With the solstice behind us and the end of the year almost upon us it’s time to do a quick snapshot check of the state of the garden.
With the solstice behind us and the end of the year almost upon us it’s time to do a quick snapshot check of the state of the garden.
I don’t watch TV these days, as I can’t keep pace with the intellectual scripts and subtle plots of shows like Big Brother, I’m a celebrity, get me out of here, and that fallen angel The Shire. However when I was a wee lad that flashing screen caught and held my attention – perhaps far too much. On Saturday mornings I would sit in my PJs, bowl of cereal to hand, and get ready for the weekend with a couple of hours of Hey, Hey It’s Saturday. That Daryl Somers. That crazy ostrich. And who could forget John Blackman’s high brow quips. Of all the various gags and long running thematic segments one that has mysteriously always stuck with me was a newspaper article submitted to the segment Media Watch. The article described how some small town’s elected officials were busy cutting the ribbon at the opening of some new local attraction, probably a Big Prawn, or a new swimming pool. The local paper’s sub editor, who was clearly having a slow day and was probably also hoping he could slip in a bit of spice without the editor noticing had titled the article with the headline “Councillors celebrate huge erection”. I nearly blew out a huge mouthful of half chewed Corn Flakes all over the TV screen at that one I can tell you. Odd isn’t it, my recollections from that time of my life don’t seem at all to include much advanced algebra, but somewhere in my cortex some strange mix of brain chemicals and cellular structures retains that small piece of humour. There’s a lesson there I think for you three unit maths teachers struggling with the perennial question of how to get your year ten students to retain formulas – use double entendres when explaining the method of calculating the area under a complex hyperbolic waveform.
And so, as we prepare to bid a fond farewell to the year 2012 I too am celebrating with a huge erection of my own – a new totem pole. When we bought ridgesong many years ago the seller thoughtfully left behind some potentially useful objects; one of which was a rusted out old box trailer. Someone more enterprising than me might have dived in and got it back on the road; I mean all it needed was two new wheels, a new draw bar, a new floor, gate and sides, new lights and wiring loom and it with a smick of paint it’d be just like a new bought one. Well I must have been a bit lazy though and so it just sat there forlornly exchanging atomic bonds between the steel and the atmosphere and slowly flaking itself into the surrounding soil. The problem was that it is rather difficult to take a box trailer to the metal recyclers, as it doesn’t easily fit into a box trailer.
The solution my friends, as it is often the case, was a POWER TOOL. One of my favourites is the angle grinder, so called because you can slice off parts of your body with the fast spinning cutting edge at almost any angle. There’s really nothing a good angle grinder can’t cut is there? Steel, tiles, skin, muscle, bone. Even better, it makes sparks. What more could a bloke ask for? Thus armed and loaded with plenty of cutting disks I eventually got around to slicing, dicing and julienning that old box trailer until all I had left where a selection of potentially useful bits of metal and a smaller pile of stuff for the landfill. Amongst the useful bits were a set of leaf springs, and a 1.8m long section of solid steel with a 40mm x 10mm cross section. Just waiting for the day they would become….
…this. Whatever it is. Beauty and meaning are in the eye of the beholder. So far it has been interpreted as being a representation of happy people spinning around with their arms held in the air; as a broom; a flower; and what someone’s bed hair looks like. In the background you can see Birdman casting his beady gaze over at this new, upstart neighbour and trying to decide whether the ‘hood is going downhill.
The more observant of you might say “OK, I can see the leaf springs but what about the long length of solid steel? Where does that fit in?”. Well done you! It’s not there. But is in the shed leaning up with its new friends the shovel, the pick and the adze. By cutting a sharp edge at one end (angle grinder….so useful!) it has promoted itself from behind the garage amongst the useful metal pile to the tool pile, having become a heavy tamping bar. Which in this case was needed to help dig a hole deep enough for the six metre or so pole that forms the backbone of the spinning dancer, or the flower, or the broom. I can’t decide. Here; interpret away…
Since about April we have been wishing for rain, as the ENSO cycle has brought an end to the wet of last year. December has been pretty much a zero rainfall flatline, however as the old saying goes “You need to be careful what you wish for”, because Santa brought us just a little more wetness than we would have liked:
The water tanks were happy. The frogs in the dam were happy. The garden was happy. The eleven of us sitting around the table on the deck outside having Christmas lunch…well…not so happy. Apparently this was the wettest Christmas Day on the East Coast of Australia in seventy years. See…you wish for rain…you get rain. Don’t say Santa never delivers.
In between dodging raindrops we exchanged gifts and bonhomie, and demonstrated our mutual affection by cooking up a storm. The Others ate various dead animals they had prepared elsewhere and brought along already cooked. Meanwhile we feasted on stuffing; roasted baby potatoes with garlic, pine nuts and dill; rose harissa tagine, Bevski beetroot; sweet potato salad; quinoa salad, and I don’t even remember what else. Afterwards, just to ensure we hadn’t missed filling any spare sections of intestine we had Bevski Pud, and chocolate self saucing pud. And then we all looked like our friend Monty, right after he’s eaten a large something.Like Monty we all wanted to just lay in the sun for a few days and digest everything. Alas, there wasn’t any sunshine to lie in. Well, not for a few days anyway.
