Streusel All the Way…

Dashing through the farm,

in a wagon packed with kids,

books tucked under arm,

berry coated lips.

Plants and flowers glistening,

banter fills the air,

what fun it is to laugh and bring,

some gardening tips and fare.

 

When it comes to the silly season and the jolly madness that is back to back festivities, family gatherings and kids causing a hoarding calamity about the food table…well…I have to confess…

…I’m a totally devoted and enthusiastic lover of the whole, Jingle Bells, shebang.

This years’ sleigh load of party going events was whip started into action by a newcomer to our family’s list: The Community Garden Christmas Gathering. Organised by Carmelita, the naturally glamorous green-thumbed mother of three, our family clan was greeted at “The Farm” by tables elegantly adorned with water jars – suffused with an array of native plants and flowers – and replete with all manner of home made and grown food items.

While the adults quaffed and dined, the kids took to the red wagon – borrowed from our local Toy Library – like elves to Santa’s production line, taking turns to daringly cart each other about the acre of growing land. Even the goats, penned in the adjacent school agricultural plot, took to the festive atmosphere with gay abandon, ensuring they had their fill of hand picked couch and comfrey.

Of course, no festive party would ever be complete without a touch of gift giving. As the children sat, ensconced about the present sack, tearing at the paper covering the newest edition to their reading libraries, the rest of the attendees got busy trading gardening tips and exchanging recipes until the setting sun signaled the Dashering and Dancering call to set the family members on a course for home.

Charged with the task of using any produce that still remained in the plot of our gallant and vivacious Community Garden Coordinator – who has taken a temporary break from physical duties to wrestle it out with a particularly obstinate form of breast cancer – my contribution to the gastronomic events of the evenings frivolities included a unique take on a traditional, country cooking style, slice. I present to you, my recipe for…

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Santa’s Streusal Slice (Beet and Rhubarb Streusal Slice; Makes a sack load).

Streusel:

½ c plain flour

¼ c rolled oats

1/3 c coconut sugar

½ tsp cinnamon, ground

80 g butter

Filling:

3 – 4 coarsely chopped stems rhubarb

1 medium sized beetroot, peeled and coarsly chopped

1 tbs honey

Slice base:

100g butter

½ c caster sugar

1 egg

1 c self raising flour

1 tbs coconut flour

Make the streusel by mixing together the oats, flour, sugar and cinnamon. Rub the butter into the oat mix and bring together to form a dough. Place in an airtight container and freeze for 2-3 hours or until very firm. To make the filling, place the beetroot and rhubarb in a small saucepan with ½ cup water. Bring to simmering point with the lid on. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the fruit is soft. Cool. Stir through the honey then puree’ the fruit. Place the fruit mixture in the fridge till cold.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Whisk in the egg. In a separate bowl, mix together the self raising and coconut flours. Add the flours to the creamed ingredients and mix thoroughly to create a crumbly dough. Press the dough into the bottom of a 19cm square cake tin. Bake at 180oC for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown on top. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Spread the fruit evenly over the slice base. Grate the streusel over the top. Bake at 180oC for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown on top. Cool then place in the fridge overnight. Using a bread knife, cut the slice into 3 cm squares then serve to your merry band of Santa’s Slice loving friends.

Ho, ho, ho…struesel all the way!

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

…who is the fairest of them all?

Anyone knowledgeable in the art of weed foraging will be all too familiar with the up to three metre tall Evil Queen of the of Apiaceae family, Wild and (sometimes Bronze) Fennel (pictured below). Drawn towards its beguiling countenance, this aniseedy fragrant and rampant perennial herb has made many a striking appearance in my home: the leaves make an interesting addition to my children’s nature table and; when dried, the long, wand like seed fronds take pride of place on our palatial standard, hard wood bureau. As for being a suitor to the culinary crown, well naturally, that place is reserved for the fairer, more voluptuously bulbous cultivar, Foeniculum Vulgare.

Earlier this year, when our landlords decided it was time to give our spartan, red brick rental property a twenty first century style makeover, Scott and I made the big decision to take a dive into the mortgage market. Since compromising on our lavish lifestyle of spending our hard earned cash on good food and great company would have morphed us into a cottage full of Grumpy’s, we opted to go small: we are now the proud owners of an inner-city town house. When our courtyard gardens could no longer house the dozens of refugee plants – rescued from the evil clutches of an overzealous skid steer loader at our previous abode – my adventurous kids and I went in search of greener pastures for all our vegetable growing needs.

Following a surprisingly brief passage through forests of medium density housing and abandoned, tree-root lifted car parks, we arrived at what can only be described as a food growing oasis. Home to a merry band of lovingly eclectic green thumbs, my kids and I were affectionately adopted into the growing residence of industrious community gardeners and allocated our bit of earth: twenty five square meters of thickly covered, couch ridden, clay soil. Heigh ho. Heigh ho. It’s off to work we go!

When it comes to physical work, I am anything but Bashful. Six weeks later, proceeding plenty of hours spent rolling up the sleeves, turning and sieving through the earth…three times over…to a foot deep, and my pallid, snow-white arms finally realised a clear site. Imbued with a sense of late winter gardening solidarity and bouyed by the regular injection of encouragement, helping hands and time-saving tips, my vacant block of previously disused earth was quickly transformed into an thriving, hot-bed of summer seedling growth…with plenty of space for Hairy Lumpy Scary Pumpy (the Hallo-inbet-Ween Scarecrow) and our much loved mud-pie kitchen.

