Sunday, 26 January 2014

Planning parties at home - and remembering what happened!

Each year, in the weeks after Christmas, I write up what happened over Christmas in my special "events" book. I find that its great when as November rolls around again and you need to start thinking about ordering prawns or making up guest lists - you can remember what happened (that is, where not to order prawns again and who not to invite this year!)

Events are in my families blood. We can all organise a birthday for 50 people without blinking and turn breakfast for four into a bit of a production when the need arises. Its something that we are not only good at, but all enjoy. We can all cook, we can all drink and we can all organise various celebrations without raising a sweat - that's a real feat in a Queensland Summer! It wont surprise you to know that many of my family is in the Hospitality trade!

Here's what I do...

I have an exercise book that I write up all my events in. I use it to plan the event and then after the event I write up what worked well and what didn't. That means if I hold a similar event, I have all the information at my finger tips when I'm planning the next one.

I start with headings:

Event name/date/place/time. Basic information, the who,where, why, what, how of the event.

Theme (is this an old fashioned tea party, a traditional English Christmas or a Eco themed Birthday party?) These headings and your entries will give you your framework for what you need to plan next.

Afternoon tea party

Guest list with room to add, delete and mark if they RSVP.

How many of these people will be invited next year??? All of them!!

Food required. I write up a menu based on the theme and number of guests and then write up a shopping list from it.

Cheese cake in a jar for a picnic dessert!

Drink required. Do I need beer? Wine? Tea? Coffee? Juice or Soft drink? Something special for this event?

Champagne? Yes Please!

Decorations required. Table clothes? Napkins? Flowers? Balloons? Candles? Pennants? Lights? Something special for this theme - Like a piƱata? Or Halloween decorations?

Reusable Halloween decorations!

Extras: Tables/Chairs/Crockery/Cutlery - what will I need to seat and feed the 5,000 that I don't already have?

Anyone for a cup of Tea?

Timetable: What is happening when? What time are the guests to arrive? What time is dinner served? What time can Myla organise charades and musical chairs? Who is on dishes duty? What time is dessert?

Who doesn't like a good dessert?

I make up a few lists:

To Make (decorations, food, invitations)
To Buy (food, drink, special decorations)
To Do (put up fairy lights, mow lawn, post invites)
To Get ( Extra chairs, party hats, flowers, small jars to put flowers in!)
To Ask (Anita to make her fabulous chocolate cake)
To Get the Husband to do (mow the lawn, put up the fairy lights, have a shower and be awake when the guests arrive!)

Getting organised...

And I run off these lists until the event is actually happening!

A big must if you are hosting or organising an event is to enjoy it. There is no point in going to all this trouble if you are too busy organising to enjoy it!

Hmmm... Another glass of wine? Why not...

After the clean up and chatting to people about how it went over the next few days, I write up a quick round up on the last page of the event in my book.

I simply note what went well;
  • Prawns were great - order again but get an extra kilo.
  • 10kg of ham fed 18 people amply with a bit left over for the week.
  • Aunty Carroll's mango/avocado/bacon salad was great - get her to make it again.
  • Table size was perfect - use all three for 16 - 18 people next year
  • Ant traps on buffet table legs worked really well!

And what I would change for next time;
  • 2pm was too hot for late December - try 4pm.
  • Asked Guests to bring wine and they all drank the cider. Ask some to bring cider next time.
  • Only needed 1/4 of the tartar and seafood sauce.
  • Fly net needs to be wider - ends got dunked in the food.

Its amazing what you will forget from year to year. Where did we get the prawns from? Was it the Butcher last year or the Seafood place? Whose were bigger/better/fresher? How many salads did we have? Was it too many or too few? Did they all get eaten? Where did I get the extra chairs from? Was it the neighbour or from a friend?

By writing it all down - and just quick notes is all you need, not an essay - you save yourself the hassle of not needing to remember that it was the neighbours table we borrowed for the buffet table and it was the PERFECT size or that you can freeze mince pies four weeks before Christmas and pull them out in the morning to eat at lunchtime with no problems whatsoever!

