Sunday Pasties

It often seems like vegetarians miss out on all the fun when it comes to grabbing an instant treat from the local bakery. Here I’m talking about pies and pasties  with lashings of sauce. Most bakeries display one or two meagre offerings – a vegetable pasty, invariably disappointing and bland, with too much pastry that ends up all over your clothes, or the ubiquitous spinach and fetta roll, dried out  from spending too long in the pie warmer, a sad version of something that was once Greek. My local bakery produces a passable vegetable pie that comes with a reasonable amount of wet ‘gravy’. This is the one thing that is lacking from most vego bakery products- they are too dry and indigestible and lack that unctuous gravy that holds the filling together.

Lockdown blues, no cow bell sounds at the front gate. Time to make Pasties.

I tend to make pasties and pies in April, once the sky turns grey and the first fire crackles in the wood stove. Stay at home days, baking days. Pie making is more pleasurable with an assistant, as it’s not a bad idea to make a big stash for the freezer to tide you over the winter, or further months of isolation. One good standby iare these Lentil, Mushroom and Cheese Pasties. They freeze well too.

As is often the case, my recipe instructions are not precise. I don’t tend to weigh and take detailed notes of the things that I make, although I have a general notion of the quantities intuitively. If you end up with too many cooked lentils and feel that the ratio of lentil to mushroom is out, reserve some lentils and use to add to a soup. Cooked lentils keep very well in the fridge. 

Lentil and Mushroom Pasties

Ingredients, Makes 6 large pasties or 12 mini pasties.

  • 3 squares of frozen Puff pastry
  • 1 ½cups of Puy lentils. ( you can use any dark coloured lentils here, but puy lentils hold their shape and marry well with mushrooms)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbs Olive oil 
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 1 -2 garlic chopped ( optional)
  • 2 cups ( approx measurement) mushrooms, quartered ( I prefer those with dark gills as they add more juice and flavour)
  • dried herbs of choice or finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • salt, ground black pepper
  • one small beaten egg for pastry glaze.
  • other additions, such as include left over grated cheese 

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180c. Line two baking trays with cooking parchment, or grease well.
  • Cook the lentils in ample water, adding a by leaf, and cook till soft. Test them as some lentils, especially if old, take a while to soften. Drain the lentils completely, and reserve the juice for another use. 
  • In a large frying pan, heat the oil with the butter and add the onions. Cook on gentle heat till softened, then add the garlic. Cook till soft and translucent. 
  • Add the mushrooms and herbs to the onions. Cook until soft and cooked through, stirring around as you go.
  • Combine the lentils with the mushroom mixture in a bowl. The mixture should not be too runny, but you do want a little gravy.  If you feel the mixture is too wet, cook down further. Season well. Consider adding some grated tasty cheese. Cool the mixture.
  • Defrost 3 sheets of puff pastry and halve these on the diagonal for 6 large pasties. Have more sheets on hand in case you end up with extra mixture.
  • Beat egg for pastry glaze.
  • Add the mixture to the centre of each triangle, spreading a little towards the corners. You want the pasties to be well filled but allow for ease of folding and joining. Wet the edges with a pastry brush and join the seams, pressing down as you go. 
  • Place three pasties on each baking tray and cook until the pastry is golden. Cool them first if you intend to freeze them for later.
  • Serve with an old fashioned chutney and green salad. Or heat, wrap in foil, and take it on your travels, when you’re allowed out.

For Rachael Pierce and her daughters. I’m singing that Tom Petty song, but substituting LOCKDOWN for the Breakdown chorus. Sing along with me while we bake: Lockdown, go ahead and give it to me…….

Lentil Sentimental and a Good Shepherd’s Pie

One of my friends enjoys telling the story about the night his parents came to dinner. It was during the late 1970s, at the height of the hippy era, when many young folk had a brief flirtation with vegetarianism, which for many, was embodied in the form of a lentil. Peter had just moved into his first share house. He proudly presented the main course, his signature dish at the time, a lentil curry. His parents were horrified, exclaiming loudly that they had not migrated all the way from Poland to Australia to eat lentils. Peter narrates this story like an episode from Seinfeld, and adds that his parents eat meat for every meal, with an occasional side vegetable in the form of either a pickle or sauerkraut. Underlying this humourous tale lies the strong historic association of lentils with poverty and hardship.

When I trawl through the food memories of my own childhood, there are no lentils. If pulses turned up at all, they took the form of split peas: a yellow or green split pea, married with a ham bone or two, made a thick, salty soup. Split peas were also mixed with barley, the iconic McKenzie’s soup mix, a pantry staple in many Australian homes in the past. It’s still a staple in mine today. My mother and grandmother always added a lamb shank, but I’m very happy using vegetable stock and/or stock cubes to flavour this old fashioned soup, which goes by the name ‘Nana’s soup’ regardless of the age or gender of the maker. It is the soup of everyone’s Nana.

