hop, skip and jump to the point

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I could get used to this. The G.O. not working on Saturdays, and spending time by the water.

Last Friday when the G.O. communicated the news he has at last finished working at the site where he’s been doing 160 kilometre daily round trip commutes, often working Saturday, I called my sister to see if she and our new niece, sunny Skye apple of her family’s eye, had a free Saturday. Not quite, but could meet up in the afternoon.

Excellent. That meant we didn’t have to rush our trip from Sydney to the Hunter Valley. And could take up a recommendation from a work colleague who’s a local, to stop for breakfast from the Estuary Kiosk on the way.

An hour drive and about half way along our journey, only minutes from the M1 motorway exit, Estuary Restaurant is at Kangaroo Point just over the old bridge and first turn to the left on the Old Pacific Highway on the Hawkesbury River driving towards Brooklyn. The restaurant has scored some spectacular reviews… currently some spectacularly bad… so we’ll be giving it a miss until that’s ironed out, but our takeaway coffees and bacon and egg rolls from the kiosk were first-rate. The refurbished park area is attractive and the views are amazing. We’ll be back!

We love the Hawkesbury River. The G.O. has a long affection for the area as he worked an oyster barge on the river for a few years, and still says it was the best job he ever had. Nearby Brooklyn is a favourite for fish and chips or meeting up for family celebratory lunches at Lifeboat Seafood, handy for us as we can catch the train from the city.

The Hawkesbury River is the setting for the 2004 Australian film The Oyster Farmer and recently the two-part ABC television mini-series The Secret River adaptation of Kate Grenville’s novel of the same name.

“This place had been here long before him. It would go on sighing and breathing and being itself after he had gone, the land lapping on and on, watching, waiting, getting on with its own life.” Kate Grenville, The Secret River

Elementary, my dear Watson

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Trying to get the G.O. to celebrate his birthday is like trying to prise a stubborn crab out of its hidey-hole. Unsurprising as he is born under the Cancerian astrological sign. For the first time ever I managed to persuade him to ditch work on a weekday birthday. Coercion that involved me using a precious annual leave day and suggesting he wouldn’t want me to celebrate his birthday on my own. It worked. Just. My backup tactic was to suggest if he didn’t stay home with me, I’d go to work with him.

As work commitments prevented us taking a long weekend away the G.O.’s celebration of choice was a coastal escape within the city environs.

After a sleep-in, leisurely coffees and gift unwrapping in bed we followed the route of my usual morning commute to Circular Quay, even making a dash to the cafe in my building for a soy chai latte & hot chocolate before joining Tuesday tourists and day-trippers on a ferry ride across Sydney Harbour to Watsons Bay, a 17 minute trip as opposed to the other public transport option of bus that takes near an hour to cover the 11 km distance.

Watsons Bay is located on the southern head of the entrance to Sydney Harbour. To the east is the Tasman Sea and to the west is the Harbour with a glorious view of the city of Sydney in the distance.

Watsons Bay is where Governor Phillip first landed in Australia. It’s also recognised as Australia’s oldest fishing village, having been established in 1788.

The Bay is famous for being the home of the first Doyles Restaurant. The site on which the restaurant now stands is where Doyle originally sold his daily fish catch in 1845. It’s well worth the trip to Watsons Bay to eat at the restaurant or, alternatively, for a more informal meal, buy a take-away lunch from Doyles’ fish and chip outlet, located on the wharf, and eat it in the park and feed the seagulls.

There are two walking paths from the wharf, both require around one hour for the round trip. From the wharf you can walk north past Lady Bay (see their nude beach) and on to South Head…”

And we did just that, walked around to the north looking across to Manly, didn’t see any nudists although the day was a pleasant and sunny 20 degrees Celsius (winter in Sydney at its best!), enjoyed a simple fish and chip lunch accompanied by attentive seagulls, postprandial strolled until the sun enticed us to a garden bench with a harbour view before a speedy afternoon return on the ferry to Circular Quay.

Despite widely being attributed to him, Sherlock Holmes never said those words “Elementary, my dear Watson” but no doubt he would have by way of approbation of the G.O.’s excellent choice of destination of the same name.

*The first known, or at least recorded use of the phrase was in the 1915 novel, Psmith, Journalist written by P.G. Wodehouse.

Note: Australia’s place names have lost their apostrophes.

 

no hard feelings . . .

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I’m not one to hold a grudge… fortunately, in regard to chickens. Despite an indelible experience I had as a kid with a rooster I still admire their kind. And care about what manner of lives they have before they grace my table.

I spent a lot of time on my grandparents’ farm up until age 9. One of my favourite things to do was collect the eggs. The chook yard was down the back away from the house near the gully. It was something I could manage myself but usually my Pa tagged along. Encountering a opportunistic snake or cranky hen was possible.

