Thursday, December 24, 2009

What colour is your Christmas?

The Christmas season is a riot of light in the northern hemisphere, cheering the long dark nights and acting as a reminder that the sun is beginning its return south. White snow, red berries and the green of the conifers are the colours of winter, associated with Christmas since creamy white beeswax candles glowed red in a German fir tree.

Today instead of the gentle glow of hazardous candles, lights strobe and flash in strings, lanterns and ropes in computer generated awkward and irritating sequences. Tree and time consuming handwritten cards have been replaced by flashing electronic ones sent and received by email and holographic papers flash from under every artificial tree. The colours of Christmas now include hot pink, lime green and purple, mostly created in plastic.

Driving through the Capes region in the past week, I realised that the colours of Christmas in Australia are green and gold. During the long days of brilliant sunshine, in the paddocks the West Australian Christmas tree, nuytsia floribunda, is astounding in its brilliant yellow blooms and if you are lucky, on the road verges you will find the straggly St John's Wort with its lemon yellow stars that magically colour everything red together with wild mullein and evening primrose. On the sandy ridges there are lime green kangaroo paws and banksias with their slender yellow candles.

Whatever the colour of your Christmas, may it be joyous and loving.

Travel safely, eat well, drink wisely, have fun and let someone else do the dishes.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Exercise-bad for your health?

When my father got lost while driving the family car, my mother would often hum quietly 'we will get there, heaven knows how but we'll get there.' I could have done that too, if I wasn't so out of breath and needing every bit of energy to haul myself up a hill the size of Kosciusko!
For two years my new bike has languished in the shed, collecting cobwebs and mysteriously shedding mud guards. Spring: five kilos heavier and another year past fifty, I really couldn't keep making excuses. For the past couple of weeks I have been sedately riding (on the footpath) to have coffee, building up my stamina for a bigger challenge.
Today's ride had been a few weeks in the planning. Collecting a few friends together on the same day is always a bit of a challenge but four of us set off together with another following for a forty minute ride to the local dam, where we would be met by my man and a friend who would make us breakfast and provide lifts home for bikes and bodies too tired to make the return trip.
We are all of a similar age so no one was going to be racing off ahead. Except me, that is. I soon realised that wearing my driving glasses was a bad mistake. I could see fine into the distance but distinguishing holes in the gravel track in the light/dark strobe of sun flickering through the trees was impossible. I was becoming a hazard to everyone so I sped on ahead.
I waited at the next turning a while but the others didn't catch up. The sign into the water catchment pointed down a steep hill to a water crossing. The river was black and there was no way I could gauge how deep it was as again, the glasses weren't up to it. The only visible sign was red and warned 'danger crossing' in large letters even I could read. The sensible thing to do was push the bike back up the hill and waited for the others to catch up. I waited a while and then a while more, no one came. I figured that they had ridden past while I was looking at the water so took off up the track where I met our straggler, riding in the opposite direction, also not having seen any sign of the others.
We went back to the turn off to the ford together and in good bush tradition, placed a few large branches in an arrow to show the track we had taken. We found a shallow but muddy way across the stream and headed up. And up and up and up. We lost track of time and distance, the only signs we came across told someone 'do not burn' and we hoped that applied to us too. We trusted that as the day was becoming hotter by the minute, no one would attempt burning anything anywhere near where we were.
Nearing the top of the hill we got a signal on the mobile and rang the others, who had been waiting, worried but relieved to hear we were together. We told them we had no idea where we were but would find our way back. It was another two hours before we reached again the muddy stream bed. We had ridden and walked in a gigantic circle. There was again no phone signal until we regained the ford when we called and asked someone to come down and show us the rest of the way. We parked the bikes and lay flat on our backs in the stream (all two inches of it) and groaned in ecstasy.
Five minutes later we had juice, water, a cup of tea and a bench to sit on with very relieved friends.Some good lessons were learnt. We were okay because we had water, food, sunscreen and repellant, hats and helmets and a mobile phone. A small kit with arnica, rescue remedy, Green Magic, bandaids, antihistamines and Panadol would have seen us through most minor incidents. Being girls, we also carried Wet Ones and toilet paper too.
Our biggest mistake was not waiting for the others and not carrying a map. A lot of the signage had become vandalised or overgrown and wasn't to be relied upon. Although I felt rather stupid, I was pleased at the way we figured out our way back without tears, tantrums or mishaps.
The taste of the cool sweet rockmelon that we shared at the top of the mountain will stay with me as a memory of one of the best things I have ever eaten. Please, if you are heading out into the wild, even close to home,look after your selves and be prepared. And take all your glasses with you!


Friday, December 11, 2009

Self publishing or blowing your own trumpet!

What is it that makes time accelerate at this time of year? I nearly fainted when I saw a sign saying 'two weeks till Christmas.'I think that should have been until or 'til, but these signs are meant to annoy us.

