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.

Avast…it’s a paarghty!

Ahoy there parental buccaneers!

Searching for the treasure chest that is an affordable, pirate-themed kids party?

Then it’s time to throw sensibilities to the wind, batten down the winter-garb hatches and climb aboard the cheap-kids-birthday-bash ship for a few hours of rollicking piratical action!

When it comes to coveting those hard earned diamonds and doubloons, there are plenty of play-center venues standing at the ready to purloin a sizable portion of your hard earned booty. Being cut from the traditional, whole-family party (as opposed to the more popular drop and free-babysitting-run variety) cloth, Scott and I have become old salts when it comes to keeping the largess of party going crew on an even keel without going overboard and hence sending the family savings to the bottom of Davy Jones’ Locker.

Here’s how we charmed our chums at K2’s pirate themed birthday bonanza last month:

Set sail for an island destination: since Scott and I got a little sea sick at the idea of having thirty odd, overly exuberant guests descend upon the family home, we opted for an offsite, peninsula setting instead: plenty of free BBQ hot plates and public park equipment to swig that excess energy.

Cast all hands on deck: as Captain at the helm I see it as my duty to assign the hard work to the crew. From designing activities to cake decorating, not a single job was left untouched by my diligent crew of child-sized, dab hands.

Invitations

Raised the Jolly Roger…early: weekend time is precious for many families, so I tend to flag notice of a party atleast three weeks in advance. As for the design…well I’m a hard task master. So as to capitalise on my children’s’ creative drawing minds and hone those fine motor skills, I eschewed the pre-made versions of party invitations and made my children execute the designs instead: a great way to kill a couple of hours on a slow, post school afternoon.

Served plenty of grub: replete with cheese platters (including that infamous Waltsana Matilda bread), Scurvy sCures (vegetable skewers), Prisoner Phalanges (snags) and salads to boot, not a single belly was left rumbling…including the adults.

Donned the pirate garb: you can’t very well have a pirate themed party if you’re not going to get into the privateering mood yourself! So just in case some of our party going parents forgot to read the memo…my clever clogs kiddies planned a crafty activity that saw all attendees decked out in a paper hat and telescope: plenty of up-cycling fun was had by all.

Sea Shanties

Bashed out the sea shanties: no pirate gathering would be complete without a bout of vocal dechorus. Both K1 and K2 put their thinking caps on to come up with bucaneering versions of some traditional nursery rhymes. Namely, Old Captain Pugwash Had a Crew (to the tune of Old Macdonald) and If You’re Happy and You Know it Shout…Arrrgh…Raise your cutlass…Walk the plank…well you get my sea-faring drift!

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Rotted the teeth: and let them eat cake…lots of it. That traditional, Woman’s Weekly Pirate Cake, went down the hatch faster than a cannon ball set upon enemy marauders.

Dolled out the dough: so as to keep in good favour with the piratical peers, K2 ensured all guests were paid well for their services: a family sized cache of hand made, Golden Treasure Cookies.

Hoarded the treasure: in the interests of of avoiding the accumulation of unwanted and often poorly manufactured cheap gifts, K2 requested a bequest of gold coins to be placed in a hand made treasure box instead. The largess of cash was spent on a new puzzle…filling plenty of weekend, quiet-activity-time hours.

Land ahoy! Three hours and a little over $100 dollars later, and it’s was time to reground our jubilant crew of filibusters and send them on their merry way home.

As for my kids consensus on the birthday bash…

X marks the spot!

Pumped Kin? Vote 1: Election Day Curry

Like most archetypal Saturday mornings, the 18th May began with its usual scone fueled, first-day-of-the-weekend table centered banter and excitement. Unlike other ordinary Saturdays however, the conclusion of its natural twenty-four-hour cycle – based on statistics collected by a number of polling companies – was expected to bring with it a change of government: a new leader of our great, sun-burnt land.