One day aged around 6, I tagged along with Pa as he checked the cows’ water reservoir halfway up the hill to the dairy. I wandered down toward the chook yard on my own. The chooks were let out, next thing I know there’s a feathered devil on my back and I’m running up the hill towards Pa screaming at the top of my little lungs. My hero grabbed the damned rooster by its scrawny neck, laid it on the nearby wood heap chopping block and took off its head with the axe. At which point the rest of it ran in circles before it dropped momentarily. Fascination quickly erased the terror I’d felt.

Like other chooks for the table the rooster was duly dunked in a kerosene tin of scalding water and plucked. I still remember the distinctive, not pleasant smell of scalded chicken feathers and guts. The rooster had a good long life so he was old and tough but waste not, edible enough. He was dinner.

Now that’s not so awful when you consider what goes on in a factory farm or CAFO. CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. Call me a coward but frankly I don’t want to see it. Even passing trucks packed with chickens and trailing white feathers along the highway, something that makes my sister cry, evidences the dreadful commodification of poultry and that’s why I buy ethically produced free range poultry and eggs.

Just because I can’t bear to see it doesn’t mean I don’t care. Factory farming makes me angry because how our food gets to us shouldn’t be shrouded, dependent on interpretation of the word ‘adequate’ or haggling over free range standards and scruples of a few with vested interests.

It might look like a roast chicken but it’s far more. I’d like us to do better but a properly free range life it’s the very least chickens are entitled to. It’s the very least we’re entitled to when we shop. Worth thinking about when buying poultry products or eggs.

Celia and I are very excited about ethical poultry farmers from the Mid North Coast of NSW Burrawong Gaian Poultry’s first appearance at my local Eveleigh Farmers Market on Saturday 20 June 2015, and won’t miss the opportunity to cheer them on in person.

Easy weekend food: Roast Free Range Thirlmere Chicken from Eveleigh Farmers Market


Despite food safety warnings I rinse whole raw chicken inside and out using cold water and paper towel to dry, then wash sink and hands with hot soapy water and wipe out with paper towel and vinegar spray. It’s up to you if you do this or not.

The G.O. loves stuffing. My usual recipe is: roughly chop several of slices of sourdough bread and a large onion. Combine in a bowl with an egg, ginger powder, salt and pepper, adding milk to moisten. In this case there was no milk so I substituted plain full fat homemade yoghurt which gave the stuffing a lovely rich slightly tart flavour. I have also been known to use sage, rosemary, hazelnut meal, chopped dried figs, garlic, lemon zest, a whole lemon or onion… none of which are favoured by the G.O.

If you make extra stuffing mixture, put it in a oiled small loaf pan sealed with foil or wrap it in oiled foil and bake for an hour or so.

After stuffing the bread mixture into the chicken, massage the outside with butter. Sit on a rack in a deep cast iron pot with lid over a bath of chicken stock and Malmsey (or other Madeira type wine) and slow roast on 150 – 160 degrees Celsius for about double the time you would pan roast. Turn up the heat to 180 C and take the lid off for the last 15 minutes. Remove the chicken to rest covered and cook the pan juices down on the stove top to make gravy.

Sometimes I put potatoes, onions and carrots in the roasting pan as well and they bake to a lovely tenderness.

This reasonable size chicken, 1.7 kg, gives us 2 nights of dinners, several lunches and chicken stock from the bones.

Note: Every day I eat. Every now and then I blog about food: I thought it only fair on occasion to share what passes as a recipe for something I’ve made. We’re a 2 person household. All quantities and times are approximate. Additions and substitutions may be made according to preference, taste and availability. Where possible I use pastured/free range/organic produce and improvise using ingredients I have on hand.

slow progress

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The G.O. drove. It was quiet and my thoughts roamed. I was thinking about numbers. Heading back to the city three days after we’d driven up to Taylors Arm for a quick busy Queen’s Birthday long weekend, my mind calculated we’re coming up to owning our house for a decade and we’d been driving this highway public holiday weekends and then some, so my very ordinary maths estimated we’d spent about 140 six-hour days in the car doing just that. Given I have a zero annual leave balance, to consider I’ve spent a good part of them in the car pains me slightly.

In contrast to this contemplation of distance between our city and country habitats is the realisation we’re making progress. We veer from a quiet home-life busy work-centric city existence to hyper-gardening home handymen on long weekends and holidays. In between we have plans and measurements and lists and reminders scrawled across numerous convenient yellow post-it notes.

But also we manage to get things done remotely. So far this year we’ve had a gas stove installed and a shed built without us being on site. Both items have been on the patiently waiting list while we figured out what we really wanted. Ditto for the new fridge/freezer purchased via phone & internet but which we managed to be around for delivery. No wastage there either, both the old electric stove and fridge found a good home with a neighbour.