The arrival of the tempeh book has sent me into an extra mad flurry of activity. Self publishing is a wonderful way to explore your creativity. For a reasonable sum, anyone can publish whatever they want providing they are prepared to learn some publishing basics. Free from the restrictions of publishers, editors and designers, Your creativity can be given free reign without the restrictions of publishers, editors, designers and deadlines.There is no one telling you what to do. What you don't get is a dedicated team of professionals who will keep you in line, check your spelling, keep the book within budget and most importantly promote it for you. There is a price for all that creative freedom.

Here I am, packing little bundles to present to retailers, posting emails to all my friends, negotiating web servers, links and other technical stuff I usually avoid.

Christmas panic lurks over my left shoulder and boxes of books over my right. The printers tell us that if you can break even on your first print run (get your money back), that is the sign of a successful self published book. I have let myself be a little proud of my first solo effort - here it is...

'Tempeh' gives you an overview of the history, nutritional value and the use of tempeh as well as recipes for every meal. Here is an Indonesian style recipe from the book that is quick and easy to prepare.

Sticky Tempeh

Halve this recipe if you intend to serve it as a side dish.

600g tempeh, cut into thin strips
2 Tbsp + 2 Tbsp oil
2 brown shallots or 1 brown onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 red chillies, sliced
2 tsp fresh ginger, chopped finely
Pinch of shrimp paste (optional)
80gms palm sugar, chopped
3 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp tamarind pulp

Fry the tempeh using the first 2 Tbsp of oil, until brown and set aside.
Add the rest of the oil to the fry pan and sauté the garlic, chillies, ginger and shallots with the shrimp paste if used for 2 minutes.
Add the sugar, water and tamarind and continue to stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Return the tempeh to the pan and continue to cook, stirring gently until the sauce has reduced and caramelised.
Season with salt to taste.
Garnish with fresh chillies and serve with rice or as a side dish with ‘wet’ curries.

Eat well,


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas cake through a straw

Happy first day of summer.

It’s raining here and I have just baked my Christmas cakes. As usual, I have far exceeded the amount of alcohol stated by the recipe. I have also changed the types of fruit, nuts and cooking time until it looks nothing like the original. I have tried to convince myself that the first time I make a recipe, I will follow it to the letter, but it’s like ‘breaking up’ - hard to do. I always feel that if I just tweaked it that little bit…. usually, everything is fine although there have been a few spectacular disasters over the years. Here is my recipe for Christmas cake, it has gone through many incarnations but this is not the version that we had to drink through a straw!


I included some pitted and chopped prunes and figs for their sticky factor and some red and orange fruits for colour as well as the sultanas and currants. This year I have lots of home dried plums which add a lovely purple colour and some finely chopped crystallised ginger to zip it up. The choice and proportions of fruits are up to you but please chop the larger pieces to no larger than a raisin.

1C each of brandy and sherry or fruit juice Use a LITTLE more if you need to (see below.)
1.5kg dried fruits
125g butter at room temperature
½ C brown sugar
4 eggs
¼ C strong espresso coffee, cooled
¼ C marmalade or jam
1 C plain flour
1 C self raising flour
1 Tbsp cocoa or carob powder
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp nutmeg
2 C pecans or walnuts

Soak the fruit in the juice or alcohol in a bowl covered in plastic wrap until you are ready to bake. Stir once each day.
On baking day drain the fruit in a colander over a bowl. If all the liquid has been absorbed, pour a LITTLE extra over the fruit and save the delicious brown, sweet and sticky stuff that ends up in the bowl. You need about 2 tablespoons.
With butter, grease a large round spring form or two smaller pans and line with baking paper.
Cream the butter and sugar till pale in colour and stir in eggs, one at a time, until combined.
Mix the coffee and the marmalade and stir this in too.
Sift the dry ingredients and stir in two lots until combined.
Finally add the soaked fruit and call the family for a stir for good luck.
Pop into the pans and level the top. Decorate with whole blanched almonds at this stage if you don’t want to ice them later.
Bake in a slow oven, 160 C if you can. If cooking more than one cake, put them all on the same oven shelf so they will cook evenly.

A large cake will take from 90 minutes to 2 hours. If it is becoming too brown on the top, cover with foil. I make 3 small cakes and they usually take about 50 minutes. The cakes are cooked when a bamboo skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean.

Brush the tops of the cakes with the reserved liquid while hot to form a nice sticky glaze.
Cool in the tin before wrapping in plastic wrap and storing in box or tin with a tight fitting lid.
These will keep for three months if you hide them really well. Some recipes tell you to pour a little extra alcohol over the cake after baking but I prefer to drink mine or save it for the Christmas pudding.

