Friday, February 27, 2009

Proud of my produce

I'm pretty chuffed that I've grown something of a pretty respectable size!

We'll be eating these tonight!

Growing zucchinis has been quite amusing because my French housemate had to go and do some seasonal work to be allowed to extend his visa, so he's now an expert on zucchinis after spending more time than he would have liked picking them all day, everyday. He kind of hates the sight of them, but he's been very helpful about plant maintenance and harvest techniques.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


No, not a typo, just one of the many ways of cooking kangaroo. For some reason it's more fun when the dishes have roo names like Vindaroo, Rooritos, Roogan Josh, Kanga Bangas, etc. We don't really eat much meat other than kangaroo because it's better for the environment (kangaroos have paws rather than hooves, so they tend not to degrade the land as much, their feed doesn't need watering, and they produce less methane than cows) and it's cheap and healthy. I thoroughly enjoy serving Roo Bolognaise to guests and trying to change their minds about the idea of eating kangaroo, it's particularly funny to ask friends visiting from overseas whether they would mind if I served them the national emblem for dinner.

Last night we tried a version of the Beef and Guiness Casserole with Dumplings recipe that appears in my favourite cookbook, 'Everyday Cooking' by Michele Curtis and Allan Campion. Turned out brilliantly. Roo can be chewy if you cook it wrong, but with slow cooking like this it was great, plus the meat has a rich flavour, which worked well with the heartiness of the recipe.

Dice roo steaks. We used about 800 grams, which was two packets.
Coat in seasoned flour (flour mixed with salt and pepper)
Cook in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat with a touch of oil until golden brown.
Add a 400ml can of Guiness, a chopped onion and a couple of chopped garlic cloves, and 2 cups of beef stock. (Or vegie if you'd prefer - they don't make roo stock in cubes yet!)
Bring to the boil, then simmer for an hour.
At this point add dumplings, then simmer for another hour.

To make the dumplings, combine a cup of bread crumbs and a cup of self-raising flour.
Rub 75 grams of diced soft butter through.
Add salt, pepper, and some herbs. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of chopped parsley, but we used oregano because it's in the garden.
Add an egg and enough milk to bind the mixture.
Knead to form a dough, then roll into 3 cm balls.

I think this would also make a great pie filling (without the dumplings). It was such a perfectly cosy dish for the first cool evening in a long time!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Belated Valentines Thoughts

As I read so many posts about Valentines Day, I decided to share my most memorable Valentines Day with you folks. It's not the one where I was spoilt with the classic dozen long-stemmed red roses, although that had a bit of wow factor. It's one which was much more about starting friendships than romantic love.

When I was in primary school my family moved to Pensylvania for a year. And my first day of school was February 14th. My older brother and I hopped on the big yellow school bus that stopped a block from our house, and headed off to our first day. Only ten minutes into the ride, the bus became stuck in snow, where we sat for an hour and a half. (This was of course quite a novelty. Our only experience with snow until that point had been pristine Victorian Alps cross country skiing. Which may explain why I didn't think it weird to pick up a handful of the first snow I saw when we got to the States and cram it in my mouth. Too bad this was on the airport runway and it was full of fuel. Whoops.)

When we finally reached the school I was so stressed out about things not going to plan that I forgot all the directions I'd been given on our tour the day before. By the time a teacher found me and took me to class, I was bawling my eyes out. Of course because I'd got lost I was even later and had to walk in on my own, and the teacher made me stand up in front of the class to introduce myself. As soon as three words were out of my mouth the entire class, including my teacher, fell about laughing, literally rolling on the floor, because of my Australian accent. (It was a small town.)

But once they'd got over the hilarity of it all, they sat me down and presented me with a little letterbox. And in it was a valentine from every kid in the class. We then (in what turned out to be a pretty common event at the school, repeated on St Patricks Day, Presidents Day, Thanksgiving Day, Everyone Gets a Trophy Day, etc) had a party that revolved entirely around consuming large amounts of sugar. Such large amounts that we had a bag of 'candy' to take home with us. Which probably confirmed all of my healthy mother's worst fears about moving to America. But I did feel like I'd been welcomed, and as though it all wasn't going to be too terrible after all.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Garden Inspiration

We were all booked in to go hiking at Wilson's Promontory this past weekend but the fires put a stop to those plans, so we rethought and instead spent the weekend down at Phillip Island.

We did all the touristy things like seeing the penguin parade, and we had some lovely time on the beach. We stayed in a fantastic hostel, The Chill House, which had a beautiful vegie garden.
But for me, the highlight of the weekend was probably an impromptu stop at the Australian Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne on our way to the island.

I had so much fun here, and found it very inspirational. I was particularly enamoured with their collection of kangaroo paws and grevilleas.