Taking our time has enabled us to rethink our energy consumption needs towards a lighter footprint. Originally, back in the crazy days of cheap electricity when climate change seemed to be a catchphrase rather than reality we were aiming for pigeon pair fridges, chest freezer and a bar fridge! However, the days of thoughtless energy consumption are gone. The clothes dryer purchased because of my penchant for warm towels in winter is too good to get rid of but now rarely used, so has gone to a corner of the shed. The bar fridge is alongside it waiting for a new owner.

An upside to slow progress is better options come along, and it gives things time to find us. It took us years to source the right kitchen sink unit and longer to find the kitchen sink tap still in its box waiting for the G.O. to get time to install it, so much more functional than the current tap with a bit of rubber hose clipped to the end. Two big old cupboards, shelves and a pot stand have come our way in the last couple of months. And when he couldn’t fulfil my wish for a side burner addition to his barbeque, the G.O. bought me my very own barbeque with side burner & hood on sale at a ridiculously low price. He of course isn’t parting with his old-faithful.

In turn, while wishing for his own the G.O. got by borrowing box trailers to move things, which twice involved doing running repairs on someone else’s trailer. The new barbeque and a cupboard bought in Sydney finally necessitated the G.O. parting with cash for his own. Delayed gratification sweetened his delight in a shiny new black trailer.

Then there’s the opportunity for serendipity that slow progress affords. As the shed build progressed, RHS neighbour put us in contact with an old friend of the G.O.  Sixty years ago the G.O.’s family share-farmed on their property just down the road. This lovely, now older lady was cleaning out her late husband’s shed and offered the G.O., who’d spent much time in the farm sheds with him and his father before him, pick of the contents. Once again the G.O.’s trailer, plus RHS neighbour’s carted benches and tools home; the big timber bench coming back to Taylors Arm just up the street from the house where it originated.

Slow progress also requires flexibility, compromise, sharing and caring. We wouldn’t make quite so much progress without the kindness of neighbours and friends who are there for us when we’re in situ, and when we’re not. They mow our lawn, keep an eye on the house, help us move things, keep a spare house key and share a cat.

The G.O. and I although both cat lovers never considered our lifestyle suitable for a cat but Soossie Cat decided otherwise and shares herself between LHS neighbour and us. Soossie brought her kitten over for a visit last weekend. LHS neighbour wanted a litter of kittens, got two litters, and found other homes for them except Soossie’s grey and white daughter who will be staying. LHS neighbour now has our cat carrier so Soossie is off to the vet for her op, as will be daughter when she’s a little older.

We’ve still a little way to go, and inevitably more trips up and down the highway but steady-as-she-goes suits us just fine.

Some quit due to slow progress.
Never grasping the fact that slow progress…
… is progress. Anonymous

In My Kitchen: baby, it’s cold outside…

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Donna Hay's At My Table (1995), photography by Quentin Bacon
Donna Hay’s At My Table (1995), photography by Quentin Bacon

Over the past month the weather has gotten quite nippy here on the south east coast of Australia. It’s perfect for indoor enjoyments, warming our small apartment by turning the oven on, and comfort food.

At My Table
At My Table

Just as well, because the G.O. and I have spent the last three weekends keeping each other cosy company on the couch while fighting off our common cold/flu lurgy. Expeditions have been circumscribed. I haven’t been to the farmers market for over a month. We’ve been eating courtesy of our pantry-freezer stash and foraging at local shops.

Garlic /  Ginger Grater
Garlic / Ginger Grater

En route dashing to the shops I diverted to a garage sale and was rewarded, netting myself a ginger-garlic grater -perfect! fresh ginger for tea was on my shopping list- and yet another cookbook I couldn’t resist buying for a few dollars. One day rather than just browsing, I’ll make something… What attracted me to Donna Hay’s At My Table (1995) was the artistic photography by Quentin Bacon and the simple fresh recipes and ideas. “The photographs in At My Table have been taken as polaroid transfers. Each image is printed onto cotton paper and each is therefore an original work of art.”

Backyard feral chook eggs
Backyard feral chook eggs

When I can’t get to the markets what I miss most is proper free range eggs. The eggs at the local shop are labelled free range and they’re local from within a 100 km radius of Sydney but I can’t help thinking they’re not what I envision as really free range pastured eggs from farm chooks. I couldn’t have been more delighted to get a text from my bestie Mrs S. who was coming for a visit asking Do you want eggs? Yes. Half a dozen or a dozen? However many you can carry, was my response. Her husband has a band of what she calls not free range but feral range chooks in his Blue Mountains backyard.

