Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Taste of the Unexpected

image I have come in from the absolutely adorable, warm, winter sunshine and a delicious coffee to tell you about something. The postie arrived a few moments ago and I thought I'd read the introduction to the new book I am selling, which he was delivering, while I had my coffee on the verandah. The author, Mark Diacono believes life is too short to grow unremarkable food...and he makes growing your own into a rather swashbuckling and delicious adventure to ensure that the food that you grow is done so as to give those who eat it great pleasure, not just a meal.

I had tears in my eyes when I read the forward and the introduction! I am in heaven... this is my kind of book, written by my kind of bloke, in wonderful words and pictures, to inspire a passionate approach to food growing and eating. Forget abundance, go for flavour.

"This is a food book; it just happens to start its journey in the in the garden rather than the kitchen... and once you start growing fine food, you'll very quickly find that it becomes something you do rather than simply what you eat, and that life becomes quietly, immeasurably, sweeter."

Amen!

He suggests growing and eating Szechuan pepper, lovage, day lilly flowers, cardoons, shungiku, Egyptian walking onions, oca etc etc. I have grown all these except the Szechuan pepper and do thoroughly recommend them too.

A Taste of the Unexpected by Mark Diacono.... now available at The Garden Shed and Pantry by email order, for $35 including postage in Australia.... or from the Cygnet market this Sunday, 10 - 2, for the same price.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The death of common sense

The federal government is losing in the polls for trying to introduce a carbon tax. The carbon tax at least recognises a problem that needs urgent attention - we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, which, when dug up and used to make energy, increase pollution and carbon dioxide in the air.

The Tasmanian state government is short of funds..... and is planning on closing 20 Tasmanian schools to raise a bit of cash, meaning that, apart from anything else, there will be a forced increase in the use of fossil fuels to get these children to other schools. Moreover, the remaining schools will have to be enlarged to accommodate the extra students, using more fossil fuels. Extra teachers will be required and they too will have to travel, probably from where they lived near the previous school, up to 30 minutes drive away. Then, something will have to be done with the existing schools..... and so on.

Not a single mention has been made of this in the media. I feel like screaming! But I had to laugh when a friend sent me an email yesterday putting all my thoughts into a nutshell....

An Obituary printed in the London Times

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years.

No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
- Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
- Why the early bird gets the worm;
- Life isn't always fair;
- and maybe it was my fault.

 
Common Sense
lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).
His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place.

Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition...

 
Common Sense
lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.
It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.


Common Sense
lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

 
Common Sense
took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.


Common Sense
finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

 
Common Sense
was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust, by his wife, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son, Reason.

He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers;
I Know My Rights
I Want It Now
Someone Else Is To Blame
I'm A Victim

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.. If you still remember him, pass this on.

If not, join the majority and do nothing.

Friday, June 24, 2011

My philosophy

The paths that we take in life, although they may dart here and there and sometimes seem to lead to nowhere, do, I think, follow the theme we were born with, or developed in young childhood.

When I was 2 my parents bought a shack on the beach, only 45 minutes from our home, but far, far away from our home life. I am lucky to have the poster of it in my kitchen here. There, I spent every waking moment on the beach; wind in my hair, sun or rain on my face and my fingers playing in the sand, in the rockpools and through the hair of our 5 dogs who were my companions. My brothers are both 10 or more years older than me so I spent a lot of time alone with dogs and the sea. We went there at least one weekend in 4 and for nearly every school and uni holiday for 20 years.

We used to put a little net out in summer. I would paddle my canoe out and collect the fish at 6am, before the crabs got up. I was very young and I suppose my parents were watching me, but I felt hugely free and independent from that young age; just me and the sea. I learned about the waves and the wind. Launching my canoe was all about timing and I enjoyed the challenge. Often it was glassy calm in those sheltered waters and I could see to the sand on the bottom as I paddled.  I frequently shared the early morning with dolphins and sting rays and once even a seal. The net was crusty with salt and often had coloured seaweeds entangled in it. I loved the feel of them in my hands as I removed them from the net but once I had collected the 2 or 3 fish caught overnight, I would paddle madly back to shore before the slimy bodies of the fish slid from the front of my canoe, to the back where I sat. I never thought to take something to put them in until this moment!

