Oh Beautiful Friday!

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My life is a little bit insane at the moment, hence the lack of blogging (sorry!)

I’m as always, up to my eyeballs with uni (getting a portfolio of poetry together this time) and work has started again at Oak Tasmania. This year, I’m doing my musical things with The Superstars and we have some big plans for 2017 but I’ve also started tutoring a Food Gardening group two mornings a week. It’s been hectic!

In the space of a couple of weeks, we’ve started doing experiments with growing carrots in pots rather than in traditional garden beds, resurrected the worm farm, started a vegetable and herbs seed bank, done quite a lot of weeding, cleaned out the small greenhouse that’s on site, potted up some basil and eggplants and planted some lettuce seedlings that are already up and running ūüôā

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Future salad!

Eventually, we want to grow enough to pass on to the kitchen and provide the cooking courses with fresh, clean produce to turn into salads, soups and encourage better eating among the Oak staff and participants. I’m also hoping some of the seedlings will go home with¬†the gardeners, most of whom are very keen!

This week we¬†spotted a very old dinghy around the back of the site and we’ve decided to appropriate it. Our plan is to bed it in securely, fill it with sheep poo and some good loam and plant it out. The drainage is good – she came with lots of holes! – and we’re thinking about an experiment with some seed potatoes we discovered to begin with. Although they’re very late, in a raised bed we should get a crop¬†and I think we should dress it up and name the old girl something like “The Good Ship Spudalicious”. (Photos are coming!)

Meanwhile, at home it’s a bit overwhelming with nectarines just finished and plums coming in and I’ll be getting the dehydrator out this weekend to turn most of the plums into prunes for the winter months. And I did get my one apricot off the new tree! A few months ago I cheered that there was one solitary fruit and it ended up perfect and utterly delicious ‚̧

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The maincrop bush tomatoes (San Marzano and Principe Borghese) are just starting to size up and ripen but the Debarao are still flowering and a little behind the¬†Polish Giant Paste that are very green but already very big! Undoubtedly, the best cropper so far has been the bush Roma’s that were an unexpected bonus. I’ve been picking them just as they’ve started to colour and I’ve got a couple of kilos off them already that I plan to bottle in the next few weeks. Everyone’s tomatoes in southern Tasmania seem a little late this summer, but while the rest of the country’s been in a devastating heat wave, Tasmania has been relatively mild and surprisingly damp this year.

Principe Borghese Tomatoes

Principe Borghese Tomatoes

Last week I picked enough perfect grape vine leaves to put in brine for making Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves)

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At least I got the year right even though it’s February now!

and this week I put up two bottles of Pickled Nectarines. This is really simple and relatively quick. All I do is put halved and pitted nectarines into sterilised jars with a cinnamon quill, a star anise and piece of dried Habanero chili in each (totally optional!) and covered them with a heavily sweetened apple cider vinegar (the ratio is 1:1) while it’s still hot. Covered with sterilised lids and put the jars through a water bath for 15 minutes, these nectarines are wonderful with ice cream as a dessert or sliced with game meats. Just leave them for a few weeks for the flavours to develop.

And Wednesday, I had a great time playing a gig at Irish Murphy’s in Salamanca. Because of everything that’s going on in my life at the moment, I haven’t been playing as many solo shows and it was so good to play some songs and catch up with lots of friends ūüėÄ

Because I’m working more, I decided to make a mega Zucchini and Ham Slice to freeze and take for lunches – it’s a great way to use up some of the zucchini and egg glut! I used 8 eggs, three grated zucchini, a 1/4 cup of flour, a few left over boiled Nicola potatoes, some cubed ham (about 2 cups) a little fresh sage, thyme, marjoram, a couple of finely sliced Cayenne chilies and a grate of nutmeg. After I’d beaten all this together, I added about 1 1/2 cups of grated Colby cheese and about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan and baked it in a greased deep pan for about 45 mins in a moderate oven. I ended up with 7 generous serves that will make work lunches a lot easier!

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But now, it’s Friday night and I’m beat! All I’m good for is watching the cricket on television and drinking cups of tea. I keep looking across at the pile of clean washing and wish it would fold itself up……..

 

 

Catching Up With Life

It’s been a busy few weeks!

