Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Indian Cookery - Naan

As my husband is Indian, I have been working to improve my skills in Indian cookery. This recipe is a very successful one that I have come across in my journey of Indian food.

Indian Naan Bread
Serves: 6
Preparation time: more than 30 minutes

2 cups plain flour
¾ cup water, warm
2 tablespoons oil
2½ tablespoons Greek yoghurt
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon sugar

1. Mix yeast with water in a bowl and set aside.
2. Sift flour and add salt and sugar and mix together.
3. Add yoghurt and oil and mix together, then add water with yeast and mix.
4. Form into a dough, by kneading on a floured surface. (This dough is very wet! It takes some patience to work it into a nice soft dough.)
5. Place dough back into bowl and proof in a warm place, covered with a cloth, for 4 hours
or until dough rises well.
6. Preheat oven to 230-240°C. Place 2 trays in oven to heat as well.
7. Divide dough into 6 equal parts and roll into rectangles 6 mm thick.
8. Before placing the dough into the oven wet fingertips with water and pat very lightly on
the dough.
9. Line trays with baking paper before placing naan on top.
10. Bake until golden spots appear and the dough is cooked. (Literally only 5-10 mins in the oven).
11. Spread hot bread with garlic butter or serve plain.

Recipe notes
Naan bread is traditionally cooked on a hot stone plate inside the oven at a very high heat very
quickly, as most kitchens won't have a stone plate to cook on, the baking trays need to be very
hot to help cook the naan properly. I leave my oven to preheat for at least half an hour!

The result is a beautiful, light and very, very tasty garlic naan bread! My Indian parents-in-law say it tastes just like the real thing! I serve naan with curries instead of rice.

This recipe thanks to

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Natural Fabric Dyes

 Natural Dyes
I have spent the last few days experimenting with natural dyes made from plant products. The process has given me a new appreciation for natural colours and fabrics. It has been a fascinating journey as I have tested the validity of different information on the topic and worked with the natural dyes. The information below has been gathered from research and my own findings.

What Can Be Used as Natural Dyes?

The best thing about natural dyeing is that the ingredients you need are fairly easy to come by. Here are just a few materials you can use (and the colors you’ll get with each).
  • Brown Onion skins (yellow/orange)
  • Red Onion Skins
  • Coffee grounds/tea (brown)
  • Strawberries/cherries (pink)
  • Roses (pink)
  • Lavender (pink)
  • Red cabbage (blue/purple)
  • Hyacinth flowers (blue)
  • Beets (deep red)
  • Iris roots (gray/black)
  • Daylily blooms (red/purple)
  • Artichokes (green)
  • Celery leaves (yellow)
  • Turmeric (yellow)
  • Mulberries/blueberries/blackberries (purples)
  • Red Hibiscus Flower (reds-purples)

How to Get Started

Straining the dye
Step 1: Prepare the Dye
Chop your plant or berries into small pieces, measure them, and put them in a medium-to-large pot. Add twice as much water as ingredients (if you put in two cups of plant material, add four cups of water).
Bring to a boil, and then simmer for one hour. Strain off the hard materials and keep the “dye.” 
Keep in mind that the longer you let the materials sit in the water, the stronger your dye is going to be. If you have the time, you can even let it soak overnight (without heat) to get a really concentrated solution.

Red Onion Skins
Red Cabbage
Brown Onion Skins
Red Hibiscus


Vinegar Fixative
Step 2: Prepare the Fixative
Once you’ve picked out what you want to dye and you’ve got your dye all ready to go, you have to prepare a fixative for your fabric. This will “fix” the dye into the fibers so it won’t wash out.
If you’re using berries to dye your fabric, you should use a salt fixative. Put 1/2 cup salt in 8 cups of water. Put your fabric in here and boil for one hour.
If you’re using plants to dye your fabric, you have to use a vinegar fixative. Combine one part vinegar and four parts water, and boil the fabric in the mixture for one hour.
When your fabric is done, rinse it out under cold water.

Step 3: Dye the Fabric
All you do now is place your wet fabric into the dye bath and simmer until the fabric has reached the color and shade you want. The color is going to be a bit lighter once the fabric dries out.
Then, wash the fabric separately under running cold water until the water runs clear.

