Day 26. Living in the hills on the periphery of Melbourne, it’s always fairly quiet around here. We don’t have neighbours within hearing distance, and the road isn’t close by. There’s one small general store, a primary school, a rural supplies store, a pub, bakery and a pizza place. Most of these are now closed or open on a limited basis. Time has come to a standstill. The nearby flight path is silent, the early morning workers’ cars are few and far between. The kitchen clock tics more loudly, evoking memories of dark, claustrophobic antique shops crammed with heavy wooden furniture, tapestries, Victoriana and mantelpiece clocks. The wooden beams creak overhead, expanding and contracting with the day’s heat; an annoying fly hums about, landing on my arm as I write. This deathly quiet seems like I’ve stepped back in time to another place in another century. On days like this, the black dog hovers too close for comfort.
It’s almost four weeks of self-isolation now and I can count the days of escape on one hand. Simple pleasures- a walk around an oval, a short drive to a nearby township to pick up a special order, or to drop something off from a distance, a long awaited postal delivery- have become the highlights of my month.
One of those outings occurred on Day 10. We left home early as the morning fog still hovered above the creek valley below our place. The drive took us through the hills that form part of our district and followed the steep descent to the township of Yarra Glen, suspended below the road in a pool of blinding light. Travelling along the fertile plains of the Yarra Valley to Coldstream, we passed by vineyards and strawberry farms, fields of dark leafed cabbage and paddocks of sheep and cattle. Our mission was to collect a few day old chickens from a hatchery, a necessary and essential trip, officer, in order to provide future laying hens for my small self- sufficient farm. It is a familiar landscape: I’ve been travelling through these same hills for forty years. Yet on this occasion, the landscape seemed to sing with extraordinary beauty. I discovered new vistas, old railway bridges and distant mountain ranges that I had ignored all these years. Less traffic, the cold, clean air of the morning, the silver sun rising through the glinting frost in the valley, I felt a rare euphoria, a joy that emanated from being immersed in nature.
I made a resolution on Day 10, that when all this is over, I want to go on more picnics in the nearby hills and valleys. To be a part of this landscape while we still have it. To do what our ancestors did on their days off. And when I’m more confident about the state of the world, perhaps I’ll take a longer drive to other beautiful landscapes and bush within Victoria, to visit this land with new eyes.
At last there’s a break in the weather, a cool snap with a little rain. Is it time to rejoice or was that last shower just another drizzle of hope? This summer and autumn have been hot and dry, pleasant weather if you’re by the seaside, but not so kind for those who love their gardens and farms. An omen of what’s to come? To date, we have had around 60 ml of rainfall over the last three months. The tanks and dams are low, the fruit trees are dropping their leaves too early: rabbits crawl up and over fences in search of something green to eat, starting with their favourite snack, the ring- barking of fruit trees before looking for small gaps in the well fenced vegetable patch. The figs look like hard little bullets and have given up the battle.
Midst our paddocks of desiccation, there are some welcome surprises. The quinces are fabulous this year, picked just in time before the birds got desperate. Such an old-fashioned and demanding fruit, I love the way they turn from hard golden knobbly lumps into the most exotic concoctions. How do you describe the flavour and colour of poached quince?
With the sound of the rain on the tin roof, my thoughts turn to food and preserves. Quince jelly, quince syrup, perhaps to use as an exotic base for gin, a torta of ricotta and quince cubes, quince ice cream, the syrup swirled through a softened tub of good vanilla ice cream, perhaps some Spanish membrillo.
Long thin eggplants have been fruiting for months. While not as useful as the fat varieties, they grow more abundantly in our micro-climate.
The Pink Lady apples are the star this year. We grow 13 varieties of apple, and each has its year. The crop has been well protected by netting, though the desperado cockatoos are beginning to notice. Picked and stored in the fridge, they are reasonable keepers.
With the change of season, I hope to return to my usual pattern of posting and cooking. There will be more recipes coming and anecdotes of one kind or another, simple stories about the beauty of life. As the saying goes, ‘I’ll keep you posted’.