Kangaroo Paws:


So enamoured that we now have one grevillea and two pots of kangaroo paws. And a protea for good measure, seeing as I was going down a drought resistant garden route. Now I just have to try not to become as obsessed with grevilleas as a couple I saw profiled on Gardening Australia, who had a massive property devoted solely to cultivating grevilleas. (But I can kind of understand it - there are so many colours and shapes and sizes!)

These are a few of my favourite things

Forget whiskers on kittens and girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, I'm talking about PROPER favourite things. Like Sauvignon Blanc, and getting a greenie kick out of re-using and buying local. Which is why I was pretty excited by one of my purchases from the market this morning.

ReWine sell good cheap cleanskins, and if you bring back the bottle, they will refill it - and even charge you $2 less than the first bottle cost! Sure, I was meant to be fruit and veg shopping, but at $11 a bottle who am I to resist such a temptation? (Plus they have a generous hand with the tasting glasses.)
I'm all for recycling, but it often feels like people forget the idea of re-using. Travelling in South America it was the norm to trade an empty glass bottle in when you bought a new full one, and it brought home to me how easy it really would be to re-use glass bottles many, many times before recycling them. So an exciting find!


I'm frequently thankful for having great friends. Fun people who are excellent listeners, thinkers, talkers, doers and carers. And then on top of all that they sometimes pop by with extra little surprises to make me appreciate them even more. Like a mix cd of music they think I might like, complete with a handmade cover.

My favourite track is #4 - Streets of Your Town by the Go-betweens. Or the Langley Schools Music Project singing Mandy. Or really any of the others - M has fantastic taste in music and is far more on top of the scene than I ever will be.

And yesterday G popped by for a cup of tea on the way home from work and surprised me with lovely flowers.

How lucky am I?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Taking comfort from...

1. Regrowth.

Even as my plants fry again, it's good to see them sending out shoots and refusing to go down without a fight. It's also a particularly pertinent reminder that one day the burnt areas of Victoria will regrow. It's scant consolation given how many lives have been lost, but I find it helps. I've hiked through areas that were burnt out in the fires a couple of years ago, and although the snow gums will take a long time to recover, it's amazing how much has grown in a few short years.

2. Cyclists.

I cycle everywhere, and so I always get a buzz from the peak hour cyclist rush in inner Melbourne. This picture is in Canning St, which is pretty much a cyclist highway at peak hour thanks to low car traffic flow and good traffic lights. Somehow seeing this makes me feel like maybe one day more people will get the fact that it's really not that hard to cut their car use. In other exciting bike news, it was wonderful to see creation of bike lanes slip onto the government's economic stimulus package. Score one for the cyclists!

3. Our water bill.
Which totalled to 70 litres per person per day. We've been using a laundromat for the past year, so our water use is actually a bit higher, but still, with the government urging us all to cut our water use to 155 litres per day, it did make me feel good.

Friday, February 13, 2009

what to say, what to do...

It's hard to know what to say or do when tragedy like the Victorian bushfires hit. I've started writing a post numerous times since the fires took hold last weekend, but what can we say in the face of something of such enormity? Not much more than that we sympathise so deeply with those affected, mourn for those lost, and are thankful for how lucky we have been.

One of the best round-ups of ways to help is over at Pea Soup of the Day, and an up to date list of ways to help is at the Handmade Help site. Poppalina's link to Our Community was another good one.

If donating money outright is a bit of a stretch, here are some of the best ways to help:

Shop at Coles this Friday and Safeway or Woolworths next Friday, as all profits go to the Bushfire Appeal. Stock up on all those pantry staples.

Buy birthday and Christmas presents well in advance from Handmade Help or the Etsy Bushfire Appeal shop set up to help raise money.

Register to donate blood. Even if they don't need it yet, they will eventually - my nursing friends tell me that burns victims need a lot of blood over a long period of time, so the more people the Red Cross has to call on in coming months, the better.

Take in animals. Domestic animals who don't have homes, or native animals whose habitats have been destroyed.

Shop at Salvation Army, Wildlife Victoria, Red Cross, etc. op-shops.

Monday, February 9, 2009

the cool

Saturday was the hottest day I've ever experienced, although thankfully I was working in airconditioning, so didn't have to experience too much of it. When I rode to work at 9:30 it was already in the high thirties. Occasionally we'd step outside just to subject ourselves to what felt like an other-worldly heat. A hot wind roared through almost empty city streets, burning our eyes within seconds of feeling it. The sky had turned a weird grey, as though the colour had been scorched out of it. It wasn't even wide-open-plains-white coloured, but a scary grey. Almost all my workmates also cycle to work, so we all decided to wait the heat out in the city with some cool beers and ride home once it was bearable.

