on one of the cold saucers ~ Place a teaspoonful of the jelly onto a cold saucer and pop in the fridge for a few minutes, push your finger through the jelly, if it crinkles up it means setting point has been reached. If it's not setting then boil again for a further few minutes, keep check for a set at least every 5 minutes. Sometimes it can be 5 minutes and sometimes it can take 25 minutes to reach setting point.

When you get setting point take the pan off the heat. Remove any scum that may have formed on the surface with a slotted spoon. Take the time to remove all traces of this as it will affect the clarity of your jelly if left in.

Pour the jelly into a large jug and carefully fill the jars. Wipe the rims with a sheet of clean, damp kitchen paper. Screw on the lids, make sure they are nice and tight. Leave to cool.

Quince jelly ~ this has set perfectly and is nice and clear.

For the Paste/Membrillo
Go through the cooked fruit and remove the skins and the cores, I find that using your fingers is quickest and easiest. Now the hard bit ~ you need to push the fruit through a fine mesh sieve or a moule to puree it and remove any fibrous bits. This may take a while, if you find it difficult to sieve add a little bit of cold water to the fruit.

Now measure the volume of puree. You will need 1 lb of sugar for every 1 pint of puree.

Put the sugar and puree in a large pan, cook gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon juice and the vanilla pod. Simmer this gently for 2 - 3 hours on the lowest heat. Stir it occasionally. It will change colour from a pale salmon pink to a deep ruby red and will smell beautiful, it will be nice and thick. It will also spit all over the place so use a splatter guard if you have one but don't put a lid on the pan.

Towards the end of cooking I fish out the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and add them to the pan.

Get a baking tray ready, I use a 12" x 6" x 1" deep ~ line it with non stick baking paper and grease this with butter. If you want paste and like to turn it out of it's mould for a cheese board etc then you will need to line some little containers with buttered paper. If you are happy to scoop it from the pot then you can skip that part.

Pour some of the puree into the containers for the paste and put into the fridge. Pour the rest onto the lined baking tray. Smooth it out and pop it into a preheated oven at 120 degrees for about 1 hour, until the top feels dryish and when you press it it should feel fairly firm. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. Store this in an airtight container in the fridge. It will keep for 1 year, but it never lasts that long in my house.

Membrillo. Cut into small squares and serve with a strong/salty cheese. I like sea salt crackers with mature cheddar or feta cheese.

Monday, April 2, 2012

My Weekend In Pictures......

A few pics from my weekend ~

Finished my alpaca, it's plied and ready to knit

I picked the last of the roses from the garden

I picked the first of our quince to make jelly (and membrillo but that's cooking as I type, 2 from 1 recipe to follow)

I planted hanging baskets, pansies and violas are so pretty for the Autumn

I baked cranberry & white chocolate biscotti

I went shopping and saw these fat quarters which I couldn't resist

No knitting this weekend, but I made a simple brooch from felted wool

I have 15 kg of cooking apples to use, any ideas? I've filled the freezer with apple pies, cakes and muffins. The pantry is stocked with apple sauce. I'm thinking apple maybe apple leather. I've never made it before so any tips would be appreciated!