Rachael, seven years old, Annapurna Range, Nepal, 1979

My love of lentils became more pronounced after a trip to Nepal at the end of 1978. We trekked through the Annapurna range near Pokhara with two young children in tow. The meal along route was invariably Dal Bhat, a Nepalese dish consisting of a mild flavoured soupy dal of red lentils, with rice and one or two vegetables on the side. ‘Eat that kids because that’s all there is,’ and they did because they were hungry. Whenever I make Dal Bhat today, I return to that adventure in the mountains of the Himalayas. The key to Dal Bhat is to keep it plain and simple.

Old fish- tail mountain, Machapuchare, Annapurna range, Nepal, 1979.
Andrew, 8 years old, Nepal,1979.

My lentil repertoire has become more sophisticated over the years though I return often to the classic Lentil Shepherd’s Pie. Everyone has a version, I’m sure. I don’t associate lentils with poverty or the hippy era. They are, for me, the most comforting food of all.

Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

On the surface, a lentil shepherd’s pie seems incredibly simple to make but many fail due to blandness or because they lack the traditional references. Modern versions might include the addition of sweet potato or parmesan in the mash. Other versions search for umami by adding miso or soy sauce to the lentil mixture. Play around if you like but I’m a bit of a stickler for tradition with this dish and prefer the old British flavours. 

My recipe is a descriptive rather than prescriptive and gives only a rough approximation of quantities.

  • Boil up some brown lentils, about 1½ cups should make enough for a pie for 4-6 people. Cook the lentils in 3-4 cups of water with a bay leaf and one onion, peeled and halved. Keep an eye on the liquid and top up as required. When the lentils are soft, drain them, catching the cooking liquid in a bowl beneath.
  • Boil some peeled potatoes, enough for 4 people. Add a little salt to the cooking water. When ready, drain and mash with butter and milk.
  • Cut up one large onion and gently fry in a pan with a mixture of olive oil and butter. Then add two chopped garlic cloves, a non traditional addition but a habit I can’t break. 
  • When the onion is soft and golden, add the drained lentils, Worcestershire sauce ( this is the key ingredient so add a fair bit- 2 tablespoons or more), some dried mixed herbs, a few slurps of tomato sauce, although tomato paste makes a good substitute, some of the thick reserved cooking water, salt and pepper. You are looking for a tasty dark gravy at the base of the lentils.
  • Put the lentil mixture into a buttered gratin dish, cover with the mash, and using a fork, make groovy patterns on top. Add small knobs of butter. 
  • Bake in a moderate oven until the top is golden and the lentil mixture starts to bubble from underneath.
  • Serve with bottled tomato sauce or any other condiment you fancy. I quite like a home made tomato chilli jam with this, my only concession to modernity.

See also The Lost Photos

Dear Reader, do you have any amusing lentil anecdotes from the past? Do lentils symbolise hard times for you? 

 

A Week of Pulses. Italian Split Green Pea and Potato Soup.

As part of my return to more regular blogging, I’ve decided to highlight a different pantry staple each month, since we’re all spending far more time in our kitchens. My concoctions are mostly vegetarian, except for the occasional addition of anchovy. You can find most of my recipes from the last six years by clicking on the word Recipe, found on the left hand side Index of this page. This may appear in a different spot if using a phone. The recipes are filed under different categories and most of them rely on seasonal food or frugal pantry staples. This month’s offerings will focus on pulses- which include all styles of lentils, split peas and dried beans. Today’s lentil dish is an Italian version of  split green pea soup, a dish you would normally find in British or Portuguese/Spanish cuisines, laced with salty ham bones. I was keen to try Marcella Hazan’s version: it’s economical and nutritious. The recipe does ask for the addition of some parmesan cheese, making the dish quite Italian in style: remove the cheese and the soup resembles the old style split pea potage or caldo. I enjoyed this Italian version, it has a much finer texture than others of this genre, but I’m looking anxiously at my small wedge of remaining Parmigiano Reggiano, knowing that it might best be reserved for pasta and risotto dishes. To anyone out there who is still shopping, can you please bring me a very large wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano or Grano Padano. First world problems.

Most recipes require a little tweaking and this was certainly the case for Marcella’s recipe here. She doesn’t suggest pre-soaking the split green peas overnight but I advise on the importance of this preliminary step to hasten the cooking. The following recipe includes my adaptations. It is easy to scale up the recipe for a larger group or to store for later.

Zuppa di Piselli Secchi e Patate ( split green pea and potato soup)

For 4 people.

  • 220 g split green peas, washed, and then soaked overnight.
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped in cubes.
  • 1.5 litres of fresh stock or made with a stock cube. ( you may need more )
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3 Tbles extra virgin olive oil
  • 40 gr butter
  • 3 Tbles freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste.
  1. Soak the peas overnight. Drain and cook with the potatoes at a moderate boil in 700 ml of stock ( or enough to cover well). Cook until both are tender, then puree the mixture with their cooking liquid in a mouli and reserve. ( don’t be tempted to blend this soup- the beauty comes from the light texture derived from the mouli )
  2. Put the onion into a heavy based soup pot with the oil and butter and sauté over medium heat until soft and golden.
  3. Add the puree to the onions, then add the remaining stock and bring to a moderate boil. Lower heat, and check on liquid- you may need more, depending on how thick/thin you like your soup. When ready, stir in the grated cheese, taste for salt. Serve with more parmesan and crostini.