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In addition to sage advice, affable miens and labor-loving energy, my fellow community gardeners have giant sized hearts. Each returned visit from our, now dubbed, “Little Farm” would yield a new family dish infused with the latest donation of produce. From Asparagus and Spinach Tart to Rhubarb and Beet Struesel Slice, having not yet grown a thing, Scott somewhat jokingly remarked that “it had been my most productive garden yet”!

One morning, after a particularly enduring session of drilling lumber and pitchforking compost through my weed-free, clay-rich soil, the very Happy Jay – a food growing doyen- bequeathed me a brace of her finest fennel bulbs. Now I have to confess, when it comes to cooking with this delicate, root vegetable, I am a little Dopey. Determined, however, to put my gift to good use, I delved into our collection of CWA (Country Women’s Association) and country cooking books to Doctor a few of our tried and tested favourites.

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From the family kiln of our new, inner-city bungalow, I present to you my recipes for A’seedy Tabouleh Salad and Evil Queen Potato Bake.

A’seedy Tabouleh Salad (serves a small, mattock wielding, army)

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Although the classic version of this delectable salad is nothing to be Sneezy’ed at, a bit of aniseed thrown into the mix will see even the most Sleepy of garden worker friends refueled and at the pitchfork digging ready.

1 cup barley

200g of cherry tomatoes (or 3 – 4 tomatoes, deseeded and diced), sliced

2 – 3 cucumbers, diced

1 handful of rocket, roughly chopped

2 handfuls parsley, finely diced

2 handfuls mint, finely diced

Dressing:

¼ c lemon juice

¼ c olive oil

Place the barley into a small saucepan with 1 ½ cups water. Heat on very low until all the water is absorbed. Cool then refrigerate till cold. Mix together the tomatoes, cucumber, rocket, parsley and mint. Add enough barley until a desired ratio of grain to vegetables is achieved (freeze any remaining barley and use at a later date). Shake the dressing ingredients and pour over the top. Mix. Serve with that illustrious Evil Queen Potato Bake.

Evil Queen Potato Bake (makes…enough to feed a ravenous, regal court)

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Whilst some might say that implanting fennel into the classic le pomme de terre (apple of the earth) bake recipe is just poisoning a good meal, Scott and the kids took to this quirky twist on the humble potato dish like The Prince to a glass coffin.

2 onions, finely diced

1 fennel bulb, finely sliced

2 rashers of bacon (or some salami), diced

2 handfuls tarragon, dill or fennel leaves

4 – 8 potatoes, thinly sliced

60 g butter

2 – 4 tbs flour

milk (atleast one cup)

cheddar cheese, grated

To make the cheesy, white sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add enough of the flour to form a thick paste. While whisking, gradually add one cup milk. Continue whisking until the mixture thickens. Add a little more milk until a dollopable consistency is achieved. Throw in a handful of grated cheddar cheese and whisk till smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Leave to cool.

On a medium heat, warm some oil in a fry pan. Add the onion and fry till translucent. Add the bacon and fennel. Cook for a couple of minutes then remove from the heat. Stir through the herbs.

In a medium sized casserole dish, place a thin layer of the potatoes. Top with one third of the onion mix. Pour over one quarter of the cheesy, white sauce. Repeat this three times. Add one more layer of potatoes and top with the white sauce and a generous spread of cheddar cheese. Bake in the oven at 160oC for atleast 1 ½ hours or until the cheese on top is a golden brown colour.

Serve to all your family and friends with a side of A’Seedy Tabouleh Salad…

…Now…take a bite!

Luv en der Bouquet

Perhaps it’s my tendency to take walks down nostalgic, English memory-lanes. Or maybe it’s my fondness for all things green and flowering in the height of our dry and scorching summer. Whatever the reason happens to be, not too many plants could out-compete my love for the humble lavender bush.

Ten years ago, Scott and I traversed the red-carpet lined aisle of a 12th century built chapel to recite our wedding vowels before an audience of our dearest friends and relatives. Set against the backdrop of an immaculately maintained, Oxford College garden, we then transitioned into an afternoon of champagne sipping, croquet playing and high society wining and dining. With such botanical perfection to act as a substitute for the usual bevy of expensive flower arrangements, it seemed only natural to also take a more rustic approach to the acquisition of my wedding bouquet.

Until the day before I tied the knot, when my gaggle of girly-friends and relatives descended upon my cottage residence for an evening of hens night frivolities, I had always believed that my rather unorthodox life choices were due to some kind of genetic mutation in the “straight-laced citizen” gene. After all, for every one of my eighteen years of family-home life living, the bills were always paid on time, speed limits were obeyed and never, ever, ever were my school dresses allowed to be higher than my knees. Ever.

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After having our fill of Pimms beverages in the courtyard garden, me, mum and my covey of conspirators salleyed forth, through fields replete with cattle and sheep grazing on the early summer pastures, towards The Sun Inn. Feeling somewhat nervous about disclosing the evenings’ plan to my rule abiding, genteel mother, I surreptitiously hid my swindling equipment in the bottom of my capacious carrier bag and lingered, discreetly, at the back of the group. When the opportunity arose, out of the bag with great rapidity, came my scissors and roll of dampened kitchen roll. Into it went a prized specimen of only the finest English garden or wild flowers. By the time we had arrived at our destination, my booty bag was brimming with all the colours of the purloined, English countryside.