Summer holidays are only a memory now but it’s been great to be back at Oak, with the added bonus of a belated present from one of the Superstars. Kathryn, who is a very artistic young woman and becoming a capable songwriter, presented me with this gorgeous portrait she did when we had a morning tea break on Friday.

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Naturally, everyone knew all about it except me, and I confess I was incredibly thrilled and deeply touched by such an honour. Also,¬†I’m involved in a very exciting new program at Oak – teaching folks how to build a food garden! There’ll be photos and posts in the ensuing weeks but I’ve got some very enthusiastic gardeners on my team and a lovely space to work in ūüėÄ

Meanwhile, it’s bedlam here at my place – the house has become a fully fledged work site, with scaffolding surrounding the building in readiness for a new roof and after that, the demolition of an old disused (and potentially dangerous) shed and eradication of many Tasmanian gardeners’ bane – English Ivy. I can’t even park in the driveway at present, let alone think about getting in a load of mushroom compost for the garden beds!

Fortunately, the bulk of the yard has been spared too much disruption, though the rabbits had to be moved away from the ivy infested shed. It’s the start of the annual food glut and I’ve been drying herbs to make my own Tuscan seasoning and I’m starting to be inundated with beans, chilies, basil, shiso, cucumbers, zucchinis and potatoes.

Tuscan Mix

Tuscan Mix

Today I picked more zucchini and discovered some of the “volunteer” Roma tomatoes from the worm farm already had ripe fruit. Because I’m the only one in the house who really likes zucchini, I’ve only got two plants this year, and I think it might be one plant too many! I didn’t pick for two days and discovered a yellow monster this morning! (Don’t be fooled, the tomatoes below are really very ripe but I think the yellow beast made most of them fade in the photo!)

 

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And today is Australia Day. Over the years, this has become a very¬†fraught event for many indigenous people as it really only commemorates the arrival of the British and has been renamed by some people Invasion Day. There is a suggestion that the date be changed and I think it has merit. I think this is an ongoing conversation that we, as a country really need to have. There’s no doubt in my mind that we as a nation are losing much of what my parents and grandparents worked incredibly hard to attain. That is, an egalitarian society that welcomes new voices and a fair go for all.

As a white Australian (and therefore a descendant of immigrants), I don’t particularly like what the day has come to represent, with a lot of incredibly racist slurs aimed at marginalising recent immigrants and people of colour ranging around social media. And our politicians are certainly forgetting about the “fair go for all” aspect that I was brought up to cherish and respect, with increasingly draconian measures to further marginalise this country’s poorest people.

This saddens me so much. Having traveled a little, I know how wonderful this country can be and how grateful I am to live here. So, today I made it my business to think of the original inhabitants while working the soil, the dirt I am steward of. To contemplate the incredibly rich heritage our indigenous brothers and sisters have given us in sight of glorious kunanyi that calmly overlooks all of Hobart Рand thank my lucky stars that my forebears (boat people) came to such a beautiful country.

Tread gently friends and have a wonderful day ‚̧

Some Like it Hot – Horseradish Sauce

Happy new year friends everywhere!

I’ve had a really lovely time, pottering in the garden, making things, seed saving¬†and gearing up for a big harvest of potatoes, beans, chilies and tomatoes. Study has been high on my agenda too, and I submitted my first assignment for 2017 yesterday.

The broad bean crop from late spring was fabulous, and while I filched a few for some fresh bean side dishes, I decided to dry the majority for use in soups and stews over winter. It seems the rest of my household DO like these creamy, delicious and very healthy beans as long as they’re not boiled into oblivion – which still seems how most people serve them :-/

A couple of days ago I dug up the monster Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana, syn. Cochlearia armoracia), which was threatening to take over a significant section of the rhubarb bed! This member of the Brassica family is a wonderful herb and fresh Horseradish Sauce is so much nicer than the store-bought stuff. Having said that, it can be incredibly invasive and will grow from the tiniest piece of root.

The roots smell very mildly of mustard but don’t be fooled. As soon as they’re peeled and grated, ally isothiocyanate (mustard oil) is released, which can irritate mucous membranes in the nose and eyes. This makes me cry worse than peeling onions, so I suggest doing this in a well ventilated area and in small batches. Adding a little vinegar, lemon juice or ascorbic acid will immediately stop the production of mustard oil. I also like to add a little salt and sugar to enhance the flavour.