This soup keeps well in the refrigerator for several days, but will need thinning with more water on reheating. As you thin it, you may need to add a little more stock powder or salt.

Marcella Hazan’s split pea and potato soup

Make the crostini in the oven while the soup is cooking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In My Kitchen, April, 2020

Some time after I drafted this month’s In My Kitchen post, it occurred to me that this monthly world diary of kitchen activities could form a valuable record, documenting how cooking and food availability changes during a pandemic. It will be interesting to see if some items continue to be hard to source, for example flour, and whether the pandemic is followed by higher prices due to manufacturing interruption and a decline in agricultural output. It would be good if those joining in this platform could note their country and region when writing and perhaps comment on some of these factors too. Thanks Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings for enabling this connection throughout the world. I urge others to join in and to consider taking up blogging during these difficult times. 

Francesca, St Andrews, Victoria, Australia.

So much for April fools day. No one expected the unexpected, a pandemic that may end up rivalling all previous plagues, changing the direction of our lives forever. In the meantime, I imagine that there is far more activity in everyone’s kitchen this month. No doubt you, dear reader, will be in lock-down like me or are semi- quarantined. This pandemic is, for many, a time to embrace older values, kindness, sharing, communicating more than usual but from a safe distance, cooking, baking, making music or going slightly mad. The handy phrase ‘cabin fever’ has never been more applicable. On the plus side, it is a reminder for many how much time we waste shopping: this break from consumerism is not such a bad thing. For those who have lost work and income, I hope that you get through this difficult time and are adequately supported by your government.  This will not be the case in many countries. 

So many quinces. 10 jars of quince jelly later, and still more quince to process..

My shopping list is now tiny: my granddaughter shops for us once a week. I exchange, at a safe distance, a container of home made soup and the money, left on a metaphorical pile of Celtic stones. I feel like a villager from the famous Eyam village, sometimes referred to as the plague village. I’m fortunate to have a productive vegetable garden which supplies most of our fresh vegetables. But it is a labour of love.

These lettuce are grown from seed all year round.

Apparently there’s a rush on vegetable gardening in Victoria: I’ve heard that seedlings are as rare as toilet paper and flour. Plant seeds. They might only take a few weeks longer. Some vegetables are better grown from seed as they don’t transplant well. These include all root vegetables such as radish, carrot, and turnip, while rocket and all lettuce varieties appear within a few days and can be transplanted easily. You don’t need a special garden bed. Sow seed among your flowers and in your regular gardens. Make a drill with a stick, add some fine white sand or very fine soil, add your seeds, cover them lightly with soil or sand and keep moist. Within one week, and voilà, you’ll have seedlings. Parsley seeds may take a little longer, as it’s said they go to hell and back before germinating.

Packets of seed. It’s time to sow.

Every time I make risotto, I think of my dear friends in Lombardy. Alberto grows beautiful rice in the countryside near Pavia. His mother and Zia and Zio will, no doubt, be safe in the countryside. To date, 10,000 Italians have died from this virus, with most occurring around Lombardy. Make a risotto and offer a thought for this region- all that lovely Carnaroli, Vialone Nano and Arborio is grown in the Po and Ticino river valleys, in the fields near the Lombardian villages that now feature daily in the news. We are all interconnected. 

Risotto con crema di zucchini. Lombardia, sempre nel mio cuore.

My pulses are getting a workout this month. This is not an unusual ingredient in my kitchen, nor has it much to do with the pandemic. I have to admit that while others were hoarding weirdo paper products from supermarkets, I went to BAS foods and bought an ungodly share of lentils, chickpeas and beans. Sono colpevole, I am guilty of hoarding too.

Marcella Hazan’s green pea and potato soup, made from dried split green peas.

The smell of chutney cooking in the kitchen is enormously comforting, reminding me of my matriarchal line and the old Irish-British aromas that would emanate from their kitchens in Autumn. This is a great way to use up less than perfect fruit, all those windfalls and spotted specimens. 

Apple and tomato chutney

The orchard keeps giving throughout the months of Autumn, thanks to some fortuitous planting of heritage varieties nine years ago. The Beurre Bosc pears are the best keepers and star when poached in wine, sugar and saffron. After the pears are cooked,  I remove them and cook down the syrup for a while, producing a pear flavoured sticky wine.