Beetroot Dye
Red Cabbage dye
Brown Onion Dye

Red Onion Dye
Tea dye
Red Hibiscus Dye

Turmeric tie-dye

Turmeric dyes (with tie dye)

Sample natural dyes
Sample natural dyes
Red Hibisus colour after rinsing

Red Cabbage dye pre-wash
Beet pre-wash
Brown onion pre-wash
Names of dye for each fabric sample
Naturally dyed fabric

As evidenced by the pictures, natural dyes really do work! The easiest colours to obtain are brown, yellow, red and purple tones. I tried several of the listed natural dyes for green (grass, spinach & red onion skins) but none of them were successful; in fact, the red onion skins produced a strong brown/red colour. All of the colours are muted compared to the pre-wash colour. This may be simply the process for natural dyes. I did not use any chemical fixatives; these may have helped to hold the colours better!

Monday, 16 July 2012

The Key to Cleanliness

As I've grown older and lived away from home longer, I've noticed that a frightening number of people in my generation haven't got the slightest idea how to clean a house, let alone run a household! This post is for them!

The key to Cleanliness: Daily Habit
If someone truly wishes to maintain a clean and tidy home environment, the ground work must be done each and every day. I'm not saying that a full spring clean must be completed each day, no-one has time or energy for that, but I am saying that the act of cleanliness is a continual one. A clean and tidy mindset must be developed so that over time it is as natural an act to pick up the dirty clothes or wipe the kitchen bench as it is to eat or sleep. This idea of continual cleaning may frighten some people, but it is the most efficient and time-cheap way of keeping order in the home. If the mess is allowed to pile up over days and weeks, naturally the task of cleaning it becomes overwhelming. However, if a little is done each day to gain and maintain cleanliness then the whole task takes very little time or effort and the reward is a comfortable and sanitary environment that induces no shame when friends come to visit.

How to Begin
If your house is a disaster area, then these tips are for you! You have two options: go into cleaning overdrive to gain order in one day, or, tackle your house one room at a time, over time. The latter is probably more appealing. Choose a room to begin your new clean way of life in, it may be a bedroom or office, any room which takes your fancy. Begin to tidy this room by sorting through any piles of stuff on the floor or tables. If there is rubbish or unwanted/unneeded items, throw it away or send it to the charity store. Once you have determined what you wish to remain, put the items away neatly in boxes/shelves/drawers. Having sufficient storage space makes keeping the house tidier, so you may need to invest in an extra bookshelf or some plastic storage tubs to roll under the bed. Once the room is free of clutter, you can see to vacuum the floor and dust the furniture.  Each day tackle another room in the same manner until your house has been cleaned right through.

Maintaining Cleanliness
The step above is hard work and maybe you have done this many times in an effort to keep your house clean and tidy, but your house will not keep itself in that state. I have a friend who cleans for several days as hard as she can. Once things look clean, she simply goes on living as she always has and doesn't think to clean again for another month or two. After a very short time, her room is at least as messy as it was before she began and so she feels that the effort was not worth it! Her problem is that she doesn't maintain the new-found cleanliness! I have a few simple ideas to help maintain a clean and tidy house.

1. Pick up after yourself.
This means that when you shower, you put the dirty clothes in the laundry basket (not on the floor). This also means that if you take books off the shelf, pull toys out of the cupboard, study at the kitchen table or move the contents of your house in some way during the day, that you put them all back either when you are finished with them or at the end of the day. Daily 'picking up' will prevent mounds of clothes and stuff from accumulating in your clean house. It literally takes 5 mins in the evening before bed to see to this small task.

2. Wash the dishes every day.
This step is very key to the cleanliness and hygiene of your home. Dirty dishes not only look disgusting, but they begin to smell disgusting very quickly, especially in warmer weather and give a very unsanitary feel to your house. I have shuddered internally at some homes when I see that their dishes have not been done for several days or when they wash a dirty plate for me to use as they are serving food. This task can easily be shared around the family; my husband washes the dishes for me every evening before bed. In the morning I can simply put them away and my kitchen is clean and hygienic to begin each new day. (The task of washing the dishes should also include wiping down all kitchen surfaces that have been used for preparing food during the day: benches, stove top etc..)

3. Sweep the Kitchen floor every other day.
Like washing the dishes, sweeping the kitchen floor helps to maintain the hygiene of your home. Food crumbs attract cockroaches and mice and are simply dirty. Making this a regular habit also makes the vacuuming easier when it comes time to do a full clean.

4. Do the laundry as soon as the basket is full.
Laundry is one of those things that must be done when the sun is shining so take advantage of sunny days and don't let the laundry pile get out of control. As with anything else, the more there is, the less motivated you will probably feel to do it! For us 21st century women, laundry couldn't be easier; you put it in the machine and press 'start'. Hanging the washing out takes as little as 5 minutes. Not a difficult job. I wash on approximately the same couple days each week. I find that routine makes it happen.

