from haybox to wonderbag

Those of you old enough to remember the three day week and the oil crisis will remember sudden and unexpected power cuts and half cooked dinners.  My mother overcame this by making a haybox.  To be fair rather than using hay she used a sturdy wooden box and a selection of cushions.  The idea was that you brought the meal (usually, but not always, a soup or casserole) to the boil, popped it in the box, surrounded on all sides, top and bottom by cushions and left it to cook.

Fast forward some 15 years and I went out to work as a health education volunteer in Umtata in the Transkei with Project Trust.     It was an amazing experience, I hope as much for the people we worked with as it was for us, the volunteers.  As a side line if you are or know somebody who is looking for a volunteering experience in the developing world PT is not only one of the oldest, but also one of the best in the business.  They are not, unlike many, in it to make money.  They have been going since 1967 and have sent over 6000 carefully selected volunteers overseas.  But I digress.

One of the issues faced in the Transkei was the lack of fuel.  We built a simple haybox (this time using hay!) and with our trusty three legged potiji

potiji

we went out to show people how to save on fuel and still have a hot meal at the end of the day.  We used it ourselves and it failed us only once, a particularly stringy goat at Sitebe.

Recently I came across this.

  •  IMG_1284[1]

My newly arrived Wonderbag.   Essentially it works in exactly the same way as my mother’s cushion box and our haybox.  But there are three fundamental differences:

  • For every Wonderbag purchased another bag is donated to a family in Africa.
  • The Shwe-Shwe bags are made by women in South Africa creating jobs and income.
  • The World Wildlife bags generate a donation to WWF for every bag purchased

It’s also great for:

  • Camping
  • Picnics
  • Students
  • Bulk cooking
  • Working families – cheaper than the slow cooker and no worries about leaving the slow cooker on whilst you are out.

If you are still unsure have a look at this.    What are you waiting for?

celebration

Today is a perfectly ordinary day other than the fact it is the day when I celebrate my first half century on this planet.  I hope for many more years to come but I am grateful for those that I have already had.  I am a very fortunate and happy lady.  Some of the wonderful things I have experienced:

  • seeing something I have planted and nutured grow and bloom
  • meeting my three daughters for the first time
  • crying in despair and wiping my eyes and realising I can still laugh and smile
  • the smell of a warm, slightly damp dog
  • a family, oddly shaped, but a family nonetheless
  • opening my stocking and knowing that Father Christmas had been in my room whilst I slept
  • the gentle touch of my husband
  • a wonderful roof over my head
  • the chance to live in another culture
  • the burning passion to set things right
  • an education
  • friendships of all shapes and sizes
  • glamour when I was just old enough to understand and young enough not to care
  • freedom of expression
  • Caithness and Sutherland
  • belief in tomorrow
  • big blowsey garden parties that go on forever and where children sleep where they fall
  • seeing dreams, both large and small, come to fruition
  • being a stay at home mummy
  • writing a book
  • summers in North Dakota

I could go on and on, but you get my drift.  My life is not necessarily what I expected but it is all the richer for that.  In the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway bet ten dollars that he could write a complete story in just six words. He wrote: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”  He won the bet.  An American online magazine asked its readers to write their lifestory in six words.  You will find mine at the bottom of the page here. 

So to celebrate those fifty wonderful years I have invited 14 friends to dinner on Saturday.  As it is my birthday I shall not be cooking, the food will be provided by the supremely talented Andy at Papaya.  However, I do need to decorate the table and so forth and fully intend to do so without buying a single thing.

The before, I have started to put a few of the glass jars out but most of them are soaking to get them all nice and sparkly!

table

I can’t show you the after as I haven’t done it yet!  However I am thinking garden flowers and greenery in the various sized glass jars.

bottles

 

We have lots of 2 and 3 candles silver candlelabras but I am prefering  glass jars and bottles with candles and tea lights.  The lavendar is still doing beautifully so that is going to feature heavily and I have decided to starch the damask napkins so that I can be creative with the folding (more flowers there I think too).   I have plenty of empty tin cans of various sizes from small to vast and ribbon and flowers will be going on there as well.  Chair covers are in the wash but I am not hugely fond of them, they are too dark.  Not sure I can rustle up 16 made to measure covers in  2 days so am going to have to think a bit there.

We have plenty of crockery and cutlery.  However,  a recent rash of slippery fingers has reduced our large glassware somewhat so that i have had to buy.  Ebay has been a godsend.  Crystal glasses go for very little.  I have stuck to a shape and mixed and matched.  Wonderful bargains and beautiful glasses that will give pleasure for years to come (so long as the slippery fingers don’t get them).

 

glass

 

On of our new glasses, full of course, next to my favourite Inuit bear.

After photograph on Saturday.  This is my dry run for Christmas.  No buy parties.

 

 

the pantry

dinner

It wasn’t as hard as I had expected.  I am in the groove now.  I still have to locate the  out of date anchovies that my husband has turned into paste.  I know him too well.  He will convert something we have not used into something else we will not use and eventually I will be allowed to throw it out.  No more.  I have removed all food items we will not eat and, where possible fed them to the chickens, the rest have been put on the compost.

I use a weekly menu plan and shop only for those items that I need for the weeks’ meals but do not have in stock.  This encourages me to use my cookery books and try out new recipes as well as making it a lot easier at the end of the day.  All I have to do is look at the list on the fridge and open the appropriate recipe book at the appropriate page.  Life is much easier that way.  I keep my diary to hand when menu planning, if I am going to be out all day and then doing the Mummy taxi run in the evening there is no point planning a meal that requires preparation and last minute attention.  On the other hand, if I have a day at home and everyone home by 6.00 then we can go for something a little more adventurous.

On a good week I shop from the larder and the freezer.  Unfortunately now the freezer is mainly offering up those odd things we bought because they looked interesting.  I love heart for example, it is tasty and cheap.  I am going to struggle to slip it under the teenage radar.  We usually buy a whole or half sheep.  For some obscure reason I asked for one of the legs to be left whole.  Dinner for 15 anyone?

This is what I hope to avoid in the future.  No more whimsical purchases.  A freezer with only food we know we will eat and know when we will eat it.

Tonight all the girls are out.  So the Boss and I are having lobster and crab salad.  That’s two items out of the freezer, salad from the garden and dressing made with the ends of various oil and vinegar bottles.  A good clear up dinner I think.