I am often aghast when my mother tells me about her cure for general lethargy. She cooks up a small rump steak, the ‘point’ of the rump, she insists, along with two eggs for breakfast! Part of my awe is her amazing appetite for meat at this early hour of the day. Even when I used to eat meat, now more than 40 years ago, I doubt I could have stomached this meal first thing in the morning. My mother lived through an era without internet ‘authorities’ proselytizing about food, although she is aware of the modern-day TV cranks, those we love or love to loathe, who promote a high protein, no carb diet to the gullible. Mother has always eaten modestly and sensibly, cooking all her meals from scratch until very recently and included a daily quota of vegetables, fruits and carbs in her diet. But she NEVER cooked lentils.
When I’m feeling run down and tired, my body growls for lentils. These humble little pulses cure me instantly, especially when combined with rice or grain. Food associated with poverty to some, or hippy era food to others, lentils come into their own when treated well and cooked in interesting ways. Red and yellow lentils in Indian dhal, or whole black lentils combined with red kidney beans in a soothing Dhal Makhani, red lentils and a scoop of bulgur wheat in Turkish bride soup, brown lentils for burgers, puy lentils in shepherds’ pie, lentil and vegetable soups finished with a dash of lemon juice, lentil and zucchini fritters, Indian Kitchari and the addictive Lebanese dish, Mujaddara, the list goes on and on.
In the last two months, I’ve made Mujaddara three times, trying to streamline the method. The SBS version, hosted by Maeve O’Meara, is quite good, the Diane Henry version tends to stick to the pot, whereas the more straight forward version I like comes from Abla Amad of Abla’s Lebanese Restaurant, Carlton, Melbourne. I love the way Mujadarra goes well with easily prepared side dishes: labne, radishes, any pickled vegetable, salads of tomato, cucumber and mint, and perhaps some Lebanese pita bread. Leftover Mujaddara can be combined with grated zucchini and a little binding egg for fritters, or stuffed into silverbeet (chard) leaves for dolmades. Or, simply microwaved for breakfast, and served with a big dollop of yoghurt. My kind of pick me up.
The following recipe is from Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen. I have slightly modified a couple of small details along the way.
Lentils and Rice ( Mjadra’at addis)
300 grams ( 1 ½ cups) brown lentils, washed and drained. ( I used Australian grown Puy lentils)
1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
150 ml EV olive oil
2 large onions, halved and finely sliced
200 g ( 1 cup) long grain rice, washed, soaked then drained
Place the lentils in a saucepan and 750 ml ( 3 cups) of water. Cover and bring to the boil over high heat. Add another 250 ml ( 1 cup) of cold water ( this prevents the lentils from splitting) and boil for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan over high heat and cook the onion for 7 minutes or until golden brown, stirring often to prevent the onions from going too dark. Set aside one quarter of the onion, and add the remainder, together with its oil, to the brown lentils. Stir in the rice, then add another small cup of water ( about 150ml if using puy lentils) and cook, covered, over low heat for 20-30 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. I recommend using a simmer mat for this final step.
Spoon the mixture into a shallow serving bowl and sprinkle with reserved onion. Add any left over onion cooking oil. Serve with yoghurt, Lebanese salad, and other found fridge meze.
Silverbeet dolmade, stuffed with Mujaddara
Stuffed silver beet rolls
Mujaddara stuffed silver beet rolls
What, dear reader, is your favourite ‘pick me up’ food? Can you down a steak for breakfast? Do lentils hold any odd connotations for you?
This story was written six months ago, and for some reason, sat idly in my draft folder. Although these activities took place last winter, the same or similar code breaking scavenger hunts take place every school holiday period in The Old Melbourne Gaol. The current summer holiday activity for kids, A Word from Ned , is similar to the activity described in the winter programme below.
It’s school holiday time in Melbourne, bitterly cold outside and the gang of three has arrived for a week. Keeping three youngsters aged 8, 9 and 11 busy AND away from their glowing devices is a challenge. I was warned by their parents that I would probably fail in my attempt to limit their iPad time to 30 minutes per day. ‘Good luck with that’, they laughed. An activity programme was called for, one written in consultation with Oliver, who wrote the timetable and costed the events. We decided to check out the Old Melbourne Gaol, a great spot for some morbid entertainment. During the school holidays, all young visitors receive an activity booklet, Escape the Gaol, which keeps them busy, frantically looking for clues on each floor of the gaol, in order to receive an official stamp and finally ‘escape’. Younger children may need a hand with some of the trickier questions and riddles: the constant walking up and down narrow metal staircases provides some physical exercise for the accompanying adults.
