Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Everyday Art Forms

Hello blog.  I have been neglecting you a bit lately, but you have been in my thoughts a lot.  I have wanted to sit down and chat with you for weeks and have been desperately searching for the time and the brain space to do so.  Tonight, I am happy that I am all set to talk with you again.  This post is dedicated to what I call my 'everyday art forms' that keep me amused, busy and active.  Most importantly, they allow me to get creative and have some fun when the day to day routine becomes so monotonous and tedious.  So what's an everyday art form?  Grab a cuppa, sit back, relax and have a little read while I tell you all about it :)
I'm at the stage now where I'm very middle aged, have done the 'university thing', have done the 'day job 9 to 5' thing, have done the 'wedding thing', have done the 'baby thing' and that leaves me here, in this very spot, writing to you today. So where exactly is 'this spot'?  My world is a treadmill as I work and work to raise a family and nurture my marriage.  It gets very repetitive, very challenging, very mundane, satisfying at the same time.........but how do I manage to keep going when everything around me, the things that I do, get down right depressing?  I turn to my creative side, I turn to the things that make me feel good and I create my everyday art forms.
I was talking to a good friend once, having a wonderful conversation about life and living (as we do) and she identified one very important point about where I'm at now and what it is that I am actually doing.  She explained that after working for the last 20 years, getting married, building our home and having kids, that I am now 'value adding' to my life.  I am at the stage when I am 'set up', the 'hard work' is done and I am now seeking and doing things to add value to my life.  This is so very true as I now spend a lot of time doing other things than just house work and running after my kids......I take time out for me, I take time out to find that 'feel good' feeling when it all seems way too hard.
You may know that I love to paint with oils on canvas for my ultimate creative release.  Unfortunately, one major thing that holds me back from this is not having the room or space to set up my canvas' and paints, start a piece and then be able to leave it and go back to it when I can.  This is a real nuisance and I wish that I had more space so I could do this.  But the beauty of being an artist is that if you have the ability within you, it never goes away and will always be there to use at any time in the future.  So I grin and bare it, take it as it is and accept that my painting will just have to sit within me until I can find a way to express myself again through this art form.  This, obviously, is my ultimate art form.
But when I can't paint, I still need  and yearn to 'create'.  So I have developed other ways to be creative in this hectic, cyber spaced world that we live in.  I do this in a couple of ways so that I can 'add value', express myself, adore the beauty in interesting and appealing images, be creative and enjoy myself.  Firstly, I write and the easiest way to do this these days is post in my blogs.  I keep writing and you keep reading and we are both happy! This is obvious and you know all about this one, so I won't go into much detail about this.
I have developed a great interest in gardening and this is most certainly a kind of art form.  I am reworking my back yard, digging dirt, pulling up weeds, growing fruit and vegetables, trimming trees and shrubs, laying pavers and turf and just all round having a lot of fun with it.  This is hard, heavy work at times but it is most certainly one of my labours of love.  The results are amazing, truly satisfying and most importantly, nice to look at.  I love the way vegetable plants look when they are growing, I love seeing my apple tree get its Spring blossoms, I love watching my rose bushes flower, I love to see what was once an overgrown mess start to look ordered and useful.  All of these things provide much pleasure to my eyes and make me feel happy and ultimately, this is what we want art to do.  So I take lots of photos of my garden as it progresses and find this a really rewarding everyday art form.
I also love to cook and get creative in the kitchen.  My style of cooking uses fresh ingredients and is very simple, but I have been told that it looks and tastes good!  So I experiment every now and then with different dishes and always try to reinvent my old favourites........and I like the way it looks, I like to tempt my taste buds with images of my cooking, it gives me a way to 'create' something when I can't paint.  This has become a fun everyday art form, something that I do everyday and I enjoy sharing what I cook with my friends and family who always enjoy eating it too!  I have found that I love to cook and enjoy documenting this in a kind of way to create something that people can relate to and enjoy looking at.  Everyone needs and loves to eat, so I use multi media, my camera and my kitchen to cook and create at the same time.