Happy baking


Monday, November 23, 2009

Fowl weather and the ETS

As Australian politicians enter the final few days of debate over an emissions trading scheme, all over Australia the weather is breaking records for the wettest, hottest and driest November, depending on where you live. Here, after a confused yo yoing between winter and summer the warmer weather has arrived and spring has been condensed into a few days in between.

The response of everything here has been amazing; the enzyme cleanser is bubbling away on the window sill, the sourdough is ready in four hours instead of twelve and rises right to the top of its tin, every green leafy vegetable has suddenly bolted skywards and we have had ten baby chickens hatch - a hundred percent success rate for the first time ever.
The easterlies from the desert have begun and the noise of dripping rain has been replaced with the crackle of gum leaves under foot as the trees begin to shed. Our town has has already had one serious wild fire that has threatened homes and left four hundred hectares of coastal heath blackened and ugly around one of the most popular beach side settlements.
In the rush to clear our gutters, plant summer vegetables, reset the irrigation and look towards fruit crops and all consuming madness of Christmas, it seems as if we are always running out of time.
My Christmas wish is that our pollies enter this debate with their eyes open and look to the faces of their children and grandchildren for guidance. We can't afford to run out of time this time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More Hubble Bubble

A weekend visitor asked if she could take a photo of my window sill. She said that no one else had a window sill like mine. Tomorrow, there will be another strange thing to look at, this is why…
I was researching the health benefits of chrysanthemum tea the other day when I came across a blog from Malaysia full of all sorts of interesting recipes and information. This particular cleaning enzyme had been adapted from a formula for a garbage enzyme developed by a naturopath, Dr Joeen Oon, who is concerned about the 7.3 million tonnes of waste that Malaysia generates each year. She uses the enzyme, diluted with water to do everything: cleaning toilets, bathrooms, dishes, laundry, washing fruit and vegetables, clearing drains, to mop floors, as a natural repellent and as shampoo and face cleanser!!!!! I think that deserves a few exclamation marks, don’t you?
You can use any food scraps you like but meat and other proteins will make it smell really bad during its fermenting process. In the homemaker blog she used only citrus peels. How wonderful to find another use for something the chooks won’t eat and are not great in the compost. Anything that uses lemons instantly gets my attention as I have a Meyer lemon that has obscene amounts of fruit for ten months of the year.

Here is my interpretation that combines both versions of the recipe:

Citrus Enzyme Based Multipurpose Cleaner
You will need either; a large plastic container, a screw top jar, 2 litre juice bottle or a 10 litre lidded bucket, depending on how much you want to make.
The only ingredients you need are brown sugar, kitchen scraps and water in a proportion of 1:3:10.
The amounts given below will fit into a 2 litre juice bottle.

100 g brown sugar
300g of citrus or other scraps
1 litre of water
Use a funnel to pour the sugar into the bottle.
Drop in the fruit slices
Pour in the water (tap water is okay)
Put the lid on tightly.
Mark the bottle with the date it will be ready, in 3 months time.
Give it a good shake.
For the first month you will need to open the lid as the pressure inside builds up with the fermentation process. Don’t let the bottle start to swell.
After 3 months it should be a nice brown colour, if not add an extra amount of sugar and ferment some more. It should not smell ‘rotten’ this means it needs to ferment some more.
Filter through an old cloth and bottle.

Use diluted 1 Tbsp to one litre of water. You will need to experiment to find the best dilution for your brew.
This all sounds good to me; cheap and easy to make, environmentally friendly, uses something you would otherwise throw away and has a little bit of magic too! If anyone else has done this, let me know how you got on with it.
I’ll let you know how mine goes

Thursday, November 5, 2009

And I will make thee beds of roses...

‘…my mouth fills at the memory of the perfume, like cream and marshmallow and burnt sugar and the heady mingling of cognac and fresh ground cocoa beans. It is the scent of a woman’s hair, just where the nape joins the skull’s tender hollow, the scent of ripe apricots in the sun…’

‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris

The garden at the moment is heady with such intense fragrance I can only close my eyes, breathe it in deeply and hope to place it in some part of memory where I can recall at will that ethereal, heady swooning sensation.
The fences are laden with pink jasmine and honeysuckle, Mr. Lincoln is sighing his rich redness into the air and the lemon tree is laden with absurd amounts of tart blossoms. The sweet almondy purple flowers of the cherry pie have wound their way into the lemon verbena like some rich dessert recipe. Custardy elderflowers and the fresh scent of lavender remind me of afternoon tea with elderly relatives, the musky scent of the poppies of forbidden pleasures.
Spring is a busy time, there is manure and hay to spread, summer vegetables to plant, bulbs to be dug. The window sill holds a growing collection of jars and bottles, oils and essences of petals and flowers and the dryer is full of lavender, roses and calendula, all in an attempt to capture the elusive nature of fragrance.
Unless you can grow acres of fragrant flowers, you won’t be able to create your own essential oils. It needs thousands of flowers to pass through the distillation process to produce a very small amount of oil. There is another process that can be done at home. It is a variation on the enfleurage method of extraction. There are a few different variations of this, each using oil or fat. I have found a good cheat’s method that will give you a nicely scented oil infusion.

