29 September 2012

Fleeting, beautiful

Why is it that many beautiful things are so fleeting?

Anna found a dead monarch butterfly
The cherry blossom is being replaced by leaves
Since this morning I've been wondering if I should post on this matter. Then I did a lovely - and only too rare - yoga session outside on our deck. As I finished, the sun began to set, and the spring sky turned pink. Another fleeting beauty, I thought.

I wonder if we find things more beautiful because they're fleeting? It's easier to appreciate them more, I think, when we know they will soon disappear. Much like life and family after a funeral. Maybe I need to pretend everything is temporary... because really, in the big picture, it is.

28 September 2012

Where I am

Friday night. House a bit messy. Good gluten-free meal in belly. Strumming the uke, singing, daughter dancing and brushing cat, husband doing crossword, son browsing for lego on the internet. There may be restaurants, bars and parties out there, but there's nowhere I'd rather be right now.

27 September 2012

Nature's niftiest gifts

I studied biology at university because I was absolutely fascinated by it. I remain so, and I've been thinking about what some of the neatest parts of it are. There are certainly plenty more than those now popping into my mind - you could leave a comment if you want to add to the list below.

1. Beautiful things, like flowers, beaches, autumn leaves, mountains, babies and birdsong.
2. Seeds. Perfectly preserved, convenient little packages that spring into life in a bit of damp soil and make new plants.
3. Eggs. I think that if an alien looked down and watched chicken eggs being cracked open he or she would be amazed at the transformations they can undergo. Consider an omelette, or separated with whites whipped into a stiff foam for meringue - fantastic.
4. DNA. Tiny little proteins that conduct an orchestra that plays out to become a rice plant... a coconut palm... a lion... a polar bear... a bee... etc.
5. The combination of sun, topsoil and water. All life depends on it utterly and absolutely.
6. Trees and wood. For us humans, wood gives us houses, beautiful furniture and warmth.
7. Emotions. From a scientist's point of view, they are the fastest and most efficient way to get a creature to do something, such as run like hell or hide if a threat appears. Higher animals apart from humans also have the right brain apparatus to feel them, and it's likely they do. Emotions add such spice to life.
8. Variety (closely linked to DNA). From termite mounds to moles, kakapos to elephants, Mongolian throat singers to skyscraper architects: what more could we want? This universe is stunning.
9. Reproduction (also closely linked to DNA). Male body, female body... baby! My goodness, the miracle of it!
Anna, just born. Where is that breast?
10. The different types of matter and materials that we can make stuff from. (By Jack, who went on to ask me where platinum is found and whether dark matter is on the periodic table... such are our bedtime conversations. So often I can only answer "I don't know".)

26 September 2012

Ginger biscuits: gluten-free, dairy-free

I resisted trying the gluten-free, dairy-free thing, I really did. It seems far too fashionable and faddy.

But I am a migraneur, you see - flash title - but I get hit by migraines at least a couple of times a week and it's a horrible handicap. These days they are mostly aborted by a good drug, rizatriptan, but it takes a couple of hours to work, it doesn't always work and I'd really rather not have them at all, thank you.

The convincing suggestion that a gluten and dairy free diet might help me came from a book called 'Healing Headaches' by an Auckland pain specialist, Jim Bartley. He reckons all migraineurs should try it for a month, because in the odd case it actually works. If it does work it's because the proteins (gluten and/or whatever it is in milk, I feel too lazy to look it up) leak into the bloodstream from the gut, which they shouldn't until they're broken down further, and they somehow make the neurons (nerves) more sensitive/on edge. Migraine is a nerve disease. The damn things are too reactive.

So for the past week it's been a matter of finding things I like to eat. There have been some low points: 

My home-made pita breads (no, not sections of a dried out lake bed!)

They tasted OK, just a bit like cabin bread. I managed two and the chickens got the rest. The truth is, I messed with the recipe and they may well have been good if I'd trusted it.

I've had some divine food - little chocolate puddings, especially. Dahl is great.

One of the best discoveries so far has been ginger biscuits. If you've ever tasted Celtic Cuisine's gluten free shortbread, made with rice flour, you'll have a hint of what they're like. The Celtic Cuisine lady sells at the Hamilton Farmer's market, and her baking is amazing. Her customers actually prefer the gluten free shortbread to the normal stuff, she tells me.