Free Range (left) vs Backyard (right)
Free Range (left) vs Backyard (right)

As she hands the eggs over Mrs S. says to me. I don’t eat the eggs… those chooks will eat anything, bugs, food scraps, rubbish. My suggestion to not die and fall over in the back yard or they’ll eat you, didn’t comfort her. That’s why backyard eggs are better than shop eggs! You can see, Mr S.’s chook egg is the one on the right, with the lovely yellow yolk. The other egg is free range but grain fed, hence the orange yolk.

Pa's Rice Pudding
Pa’s Rice Pudding

 

Backyard eggs inspired me to cook rice pudding like my Pa used to make, as close as I can. The G.O., enigma that he is, won’t eat plain boiled rice in any form but will eat rice pudding. My grandfather’s rice pudding was my favourite dessert when I was a kid. He made it just like this in an old enamel dish, but in a wood burning oven. I can’t replicate that nor milk from his dairy cows, or home grown eggs usually. But it’s still good, and the G.O.’s current preferred sweets for Sunday afternoon tea and Monday smoko.

Pa's Rice Pudding Recipe
Pa’s Rice Pudding Recipe

The recipe is from my 1984 revised version of The Commonsense Cookery Book. Thumbing through it, refreshing my memory on rice pudding how-to I came across a recipe I’ve been seeking for a decade… The G.O.’s favourite sweet made by his grandmother was apple rice meringue… I’d never heard of it. But I have the recipe now. It’s his birthday in a few weeks. Stay tuned.

Best Pumpkin Soup Ever
Best Pumpkin Soup Ever

Pumpkin is the G.O.’s favourite soup. I love it because it’s the easiest to make. I saw Beck from In Search of Golden Pudding’s Roasted Pumpkin Soup and decided it was time to turn into soup the pumpkin given to us in April by a Taylors Arm neighbour. Similar to Beck, baking on a non stick tray pumpkin pieces skin on with whole unpeeled onions and garlic until golden. When cool, scraping/squeezing out the softened vegetables into a saucepan, I blend them with stock… by mistake I added 1 tub of chicken and another of beef stock… it was delicious… plus a generous glug of macadamia oil to give the soup weight and depth, and season only with white pepper. This time inspired by Beck I also scraped in the caramelised cooking juices off the bottom of the pan. Best Pumpkin Soup Ever.

Vacu Vin Wine Saver
Vacu Vin Wine Saver

During winter in particular my motto is “I love cooking with wine—sometimes I even put it in the food”, so I was pleased when I re-discovered untried in the bottom of a draw the wine saver my sister gave me for Christmas… a few years ago… I like a drop of red in a glass or in the pot but the G.O. doesn’t drink it. The wine saver works by swapping the screw cap/cork with the stopper then using the pump to vacuum out the air inside that will turn the wine if left for too long. Not that it happens much!

The quiet transition from autumn to winter is not a bad time at all. It’s a time for protecting and securing things and for making sure you’ve got in as many supplies as you can. It’s nice to gather together everything you possess as close to you as possible, to store up your warmth and your thoughts and burrow yourself into a deep hole inside, a core of safety where you can defend what is important and precious and your very own. Then the cold and the storms and the darkness can do their worst. They can grope their way up the walls looking for a way in, but they won’t find one, everything is shut, and you sit inside, laughing in your warmth and your solitude, for you have had foresight.Tove Jansson, Moominvalley in November 

Thanks to Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting In My Kitchen and the IMK community for foodie inspiration & the virtual company they provide. If you’d like to join in, link back to Celia’s blog.

the rebellion of a couch tomato

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I’d never thought of myself as a rebel. I’m a mutable Sagittarius. A fitter-inner. The G.O. looks sceptical when I say “I liked school”. The closest I came was my bestie Mrs S. says she thought I was cool when we met age 16 back in the early 1980’s because I wore desert boots. My stepmother certainly expressed her opinion that I wore too much eyeliner, and Dad considered I wore too much black. But that was fashion, not rebellion.

I never had reason to rebel. I grew up in a family, country and era where I had freedom to make my own choices, for better or worse. I chose to work, marry & divorce, repeat, not have children, buy a home and so on. My sister was the first rebel in our family, when she decided age 14 to become vegan. It rocked my family but for me it wasn’t an issue, whenever she spent time in my household, the food on our table was vegan too.

My particular rebellion came on slowly after I realized the most basic of my choices was being made for me in an artful manner by people I didn’t know. The food of my grandparents’ and parents’ kitchens was disappearing.