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I like to do the initial peeling in a sink full of cold water and put the white roots in a bowl. This ensures that the smell doesn’t get overpowering and that the roots are clean of every bit of dirt. By the way, I recommend only using the newer roots for this, the one in the picture above is ideal but any bigger can be woody. Old horseradish makes¬†very bitter sauce when grated but they’re great for propagating more plants ūüėÄ

Horseradish Sauce (Makes 3 1/2-4 cups)

2 cups peeled fresh horseradish, grated (this can be done by hand or in a food processor)

1 1/2 teas salt

1 teas white sugar

1 1/2 cups vinegar (approximately)

a little cold water (optional)

Mix the salt and sugar carefully through the grated horseradish, being careful not to breathe too much of the pungent fumes (I put the extractor fan on when I make this!). Add the vinegar gradually and mix it very well. The vinegar counters the chemical reaction and production of mustard oil.

Naturally, I like it hot but some like it a little less intense so add a little cold water to cut back the heat.

Pot up into clean, small glass jars with screw top lids and refrigerate. This can be used immediately and will keep in the fridge for up to a year

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Also, I dug the Red Norland potatoes this morning. The tops had died back so they were ready to lift but the crop wasn’t huge. Mind you, they were planted a little later than I would’ve liked and there were only 12 seed potatoes. I haven’t weighed them but I imagine there’d be about 2 1/2-3 kg in the bucket.

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The Pentland Dell, Patrones and Carlingford plants are still green and strong, so I don’t think I’ll be harvesting them for at least another month.

A huge bonus for me was the soil improvement. I like to use potatoes to start new garden beds and this one was spectacular. Prior to the potatoes, I had the rabbit’s nursery hutch over this ground so it had some added preconditioning ūüėČ

The soil was crumbly, dark and fluffy – very easy to get the potatoes out – and it was absolutely full of earthworms. A far cry from the hard, compacted dirt that used to be here!

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I’m planning to turn in the mulch, throw on some worm castings, sheep poo and mushroom compost and put more raspberries in this bed during winter.

Meanwhile, I have to think about what to have for dinner. Maybe a couple of Red Norland potatoes with garlic and horseradish butter and a piece of fish on a bed of silverbeet………

Take care friends and hope you’re all well and happy ‚̧

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The Weird, Grim World of 2016 – A Personal Perspective

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As we come towards the end of 2016, many are bemoaning the seemingly endless outpouring of grief on social media for celebrity deaths. There’s no doubt that it’s been a nerve-racking year if you’re famous and part of the post-WWII “Baby Boomer” generation but a lot of people are getting sick of the intense posts from fans, citing that many important people have passed away this year who weren’t celebrities, and stating the obvious – we all die.

But have there been more celebrity deaths this year than in the past?

There’s evidence to suggest that deaths among the famous have increased, as reported in The Week recently. The dearth of internet news, celebrity sites and You Tube channels has meant that more coverage is given to the comings and goings of celebrities. And of course, social media itself has enabled ordinary people to post tributes to memorialise their favourite celebrities.

For my part, this year has been brutal. As a career musician and writer, I’ve spent a good deal of my life listening to, enjoying and analysing the work of David Bowie. There were times in my teenage years when¬†life felt very strange and his¬†work helped me make sense of it.

After Bowie’s death in January, the rot really set in and I lost¬†many significant people in my life. Most notably Jeff Weston, Leon Turner, Kevin Gleeson and my dear, beautiful friend Jacqui. There were others I didn’t write about, several acquaintances from the past as well as newer friends. Anecdotally, I have to say¬†that social media has heightened this. Reconnecting with people from my past and forming new networks has tended to make my circle of friends much broader and spreading news a very immediate thing.

Now at the end of the year, I was incredibly saddened by the death of Carrie Fisher and tragically only a day later, her mother Debbie Reynolds, who were both important figures in my life for different reasons.

Like so many of my generation, I first saw Carrie Fisher on the big screen in the original Star Wars (1977) . She was only a few years older than me, and her portrayal of the feisty Princess Leia was an inspiration. Leia showed us that girls could be heroes too, an important cultural lesson to any young woman of that era. I followed her film career with interest, and particularly loved her as the gun-toting Mystery Woman in The Blues Brothers (1980) as well as her reprisals of Princess Leia in the Star Wars saga.

