Making Some Improvements

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I’ve wanted a good stove since first (before) moving to the country and am really happy with this.

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A smart looking sink and taps – off white cupboards and pale grey granite bench tops

It’s coming on 3 years (in November) since I moved here permanently. Prior to taking up residence, the Convent had a refresh with new paint and the flooring updated with either polished boards or carpet. Other than furnishings, I haven’t done much else (other than a total garden overhaul), so I thought it time to move onto the next phase of home improvements.

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Still needs plastering and painting but no more overhead cupboards and also incorporates the next room.

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The island bench in what was the dining room.

I’ve been grappling with the kitchen since I first came here given it was a small galley at the front of the house and I wanted to accommodate a good sized stove. Another challenge was that although the Convent is large, it was never built for entertaining, so I don’t have a larger room when I have more than a few people over. With a few tweaks reorganising rooms, the result has worked well and I now have a large open modern kitchen and a great extra entertaining/living room which is also now my dining room.

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The period lighting has greatly improved the ambience of the Conve

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Couldn’t resist this antique light fitting for the vestibule

I’d always known that I’d have to tackle the electricals at some point, given some parts dated back to 1930. The Convent lights mainly consisted of bulbs in bayonets in the ceiling or fluoro tubes, so updating the lighting has also been on my list. August ended up being kitchen, electrical and lighting month so there’s been a heap of activity. Not all has gone smoothly (or is finished) and I still need to get some plastering and touch up painting done but otherwise I’m really happy with the results and the Convent has improved significantly in appearance (and safety).

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And I get a new living room that incorporates my dining table

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The bedrooms all have period style frosted bowls on chains

Still lots more on the list including the dreaded bathroom makeover, however after managing the last set of renovations, I’m more confident in tackling the next phase.

Bunkering Down

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Why not have a knitted sign for a wool shop? One of my Winter projects finished.

Apologies for being away from the blog for a while. Winter here tends to lend itself to bunkering down – it’s cold and the gardening winds right down with bitter frosts. However it’s also a good time to drop the pace of activity and a great time to knit (as if I need an excuse!)

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Cable beanie sample

That being said, I’ve been knitting up a storm and also made some improvements to the Convent. Knitting has included shop items (we sell beanies, mitts and scarves at Convent & Chapel Wool Shop), shop samples (it’s great to show customers ideas for patterns and how the yarn looks knitted up) and some fun knitting as well.

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Cabled scarf over the shop fire

The fun items include Shockwaves in Hedgehog Fibres as well as Fringed, a Stephen West pattern also knitted in Hedgehog Fibres. This one is still on the needles. I’m usually a black/grey/brown person in terms of colours I wear but these gorgeous hand dyed yarns have tempted me to use a broader palate that will all happily sit over my black attire!

For something a bit different, I’ve used my love of knitted blankets into making a knitted sign for the shop which happily hangover our balcony at the gorgeous historic Bridge View Inn in Rylstone.

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Shockwaves knitted in our beautiful hand dyed Hedgehog Fibres from Ireland

Over the last last week or two the weather has started to warm up, so I know I’ll be spending less time during the day with needles in my hands and more with the shovel, whippersnipper and hose.

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A yet to be named scarf in Adagio Alpaca.

 

 

 

 

Winter is Coming – and the needles go into overdrive

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Adagio Alpaca provided by Tuxedo. A buttery soft yarn in the deepest of blacks. Part of a set for Costa and his Dad

Post the CWA Kandos Gardens Fair, it’s time to put those needles hard to work. Over the last few weeks the temperatures have started to drop (although not by much most of the time as it remains usually sunny and very dry). But it’s been enough to cause a run on our hand knits and see yarn sales start to pick up.

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Second set in Jo Sharp Silk Road Tweed. The scarf is our very own Rylstone Ridge pattern.