Awaking late following a solid evening of top quality pub food and anecdotal banter, I lackadaisically lumbered my way down the antique staircase in search of that invigorating morning cuppa. As I made my way through through the lilliputian, wooden kitchen door of our cosy, nineteenth century railway cottage, I was greeted with an opalescent display of floral handy work, adeptly gathered at the base with a silky, white satin ribbon. “The rose didn’t quite stand out enough…so I added some of my own hand picked work” said my mother with a smile. “I’m sure your neighbour will be thrilled to know her lovely lavender now takes pride of place in my daughters wedding bouquet”.

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As a reprieve from the hectic schedule of work, school, extracurricular activities and general day to day living, last Saturday evening saw Scott and I donning the fancy dinner garb to enjoy yet another of our treasured Dine-In-Date-Nights. Comprising only the finest garden sourced ingredients, my take on the humble, iced cream dessert forced us to, literally, take some time out to stop and smell the luv en der bouquet!

Lavender Ice Cream (makes approximately 1.5 L)

For me, making ice-cream is a forty-eight hour, labour of love. Having a moreish predilection for the french take on this humble dessert, means that I use a lot of eggs, cream and sugar: the sweetest things in life! The three step process sees me first making the custard. Cooling for twenty-four hours. Churning and then freezing for another twenty-four hours. Whilst a long time in the making, the effort is well worth the wait and is always received with happy smiles from all those who dare to take on my, often wacky, combinations of lingua experiments. Depending on how many flower heads one chooses to pick or pilfer, the intensity of lavendula flavour can be modified to suit all ice-cream comers.

600 ml single or pouring cream

400 ml milk

1 cup sugar

atleast 20 lavender flower heads

5 egg yolks (reserve the egg-whites for a spring take on the traditional, crisp almond bread: see below)

Atleast two days before you wish to make the ice-cream, place the ice-cream bowl (from and ice-cream machine), into the freezer. In a heavy based saucepan over a low heat, bring the milk and cream to simmering point. Cool for alteast 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, break up the heads of the lavender flowers and rub them into the sugar. Whisk in the egg yolks till light and creamy (this may seem a little lumpy at first). Slowly pour in the heated milk mixture in a steady stream, whisking vigorously till all combined. Return to the saucepan. Stir constantly over low heat until the mixture thickens. Do not let the mixture to boil.

Pour, through a sieve, the custard mixture into a mixing bowl. Cover and cool to room temperature. Cool overnight in the fridge. Two hours before you wish to churn the custard mixture, place the bowl into the freezer. Churn for 15-20 minutes in the ice-cream machine. Place the churned ice-cream into a tub and store in the freezer for 24 hours before serving. Serve in a bowl or cone together with a slice of Strawberry Almond Bread.

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Strawberries are dime-a-harvest-bounty-dozen at my house in November. Acting as a thick ground cover in our courtyard garden, K1 and K2 can often be found taking a forage break in order to retrieve these ruby-esque spring time fruits. In addition to mini-pots of jam, leftovers from the afternoon guzzle fests make a berry alluring twist to the standard almond bread recipe.

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5 egg whites

¼ cup coconut sugar

½ cup white sugar

1 cup buckwheat flour

¾ cup wheat flour (plus a little extra)

½ – ¾ cup almonds

½ – ¾ cup strawberries, sliced

Whisk the egg-whites till stiff. Whisk in the sugar. Mix together the flours. Gently fold through the flour, strawberries and almonds. The mixture should be dollop-able. Add a little more wheat flour if it is too runny. Pour into a small, 1 litre loaf tin. Cook at 160oC for atleast 40 mins or until firm to touch. Cool in the tin. Refrigerate for atleast 8 hours or overnight.

Turn the loaf out onto a board. Slice into 3 mm thin pieces and place on a baking tray. Cook again in the oven for atleast 20 mins at 120oC (this temperature is very forgiving). Flip each piece and return to the oven for another 15-20 mins. Cool.

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To serve as an accompaniment to the Lavender Ice-cream, slice each piece in half on the diagonal. Place one half (or both) into the top of your ice-cream serve.

Spread the lavendula to all your lovers and loved ones!

Happy Hallo-inbet-Ween

The 31st of October for our family – and the many other families in our town house complex – brings with it much hoopla and the usual surge of underworld inspiration. Despite the somewhat hectic schedule of after school and family activities, this years gawesome clambake was no exception to the enthusiastic rule: pumpkins, ghosts and zombie scarecrows being the pick of the haunted harvest crop!

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Far from it’s end of harvest time roots, Halloween celebrations are snubbed and dubbed by many Aussies as yet another Northern Hemisphere tradition spreading its haunting tendrils into our sunburnt turf. Furthermore, for the environmentally conscious citizens seeking to curb habits of over consumption, the spooky paraphernalia and individually poly-wrapped candy can seem like an unnecessary use of non-biodegradable resources. For Scott and me, seeking to relive our nostalgic North American and U.K. past whilst still being true to our families commitment to living a low-plastic-and-waste lifestyle, finding the happy Hallo-inbet-Ween can feel a bit like recreating Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s monster.