My son enjoys making craft beer and is still able to purchase a freshly made wort, though this may change in the coming weeks. It is a noble pastime which takes place on our back verandah and in our shed. We have our isolation environmental protocols well in place since our lockdown, so he wears gloves and doesn’t enter the house.  After the brew is ready, it is kept in a refrigerated keg. Yes, dear reader, we have cold craft beer permanently on tap, and though I feel this situation is a little unfair, I’m not complaining.  

Plague pale ale

The following is a thought provoking video link from Italy, subtitled in English.  Worth a peep. Meanwhile, if you’re short of interesting ways to cook pulses and beans, check my blog over the coming week as I plan to document my vegetarian adventures more frequently.

Time’s Winged Chariot and Quince Jelly

Time now marches through life like a merciless drill sergeant, or dawdles behind like a whining child depending on how you now find yourself. Days have lost meaning, a weekend for workers fast becoming a redundant notion, as time turns into a series of statistics- the day’s death rate, the increased spread of the covid 19 virus, the daily rise in numbers, the shape of the curve, the waffle and contradictory chatter on the airways clouding all sense and reason. Dear Italia and the people of Lombardy, their statistic is about to become ours. Easter holidays, no longer holy, as longed for days of family gathering will pass without much fanfare. No chocolate eggs, don’t risk the shops. Hot cross buns? Make your own, you have the time now if not the will. Use the ingredients on hand in your pantry. The old Venetian ‘quarantina‘ makes more sense as a measurement of time: forty days, not a fortnight, but perhaps much longer if you’re still living in the land of days and weekends, still congregating at the beach, the river or renting weekend houses, shopping for fun not necessity, still in denial, joining another queue with strangers. Wake up Australia. The time is now.

For those who measure time by the slow drip of quince juice from a jelly bag suspended over a chair, making quince jelly is a seasonal and timeless pastime, resulting in the colour of Autumn’s bounty trapped in a jar. If you manage to score a bag of big gnarly quinces from someone this season, wash your hands after collecting the bag, wash the quinces well, and follow the most simple recipe on the internet you can find. There are only two ingredients required- quinces and sugar. I’m assuming that the toilet roll hoarders haven’t bought all the sugar, but then in my mind there’s a warped correlation between the two. 

In My Kitchen, March 2020

It’s impossible to write about my kitchen without reference to my productive vegetable garden and orchard- the two are so closely entwined. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, which is now over 6 years old, you may have noticed that my kitchen and cooking posts tend to focus on fresh produce. This is the essence of what food is about for me, the excitement and challenge of cooking radiating from the daily pick. As this season has been bountiful, my urge to work in the garden has strengthened. While others of my age often consider downsizing, I’m considering expanding the garden beds. Vegetable gardening is not only for food: it’s my yoga and gym, my meditation space and fantasy land.

One of the more exciting plant discoveries this year has been the Turkish snake chilli, a prolific bearer, and a kinky pepper to pick ( an old alliteration riddle comes to mind). A long and thin lime green pepper, it has a tendency to curl back on itself, looking a lot like whirling dervish, or a green man in a turban. One in 10 peppers will be hot, making them an interesting substitute for Pimento de Padron, the Russian roulette of peppers, when cooked in the same way.  Unlike the Padron peppers, which are tricky to germinate and slow to mature in my climate, the Turkish snake peppers grow well here and fruit early in the season.

Turkish Snake peppers, scorched and lightly blistered in hot olive oil, served with salt flakes.

The only unusual product I’ve bought recently, and one that is worth sharing, is this delightful stone ground flour from Tuerong farm, which featured recently on Gardening Australia. The farm is located in the Mornington Peninsula hinterland and is dedicated to growing small crops of heritage French and Australian wheat varieties. You can view the episode here.  The flour is available at Tuerong farm, or at Hawke’s farm in Boneo, or online, though it’s not always available. The khorasan makes a beautiful loaf.

I like soup at any time of the year, and each season brings new flavours to the table. When fresh local corn becomes available, I love to make this chowder. We call it ‘cholesterol corn soup’, given its butter, cream and cheese content, perfect for the first seasonal chill. The recipe comes from an old edition of The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas, 1972, back in the day when the ‘C ‘word wasn’t such a worry. I’ve never fiddled with the original, so soothing and comforting is this dish.

Corn and cheddar cheese chowder

Another recent chowder occurred when I discovered some big, fat tiger prawns in my freezer- remnants of the festive season. This one was a splurge, requiring a small smoked haddock as well.

Smoky chowder, with smoked haddock, leek, potato and prawn.

This season, I have developed a passion for photography, and tend to photograph the daily pick in the same little spot in my living room, where the light is moody and a little dark. Most of these photos land on my Instagram page, @morgan.francesca each day, and may account for my overall slackness in writing. As I pay a princely sum for this WordPress page, it’s time I got back to writing more frequently, though I can see why many take the easier, often wordless, option of Instagram. Time to return to the word image.

Jonathon apples, the second variety to harvest.

Early pears, not the best keepers.

Breakfast for a queen. Porridge with poached quince.

Let the grape harvest begin.

