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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‘Gette Fueled Camping

“I promise that I will do my best, be true to myself and develop my beliefs, to serve the queen and my community, to help other people and to keep the guide law”

– The girl guide promise.

The Lady Stradbroke Cup was the defining event on my childhood, Girl Guide calendar. So revered was this competition – by us and all those units in neighbouring boroughs – that it defined our weekly activities for most of the year.

From knot tying and gadget making to campfire cook-offs and canvas tent assembly, week by week our unit would gather at the local hall to do our best and cultivate our skills in the fine art of self control: many a charcoaled meal dish and collapsed bivouac. Whilst our redoubtable and jolly leader, Lyndy, had an outwardly unflappable mien, her competitive spirit was fierce. To return home with anything less that a podium position flag – a prized adornment for the sparsely decorated hall walls – would be seen as a crime against queen and community.

The competition itself was always one fueled with anticipation and great excitement: a chance to put our polished skills to the test. However for me, it was always Lyndy’s farm-house, pre-practice camp-out that took top billing. When all the pitching, pegging and bed-rolling was complete, ponchoed up and huddled about a robustly built bonfire, our selected patrol would belt out some traditional Australian folk songs and toast our way to sugar laden victory via the humble marshmallow on a stick.

Taking advantage of some unseasonably warm…above 10oC…weather, last month saw the kids and I throwing modern conveniences to the cooling southerly winds and heading for the hills in a last ditch effort to enact a girl guide esque camping venture before winter. Putting those well trained little hands to the test, K1 and K2 adeptly assembled our cosy, four man tent before setting their pyro spirits upon the campfire. While my little workers fashioned a scorching set of cooking coals, I did what gardening mothers do best: prepared a ‘Gette Fuelled Salad to pad the insides of my camping crew’s ravenous tums.

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‘Gette Fuelled Salad (Serves 4 rapacious campers)

If you want to do it the old Girl-Guide-school way, then you’re gonna have to start your cooking ventures early: atleast an hour before you wish to use the hot plate. From my earliest camping memories, I have always started a fire by creating a kindling tee-pee about some easy to light fuel (bark or paper).

Once the fire is searingly hot – due to the energetic commitment of your kids in keeping the flame burning on smaller sticks and thick bark gathered from home – you can throw some logs upon the flames to create a slower burn and, ultimately, the hot coals more suited to cooking.

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Of course, there is always that public gas BBQ if you’d rather take advantage of some modern conveniences!

3 – 4 courgettes, halved lengthwise (or width wise if you are using large courgettes like my heirloom variety)

250g haloumi

mixed salad leaves, sliced or torn into large chunks

garden herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, oregano and chives), enough to make a couple of tablespoons when finely chopped)

Dressing:

½ c pot set or greek yoghurt

2 tbs fresh taragon, dill or feathery fennel tops

1 tbs apple cider vinegar

1 tbs olive oil

Oil the hot plate

Heat the hot plate over the hot coals to sterilise the surface…you never know who was there before you arrived (such as some very generous campers who thought our fire pit could benefit from the addition of some errant cans: disposed of responsibly upon our return home!). Place some oil over the surface and lay, cut side down, the courgettes. Cook for 10 minutes or so (depending on how hot the plate) and then flip. Place the slab of haloumi onto the coolest part of the hot plate.

Flip after a couple of minutes…or when you smell the alluring aromas of a nicely toasted curd. Leave to cool until you can handle with ease. Meanwhile, finely dice the herbs and throw in with the salad leaves. Slice the courgettes on an angle. Dice the haloumi into ½ – 1 cm cubes. Toss together. Serve, drizzled with dressing, alongside a slice of your best  homemade, Waltsana Matilda Sourdough Bread and some bangers. Dig in!

Of course, no camping trip would ever be complete without the Lady Stradbroke Cup standard marshmallow…bread…sausage…and anything else you can put on a stick…toasting session upon my D.I.Y toasting attachment.