Stitching together the best parts of the grisly frivolities, our 2019 trick or treat costumes and house adornments saw a murder of crow like children gather at our gates for a lower-environmental impact evening of horrifying fun. For those willing to get in on our terrifying secrets to having it all, say hello to the mysteries of the Hallo-inbet-Ween:

  • Go grave digging: there is nothing more settling to the anti-thow-away mind than being able to retrieve from the tip-shop’s textiles-bin coffin, some handy sheets and clothing for some quick sew costumes. As for that packaging that encased our new worm farm, well how bout some good ol’ fashioned cardboard box, fency decorations.
  • Disect: thanks to K2’s ravenous appetite for chewing through the knees of winter jeans, my sewing room cupboard was replete with truncated denim bottoms (the top halves now hip-cat summer shorts): cut into squares as patches for the scarecrows outfit.
  • Stitch: one queen sized flat sheet can go a long way. Folded in half length ways and then draped over K1’s head, I cut and stitched my way to ghost costume Victor-Frankenstien-ory. Finished off using a curvy edge – the off-cuts of which were fashioned into a cover for K1’s brain bucket and a head for the scarecrow – K1 was set to petrify the neighbours into candy giving submission.

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  • Stuff: well that miniature sized scarecrow – destined for a long working life at our newly acquired, community garden allotment – ain’t gonna fill itself. Doubling as a fun activity for a rare at-home-day-Thursday morning, K2 and I set about sawing, pinning and stuffing with straw those rescued, baby-sized clothes to create our very own charming, carbon loaded scarecrow.
  • Enliven: bringing the Halloween celebrations to life is always a little easier with that wonderful ingredient called sucrose. As much as I would love to be that parent who is brave enough to offer dried fruit or jackolantern mandarins (an idea I seriously toyed with), K1 made it quite clear that I was already pushing the “not normal” envelope to it’s sustainability limits and so I went with the bulk buy party pack lollies packed into a paper bag option instead. Throw in a strawbale (and crunchy garden clippings) tunnel, some up-north pumpkins and those fence decorations from upcycled cardboard and skellybob’s your uncle!

After maniacally battering and entering into over 20 houses in our town house complex, K1 and K2 returned home with a booty of…yep…more plastic wrapped candy than one could poke an electrifying stick at. Given our families strict rule of one sweet per day…it may be an eternity before we see the end of that burgeoning lolly jar!

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Happy Hallo-inbet-Ween!

In the name of the Father…

…the sons and a wholistic toast!

When it comes to making those really big decisions in life, I’m pretty good at realising a burning pitchfork in the backside. I can say however, without fear of being crucified, that I totally nailed it in the selecting-a-y-chromosome-to-pass-on-to-my-progeny department: I couldn’t ask for a better father to my two children than Scott. So when the first Sunday of spring parked itself on the family pew, we assembled en-mass to bestow a God like worship to the patriarch of the house for Fathers Day.

This year K1 and K2 ascended to the kitchen altar and exercised their digits to provide a procession of offerings set to impress even the most ordained of clergymen:

Retrieved from the depths of the family’s cook-book tabernacle, the Egg and Bacon Roll cook-up has proven to be a ongoing fatherhood favourite…

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A Wholistic Toast: Egg and Bacon Roll

Be’lated Date Balls (Beet, Chocolate and Date Balls) – made from a some left over birthday cake, chocolate and those late harvest, garden beets – to round out the feast…

And some organ inspired piano numbers:

Abounded in mind, body and spirit, we left the table in peace: to love and serve the day.

For those keen on giving some daily bread to that special man of house at the next Father’s Day worship, then look no further: Wholistic Toast. Packed full of plenty of go, glow and grow foods, the whole family will be singing from the rafters by the end of that big brekky feast!

Ahhh…Men.

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Wholistic Toast (Gluten Free Man Food Rolls; makes 8)

Thanks to our family’s voracious appetite for homemade pasta and ice-cream, we accumulate a lot of egg whites. When combined with a selection of gluten free flours, psyllium and a generous swill of kombucha, one can have themselves a scrumptious addition to the breakfast feast.

300 g almond meal (although I have also been known to use a mix of gluten free flours including buckwheat, soy, rice, quinoa and banana)

55 g psyllium

1 tbs coconut flour

¾ tbs bicarb soda (baking soda)

½ tsp salt

4 tbs kombucha (or apple cider vinegar)

2 tsp honey (or rice malt syrup)

1 ½ c boiling water

6 egg whites

sesame and poppy seeds (optional)

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In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients (with the exception of the sesame and poppy seeds). In a separate bowl, whisk the egg-whites until they are white, fluffy and soft peaks can be formed. Stir the egg whites through the dry mixture until a bread crumb consistency is achieved. In a separate bowl again, mix together the kombucha, honey and boiling water. Add the wet ingredients into the flour/egg white mixture. Using a wooden spoon or strong spatula, stir vigorously until the fizzing has subsided and the mixture begins to form a firm but sticky dough.

Pour the poppy/sesame seeds into a shallow bowl. Divide the Wholistic Toast dough mixture into eight, approximately equal, portions. Roll each portion into a firm ball, dip into the seeds and then place onto an oiled tray. Repeat for the remaining seven portions.

Bake the rolls in the oven at 180oC for 20 – 25 minutes. Leave to cool.

When ready to serve that deified Dad in your life his man food breakfast, slice the roll in half and load it with all manner of “grow food (protein packed)” goodies. Hallelujah!!

Light It Up: Lantern Festival

For me, getting out and about in the winter evenings with my two Energizer-Bunny kids, can seem a little like standing in the front row of a fireworks display with a leashed dog suffering from thunderstorm induced, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder! Yet every year, when our friendly and highly enthusiastic Neighbourhood Association puts on its annual lantern festival, I package up my nightmares about K1 and K2 drowning in the local wetlands whilst trying to recover a floating fairy-light display and hit the streets for a night of fire-fueled, community action!