After a mad search for clues on the floors and walls of cells, the children learnt to co-operate with each other and share their answers, a fine learning goal and one I encouraged. The activity took over an hour to complete. Many gruesome spectacles can then be enjoyed on each floor, especially the hanging rope area and trap door drop, the copies of death masks on display throughout many cells, and the Ned Kelly paraphernalia and other stories of woe. ‘Such is Life‘ to quote Ned’s last words.
I had a particular interest in visiting the older part of the gaol, originally called the Eastern Gaol. My great- great- grandmother, Catherine, was locked up in this dungeonesque place for a brief time in 1857. She had been found wandering the streets of Melbourne and locked up for vagrancy and madness. I am still trying to piece together her story. As her seven children were eventually admitted to the Melbourne poor house for orphans, the Eastern gaol became her last refuge and place of demise. After a short stay, she managed to find the store containing a bottle of poisonous cleaning fluid and drank the contents. Her consequent death guaranteed an instant escape from gaol, and what must have been a tragic life.
Old Melbourne Gaol
The Art of Hanging
The Old Melbourne Gaol was erected in stages between 1851 and 1864 by the Public Works Department of the Colony of Victoria, the design is attributed to Henry Ginn, Chief Architect of the Department. The oldest remaining section ,the Second Cell Block (1851-1853), consists of a long block with three tiers of cells terminating in the central hall (1860), the site of the hanging scaffold. This is the site you will visit. Included in the total tour cost is a visit to the City Watch house, a more modern building next door, where actors dressed as police yell and intimidate you before you land in a darkened cell with your other fellow inmates. This building, although not as evocative as the older building, is well worth a visit for the 1960s lock up experience. The graffiti on the walls speak of sadness, racism, and poverty.
This is a great day out for kids over 8: they eagerly donned replicas of Ned’s armour and after the tour, we chatted about the Ned Kelly Legend, came home on the train and sang this song.
Other free activities nearby include a visit to the State Library, an historical landmark and a grand building from the Melbourne Boom era. Kids are keen to climb the stairs to the top level and to see a busy library, full of readers and others playing board games. At present there’s a display of wonderful old manuscripts and books on Level 3.
The shot tower inside Melbourne Central is opposite the State library, which rounded out our short historical tour of colonial Melbourne.
We travelled by tram and train to the city. Many kids who live in the outer suburbs spend most of their time being driven about in cars: public transport is a novelty in itself. The cost of $70 for a family of 5 for the tour of the gaol was quite reasonable. I can highly recommend this tour to Melbourne residents as well as tourists looking for something a little different in the centre of the city.
Happy New Year, dear friends and readers. We toasted the New Year with Bellini made from fresh peach juice and Prosecco. This cocktail tasted so healthy I could happily drink it for breakfast. Salute.
January is a busy month in my kitchen as the summer crops pour in through the back door. After 9 years in our current abode, most of our fruit trees are now in their prime. To date, I have picked 10 kilo of white peaches. Another few kilo remain while the Mariposa plums are beginning to flush. The zucchini are in full swing- I never tire of a good zucchini soup. Last night’s pizza included a topping of grilled zucchini ribbons and other assorted treasure.
Yesterday’s lunch, La Mouclade, is my favourite way to eat mussels. Melbourne has several mussel farms- one on Port Arlington and the other in Mt Martha. Mt Martha mussels grow in deep clean water and are an organic and sustainable seafood.
Before Christmas I made heaps of cakes, breads and simple bowl meals. I intended to write brief posts on each of these but didn’t have time. The problem is, I love taking photos of food but rarely note down precise ingredients.
Some new Weck jars, found in Aldi, are perfect for making levain for sourdough. I baked like a banshee during December. A new favourite is the cranberry and walnut bread, especially when toasted for breakfast. Fortunately I froze about 8 loaves of different varieties, giving me a little bread making breathing space this month.