Dining out on the Free’way Beet’

I’ve been everywhere man, I’ve been everywhere…

Well…after three solid weeks gallivanting about the the Victorian countryside…that’s what it feels like anyhow!

Gracing the freeway beat with our holiday centered presence was a rare treat for my dairy-farming, childhood family of six. With water systems to manage; cows to milk; and pastures to prepare, graze and monitor; coordinating an extended trip away was a monumental feat of assiduous planning and execution. Despite these seemingly insurmountable challenges, our Tetris style packing regime would only be complete when the deified, 28 L red-lidded Esky was firmly locked and food-loaded into the luggage hold. Replete with sangas, homemade biscuits and on-road snacks, we kids would guzzle our way across deserts bare and through mountain air until we’d reached our ultimate destination: the home cooked comfort of a family relative’s abode.

Today, when it comes to making my own family’s gastronomic travel plans, I’m a chip off the old wooden-chopping-board block. Eschewing the busy freeway feedlots in favour of the more bucolic, quiet park scenes, has proven – over our frequent family road trip years – to be a winning move for both the wallet and the driving wits. It has also been a great way to enjoy some good ol’ fashioned banter with the locals and to inject some much needed funds and energy into some of those small, almost forgotten bypassed towns: Scott and I take it in turns to peruse the local shops and buy the odd cafe treat or handmade craft.

This Easter holidays, our e-free travelling escapades saw us circumnavigating the wondrous Garden State. From the seaside views of East Gippsland to the rugged plains of the North-East, no stretch of bitumen was ever bereft of lively sites, conversation…or that iconic Esky brimming with sustenance. Whilst many variations on the salad theme have tried bullying their way into the insulated lining of our travelling food bag, it’s the Freekeh and Beet salad that has won the hearts and rumbling stomachs of the family.

Comprising the last of the my summer garden produce (plus a few regular herbaceous additions), I present to you a filling and nutritious salad to serve alongside your best tart or zucchini slice: for your on-road delectation.

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Freekeh and Beet Salad…with some of Grandma’s super yummy Chicken Tart

Oh…of course no family Esky bag would ever be complete without an injection of grandmotherly love: my mum’s mini gingerbread men and hundreds and thousands cookies.

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Freekeh and Beetroot Salad (serves…hmmm…not as many hungry bellies as one would like…there’s always room for that cafe treat!)

3 medium beets

1 carrot

2 sticks celery, cut into thin lengths and sliced, on the diagonal, into chunks

¼ c freekeh (quinoa, millet, barley or a mix of all four)

1 apple, diced

2 tbs mint, finely diced

1 c salad leaves, finely sliced

¼ c currants (saltanas)

¼ c almonds, chopped

Dressing:

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tbs maple syrup

¼ c lemon juice

¼ c olive oil

Before you start: gumboot up the troops and get their garden mits prepped for an end of season harvest clearance: a bounty of produce.

Recover the beets from the burgeoning basket. Slice them in half and place in a saucepan filled with enough water to cover the roots. Bring the water to boiling. Simmer on a medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Drain. Cool. Refrigerate till cold. Meanwhile, rinse the freekeh grains with cold water. Place the grains in a small saucepan with ½ cup water. Cook on low heat, with the lid on until all the water is absorbed (about 20 minutes). Leave to cool slightly with the lid on. Refrigerate till cold. I usually cook the beets and freekeh the day before travelling.

To make the salad, grate the beets and carrot into a large, hard-plastic container or into a ceramic casserole dish. Stir in the remaining ingredients. In a separate jar, mix together the dressing ingredients and cap firmly with a lid.

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When you arrive at your tranquil park, shake the dressing and pour over the salad. Serve – to your cabin fevered hoard – alongside your best “grow food” (tart or zucchini slice) companion. You just car..n’t beet it!

Dressed to Arrest

“You have the right to remain silent…” – excerpt from the Miranda Rights warning.

Farm safety. Not a topic that many who knew me in a previous, outlawdish cowgirl life would feel I was qualified to pontificate about. However after four months in solitary, maternity-leave confinement, I was craving a chance to break the silence and perform an out-of-subject-teaching-area classroom hijack.