I’ve had a few “projects” on the go that won’t see their way into the shop. I’ve knitted thank you warmers for Costa (and his Dad) for being such a great sport during our Gardens Fair. It would be hard to think what more he could have done whilst he was here – he covered so much territory with great enthusiasm with good spirits. So scarves, mitts and beanies are heading his way. All in Aussie wool – one set uses Alpaca from the very black ‘Tuxedo’ from Adagio Mills. There are very few mills left for processing wool in Australia, however Adagio have bucked the trend and opened a new mill in Orange last year. This yarn is my reward for participating in their highly successful Kickstarter campaign.

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Jacob’s Ladder Scarf in Hedgehog Fibres DK Merino in ‘Swamp’

We always try to add to our house patterns at Convent and Chapel Wool Shop – these are patterns that highlight the yarn, stitch techniques or textures. Simple patterns that maximise effect and are great for a small project or gift – perfect holiday knitting. I’ve just finished a few trial ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ scarves in a simple ribbed lace of just four stitches repeat. It seems to work well with different blends of yarn and weights and will be a good addition to the shop.

It’s so tempting to want to knit everything- different brands, fibres and colours – I’m constantly dismayed by what I can’t fit into my days, although I can’t complain about a life filled with knitting, gardening, living in the country and working in a yarn store. The problem is there’s little I’d want to stop doing and everyone needs some sleep!

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Our Lady draped in Jacob’s Ladder knitted in Rowan Kidsilk Haze

Next on the list are some baby clothes that Mum  requested as a gift. Whilst I won’t get to keep these in the shop, at least it will be good to try out some yarns and have a go at a few new baby patterns for the shop. We’re loving White Gum Wool for baby clothes and any of our sock yarns are so much more interesting that the old baby wool.

In the meantime, we’ve taken the desperate steps of removing some price tags from knits in the shop just so we have plenty of samples available for the knitters who prefer to make their own!

For now – back to the needles!

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Destined for display in the shop – at least for now!

 

Cobwebs in the Garden

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Cream lace dominated the Chapel veranda

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Fluidity in Zauberball Tropical Fish glowed in the privet hedge.

Last weekend we had our CWA Kandos Gardens Fair, with the Convent gardens being open to the public. Of course, we couldn’t let the weekend go by without including some of our knitting. We used the occasion to display some of our lacework around the garden to catch the eye of visiting garden enthusiasts.

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Birds on Bikes made a great display with this shawl

Some of our most recent work is still on its way back from the Sydney Royal Agricultural Show but we had enough to decorate the grounds. Our cream lace shawls, which are our best Show pieces hung outside the Chapel verandah, Kerry Blue was inside the Grotto, a vibrant Fluidity in Zauberball Tropical Fish peeped through a gap in the privet hedge, our Doodlers hang proudly from the side verandah, the sculpture birds held up a glorious maroon lace triangular shawl and the angel looked suitably draped.

A great week for the Convent garden and we think our shawls added a little to the colour and texture of the garden.

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Doodlers displaying themselves on a verandah

 

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Looking demure and snug

 

 

Costa at the Convent

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Costa chowing down on some Zucchini Slice

One of the special moments at the CWA Kandos Gardens Fair was a visit from Costa Georgiadis, in fact, two) from ABC’s Gardening Australia. We knew the Gardens Fair would be a very special event with him as a guest but his impact on visitors far surpassed expectations. As did the man himself. What a gracious, enthusiastic, engaging and energetic person!

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Costa having a chat with Gemma in The Cloisters

Costa had asked to visit the local schools as part of his visit which was a wonderful experience for the school children and hopefully will leave a permanent mark on the area. For the weekend, he tirelessly visited gardens, engaged with visitors and made himself available constantly.

We were fortunate to have Costa visit us for lunch on Saturday where we gave him a short break from the many people who had built up both for a feed and to see Costa at the Convent. He made sure he spoke to all the volunteers and has a great skill for remembering names. He seemed to love the Convent and it’s surrounds (although I think he was equally gracious with all garden owners and guests) and on Sunday unexpectedly brought his Dad back for lunch and a quieter sit in The Cloisters on a day that was a little slower paced.

