‘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.

Revolutions to School

Once upon a time there was a little red man. One morning he woke up, got out of his little red bed, collected his little red towel from his little red linen cupboard and began to enjoy a refreshing morning shower. Presently, he heard a knock at the door. Begrudgingly, he turned off the taps, hurriedly wrapped himself in his little red towel and made his way to the front door. Greeting him on the other side was a little green man. Just when the little green man was about to launch into his sales-pitch spiel, the little red man dropped his towel and all was revealed! The little green man, startled and affronted by such indecent behaviour, unheedingly ran across the street…and was hit by an oncoming bus! What is the moral to this story?

The family is dressed. Tummies filled. Bags replete with homemade lunches, readers and other pedagogical paraphernalia. Everyone is ready to begin the school day. Just when you feel it’s safe to tick off the last of the efficiently-organised mum boxes you round the corner at the end of your quiet suburban street…

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…only to be met by a peloton of vehicles all vying for an “on time” position in the infamous school morning chase.

Back before fat-wheeled – battle of the desk job bulge – tyres gained excessive traction among the pedal biking elites, my brothers and I were all too familiar with the concept of all terrain cycling. After racing down our “Dry Weather Only” road succeeding drought breaking rains, arriving at the bus stop mud-streaked and with tread 3” thick from accumulated mud clay was somewhat of a normal start to a day at the education mill. Not wanting to rob my own children of such heroic commuting anecdotes, I’ve kept the tradition alive…with the added benefit of some top quality all-weather kit. Rain, frost or summer heat-wave shine, each school morning sees our two-wheeled, pedal-power team sailing past the egregious morning hold-up. Impregnating the rapidly expanding craniums with with sounds of birds, rustling greenery and indulgent post-morning-play chatter, my children arrive at the school house in good spirits and with synaptic clefts at the ready: a mindful way to begin the learning day.

Last Friday (22nd March) was National Ride2School Day in Australia. Being a strong advocate – one of many in our community – for any activity that sees our little one’s bodies exercising their way to the school gates, I am keen to bestow my revolutionary wisdom upon all those willing to don the helmet and bell.

Before you front up at the Tour de’ School starting line…some tips to get your wheels rolling:

  1. Read the terms and conditions: make sure you bone up on the road rules for your state, territory or jurisdiction as there may be some variations. For example, in my town, cyclists need to have a bell and helmet and are required to cycle on the left hand side of the shared path. We are also allowed to cycle over zebra crossings…an exception to most other places in Australia thanks to our large cycling community. It is also good to establish some family rules too…such as always waiting at crossings for the rest of the team to catch up and…to avoid sibling squabbles…who gets to press the buzzers or cycle at the front.
  1. Devise a race strategy: many roads lead to Roome (…school room that is). I like to take my children through a diverse range of traffic situations: the more the “road-ready” better. Whilst a series of safe, quiet streets may be tempting, it can rob you of a teaching opportunity. My cycling route includes: school crossings (with a supervisor), zebra crossings, busy highway crossings (with multiple intersections), back streets (requiring on road cycling and therefore hand signals), foot paths and bike paths.

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  1. Enlist a support crew: or atleast ensure you always carry some essentials such as an old rag (in case the chain comes off), plasters, tissues and a bike pump. If you know how to change a tire (…one for a later post) then tyre leavers and a puncture repair kit come in handy too. If you happen to form a small break away (…from the driving tradition) then you can always ask one of your co-cycling team to lend a hand should you ever have a bingle.

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  1. Win! As with anything new…committing to cycling each day is a true game changer for many families. It may be best to start small and choose one day a week to saddle up or just commit during the summer school terms. Whatever your choice…I implore you to stick with it…it will pay dividends! In the not too distant High School future…your teenragers will relish in the psychological freedom that is getting from A to B without that big, fat, gas imbibing C!

Oh…and as for the moral to the story

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…don’t cross the road when the red man is flashing!

After over four years of school-cycling commuting, there is still one thing I continually have to drum into my kid’s helmet-wearing, flagging afternoon skulls (or usually a last minute grab of the backpack)…and that is: “Always look for the green man before you leave the curb!”. Check to make sure that the buzzing sound (for the pedestrian light) is for the road you are about to cross!

On your marks…set…get cranking!

Super Sides Me (Potato Salad)

Once upon a time, salads of all shapes and sides gained deified status on my healthy mealtime accompaniment list. Then I discovered…

…not all salads are created equal.

Scott has always been Mr. Dependable. My super stalwart. Refusing to follow the tardy tradition of many Dphil students past, not only was his thesis bound and viva-ed early, but a steady job was lined up too. As an entree’ to the main, bread-winning course – and in keeping with our quirky and adventurous employment theme – Scott secured himself a salubrious lecturing gig at one of the colleges, whence saw him contracted for the Hilary (Spring) and Trinity (Summer) terms: the layover.