Whether it was the wild, what-not-to-do-on-a-farm tales or the over accentuated Aussie accent, my series of Farmwise Forum lessons stole the children’s attention just long enough to see out the twenty minute sessions of die-dactic tutelage and realise an invaluable booty: a pair of “un-local” kindred spirits.

Like us, Leanne and Jack – a Mountie (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) family and the organisers of the forum – were used to having to squash life into a couple of suitcases and re-acclimatise to the idiosyncrasies of new and sometimes hard-to-crack-into codes of community rule. Upon learning of our temporary transition into a close-knit rural Canadian town, our courageous new cronies took us under their experienced outsider wings. For the next eighteen months, I, Scott and baby K1 would regularly be treated to guided, sight-seeing tours of some nearby – within 3 hours drive! – natural treasures: the desert coulee’s of Writing on Stone National Park and the township of Waterton (based at the foot of the Rocky Mountains)…to name just a few.

As with most pious, agrarian Albertan communities, Thanksgiving is a big deal. Drawing the short straw for the public holiday shift, Jack landed border patrol duties for almost the entirety of the harvest celebration. As if having a sixth sense for the mouthwatering aromas of a perfectly cooked, prized Hutterite turkey, Jack walked through the front door. After unbuckling his mid-calf length black leather boots, he flopped in enervated fashion, into his seat placed at the head of the dining room table. After a restorative non-alcoholic glass of on-duty bubbly, he then regaled us with tales about his day of munitions takings. In the interests of hustling to the chase, I thing it was fair to say that the sleepy border town police station’s stronghold had realised a sizable investment of purloined, semi-automatic weapons seized from cowboys hoping to take advantage of a reduced, vacation day police force.

Fare-welling our now familial friends was always going to bear a heavy emotional load. So as to soften the parting blow, when our Canadian venture came to it’s post-doctoral-contract end, Jack presented Scott with a collectible gift: his felted woolen Forces jacket…from a previous life as an intrepid fighter pilot. For almost eight years of subzero, winter morning cycling commutes to work, Scott has donned the formidable blue blazer and successfully kept out the icy temperatures as well as seen off some rather aggressive, bike-hating bullying tactics by many a curmudgeon car driver.

Inspired by Dad’s Canadian habiliments – and an overindulgence in criminally themed Lego blocks and books – a recent fancy dress party saw me raiding my scrap materials bin for a selection of old clothes and used fabrics that would see K1 and K2 dressed to arrest…or be arrested.

For those keen on seizing the prize for the best of the fancy dressed, my whistle-blowing secrets for environmentally conscious Cops and Robber Costumes:

Resources:

2 x pair of jeans (thank goodness for Jean Therapy!)

1 x long sleeve collared cotton shirt

1 x black T-shirt

1 x old, black (or another dark colour) business shirt (adult sized)

1 x baseball cap

1 x flourescent vest

2 x belts

elastic

yellow, nonstretch fabric

old, white singlet

blue permanent marker or paint pen

newspaper

white paper

Handcuffs, baton, duffle bag and mask:

Almost all of this part of the costume comes from a single business shirt.

Handcuffs:

Cut the cuffs off the business shirt. Cut both the length of buttons (starting from the collar) and the length of button holes. Starting from the top most side of the first button, cut into button strips of approximately equal lengths ensuring that you snip just in front of the proceeding button. Repeat for the button holes.

Join one button hole strip and one button strip by zig-zag stitching together the two strips at the points farthest from the button/button hole. Repeat for the remaining strips. Just like Christmas ring bunting, join together each button hole and matching button to make a length of 6 – 8 rings. Attach to the cuffs using button-less strip.

Baton:

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Roll up several sheets of newspaper to make a paper baton and secure with a rubber band. Cut one of the business shirt sleeves down the main seam and lay out flat. Place the baton on top. Leave 1.5cm of fabric at each end of the baton to stitch. Cut a rectangle of fabric that will be large enough to encase the baton (including a 3 cm seam allowance on the long edge). Stitch (right sides together), using a 1.5 cm seam allowance, around the outside of the rectangle, leaving open one short end. Turn to the right side. Thread the newspaper baton into the fabric sleeve. Turn over the top one centimeter of fabric at the open end. Press and stitch closed.