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Costa and his Dad tackling the terrain

Watching him with his Dad was a little bittersweet given my own Dad passed away last year and I had such hopes of he and Mum spending time with me at the Convent. It was great that he took his Dad on a guided tour of the garden but I had moments of concern with the wheelchair in the spongy grass!

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Instagramming in the Chapel

 

 

 

 

During their visit, a wonderful ukulele group sang and played in the Chapel – Costa raced in and took a video which he later placed on Instagram which was a thrill.

All in all, a great weekend and we’re still buzzing from it. Costa certainly made a difference and we’d have him back any day.

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Costa photographing the Convent!

 

CWA Kandos Gardens Fair 2016

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Marquees out the back gave a festive feel

Last weekend we held our CWA Kandos Gardens Fair. A big event for our small town as it attracts many visitors, books out accommodation and showcases the area. This is the second time the Convent has participated, the first being just before I moved here permanently and in the early days of making over the garden. And what a weekend it was!

The Convent Cafe was well attended throughout both days

The Convent Cafe was well attended throughout both days

This time I was reasonably well prepared – the gardens were a little more established and in pretty good shape and we decided to offer morning/afternoon teas and lunches in the Convent Cafe, complete with a blackboard menu (which also meant heaps of food preparation).

I have no idea yet of final numbers but the Convent seemed to be on everyone’s list as a “must see” venue, including a tour through the Chapel. We also attracted a few stall holders who set up their marquees, and local musicians and even belly dancers, the Kandos Belles! So there was no shortage of distractions.

Food was in endless demand and we must have served 150 – 200 meals plus tea, coffee, slices and scones. Many thanks to my wonderful and competent neighbours who chipped in to serve so many people. Sausages rolls all disappeared within an hour, the zucchini slice didn’t last much longer and Saturday night I was up til all hours making more sandwiches and adapting to a change of plans preparing ingredients for Ploughman’s Lunches.

The Mexican Sages were amongst the stars of the Garden Fair

The Mexican Sages were amongst the stars of the Garden Fair

We had a free cold drinks station with iced water, iced Mint and Lemon Verbena tea and Elderflower Champagne tastings. The Lemon Verbena tea and Elderflower Champagne were huge hits with visitors.

The backyard beds were chockfull of produce to explore

The backyard beds were chockfull of produce to explore

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day had a great feel of festivities and fun but the Convent also provided a venue for relaxation and respite in The Cloisters out back where we held the Cafe. We were fortunate to have some special guest speakers come along including Fiona Ogilvie, the gardening journalist from The Land who has a wonderful property in Bathurst, Diego Bonetto, a wild food forager and, of course, the wonderful Costa Georgiadis from ABC’s Gardening Australia, who was incredibly engaging and generous with his time.

More posts will follow with photos of the garden and our Cobwebs in the Garden knitting display (of course we’d get knitting in there somewhere!). Such a wonderful weekend and I’m sure all the effort from so many volunteers to put this together has been worth it.

The Convent came up well on the day

The Convent came up well on the day

The Countdown Commences- Kandos Gardens Fair 2016

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Duchess de Brabant, the rose flowering best at present

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Popcorn helping out, instead of his usual digging up vegetables

Less than four weeks to go before a dozen local properties in the Kandos Rylstone region open their gates to garden enthusiasts. The Convent will again participate which means lots of preparations are afoot.

I can’t remember the last time it rained – it’s been so hot and dry. Which is of particular concern for my garden given most of the plants are only a few years old. They’re not yet established and without deep root system, so at the moment there is lots of mulching and watering going on. I know our theme is “Gardening in a harsh environment” but this is a little harsher than necessary!

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The privet now tamed

This week, the new trees were all heavily mulched and roses trimmed, fed and watered. I’m usually a little less structured with my approach, but this time I’ve been noting what roses I have and relabelling them for easy identification. I’ll probably do this as well with some of the more prominent plants to help visitors and any of the garden guides.