Its something that takes ten minutes but can save you a huge amount of grief and stress down the track, even if you don't do huge events like we do!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for saving yourself from buying the wrong things year after year cause you cant remember weather it worked or not and you know you bought it last year...
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for saving money and sanity!
Time cost: Maybe ten minutes...?
Skill level: Basic recall after the event (maybe harder if you had a bit too much to drink of course!)
Fun-ness: Great fun to pull off a event year after year that just keeps getting better and better!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Home made small batch mixed vegetable pickles!

I was flicking through Jamie Olivers latest cook book (that I got out from the library) and found this wonderful idea to pickle all those left over bits of vegetables that end up lurking in the fridge in that not-enough-for-a-meal-but-too-good-to-be-thrown-to-the-chooks-yet way.

He calls them House Pickles! I think they are just wonderful!

Here's what I did...

This is the page from his book, "Save with Jamie".
He talks about having bits and bobs left over from salads that just sit in the fridge until they finally go off and you throw them into the compost or maybe to the chooks... (has this man been looking in my fridge??)

Its a pretty simple concept: Put a mixture of 1 part cold water to 2 parts vinegar into a sterilised jar (leaving enough room for the veges) and add 1 heaped tablespoon each of sugar and salt, stir, and add spices and herbs to taste - pop in the veges, seal and leave in the fridge for up to eight weeks.

The idea is that you can add random left over veges whenever they become available.
The bit of cucumber and carrot left over from the salad, the 1/4 red onion from the sandwiches, the capsicum from the Mexican meal last night...

You can eat them when they are fresh, that is as soon as you start your pickle and they will be crunchy and sharp. Or you can leave them for a week or two and they will mellow and get softer.

I made up a batch of these with random leftover bits in the fridge just before Christmas and when we went on holiday for a week, it was perfect with our ploughman's style lunches that we were having.
The House Pickles are in the bowl front right

I have found that the vinegar loses its potency after six weeks or so. So now I have two jars on the go and as each one runs out, I wash and sterilise the jar, refill it with the vinegar/salt/sugar/water/herb/spice mix and add veges as they come to hand to my "adding to" jar.
The other jar gets used as the "eating from" jar - until it runs out - and then I start again. Its been a wonderful way to pickle without all the hassle and its sooooo good to be able to use up all those pesky bits of vege that just sit around looking sad!
I have been experimenting with different vinegars, combinations of herbs and spices. Jamie recommends a hot and spicy and a mellow and sweet jar... Mine are pretty random so far... I call it the "whatever's in the pantry" flavour!
The red onion tends to stain the white vinegars pink so if aesthetics are important to you - use red wine or balsamic vinegar or pop them in a jar of their own. I have found pickled carrot to be a new treat for us along with pickled capsicum! Yummm!
These would make great house warming gift too I reckon!
Thank you Jamie!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for using up every last scrap of vege
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for not buying something new
Time cost: 10 minutes - and that's stretching it!
Skill level: Basic pour and chop
Fun-ness: Yummy fun!

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Splitting a back yard hive of Trigonia Hockingsii for the first time!

There are about 1500 species of native bees here in Australia. Only four of them (that I know about) swarm and build community hives. The other are all solitary and mate and lay eggs without hanging out with 10,000 of their buddies! (I've put some links at the bottom of the page to interesting bee sites if you are keen to learn more!)

With a new species native bee species recently being identified, the powers that be(e) have changed the formal name to Tetragonula (Tetra meaning four species) from Trigonia (Tri meaning three) followed by the species name but lots of backyarders are yet to change their vocabulary!

 Summer is the season to split Australian Native bee hives. We swapped a hive of Trigona Carbonarii with friends for a hive of Trigonia Hockingsii last year when we both split hives. (See Carbonarii split here). It's been a year since we got the Hockingsii and the husband has been reading up on them and busy building new hives in the background in preparation to split the original hive we got, into two hives.

We opened the honey side to see how they were doing last night - its TOTALLY full so we figure they'll be ok to split!
We split them to both keep them happy and healthy (a bit like the reason you prune trees) and also so that we can get another hive of bees.

We haven't split the Hockingsii before and so with all the tools in place, an audience, an official photographer - thank you Peter -  and a freshly painted hive to move them into - late one Saturday afternoon, we gave it a go!

Here's what we did...