So armed with a nanna shopping trolley, most weekends I walk the walk of my rebellion to the farmers market. In supermarkets I opt for free range-organic-ethical-local. I wield the weapon of a wooden spoon with my shield the mixing bowl and bake biscuits. Of an evening, knife in hand I go into combat armed with pastured raised meat and organic veges for dinner. In the mornings I crack the shells of ethically produced eggs.

The other weapons in my arsenal are information and communication. I took the affront to my food rights quite personally. How dare they. I’m just one of many food rebels. Many who generously share their time, efforts and knowledge. They farm, garden, shop with awareness, cook, appear on TV, write articles, blogs & books.

Although I’m currently limited to espousing rebellion from my living room via a keyboard while sitting on the couch. I consider growing your food to be the ultimate act of rebellion. Living in a tiny apartment redeemed by a large a sunny balcony I’d love to grow tubs of vegetables as many apartment dwellers do. But it is in direct proximity to a grimy train line; only the hardiest of geraniums and succulents survive. The edible plants & herbs I attempt to grow exposed to railway track ballast struggle, and eating them doesn’t seem safe. I feel blessed when we receive a gift of tomatoes from a gardening friend and find basil growing in the apartment complex’s small herb garden down the back away from the tracks.

Easy weeknight food: Rebel garden sauce, meatballs and pasta ribbons

The rebellion of a couch tomato

Chop 4 large tomatoes such as those grown by the G.O.’s mate Trojan, with handful of basil leaves and 2 small sweet onions. Sauté using macadamia (or other nut/vegetable) oil. Add chopped leftover organic green beans, baked red capsicum, golden beetroot, black olives and beef meatballs from the freezer. Serve over left over strips of pasta made from leftover fresh lasagne sheets from the freezer, and top with grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Note: Every day I eat. Every now and then I blog about food: I thought it only fair on occasion to share what passes as a recipe for something I’ve made. We’re a 2 person household. All quantities and times are approximate. Additions and substitutions may be made according to preference, taste and availability. Where possible I use pastured/free range/organic produce and improvise using ingredients I have on hand.

I want to go back to Brazil, get married, have lots of kids, and just be a couch tomato. Ana Beatriz Barros

postivitea

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Positivitea: "Bread and water can so easily be toast and tea." ~Author Unknown
Positivitea: “Bread and water can so easily be toast and tea.” ~Author Unknown

It’s been a quiet week. Despite best efforts at hand washing and healthy living plus not touching yucky public things, the G.O. and I succumbed to a common cold lurgy.

Feeling unwell isn’t conducive to looking on the bright side but this week along the lines of WikiHow’s How to Lead a Fulfilling Life Based on Words Ending in “Ty”, I gave it my own best shot with tea and words ending “y”. Positivity.

Following advice recommending lots of rest and fluids, I took a day and a half either side of the weekend off work. I attended only to household necessities, pottered around, rested and drank tea. Efficiency.

Over the course of the week we’ve drunk much and varied tea… lemongrass & dried ginger tea, peppermint tea, black tea, green tea, lemon myrtle tea, jasmine dragon pearls tea… but left to my own devices on Monday and not well enough to venture out I wanted something else… with a kick… so I brewed a concoction from what was to hand. Spicy.

In a teapot: Nancy’s Lemongrass and Ginger tea + dessert spoon of fresh grated ginger (from a jar) + dessert spoon of organic honey + half teaspoon Garam Masala + half teaspoon Tumeric + half teaspoon Cayenne Pepper + slice of lemon. Creativity.

Soothing to the throat and warming of the chest. The G.O. looked sceptical when I told him. But it was tasty.

I put it to dual use as an inflamed ear poultice, soaking a cotton pad with the tea, applying it still warm to my sore ear. The mother of invention is necessity.

We had things to do last weekend. A car show and a visit to our new niece. We didn’t do either. Or anything else. A quick top-up grocery shop as I walked home last Friday lunchtime plus fridge-freezer and pantry contents and little effort has fed us this week. Simplicity.

Not going to the Hot Rod and Custom Auto Expo saved us cash. Frugality.

We didn’t visit my family and new niece then realise we were sick. We rain-checked. Sagacity.

After he finished work on Saturday the G.O. admitted the lurgy had taken hold. We stayed all plans and had an early night. Practicality.

The G.O. and I spent a cosy recuperative Sunday together on the couch catching up on recent TV episodes of the second part of the first series of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Misery loves company.

The G.O. has been dragging himself to work. His system has a higher tolerance for Panadol and the Pseudoephedrine content of cold & flu tablets than mine does. Duty over captivity.

I have a higher tolerance for limiting my existence to within the walls of our apartment. Ingenuity.

But even I have limits to how much time I can spend recuperating at home so I’ve been going to and from the office at odd hours. Logging on and checking emails remotely. Flexibility.