In the minds of the common man or woman, a prestigious position would generally marry with a silver service quality pay cheque. Having become familiar with Oxbridge idiosyncrasies, it should not really have come as a shock that a meager stipend with unlimited dining rights should attract such illustrious attention as a sought after employment opportunity. Sensing trepidation about a girth-full gain around the pre-fatherhood middle, Scott was quick to mollify my concerns with the promise of Salad Only luncheon meals…to precede a regular postprandial stint of cricket on the impeccably maintained college fields.

As the weeks progressed, so to did Scott’s commitment to saving the pennies and storing the pounds. Shortly before the start of his final eight weeks of gainful employment, our dear friend Stephen – from sunny Brisbane – came to stay. As was tradition with our holidaying homeland visitors, Stephen was treated to consecutive days of guest dining rights at high table. On the final eve of his stay, I returned home early from the school house. In anticipation of the imminent arrival of a fatigued and ravenous duo (and to see myself through an afternoon of marking), I had laid out a formidable spread of indulgent local cheeses to accompany a celebratory, top-notch wine. Just as I was about to take the first sip of the rather quaffable red, two rollicking figures burst through the front door in a bout of hysterics just in time for me to catch the final line of the now infamous quotation “…and she has never cottoned onto the old salad gambit…”.

And so saw the last of Scott’s unlimited dining days. Having been caught with his finger in the pie…roast meats…salmon mornay…fillet mignon…beef bourguignon…and other gout inducing delights…he was happy to realise his just desserts in the Quiet Reading Room: a home made salad garnished with the wafting and moreish aroma of adjacent kitchen fare.

To this day, Scott continues to maintain his more food conscious, father-of-two approach to the work time mess menu. Let loose in the larder, however, and his heady Oxford salad days of times past are brought to the table. Eliciting much delight, Dad’s midday meals – with an upsized serve of “yummies” – always go down a treat with an extra large dose of whooping and hollering from K1 and K2.

Dressed to impress, no family or community BBQ would be complete without a retelling of the Merton College consume-mation…and a generous serve of Scott’s Super Size Me Potato Salad.

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Scott’s (rather scant) Super Size Me Potato Salad Recipe

Being well known for his laconic, recipe giving style, I managed to cajole Scott into putting pen to paper as well as provide public audiences with some photographic footage of the salad making process…

Ingredients:

2 kg potatoes

Garlic

Parmesan cheese

Garden herbs (rosemary, oregano, chives, parsley, thyme etc.)

Salt and Pepper

Yoghurt

Mayonnaise

Bacon

Onions

Spring onions

First…send your keen and willing salad recipients into the garden to fetch some fresh-from-the-earth spuds.

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Wash then cut the potatoes into “half-egg” sized chunks.

In a large saucepan, boil for 10-15 minutes or until a knife goes through them easily. Remove from the boil, cool slightly in the water then drain and leave to cool and dry on wire rack. Place in a large ceramic bowl and store in the fridge overnight or until cold.

Chop finely the bacon, onion and garlic. Fry the “yummies” on low heat till yellow. Mix some yoghurt and mayonnaise together in the ratio of 3:1 (Yoghurt:Mayo).

Prepare the dressing by mixing some Parmesan (or vintage cheddar), the finely fried bacon mix and the yoghurt mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Mix with the potatoes.

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Top the salad with some excess “yummies” and finely sliced spring onions. Cover and chill for atleast one hour. Dish out to your high-table-quality dining guests. WINNING!

Eureka! Pot’s of Gold

We’re rich!

Last week saw gold fever hit the family homestead. In preparation for Scott’s annual Birthday BBQ Bash, K1 and K2 took to the soil with their prospecting bag of tools in search of those starch-rich nuggets of gold.

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Typical of many Aussie farming households of the 80’s and 90’s, our evening meal comprised the classic meat and three veg combo…with a mountain of creamy mash on the side. Whilst I devoured my evening Everest-esque mound like it was growing out of drought ridden fashion, I always did so with a slight air of reverence. Being the only female in the house, and therefore (quite ironically) the natural choice for all things domesticity, peeling potatoes formed part of my afternoon job list… and so that seemingly ordinary pile of starchy white mess gained a cerebrally acknowledged elevation in dinner-plate-status before disappearing down the meal-time gullet.

Roasted at Sunday Fried Brekkies, boiled for salads or mashed up and rolled into pillows of pasta, the humble solanum tuberosome continues it’s tradition as a treasured and sought after family staple. It has also proved it’s awerum worth as a garden staple, helping to satiate our lust for this highly prized tuber, as well as rejuvinate barren patches of land destined for the speculating market.

