Kind Words

Last year, I was approached by a young Hobart-based writer I know, Jenna Cesar. She was planning an article for her blog concerning different approaches to community work and wanted to interview me about what I’ve been doing at Oak Tasmania.

You can read the full article here, where Jenna also talked to Jay Stevens and Eri Konishi. It’s a lovely piece and (hopefully) might encourage others to bring their unique skills to help others in their community.

Also, The Superstars are playing at MONA (Hobart’s iconic Museum of Old and New Art) this Saturday afternoon as part of an event for National Youth Week. The equally amazing Callum “Rock Star Man” is opening for us and (as you can see from the photo below) we Superstars are seriously excited!

If you’re in Hobart, please come and say hi – we’d all love to meet you 😀

The Superstars L-R: Tim, Mel, Megan, me (trying to hide), Sally, Kathryn, Kellie and Ben (Photo courtesy of Chris Rule)

Meanwhile, I’ve got a ton of uni work to do so I can have the weekend off! Take care ❤

A Fool for April – Muesli Recipe

Chestnuts!

Happy April Fool’s Day! Well, there’s been a notable shift in the weather here, summer is clearly over and autumn is finally properly with us. I think this is my favourite time of the year, with generally lower overnight temperatures, crisp mornings and calm, often sunny days – perfect for gardening!

Soil temperatures are still quite warm – there’s a lot of growing still happening! – and I’ll be picking zucchini and especially tomatoes for bottling for a little while yet.

Salad from yesterday – kale, mustard, endive, rocket, silverbeet, red orach and tomatoes.

In the meantime, I’m madly preparing beds for kale, broccoli and garlic, which I’m planting in the coming weeks (later than usual for me), so it’s still very busy. Boudica Bunny is making a nest and should birth her kits (the first with Bernard Black) in the next week, the chestnut crop is still to come as you can see from the photo above, and the chickens are beginning to moult too so the egg supply is gradually slowing down. Having a mixed flock means that there’s usually someone laying and I rarely have to buy eggs except in the very middle of winter when day length is shortest.

Also, I’m pleased to say the jam melons are starting to get bigger – I haven’t grown these since I was a kid in South Australia and it’s exciting! I’ll keep you all up to date with what I end up doing with them, but I’m thinking Melon & Lemon Jam 🙂

Jam Melon sizing up at last

Recently, I made my version of toasted muesli, something I love this time of year, after the summer and autumn fruit drying is mostly over. Many recipes call for added oil, honey, corn or golden syrup and even peanut butter, but this is completely unadulterated. For me, the dried fruit provides enough sweetness and means the muesli keeps well in an airtight jar. If you need it you can always add a little honey, syrup or even a spoon of jam when serving. Personally, I love this with just a dollop of home made yogurt. Here’s the recipe:

Deb’s Sugar-free Muesli 

4 cups rolled oats (ordinary oats, not the “instant type”)

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup sunflower kernels

1/4 cup wheatgerm (optional)

1/2 cup coconut (I prefer flakes for this)

* 1/2 cup chopped nuts (use what you have on hand, for me it was almonds this time and see the note below)

1 tab fresh lemon zest or 1/2 tab dried lemon zest (optional)

1-1/2 cups of chopped dried fruit (again, use what you prefer or have on hand!)

Method:

Pre-heat an oven to 160 C/325 F. In a large bowl, mix the oats, seeds, wheatgerm (if using) and coconut. Chop the nuts fairly roughly and add to the oat mix.

I love lemon zest and the sherbet-like flavour it brings to my breakfast muesli (I keep a jar of dried zest in my pantry cupboard just for recipes like this) but it’s not to everyone’s taste. Try just a little if you’re uncertain.

If you use dried lemon zest, you can mix the chopped fruit thoroughly with the oats/seeds/nuts now, bypassing the toasting step and put the muesli in an airtight jar but I really think the toasting is so worth it for bringing out the flavours of the the seeds and nuts.