This is the month when things move outside. Daisy liked this Pizza Bianca and was impressed with the taste of capers.
Thanks Sherry, at Sherry’s Pickings, for hosting this series. Once again, may I say that it’s a great way to focus on all that happens in the kitchen, the engine room of the home. May the domestic gods and goddesses shine on you all this month.
It’s around 5 pm and my mind reluctantly begins to address the question of dinner. Lacking inspiration, I pour myself a drink, an encouraging white wine and immediately think of risotto, a dish that asks if it may share some of the bottle. There are tons of broadbeans ( fava beans) and leeks in the garden and plenty of herbs: a risotto primaverile could be the answer. At other times, I do the common thing and google a few ingredients in the subject line, hoping for an instant answer, fully conscious of the fact that random internet recipes are unreliable and are simply another form of procrastination. I often ask Mr T what he would like for dinner. In our household the answer always comes back as a one word statement indicating a particular ethnic cuisine. “What about some Indian?” (or Thai, Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, French, Indonesian, Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese)? he responds. Vietnamese is off my cooking list- I save that cuisine for at least one economical dining option when out and about. When Melburnians eat, they choose from a huge array of influences and are familiar enough with many cuisines to cook them confidently in their own kitchens.
It’s one of the reasons why I love Melbourne so much. Sitting in the A1 Bakery yesterday, a cheap and cheerful Lebanese restaurant in a vibrant inner suburb, we were surrounded by Australian people of the world, dressed in all manner of clothing styles, from Hijab to Hipster. The decor is eclectic and a little quirky. Above the counter stands a large statue of the Virgin Mary, draped in all her blue and white Catholic glory, an outfit not dissimilar to that worn by some of the customers, while displayed in front of her is a long row of 1 metre high golden hookahs. An odd assortment of pictures decorate the far walls:- a primitive painting of Ned Kelly, the Irish- Australian bushranger legendary hero, an oil painting of Saint Sharbel, a Lebanese Maronite saint dressed in brown monastic garb, a large velvet rug featuring some knife wielding Ottoman Cossacks, and a childlike painting of a cockatoo. The place is always noisy and very busy. On a nearby table, a large group of girls are enjoying a shared lunch together: they have just finished their final year school exams and are celebrating at one of Melbourne’s most affordable eateries. They are Middle Eastern, Turkish, African and Asian Australians. A couple wear glamourously draped head-dress over their teenage uniform of jeans and t-shirts. They speak Melburnian – time to recognise that Australian English has many distinct dialects – and their youthful laughter is infectious.
Below, my home-made falafel, this time with more Egyptian influence and lots of herbs
My next door neighbour in the city has just returned from her annual holiday in Greece. For the last 22 years she has tried to teach me basic Greek. We chat in a mixture of broken English and, in my case, almost non-existent Greek – a case of trying to recognise as many Greek roots and suffixes or Italian sounding words, over a some warm Tiropsomo, a fetta cheese bread snack. Like a little bit of Ouzo, says Anna at any time of the day. Oooh, my favourite Greek word: yes please. She pours herself a thimble full while I receive a good little glass, enough to change the flavour of the day. Cheers, Stin ygiasou . She is now 86 and I want to spend more time in her kitchen. Greek influence in my kitchen extends to old favourites such as Spanakopita, that famous greens and fetta pie, Gigantes, the best of bean dishes, home-made taramsalada and dolmades. I’m keen to learn a few more Greek tricks.
The annual Spring BBQ at Barnardi’s place took place recently: this is one of the culinary highlights of my year. When I arrive at most parties, I usually reach for a glass of wine before perusing the food offerings. At Barnadi’s, I head straight to the buffet table- the anticipation of his traditional Indonesian food is so overwhelming, I become outrageously greedy. Barnadi is a chef who once ran a famous Indonesian restaurant, Djakarta. Lately, he has returned to his roots and is cooking more traditional Indonesian recipes. The Australians attending this event all share a diverse background- Indonesian, Thai, British, Greek, Italian and Swedish, a healthy Melburnian blend. The dessert table included a tray of sticky rice green and pink Indonesian cakes, some Javanese Gembong, a rich Spanish flan, a chocolate cheesecake and a Hummingbird cake for Adam’s birthday.