This year, the scene about our local shopping precinct was nothing short of flaming spectacular. In addition to reuniting with many of my hibernating-for-the-sub-zero-temperature-winter parental chums, there was also plenty of fundraising and entertainment activity to be enjoyed too. As K2 and I indulged in some Community Garden Herb Bread and lantern making frivolities, K1 and Scott took in the serenading sounds of a local and somewhat quirky folk band whilst dining out on an exceptionally long spiral of hot, fried potato.

When dusk hit the party locale, it was time to light up the lanterns and file forth for a jovial jaunt about the shores of our local wetlands – the venue for the illustrious, Chinese Dragon led, night-light walk. From graveyard gimmicks and floating sea chariots to caroling choirs and living-light escorts, no natural stretch of the waters edge was left untouched by the most animated and luminescent party to hit our town’s winter calendar. At the conclusion of the sojourn, replete in spirit…and gastronomically speaking too, we replaced flame for L.E.D and hit the bike path for a slow cycle back to the homestead, enjoying plenty of post-event debriefing anecdotes along the way!

For those keen to break the mid-winter slump and create a night walking venture of your very own, I present to you the instructions to make a simple lantern from materials found around the home. If you are feeling extra enthusiastic, the activity can easily be up-scaled to include children at your local playgroup or a covey of family or friends: a soul-warming seller!

Glass Jar Lantern

Resources:

1 large jar

super glue

scissors

paint brushes

scrap, coloured paper (such as old wrapping paper, tissue paper, craft paper etc.)

2 x paper clips (or some wire and pliers)

80 cm kitchen or garden twine (for around the top of the jar)

160 cm kitchen or garden twine (handle)

sand

1 tea light candle

matches

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Take the scrap, coloured paper and cut out pictures (from wrapping paper) or cut the paper into small rectangles (around 3 cm length and width). When you have cut enough paper to cover the outside of the jar, use a paint brush to cover the jar with a thin layer of super glue. Place the paper on the outside of the jar till covered. To ensure the paper is secured to the outside of the jar, paint over the top of the paper with another layer of super clue.

To secure the handle, loosely wrap the 80cm length of string atleast four times around the top of the jar just below the threaded lip (where the lid screws on). Thread one paper clip through all four layers of the string. The paper clip will be used to attach the handle so ensure that the paper clip is strong enough to hold the weight. Repeat for the second paper clip but on the opposite side of the jar. Pull the string tightly so that the paper clips cannot slip around the rim of the jar. Tie the two ends of the string together.

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To attach the handle, first fold the 160 cm length of string in half. Thread one end through one paper clip. Thread the other end through the other paper clip being careful not to twist the strings. Tie the strings together.

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Fill the jar with enough sand to cover the base to a depth of 2 cm. Place the tea light candle on top. When you are ready to go on your illuminating walk, light a match and drop it into the jar just above the candle. With some tricky maneuvering you should be able to catch the wick: happy lantern walking!

I’m a Barbie girl…

…in a Barbie world…life is plastic…it’s fantastic…

Well…you get the plastic-picture. Or do you?

Unless you’ve been sitting on the back shelf of a Mattel warehouse collecting dust, then you will probably know that last month was Plastic Free July. You know….that month when you take a few moments to examine your life – and realise how hard it would be to function without that highly versatile product of convenience – and then try to do your bit to curb the oncoming apocalypse that is a plastic-waste tidal wave.

Each year the world produces approximately 448 million tons of plastic, 40% of which is only used once. Given that it takes about 450 years for the stuff to biodegrade, that leaves a corporate-giant-sized amount of rubbish accumulating each year on the shorelines of developing countries and in rivers, oceans, and…wait for it…human flesh – in the form of nano-particles. With such massive figures staring us in the micro-plastic (…ever had a look at the ingredients on that favourite bottle of facial moisturiser?) face, mucking in to try and reduce ones own plastic consumption can easily seem like a futile and overwhelming exercise.

I myself am a professed, dyed in the HDPE (in particular) plastic fan. I mean, c’mon, how could you not fall in love with such a robust, rigid specimen that holds up to plenty of repeated bouts of rough and tumble in that spare room cupboard, garage and even freezer! However, when it comes to single-use, soft plastics – and all those hidden petrochemicals found in cleaning products, clothes, cosmetics and food packaging – I give them but a cursory, haughty glance followed by a dismissive SMS: Sorry. Mindful Shopping…that’s just not my style! Whilst I don’t pretend to have a fantastical imagination about ridding the world of all it’s poly-chemical woes, I do believe that life is my creation: I have a duty to my children to teach them how to play and live in a sustainable way.

So you’ve done the cloth shopping bags and you’re getting used to the idea of carrying around a re-usable coffee cup for your latte’s-to-go. Now you’re up for a bigger challenge. Well what better moment is there for a new, plastic-free challenge than that dashing, dine-in-date-night with the love of your life. From preparing the house to donning the glitzy garb, below are some additional tips to add to your expanding, plastic-free tool kit (purse or wallet).

C’mon guys and dolls. Let’s go for a ride:

Setting the romantic scene: for me, nothing sours a dine-in-date-night faster than seeing the kitchen and dining space in a state of disarray. Fortunately, after years of trying a number of commercial equivalents, I have cottoned onto a couple of house-hold cleaning winners to ward off that bitter edge to the night. That is, the trusty old vinegar and bi-carb soda. With the exception of our washing powder (the eco-friendly, bulk-buy brand that I get from a local food co-op), these are the only other two cleaning chemicals I use in the house. Scented with some orange peels or garden herbs (there are plenty of free recipes on the web), no floor, bench, window, wall or oven is safe from these super-chemicals (and kid safe) clutches. As for the table adornments; my kid’s nature displays and an elegant bees-wax candle arrangement set the scene perfectly.

