December 4: Stay Calm and Get Organised; Gift Giving.

Make a List and Check it Twice

You may be super organised and have got all your gift purchases all out of the way and wrapped.  Most likely not.  Today in the spirit of staying calm and organised, get your cup of tea, go to your Mother Christmas HQ, get out your Christmas Journal and take stock of where you are up.

Start by making a list of who you think you need to buy for and then consider it.  If you are a parent then of course concentrate on your own children and partner and perhaps your parents as well. But for your adult brothers and sisters – have the conversation with the extended family about expectations and maybe come to an agreement about what level of gift giving is expected. You certainly don’t want to get into financial strife buying expensive gifts for those you don’t need to.  I do like the idea of giving something inexpensive but gorgeous or useful especially if you will see them on Christmas Day and you will be sharing gifts.  Something handmade, a good bottle of wine or nicely packaged cheeses, preserves, chocolate etc will go a long way to ensuring a day of treats for extended family. So agree on who you are going to buy for, shorten that list and your stress level.

For those you are going to buy for, its ok to actually ask them. If its your children for example, depending on their age, get them to write a letter to Santa.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter what their age is either. It can be helpful to have a third person involved – even if that person doesn’t exist! This does not mean that you get everything on their list of course but it helps to know what is in their heart.


Sunday 3 December 23 Days to Go. Stay Calm and Get Organised – Christmas Journal

I am a bit of a fan of journals and how they can help you with getting organised – and having a special one dedicated to Christmas is a  good idea.  So today’s task is to start one for yourself. There are plenty of good value ones out there. You might prefer to use a visual diary type or  just a B5 lined one.  Cover it in a beautiful fabric or Christmas paper – something to set it apart as your Christmas journal.

This journal is going to keep you together.  You are going to make some lists in it and you are going to keep it from year to year so you know who you gave what to, what you all ate, what recipes worked and what recipes will become favourites.  The idea is that you download all those things currently in your brain that you feel you need to do between now and Christmas so everything is in one place.  This will help you avoid walking around saying things like ‘I must remember not to forget”  etc.  Keep this handy as you go about your day so you can jot thoughts down as you think of them.

Now make the time to sneak off to your special Mother Christmas HQ and start getting everything down on paper.  Start writing lists – I’ve given you some suggestions below but add what is important to you. Let me know if you added something different as I am working on a master list myself

  • Gift list
  • Gift Shopping
  • Christmas card list
  • Menu
  • Holiday plans and timeline
  • Recipes
  • Events you have to go to.
  • Events you are creating
  • Personal care appointments: hair, nails etc.
  • All of the other things you have to do.

Now that you have brain stormed all that and captured everything you can think of – then comes  the most important thing. Go over your list and do the following.

Eliminate.  There are some things that would be nice to get done but if you’re going to end up a stressed out exhausted wreck by the time you get to Christmas Day – its just not worth it. Cross it off the list or pay someone to do it.

Delegate  to other family members. You don’t and shouldn’t have to do everything. Share food duties, cleaning duties, gift duties.

Prioritise – Get the important and time sensitive things done at once. You need to get something posted overseas?  Get that done soon. Ordering online?  If you want things to arrive before Christmas get in early.  Want to eat turkey?  Get it out of the freezer a couple of days before.

Plan. – Now make your master plan – work out when you are going to do what you think you want to get done, leaving some gaps if you can to catch your breath and enjoy the season as well.

Implement your plan!

Saturday 2 December  24 Days to go. Stay Calm and get organised.

Collect together all the Christmas wrapping paper, string, bows, scissors, Sellotape, bows, ribbons, gift tags, boxes etc that you can.  Buy some big rolls and buy plenty because someone will turn up on the day having not wrapped anything yet and ask you if you have any spare paper. Then they’ll ask you if you have any scissors.  To save any unfortunate murders on what is supposed to be a Time of Peace, have plenty of extra paper available.   And the only rule is: if anyone else dares to use your space,  to put everything back where you found it.  Don’t make me have to search for my scissors.  Which reminds me; you do have to keep this space a secret because if you ever, at any time collect all this stationery together in one place, it becomes a magnet for the family and your carefully collected materials will disappear rapidly.  Make a family stationery box or drawer in a shared space and point them there.

