Monday, August 30, 2010

Perfect winter pears

Half the people I invited to dinner this week were recovering from the latest nasty recurring cold that has been around this winter. The other half were worried about catching it! Chicken soup has always been my ultimate comfort food for illness and as it made sense to feed everyone copious amounts of garlic and chilli, I made a huge pot of chicken laksa with extra hot crunchy blachan on the side.

I was really stuck about what to serve for dessert. Whatever I made had to be quick to prepare and no fuss. Pears have been a good buy lately and I bought a couple of kilos of not quite ripe Packhams. I still had no idea of what to cook.  An e mail has been circulating on the health benefits of cinnamon and honey and I was sure the pantry would bring further inspiration.

Here's what I came up with:

Poached Pears in Ginger Wine

8 Pears, peeled but with stalks and cores left intact
1 C clear apple juice
1/2  C green ginger wine
3 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla pod split lengthwise
2 Tbsp honey

Cut a slice from the base of each pear so it sits flat.
Place in a slow cooker or a deep baking dish.
Place cinnamon, juice and wine into the dish, pouring the liquids over the pears.
Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add seeds and pod to the dish.
Drizzle the honey over the pears.
Cover and cook on high for six hours in the slow cooker or covered in foil for an hour in 180˚C oven.
Baste occasionally with the juices.
The cinnamon will turn the juice a lovely pink.                                               

Serve pears with some of the syrup, which can be reduced to thicken if you wish, with crème fraiché, yoghurt or custard.  

Perhaps the vanilla pod was an unusual addition but as Amita had just arrived back with the softest most luscious smelling vanilla pods from Indonesia, how could I not use them? We have more than we need, so we have a limited amount for sale. If you would like some, click here.                      

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tulips and tigers

About 90km as the crow flies east and inland from here, Nannup has a frosty winter suited to plants from the northern hemisphere and each year holds the Nannup Flower and Garden Festival. The old timber town is also the home of the 'Nannup Tiger' the elusive beast featured in Tim Winton’s scariest novel, In the Winter Dark. The animal, believed by some to be a thylacine, is sometimes glimpsed or heard at night on the lonely forest roads. 
It was a delightful day with displays of tulips and daffodils, ‘tigers’, local handicrafts, photographs and vintage cars, a market and open gardens. The whole community had contributed in some way, from the kindergarten’s emu to the ladies from the CWA with their morning teas. One proud young man was showing his mothers’ friend his rather wonderful photograph that he had on display and children were mesmerised by a fairy grotto that had been created by other children amongst the displays in the Town Hall. There were many people with walkers and wheelchairs, they were able to easily enjoy the many bulbs within their reach in planter boxes along the roadside.

I have never experienced an event like that here. It is rather sad that this timber town has gone the way of the winery and the cashed up tourist. The Margaret River brand aims for the posh and trendy top dollar tourists. The locals are surfers, aging hippies, craftspeople and dairy farmers along with a transient community of casual workers and many young families. This leaves the community splintered into groups with differing agendas. The fantastic community spirit that had created the event that transformed the sleepy little town now abuzz with families enjoying the winter sunshine might exist here; I’ve yet to see it - Maybe we’ve got a ‘bit big for our boots.’

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On and on...lifelong learning

My life has been taken over by a voracious beast. The more I tend to it, the more it demands. The tasks it sets are many and varied, each demanding a different skill, some of which I don’t have and never realised I needed.  Just as I think I am maybe just starting to understand, the rules change and I despair that for every piece of learning I attempt there are twenty other things I need to know beforehand.

I know there is growth in challenge, in reaching beyond boundaries. A wise lecturer told us recently that the biggest hurdle to learning as an older (!) person was that of putting aside the ego.  We wear our many life skills proudly as a badge of achievement. There is nothing wrong in that, we do have a lot of experience to draw on. It is arrogance that gets in our way.  My personal challenge is to avoid letting my perceived stupidity erode my hard won self confidence.

I have known the beautiful young boy in the picture since he was born. He is about to leave school but for now each Friday he sits across from me in the Photoshop class. This is a world in which he is comfortable and familiar. The average age of the class members is probably fifty and all but two are women. The youngest, he generously answers our questions, silly and otherwise. His life challenges are different from mine. I hope that during his life there is someone to help him when he needs it.

Meanwhile, I’ll make the cake!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Opening windows

By this stage of winter we have usually had a run of bitterly cold, windy days. The type of day that I have to resist my normal routine of flinging doors and windows open wide. The house has become decidedly musty with smoke and cooking smells and I don’t have time to constantly refill and monitor oil burners or clean up after incense.
Going through the filing cabinet (another winter job) I came across some old craft articles I hadn’t seen for years and a reminder of the winter pot pourri.
Winter pot pourri is a wet pot pourri that uses the woodier dried herbs, citrus peels and spices. It can be used hot or cold. I often use dried flowers for their colour, looking into a wet pot pourri is rather like gazing into an aquarium!