For those interested in seducing your chitting sprouts with promises of future returns on hard labour efforts, then you have a permit to read on:

  1. Go prospecting: space. It’s needed if you want to grow spuds. Not only do potatoes often inhibit the growth of other food plants, but hilling (and therefore excess soil) is required to obtain good yields. Alternatively there are many success stories of people growing them in sacks and poly tubes…but you’ll have to go all exploratory on the net for those instructions.
  2. Make the investment:…into some good quality, egg sized seed potatoes. I tend to purchase a variety of cultivars, often heirloom in origin, about 3 weeks before planting. Leave them in a dry, well lit (out of direct sunlight) location until they show a green tinge and are sprouting. This process is known as chitting.
  3. Open cut your mine: before you begin, you’re going to have to invest some hard labour efforts into carving out some space in your (most likely) sub-soiled back yard. Start by digging deep furrows (I like to go atleast 15 – 30 cm deep…sometimes deeper) and 50 cm apart. Place the seed potatoes in the base of the furrow (shoots facing upwards), about 20 – 30 cm apart. Cover the furrows with soil and water well. Ensure that the soil remains moist throughout the growing period to avoid poor growth or dryness. If you are looking for good yields (and not just rejuvenating soil) then apply a weed or seaweed tea every month or so and hill up the soil around the plant as it grows upwards, ensuring that you leave atleast some green leaves for photosynthesis and therefore growth. As I mostly grow potatoes as a perennial for soil rejuvenation purposes, I don’t tend to bother hilling. Instead I grow a cover/green manure crop or a trailing plant (like pumpkin) over the top and harvest the spuds for special occasions. (Picture below: seed potatoes in furrows and potato plant with a young pumpkin to grow over the top)

  4. Invest in some good detection technology: namely…your patient observation and interaction skills. After flowering, the plant will start to dye off. Making note of where they are planted can be useful as, in the case of my garden where I use potatoes mostly to improve soil (and hence they are not hilled), the wizened stems tend to blend in with the straw mulch.

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    Wizened stem with chitting potatoes hidden under mulch.
  5. Fossick: the richly rewarding…and very exciting part of the job. It’s time to start digging. The big ones are for the tummy…the green ones and small ones are for replanting.

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    Recovered seed potatoes.
  6. Trade for a profit: it’s time to don the apron and unleash your glimmering, largess of spoils upon your salivating guests. Spudacious!

Eureka! After a profitable afternoon’s labour of culinary love – troweling and hoeing into the summer hardened soil – a bounty of golden, Dutch Cream spuds were lifted from their well concealed crevices and deposited into the kitchen larder bank in anticipation of a sizable dividend (to come in future posts): Scott’s Super Size Me Potato Salad and a divine batch of Gnocchi on Heavens Door.

Growth Spurt

“Boot’s don’t shrink…feet grow.”

– excerpt from Big Sarah’s Little Boots – Paulette Boureois and Brenda Clark

The story itself was not particularly spectacular. In a gum-nut shell: Sarah had a favourite pair of little yellow boots that she loved to splash in puddles with when it rained. One day she grew out of the boots. Sarah was sad and perplexed. Her mother consoled her, then bought Sarah a new and equally adored pair of shiny red boots. Sarah was happy. The end.

It never seemed to bother my mother that from the day I turned four, night after night, my book request was always the same. Acutely aware of my innate interest in the physical sciences – aerial mapping and observations from birds eye view positions atop silos, roofs and trees being the popular subject of study at the time – mum always presumed that my fascination with the rather tiresome text was due to those aspects pertaining to biological growth and repair…and therefore “length (or rather height)” expansion.

During the early 90’s rain was not a regularly occurring phenomenon at the farmstead and so the idea of needing shoes let alone shiny yellow boots to splash in puddles with was somewhat of a bamboozling concept. Furthermore – putting aside the frequent, scream inducing encounters with drop-tail lizards and Huntsman spiders taking refuge in the insulated cotton lining of my mothers dairy-boots – foot coverings only proved cumbersome when playing my game-winning “get out of trouble by tree climbing” card.

This year, when the flip-flop and sandal wearing summer holidays came to their natural conclusion, it was time to rummage through the depths of the back-of-the-shelf school wear section of the kids closet to retrieve those compulsory, covered-at-the-toes shoes. It was on this day that I was hit with the full force of a Big Sarah’s Little Boot’s, raging thunder-storm-esque tantrum.