Another thing. Sellotape. I advise you to get the best quality brand you can and even better to get a dispenser.  Who hasn’t said a lot of un-Christmas like words while wrapping things at last minute and you cannot physically find the end of the Sellotape on the roll.

Put all of these together in a suitable container.  You can get a really useful Christmas paper organiser from places like Ezibuy    or if you are a vintage kind of a girl, an old leather suitcase would be good.   You can fit ribbon dispensers in the lid and little  pouches for scissors etc.  Of course a plastic box will be fine and if that’s all you have available then use that for now and find something more attractive later on after Christmas.

You won’t have all of the above materials at hand so put them on your shopping list now and get the bulk of it all ready as soon as you can.  Then when you are out and about you can always pop into emporiums on the hunt for ribbons and other bits and pieces.

Stay calm and get organised. 1 December 25 Days to Go. Create a Workspace for Mother Christmas.


The best way to deal with Christmas Stress is to get organised and plan.   So today the first thing to do is to  create a space for Mother Christmas.  Yes – I know it will fall to the women and mothers all around the country to bear the brunt of the work so we won’t even pretend Santa Claus has much to do with it.  When my youngest brother was little there is a story about how my Grandmother went to his room to wake him up on Christmas morning.  “Santa Claus has been” said Grandma.  “Has She?” was the response.  Even at that young age he knew  full well that it was his Mother who was responsible for most of the treats stuffed into pillowcases in the lounge.

So – all you wonderful women out there,  let’s get organised and plan to make this Christmas the most peaceful and joyful and special one yet. (Hint: Do not read “cost heaps of money” cause it doesn’t have to) Today’s task is simply to make a work station for yourself.  Create a clearing somewhere, table or desk space,  not in a public space if there are nosey children lurking around, maybe the bedroom, a spare room, your she-shed if you are lucky enough to have one. Decorate it however you want – maybe a family photo to remind you of who you are creating memories for, maybe a special Christmas decoration, a wreath, anything that brings you Christmas Joy.   (I still believe). But keep it clear and uncluttered.  Bear in mind that you will need some space to put gifts before and after wrapping so a wardrobe or room under the bed will be handy.

This is going to be your quiet calm thinking space so you can make room in your brain. Got it done? Right – now – lets do this!

Kitchen Garden Notes for August


August – The Promise of Spring

After a wet winter over most of the country I am sure that we have all had enough of winter but the end is in sight and we see glimpses of it all over despite the mud. August, although sometimes the bleakest of months, brings the promise of Spring.

Once spring arrives starting next month, things will all happen at once so use this month to get ready.  Clean and organise pots, seed trays, tools, seed raising mix and seeds.  Mark out new beds if you are starting from the scratch.  Avoid walking on wet ground or cultivating wet gardens but get beds all ready for the new season planting.  As the soil dries up over the month get in and dig over your beds, removing any perennial weeds such as dock and couch, add plenty of manure and compost, turn over winter mulches, dig over green crops, add blood and bone and depending on what you plan to grow, some lime.  Leave the beds to settle and for the earth worms and all the microcosms in a healthy soil to do their work.  The more you can tend your soil at this end of the season the more successful your vegetable beds will be.

It’s too early to sow much outside except for peas and broad beans.  Peas need to go into a well manured trench with some added lime.  Autumn sown broad beans can be staked and the tops pinched out if necessary.  New potatoes can be chitted this month by putting seed potatoes in egg cartons or boxes of straw and left in a warm light place to sprout.  If you plant them too early, especially if the soil is wet, they can rot before they get a chance to grow.  At the same time prepare the soil in your potato bed as above and add some potato fertilser – by the time the potatoes have sprouted the soil will be warmed and ready.