4. Clean the Whole House Once a Week.
This is the only slightly time consuming part of the cleaning process. That said, it takes me between 1-2 hours to clean my entire house top to bottom each week. Completing the above chores regularly makes for a quick full clean. Fully cleaning the house should involve at least the following:

a) Vacuuming the Floor
This is self explanatory and the time it takes to complete simply depends on the surface area of your floor.

b) Cleaning the Bathroom
This task includes cleaning the sink/basin, mirrors and the shower (walls and floor).

c) Cleaning the Toilet
You should use some sort of strong toilet cleaning product to scrub the toilet bowl and then clean the seat with the same product.

d) Dusting
This should be done before the vacuuming and include each surface that collects dust in the house (bookshelves, cabinets, photo frames, coffee tables, TV, shelves etc.).

e) Mopping tiled surfaces
This point is optional, but I do find that it makes my house appear cleaner (remove grease and marks on the tiles) and smell fresher for the week. Mopping should be done after the other cleaning is complete and left to dry for at least 30 mins.

5. Ironing Once a Week
Ironing is one of my least preferred household tasks and if I let it would build up forever. Sadly for me, my husband works in a profession that requires business wear and I have to iron regularly. The best way for me to keep up with it is to pick a day and iron on that same day each week. Watching a movie or listening to music helps make it more interesting.

Now the above list of household tasks may frighten the beginner cleaner, but don't feel too concerned. Most of them don't take as long as they look like they might and they certainly aren't difficult. Some people may even choose to break up the weekly tasks and make them daily tasks to fit cleaning into a busy schedule. This may look something like:

Monday: Washing
Tuesday: Ironing
Wednesday: Dusting & Vacuuming & Mopping
Thursday: Washing
Friday: Bathroom & Toilet
Weekend: NO CLEANING!!

If we only remember that the key to cleanliness is daily habit, then our homes will be so much easier to keep under control! Come on Ladies, we CAN keep our homes clean and tidy!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Tribal Wives

I watched a TV show the other day that really got me thinking about the role of women in society. The show was BBC's Tribal Wives. In the show six British women swap their everyday lives for life as tribal wives in some of the most remote communities on earth. Like many women today juggling career, home and family, they feel that something is missing. By spending time in societies where female roles are very different, they hope to find answers that could change their lives.
Charlie with her Yoruk family.
The episode I watched was in the remote Yoruk community in the hills of Turkey. Twenty-three-year-old Charlie Brades from Hampshire joins the Yoruk, a tribe of nomads who live in the remote mountains of southern Turkey. 
She arrives and is dressed like the Yoruk women and slowly taught her role as a 'wife' in that community over a period of a month. The Yoruk live in little family groups, all sleeping and eating under the same small tent. The family which Charlie became a part of consisted of the father, his two wives, three sons and his daughter.   Charlie learned to tend the goats, cook traditional foods and wear a headscarf.
I found it fascinating to watch how a western girl struggled to fit into a traditional and very patriarchal society. For all her struggles, she had a wonderful time and made some very close friends. The most important thing that she seemed to learn was that family is very important and that hard work is satisfying.
One of the wives in the family group.
Making the flat bread.
Yoruk tents.
Traditional Salwar pants worn by the tribal women.
The most interesting or 'eye-opening' part of the show for me was seeing how little men in this society do! The women rose before the men every morning to prepare breakfast. Once breakfast is ready, they wake the men and everyone eats together. The women tend the goats and camels, make all the food, find the firewood, build the fences... they do virtually everything! And when the time comes to pack up the tent and move on to better grazing areas for the goats, the women again do most of the packing up and setting up work. The men seemed to simply sit around doing nothing for most of the day! 
Seeing how some women have to live makes me very thankful for my own helpful and caring husband. Sometimes I feel that he should help me make the bed more often, or do the dishes when I want him to, but the fact remains that he does help me with all those things and many more! 
In general we are very blessed as women in western countries. Our husbands treat us well and we have all the comforts of life. We don't have to fear the pain of having our husbands take a second wife or of being the second wife. We have opportunities to be educated and to work in whichever way we prefer. We are free to dress as we choose and we mostly live in privacy with the option of interacting as much or as little with others around us as we so desire. I pray that I remember what I have learned and treat my husband with all the respect he deserves for providing such a wonderful life for me!