I realised a long time ago that there will always be dishes to do, laundry to wash, bathrooms and floors to clean, demanding children seeking attention and I knew pretty quickly that there had to be more to it than this.  So I started, rather unconsciously, looking for ways to express myself, share my creativity and hey presto, my everyday art forms were created.  I will always appreciate appealing images and I will always be determined to achieve and succeed at the things that I do.  So as I work, I play and find ways to 'make art' out of everyday tasks and chores.......this keeps me smiling, happy, amused and helps me to keep on keeping on :) xxx

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Packed with a punch!

About a week ago, I managed to catch myself a nasty flu virus, enough to completely knock me out in a matter of 24 hours.  I haven't had a flu as bad as this in years.  On the first day or so when I was starting to feel pretty infected by 'something ugly', I really wanted to nourish myself, thinking that this would do the trick and I'd be back to normal in no time.  Well, with all of my good intentions, unfortunately no amount of nourishment could take the place of heavy strength antibiotics that I quickly needed to kill off the bacterial infection that had infested my body.  One of the sad facts about life is that you can do 'all the right things', but if you are unlucky enough to 'catch' something and get sick, then you will.
However, this shouldn't stop you from eating well.  I have developed a love of gardening and take much pleasure in growing vegetables in my garden at home.  I also have a couple of fruit trees.  Feeling as though I wanted and needed to give my body plenty of 'the good stuff', as I like to call it, I had harvested my garden a day earlier and used some of this to make some sensational vegetable soup that was totally 'packed with a punch!'  This post is dedicated to the wonders of some vegetables that are readily available, easy to cook with, are extremely good for you and taste fantastic.  Who needs to buy expensive multi vitamins to take everyday when you can simply eat well and get a complete range of vitamins and minerals naturally in the fresh food that we eat.
The first basic ingredients I put in my soup were onions and garlic.  These seem to be in most dishes that I cook.  So I added 2 onions and not just one or two cloves, but the whole head of garlic, peeled and crushed. "Garlic cloves contain many minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants that have proven health benefits and have been found to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties. Garlic is an excellent source of minerals and vitamins that are essential for optimum health. The bulbs are one of the richest sources of potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium. It contains many anti-oxidants like carotene beta and vitamins like vitamin C."  Fortunately, I can never have too much garlic in my cooking and use it almost everyday in my kitchen. My family and I love the taste and the smell of it.
I often use a lot of onions too in my kitchen, so they were an obvious start to my soup, peeled, chopped and browned with the crushed garlic in my big soup pot. "Onions are a rich source of chromium, the trace mineral that helps tissue cells respond appropriately to insulin levels in the blood. They are an also good source of antioxidants which are found to have anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic functions.  They are also a good source of vitamin C, mineral manganese and the B-complex group of vitamins".
As a base for my soup, I like to mix in a good couple of tablespoons of tomato paste in with the garlic and onions at this stage.  It gives the soup a great taste and texture, similar to that of minestrone.  You can see how I make minestrone (which is very similar to this) in my other blog, 'Laura's Little Italy' www.littleitaly397.blogspot.au 
Now my pot was ready to add plenty of 'the good stuff' from my garden.  Here I am washing spinach, silver beet, broccoli and kale, all home grown.  It is a fantastic feeling to walk outside and pick something to eat. Firstly, you may know broccoli as a 'super food' and this is why.  "Broccoli is one of the very low calorie vegetables and is an exceptionally rich source of vitamin C. Further, it contains very good amounts of vitamin A and is an excellent source of folates.  It is a rich source of vitamin K and B complex group of vitamins like niacin and riboflavin. The flower heads also have some amount of omega-3 fatty acids and is a good source of minerals like calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, selenium, zinc and phosphorus."  Wow!  Can't feel too bad about eating broccoli now, can you?  