I messed with the ginger biscuit recipe too, to the point where I don't feel it's plagiarism to share it with you. The true recipe calls for dairy free margarine, but as we purposely never have marg in the house, I used coconut oil. However, I soon learnt that dissolving sugar in coconut oil is surely quite a different thing to dissolving it in margarine - it just never worked. Instead I got toffee sunk under the oil.

My husband is a fat scientist (but he's not fat! he has studied it quite a lot though!) and tells me it's because margarine has about 15% water in it, and I suppose that's what the sugar would dissolve in. The children were chuffed though, when I poured off the oil and they got to eat the toffee. 

This is the recipe I used. They are really delicious, but I can only eat one at a time, otherwise they feel too fatty in my stomach.

The last ginger biscuit of my batch. I had to bite it to take a tempting
photo for you, but I only got one photo before I ate the whole thing.

Ginger Biscuits
Adapted from 'Simply Gluten-free & Dairy-free' by Grace Cheetham
Makes 16

160g coconut oil (deodorised so it doesn't taste like coconut)
1/2 c caster sugar
1/2 c white rice flour
1/2 c gram flour (also called channa flour or chickpea flour)
1/3 c fine cornmeal
2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp xanthan gum

1. Preheat oven to 180oC
2. Melt the coconut oil until it is completely liquid, then use a hand whisk to beat in the sugar.
3. Sift all remaining ingredients except xanthan gum, then stir the xanthan gum into the sifted dry ingredients.
4. Thoroughly mix together the wet and dry ingredients.
5. Drop spoonfuls of mixture, which is quite sloppy, onto a tray covered with baking paper so that they look roughly biscuit-shaped.
6. Bake until lightly browned (about 15 minutes, perhaps a bit longer).
7. Remove from oven, let sit for 5 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.

The divine chocolate puddings I made were from the same book. Happy eating!

25 September 2012

Nature walk

Today, after a rough night at home - or the hospital, actually, with Anna's eye - she and I ventured only 5 minutes from our house to one of Hamilton's best kept secrets, Hammond Bush. It would be harder to find a better urban bushwalk anywhere.

It is a boardwalk that runs along the banks of the Waikato River.

The place bursts with fertility. It seems as if the plants don't care if there's not a spare patch of soil: they just hook up to a tree instead! Many of the trees are laden with epiphytes.

There are river glimpses along the way, framed by native bush.

We finished next to a kowhai tree that is 150-200 years old, I believe. Kowhai are a Maori harbinger of spring, symbolising kumera planting time, and the women used to wear the flowers in their ears as decoration.

Today the madly flowering tree had five tuis in it, repeatedly dipping their perfectly shaped beaks into the flower's heart to withdraw the nectar. Tui and kowhai have evolved together, and the birds pollinate the tree in return for their sweet reward. These so-called honey eaters have such passionate, vibrant personalities. They are definitely not a serene bird. My favourite times are when I spy two or three of them perched in trees having a sing-off. Their entire body rocks and swells with their song, and it's obviously an exhausting performance. Of course they are also renowned for fighting.

A tui dips its beak into a kowhai flower.

Spot the poor, sore eye.

24 September 2012

An iconic retro house bursting with style

My friend Rebecca lives around a couple of corners from us in an architecturally-designed house from the 1970s. It has soul! I came home from this house thinking what a great place it is. It's helped, of course, by her love of art and design, which shows up everywhere you look.

Here are some photos. It's for sale, by the way. Although how she can bear to part with it, I don't know!