Dolling up: before it’s time to brush your hair and undress everywhere (uh..hmmm), it might be worth taking a look at the ingredients in your favourite tube of eyeliner or men’s deodorant.

Generally speaking, any long winded chemical with the word poly at the front or -ene at the end is probably going to be a micro-bead plastic. Recently PCCP’s (Plastics in Cosmetics and personal Care Products) have taken center stage in the bimbo-plastics department. And for good reason. Ultimately – after they have escaped from water treatment plants, been taken up by a local river system and then used in agriculture – they wind up in your body, potentially wreaking havoc with your reproductive system and general cell functioning. Yikes!

Fortunately there are plenty of great products out there in the cosmetics and personal care market that are micro-plastic free…if you are willing to part with a pretty penny. Some of them even eschew the plastic packaging too, such as shampoo bars and bamboo toothbrushes. Otherwise there is always the rustic alternative that is make-up free….with a glass-packaged deodorant paste to match.

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Dressed to impress: continuing on with the micro-plastic theme is that of synthetic clothing. I am a devoted worshiper of the natural fibre and I am constantly raiding tip bins, clothing swap racks and charity shop collections in search of these scarce items. That said, I have plenty of polyester, rayon, spandex and man-made fleeces in my wardrobe and I’ll be darned (see what I did there?) if I’m letting go of my nylon stockings. Once again, the big, bad thing with plastic clothes is the nano-sized particles that break off during the wash and, at the grave stage of the life-cycle, disseminate through land fill. For me, when it comes to that daring, glamour-in-pink, date-night number I follow three rules: natural if it’s new, second-hand if it’s synthetic and always follow the care instructions!

Plating up: now we’re getting to the business end of the night. It’s time to get naked!

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Ok, ok…so maybe your not quite up for that! In fact, unless you’re willing to give up your day job (…no really…it’s a big time commitment), relinquishing food packaging completely is seriously hard work. Besides, not everyone is lucky enough to have a farmer’s market outlet and a whole-foods shop just around the corner. Also, for most busy families, there just aren’t enough hours (and energy) in the day to hand-make all the families key staples such as bread, yoghurt, snack food and home cooked meals each night. There has to be a trade off!

Now before you go all plastic-packaging-ice-queen (or king) on the lovely check-out person or manager at your local supermarket, there are some simple things you can do – in addition to your cotton veggie-huggers and re-usable shopping bags – that put a big smile on the environment’s dial. Firstly, if you have to purchase something that is wrapped in plastic, it can be helpful to think about what is going to happen to that packaging at the end of it’s life time: how recyclable is your packaging?

In an almost-naked nutshell, if you have to purchase an item that is packaged in a soft-plastic – which is not easily recycled and breaks down into mirco, water-polluting particles that re-enter the food chain and therefore your body – try to look for brands that have a zip-lock (or other), closure so that the packaging can be reused. For meat, nuts and other products purchased from the deli, ask if you can bring your own containers, otherwise you could consider offsetting your plastic packaging footprint by choosing a high-end product instead. Farms that identify as being organic or biodynamic adhere to strict practices that have a lower environment impact and therefore reliance on the petrochemical industry. Oh and one last thing, for those of you who love to pick-up the big and hunky, purchasing items in large quantities (such as a block of cheese and a family sized pack of crisps instead of the individually wrapped alternatives) increases the product to plastic surface-area-ratio and hence means less poly-carbon waste in your dustbin.

Feeling set to walk and talk the reduced plastic date-night challenge?

Then act like a star. Have some fun. And go and party! Ah ah ah yeah…the Aqua planet with love you!

Souper Getaway: in the Sunshine State with ‘Kin

“Into each day put: one teaspoon of good spirits, a dash of fun, pinch of folly and a spoonful of laughter” – anonymous. 

Surviving the subzero, July temperatures in our cool climate town is a monumental challenge at the best of times. Throw in a rental house with an EER of 0.5 and two active little sprouts addicted to the outdoors, and all of a sudden making it through the winter weeks can seem a little like pushing a wheelbarrow load of hefty pumpkins uphill with a flat tyre!

Fortunately for us, when the freezing weather tightens its icy tendrils about our abode, we apply a two-pronged, garden-fork bushwhack to see us through the mid year hump. Namely, some hearty, pumpkin themed, winter warming dishes and…

…a three week getaway with friends and family in Queensland.

After germination, our heirloom variety, second-hand family sedan hit the highway for a meandering journey north towards the radiant centre of our great nation. By the end of the three weeks, we had bartered some ‘Kin favourites, a case of wine and a posse of local cheeses in return for a bumper crop of home style cooking and fruitful banter. Such highlights included: Garden Bake and Games Night in Gosford; Souper dining in the bush at Mt. Crosby; the Geebung Pizza Oven Supreme; roast lunch with a view in Nambour; poolside scones with jam and cream in Bridgeman Downs and; familial crockpot catering in Mt. Clear. Of course no wining and dining trip to the sunshine state would ever truly be complete without that regal standard high tea at Mrs. O’s…

…and a fabaceous forage in her Castledine Garden.