A monthly link up event, focusing on kitchen happenings, takes place via Sherry’s Pickings. The theme can be interpreted loosely. Through this monthly blogging event, I’ve met some wonderful kindred spirits.

 

The Greenest Zucchini Soup

This summer soup appears, with variations, each zucchini season. I’m sure everyone has a version. It’s restorative and healthy. The vegetarian version includes cream, the vegan version omits it. You can decorate the top with all sorts of modern crunchy things, building castles from herbs and nuts, but I prefer my cream soups to sing alone, without the clutter of other toppings. Sometimes beauty lies in sheer simplicity.  Another recipe to add to my Zucchini Cookbook.

  • one onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 medium Désirée potatoes, peeled, roughly chopped,
  • 6 or more zucchini, depending on size, cut into in chunks (really large overgrown zucchini will produce a rather bland, watery soup: use medium sized fruit, with some blackjack included for colour)
  • a few handfuls of curly kale leaves
  • a few handfuls of flat leaf parsley, stalks removed
  • one vegetable or chicken stock cube
  • seasoning
  • a little cream

Put the onion, garlic, potato and water in a large pot. Cover with water and add a little salt. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are nearly soft. Add the zucchini, kale and parsley. Cook a further 5 minutes until the greens are soft. Add a stock cube, dissolve it by stirring, then blend the soup with a stick blender until creamy. Add a little more water if necessary.  Season to taste then swirl through some pouring cream just before serving.

The Zucchini Cookbook

My joy in cooking is directly related to the level of productivity in my my vegetable garden and orchard. This year’s summer crops are inspiring, despite the difficult and dangerous weather we’ve experienced this summer in Australia. I can only put this abundance down to a few things- the time spent monitoring the garden, good compost, mulch and water, the latter, in our case, pumped from a dam to a header tank. Each day, it’s simply a matter of combining the day’s pick with some pantry staples to make deeply satisfying meals. The first and most prolific summer vegetable, the zucchini, will come first in my Summer Cookbook, a reverse alphabetical approach. They are a versatile vegetable, lending themselves to slow braising, frittatas, ratatouille, fritters, sweet cakes, pasta sauces, soups, Greek pies, and shapes to be stuffed. This year I’m growing three varieties: Blackjack ( Black beauty), a dark green fleshed fruit, a good keeper, adding colour to soup and fritters, Cocozelle, an Italian heirloom variety, which is striped and long, the flowers more likely to cling to the young fruit, making it a great one for tempura battered zucchini flowers, and the pale green Lebanese zucchini, a good one for braising. I prefer to pick zucchini when very young for most dishes. Medium sized zucchini are set aside for soups and the large ones go straight to the chooks or are dried for seed collection.

Three varieties of zucchini.

My latest simple recipe, Grilled zucchini with Marinated Goat’s cheese, is a great addition to the summer table.

Ingredients

  • five or more very young zucchini, halved vertically or cut into three lengthwise. Note, if you shave these into thinner strips, they will char to quickly and virtually disappear on the BBQ.
  • good olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, smashed into a paste
  • fresh marjoram leaves
  • Meredith marinated goats cheese or equivalent product
  • a pinch of sea salt flakes

Light a hooded BBQ and get the temperature above 250 º c. ( you could also use a kitchen iron grill ). Toss the cut zucchini long pieces and toss in a little EV olive oil in a bowl. Add the garlic paste to a separate small bowl of EV olive oil. Using tongs, place the lightly oiled zucchini directly onto the BBQ and close the lid. Raise the lid after a minute or so and turn the zucchini strips. When nicely done on both sides, add to a serving bowl, and toss through some of the garlic paste oil. Add salt and pepper, fresh marjoram leaves and a few hand torn cubes of marinated goats cheese, as much as your conscience allows. Serve alongside other summer dishes.

grilled zucchini, marjoram, marinated goats cheese, with grilled garlic mushrooms, and thyme, potato salad, overnight cucumber pickle, pide bread

Looking for more summer zucchini recipes? The links here will take you directly to some of my older recipes on the Z word.

When Anger Drives Resolution. An Australian Call to Action

Let’s lay the cards on the table. Climate change is not only real, but is making its presence felt in catastrophic ways more often. There’s little doubt that climate change is anthropogenic: 98% of world climate scientists agree that this is the case. There are ample papers and graphs which demonstrate this well and I don’t need to add the links here. The debate was over long ago. Once you agree with the science and accept this premise, it’s time to move down the path of action. If you don’t accept that climate change is either real or does not originate from human activity, you either don’t read widely, are ignorant or brainwashed, or belong to a cult. The Australian Prime Minister, a member of the Pentecostal Church, is well known for his climate change denial stance. It’s a handy belief – that God or nature caused this problem- and underlies his irresponsible stance on climate action, and continued promotion, expansion and subsidisation of the fossil fuel industry. The IMF estimates that annual energy subsidies in Australia total $29 billion, representing 2.3 per cent of Australian GDP. On a per capita basis, Australian fossil fuel subsidies amount to $1,198 per person. As Australian voters, we have a lot to answer for and a lot to change.