Despite my rather adept attempts of the previous 6 months to hold together K2’s highly exalted – pre-loved by a favourite neighbour – glow-in-the-dark shoes, my hand-stitching and Tarzan Grip gluing was no match for the biological forces of a summer holiday sized growth spurt. Finally, when the kicks, howls and screams of protestation subsided, the overwhelming sense of loss was quickly replaced with with a succulent idea to see us out of this rather prickly situation…

All in an adventurous morning’s work: a brand new pair of runners to start the educative year and an ornamental garden addition set to spike the memory bank of those well trodden, pre school days.

For those keen to avoid a future growth-spurt booting: Succulent Shoes (or boots).

Resources:

Old shoes

Succulent plants

Cacti and Succulent Potting Mix

Trowel

Drill and Drill bits

Drilling board

Water can

Take the old pair of shoes and let your little sprout give them one last departing wear or hug…then start drilling!

To create the drainage holes, take a large diameter drill bit (atleast 6 mm), pull the tongue of the shoe back as far as it will go (remove the innersole if need be) and, on an old board, drill holes approximately 1 cm apart. Succulents do not like their roots to get wet so the more holes the better.

Fill the shoes with good quality potting mix ensuring you leave enough room for the plants. Make a small hole in the center of the shoe. Ease the plant out of the pot and gently place it into the shoe such that the top of the plant is level with the top of the shoe. Add extra potting mix if required.

Place the shoes in a sunny position in the garden. Water the shoes whenever the potting mix looks dry. Stand back and reminisce…on all the boot-scooting times past!

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Jams and the Giant Peach

Once upon a time period, long long ago, there was a bustling town gurt by fruit-laden orchards, fescue fields lush with fodder, and dairy farms aplenty. All the townsfolk were proud of their productive industries and parochial in their purchasing prowess: locally made…all the way to the kitchen larder. Whilst all fruit-growing-farms realised a Spiker of workers during the summer harvest period, one orchard in particular proved to be a Sponge for industriously minded locals keen to keep off the silly season pounds or put their somewhat lethargic, holidaying teenagers to work.

The morning of the particular day in question started just like any other. Rising with the sun, we picking workers lackadaisically assembled at the meeting point. A barren patch of earth located between a stand of flaccid looking oak trees and the weather-beaten living quarters for overseas itinerants. Covered from head to toe in light cotton garb, we were then separated into diversified teams of dab-hands and newbies before being loaded like pioneering convicts into the back of a dilapidated flat-tray wagon. Several kilometers of bumpy and suspensionless miles later and the 1950’s model Red Massey Furguson tractor came to a holt.

Colour picking was the job description for the day. A fact which only served to provoke the already irritable temperament of those keen to spend a long, afternoon session at the pub. Since no-one dared challenge the ganger’s authority on the call, we begrudgingly set to work resigning ourselves to the fact that many more climbs of the 6 ft long wooden ladder would be required to achieve the same “bin-volume” payment for ripe fruit.

By 10 am, the sun had begun to bear down on us with the full force of a 42oC day. Cursing and cussing at the exhausting and yeildless tree-clambers, I was ready to turn in the calico picking bag and head home to the cool retreat of the farm’s irrigation channel. “Hallelujah…would you come and look at this!”. Intrigued, we hastily emptied our part filled bags and headed to the base of an Empire State Building sized prunus persica tree. It didn’t take long for us to spy what Maria was directing her sharply pointed finger toward. There, hanging just above the top of the final rung of the precariously placed ladder was the the largest peach I had ever seen.

Awestruck, we stared longingly at the perfectly round, fifteen centimeter in diameter specimen still glistening with morning dew. For a fleeting moment my mind was lost in salubrious thoughts of the fructose-rich, orange flesh meandering its way toward my rumbling, smoko-break belly. “Oi ya slackers…what the devil you’ll gawkin’ at?”. Frozen in guilt ridden fear, we looked to each other for the courageous delivery of a placating explanation. Silence.

“Well since you’ll seem to have swallowed your tongues, I guess I’ll just have to ‘ave it all to myself”. And with a chain smoking chortle, our ganger adeptly retrieved the peach. Following several swift actions of the pen knife, he then presented each member of his relieved team with a lusciously fortifying segment. A meal that will always be remembered as one to feel all communally fuzzy about.

Thirteen years later, and a kernel of nostalgia is released from it’s robustly sealed pit..

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After a particularly energetic session of swings and roundabouts at one of our local parks, K1 stumbled across a rather drecrepid looking excuse for a tree. Unperturbed by the menacing looking branches, he seized the potentially fruitful challenge and retrieved our first bounty of well-pecked, cydia molesta (oriental fruit moth) infected peaches. As it turns out, looks can be deceiving. Whilst stoney by nature, this wonderful addition to our neighbourhood nature strip has seen many a jar of jam or chutney gratefully received as a birthday present or in return for that much needed bag of hand-me-down autumn apparel.