My foggy head managed some reading to pass the time. I posted reviews on Goodreads but unless you’re a Diana Gabaldon fan and are interested in reading the Lord John Grey novellas, I haven’t got anything new and wonderful to recommend. As well, I’ve been haphazardly reading & commenting on blog posts. Literary community.

I felt like my head cold addled mind could barely string two words together but I managed to polish my ‘branching out’ short story to just over 2000 words before checking the submission details. Somehow I’d gotten it into my fuzzy head the required word count was 2000 to 5000 words. Realising the word limit was up to 1500 words, while muttering “show, don’t tell” I killed 500-ish of my darlings for the better I must say. I submitted it to Australian Country Style this morning. Maybe words formulated under the influence of lurgy brain will give it an edge. Tenacity.

I’m getting better, and we haven’t needed to visit the doctor for an antibiotics prescription, or a flu shot. The G.O. is holding his own and the rain has accomplished what gentle nagging did not; he came home from work early today although it wasn’t easy to persuade him to go and have a sleep. Plus he has the weekend off. Happy.

 

the long way ’round

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The G.O. and I have just passed the 25 year milestone since we met…

Regardless of not having been a Coffs Harbour resident since living there as a teenager with his grandmother on the family farm, whenever we make the drive about an hour from our home at Taylors Arm for business, shopping or recreation in the CBD, the G.O. habitually parks as he’s done since the 1970’s in the same street one back from the main road around the corner from The Coffs Hotel adjacent to the Coffs Coast Advocate newspaper offices.

Each time I step out onto the footpath, I marvel at the inscrutability of life’s journey.

About a year before I met the G.O. in 1990, I was at those same newspaper offices applying for a job on their staff. At which time the G.O. had been working off and on throughout NSW and Queensland for several years with the man who would become my Husband #2 and via whom we would meet.

At the time, I was married to Husband #1, living in the rural Hunter Valley coal mining town of Muswellbrook, had a good job at the local council and was studying part-time for a Bachelor of Business in Local Government. Husband #1 bored with his carpentry job decided to try his luck bricklaying with his cousin who lived on the Coffs Coast. He went over for a couple of weeks on trial, me tagging along on holidays, and decided to move over permanently. Seeing the job at the newspaper advertised, I’d tried my luck, scoring an interview but unsuccessful as I wasn’t a local resident.

Returning to the Hunter Valley, in preparation for the move Husband #1 & I bought and renovated a large-ish caravan, relocating to his parents’ farm from our nice rented town house to live in it, with our 2 Rottweilers & 2 cats, and quit our jobs.

The day before we were due to hitch the caravan to the ute and depart Husband #1 changed his mind. His parents were unconcerned. Husband #1 had been employed in the main by one or another family member so he simply resumed work. Their blasé attitude at my unemployed status suggested they were hoping I’d come to my senses and produce a grandchild.

I immediately applied for any job listed in the local newspaper for which I was remotely qualified, and took the first offer I got as a receptionist at the premier hotel in town mainly patronised by visiting sales reps, executives, managers, etc. for local industry.

I worked 2 shifts: 7 am-3 pm and 3 pm-11 pm week about. Days were routine. Nights were more interesting with a procession of various guests, diners and occasional local minor celebrities into the hotel and restaurant. The hotel, part of a group, was managed by a cultivated but eccentric middle-aged couple who mostly left reception staff to their own devices.

The lady of the house was inclined to airs & graces and if it could be managed liked to have a couple of pre-dinner cocktails then descend the curved staircase from their private quarters elegantly attired, fluffy dog in hand to greet the guests. At which point whoever was on reception had to simultaneously attempt to persuade her back upstairs and locate her husband.

I kept one eye on the positions vacant, several months later landing a job as office manager for the NSW branch of a heavy earthmoving equipment company. It was there I met Husband #2. Soon, riding the last wave of the excess of the 80’s I was at the same hotel 3 nights a week lavishly hosting guests at the expense of the company or hosted by corporate colleagues.

The G.O. also had been working for the earthmoving equipment company, but his visits to our site didn’t coincide with my presence. It wasn’t until the company and my marriage to Husband #1 folded, and I moved to Sydney in April 1990 that we met.

The G.O. and EllaDee at Coffs Harbour's iconic tourist attraction!
The G.O. and EllaDee at Coffs Harbour’s iconic tourist attraction!

We discovered that over the preceding years our paths had come close but not connected numerous times; me holidaying as a kid on the Coffs Coast and the G.O. working in the Hunter Valley. And even once they did, it would take another 15 years, another marriage each to other people before the light dawned…

For Mary from Memoirs of a Husk who commented some time ago “We like long stories…” Check out her excellent novel A Wake of Vultures.