Voting is compulsory in Australia – a non-trivial fine being issued to those failing to cast a ballot – and can be achieved in one of three ways: postal voting by mail; pre polling (up to three weeks early) at an official booth; and on Election Day itself. Although the majority of Aussies still come out in droves on the nominated Saturday, over the last twelve years (five elections) the popularity of pre polling has rapidly increased. This election, over 4 million (of the 16.4 million voters) people opted for this method of ballot lodgement. By the early 2020s, the percentage of citizens choosing to pre poll is expected to increase to more than 50% of the voting populous. While formal reasons for the rise in early voting popularity are yet to be examined – this data is not collected at pre-polling booths – anecdotally it would seem that convenience (casually walking past a pre polling booth) and reduced queue times feature highly in voters pre match game plan. This year’s spike in early voting interest saw a number of concerned politicians make a call to the Special Minister, Alex Hawke, to mount an inquiry into early voting with particular attention being placed on the effect it has on campaigning, democratic process and AEC (Australian Electoral Commision) spending on logistics.

In addition to it’s being a chance to exercise ones democratic voting rights as an Australian citizen, Election Day is also a chance to socialise with some like minded compatriots over a sugary treat or snag. Traditionalists might even go as far as to say that it would be unconstitutional to see a polling booth bereft of a cake stall or “Democracy Sausage” sizzle. Henceforth, for many community groups and schools – lesser known parties in the pre polling debate – the decrease in election day numbers comes as an added blow to their already forlorn ledgers. For schools in particular – many of which no longer have the volunteer force to maintain active fundraising P and C (Parents and Citizens) Committees and canteens – Election Day is an easier way to rake in those much needed dolleros to pay for, in my children’s case, playground equipment, chess tutors, library supplies, breakfast clubs and the second hand uniform shop…just to name a few.

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Locked and bike-trailer loaded: Pumped Kin Election Day Dhal and other cake and bric-a-brac stall donations.

Election Day attendance still not receiving your vote of confidence? Well as a last ditch attempt to campaign for the community cause, I present to you a next-election-day teaser: my recipe for an election day cash cow, Pumpkin Dhal…or better know to the hundreds of voting citizens passing by our stall…

Pumped Kin Election Day Dhal

The first incarnation of this dish – using donated sweet potatoes – made its community debut two years ago when I was charged with leading an intimate team of volunteers to Curry Day victory. As a dish to whip up in bulk for a hungry hoard or served alongside other family curry delights, this seasonal pumpkin favourite is sure to warm the hearts and minds of even the most evangelical extremists. As for the seeds…well they can saved, stored and replanted in the spring.

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Seed saving: rinsed and spread out on a paper towel to dry.

1 onion, diced

1 garlic clove, finely diced

1 thumb sized piece of ginger, finely diced

1 ½ tsp grnd turmeric

1 ½ tsp grnd cumin

½ medium sized pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and diced into chunks

600 ml stock

250 g split peas or red lentils

80 g of spinach leaves

1 c frozen peas

salt and pepper

Fry the onion, garlic and ginger together in a large heavy based pot until the onion is transparent. Add the spices and fry till fragrant (about 1 minute). Add the pumpkin and mix thoroughly. Add the split peas and stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 – 30 minutes or until the split peas are cooked through and slightly mushy. Stir through the spinach and the peas.

Multiply the recipe by four to make a crock pot sized volume to serve to your hungry hoard of election goers. Vote 1: enjoy it dhal!

The Queen’s Toast

The Queens’ Toast

“ Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble”

– quote from the Weird Sisters, Macbeth.

In time with the rising sun, we three disheveled creatures awoke from our natural slumber to the smell of birnh’m wood. Leerily emerging from our secluded, nylon cave, we were presently confronted with a spectral sight: heavy autumnal mist blanketing the grassy heath with it’s chilling tendrils. In the distance we spied the source of the smoky scent. Something wicked this way comes.

And then they were gone. In one fell swoop K1 and K2 had fallen to the clutches of pyromaniacal sorcery. Coming deep from within the enveloping forest, I could hear the high-pitched, infantile sounds of excited hocus-pocus ricocheting about the clearing.