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Our families recipes for Peachy Keen Date Chutney and Gingerly Stoned Jam…for your nectarous delight!

Peachy Keen Chutney

12 peaches (or nectarines), diced into small cubes

1 ½ tsp grnd cardamom

1 c pitted dated, chopped into small cubes

1 c raisins

4 onions, diced

3 c brown sugar

2 tbs mustard seeds

4 tbs ginger root, finely diced

4 tsp salt

2 ½ c apple cider vinegar

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Place all ingredients in a heavy duty pot. Stir to dissolve the sugar. On a medium heat, bring the mixture to boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 45 – 60 minutes or until thick and syrupy. Spoon the mixture into sterilised jars (see below).

Gingerly Stoned Jam

1 – 2 kg Peaches (or nectarines)

sugar

1 – 1 ½ inch piece ginger, finely diced

Place a side dish into the freezer (used to test the setting point of the jam). Peel the ginger and peel and pit the fruit. Place the peels and pits into a muslin bag and tie tightly with a string. Chop up the flesh of the fruit, discarding any blemished or bird pecked pieces. Weigh the fruit. In the middle of a large, heavy based pot place the muslin bag. Pile the fruit around the bag. Add ½ cup water. Place the lid on the pot and on low heat, bring the contents to boil. Simmer for 10 – 20 mins or until the fruit is tender. Take off the heat and leave to cool for atleast 2 hours.

Remove the muslin bag and squeeze any liquid from the bag into the pot. This will add extra pectin (chemical that assists in setting the jam) to the mix. For every 500g of fruit (as measured previously) add 400 g sugar. Stir in the sugar and slowly bring the jam to a rolling boil. Boil for 10 mins and then test, using the frozen side dish, whether the jam is set (it should wrinkle slightly when pushed with your finger). Spoon into sterilised jars (see below) if ready, otherwise repeat the above step after another 3 minutes of boiling.

Sterilising jars: I have been making preserves for years now and after trying many cumbersome methods of jar sterilisation, I have settled on the following (that…to the best of my knowledge…has not botulised any recipient yet): wash jars and lids in hot soapy water ensuring that a bottle brush is used to clean the inside. Dip jars and lids into a sink of hot water (to wash off soap suds) and then drain upside down on a tea towel. Place jars and lids (open side facing up) onto trays and leave to dry completely in an oven set at 100 – 120 degrees celcius.

In Animate Rescue

Fatso will always go down in diary-life history as being my favourite cow in our heard.

During the afternoon milking hours, my younger brothers (Tommy and Jimmy) and I would often be found lurking around the dairy. When we weren’t scooping milk from the poddy vat – kept as a back up during high production times for the 10,000 L milk-holding-behemoth and for storing colostrum during calving periods – then you could bet your bottom, parlour-duty dollar we could be found scaling the fences encircling the awaiting 400 head of cattle in an attempt to endear ourselves to the mongrel-breed giants. While most turned away in brazen disinterest or afternoon-heat lassitude, Fatso would always humour our nurtural senses with a winsome nudge of the neck or head into our outreached hands. Fatso was also highly prized by my older, more productivity minded brother Charlie. For despite her age (a sturdy 8 years), Fatso was one of our top producers, was always “in-calf” and had a well formed, tit-cup-enduring udder.

Two days after giving birth to her 5th baby, Fatso developed an unrelenting tremor in her legs. Having been witness to this symptom in calving periods past, Charlie and Dad astutely shifted her to a more comfortable and therapeutic location. While mum disagreed with her apprized native garden being used as a palliative care ward, my more optimistic brothers and I reveled in the opportunity to nurse our Milk Fever (Hypocalcemia) stricken, beloved cow back to good health.

In the first 12 hours, Jimmy, Tommy and I took it in turns to deliver her plenty of calcium rich clover, read her our favourite picture book stories and nestle ourselves into her rapidly collapsing frame in the hope that our love and Dad’s regular, medicinal injections would breathe new life into the highly venerated old Murray Grey-Fresian girl. When we awoke the following day, Fatso had collapsed onto her side. In an attempt to provide relief from the advanced stages of her metabolically-commandeered fate, we hand milked her burgeoning udder.

Jimmy, Tommy and I didn’t wait to see the truck arrive. Forlorn and aggreived, we spent our afternoon bunkered down in the calving shed. When we could no longer stand the wrenching sound of winding chains undignifyingly pulling Fatso into the haulage cart, we busied ourselves at the feeding troughs whence the loud sloshing sounds of colostrum being pressure-hosed into teeted milk-troughs helped ward off the accosting and vivid imagery that would remain with us for days to come.