Take a handful of dried material, place in a heat proof container or jar and cover with hot white or cider vinegar. There are no strict measurements, just make sure the vinegar covers everything. Cover and leave until cool. The full aroma will develop after a week.
You can enhance the aroma by adding essential oils.
Air freshener: Simply remove the lid from your container to release the aroma or strain the vinegar, add a few drops of essential oil and place in a spray bottle.
Ironing: Use the spray diluted with an equal amount of distilled water in a spray bottle or in your steam iron to freshen your clothes.
Cleaning: Use undiluted on glass, stainless steel, tiles and non porous surfaces. Do not use on waxed or oiled timber.


There are no rules to this, try whatever you like. I started with a few ideas and then got carried away as I walked around the garden and dug into my pantry and my cosmetic making cupboard.

Baking Day

Cinnamon sticks, a piece of vanilla pod, allspice and a strip of fresh orange peel. Boost with cinnamon leaf, coffee essential oil or vanilla essence.

A sprig of cypress or pine needles, a pinch of myrrh or frankincense gum, a cinnamon stick, sandalwood shavings, a swirl of orange rind and allspice or juniper berries. Boost with orange essential oil, it makes you happy!

Bay leaves, allspice, cloves, black pepper, lemon verbena, fresh lemon peel. Boost with petit grain, lemongrass or lemon scented gum essential oils.
Pink! Don’t be tempted to use this as a spray on fabrics, the hibiscus flowers produce a wonderful pink dye.
Rose petals, lavender, hibiscus, whole coriander seeds, lemon balm, a piece of vanilla pod and fresh mandarin peel. Boost with jasmine, frangipani, lavender or ylang ylang essential oil.


The strength of the wet pot pourri is enhanced by simmering the mixture. A Pyrex or ceramic casserole can simmer gently on a wood stove or fire or sit in front of a gas heater. Not only will it help prevent the air in the room becoming too dry, the oils given off by the pot pourri can have a therapeutic effect. I like to use cider vinegar for therapeutic blends.
Place dried material in a heat proof casserole, cover with hot vinegar and put lid on. Leave on top of your wood burning stove, away from the hottest part of the fire .Remove lid when the fire is lit to release the fragrance. Top up with half vinegar and half water as needed and add extra dry material weekly.
This is a great blend to ward off winter colds. Cinnamon sticks, eucalyptus leaves, dried thyme, whole cloves, tea tree leaves, half an inch of root ginger, a whole chilli and 2 garlic cloves. Boost with eucalyptus, tea tree or thyme essential oil.
Headache (remember Jack and Jill?)
Use  dried or fresh rosemary sprigs, lavender and cloves with cider vinegar. Boost with rosemary or lavender essential oils.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tukmaria update

Just a quick note...

I have discovered that it is possible that Tukmaria seeds and their mucilaginous gel can line your stomach, blocking the absorbtion of fatty acids and possibly other substances, I would advise that you do not take it within an hour of taking medication or vitamin supplements to be on the safe side and to use it in moderation.

PS I went out to dinner a few nights ago and was served Falooda from my own recipe! It is one where the fatty acids (and the calories) could well do with blocking

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bridges and bastards in the bush

While there was a break in the weather I took time out to check out our new bridge. Many years ago there was a lovely circular walk up one side of the river, across a log bridge up the northern bank of the river, across the weir and back along the southern path.  A few years ago the old log bridge was deemed unsafe and pushed into the water, making the circular walk impossible. It hasn’t been replaced, but we now have a new bridge across the top weir where we used to have to cross a narrow concrete wall in summer and carry our bikes across the gaps at either end, including the day I was famously lost. This was nothing compared to the two lives that were tragically lost here one winter by people trying to cross when the river was running strongly. One was a man who was trying to save his dog who had been washed off the wall.
As the burbs are filling up on the southern side of the river, the new bridge has been made wide enough to accommodate push bikes and people, and the timbers are laid cross wise so our wheels won’t get stuck like they tend to on the lower weir. It is a fabulous addition that gives us easy access to the many kilometres of good trails we have here. I still miss the old log bridge but a lovely new lookout has appeared there, you just can’t get there as part of a circuit anymore.
Our walk was spoiled only by discovering some illegal clearing in front of a house set back from the river that the owners had obviously done to give themselves clear views and access to the water. We It turns out that the person involved is a local, not a holiday home owner, which makes it seem worse as I would have expected a bit more respect as we  pride ourselves as  being a conservation conscious community.
new vandalism
old log bridge
With the floods occurring all over the world from deforestation, a few metres of vandalism on a small river in a small town may not seem a big deal. The need for a river crossing arose because people enjoy the amazing diverse flora and fauna this area has to offer, many of which are only found in this far south west corner of western Australia. Lampreys, hairy marron and giant karri trees are only a few of these unique treasures. Many people give their time freely to keep this reserve free of weed species and rubbish and the trails are maintained well enough to provide wheelchair access along much of their length. To wantonly destroy the fragile water edges that many of the water dwelling species rely on for the sake of one selfish bastard is not only deplorable, it is a slap in the face for everyone who cares for the place we so much enjoy.
That’s my rant for the week, remember to look after where you live.