My mother recently moved into an elderly care facility, commonly known as ‘the place’. The first thing we checked out was the menu. The food is fabulous and varied: the chef, who once had his own restaurant and is of Indian Fijian background, has a great approach to the menu. He hopes to eat this well when he is elderly and so he cooks as if he were a guest at the table. Yes, it’s Karma, we both agree. Visitors can eat with the residents with notice, and there’s always a spare dessert available when visiting during meal times. They are sensational. Each member of staff, from manager to cleaner, is genuinely caring and friendly: they smile, dance and chat to all. These Aussies have Chinese, Malaysian, and Filipino backgrounds and I am so thankful for their loving care of my mother.
I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite Australian comedy clips, each with a multi cultural theme. Laugh or cringe. Thanks Sherry, from Sherry’s Pickings, for hosting this monthly series.
Down by the shore of Port Philip Bay, Melbourne, there’s so much going on during the sunset hour. Seagulls frolic and chase phantoms, paddle boarders glide by, silhouetted in liquid gold, a passing puppet show on water, cargo vessels float weightlessly upon the shipping lane, black swans gently pose, and aluminium dinghies turn bronze. Mesmerizing and always new.
For those who have gone the distance and have continued to camp alongside the great lagoon- like bay of Port Phillip until mid Autumn, the rewards are great. The summer crowds, the sun seekers, bathers and holiday makers have long left: a more mellow mood remains. Some old patterns and rituals continue as the season winds to a close. From 5 o’clock, the beach calls and it’s time for a Shirley. Folding chairs, chilled wine, cameras real and cloned are carted down to the shoreline just in time for the sunset show. The children run or cartwheel across the sand, dressed for an endless summer, too busy to ever get cold, while their elders swaddle in layers against the descending chill.
The sunsets of mid Autumn are incandescent and more evocative than their summer counterparts. No more lipstick sunsets, loud, adolescent and brash. The season brings out subtle colours, as softer tangerine mellows to russet, bronze and antique gold, like the waning of time and life. My mind wanders out to sea as ships come and go, with cargoes of cars and clutter. Melbourne’s shipping lane is busy in the evening. Ghost ships pass, container-less, skeletons of their former selves, story book ships, pirate fortune hunters in search of another raid.
Or human cargo ships pass by, cruise ships full of expectation, lit up like floating apartment blocks, as they ostentatiously glide into the setting sun and head towards their next fleeting appointment with another land.
As a Champagne stopper popped, landing a good distance away in the sand, a song came to mind, piercing my mental meanderings on ships and sunsets. An earworm of the evening, I firmly planted it in the minds and souls of my fellow drinkers. And now dear reader, I’m planting it in yours. Lyrics below seem more pertinent than ever.
Ship of Fools
We’re setting sail to the place on the map
from which no one has ever returned
Drawn by the promise of the joker and the fool
by the light of the crosses that burned.
Drawn by the promise of the women and the lace
and the gold and the cotton and pearls
It’s the place where they keep all the darkness you need.
You sail away from the light of the world on this trip, baby.
You will pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow
You will pay tomorrow
Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this ship of fools. No, no
Oh, save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this ship of fools
I want to run and hide ……..right now
Avarice and greed are gonna drive you over the endless sea
They will leave you drifting in the shallows
or drowning in the oceans of history
Traveling the world, you’re in search of no good
but I’m sure you’ll build your Sodom like you knew you would
Using all the good people for your galley slaves
as you’re little boat struggles through the warning waves, but you don’t pay
You will pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow
Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this ship of fools
Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don’t want to sail with this ship of fools
Where’s it comin’ from?
Where’s it goin’ to now?
It’s just a It’s just a ship of fools
It may be a sign of maturity, wisdom and age, or perhaps I’m just a slow learner, but lately I’ve been observing some wonderful changes along the foreshore down by the bay. Where once the sea grasses in the shallow water and the native grasses along the coast were gouged by tractors to create white sandy banks for sunbathers and swimmers, now the native flora is slowly returning. It’s a gradual but discernible march as the native grasses thicken, slowly forming seed beds for the indigenous Coastal Banksia to germinate and creep closer to the tide line. Thick brackets of Casuarina compete with purple Melaleuca along shady pathways to the sand. An early morning walk in and out of the fringing bush is a rewarding pastime.