You can get a head start on spring by sowing leafy green and brassica  seeds in a warm place.  Visit your local garden centre to see what’s growing, purchase seed potatoes and maybe the odd punnet of brassicas to pop in a warm part of the garden.  Don’t forget herbs such as parsley and flowers such as marigold or poppy and nasturtium to edge beds and bring the bees.  Make a practice of only buying as many punnets as you can plant straight away – I don’t know how many plants I have lost by leaving them sitting for weeks.  Protect everything from frost and once things are actively growing start liquid fertilizing.

Jobs for this Month

Sow. Beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, cauli, silverbeet, spinach, turnip – all can be sown in trays in a warm sheltered position. Sow broad beans direct into ground. Sow indoors; artichoke, celery, lettuce, leeks. Sow herbs like coriander, parsley and thyme.

Plant: Garlic can still go in.

Cultivate: Weed and fertilise growing plants.

Harvest: Silverbeet, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, leeks, parsnips, winter lettuce and mizuna.

Prepare: Beds for asparagus plants, rhubarb, potatoes and your potting bench for spring sowing.

Thoughts on Eating Frogs For Breakfast


Someone once said one of the keys to being successful is to” eat a toad a day”.  This quote has been attributed erroneously to Mark Twain but It doesn’t matter who said it – the truth is that this is a very powerful habit to get into. Of course, you don’t actually have to eat any kind of cold clammy toad or frog – which I should imagine is a rather horrible thing to do – but it means doing the most unpleasant or difficult task at the beginning of your work day and now that’s not hanging over you, you can enjoy the rest of the day!  It’s not just at the office either. This is a good discipline to apply to other areas of our lives. If you need to do it then I suggest you  get organised the night before; have the telephone number ready, have all the documents you need in order and get clear on what result you are after.  This also prevents procrastination. Then as soon as you are at your desk  and ready to go, pick up that phone and make that call!  You will find the following good things will happen.

  1. Now you have got the hard stuff out of the way you can enjoy the rest of the day.
  2. You will probably find that whatever it was that you thought of as hard or difficult about that call wasn’t as bad as you thought and the fear and anxiety was something you brought to the problem in hand.  So you were worrying unnecessarily.
  3. That, in turn, teaches us the lesson that we can often make things harder than they really are and once we discover that, we can learn not to create so much meaning around what we think of as problems.  I know many times I have not made calls, sometimes for the lame reason that the person I am calling might be having their lunch and I am interrupting.  Powerful people make the calls that they need to make to get the results they need to take.   If there is an issue, communication is your best weapon.
  4. The act of actually making that call and resolving that issue is going to make you feel powerful   – so powerful that you can now confidently take on any further toads should they hop by.
  5. That feeling of personal power, accomplishment and achievement can be such a strong feeling that is can be a natural high. Learn to love that so if you have to coach yourself to eat that frog then focus on the great result you will get rather than the fear you feel right now.  The only way around some problems is through.
  6. And finally, you  will be developing a powerful habit to help deal with procrastination and therefore become more effective in living the life you want to live.

Coffee Sponge

Heat oven to 200c

4 eggs

½ cup sugar

½ cup of cornflour

¼ cup of plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp Chicory Coffee Essence


Beat eggs and sugar until very thick and fluffy.

Add chicory essence near the end of the beating and combine well.

Sift dry ingredients and carefully fold into egg mixture.

Using a rubber spatula, pour mixture into sponge tins and bake for around 12 mins.

Tip out of tins onto a cake rack to cool. When cool put together with coffee cream and ice with coffee icing.



June in the Backyard Vegetable Garden


June has arrived and with it the beginning of winter proper.  This is the month of the winter solstice, mid-winter Christmas and snuggling indoors by the fire dreaming of Spring.  There will of course still be lovely days where if the southerly is not blowing then the air will be warm and the true gardener in us all can’t help herself – she or he will have to get outside to see what’s going on. And there’s always something going on.