On a particularly grey day last week, following an uncharacteristically large dump of rain, my morning school cycling troop spied a rather curious addition to the road side vegetation. Having developed a habit of sequestering many a verge-side dumpings into the family home, K1 and K2 felt obliged to investigate. Upon discovering that the item was not made of wood or metal, I issued the standard firm and immediate “No way…that’s just gross and totally unhygienic” repost made to all stuffie (and other fabric related item) rescue requests.

Maybe it was the pleading eyes of my children…or the cute floppy ears… or the winning smile…

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…or maybe it was the fact that for the next two days of seemingly disinterested cycle passings, I couldn’t delete from my mind the fact that Elliot von Snorter, our newest addition to the family furniture collection, had fur almost identical in colour to that of my greatly adored Fatso.

So…for anyone else previously turned grey by the idea of having second-hand stuffies in your home, I can safely say that Rescuing a Stuffie can be done:

Before you even think about bringing potential biowaste into your house, check for condition. If the fabric item has mould spores, tears or any significant areas or fraying, then sadly, you might need to consider providing the once-lovied a respectful burial into your nearest landfill bin instead. Otherwise, once you’ve approved the adoption papers, the revival process can begin.

First, give the fur a once over with a standard comb to remove any burs. Using a quick-unpick tool, unpick enough of the seam to enable you to remove all the stuffing with ease. Place the stuffing into a pillow case with a zip or one tied very tightly in a double knot and throw it into the machine with your next load of washing. Leave to air dry on your hills hoist (or other). Meanwhile, use a stain-removal bar of soap to clean any marks off the stuffie’s hide and leave to soak overnight in a tub of warm water.

Place the stuffie hide into a pillow case and repeat the method used for the stuffing.  Refill your new, now lovie, with the stuffing. When ready to stitch, bring together the two raw edges of fabric – ensuring that you fold each edge inwards slightly to create a neat seam – and pin together. Close the seam using a slip stitch. Give your lovie a once over with the comb or brush to liven up the fur…

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and Elliot von Snorter lives happily ever after as a treasured addition to one of our many reading corners. The End.

Holy Communeon

“…Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our tresspassess…”

extract from the lords prayer (Catholic)

Lunchtimes always started the same way.

One by one, in alphabetical order (sometimes in reverse), we would each rise from our cross-legged, straight-backed position on the floor and gracefully exit through the back doors of the classroom. Once out of school-mistress sight, previous cassocks of sensibility were ripped free as our hungry souls became possessed with a touch of competitive spirit. After hurriedly retrieving our stock-standard plastic lunchboxes from school bags hung half mast and genuflecting to the adjacent convent, we would then race to secure the prized possie under the limited shade of the nearby peppercorn trees. When the last of our catholic-school girl cronies had joined the clique’, it was time to unlock the lunchtime tabernacles, unveil the home-brought sandwiches from their tightly cling-filmed covers and let the trading begin.

Very rarely were my CLC (grated Carrot, Lettuce and Cheese), multigrain sangas competitive on the tanbark trading floor but every now and then, following an extended family Sunday Roast, my chicken and spiced chutney roll was worthy of an enviable punt. Since opting out of the trading stakes would challenge even the most pious of friends to forgive one for trespassing against the unwritten social code, I quickly mastered the art of prudent dinner time consumption: saving enough chicken for a second, all-to-myself, roll.

While lunchbox trading seems to be a fad of school days past, K1 and K2 have kept the in-house, tradition well and truly alive, utilising skills in mercenary bartering to secure the best dinner-left-overs for fillings. So named after the serminal father and son morning chess sessions, Bishop Bread sandwiches have gained prime position at the alter of lunchtime feast offerings, with Scott having to declare a coin-flipping truce to secure a peaceful end to a morning session of kitchen industry exchanges.

Packed with plenty of inspiriting micro-nutrients, carbohydrates, fats and proteins, these wholesome rolls prove healthy on the conscience and see my inordinately energetic children through the host of cognitively intensive activities delivered by the school deus.

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Bishop Bread (makes 12 – 13 divine rolls)

2 ½ c milk

2 tsps instant dried yeast

2 c rye flour

1 c spelt flour

2 c wheat flour

2 tsp salt

Warm the milk to blood temperature in a saucepan on the stove. Meanwhile, place all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Make a well in the center. Pour the milk into the well then gradually stir in the surrounding flour until a soft dough is formed. Add more wheat flour if the dough is too sticky.

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Knead the dough by raising it to eye level and then throwing the dough down hard onto the kitchen bench. Repeat this for 5 – 10 minutes or until the dough seems elastic in texture. Return the dough to the mixing bowl. Moisten the top with a little water and then cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place (out of direct sunlight) for 1 – 2 hours or until doubled in size.