Many would kill for this sideboard, which hosts a gorgeous glass
 collection. This is in the house's generous entranceway.
 A brick wall leads from the entranceway to the dining room.
Great thermal mass, I can hear Kevin McCloud from Grand Designs saying.
Check out that lamp - I've had to hand Rebecca the trophy for op-shop queen.
The kitchen's mostly original, but they've styled it up.
The platters are from Borrowed Earth.
An original 'lazy susan' (I think that's what it's called?)
going strong 40 yeas later.
The patterned lining paper is fabulous.
Orange highlights add zing to the kitchen.
One of the four generous bedrooms. Rebecca found the chair as part of a full suite
at the Salvation Army, sold the sofa, kept the chairs and made a bit of money. Clever!
One of her sons is mad about birds; hence
his feature wall.
A touch of shabby chic in the master bedroom.
The clock is Rebecca's design. Her husband cut it out
with their laser cutter. Their artwork is scattered throughout the house.
More of their laser cutting artwork.  These nikau palms were drawn
by another friend - such hidden creativity strolls behind buggies on
the way to school in our neighbourhood!
This is in our house, not hers anymore. The lovely lady gave me this classic old
lampshade for Jack's room, and he is as delighted with it as I am (well, almost).
I've perched it on a wooden 1980s light holder but we'll sort that out in future.
Thanks Rebecca!

23 September 2012

A few things

At the close of this weekend, I'm thinking about

  • how grateful I am to have a husband who works like a dog to get us good firewood! Again I managed to solicit some from someone in our neighbourhood felling a tree... and then the hard work began! After many hours of work today, we have another load of good wood for future warm winters.
  • how inspired I am by SouleMama's blog. In this post, she talks about her family doing art. Today, I introduced the children to the same concept by doing a little watercolour myself. (That might sound very good-mama-ish, but when you're nagged at: "But what can I do?" enough times you have to come up with something.) 

Hours later, here are some of my favourites:

  • how much I'm looking forward to taking photos of my friend's house tomorrow and sharing them with you. She has a classic 1970s house with a really great feel to it, enhanced by her treasure trove of retro furniture, art and homewares... I will take plenty of photos!
  • how it speaks volumes of my housecleaning frequency when I find myself popping unnecessarily into a freshly cleaned bathroom just to enjoy the rare sight of a gleaming tap.
  • taking Anna to the doctor tomorrow because of what looks like an infected tear duct. Will I or get the last week before the school holidays to myself, or will she be in isolation like Ian was with his conjunctivitis? The two bad eyes in the family are probably due to shared germs, although her actual eye is clear and healthy. I wait in hope...

22 September 2012


Cats help us. This furry fellow was bought because we wanted even more love in our house. He does his job beautifully. When someone's feeling sick or tired and needs to lie in bed, he will always keep us company - not in a demanding way, but in a delighted, restful, comforting way.

Recently, Anna said to me, "I wasn't so happy or cheery before we had Duke in the house." Well, I think she was, but I know what she means. Home life is definitely richer with him around.

21 September 2012

Skating time

What do Hamilton adolescents do on a Friday night? Skate! For the first time I found out today about Friday disco in-line skating nights, where the lights are low and the music's fairly loud. My children, who are certainly not yet adolescents, tried for the first time tonight.

About half an hour later, they were both good enough to leave the wall. At first I walked around with Anna, trying to catch her if she fell (she did so twice; both times I missed). After about five circuits she, who was the youngest one there by at least two years, said "I don't want you to come around with me Mama." So off went Miss Six by herself among about 60 others, some of them very fast.

Jack was with a friend, and crashed hard to the ground again and again. But already he wants his own skates for Christmas.

They are so determined, energetic and ready for life!

19 September 2012

Seed time

Spring is fully here, and every now and then we have beautiful days that remind me that delights such as cucumbers and tomatoes can indeed grow in our garden again. So, it's seed-planting time.

I did an order from King's Seeds, which always involves lots of restraining myself. Everything sounds so fabulous!

This year I've been a bit indulgent and bought flower seeds. Maybe it's me ageing, but suddenly I find myself wanting to grow a few pretty things that are not my usual natives, fruit and vegetables. I've got a hankering for old-fashioned pretties, so I chose some cosmos and 'old spice' sweet peas.

Old Spice sweet peas from Kings Seeds
(Image from Kings Seeds)
I'm probably about a month late, but with the help of some soft little hands, the seeds are sown.

The sweetcorn goes in.
Recycled DIY plant labels: cut empty plastic milk bottles
into strips and write on plant names with permanent marker.
And to remind me that seed magic does really work, not only are there the baby coriander plants above that I sowed two or three weeks ago, but there are our sugar snap peas, sown in July and giving us our first pod today.

Sowing sugar snap peas, 24th June.
Giving us sweet young pea pods today, 19th September.
Thanks, earth!
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