Traditionally of course it is garlic planting time. You can use some of your best and biggest corms from the last season, buy some in from specialist seed growers or from our local garden centres.   Garlic is one of those must-haves in the garden. It doesn’t ask for much space but it will take up to 6 months to grow, so allow for that when thinking about where to plant. It needs the chilling of winter to get the bulbs forming.  Prepare your beds as soon as you can buy removing any weeds and digging in manure and compost.  You don’t have to plant straightaway but get the bed ready now.  When  you are ready, mark out the rows and plant pointy end up about 5 cms deep and about 10 cms spacing. Mark your row and mulch. Make sure you can how easily down the rows for ongoing weed management.

How much to grow? Well if you think your family can use a bulb a week, then plant at least 52 – one for each week of the year.  Then add a few more to give away and as seed stock for the next year.  Garlic can be expensive to buy and a lot of what we have in our shops is imported. Growing your own ensures supply and ensures you know what has gone into it so you can avoid potentially dangerous sprays.

If you haven’t done so already, turn your attention to perennials such as rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries.  My rhubarb must have felt the mildness of May as it is only just dying down now.  We’ve enjoyed the last delicious stewed rhubarb for breakfast.  Pull off any dead or dying foliage, weed any sneaky weeds and then give a good dressing of manure and straw to take it through winter.  If it has been in the same space for more than 3 years then dig up, divide and replant into well manured deep soil then water well and mulch as described.  Similarly for asparagus, chop back foliage, weed and mulch well with seaweed and straw. Prepare any new asparagus beds now ready for late winter or spring  planting by weeding thoroughly, flling with manure and seaweed then backfilling with good soil.  Should be just right for planting in a month or two.  New strawberry plants can be replanted from now on.

Keep liquid feeding your green leafy crops, broad beans and celery and leeks.  Those last two along with stored root crops will provide the basis of your winter soups.  Keep planting a couple each of brassicas every 2 weeks or so to keep up a supply.  Remember you can still sow or plant winter greens such as rocket, mesculun, corn salad, mustard and some lettuces. If you haven’t got a suitable warm well drained spot in the garden then plant in pots and pull inside when frosty.  Chop or pull of leaves as needed – the  most nutritious way!  Herbs also can be potted up and brought closer to the house for ease of use.

Pruning season is coming up so get your tools ready by getting them cleaned and sharpened ready for a dry day to get to work on your fruiting plants.  So always something to do if you want to but always a good time to be inside and think about next season while eating the preserved produce of this last season’s harvest.

Jobs for June

Sow indoors; brassicas such as broccoli, cabbage, cauli and winter greens.

Plant: Garlic and Shallots. Broad beans – sow another row as the last row emerges.  Plant brassica seedlings such as broccoli and cabbage, cauli and bok choy for spring eating.  Strawberry plants can go in now as well.

Cultivate: Use liquid manure to feed your leeks. Keep weeded and mounded up. Cut back asparagus fern, weed and mulch crowns. Split big clumps of rhubarb and replant. Keep weeds hoed, green crops sown and mulches laid.

Harvest: Silverbeet and spinach, broccoli,

Garden Notes for April

As harvest comes to an end it is time to think ahead to the new season when you will rotate your beds.   As you finish harvesting and cleaning up beds think ahead to what you will be planting next.  Where you will be sowing root crops in Spring, don’t add bulky manures as crops such as carrots, parsnips and beetroot etc prefer deep well worked soil to get their roots into. Root crops also prefer potassium and phosphorus  so apply wood ash, seaweed, blood and bone and a little lime.  If the bed is not going to be planted for winter then sow a green crop of buckwheat for phosphorus or mustard if the ground needs sterilizing. Otherwise clear, compost and mulch all beds that are not planted out.