Fill a jar with scented petals of your choice, a mixture of flowers can be lovely. Cover with grape seed or jojoba oil and add 2 teaspoons of vodka.Place on a sunny window sill or in a warm spot. Each day, strain the oil and replace the flowers with fresh ones. Check after ten days. If you would like a stronger scent, continue replacing the flowers each day. Finally, strain the oil through a piece of muslin into a dark glass bottle and store in a cool place out of the sun or refrigerate. Use in perfume blends, cosmetics or massage oil.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies…’
Christopher Marlowe

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

First Attempt

Not bad at all; a little crusty, a little brown and the tin was too large for the dough. The dough rose well, the taste was great...and I got to bed at a reasonable hour too...all good.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Magic happens slowly

I have been making bread all week. Not lots and lots of bread, just one loaf. You see, I love food that talks to me, that responds, that carries some magic. Think ginger beer plants, elder fizz, kefir yoghurt and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Many years ago I shared a restaurant kitchen with an eccentric psychologist who made bread because he liked to. I would go in at 6am to bake cakes and begin breakfast and he would be there, before work, with his hubble bubble pot of starter, making the most delicious rye sour dough which he would return to bake at lunch time. During the summer, the starter would sometimes erupt out of its jar and glup its way down the shelves in the pantry. Late at night, when everything was quiet, it would quietly grumble away, keeping me company in the empty building.
Bakers keep their starters as guarded secrets between the chosen few. Sour dough is a bit of a mystery, more magic than science. Definitely time for me to try…
Five days ago I began: carefully measuring accurate quantities of unbleached white flour, whole meal and boiled rainwater cooled to 40 degrees centigrade. Each day the process was repeated, I’m not going to tell you the exact amounts because then I would have to kill you…
The optimum temperature to activate the starter was 28 degrees centigrade. Ha! (This recommended by an English cook - bet she had great central heating.) Of course, on day 2, winter returned and the temperature in the house hoveried around 14! After a couple of days, a couple of fires, the starter was beginning to show a few bubbles and beginning to smell a bit fruity…all good.
Today was baking day. Before breakfast I made the production leaven (I don’t remember this bit from before.) This needed to sit for 4 hours before making the bread. Okay, weigh and mix, go for a walk and come back to it. I have made a lot of bread over the years and I’m not convinced this is right, it looks dry and crumbly. I bravely added some more water and went off to have lunch.
Now the directions said add more water and more flour with a little salt. I add all white flour as I have concerns about the rye having not enough gluten. Suddenly I have something that looks like a lump of zebra. Knead, knead and knead again and its back to looking like bread dough. The extra water has softened it up and I am happier now that it pops up when I press it.
It’s off to its (don’t forget to oil it) tin to rise till double now. The recipe warns it could be five hours. Magic does happen, it just happens rather slowly. Now I have to figure out what happens to the rest of the starter and the lump of leaven in the fridge. The recipe doesn’t tell you, I’m sure she thinks you would have given up and thrown it in the chook bucket by now. The author said the recipe came from a friend of hers (!) I must remember that excuse next time someone complains one of my recipes didn’t turn out great.
In all this fun, I quite forgot that today was the day I try and discipline myself to write the blog. I asked Amita over lunch, what do you think I should write about this week? The bush fire? Drive out and take ghastly photos of devastated bush and moan about the lack of support for the local fire brigade volunteers? I looked over the benches, flour, dough, leftover starter and baking tins. No, I’ve got a better idea.
It could be a long night; I’ll let you know tomorrow how it turns out!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Show Day

The weather leapt into summer overnight, ignoring spring entirely. With two days until I was due to enter my produce in the local agricultural show it wasn’t the best time for extreme weather.
The day before it was already warm at 6.30 am when I discovered that the best stick of celery had begun to bolt overnight, the biggest red cabbage was looking a bit cooked and the coriander was now three foot tall and flowering and wouldn’t be any good for my display of culinary herbs. Thank goodness I only needed a minimum of six different herbs and had more vegetables to choose from. I bundled the second choices up and it all looked pretty good when I dropped it at the hall, primped, sprayed and hidden under a wet tea towel for the afternoon judging.
The day of the show was a scorcher. By noon all the fresh produce was limp, the milk had turned solid in its bottles and the iced cakes were looking sad. By four o’clock hot, tired show people and volunteers were beginning to pack up. Outside the office a long queue of people, wound across the grass. The happy, rowdy line up on the lawn was the final part of the show process. These people had acquired their show program as soon as it was available, studied the sections they wished to enter, visited the office the week before to register and pay an entry fee for each item they planned to enter, delivered their exhibits the day before and had just picked them up again. The pre planning in some cases had taken a whole year to produce the best blooms, most handsome chicken or best dressed pet. The red and blue cards they clutched as they waited showed that they were the successful ones, waiting in line to collect their winnings.
The people around me were a perfect microcosm of the day: teenagers from the photography class, retirees and their art works, young girls in jodhpurs, grannies with their preserves and men bantering about their veggies. Friends of many years, neighbours and complete strangers all waited patiently, dissecting the day and comparing prizes and how to spend them and congratulating each other in happy camaraderie.
As the line moved slowly in the hot afternoon sunshine I felt that to be with these people, in this community, was the real reward for our labour. And yes, I did win a couple of prizes – the cash will be used to buy vinegar to pickle all those cabbages!