As the years rolled on though, it was her writing that really spoke to me. It takes a lot of nerve and downright bravery to be that outspoken and honest, and her advocacy for mental health issues really struck home with me. And I loved how she aged too, honestly and (for the entertainment industry) rebelliously.

Debbie Reynolds is a very different story. Back in the 50’s my brother (who was 14 when I was born) had a typical teenage crush on Reynolds from her lead role in¬†Tammy and the Bachelor¬†(1957). When I was born he was given the duty of naming me, and what better than after his favourite movie star! I was never a fan in the way my brother was, but since his death I always watch re-runs of¬†Singing in the Rain¬†(1952) and think of him.

So at a very personal level, 2016 has been quite the “annus horribilis”, bookended¬†by the passing of two people I never met but who spoke to me through their work and one who I was named for by my beloved big brother.

On the other hand, there has been a lot of joy for me this year too. My work with Callum and The Superstars was particularly uplifting and there’s great things planned for the coming year. All the personal sadness has underlined how I am surrounded with people who care about me – both professionally and personally.

As I said in another post earlier this year,¬†live your life well, with honesty and integrity and love unreservedly. Don’t put off seeing people or telling them you care, be brave and run with it.

Life is short.

Be well beautiful friends, and thank you for your support throughout this awful year ‚̧

Carrie Fisher as The Mystery Woman in The Blues Brothers

Carrie Fisher as The Mystery Woman in The Blues Brothers

The Tourist by Robert Dickinson – a Book Review

 

This is an extended version of a review I posted on Goodreads this morning.

I purchased my copy (trade paperback) from Cracked and Spineless New & Used Books in Hobart a couple of months ago but only just got around to reading it. But that’s what the summer break is for isn’t it? Catching up on reading!¬†ūüėÄ

Have you read this book? If so, I’m interested to hear what you thought too.¬†

 

The TouristThe Tourist by Robert Dickinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Tourist isn’t an easy book to review but it isn’t an easy book in any way, shape or form. It requires the reader to commit, pay attention and hold multiple story threads while offering a dark outlook on the future (and near future) of the human race.

And I loved it!

While this novel has sharply divided people, I really wonder what the naysayers expected with something that is clearly promoted as speculative fiction involving time travel. I can especially understand the comparisons to books like David Mitchell’s¬†Cloud Atlas¬†but I think The Tourist¬†is actually easier in some respects and in many ways, far darker. As a fan of speculative and science fiction, I wasn’t put off by the time travel aspects but this is a really good thriller as well. I found myself swept along and quite invested in Spens’ story in particular very quickly.

Be warned however, this isn’t a cheerful reading experience and can be quite bleak, but Dickinson’s writing is really very good and that’s what carried me through. It isn’t the best book of 2016 but it is better than many. The ending is a little messy and feels rushed but I wonder if that was intentional, as the lines converge.

Linear storytelling is great, but sometimes I yearn for something that demands more of me than just my time and the suspension of my scepticism and disbelief. The Tourist offers that in large doses and I found it a very immersive and well crafted ride.

View all my reviews

Tis the Season

It’s Boxing Day here in Australia, which for me means the true start of summer holiday reading, grazing on leftovers, warm weather (usually) and the start of the Sydney/Hobart yacht race, which I usually don’t watch – living in Hobart I’m usually more interested in the finish!

But surpassing all these things, it’s the first day of the Melbourne Boxing Day test match. This year Australia are playing Pakistan and I’m enthralled already. Two of my friends are at the game and I think one year I’ll have to fork out the money and go myself, though I’m loath to give up my comfortable couch and grazing rights for a hard plastic seat and overpriced snacks!

The yard has been very productive too, there’s been loads of potatoes (and more to come) plus raspberries, strawberries, beans, the start of the cucumbers, the first of the basil¬†and the mandatory salad greens that always grow in my garden. Interestingly, I’ve had some “volunteers” that have done very well the last few weeks.

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These Roma tomatoes came from seeds in the worm farm and ended up as fertiliser/soil conditioner when I was planting out the dwarf apples back in late winter. I’ve repotted a few that are flowering but it’s astonishing how well this batch has¬†fared – and with no help at all from me!