I’m not going to write about the heartbreaking and catastrophic fires here in Australia. Others have done so very poignantly in the media over the last few weeks, describing the loss of homes, forests, native animals, ecosystems, and more. I’m attempting to harness my anger and sense of impotence by directing it in a very conscious way towards action. During this sad time in Australia, I’ve been reflecting on hope. Not the nonsensical Hope that goes with Faith and Charity in the old Catholic mantras. Today’s hope is more urgent, real and insistent, driving personal action that leads to a change of the current paradigm.

“Hope is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency”

“When survival is your number one priority, the future you need to solve is today”

So what are the goals that emerge from hope? Below is my list. It’s based on where I live, which is in a rural bush setting, 40 kms from Melbourne, my age which is a few days short of 70 years old, my access to time since I am retired, and my political ideology. My list is also a statement of  where I stand at present ( the personal is political, as the old saying goes) and the choices I’m prepared to make or not make. I’ll review these goals in one year’s time.

  1. Government and leadership. In terms of urgency, it is essential that Australia is led by a government that is ready to embrace climate action by phasing out the fossil fuel industry. The current government is hell bent on expanding it. This is the first goal: to work towards the removal of the present government and simultaneously encourage alternative parties or independents to honestly address this urgent issue as a priority. There are various actions you might follow in order to achieve this. You may write to your local MP, asking what their stance is on climate change and emission reduction over the next 5 years. You can join a group such as Extinction Rebellion, or Friends of the Earth ( there are many other groups) which encourage a variety of activities to suit all ages and level of risk. You can attend a climate protest demonstration event in your capital city. The era of protest is back- and is growing weekly in Australia. I’ve found that by being with like minded others, my hope has grown.
  2.  Boycotts. Primary and secondary boycotts are a useful way to bring about change. This involves a bit of homework. Know more about your bank’s investment activities. Divest funds away from companies that support polluting, especially coal mining, activities. Move your banking and superannuation to companies which support green economies. Boycott companies that are financing or assisting Adani in any way. Secondary boycotts are tremendously effective, so much so, that the current government has moved to make them illegal. Primary boycotts include avoiding all media owned by Murdoch. This includes canceling subscriptions to the usual newspapers run by News Corps Australia, the ‘Australian’ and most of the daily and weekend papers in each state. A comprehensive list of Murdoch owned press can be found here. It includes many popular magazines, websites, as well as Foxtel and Sky News. Murdoch, through his stranglehold of Australian media, promotes climate denial and misleading, if not outright false, information and news. On the positive side, the Australian independent media network includes the following : The Guardian, New Matilda, The New Daily, Indigenous X, Renew Economy, The Conversation, The Saturday Paper, The Monthly, Crikey, Meanjin, No Fibs, Junkee, Buzfeed Oz News, The Big Smoke. Many are free, while others allow you to read a free article or two but require paid subscription for full access. Subscriptions keep independent media alive.
  3. Cars. Use public transport and leave the car at home. Use a car only when necessary or when there’s no public transport available. An ideal stance would be to not own a car at all. At present, I believe this is not possible for most Australians, given the geography of the land, the spread of the suburbs, and the length of travel time to work. It is, however, quite feasible for inner city apartment dwellers who have access to GoGet cars for hire short term, and who live on major train and tram routes. I live 7 kms from the nearest train station and use public transport as often as I can. My current small and economical Toyota is 10 years old: my mechanic suggests it will keep going well for another 10 years. On average I spend $25 a week in petrol which is going down with more frequent train use. I’ll probably hang on to this car for a while. A huge carbon footprint went into the making of it, which is a factor to consider before letting it go. When I do buy a new car, it will be electric.
  4. Fridges and electric gadgets. Check the efficiency and environmental star rating of your fridge and air conditioner. Refrigerants contained in older air-conditioners and refrigerators can be extremely harmful to the environment. Many refrigerants, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), damage the ozone layer, while others are extremely potent greenhouse gases. “One kilogram of the refrigerant R410a has the same greenhouse impact as two tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of running your car for six months.” Throw away your old shed fridge- it’s bound to be a major polluter. Also check the star rating of other gadgets. For instance, I have a 90 cm wide oven which allows me to bake two loaves of bread simultaneously or lots of pizzas. But on the average night, heating this large electric oven for a meal is extremely wasteful and inefficient. I’ve noticed a large spike in power usage on baking days. So I’m transitioning to weekly bakes and stove top cooking which uses minimal gas. Don’t use clothes dryers, there’s really no need to do so in Australia, and add your excess boiling water to a thermos. This can be used over the day for tea making. The electric kettle is a huge energy user. Wash clothes only when you have a full load.