Enjoy the weather,


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

So... I did!

Cleaning is my perfect antidote to long frustrating days wrestling with the computer. My attack on the pantry took two afternoons and a talking book and left me with two bags for the rubbish bin, the chickens with an interesting bucket of food and a box of preserves ready to donate to the local fire brigades next fund raiser.

I began with the spice rack that hangs on the back of my pantry door. I remembered a quote that I had heard: ‘Some of your spices are as old as your children…’ I tried to remember when I had last used or bought each one and ruthlessly threw out the rest, making a note on the next weeks shopping list to buy more. I then scrubbed the shelves with hot soapy water to which a little lemon scented gum essential oil had been added and replaced them all in alphabetical order. I know it sounds anal, but it makes life a lot easier when you are cooking.

Shelf by shelf, I followed a similar routine:

Clearing shelves one at a time, I checked for best by and expiry dates. My best find was brandy snap baskets purchased for Christmas 2004! I discarded any food that shows signs of insects: cobwebs, mouse poo, white dust or small holes in grains and packets. Please throw away any dried herbs that are no longer green or spices that have little aroma, they will add nothing to your cooking except the texture of sawdust!
With my squirrel mentality, each year shelves of preserves slowly take over my life and pantry. With stone fruit season hurtling towards us, it was definitely time to do some sorting. I discard any preserves that have changed colour at the top of the jar, have no label or whose contents are runny or leaking or jars where the lids are showing signs of rust. Decide how much you can logically consume and donate the rest to family, friends and charities. I don’t take a lot of notice of dates on jam and marmalade unless they look odd; the high sugar content prevents spoilage. We have happily eaten marmalade 3 or 4 years old with no ill effects. This doesn’t apply if you make preserves which are low in sugar.

In flour bins you can use a sprig of bay leaves to help repel weevils or tape to the lid of jars. If you have open packets, roll the tops down and clip with a peg or secure with a rubber band and place in a sealed box or container, labeled with its contents.
If you have ants, a 50/50 mixture of borax and icing sugar laid on a lid on their trail will kill them. I like to wipe down the shelves every now and then with a damp cloth with a few drops of eucalyptus, tea tree or lavender essential oil. Cockroaches don’t like this although you may need to place some contained baits if they become a problem. All insect and vermin problems are helped by ensuring that food is stored securely and spills are cleaned up. If they can’t find anything to eat, they won’t return.

When you reshelf, place the oldest food towards the front, so it gets used. Try eating from the pantry for a while before restocking and place new items at the back. If you put related items together in a way that makes sense to you and if you label those endless jars of jam and strange packets of flour as you buy or make them, you won’t overbuy or waste so much and everything will be easier to find.
It's back to the computer now for me, happy spring cleaning!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I'd rather clean the pantry!

Twenty years ago, my teenage children pooled their resources to buy a Commodore 64 computer and we became a high tech family. We attached the lead to the control, plugged it in and turned it on. They were totally hooked from the first moment: eyes glazed, hands glued to the joystick, screeching at the screen and each other as the games got more exciting. One short session playing ‘tennis’ with its irritating electronic ‘pock, pock’, and I was over it - I have never been much of a sportsperson.
It was five years later I was dragged kicking and screaming to buy my first computer after Nerys, as always at least ten steps ahead of me as far as new technology was concerned, convinced me that I couldn’t live without one.
The new machine was delivered and the man from the shop drove seventy kilometers to show us how to set it up and drive it. It was all part of the service. This first computer was my friend and helper for seven years. We knew and liked each other and I didn't mind having my early morning coffees at the internet café.
With plans to go travelling, I finally decided to upgrade to a wireless enabled laptop. It was pushy, always wanting more: a decent keyboard, a hand held mouse, a wireless modem for the house, extra memory, a carry bag and someone stronger than me to carry it. We were never friends, maybe it was because I bought it from overseas and it didn’t understand English. Within two years everyone close to me, fed up with my computer dramas, was urging me to get rid of it.
I spotted an advertisement for a ‘future-proofed’ computer with a memory that number one son gently informed me was not called a tetra bite but a terra byte. (We were probably out of milk at the time!) This computer had it all, the shop was within walking distance and the credit card to hand.
That was three weeks ago, since then I have had: an unbelievably unhelpful dialog with the shop; a near divorce; gallons of Rescue Remedy; a trip to the city with the computer; sessions with a patient friend and his bottle of Bombay Sapphire, and another with my genius son. I have purchased blank DVD’s for back up, power boards and updated programs after being bullied by Microsoft. Today I have the internet working, the home network upgraded, the security is on, my files have been transferred, the printer and the camera have been installed and for the last two days I have been avoiding the office and cleaning out the pantry instead.
Now, with fingers crossed, shelves cleaned, I am ready to blog again. This machine has cost me a similar amount in dollars as my first; the cost to my sanity has been much higher. While I can appreciate all that it will (eventually) do, I want to know whatever happened to the simple life and that lovely man from the computer shop?