The raspberries have been quite wonderful and there’s been a lot of luscious¬†desserts this summer as well as just enjoying them fresh, straight off the bush ‚̧ We’re not a big jam-loving household but I think it’s worth experimenting and make a little sometimes just to add some variety. So, for something a little different (for me) I decided to make a few jars from the excess. Raspberries are a good source of pectin so jam making is pretty straightforward although¬†there’s loads of warming the sugar before cooking tips and tricks. I’m too lazy for that! Here’s my basic recipe.

Lazy Woman’s Raspberry Jam (Makes about 3 x 300 ml jars)

500 g (1.1 lb) clean, whole raspberries

500 g (1.1 lb) white sugar

1 tab lemon juice

a small knob of butter

Pick over the berries and make sure they’re clean. I find this works best with a mix of very ripe and slightly under ripe¬†fruit. ¬†Put in a large, heavy based saucepan. Gently pour over the sugar and shake the pan to make sure the sugar covers and coats all the fruit. Cover and leave overnight.

The next day, wash glass jars and screw top lids (the “pop-top” kind) in warm, soapy water, rinse in hot clean water. Because we don’t eat a lot of jam, I tend to use small jars for this, nothing over 300 ml. Sterilise the jars in a cool oven and put the clean lids in a small saucepan of simmering water. This jam is fast to make, so I find it best to get the jars and lids done before I cook the jam.

Put the sugar and berries on a low heat and add a tablespoon of lemon juice. Shake the pan gently until the gorgeous raspberry juice starts to show through and increase the heat. Then stir occasionally to ensure the jam doesn’t stick. Bring it up to a simmer and continue to stir. Let it boil for a minute or two and toss in a small knob of butter. (This is a very old trick to eliminate the scum that sometimes forms on boiling jam – and it works with any and every jam!) Test for a set by putting a little on a saucer and letting it cool.

Once setting point is reached take the jam off the boil and put it on a heat-proof surface somewhere convenient and safe to pot up. Bring the sterilised lids in their saucepan to the same spot, a pair of tongs, oven-proof gloves or a tough tea towel handy to grab hot things and a heat proof board to put the filled jars!

With an oven mit or tea towel, get a hot, sterilised jar out of the oven. Carefully fill with the hot jam, which should pour quite easily. I use a small clean china cup for this, but be careful – jam scalds are not fun! Grab a lid with the tongs, shaking excess water off and very carefully screw it on the jar. Put on a heat-proof board or similar to cool slowly. Continue until all the jam is done.

As the jars cool on the board, press the center of the lid to ensure a seal. If the center won’t stay down (which happens occasionally) put this jar aside and use it first. Clean the outside of the jars with a clean damp cloth and label them clearly with name and date. This will store unopened in a cupboard for a couple of years but in my experience it usually gets eaten within a few months. Raspberry Jam will darken as it ages too, taking on a deep ruby hue.

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In the meantime, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone the compliments of the season. It’s been quite the “annus horribilus” for me and many others but as with all things in life, it’s really what you make it and there’s been some truly wondrous things among ¬†the moments of sadness. Thank you to so many for offering comments and kindness throughout this year, it’s very much appreciated.

Personally, I’m not a religious person but I respect the power of positive thought flowing through to positive deeds. So whatever you believe, be kind to each other. That way we can’t go wrong ūüėÄ ‚̧

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kunanyi/Mt Wellington, Hobart 25th December 2016

Basking in the Light – An Update on Callum

Hello friends,

This is a news report from last Monday from WIN News, one of the local commercial stations.

I confess there were tears when I watched it – I’m so incredibly proud of all these great young people – but especially Callum. I know how very hard he worked to make this dream a reality, and he looks fabulous¬†all dressed up in his suit!!!

Also, I was thrilled that one of the Oak Tasmania project leaders Teena was interviewed in this piece. Without her drive and guidance I probably wouldn’t have worked with Callum. It often gets neglected how much staff support goes on to get these kinds of projects off the ground and see them through to such high level achievement.

Yesterday I caught up with most of them and there were high fives and hugs all round, reminding me again why I do what I do¬†‚̧

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