New hive - painted white to reflect the sun to help keep 'em cool during the summer.
Hockingsii have a horizontal shaped hive, the Carbonarii have a vertical hive. Although, as many backyard native bee keepers design their own hives to suit their particular ideas, if you are buying a hive from a back yarder, note that the hive shape isn't always an indicator of the bee species....
New hive at the back.
Hive full of bees at the front. The left half is the new part last year and the right half is part of the original hive.
Before we split the hive, we had to take off all the masking tape (used to seal the hive on the last split to keep ants etc. out) and also to remove all the hive clamps (bits of metal used to keep the hive together)

And in we go - note the paparazzi in the background?!
We have used a large, very sharp kitchen knife to cut through the hive with. A hot wire could also be used. You are going to be cutting through wax and resin.

It's not as easy as it looks to cut through as you might think! 
It took a lot more force than we had expected.
That's the brood (bee baby beds) that you can see.
This species has their brood in the middle of the chamber. When you split any native bee hive, the idea is to split the brood and the food supply (honey and pollen) evenly and give them both a new room to build into.

So each half of the hive we just cut goes onto a brand new half - giving them each a new half to build into. The faces we are making are because we have bees in our eyes, in our ears and up our noses!
These bees bite, but do not have a sting. The bites are nips and don't leave any reaction - not like a green ant bite does. It's annoying and gets your attention rather than a painful bite. I got bitten on the eye lid and couldn't find a mark when I went to look 10 minutes later.

These are different hive layouts to the carbonari hives that we have split before and need to be held together with a piece of metal so that there is as little gap as possible for ants or other honey predators to get in. When you split a hive, invariably, honey gets spilt. This attracts all sorts of bugs to the hive. Also the clamps stop the hive from breaking in half if it falls or moves, limiting the damage the bees need to repair.

You will need to have premade all your hive clamps before you have split it. Trying to cut and fit hive clamps with 5,000 angry little bees trying to communicate their level of annoyance with you is not going to be easy!

Easy to tell which is the old and new halves!
*oops, bee up my nose face

Then we popped on a bit of masking tape to help them keep the hive secure until they patch it with wax and resin from the inside.

And then the original hive goes back up where it was and any escapee bees (including the ones hiding in my armpits) can find their way back to the hive.

The old, new half and the new, new half are then much more securely taped up for their journey to a friends place.
The entrance to this hive is shut up with a little removable door (with tiny air holes) so that we move this hive with the maximum amount of bees in it to give them a sporting chance of rebuilding and thriving.

See the escapee bees making there way back to the top hive?
The bottom one is shut up so no bees can come or go and is just resting on the chook nesting boxes and will go on its journey in the morning. The idea is to take it with the maximum bees in it. If you open it up, they will all go back to the top hive.
We did this split at about 5pm so that they are all heading back to the hive anyway and we have them shut up for the least amount of time.

The about-to-be-relocated hive in the back seat of the car!
We relocated the bees about 14 hours after we split them.
As a general rule of thumb, we have noticed that our bees don't get up until the sun hits their hive.

So this was the perfect place for them.
This is a temporary set up about 10km from our place. It's out of the way of kids and animals, off the ground in case of floods, ants or rats (who will like the honey) and hopefully secure enough if we have a decent storm.
Thank you Kim for providing a picturesque spot for them to holiday in!!
The bees will stay here for 6-8 weeks when we can bring them home again. If we left the second hive within 5km of the old one, they would all fly back to the original. As the bees have a life cycle of about 6 weeks, all the bees that remember the old hive will have died and all the new bees will want to stay in the hive they know and love in a couple of months. So then we can move the new hive back and they will stay as two separate hives.... Until we separate them again next year and need two friends to agist them for a couple of months and then the following year, eight friends and then...?...?  I can't do the math anymore!!!

Bee sites to learn more from:
Zabels bee site You can buy hives from these guys too
Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for helping a native species multiply
Frugal-ness: 3/5 for hand making it (but it isn't a cheap exercise...)
Time cost: About 4 hours to actually make the hive, painting time and maybe 20 minutes to do the actual split (then add an hour to get all the bees out of your hair, armpits and undies!!!)
Skill level: Owning bees is easy, splitting bees is not so hard if you do all the research and have everything ready before you start.
Fun-ness: Sooooooo much fun - bee keeping (err, bee watching) is such a time waster!
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