  5. Air Travel. This is a difficult one for most Australians to address. Europeans are able to commute between cities by train, and what an enjoyable way to travel for the tourist too. If Australians abandon air travel, the country will become isolated once again. Having grown up in the 50s and 60s in a country that was suspicious of foreigners, and extremely insular, I would hate to see our country return to this state. The best one can do is to reconsider each trip and limit air travel, especially longer trips to Europe or America. One way to assuage your guilt is to plant trees. Joining a Landcare group is a viable way of getting more trees into the ground. Sadly though, as Australia happily adopted the 20 million tree programme which is about to conclude, the NSW government allowed 58 thousand hectares of land clearing and native forestry removal over the last two years. If you live in that state, demand a halt to land and forest clearing. ( see australia-spends-billions-planting-trees-then-wipes-out-carbon-gains-by-bulldozing-them ) Other States have similar problems with clearing. NSW stands out as having the worst record.
  6. Diet. Meat eating is not sustainable. “If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after US and China.” The problem does not simply lie in methane gas. Forest and land clearing, water usage and fertilizers also have a huge impact on the environment. I haven’t eaten meat for 40 years. This environmental message is not new. One of the most influential books on the topic, Diet for a Small Planet  by Frances Moore Lappé, was written in 1971 and had a major impact at the time. I’m not including dairy in my goal statement here- it’s hard to imagine a world without cheese, yoghurt and milk products from small grazing herds of cattle, sheep or goats. I also eat eggs and raise chickens for eggs- their spent straw and manure is a dynamic component in compost making. I occasionally eat fish and carry an App list of sustainable options when shopping for fish.
  7.  Shopping. Clothing manufacturing has a huge carbon footprint, it currently stands at 3% of all global emissions of C02. ( air travel currently stands at 2%). This goal is relatively easy to attain- don’t buy new clothes, but if you do, make sure it’s a rare event, an annual treat and not a mindless habit. Every 10 minutes, 6 tonnes of clothing goes to landfill in Australia. My approach is to look for second hand clothing in fabrics that I like or those with Australian designer labels. Refashioning second- hand clothes made from fabulous fabric is a creative way to approach the problem. I also keep an eye out for great trims and buttons on old clothes. I’m not alone in this hunt, I’ve noticed. I think the fashion industry is slowly being turned on its head and many are now embracing individual styling, and anti fashion statements. Let’s hope it’s not a passing trend among the young but a lifetime commitment.
  8.  Composting. I’m a great believer in composting. Not only does composting help reduce methane emission from landfill, but the resultant humus enriches the soil and traps carbon at the same time. Carbon farming on a large scale is another great way to reduce emissions. In my own small way, it’s one of my private offsets. “Today there is a revolution in agriculture that recognizes the importance of building healthy soils by replacing the organic matter that has been lost,” says David Wolfe, professor of plant and soil ecology at Cornell University. This new approach is called carbon farming. According to Wolfe, in theory, implementing this method on cultivated lands could slow the pace of global climate change by offsetting as much as one-quarter to one-third of annual increases in atmospheric COfor 20 to 50 years, until soil carbon stocks are once again fully restored. Others have argued that a 5 to 10 percent offset benefit is more realistic”. Nothing is wasted in my compost making. I rake mown grass, collect hundreds of buckets of fallen oak tree leaves, collect shredded paper from my daughter’s business and spent straw and manure from the hen house, as well as all food scraps. This is a daily business and often takes hours but it beats going to the gym for exercise. This would not be one of my priorities if I lived in an apartment or house without some accompanying land. It’s not a goal for everyone.
  9. One of the more unusual things on the lists I have read ( and borrowed from) is the Education of Girls. This often appears as Number 4 on world goals to save the planet, but perhaps it should be number 1. You can change the pattern of unsustainable growth through education. Girls education is the single most important thing in reducing  the birth rate: at the same time, educated women have a powerful influence over culture and survival. Find a charity that supports girls education in places where it is most needed. If you know of any good ones, please let us know by commenting below.
  10. Recycling. I’ve added this at the bottom of my list as it’s still an important goal to improve in this area. I believe most people do have a conscious approach to recycling and are trying hard to manage their waste through sorting into the appropriate categories and limiting their purchase of plastic wrapped goods. I’m not ready to obsess about scraps of waste that end up in my landfill bin. My waste will not fit into a Mason jar. Waste management also needs further work at the state level.

This is my list of achievable goals. Some things I already do, others are works in progress. The ranking is random, except for number 1, government change. Your list may be completely different, because you are a busy mother holding a full time job, because you need to cross the city to get to work, because your job demands that you fly, because you are much younger or older than I am, because you live in an apartment, because you have a disability or have special needs. My list is not meant to sound preachy or self righteous. If it does, I apologise, knowing there’s nothing more annoying and counter productive than those who signal their own virtue. I do encourage you to make your own personal list directly related to climate action and to review it from time to time. Feel free to share your action list or add good, inspiring links in the comments section.

¹ quotes on hope and ideas of list making evolved from some of the papers written by Diego Arguedas Ortiz, on BBC FUTURE, another informative site to dip into.