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Raised veg beds are all sewn. Hopefully I’ll have some decent new growth.

 

 

Veg beds are also planted out and hopefully will look interesting and productive. Given most of my plants are young, I’m not sure exactly what will be flowering or still out by early April, but there should still be lots to see.

Lots more to do, including cleaning up and painting some outdoor furniture, more feeding and mulching, sweeping, raking, whippersnippering and endless mowing… Hopefully we get some rain before the Garden Fair, but if not, at least we’ll have some good advice on managing in our challenging local garden conditions.

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Grotto roses beginning to climb

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The central garden bed. Hopefully the roses kick in and the white Cosmos come through by the time of the Gardens Fair.

Gearing Up for the Garden Fair

Previously a troublesome little spot in the corner, now a mini herb garden and "nursery" of sorts.

Previously a troublesome little spot in the corner, now a mini herb garden and “nursery” of sorts.

It’s less than two months now before the Kandos CWA Gardens Fair, which will be held on 2 and 3 April. And what an event it’s shaping up to be! Headlining alongside  Costa Georgiadis from ABC’s Gardening Australia is Fiona Ogilvie, gardening journalist, and Diego Bonetto, wild food forager, making it an essential booking for every gardener’s calendar.

We have approximately a dozen venues ranging from “town” ones like mine to working country properties and an artists trail with the gardens of three talented locals just out of town.

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The back wall looking much neater.

My garden was open for the last Kandos Garden Fair held in November 2013 – the year I purchased the property and just before I moved here permanently. So the property was pretty bare – just the beginnings of a garden. I’m hoping people notice the difference this time around as beds have begun to establish themselves and the garden is taking on a semblance of structure.

Over the last two weeks I’ve had some help – pulling in the big guns to clean up the ash brick wall that divides me from the Church. The back wall which fronts (or backs?) the Church carpark had large shrubs and ivy that was completely overgrown and dominating my back yard. The Church kindly agreed to let me clear it up and, with the assistance of some capable and knowledgeable locals, it’s now made a huge impact on my outlook. Whilst a bit bare at the moment, there should be lots of soft green new growth coming through by early April.

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The back wall before the pruning.

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The back wall after a little attention.

For now I’m moving around the garden in sections, finishing off areas, trimming back, feeding and mulching – hoping it all comes up  on the day. The garden is too new for me to be confident about what will be flowering in April and the weather will also have some impact – it’s been kind so far – not too hot and enough rain. But the threat of an early frost is always there!

A few nights ago Gemma and I sampled the Elderflower Champagne– a nervous moment given I now have 15 litres of it made. But it was a winner. Fresh and bubbly, so I hope to be able to offer sample tastings at my garden. So now back to some more bottling!

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First batch of Elderflower Champagne – I’d call this a success. Another batch is currently in production and a few bottles are ageing in the cellar.

Making Use of Garden Produce

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Elderflower Champagne in production

It’s a wonderful time in the garden for reaping the benefits of all the planted veg. But as gardeners know all too well, when it grows, there’s always more than you need. So recently I’ve been working on how best to store and use this bounty best throughout the year.

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Lots of mixed cherry tomatoes for pasta sauces and semi dried in jars

I always grow lots of cherry tomatoes, which are easier for me – they seem to have less problems and are more resilient. Whilst wonderful in salads and even just picked and eaten on the spot in the garden, I always end up with so many. This year I tried making pasta sauce – which was hard work with all the tough little skins. But the result was excellent with a tasty sauce. So I’m now back to my standard of semi-dried tomatoes in olive oil. I just wash, dry and cut the tomatoes in half, toss in olive oil with salt flakes, freshly ground black pepper and choice of fresh herbs – usually basil, oregano or parsley, and bake slowly in the oven, turning a few times until significantly reduced and much drier. They are then packed into sterilised glass jars and topped with olive oil. Great to add to pasta, casseroles or an antipasto plate. I was fortunate to be given some big tomatoes as well which have been turned into a luscious pasta sauce, with the addition or oregano and white wine. Maybe next year I will be a little bolder with growing the serious big tomatoes myself.