Right, well that picture just about takes care of the ingredients list. Which just leaves me to blather on for a little while first, before we get to the bit about how to make this (Hint: use a blender).
Let’s play for a moment a game of word association using the word “Africa”. Rift valley. Origins of mankind (unless you believe in this version). Elephants. Bloody conflict. Colonial invasion. Lions. Despots. Diamonds. Apartheid. Famine.
How are we going, have you said “Roasted capsicum and tomatoes” yet? Thought not. Most people associate the foodstuff of Africa with the picture of horribly starving children and Bob Geldoff fund raising concerts. When the crops aren’t failing, the lands being bombed, or the various ethnic tribes are not being murdered and chased from their lands by religious nutters, invaders, diamond and oil seekers and assorted other examples of human scum this great, wide, wonderful land produces foodstuffs both wonderful and assorted. The legacy of this land to our taste buds is one so great we ought to prostrate ourselves at the feet of every passing native African.
In a very simple way, using ingredients common in the kitchen, you can sample one small slice of this legacy.
That’s it. All done bar the eating. Serve as a condiment. Use it as a pasta sauce or spread on a pizza. Smear it on yourself if you’re feeling a little weird and raunchy. Just keep it in the fridge and seal it in the jar with a layer of coconut oil (or olive oil if you don’t have any of that). Preserved this way it ought to last 2-3 weeks before growing something unpleasant.
Tofu is a much maligned substance, usually described by it’s critics as “Tasteless, white nothing; I’d rather have a slab of steak any day thanks very much.” The exact origins of tofu are unknown, though it is cited that Chinese legend ascribes its invention to prince Liu An (Chinese: 劉安 Liú Ān) who kicked around the kitchens of China in period between 179 and 122 BC. The inventiveness of the Chinese is well heralded in many areas of industry, philosophy and science so I can well believe that Prince Liu gifted us with the legacy of curded soy. An arguably more useful legacy that anything the British Royal family has managed lately.
Personally, I can understand the disdain that steak eaters have for the flavour of tofu as it’s raw flavour is perhaps too subtle for many palettes. Myself, I like the flavour of uncooked tofu and will occasionally nick a small piece off the kitchen bench after slicing and dicing the block in preparation for cooking. However tofu’s greatest strength is its ability to sponge up for other flavours, and in doing so act as a vehicle for their transportation to taste buds. The other interesting characteristic of tofu, and one which greatly extends its culinary usefulness is that the texture utterly changes when a block is solidly frozen and then defrosted. Putting tofu through this cycle makes it both firmer and most importantly leaves it with a bready consistency.
Tofu naturally comes in a number of grades (not of quality but of texture) ranging from very firm through to the jelly like consistency of silken tofu. The change made by the freezing and defrosting cycle is most noticeable when using silken tofu. In its original state silken tofu is akin to the consistency of solid custard, however after the freeze cycle it acquires a consistency similar to that of white bread – albeit in a wet tofuey sort of way. When lightly mashed with a fork it then becomes almost exactly like scrambled eggs, thus providing the perfect base material for creating a vegan alternative – with no chicken littlens required.
There’s one more thing you need to know before we get to the actual recipe bit – after defrosting the tofu you must thoroughly drain in order for the breading process to wok properly. Left too long stewing in the water that will be in the packet will begin to render it back to its original consistency. To drain thawed silken tofu press it firmly either between the flats of your palms, or between two plates.
Of course you’ll still need something else to add flavour to this dish; something to be carried along in the vehicle of the tofu sponge if you will. The other magic ingredient in this dish is fresh tumeric root – alas, the more common tumeric powder just won’t do. You can usually obtain tumeric root from any Asian green grocer, and sometimes in better supermarkets.
Ingredients (serves two)
Serve on toast, optionally spread with avocado.
Next time I make this dish, I’ll try to have a camera handy to take a foodporn photo.
On the train recently returning from Sydney, my quiet reading was interrupted by a conversation between two twenty-something women who had just sat themselves three rows behind. I found it almost impossible to concentrate on the page, as not only did they have no apparent need to pause for breath, their conversation was also punctuated by the endless repetition of a four letter word. No…not the F word, nor the C word. Worse still, the dreadful L word.
Like, I can hear in my head like, that song from like a few years back. Like Pauline Pantsdown, singing “I don’t like it”, like. And I was like, you know.
But unlike Pauline, they liked a lot, those girls; all the way from Macquarie Park to somewhere mercifully short of Hornsby. What was most interesting to me however, as they generously shared their conversation at full volume with all and sundry in the carriage, was to realise that the use of the word ‘like’ wasn’t just a verbal tic, similar to an “umm”, it was actually the foundation upon which they expressed themselves. Moreover, that foundation was an entirely different one than used by my own generational peers in terms of how they expressed their feelings, and their reactions to everyday events.