After a captivating journey home through the vast expanse of inland NSW farmland, we alighted at a refurbished, rustic pub in Narrabri. Stealing time to reflect on our invigorating holiday while our humble and portable supper soup sat heating in the communal kitchen, my eyes fixed upon a fading poster tacked above the kitchen sink:

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A felicitous description of our solfull venture!

For anyone else hooked on the fleshy, orange love of ‘kin, I present to you my recipe for Dahl ‘n’ ‘Kin Soup: a home grown, eatable companion for the long haul, road trip to happiness. Enjoy!

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Dahl ‘n’ Kin Soup (Moong [or Mung] Dahl and Roast Pumpkin Soup)

When the mercury drops, our usual travelling meal of salad and tart is substituted for the the warming fare that is a hearty winter soup with home baked bread. As most hotels are decked out with a microwave, soup makes for a quick and frugal alternative to the truck stop or road side restaurant alternatives. I have even been known to throw in my metho-fueled Trangia stove…just in case!

½ medium sized pumpkin, peeled and cut into large chunks

1 cup Moong (Mung) Dahl

2 onions, diced

3 garlic cloves, finely diced

2 carrots, cubed

500 ml stock

2 tbs fresh thyme

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Place the pumpkin pieces on a tray. Roast them in the oven at 180oC for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse the dahl and place it into a saucepan with atleast 1 L water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes on medium heat. Drain through a fine colander.

In a large, heavy based saucepan, fry the onions and garlic over a medium heat until the onion is translucent. Stir in the carrot. Cook for another couple of minutes. With the exception of the thyme, stir in the remaining ingredients. Place a lid on top of the saucepan and leave the soup to simmer on low heat for 30 – 40 minutes. Check regularly to ensure the soup is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Puree’ the soup and stir through the fresh thyme.

For travelling purposes, place the soup into an appropriately sized casserole dish (or microwave safe plastic container). Upon arrival at your hotel, throw the soup into the microwave for 10 – 15 minutes then serve, with some crusty home baked bread, to your weary travelling companions: Souper ‘Kin for your dahling kin.

A liverly parte’: Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea

Cancer.

Not an easily digested word at even the most convivial of morning tea gatherings.

By the end of 2019, over 140,000 Australians will be diagnosed with some form of cancer. For almost 140 people (50,000 per year), today may be the last time they are able to bequeath to their loved ones the precious and intangible commodity that is joyous memories of good times past. With such overwhelming numbers of morbidity and mortality, one would have to search hard to find a community that remains untouched by this transformative and, most often, terminal illness.

I met Kaye during my second year at university in the dining room of our self-catered, college of residence. United by our love for creating mass meals to feed a hungry hoard of college rugby players and fabricating gourmet delicacies for our dining-in-double-date-night, we became joined at the kitchen hip. Over the next three years, our friendship would see us through the euphoric highs of new jobs, study scholarships, elaborate dinner parties and outrageously daring girly days out. Together we would also weather the emotionally challenging periods of intimate relationship separations and house mate woes. When I left town to pursue a teaching career in the U.K., Kaye was well on her way to becoming a legal superstar, having just secured a prestigious position as a Judge’s Associate to a Justice of the High Court.

At the age of 26, Kaye was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. By the time I was able to acquire teaching relief from my school and fly home, she was in the last stages of this virulent and fatal form of the illness and was but a shadow of her confident and glamorous self. On that last afternoon together we wiled away the hours reminiscing about those decadent dining days of college years past. We laughed. We cried. And then we cried some more until it was time for me to say goodbye to one of the most special people in my life.

Last month, on a fresh and wintery Friday morning, a jaunty crowd of parents and their children descended upon K2’s former Playschool teacher’s idyllic residence. United by our love for this esteemed and affable pedagogue and in support of a Playschool family who face the daily challenge of living with childhood leukemia, we conversed our way through the morning hours. By a tick past midday, no tea pot or tray of first-class scones (made by the host herself) was left unconsumed and the Cancer Council donation box was burgeoning with funds.

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For those willing and able to host their own “Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea” bash, it’s a great way to connect people about a great cause. For others, keen to attend the event as a liverly parte’ participant instead – and to avoid competing with an extremely accomplished scone making host – then I present to you the recipe for my own addition to last months shindig: Chicken Liver Pate’.

Replete with plenty of flavour from both my garden (herbs) and the butcher’s handy work, this addition to the standard cheese platter is set to enrich the red blood cells (plenty of iron) and be an offally good crowd pleaser.

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Chicken Liver Pate’ (Makes two (1 cup sized) ramekins)

As I have a reputation for being both a game and offally good customer, whenever I have the desire to make a batch of chicken liver pate’ my local butcher is more than happy to place a custom order. Failing the butcher approach, one can always try his or her luck at one of the big supermarkets. Sometimes they have some available in the “pet food” compartment of the meat fridge!

Ingredients:

300g chicken livers

50 g butter

1 tbs single malt whiskey

pinch nutmeg

salt and pepper

Butter covering:

100g butter

sage leaves

To prepare the livers, cut away any green tinges and remove all white connective tissue. Cut the livers into large chunks. On a low heat and in a small, heavy-based saucepan, melt the butter for the covering. Leave to cool and to separate.

Heat the butter in a heavy based fry-pan. Flash fry the livers until they have just turned a golden-brown colour. They should feel springy and soft when touched with a finger. Pour the brandy over the livers and light with a match. When the flame dies out, quickly transfer the livers to a bowl. Add the nutmeg. Puree’ to achieve a smooth texture. Season with salt and pepper. Taste test. Add a little more butter if the mixture seems a too dry. Decant into two ramekins (1 cup sized). Using a spatula, smooth out the top ensuring there are no peaks or large dents in the mixture: oxidation will occur.