And with thanks to the commenters on my post out on a limb whose suggestions inspired ideas for several stories, this story included, and a ‘branching out’ theme short story which if I get time to polish it before May 29 might be a contender for submission to Country Style Magazine’s short story competition.

 

In My Kitchen: live love local

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Wiki describes Locavore as “a person interested in eating food that is locally produced, not moved long distances to market. One common – but not universal – definition of “local” food is food grown within 100 miles (161 kilometres) of its point of purchase or consumption”.

Although not strictly a Locavore, I like to source food as locally as possible or know its provenance. Locavore is great in principle, but not always do-able in reality. Dividing our time between 2 locations 500 kilometres apart as the G.O. and I do is similarly great in principle, but not always in reality.

In the last six weeks the G.O. and I have made 4 trips north; first to the Hunter Valley for my youngest half-sister’s baby shower; last to meet my niece ( …first grandchild for my family) born on my half-brother’s 30th birthday. In between we’ve made 2 trips to our house at Taylors Arm for Easter and ANZAC Day.

In order to drive to Taylors Arm for ANZAC Day we had to get through areas of the Hunter Valley which experienced a deluge during that week. The G.O. had a skin cancer removed from his face and 3 layers of 15 stitches immediately prior to our departure and we were delayed in traffic for 2 hours but managed to get through before the highway was closed due to floodwater across it.

water, water everywhere...
water, water everywhere…

I wouldn’t describe our time at Taylors Arm as relaxing or recreational, rather productive but it gave me the opportunity to stock up on local Nambucca Valley produce. Knowing we were heading off to Taylors Arm my family had put in their orders for lemon myrtle soap and macadamias.

Gruber's Winery
Gruber’s Winery

It was great to visit and chat with Michelle & Peter from Perry’s Lemon Myrtle and Mariana from Gruber’s Winery just down the road. As well as using lemon myrtle soap bars in the shower; I grind the soap up, adding water & glycerine and heating in a saucepan to make liquid hand soap for the kitchen and bathroom.

Perry's Lemon Mrytle
Perry’s Lemon Mrytle

The G.O loves a visit to the MacNuts shop in Macksville and samples the flavoured varieties of macadamias thoroughly while he waits.

Nambucca MacNuts
Nambucca MacNuts

I also strolled down our main street to The Pub With No Beer and bought beef & eggs locally grown by the new managers, the Welsh’s who are the G.O.’s cousins, and local garlic grown on the village outskirts.

grocery shopping at The Pub With No Beer
grocery shopping at The Pub With No Beer

Best of all our RHS neighbours shared with us bananas they had been given that were grown nearby, some of which I exchanged for one of 3 pumpkins anonymously left on LHS neighbour’s doorstep.

freebies
freebies

There were also a few choko’s remaining on the vine along our RHS dividing fence, which I grabbed as I like them (a bit smaller preferably) and even though the G.O. detests them, he’ll cook them for me on the bbq.

We return to Sydney laden with products from our Mid North Coast home, and fortunately online shopping enables me to replenish at a few of my favourite places both local & non-local: Perry’s Lemon Myrtle; Nambucca MacNutsKombu Wholefoods; Daintree Tea, even if I’m not able to visit in person.

Other local Mid North Coast favourites also available further afield at farmers markets or via distributors are Burrawong Gaian PoultryAusbuff buffalo products, and Booma Boers who are at my local Sydney Eveleigh Farmers Market. Booma Boers goat products are also available at some Woolworths supermarkets.

Thanks to Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting In My Kitchen and the IMK community for foodie inspiration & the virtual company they provide. If you’d like to join in, link back to Celia’s blog.

“The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.” ― Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

biggered

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Until a few years ago my food belief systems were stuck in the late 1960’s, where as a pre-schooler I shopped at the small country grocery store with my mother. There were only a few varieties of breakfast cereal. My grandparents provided us with milk and eggs. Fresh bread was delivered via a horse and cart. The modest amounts of cordial, ice-cream, packaged products bought were made by local companies not global conglomerates.

Baked Snow Gem potatoes
Baked Snow Gem potatoes

It became apparent things had changed. Food didn’t taste the way I remembered, and I’d begun experiencing health issues related to sugars, refined carbohydrates and additives. I considered what I was spending, and the value I was getting. I compared the taste of corporate-industrial products to quality fresh produce; and health, ethical and environmental costs vs. benefits.

Extracting myself from today’s food complex was daunting. I made the change gradually, exchanging bad for good; fresh white bread is still a treat, from a bakery not a supermarket. I found better options… I can take or leave supermarket potatoes but I love potatoes from the farmers market which when baked go crisp & caramelised, and taste so much better. Before I discovered farmers market potatoes I just thought I was terrible at baking potatoes.