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Oils of the Gods

Since I heard that there existed an essential oil of lotus, I have been trying to get close enough to one to find out what the scent is like. Unfortunately, these were in the middle of a pond in Kalbarri, far away from any chance of a sniff and it's still too cold here at home - all the plants still firmly sleeping in the mud. So when I saw Lotus essential oil in a catalogue, I had to buy some.

The lotus was recognised by ancient Egyptians, Indians, Greeks and American Indians as a powerful sacred symbol of spiritual rebirth and the universe. Its seductive power was immortalised by Homer when he described the land of the lotus eaters where his shipmates quickly succumbed to the happy indolence said to be one of its effects when the petals are steeped in wine!

The pink lotus, nelumbo nucifera, is associated with Buddha, who is often depicted sitting on a thousand-petaled pink lotus, the symbol of enlightenment. Its qualities of purity, delicateness and beauty claim to be able to help in 'opening the knots of the heart.' The scent is floral, warm and exotic. It calms and soothes and is reputed to be an aphrodisiac.

Sacred to Lakshmi Devi, the Indian goddess of wealth, the white lotus is also known by the same Latin name - nelumbo nucifera. The oil has a more delicate, ethereal scent, a top note for a perfume blend. Emotionally it promotes contentment, kindness, forgiveness and love in the environment in which you live and can assist in gaining self-esteem and confidence.

The blue lotus, nymphaea caerulea is a symbol of the sun associated with the Egyptian gods Ra, Hapi and Horus, as well as others. Its petals were found scattered over the body of Tutankhamen in his tomb.Its relaxing and euphoric qualities no doubt helped him on his journey. Medicinally it can be used as an antispasmodic.

Lotus flowers don't produce much oil and the oils are best purchased in a 3% blend with jojoba oil. Blue Lotus oil, produced in Thailand, is the most expensive of the three at $US75per ml. I haven't found anyone who can describe it for me. If you manage to get close enough to the real thing, let me know.

Thanks, Nirala

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Food for Seduction

Watching cooking competitions on television is my form of armchair exercise. I scream, yell and abuse the umpires like the best of footy fans. Last week, one challenge was to create a menu from Moreton Bay Bugs, oysters and strawberries with the theme of romance. It wouldn't have worked for me. I don't find seafood sexy, hate oysters and strawberries remind me of the Melbourne Cup and champagne hangovers.

The aphrodisiac qualities of food can be imaginary, magic or just plain hopeful. A few have some scientific evidence to back them up. (You didn't think they really meant ROMANCE, did you?) There are lots of suggestions about what works.

The absolutely obvious are those who are suggestive in appearance and supposedly resemble seeds, fertility symbols, genitalia and other body parts. Think asparagus, bananas, figs, snails, oysters and peaches. Stranger still are the body parts of animals. Although they are not usually served for dinner they could be slipped into a pre dinner drink!

Some are tricksters - chilli can make you hot and sweaty and increase your heart rate. Although this could be useful if you need to 'fake it', the risk of chilli ending up somewhere it shouldn't is rather risky.

Bananas, chocolate and honey provide various nutrients that can help the metabolism of hormones, increase stamina and increase serotonin levels to bring on that happy mood. If you added ice cream and a few nuts you could make a banana split - how easy could seduction get?

Honey also has an historical link to fertility. Couples were encouraged to drink honey mead for a month leading up to their marriage. It was a 'honeymoon' to build up their stamina before the big day.

Of course, sexy food will always be a matter of personal preference. Here are a few tips:

What ever you choose for that special meal must look, taste and smell wonderful.
Check for allergies before planning your menu to avoid disaster as emergency rooms are not sexy!
Add some soft lights, gentle music and a beautifully laid table with flowers.
Bribe the children to go out and give the dog a large bone.
Nutritious, small, tasty morsels will titillate the palate.
Eat lightly and drink in moderation. A roast with red wine and steamed pudding will soon find you both snoring on the couch.
Plan on a dessert that can be served cold or at room temperature - if the main meal works its magic, you may not need it until later.