I’ve spent most of my life ignoring the beauty of the coastal Banksia. An irregular shaped woody tree better known for its yellow or lime candle flowers than beauty, shade or shape, I am so thrilled to find new saplings emerging along the small human track forged between the soft headed coastal grass.
In the past, I’ve been more fascinated with the busy shipping lane in Port Phillip Bay or the brilliant sunsets of late Autumn. This year is less technicoloured, as a pastel view of this beautiful bay plays with my soul. I like this change. It’s a sign of hope for the delicate ecology of the Bay’s coastal precinct. And it’s a sign of hope for the future generally.
The Life Cycle of a Coastal Banksia Flower in Images.
The first thing I noticed, apart from the vertiginous stairs leading to my small pew on Level C, was the incongruity of our little group, consisting of five women ranging in age from 68 to 13. I was attending the Ed Sheeran concert along with my daughter, my granddaughter, her half-sister and her best friend. This is probably not the usual demographic you might find at a popular concert: along with our age difference, we probably have little in common when it comes to taste in music or culture generally. So what is it about Ed?
Travelling by train directly to the venue, I noticed other small groups like ours as mothers, daughters and girlfriends piled into the train, chatting eagerly en route to the show. Of the 65,000 attending last Monday night, I would hazard a guess and suggest that women and girls made up more than 70 percent of the audience. Younger girls attended with an older male, father, brother, boyfriend or chaperone. Families of women and girls outnumbered the token male in their group. Ed understands his demographic well and encourages the boyfriends and dads to join in the singing, ‘This is your karaoke moment, dance, sing and forget about the people around you. If you don’t know the words, make them up’, Ed teases. There are many chorus chants in most of Ed’s songs allowing for mass participation without stuffing up the lyrics. Some of these chants come with particular waving actions, not unlike a soccer crowd experience only gentler, tamer.
From my vertical seat in the Etihad Stadium, Melbourne, Ed looked like an unreal creature, or as one of my daughter’s friends commented, ‘like a Ranger Ant’. It doesn’t take long to lose this sense of distance, thanks to the sound and video close-ups shown on screens at the rear. For those who aren’t familiar with Ed’s approach, he plays an electrified acoustic guitar solo, a one-man band, with no pre- recorded choruses, drum machines or tracks. Sheeran is known for using loop pedals in his live performances, allowing him to record his own guitar riffs, verses and chants before ‘looping’ it as he continues to play. After a song or two, it’s intriguing to hear the various elements being laid down, then listening to their reintroduction as the song builds, layer upon layer.
‘He’s up there on his own and he’s riding a wave of being in the moment with the music and every time he puts his foot down he’s either recording or looping or reversing or adjusting a track….It’s like watching a painter live paint a picture while doing something else at the same time – to a global TV audience. The pressure is insane!’
For those who were brought up enjoying singing in rounds, the effect is similar, only more electrifying and complex.
Ed encourages the audience to turn on their phone lights during the gentle chorus of ‘The A Team‘,
It’s too cold outside, For angels to fly, Angels to fly.
It’s a kitsch but magical moment, reminding me of the good old days when we would wave our cigarette lighters about in the dark during the more radical and anti- imperialist Midnight Oil concerts.
Sheeran’s music is eclectic, popular and non aggressive. While some of the sounds and lyrics might be considered simplistic and banal, as in the popular Shape of You, other genres show more depth and song writing genius. His music skips around most styles, Pop, Rap, Blues, Acoustic, English Folk, Beat Boxing, often incorporating elements of story telling or ballad. My favourites include the gospel R&B Make it Rain, sadly not performed at the Melbourne concert, and the multi layered Bloodstream, the live version added below which demonstrates Sheeran’s loop box recording for those not familiar with this technique.
Ed Sheeran’s concert tour of Australia and New Zealand sold over 1 million tickets. Now that’s around one in 30 people who attended the show, and if we cut out the very young and the very old, the odds get much narrower. His music might be described as broadchurch, but then it’s hard not to admire this gentle and enormously talented force, especially if you’re a woman or a girl.