Another veggie that is 'packed with a punch' is spinach. "Fresh 100 g of spinach contains about 25% of daily intake of iron; one of the richest among green leafy vegetables and is a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K.  It also contains good amounts of many B-complex vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, folates and niacin. 100 g of farm fresh spinach has 47% of daily recommended levels of vitamin C. Its leaves also contain a good amount of minerals like potassium, manganese, magnesium, copper and zinc." Need I say anymore about sensational spinach?
But wait......there's more, much more.  I also added kale to my 'packed with a punch' pot. "Kale is very rich in vitamin A and vitamin K. 100 g of fresh leaves contain 120 mg or 200% of daily-recommended levels of vitamin C.  This leafy vegetable is notably good in many B-complex groups of vitamins such as niacin, vitamin B-6 and thiamin. It is also rich source of minerals like copper, calcium, sodium, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus." And to top off my home grown additions to my super soup, I added silver beet. "Like many leafy green vegetables, silver beet is rich in a dazzling array of minerals. It has high levels of magnesium, calcium, vitamin K, iron, potassium, vitamin A. Silver beet is also rich in folate, zinc, copper, vitamin C, dietary fibre, and vitamin E".
So are you starting to see how we can all get many vitamins and minerals naturally in fresh vegetables?  It is as easy as this.  Asparagus is plentiful at the my local Fruit Shop at the moment and I can can't resist but buy a bunch every time I shop there.  In the pot it went! "Fresh asparagus contains fair amounts of anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin K.  Asparagus is a good source of minerals, especially copper and iron. In addition, it has small amounts of some other essential minerals and electrolytes such as calcium, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus."
One of my all time favourite vegetables is egg plant.  I have a couple of young egg plant seedlings in my garden and I'm dreaming of growing some big, fat, juicy egg plant of my own soon.......wish me luck!  I added a couple of these to my soup creation for another 'punch'. "Eggplant is very low in calories and fats but rich in soluble fibre. The peel or skin (deep blue/purple varieties) of aubergine has significant amounts of chemicals called anthocyanins that have potential health effects against cancer, ageing, inflammation, and neurological diseases. It contains good amounts of many essential B-complex groups of vitamins and is a good source of minerals like manganese, copper, iron and potassium."
The asparagus and egg plant and are all washed, chopped and into the pot they go.
I had a couple of monster mushrooms in the fridge that I thought I would add too.  This pot of soup just kept packing those punches as I went along. "Mushrooms have a surprising amount of nutrients including: Niacin, Riboflavin, Folate, Phosphorus, Iron , Panthothenic Acid, Zinc, Potassium, Copper, Magnesium, Vitamin B6, Selenium and Thiamin".
At this point, my pot was rapidly filling with loads and loads of 'good stuff', I was nearly done......but not quite as I was on a roll!  In went some red kidney beans for fun. "Red kidney beans are a source of fibre-rich complex carbohydrates, which should play a large role in your diet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Carbohydrates provide energy for your body's cells and are the sole energy source for the nervous system".  I added some lentils to be extra good. "Lentils are a powerhouse of nutrition. They are a good source of potassium, calcium, zinc, niacin and vitamin K, but are particularly rich in dietary fibre, lean protein, folate and iron.  Lentils contain some soluble fibre, but are an outstanding source of insoluble fibre."
Tomatoes are another one of my big favourites. "Tomatoes are an excellent source of antioxidants, dietary fibre, minerals, and vitamins. They contain very good levels of vitamin A, anti-oxidants and are also good source of vitamin C and potassium. Further, they carry average levels of vital B-complex vitamins such as folates, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin as well some essential minerals like iron, calcium, manganese and other trace elements."
OK, for the grand finale, I had to add a couple of carrots. "Carrots are exceptionally rich source of carotenes and vitamin-A. Carotenes are converted into vitamin A in the liver. Beta-carotene is the major carotene that is present in these roots. Beta carotene is one of the powerful natural anti-oxidant that helps protect body from harmful oxygen-free radical injury. Fresh roots are also good in vitamin C and in addition, they are especially rich in many B-complex groups of vitamins and compose healthy levels of minerals like copper, calcium, potassium, manganese and phosphorus."
