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.

20190426_130503
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.

20190426_133920.jpg

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.

20190420_133842

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:

20190216_134341

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.

20190216_110440

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.

20190405_114723

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.

20190327_182326

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…

20190327_085524

…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.

20190327_095751

  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.

20190328_104023

  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

20190327_100255

…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.

20190304_130102

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.

20190225_163749

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.

20190302_143532

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.

20190225_164257

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.

    20190312_123221
    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.

    20190225_165856
    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!

20181025_112316

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..

20190222_115553

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.

20190228_193206

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

20190211_201822

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…

20190210_143609

…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…

20190211_155627

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.

20190213_081803

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.

20190212_141805

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.

20190210_163945
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!