Duffle bag: on a white piece of paper, draw a large (block lettered dollar sign). Pin this onto the yellow fabric. Cut around the outside. On one of the side panels of the business shirt (front), trace around a side plate (of 18 – 20 cm). This will form the base of the duffel bag. Calculate the circumference of the plate and then add 3 cm for a seam allowance. For the body section of the duffle bag, create a paper template using the previously measured circumference (plus seam allowance) as the width. Choose a height length that will allow you to use almost all the back of the business shirt. Pin the template to the back of the shirt. Cut out.

Pin the dollar sign to the middle front of the main body piece. Slowly stitch around the outside of the applique. Pin together the body section of the duffle bag (right sides facing) at the raw edges of the longest sides (height). Using a marker pen, place a mark at the raw edge 6 cm and 8 cm from the top. This will form the casing of the finished product. Using a 1.5 cm seam allowance, stitch down the side of the fabric until you reach the first marked point. Leave the two centimeter gap un-stitched. Stitch the remaining length. Press the seam open. Fold two centimeters of the top edge over to the wrong side. Press. Fold over another four centimeters ensuring that the folded edge does not cover the hole. Stitch together near the base of the folded fabric to form the casing.

To attach the base (don’t mind my tracing error), pin the base and the body together. Right sides facing. Stitch using a 1.5cm seam allowance. Turn the bag in the correct way. Cut a few pieces of string or a cord and thread through the casing by attaching a safety pin to the end.

Mask:

Measure the circumference of your child’s head. Get creative and sketch a mask template (without holes) onto a white piece of paper equivalent to the circumference of your child’s head. Ensure the thickness of the mask at the back of the head is large enough to encase the elastic. Cut out and pin onto the other sleeve of the business shirt. Cut out two masks. Pin the elastic between the two mask pieces at the back. Using a close, zig-zag stitch, go around the outside of the mask. Hold the mask up to your child’s face to approximate the eye holes. Draw, cut out and stitch around the inside of the holes using, again, a close zig-zag stitch.

Police Shirt and Cap, Prisoner Shirt:

Police shirt: once again, get your creative, police badge drawing skills on and create a star shaped template out of white paper. Pin onto the same yellow fabric used to make the dollar sign. Cut out. Place onto the cotton, collared shirt at the breast pocket and stitch around the outside.

Cap: draw a rectangle (wide enough to sit on the front of the cap) onto a white piece of paper. Pin onto the yellow fabric. Cut out. Write the police departments name on the front in paint pen. Pin onto the hat at the center-front. Stitch around the outside.

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Prisoner Shirt: draw (onto a white piece of paper) and cut out a rectangle large enough to sit on the front of the black prisoner shirt. This is the prisoner identification code. Pin this to an old singlet. Cut out. Write the police department at the top using paint pen and then the prisoner identification code below. Pin this to middle-front of the black shirt. Stitch.

Your once darling children are now dressed and ready to steal…or arrest the Fancy Dress show!

‘Gette Dressed in Cream

At the age of four, I developed Post Traumatic White-Dress Disorder.

On the morning of my cousins wedding I had awoken even earlier than usual. Knowing that my mother had committed to a pre-wedding day all-nighter, I was especially keen to see the results of her sewing bender.

Like all of her previous creations past, my mother’s finished garment was nothing short of exquisite: love at first sight. From the mid-thigh length, two tiered skirt to the crescent shaped collar and gathered sleeves, every part of the creamy-white cotton lace dress embodied princess-esque fineries. Adorned with a matching pink sash and child sized fascinator – made from fabric off-cuts and up-cycled buttons – I was ready…at 5.30am…for a day of confetti throwing and champagne popping gaiety.