You can see from this picture that by this stage my pot was very full and it was time to let it cook.  I had much pleasure in preparing my array of vegetables and making them into a soup that I knew I would love to eat but that would also do me the world of good.  As I was preparing this soup, I knew it was good for me but I wanted to find out exactly why and how.  Hence, this post complete with some researched facts and figures on the wonders of fresh vegetables.
You can also add stock to your soup for an extra flavour kick.  If you don't object, adding a smoked ham bone also gives this soup an amazing flavour.  But on this day, my super soup was going to be a vegetarian one, dedicated to my garden and love of fresh food from Mother Nature.  Here is my soup cooking away and the aromas in my kitchen were amazing.  Adding a dash of salt and pepper to the pot doesn't hurt either.  I like to enjoy a big bowl of this 'punchy' soup with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top to give it an extra flavour boost.
I let my soup simmer for a good couple of hours and enjoyed a bowl of it for lunch.  As you can imagine, I made plenty (as I usually do when I make soup) and I packaged it up into single serves and freezed it for later on.  It is great always having some soup handy for those days when I need a good 'pick me up'.

After reading this post, you may not be able to look at your veggies in the same way again!  I trust that you can now see the incredible health benefits of fresh veggies that most certainly take care of your vitamin and mineral needs naturally.  The garden and its produce is truly amazing and never ceases to amaze me.  Those many, many unassuming plants that 'grow things' in the earth are most certainly 'packed with a punch!' :) xxx


Saturday, 13 September 2014

Bountiful Bendigo

Last weekend, we took a little, Sunday drive to an historic town, not far from our place, called Bendigo.  It was a chance to enjoy the drive, take a look at some spectacular architecture, enjoy lunch and the sunny say and bring home some great pottery (one of the things this town is famous for). Bendigo is a major regional city in Victoria, approximately 150 kilometres north west of Melbourne and is the fourth largest inland city in Australia. The discovery of gold in the soils of Bendigo during the 1850s made it one of the most significant Victorian era boom towns in Australia.  So join me now as I show you around this magnificent place and tell you a bit about its history as we go.
Bendigo is well known as one of the major towns of the Victorian gold rush. Gold was found at Bendigo Creek in September 1851.  News of the finds brought an influx of migrants to the city from around the world and transformed it from a sheep station into a major settlement. Once the alluvial gold had been mined out, mining companies were formed to exploit the rich underground quartz reef gold.  Since 1851, about 25 million ounces of gold (777 tonnes) have been extracted from Bendigo's goldmines, making it the highest producing goldfield in Australia in the 19th century and the largest gold mining economy in eastern Australia. The city took its name from the Bendigo Creek.
In mid-December 1851, the rush to Bendigo had begun and by April 1852, Bendigo Creek was regarded as a goldfield in its own right. By June 1852, it is estimated that there were 40,000 diggers on the field – a huge number considering that in February, pre-gold rush Melbourne had a total population of only 23,000.
Our first stop once we arrived, was to have coffee in this magic garden, next to the Bendigo Art Gallery.  Spring has certainly sprung in Australia and here you can see a magnificent display of blossoms.  Bendigo is important in Australian history and the city’s beautiful Victorian architecture and gardens show the wealth and prosperity that this town enjoyed in the late nineteenth century – the period during which this gallery was founded.  Bendigo Art Gallery was founded in 1887 - Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Year.