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Bubbling pasta sauce

I have heaps of herbs and herb butter makes the enjoyment last    throughout the year, so I’m preparing herb butter logs with tarragon, basil, parsley and chives that sit happily in the freezer until required. I think I might use the glut of tarragon in some tarragon vinegar as well. I’m still working out the best uses for lovage and sorrel… whilst the mint and lemon verbena are making great teas. I think I’ll experiment with trying out some iced tea with them as well.

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The Elderflowers are so pretty and delicate

My big experiment has been Elderflower Champagne (there are a few good recipes on the net) – sounded too good not to try and I have two big elderberry bushes. So far I have 10 litres (the batch makes 5 litres) and will shortly add another batch whilst the Elder is still flowering. It takes some weeks to mature (?) so I hope it turns out. I really don’t want 15 litres of undrinkable stuff but it’s been fun and seems to be bubbling and fermenting happily at present. Although I feel like I’m running some sort of moonshine operation! If it works, I might have some sample tastings for the Kandos Gardens Fair.

I don’t have enough Elderberries to do anything with them yet, but I’m hoping to collect rosehips and put them to some use.

Anyway, for now it’s lots of experimenting and fun. It’s rewarding to be able to reap the rewards from the garden and have them last throughout the year.

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An abundance of tarragon.

Great Local Dining- The Zin House

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Mudgee is well known for it’s great wine and local produce which also means it has some great cafes and restaurants. One I’ve been wanting to try for a while is The Zin House. I’ve sampled some of the Kim Curry (the chef)’s food before at Lowe’s Cellar Door horizontal tasting this year as part of the Mudgee Food and Wine Festival, but haven’t eaten in the restaurant.

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A tiny wedge of a generous vegetable and herb garden that provides produce for the menu. Blue Borage flowers are starring here.

Before Aimee went home, Gemma, Aimee and I made our way to The Zin House for their five course menu with matching wines. The Zin House restaurant is situated within the Lowe’s Family wines estate – an ideal setting with rolling Mudgee hills and a wonderful vegetable garden providing supplements for the restaurant.

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My favourite for the evening – Saffron Rag Pasta. Wonder if I’ll ever get my Saffron Crocuses to produce?

 

 

 

 

 

We weren’t disappointed with the meal which delivered on every course. It was hard to choose a favourite but the Saffron Rag Pasta with garlic, chilli, mushroom and zucchini was mine and has tempted me to drag out the infrequently used pasta machine. My fellow diners praised the Limoncello Cured Trout Gravlax and the Slow Cooked Five Spice Pork Shoulder.

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The Limoncello Cured Trout Gravlax was hard to beat. That’s the Sorrel, Fennel Flower and Cucumber Salad alongside.

I was inspired by the use of many of the herbs I grow but don’t use. I always have a mound of Sorrel which usually goes to the chooks or  compost, but the Cucumber, Fennel Flower and Sorrel Salad will most likely put a stop to that. We had Borage flowers on the house-made herb butter, Mint in the Salsa Verde and Lemon Verbena (which I also grow) in the Honey and Lemon Verbena Ice-cream. Even the Peppermint Tea was a lovely glass teapot housing fresh mint leaves.

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And the Slow Cooked Five Spice Pork Shoulder.

The wine was predominantly and unsurprisingly Lowes Wines and well chosen as companions to the dishes. Service was excellent, including the offer of a break between courses with a recommended walk around the vegetable gardens and property in the dusk.

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Apricot Crostada with Honey and Lemon Verbena Ice-cream. I think the Verbena will be put to work in an ice-cream or sorbet in future.

 

 

 

It was one of the better dinners for some time and a great finish to a wonderful Christmas break.

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Puts my little Strawberry patch to shame! A lovely shot of part of the vegetable garden and orchard with the rolling landscape of Mudgee in the background.

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