My favourites are a man in an apron cooking for me and sharing something messy. (I also end up snoring on the couch quite a lot!)

I believe that any meal that is planned with care, prepared with love and served to some one special is one of the loveliest gifts we can give each other.

Maybe its time I went back to the kitchen..its less than six months to Valentines Day.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Miles of Food

A couple of people have asked me to explain the term “food miles’, so here goes…

Food miles are one indicator of the energy that is expended to produce our food. The first Australian food miles study, presented by Sophie Gaballa in 2005 featured 29 supermarkets items in a basket of food designed to feed two adults healthy meals for a week. 25 items were produced in Australia and transported a total of 21,000 klm by road. When the imported baked beans, sausage, tea and chocolate were added the total shot up to 70,000 klm!

Made in Australia can also be misleading – The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney show an example of chips ‘Made in Australia’…true, but also discover the inks used contain components from India, China, the US and Europe and that the aluminium from Italy, added in Melbourne, was probably smelted from Australian bauxite. This is all before it gets to the supermarket!

In the UK, lambs are raised on poorer pastures, often needing extra fodder and winter shelter. It takes less energy to raise lamb in New Zealand with its rich clover pastures and hydro power and ship it by sea, making it the better option when you weigh up all the factors.

Consider too that frozen and perishable foods need to be transported in refrigerated trucks, using still more fuel. Over packaged goods need more space in transportation. Packaging, printing and wrapping also need to be shipped from their place of manufacture to the food processor, adding to the food miles of the finished product.

We also need to consider how food is grown, what amounts of water, fertilizer and chemicals are used and what effect crops are having on the environment in terms of clearing, land degradation, salinity and the impact on wildlife and native cultures.

Sweden, Canada and the UK now have labeling that states when a product has been air freighted – informed consumers can make their own choices. What can we do? There is no need to become a food miles detective or spend hours reading (and trying to understand) labels.

Eat produce in season.
Choose products with little or no packaging.
Avoid buying processed products with multiple ingredients.
Consider eating less meat and dairy products.
Shop wisely and frugally, buy only what you need, America could feed the world with what it throws away.
Explore your local produce.
Where possible, grow your own.
Read Barbara Kingsolver’s book: “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.”
Become a locovore (look it up!).

Don’t forget, it is okay to eat Swiss chocolate, Italian cheese and Indonesian coffee - we also need to treat ourselves occasionally whilst supporting a global economy!

Happy shopping,

Friday, September 4, 2009

Winter Break

We have just returned from a quick trip north, hoping to escape the winter weather. Although it was slightly warmer, the rain persisted for all but a few days. The rain that we were heartilty sick of had provoked a spectacular display of exquisite wildflowers. In every colour imaginable, in size and forms that ranged from the tiniest ground covers to orchids, banksias and the ancient zamia palms, often hidden in the most unlikely places. I am always amazed by the way the cliffs and sandplains miraculously bloom for these short weeks. It was well worth dashing out of the car inbetween the showers to take a few pictures to share.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cuppa Java

Life can be strange... I'm home, considering food miles and their implications when Amita arrives home with a gift of coffee all the way from Indonesia.

You are either passionate about coffee or you are one of those people who drink that instant stuff that tastes like oxo cubes. I must confess that all my enviromental scruples fly out the window when it comes to coffee. The only requirement is that it tastes great.

Back to my present... Inside a beribboned bag sat a gold sided box with an elborately carved, leather covered lid. Snapping open its magnetic catch revealed a golden chiffon bag fastened with more ribbons. Inside that, another golden parcel, a shimmering packet with a holographic label of authenticity. Finally, nestled in the vacummn, a small cellophane packet of ground coffee. The accompanying brochure declared it to be "The Most Expensive Coffee in the World" - not a word about flavour!

This is Kopi Luwak, only available on the island of Java. the reason it is so expensive is because it is produced by collecting the droppings of a small mammal called a luwak. This little chap (who looks very much like a possum) lives in the trees and likes to eat - guess? - ripe coffee cherries. The bean, which is the seed, passes through its digestive tract intact and is collected, cleaned and roasted before grinding. No one knows who thought up this idea but if you were poking and prodding around in poo to produce coffee, you would charge a lot for it too.

The first pot of brew was shared after dinner with friends. The aroma bought to mind the tropics with undertones of beans grown in rich damp earth, smelling faintly of patchouli. The first impression is of a liquid that is smooth and silky, not a word I would normally associate with coffee but this had a definite texture. The flavour is robust with the sweetness of mocca. Further back on the palate there comes a pleasant bitterness that bites across the mellowness, letting you know that this is a coffee for grown ups.