 

 

 

 

Joy to the World? Christmas 2019

I remember the turning point vividly, that year when I decided that enough was enough, which in reality, was far too much. It was the beginning of my awakening about Christmas Day, an ongoing change of mindset, involving rewriting tradition and re-evaluating family, place and gifting.

It was my turn to host the Christmas family lunch in 2016, a rotating event shared by my three siblings. As my mother, the matriarch, was ( and is ) alive and well, an annual Christmas lunch was taken for granted, but it was a tradition that we all began to feel uneasy about as the logistics of hosting and catering for the day became a nightmare. At the age of 93 that year, and still living independently in her own home, it was a grand event involving her four children, their partners, her grandchildren and partners, and her great grandchildren, a cast of 32 people or more. Despite discussions about simplifying the day, it never happened. Along with cleaning, house sprucing, decorating and shopping, preparation involved finding 32 sets of plates, cutlery,  and glasses suitable for water, wine and beer, 32 assorted chairs, six tables, and tablecloths to cover them, clearing a room large enough to hold the tables and guests comfortably, the assembling of serving platters, table napkins, and the emptying of fridges to store food on the day. Eskies full of ice were strategically placed around for drinks, extra bins ready for recycling. On that occasion, a pissoir for outside male use was erected so that at least some of the 30 plus people wouldn’t flush away our essential tank water supply. Long lists began in early December, the whole month dedicated to planning the lunch, with inside/outdoors options considered, subject to weather conditions.

On that Christmas day, like so many other years in Australia, the weather turned hot and windy, the north wind blowing at gale force through my property perched on a ridge in the country. The temperature was 39ºc, and along with strong wind gusts of over 50 kmph, an outside garden event was definitely out of the question. The day was declared a Total Fire Ban day, which meant no barbecuing could take place. The day was categorised as Severe under Victoria’s bushfire rating codification system, introduced after the Black Saturday bushfire of 2009. Part of the preparation for the day always involved this unnerving uncertainty about the weather- could we have a BBQ, maybe a picnic outside, what about a buffet on the veranda? None of these options were suitable for a blustery, terrifying total fire ban day.

On that day in question, three Christmases ago, I watched my mother sit quietly, sometimes with eyes closed, on a couch in the only air- conditioned room of our house, which wasn’t functioning very well given the constant door opening by excited children and desperate smokers. On phones and computers, others nervously watched the CFA ( Country Fire Authority) information site and weather reports: my brother received a barrage of anxious calls from his partner about her bushfire fears for her area. The happy young children opened an obscene number of gifts, someone forgot to bring their KK gift, a second- nephew didn’t know our names, younger generation partners said very little and you just knew they would rather be somewhere else, but that invisible hand of tradition forced them to attend. And I cooked, stood on my feet all day, ate very little, orchestrated and at times delegated, spoke to no one much, checked fire reports and found it hard to smile. I should have cancelled the day, my mother was struggling with the heat. One of the most unnerving aspects of the day was the fear of evacuating a large group of city dwellers who had no experience or theoretical knowledge of what to do if confronted with an imminent bushfire. The day did not make sense.

Pistachio amaretti. Much lighter than hot plum pudding. Rewriting tradition.

After the guests left, we sat among the mess and debris and breathed a sigh of relief. Slowly regarding the waste of leftover food and paper, discarded tissue hats and bits of plastic landfill from bonbons, dishes and cloths to be washed and furniture to be re-arranged, I realised that I felt deeply upset and exasperated. Never again. On that day, I made a firm resolution that our Christmas traditions needed to change.

Amaretti Siciliani di Agrigento. Perfumed with orange, spices of the Orient.

Since then, I’ve found some peace and no longer practice self flagellation about Christmas Day. As I was using my last piece of Christmas paper last week, one stashed from years before, I did so with real joy. The empty cardboard roll symbolised the end to another wasteful practice. I turned to my fabric stash and cut into a colourful Indian Sari to wrap a gift. I also discovered another stash of op-shop rolls of ribbons suitable for tying gifts. I assembled a small bag of assorted fabric oddments dedicated to this purpose, tucking it into the linen press. Like the Japanese gift wrapping, Furoshiki, I am pleased to send my fabrics and ribbons on their way- they’ll be reused, they’ll travel, they might even return. I’ve made a few batches of Amaretti biscuits, the spice reminiscent of a more ancient tradition of gifts, perfumed with the scent of orange. My adult children ask what food they should bring and I answer, whatever you like, something simple. Mr T now spends his pre-Chrismas days doing essential maintenance for our survival in the Australian bush, removing piles of fallen leaves and twigs from the front of our house, an ongoing task during bushfire season, a season that now stretches longer than in years gone by. Sadly, the season coincides with Christmas. We’re slowly getting our priorities right.

Baci di dama. Hazelnut and chocolate kisses.

The joy of red bottle brush ( Kings Park Calistemon) in flower at Christmas.