And it seems I’ve come back to where I was in the late 1960’s. I manage by sticking to favourite products, buying in season, a stocked pantry, smaller portions of better quality, planning meals, cooking food at home rather than dining out or buying takeaway, taking homemade lunches to work, making meals from leftovers and putting them in the freezer… using every last skerrick.

Leftovers/freezer meals have increasingly become our equivalent of takeaway; quick & easy. Home cooked dinner made from good farmers market produce is better than a lot of restaurant offerings I’ve encountered… and I’m a simple everyday cook!

While we live in a small city apartment I’m unable to grow food but I am growing awareness. Akin to my passion for family history research I read books and blogs on food topics, Google search and follow a treasure map of links. It takes time and thought but it’s nothing compared with what consumers are against when it comes to marketing efforts by Big Food.

To give you an idea the top 3 companies of 2013 Food Sales from Food Processing’s Top 100 – 2014 are:

  1. Pepsico Inc.
  2. Tyson Foods Inc.
  3. Nestle

The world’s largest snack-food maker [Pepsico] may boost the advertising and marketing budget for its namesake cola and other drinks by as much as $600 million, or 50 percent, to $1.7 billion when it announces the results of a year-long business review Feb. 9, according to analysts surveyed by Bloomberg”

In 2012, Tyson Foods’ ad spend amounted to approximately 496 million U.S. dollars. Tyson Foods is a manufacturer of food products, mostly chicken, beef, and pork products.”

In 2013, Nestle spent 30.6 million U.S. dollars on internet advertising in the U.S.”

“I meant no harm I most truly did not, but I had to grow bigger so bigger I got.
I biggered my factory, I biggered my roads, I biggered the wagons,
I biggered the loads, of the Thneeds I shipped out
I was shipping them forth from the South, to the East, to the West.
To the North, I went right on biggering selling more thneeds.
And I biggered my money which everyone needs.”
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Note: Every day I eat. Every now and then I blog about food: I thought it only fair on occasion to share what passes as a recipe for something I’ve made. We’re a 2 person household. All quantities and times are approximate. Additions and substitutions may be made according to preference, taste and availability. Where possible I use pastured/free range/organic produce and improvise using ingredients I have on hand.

Easy weeknight food: Enchiladas made from freezer, pantry and fridge contents.

Combine in saucepan and heat through 1 medium size container of defrosted savoury ground beef mince* with 2 cans of drained & rinsed red kidney beans and a sachet of tomato paste (approx. 2 tablespoons).

Defrost small tub of chopped sautéed tomatoes and add approx. 3 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce.

Spray or brush a large shallow ovenproof dish with canola oil.

Spoon a line of the mince-bean mixture along the centre of 6 tortillas, folding and placing each in ovenproof dish.

Spoon tomato-sweet chilli sauce mix over the top.

Top with grated cheese.

Beef and Bean Enchiladas with Corn Salsa and Spiced Persian Yoghurt
Beef and Bean Enchiladas with Corn Salsa and Spiced Persian Yoghurt

Cover with foil and bake in pre-heated 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas 6 oven for 20 to 30 minutes, removing foil for last 5 to 10 minutes.

To make salsa combine 1 cup sweet corn kernels with 2 chopped tomatoes, a small red onion chopped, chopped red bull pepper, a handful of fresh basil, a drizzle each of olive oil and sweet chilli sauce.

Serve warm enchiladas with corn salsa and Spiced Persian Yoghurt -yoghurt, feta and fresh herbs, Greek yoghurt/crème fraiche/sour cream.

This is the first time I’ve made enchiladas but it won’t be the last. The G.O. said they were better than lasagne… but I’m not sure I agree but they’re as good as.

It made 2 night’s dinners and leftovers the G.O. took to work for lunch.

When I began incorporating beans into the savoury ground beef mince the G.O. wasn’t too keen but he’s become accustomed (it’s change he doesn’t like, I think) and enjoyed lasagne I made with beef & beans and layers of veges.

*There are always a few containers of savoury beef mince in our freezer. We eat it on toast, with mashed potato and veges, in spaghetti bolognaise, lasagne, nachos…

To make 4 containers of savoury beef mince for the freezer, in a large frypan saute 4 large chopped onions in canola oil with a sprinkle of white pepper. When translucent, add 1 kg ground beef mince stirring & breaking up until browned. Add a cup of beef stock, 2 tins chopped tomatoes, 1 sachet of tomato paste (approx. 2 tablespoons), a pinch each of dried rosemary & nutmeg and a squeeze of lemon juice. Simmer for approx. 15 minutes. Add 2 cups of fresh breadcrumbs and simmer for approx. 15 minutes. Can also be slow cooked in the oven in a heavy based casserole dish or using an electric slow cooker.