When ready to make into rolls, punch down the dough. Using scales, weigh out approximately 100g of dough. Knead the dough briefly then shape into a tight ball. Place the ball onto a greased and lightly floured tray. Repeat this with the remaining dough, reserving some for the Bishop Bread tops.

Divide the remaining dough such that there is enough to make a small top for each roll. Roll each dough -top into a tight ball. Moisten, using a bulb sprayer (or pastry brush), each roll and give each one a top. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise for 20- 30 minutes. Sprinkle each roll with a little wheat flour then bake in the oven at 200oC for 12 – 15 minutes or until brown on top.

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Freshly made basil pesto…heavenly!

When the school sanga making hour comes around, slice the rolls in half and load them with your child’s favourite fillings…such as left over roast chicken…or that basil pesto comprising freshly collected herbs from your green-thumbed friend’s up-cycled foam wicking box. Heavenly!

Wax lyrical: School wRap

As the sun steams through the curtains,

‘member som’thin’ kinda cool,

it’s time to get my kit on,

it’s da first day back at school.

 

I wolf down all my brekky,

scrub my teeth and brush my hair,

jump on my two wheeled pushy,

racin’ to the school house lair.

 

There’s a rumble in my tummy,

time to break and get some fuel,

aint no plastic in my lunchbox,

cos that’s just kinda cruel.

 

Instead I have my sangas,

all wrapped up in colours bright,

which helps me save the planet,

keep food fresh and sleep at night.

 

Knowing what to put in your children’s lunchbox can weigh heavily on a mothers mind. Throw in a few plastic centered facts – such as, based on current trends, estimates have us (by 2025) putting enough plastic in the ocean to cover 5% of the earth’s surface in cling film each year – and ones already backpack-sized guilty conscience can quickly shift into overload.

I first discovered beeswax wraps a couple of years ago while Christmas shopping for a dear friend who lives in my Riverina, highschool-hometown. Hedda, well known for her exceptional welcome platters with the works – a plethora of fruits, nuts, biscuits and cheeses – quickly put her gift to good use…encasing the only remaining sliver of cheese not devoured by my ravenous children in a sheath of re-useable and compostable waterproof cotton.

The following summer, ensuing a sizable injection of beeswax from my mums’ backyard apiary and some inspirational lessons from my eco-ceptionally talented Toy Library friend Terry, I was ready to pull those discarded, hole-ridden summer dresses out of retirement. A year later and our home-made, up-cycled wraps continue to enrapture my children’s school day…with a few additions to the consumer care list:

  1. Sponge bath the wraps using cool water only…unless you’re a fan of melting moments.
  2. Embrace the heat to revitalise. That is, put the wraps onto a tray lined with baking paper and place in the oven for 5 – 7 minutes at 100oC when you notice the wax starting to break away from the cotton.

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    Well used beeswax wraps ready for revitalisation
  3. Lower the clinging standards. They aint like the traditional plastic film. They work best in warmer weather and the hold around your food item is more like a secure embrace than a stranglingly tight clasp.

Last Tuesday saw an extra loud buzz about the morning routine as K1 and K2 were kitted up, packaged off and pushed out the door for their first day of the school year. While the beeswax wraps swaddling their Bishop Bread sangas will make but a pin sized difference toward reducing the 275 million tonnes of plastic produced annually, I can atleast take comfort in knowing that I am part of a wider community of parents who are also passionate about sowing the biodegradable beads of change among our next generation of eco-warriors.

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For anyone keen on joining the eco-swarm, then forage no further: a method for making your very own Beeswax Wraps.

Resources:

A4 sized pieces of scrap or new cotton or linen fabric

Pinking shears (optional)

Beeswax (you can purchase this from most health food stores if you don’t happen to have a personal cache)

Grater

Baking tray (atleast as wide as an A4 sheet of paper)

Baking paper

Clothes horse (or other to hang the wraps to cool)

Wooden pegs

To get in on the hive of activity about making your own beeswax wraps, you’re gonna have to accept that things will get a little messy. I recommend purchasing (or rescuing from your local tip or charity shop) a tray that you use only for making beeswax wraps…you are never gonna get the stuff off.

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Before you begin waxing, neaten the edges of the fabric using pinking shears (optional). Set up your clothes horse. Place a large sheet of baking onto the base of the baking tray. Lay your fabric flat on the surface of the tray. Using a grater, grate 10 g of beeswax. Sprinkle this evenly over the surface of the fabric. Place the tray into an oven at 100oC for 5 – 7 minutes or until completely melted.