By 10.30am the four year old fidgets had set in. While dad finished milking the last of the post-calving herd and mum grappled my older brother, Charlie, into his Paige Boy vestments, I decided to put my eager energy to good use. Recovering a couple of recently fallen eucalyptus branches from the dew swept ground – and taking great care to avoid the cow pats – I slowly began coralling a recently birthed calf toward the dairy.

As I reached the gates of my destination, the seemingly docile calf let out a rather startling bellow and made a sudden change in direction, escaping my outstretched, wood-winged hold. Within seconds, mother cow – previously grazing on post-birth clover – became alert to her baby’s plight and came ferociously charging toward my now fleeing form. In full frightened flight mode, I threw all previous veils of caution to the wind and bolted as fast as my gum booted legs would carry me, toward the homestead. After clearing the first 50 yards in frocking good time, I stole a glance behind.

Before my stupified and now semi-concussed mind could register my feetal error, I was supine. Resignedly I lay in dead stillness, staring helplessly up at the cumulus clouds making their way across the mid-morning spring skies. By the time the cloudescope had ceased spinning, my once creamy-white dress was sodden. Overcome with dread about my mother’s inevitable reaction and crestfallen at the state of my now grey, day-old-aborted-placenta shade of dress, I trudged forlornly the remaining few yards home.

Upon hearing of my wedding morning travails, the two sisters of my bride to be cousin decided my spirits could do with a little up-lifting. For the remainder of the ceremony and most of the reception later, I had reached a state of contentment. The helium balloons – so adeptly tied to my now “complimenting” fascinator – drew many a flattering comment and proved a great distraction to those vying for top position in the bouquet catching stakes. At the conclusion of the day’s celebration, the remaining guests filed their way out through the church hall doors to watch the bride and groom race off into the mountains on their two-wheeled, tin-canned motorcycle. While mum strapped, Tommy, my then baby brother into his capsule, Charlie and I stood on the top step steadfastly waiting out the gale force winds for our turn to be locked and loaded into our old Holden Commodore jalopy. After a sudden yanking tug, I glanced accusingly at Charlie before staring in horror at the sight of the last of my mothers painstakingly intricate handiwork being carried up, up, and away into the sun-setting skies above.

I had never been one to believe in fairies, witches or superstitious curses but just to be on the safe side I made myself a promise…

..from that day forward I would never again accoutre in cream or white…

…with one exception.

Ten year’s ago, I once again donned a royal quality gown comprising an array of pure silks and traversed the red carpet of a 13th century built Oxford college chapel. Many year’s previous – on my final day of highschool – I was bequeathed, from a mother-away-from-home mentor (Kaytee), a priceless gift: a recipe book replete with some of her family’s favourite meals. In addition to making some mean CWA (Country Women’s Association) style dinner delights, Kaytee is also an extraordinary seamstress.

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Whilst Kaytee’s formidable red and blacked hued wedding dress stitching saw me keeping true to my solemn promise, in the cooler autumn months I regularly succumb to temptation and indulge in my favourite of her delectable dishes.

Fit for the regal hearted, I present to you a recipe to ‘Gette Dressed in Cream.

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Kaytee’s Cream of Courgette Soup

60g butter

750g courgettes, finely sliced

3 medium sized potatoes (optional), peeled and cut into large chunks

3 rashers bacon, diced

2 cups stock

1 tbs basil (sage or oregano), finely diced

½ c cream

fresh chives, finely sliced on the diagonal

salt and pepper

Before heating the butter in the pot, send the kids out into the garden to fetch the courgettes, harvest the herbs and dig up some more of those pots of gold.

On a medium-low heat, melt the butter in a heavy based saucepan. Add the courgettes and bacon and fry until the courgettes soften. Add the stock.

Bring to the boil and simmer on low heat for 10 – 20 minutes or until the stock has reduced a little in volume. Cool slightly then blend till smooth. Return to the heat and stir through the cream and basil. Season with salt and pepper.

Garnish with the chives and serve, with some buttered sourdough bread, to your regal hearted friends and family.