After coffee, we wanted to make sure that we made it to Bendigo Pottery, located just outside the town in Epsom. I always enjoy visiting this place and looking at the pottery that is simple, yet very classical and useful.  Bendigo Pottery is Australian owned and operated and is Australia's oldest working pottery.  Established in 1858, the pottery has operated continuously in Epsom since 1863.  Bendigo Pottery has the most significant collection of ceramic wood fired kilns left in the world.  There are 10 kilns in total, with 5 bottle kilns, 3 circular kilns and 2 rectangular kilns. No longer used, the old kilns are now part of the Interpretive Museum with one of the circular kilns having been converted into a theatrette. The last firing of a wood fired kiln on the site was 1989. The kilns are all listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.
On the site is a large factory which continues to make all the Bendigo Pottery product using a range of different production techniques including hand throwing, slip casting, jolleying and pressing. All product is now fired in natural gas fired kilns.  Above is a sample of what the pottery looks like.  This is my collection that I have gathered over the years.
We then headed back into town for a walk and to gaze at the amazing buildings and gardens.  As a legacy of the gold boom, Bendigo has many ornate buildings built in a late Victorian colonial style. Many buildings are on the Victorian Heritage Register and registered by the National Trust of Australia. 
As soon as you arrive in Bendigo, you can't help but notice this beautiful fountain.  It is eye catching and right in the middle of the main road in town.  The Alexandra Fountain would have to be the most prominent monument in Bendigo.  The fountain was officially unveiled by His Royal Highness Prince Albert Edward Victor of Wales on 5 July 1881.  The fountain was made from 20 tonnes of highly polished Harcourt granite and includes dolphins, unicorns and nymphs.
Bendigo has the stunning Rosalind Park, a Victorian-style garden that is quite large and covers a big area in the town centre.  It is a great place to sit and relax.  It features a large statue of Queen Victoria. The gardens are home to many native species of animal including brush tailed and ring-tailed possums, ducks, coots, purple swamp hens, micro bats (small insect eating bats) the grey-headed flying fox, several species of lizard, owls and the tawny frog mouth.
There are many monuments in Bendigo that you can see as you walk through the town.  The Bendigo War Memorial Obelisk, located outside the Bendigo Soldiers' Memorial Institute Memorial, commemorates conflicts after the First World War, including the Second World War, Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam and Kuwait. The front inscription reads- "This monument has been erected by the citizens of Bendigo & district as a tribute to the men & women who served their country in all campaigns since the Great War 1914 - 1918. World War II 1939 - 1945."  There are more inscriptions on each side of this monument paying respects to others also.
Another important aspect of Bendigo's history and the gold rush, is that many thousands of Chinese people arrived in Bendigo at this time.  Within ten years, the Chinese miners and merchants made up 20% of the Bendigo population. In the 1870s an impressive imperial dragon known as Loong was sent from China. He is now the oldest Chinese dragon in the world and is the highlight of Australia’s oldest event; the Bendigo Easter Festival.  While most of the Chinese gold miners returned home when the alluvial goldfields declined, a small population remained to form the Bendigo Chinese community which has continued to influence the city.
A traditional Chinese Joss House, built in Bendigo, is a reminder of its rich Chinese heritage. It was constructed of timber and hand-made bricks during the 1860s by the local Chinese, who were plentiful on the goldfields. The temple is one of the oldest surviving constructions of its kind in Australia and was painted red - in Chinese tradition this represents strength and vitality.
The Joss House was constructed to worship the god Kwan Gung. Kwan Gung was a Chinese general (AD 221-26) and the miners worshipped him as a judge, guide and protector. The building was restored by the National Trust upon advice received from a Chinese historian and is the oldest Australian joss house still in use today. 
After enjoying lunch, it was time to head back home after a relaxing and enjoyable day.  It had been great to take in the history of this regional centre and feast our eyes on the town's beauty.  I was happy that I could add to my pottery collection too!  With many stunning buildings and wonderful gardens and monuments all through the main city centre, it is a nice place to visit here in Victoria.  You can almost feel the experiences and see the people behind all of the stories that this place can tell.  I highly recommend Bendigo as a great day out to those that live here in Melbourne and for my other valued readers around the world, if you ever come down under to Oz, why not visit bountiful Bendigo :) xxx