Lay the oats/seeds/nuts/fresh lemon zest evenly on a baking sheet or roasting pan and toast, turning every 10-15 minutes with a broad spatula. It’s fiddly but really worth it as you can determine exactly how toasted you want your muesli to be. I use coconut flakes that brown quite significantly and are my best indicator. Now for the dried fruit – the real star of this recipe – and where you can make it truly your own, with seemingly endless combinations of sweet, luscious, fruity goodness! Chop the larger pieces of dried fruit to a size that you prefer (I like mine fairly small, about sultana size). For this batch, I had a lonely piece of apricot fruit leather that needed using, plus this year’s prunes and dried nectarines. Kitchen scissors worked really well and I find them much easier than a knife for this job.

When the oat mix looks the right shade of toastiness, allow it to cool completely, mix in the chopped dried fruit very thoroughly and put into an airtight jar. It should keep well for ages but mine usually gets eaten in a couple of months.

Finished toasted muesli

*A note on the nuts. If you don’t like/can’t eat particular things or want a nut-free muesli, be bold and take them out of the recipe! Substitute nuts with more seeds and fruit – it’s entirely up to you and I encourage you to try different things. For instance, my muesli usually has linseeds but I didn’t have any in the house when I made this (sad face). Next time, I should have dried apples and some walnuts to add as well as my beloved linseeds and I might add a touch of ground cinnamon for a slightly different combo 😀

Apricot Fruit Leather, Prunes and Dried Nectarines for the muesli

In other news, The Superstars and Callum are playing at MONA next Saturday (8th April), which is huge news and I’ll do a separate post about that soon. Uni study is relentless but rewarding, and I’m loving my current unit CWR211 Writing Crime & Contemporary Romance, though romance literature isn’t my strength or preference. Nevertheless, I managed a very high mark for my first assessment and I was frankly, surprised and thrilled.

Finally, I’m sorry to say that Felicity lost her battle with cancer earlier this last week. While her death was entirely expected, it was still utterly heartbreaking and my thoughts go out to all her fabulous friends, family and especially her husband Dave. I plan to buy a shrub or small tree in the coming weeks to plant in her honour – a “Felicitree” ❤

Meanwhile, take care good people, be gentle to each other, this beautiful planet and never be afraid to tell the people that matter to you that you love them ❤

Felicity’s List – Paying it Forward

Some years ago, one of my music students, Ruby Grant (who’s also one of the most amazing women I’ve ever known) introduced me to her friends Felicity and Dave at a party. I was really taken with this young couple, who (like Ruby) were smart, interesting and really good fun. Originally from the UK, they’d ended up in Tasmania. Occasionally, I’d see them at gigs and we’d bump into one another from time to time on Facebook. (In a town as small as Hobart that sounds ludicrous – but it happens!)

Then, in 2015 Felicity started a blog “About That Cancer Thing” and announced that at 33, she’d been diagnosed with bowel cancer. She was young, fit and otherwise healthy so I think we all thought that she’d get through this with her usual quiet determination. In her blog, she documented her treatment and what it’s done to her life, the joy of being able to go for a walk with Dave, their disappointment at not being able to have a family, and the financial impact her treatment and ongoing care has had on their lives.

To that end, Dave and Felicity set up a Go Fund Me page to try and see if they could raise money to keep their dream of a family alive and to help with the incredible costs of being so ill.

A couple of weeks ago, Felicity posted that the meds were no longer holding the cancer back and as she so eloquently put it,

“You can’t protect people. You can try. But it’s not really protecting them. I thought I was protecting people. Then I wondered if I thought I was protecting myself. But actually I was just delaying peoples opportunity to process the truth. Learning this didn’t really change my behavior though”.

Then a couple of days ago, Felicity posted “Wrapping Up” and at the end, a list she wrote some months ago when she was better than she is at present.

I urge you all to read it, as it is a wonderful, practical, uplifting and utterly inspirational thing.

To the best of my knowledge, Felicity is still at home with Dave and I hope they are enjoying the gentle drizzle of this warm autumn morning. If you can afford to, please donate to help offset some of their crippling medical costs.

And act on Felicity’s list ❤

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 😀

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 – and 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 😀

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 😉

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! 😀

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

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