Place a couple of sage leaves in the middle of each ramekin. Being careful to ensure the whey (white residue) remains in the saucepan – this will leave white spots on the top of the pate’ – pour half the melted butter (covering) over the liver pate’ in the ramekin. Repeat for the second ramekin. Ensuring that the sage leaves are submerged beneath the butter. Refrigerate till the butter has set hard on top.

When you are ready to attend your liverly parte’, serve your delectable addition to the fare with a loaf of that homemade, sourdough pumpernickel and a wheel of top quality Brie or Camembert.

Oh…and don’t forget to throw plenty of tips into that collection jar: it counts!

The Magic of Faraway Screens

“Nothing like having a bucket of water flung over you to make you see things as they really are.” – Enid Blyton.

Say the B word in front of my mother, and if I wasn’t fast enough to slippery-slip out the back door into the vast expanse of Enchanted Eucalypt-Wood that surrounded our diary farm, then my “Bored” self would be loaded up with a pile of dirty jobs to rival Dame Washalot on a heavy duty day!

Unless you’ve had your head in the clouds, then every Joe (Bessie), Dick and Fanny knows that too much time spent peering into an interactive device window is not good for our children’s bodies and brains and can send even the most angelic pixie into a raging fit. However, despite the litany of public health campaigns – surfeit of popular psychology texts, damning documentaries and overtly published longitudinal studies – detailing the insidious nature of excessive interactive (in particular) screen usage, the default mode for many families is to whack a device in front of little Silky the moment she shows even a fairy dust sized hint of being bored. Why?…

Because in this modern world of time poor parenting, it’s easy. And everyone else is doing it too!

Since catapulting my own kids out of the house on a rather mundane weekend…post-school afternoon…school holiday period…(you get the idea) would likely land them underneath a hotted up (probably stolen!) urban speed racer or see them being used as a guinea pig in a rather dubious neighbours’ crystal meth lab, Scott and I have had to get creative in how we teach our kids to occupy their spare time. For those keen to garner some secrets from nearly a decade of low-screen-time-living life, I present to you our compiled works of The Magic of Faraway Screens:

Topsy-Turvy Land: from years of having to survive on a tight, single-income budget, we’ve turned the concept of a toy on it’s head. Litter-ally. From egg-carton walls and tin-can tunnels to junk box kingdoms and up-cycled wooden block garages, if there is a creation to be made then no recycling bin is safe.

Land of Spells: when it comes to keeping ourselves sane during those long-haul car trips to our rellies’ houses, we tend to cast our in-cabin-activity wand wide. When the traditional car games – number plate cricket, eye-spy, phonetic alphabet, rhyming words etc. – die a supernatural death, there is always a plethora of music, audio-books, colouring activities and good ol’ fashioned window watching to disappear the hours.

Land of Dreams: kids need sleep. And lot’s of it. One of the easiest ways we have found to ensure our little angels get their full 10-13 hour complement of shut eye, starting at 7.30pm, is to run them ragged. Plenty or reading, open-ended playtime, reading,  commuting by bike (scooter, foot and skateboard)…oh…and did I mention reading… are great ways to burn up that excess fuel.

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Land of Do-As-You-Please: giving kids plenty of opportunities to learn new skills not only keeps their minds and bodies active, it also provides a more resilient scaffold from which to weather social bumps and self-confidence knocks during those raging-hormone teenage years. Many of the extra-curricular clubs we are a part of are relatively inexpensive as they are community run: there is a strong volunteer base. When we do choose to spend up big, such as for music lessons and private tennis coaching, we have one rule: they must stick with it!

Land of Toys: thanks to a well stocked, local Toy Library I can count on just one hand the number of times I have actually ponied up the dough for a new toy. When we do unleash our purchasing powers upon a nearby retailer, we pay top dollar for an open ended toy (such as Lego, model cars and plastic animals) or a family game that spans a wide range of age groups and that can easily be be re-homed when we are done.

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Land of Magic Medicines: sometimes the only way to enjoy that enspiriting potion of coffee with a friend, is to take the kiddies along too. Preparing a small busy bag – replete with match box cars, colouring pencils and paper, read-it-yourself-books, activity fun packs and playdough – to the cafe, yields magical results. I am able to drink my cuppa and relish in some much needed, uninterupted adult time too.

Land of Tempers: I would love to say that removing interactive screens from your children’s home life is a cure all for those unsolicited tantrums…but then I’d be shipped off to Dame Slaps’ school for telling lies. When, however, that mega-wobbly does come our way a short five to ten minute session in the bedroom with some engaging, quiet time activities – puzzle, picture book, solo-board game, drawing materials – is all that is needed to trip the fuse on that overloaded brain circuit.

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Land of Presents: our family is a great lover of the consumable gift. In lieu of the usual endowment of toys and books, our children have received skills lessons (fishing and mountain biking), yearly passes to favourite attractions, experiences (zoo trips and train rides) and cash. Such legacies have often paid invaluable dividends: many hours of quality memories retold through the mediums of writing, drawing and imaginative play.

The end?

Not quite.

Having laid good foundations for the robust construction of those neural highways to the higher-order-human-brain command centre – the pre-frontal cortex – we now feel slightly more prepared for what we expect to be a rather rugged but adventurous sequel…

The Folklore of the School-Mandated-Technology Tree.