Finally they emerged. Arms laden with twigs, bark and an array of small, leaf laden branches, my children – unkempt and rather a sorry sight – were ready to get the fire burning and cauldron-billy bubbling. While my enchanted duo tended to the roaring flames and toasted away to their victorious venture, I set about conjuring my own comestible potion so as to exorcise the rumbling beast emanating from the pits of our hungry tums.

Unless one has been living in the Medieval ages of the 11th century, it is clear from the get go that Lady Macbeth (and her irresolute husband) is toast. Yet for generations the treachery of this ambitious woman’s quest for power, coupled with the beguiling charisma of the Weird Sisters, has lured many – adult and child alike – toward the rapturous repository of Shakespearean literature.

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Our camping trip, last holidays, saw the conclusion of our lengthy Macbeth trancefiction. From an abridged children’s retelling and audio books to wacky re-castings and feminist takes on the text, K1 and K2 were saturated with good stories, great intrigue and fabulous Macbeth themed seasonal cooking.

I hereby present to you my bewitching recipes for The Queen’s Paste…and for a covetous rival to that regally crowned, Saturday Morning staple (the scone), Trangia Bannocks.

 

The Queen’s Paste (Quince Paste)

The milk of human kindness…or a villainous witch? Agnes (one of the Weird Sisters; Third Witch – Jackie French) is a sagacious woman skilled in the art of herbaceous panaceas and in bestowing upon the regal heirs the fruits of nightmarish wisdom. For those willing to heed Agnes advice – avoid digestion at dusk: nightmares ensure – the Queen’s Paste (quince paste) goes down a treat with all the yummy things in morning autumn life.

8 – 10 quinces, picked from the source (my sister-in-laws winery)

sugar

water

1 lemon (optional)

Brush the furry coating off the quinces using a nail brush or damp cloth. Chop the quinces into chunks and place in a large cauldron (pot) with ½ c water. If using, add the juice and rind of the lemon. With the lid on and, over a medium heat, bring the fruit to simmering point. Reduce heat to low and simmer till soft (30 – 45 minutes). Puree’ the fruit (you can freeze at this stage if you wish to save some for later in the year). Weigh the fruit. Return to the cauldron. For every 500g of fruit, add an equal amount of sugar. Stir to combine. Simmer on a low heat until the fruit is a deep red hue (1 ½ – 2 hours). Stir occasionally to ensure the fruit is not burning on the bottom (don’t worry if it does…you can always tell people you are keeping with the fire-burning theme). Bottle into sterilised jars and serve atop your Queens Toast…or as part of a cheese platter at your next regal-esque dinner party.

The Queen’s Toast: Trangia Bannocks (makes 6 – 8 bannocks)

If I wasn’t encamped about a regional pool deck, my teenage weekend hours were tumultuously passed tearing down the white water river passages of the Murray and Mitta-Mitta rivers. It was during these years of secluded bivouacking with my other intrepid, Duke of Edinburgh kayaking cronies, that the Trangia became my most esteemed camping tool. Comprising several pots and a dual purpose lid, this light weight, aluminum stove is a must for any keen campers cooking collection.

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1 c rolled oats (or quick cooking oats)

1 c self raising flour

60 g butter…guesstimated

2 tbs fresh herbs (chives, thyme, rosemary etc.), finely chopped

2 tbs milk powder

½ water

salt and pepper to taste

Butter or oil to cook

Mix together the oats, flour, salt and pepper. Rub in the butter. Add the herbs and milk powder. Add enough water to form a dough (add a little more water if too dry). Divide the dough into 6 – 8 portions. Roll each portion into a ball.

Assemble the Trangia to use as a fry pan. Set the stopper for the fuel cup to ½ – ¾ open. Place the stopper firmly on top of the fuel cup. When ready to cook, light the fuel and place the fry pan attachment on top. Heat the butter or oil. Take one portion of the dough and flatten in the palm of your hand to make a round shape about ¼ inch thick. Place one or two bannocks on the fry pan. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes on each side and then flip. Repeat with the remaining portions of the dough.

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Abracadabra! Serve your enchanting elixir to your hungry camping hoard topped with some Queen’s Paste and a generous serve of local brie (or other soft cheese) with a side of seasonal apples and pears.

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