Whereas I might use descriptive words to express to someone how a situation affected me, they simply gave direct quotations of their own reactions. I might say “I was speaking with Bob the other day, and he was being quite aggressive and said something that really upset me. I just had to walk away eventually.” In contrast, the likers would say “I was like, talking with Bob and he was going off like, and I was like I’m not listening to you anymore.” I might tell a friend “It was so hot last weekend that we just couldn’t face cooking anything for dinner, so we just sat in the pool to cool off and had a salad later.” They might say “Like the other day, I was like I’m SO hot and sweaty, and I was like I’m not going to cook, and like Let’s go for a swim.”
It occurred to me that amongst the LOLs, the lazy swearing and the Americanisms, we are also in the midst of the extinction of descriptive vocabulary. It is no longer necessary apparently to use verbs; it is only necessary to quote one’s own immediate reactions to any given event. Another example perhaps of the “It’s all about me” point of view that seems ever more pervasive.
Eventually they got off the train and peace descended again on the carriage. I liked that. I liked it a lot.
When I was about nine or ten my family moved from Melbourne to Sydney, My father drove the family up, having entrusted our goods and chattles to the movers whilst we took along with us a few suitcases, the family cat, and towing behind us his small fibreglass yacht. The cat was none too pleased at the idea of spending two days or so cooped up in the car, and to the amusement of myself and my parents expressed his disdain by pissing on my brother late on the first day. Due to the fear of the cat taking a suicidal leap to freedom through an open window we were forced to drive with them all open no more than a couple of centimetres If I recall correctly my father’s car did not have AC fitted, and so we were unable to air the smell as much as we would have liked and so our amusement soon turned into disgust as the smell of the cat’s urine slowly became rather thick in the car. I also remember that this trip was one of the first times I witnessed my parents deliberately lie, in telling the motel manager during checkin that “No, we don’t have any pets with us” all the while shooting us “Not a word” looks. The cat made it all the way to the new house, and after one or two stoushes with the existing feline residents over territorial disputes eventually settled in to his new digs. Prince was a fine pet, and proved to be a most adaptable feline in as far as he moved two more times with me, from that home in Engadine, to my rented house in Bundeena and then to a terrace house I’d bought in Enmore. At the ripe old age of seventeen he shuffled off his mortal coil and was buried under the jacaranda in the back yard of that Enmore terrace, where he eventually contributed to the following year’s purple flower bloom and the seed pods of the jacaranda tree. Thus life’s circle turns and what was ageing and passed it’s first purpose became something new.
My father’s yacht was of a simple, open design. A single sailed craft of a type called a Tasman Tiger, about 5 metres in length, and almost identical in design to the more commonly known Laser model which are still sailed today all around the world.
A small rudder clipped on to the back, operated with a wooden handle. The keel was a simple fibreglass centreboard that was pushed through a slot in the hull – the entire boat being a sealed, air-pocketed design the buoyancy of which allowed for such a ‘hole in the floor’ design. When I was about 21 or so, and living in that rented house in Bundeena my parents moved themselves to live in Thailand and so the boat was dumped with me to sell or to use, not having been disposed of by them prior to their move. It only ever got one use under my stewardship, and around the time I eventually moved to Enmore it was stolen from in front of the Bundeena property, leaving me with only the rudder and the centreboard in my possession as they had been stored separately.
For some reason or another those two items have remained in my possession to this day, with the vague idea that they were “somehow useful objects’. I confess to a mild degree of hoarding syndrome, squirrelling away lengths of metal and odd objects that I think might someday be usefully re-purposed. In my defence, I keep my collecting under reasonable control and the objects I’ve stored have indeed proven their usefulness on many occasions. For a long time however the possible use of those sole remaining items from that long gone yellow yacht proved elusive. Propped up out of the way near the winter woodpile they would catch my eye every time I retrieved the wheel barrow or a fireplace worth of logs to stimulate my mind anew with the pondering of how I might use them. I eventually settled on the idea that they somehow reminded me of wings, initially those of a man-made craft. I contemplated using them in a sculpture of a Reaper drone for the local annual art show, as part of a statement on the drone assassination program initiated by the 43rd US president, and continued and expanded by the 44th. Somehow though, that particular idea never got off the ground, and the “wings” remained just lengths of old fibreglass gathering dust at the back of the shed.
Ideas though never tend to entirely dissipate, even if the execution of them has hit an impasse. The idea of wings turned out to be a seed of creativity just looking for the right tree, which came in the form of a long, solid pole in my small collection of “long solid poles that might someday be useful for something” (see, it’s not just bits of random fibreglass that I have in my little collection of things). As tends to be the way of these things one day it all just came together in my mind. After near on twenty three years of carting around two lumps of old yacht, in two days of noise, woodchips and shavings involving chainsaw, planer, drill, hammer, angle grinder and spanner, and helped along with a slice off an old motorised hoe casing (beak), three glass telegraph line insulators from the Australian outback (crest), and an old farm fence post (eyes) those two wings found flight.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Thus life’s circle turns and what was ageing and passed it’s first purpose became something new.