 

Moving quickly, remove the tray from the oven. Pick up the fabric at two of the adjacent corners and hold it in the air, over the tray, for 30 seconds or so to allow the fabric to stiffen and any excess wax to drip free. When stiff enough to carry, peg to the clothes horse. The wrap may at first look a little yellow in colour but will lighten after further cooling. Repeat with your remaining fabric pieces.

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When your busy brood are ready to fly off to school, secure their sangas (or other) in the wrap, and encase them snuggly in the protection of a good quality lunch box. Waxtastic!

Advance Australia. Fair.

…in joyful strains then let us sing, Advance Australia Fair”

excerpt from the Australian National Anthem.

By the end of a long summer holiday period, the Australia Day Parade was a much anticipated event in my bucolic home town on the Murray. As many would gather with their fellow community club cronies, the rest of the townsfolk would huddle en masse under the canopys of eucalypt and plain trees, sparsely dotted along the parade-route nature strips between the Shire Office and the Civic Centre. At the conclusion of the meandering spectacle, paraders were careered and packed like over-fished Murray Cod into tightly spaced isles of vinyl, flip seats in anticipation of the formal ceremony to come. Local sporting, volunteer and business heroes were cloaked in accolades of glory. Community doyens gave endearing addresses. And, to close the morning, we all stood to sing in unison the first two verses of the Australian National Anthem. Never once, as a young country girl proud to be dressed in my Girl Guide uniform, did I feel the need to question the euphoric feelings of happiness that naturally accompanied the deeply rooted sensation that was belonging.

In recent times, the sea of joyous “celebrations” that gurt Australia Day have been called into question and appeals to change the date, name and historical underpinnings of the commemoration have gained political and societal traction. For many Indigenous Australians, the arrival of the First Fleet in Port Jackson (1788) marks the beginnings of what has been a gradual demise in identity, self respect and culture. In a survey conducted by the Australia Institute in 2018 only 38% of the 1,417 Australians questioned could correctly state the historical reasons for the public holiday. This somewhat alarming level of ignorance may explain why, despite the well publicised use of the overtly negative moniker “Invasion Day”, only slightly more than one third (37%) of those polled thought that the day was offensive to our First Australians.

I confess without shame, that the 26th of January will always be a day that comes bearing the gifts of jovial, wealth for community-toil memories of my girlhood past. While I acknowledge the wrong-doings of my White-Australian Ancestors, I cannot rectify the bygone atrocities. I can only hope that, together with the many other parents in my spheres of kinship influence, our commitment to raising children who respect and value the contributions that all people make to our ever-evolving socio-cultural milieu, Indigenous Australians will gain a sense of long-term reparation and restitution.

This Australia Day, after a morning of cultural infusion at our towns local museum, Scott, the kids and I, relished in the joyful strains of BBQ centred banter before rounding out the rather salubrious afternoon with a touch of third generation family fare: three layers of cream filled, golden soil-esque pavlova topped with a bevy of young and free strawberries.

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For your delectation. The Recipe for Pavlova. Courtesy of my Grandmother…from New Zealand!

8 egg whites (preferably at room temperature)

½ tsp salt

500 g caster sugar

4 tsp arrowroot flour

2 tsp white vinegar

1 tsp vanilla essence

300 ml pure cream

1 punnet of strawberries

We are renowned throughout our neighbourhood lands for being able to put leftovers to good use. Thanks to my children’s growing summer appetite for ice-cream, egg-whites – which we keep frozen at the ready – are a boundless, plain-ingredient to share. Whipped up with a tin-roofed-shed load of sugar and you have a good ol’ fashioned “Australian” dessert.

Grease and line with baking paper, three trays (they must be atleast 22 cm wide). In the middle of each sheet of baking paper, trace around a plate (18 – 20 cm in diameter) using pencil. Preheat the oven to 150oC.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg-whites and salt until stiff, satiny peaks can be formed. Adding ¼ of the sugar at a time, beat the egg-white mixture, again, until stiff and satiny. Whisk in the arrowroot flour, vinegar and vanilla essence. The egg-white mixture should be able to hold form when a spoonful is released on top of the meringue-like mound. Whisk in a little more sugar if you need. In the middle of each baking paper circle, drop 1/3 of the egg-white mixture. Using a butter knife, spread the mixture to the edges of the circle ensuring an even covering.

Place the trays into the oven and cook for 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 120oC and cook for a further 35 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave the meringues to cool inside for 1 – 2 hours. Remove and cool to room temperature on a wire rack.

When ready to serve, whisk the cream until stiff peaks form. Create the meringue stack by lathering 1/3 of the cream on top of each meringue. Stack the meringues. Slice the strawberries into thin slithers and pile on the top most layer.

Using a sharp knife, cut the Pavlova Cake into wedges. With courage, let you and your guests combine their best sugar eating spirits to Advance Australian Fare!