This is special coffee, it is great to drink. Whether it is worth the exorbitant price is debateable (in the showrooms they charge $US25 a cup.) Meanwhile, I will recycle and reuse the pretty, expensive packaging and enjoy sharing it with my coffee loving friends. I'll save on food miles somewhere else!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More Chicken Talk

Eight baby chickens hatched last year. They were able to squeeze through the chicken wire so they could run, scratch and explore in the front garden under the watchful eye of our old poodle while their mother ran back and forth calling franticly from inside the pen.

Returning home one day we checked all the animals and found one baby was missing. I found it with a leg trapped in the wire, gasping for breath. Freeing its leg I lifted this tiny speck of life. Weighing nothing, it was a fragile two weeks old and had probably been lying in the sun all day.

Never one to admit defeat, I carried it into the house and fed it drops of water with Rescue Remedy added. I smeared the leg with Green Healer and settled it in a shoe box full of shredded paper. Every half hour I gave it more and although it was accepted it eagerly the chicken was not moving at all.

I sadly covered the box with a towel when we went to bed, knowing that small animals usually die from shock. At least it would die warm. I woke to the sound of a chicken having a nervous breakdown. On the window ledge next to the dining table stood the mother hen, screeching and scolding through the glass, demanding that her baby be returned to her. From the box came extremely loud cheeping. When I removed the towel, there was the baby, wobbling on the one good leg and telling its mother about what an adventure it had been having. They had been able to hear each other during the night and with such strong opinions about everything that I suspected the chick might be a rooster.

For the sake of the other babies who were missing their mother and the sanity of us all, I took the baby back to the pen. It was still touch and go as I had seen hens kill sickly chicks many times but it seemed she really wanted that baby back. By lunch time the injured one was hopping behind its siblings again.

We were glad to watch her grow into a healthy, if slow moving, hen and not a rooster. I always try to feed her a little extra away from the competition of the others.

One morning, there was some thing different about her. Looking closer I realised that her foot was missing! It had dropped off, leaving her with a tender stump.

Of course, she was “Stumpy” ever after. She has grown into a pretty, timid little hen who has just laid her first egg. She climbs the ladder into the pen but hasn’t managed to learn how to roost with the others.

Isn’t nature wonderful?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Brightening Wash Day Blues

I know this idea has come up before, but with so many of us consigned to a 1/4 acre or less suburban block these days, ideas for turning small spaces into productive spaces are necessary when we want to turn our hand to being a little more self-sufficient.

It is amazing what can be achieved by using wasted spaces, such as beneath the clothesline.With the growth of apartment living, and the suburban backyard shrinking, a lot of people find they no longer can use a clothesline to dry their clothes, but for those of us who still have the rotary hoist in the back, that space beneath it can be made useful.

I remember reading how in the past "ladies of the house" would grow lavender bushes next to the clothesline for draping handkerchiefs and "smalls" over to impart a lovely fragrance while they dried. Apparently it was also planted where the bed sheets could brush against the lavender while they were on the line, giving them a natural insect repellence during storage.

Mark a line about 1.5 metres out from the clothesline pole, giving you a garden diameter of 3 metres. Remember to leave an opening to walk through to get to your line! You can plant the lavender any way you like - if the soil is easy enough to dig, go straight in! If it's rocky or hard, you may want to raise a bed. Place the plants just in from your marked line. Unless your area is damp and shady, you should be able to find a lavender to suit almost any climate.

Directly around the pole, you can also add another bed about 50 centimetres out from the pole all the way around, to give a smaller bed with a diameter of 1 metre. This is a neat little bed that can be reached over easily, and it can be used to plant any number of different plants; I've seen both sweet peas and climbing beans trained up a climbing frame around the pole, with nasturtiums planted beneath. My neighbour at my old place had cherry tomatoes, but I decided to plant rosemary in mine.

I didn't think I would ever miss a clothesline! There ought to be enough distance between the two beds to walk between, and to hang long things, which will still brush against the plants in a breeze.If you're allergic to bees, it may pay you to choose plants that are not quite so attractive to them, or you could prune your lavender hedge more regularly so that it doesn't come into flower, but you can still enjoy the fragrant foliage.

There's also no reason to stick to just lavender either. Many of the scented-leaf pelargonium are suited, and they come in such scents as lemon, lime, citronella, rose, cinnamon, nutmeg, apple and violet! Curry plant is also wonderfully scented (Helichrysum italicum). If your clothesline is shaded, why not try some mint? Suitably restrained of course.

Don't feel limited to the hedging idea, either. Some of the magnificent groundcover thymes would be fabulous.Place an old table or bench near your garden "entrance" to hold a basket of laundry, and a painted terracotta pot to hold the pegs. Hanging the wash isn't anyone favourite task, but if it's got to be done - which it has :P - why not make it as pleasant as possible?

You may even want to sit a while, once the job is done :
Kerry Monteith

Thank you so much for this article Kerry and if anyone creates a garden such as this one we'd really love a photo please.