For your legume bed, April is broad bean sowing time. Peas too.  These can either be green manure or for spring eating depending on what you sow. I have collected some heritage broad beans this year which I will sow along with the very pretty burgundy flowered one.

For crops already in the ground such as brassicas, leeks and celery, keep up the weeding, mulching and liquid feeding. Brassicas and onions planted now will not grow too much over winter over winter  but take off once they detect the change in season and be ready for eating in late spring.

Perenials such as asparagus. Artichoke,  rhubarb and strawberries can all be weeded, fed and mulched.


Sow: Broad Beans, onions (in trays or outdoors if warm). Brassica seeds sown now will take 4 months to mature. Lettuce. Peas including sweet peas.

Plant: Cabbage, broccoli, cauli, kale, lettuce.

Cultivate: Mound up soil around leeks. Keep well watered along with celery. Weed around asparagus.  Protect heads of cauli from the weather by covering with big leaves. Keep weeding and hoeing between plants to keep weeds down.

Harvest: Beans, sweetcorn, pumpkins, main crop potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, spinach and silverbeet.

Prepare: Sow green crops, make compost and mulch bare ground in preparation for winter weather and preparing beds for spring.


Elderflower Champagne and Elderflower Cordial


One of the sure signs of early summer with a promise of warm summer days to come is the billowing of the elderflowers in our hedgerows. Down here in Otago our hedgerows are blowsy with elderflower and hawthorn.  We still have the remnants of those hedgerows in our area and they are a precious source of shelter and fodder for insects, birds and animals – and us humans!   I look at elderflower and think… elderflower champagne and cordial followed in autumn by berry wine and nutritious cordials. In fact, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas now without enjoying a delicious glass of delicate bubbly elderflower summer delight. Here are a couple of easy recipes for Elderflower Champagne and Cordial.

Picking Elderflowers.

Like all herbs, gather the flowers on a warm dry day and go for the ones with a mix of some open and some buds. It would be hard to pick them all but make sure you leave some for the next round of delicious harvesting – the berries in Autumn. Mine usually come with little black insects. Shake them off. I also leave them on the outside table on a piece of newspaper for a while and they all seem to run off. I don’t think the odd little insect is going to do you any harm but strain well anyway.

Elderflower Champagne.

For this recipe you will need 7 large Elderflower heads –about the size of a lunch plate or saucer, a clean plastic bucket and some bottles. Start with recycled small sized fizzy drink bottles and lids. (750ml or less) I also save those small champagne bottles for individual servings. Don’t use ordinary glass bottles for any kind of fermented drink – they are likely to explode.

  • Dissolve 500g sugar in 2 litres of hot water in your clean plastic bucket.
  • Add 2 and a half litres of cold water.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of white or cider vinegar plus the juice of 2 lemons.
  • Add flowers
  • Cover with a teatowel and leave for 24 hours.
  • After the 24 hours is up, strain through a muslin cloth and bottle.
  • Leave in a cool dark place for 6 weeks.

Elderflower Cordial

There are a few variations on this recipe – the thing you are aiming for is to allow the delicate flavour of the elderflower to infuse in your syrup.

  • 25 elderflower heads
  • A couple of lemons and an orange– finely grate zest and squeeze juice
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp of citric acid.
  • Put the flowers and citrus zest in a clean plastic bucket or a large bowl and mix together. Pour over 1.5 litres of boiling water.
  • Cover and leave to infuse overnight.
  • Strain through muslin bag or jelly cloth and into a saucepan.
  • Stir in the sugar, the juice and the citric acid. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar then bring to the boil, turn down and simmer for a few minutes.
  • Carefully pour into sterilized glass bottles.

You don’t need the citric acid but it helps to keep it longer.  Once you have opened your bottle keep it in the fridge. You can also pour into smaller plastic bottles and freeze. Try freezing in ice-block trays to add to drinks etc. Would look gorgeous with some elderflower added – or blue borage. Elderflower goes well with English Gooseberries which are ready soon. Add some to any recipe to enhance the flavour.