Thankfully a cooler wind had crept in by the time we finished, but we still retired to Section 8 for a cool beer. Section 8 is one of those laneway bars Melbourne is so famous for, but is one of the few that is so open to the sky. The courtyard in front of the shipping container bar is shaded by stone fruit trees, comic strips decorate the plywood bathroom walls and a giant, fading crosstitch takes up part of the fence. Plus it's located next to the best dumpling house in town. As we sat drinking longnecks of Coopers Pale Ale the heat of the day subsided. Drifts of cool air would pass down the laneway, and wooden seats creaked as they returned to their normal size rather than buckling with heat expansion.

When rain finally fell we relished the cool on our bare arms. It was only later that we realised how much dirt had been washed down from that grey sky, speckling my shoulders with dirty freckles.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tasty new dinner recipe

Tried making this lasagna last night - it's a slightly changed version of one my brother cooked for me, and it's so delicious. We ate far more of it than we should have!

Saute and onion and garlic (and chilli if you like)
Add lots of chopped pumpkin and a bit of water.
Bit of nutmeg and black pepper.
Simmer until soft.
Place alternating layers of this pumpkin mix, ready to bake lasagna pasta sheets, mozarella and parmesan, lasagna sheets.
Top with mozarella and parmesan.
Cook in oven for 40 minutes.
I have no idea what temperature the oven should be - to keep our oven on you jam a wooden utensil down the side of the on/off knob, so we can't cook anything that requires a specific temperature or any finesse.

No photos, as I was too hungry to think of stopping and shooting the tasty dish!

One month on

So, a month or so since resolution time. How are mine faring?

Get back to full health: blood tests revealed a B12 deficiency which I've started taking tablets to rectify.

Blog: errr, I'm trying to get into the swing of it, but still find myself having identity crises about which blogs might want to be friends with my blog, and whether anything I say is going to matter to anyone out there.

Make a more productive garden: we'll see, the heat killed half of it, but I've still got high hopes for the zucchini plants and the next lot of planting.

Think more positively: I'm working hard on re-framing negative thoughts, but a lot of bad stuff has happened this month. I'm not sure where the line between excessively negative thoughts and permissible grief lies.

Take more advantage of opportunities I already have: I've started writing again for a website where I already had contacts, have booked in a weekend of mountain biking with friends who can show me the ropes, and got back in touch with a mag I used to work for.

Make more of an effort to expand my friendship circle and do fun social activities: I've been to a couple of parties where I knew barely anyone and not said no to invitations quite as often. It's a good start.

Exercise more, take better care of my teeth, see more of Australia, try some new activities: whoops, next month.

And they all fall down

Not only has my garden not been faring too well in the heat, but the trees in our street have all been sunburnt.

It looks like autumn, but the banks of leaves don't have that crispness to them, they're just limp and burnt.

It's a bit depressing, almost like a leaf mass-suicide.

A Little Late Christmas Spirit

My Aunt gave me this fantastic book for Christmas.

And part of the wisdom I have already gleaned from it is that strawberries and blueberries benefit from an acidic soil, so using pine needles as mulch is a good idea. But where to get copious amounts of pine needles from in January? Christmas trees that are getting thrown out of course!

Our Christmas tree looked like this:

so no joy there.

I've been on the lookout for trees put out for rubbish collection, but I'm a procrastinator, so until now each time I've returned to pick up a tree it's already gone. (This isn't helped by the fact that I return periodically to check on the tree to make sure it's there - not taking it home or anything sensible like that - until of course one day I'm disappointed. I procrastinate A LOT.) But this weekend I finally made it my mission to find a dead Christmas tree.

Unfortunately the one I'd been intending to pick up had gone (what a surprise, it had only been there a week) so I stalked the streets for rogue pines. I located one next to someone's bins in their front yard, clocked that they had a compost heap and therefore a garden, and kept walking so I could think over this find. Were they so into their garden that they'd want it? Would they think I was a freak for asking? Could I pluck up the courage to knock on someone's door and ask to go through their rubbish? I did manage to pluck up the courage, they didn't want the tree, they looked at me like they thought I was a freak, but I got the tree, so it doesn't matter. They weren't the only ones giving me a wide berth. As I manhandled my tree a few blocks home people shied away from making eye contact, and one guy looked scared even when I smiled nicely at him. I later realised I'd been holding the tree in a manner that may have looked like I was about to whack him over the head with it, so fair enough if he didn't want to encourage my advances. But the tree and I made it home.

Where I stripped it, and put it all over my little berry patch.

Almost like another little Christmas present. Now if I only I could convince the blueberry bush that its time to die hasn't come.

Lucky I'm not really a doctor

Because if I were I'd have a lot of dead patients. Instead I just have a worm farm that smells like the dead animal pit on a farm.