In winter the waves crashed on the shore, not far from the shack and I slept to the feel of the shack being slammed with the wild wind and pelted with rain, the roar of crashing waves and the snoring of a dog or 2. There were a few other shacks in the row below the cliff and, luckily for me, there was often someone to play with. In winter we'd run down the beach to where the waves for body surfing were biggest, dive into the freezing cold sea without hesitating, and, with our towels flapping in the wind, we'd race back to hot cocoa and scones. It was paradise for me.

This close connection with nature and growing up feeling I was a part of it and not that it was separate from me, has given me a connection with the earth that few people I know have. I keep it to myself mostly because it is not easy to explain in full. But the philosophy I live by is to live with the earth and do least harm. This means I need to know about food; where it comes from and how it is grown and processed. I do not want to damage anything, just to feed me. All creatures are equal. I would rather eat a kangaroo shot in the wild, than any farmed animal because the kangaroo does not require the clearing of forests, the building of fences or the use of machinery. Best, is eating feral meat, shot on the hoof; wild goats, pigs, rabbits, deer and camels, in S.A. Then I would be helping the wild animals and plants by reducing pests the destroy their native habitat.

Some people say being vegetarian is best. I don't agree, here in Australia. One animal shot dead in the wild would feed me for months, with no other destruction to anything. The rest I grow or collect or buy locally, except for spices and coffee and the odd bit of soy sauce etc. This may not be possible to feed the world but it would certainly help if more feral meat was available here in Tasmania, as it is in South Australia.

Everything I eat has come into my kitchen through close scrutiny, and I read labels constantly, trying to work out what to buy or not buy. It is part of who I am, part of inner me. My whole life I have felt this connection with the earth and the need to teach others to take care of what we have, to look at what you do and do least harm. It reaches into every corner of human existence, not just our food, and needs careful consideration as humans divorce themselves more and more from reality.

Make the connections and do least harm.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Launch of "Relaxing Stories"

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Relaxing Stories App for iphones 

Today we have launched the Relaxing Stories app. It is free to download for a limited period (download here). We hope you enjoy the app.

The App at a glance:
- 29 unique stories (5 available for free)
- 8 stories in both male and female voices
- Set in more than 10 different scenes
- 6 voices to choose from
- Easy to use interface
- Non-intrusive user experience (no ads!)

Of course, none of this would have been possible without a really awesome team that backed us up.

Alex Flint, Christo Fogelberg, Deeksha Sharma and Akshat Rathi spearheaded the project and took on very important roles complementing each other’s skills beautifully.

All the excellent authors who have given us the chance to bring such quality content to you the listeners, thank you very much.

Philip Robinson, Katie Steel, Abigail Ballantyne, Maeve O’Donnell and Dylan Townley for lending their excellent voices. It is their voices that give the app it’s character.

A special thanks to Monic Gupta and George Knott for their excellent support in helping us kick off the project and then continued efforts throughout the project. We are also grateful to Tejas Yadav and Kelly Dhru for their key inputs.

The Oxford student radio Oxide has been very kind in allowing us to use their high tech equipment to ensure top quality recordings for the stories.

 The superb logo that has kept us going through all the hard work in this project was made by Surabhi Rathi. We thank her for all the work and we are very happy that her design skills have spread throughout the project including many of the posters and beautifully designed story snippets.

More than 25 people have beta tested the app for us and their inputs have been key to making the app as perfect as possible. Thank you for your time and efforts.

This simple and clean design for the website was the work of Apurv Ray and Deepak Thomas and we thank them for their hard work.

Here’s a big thank you to all of you and we hope that the product brings to you a relaxing experience.

Alex Flint, June 17, 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I don't want free stuff

Everywhere I look, people are offering free this or that, if only you'll buy their product. Sometimes I love the product, like The New Internationalist magazine, who have a great deal out for a subscription. However, I do not want the free, organic cotton backpack. It is not right. I am trying very hard to buy second hand things, if and when I need them. What's more, black dyes, such as that used in the making of the free back-pack, are shocking for the environment, even if they are eco and anyway, I hate black.

It is ironic that the cover of the magazine may well have the title "Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle" or "Why do we need a carbon tax?" stamped across its cover, while at the same time, there is a black back-pack going for free if you subscribe. When is the connection going to hit people and, instead of all this talk and argument, commonsense start to be a little more common?

I have stopped all subscriptions to paper products and I wait rather impatiently for the chance to buy an e-subscription for my favourite magazines. Then, if there is an article I want to keep, I could save it on my computer or even print it out at home. There are mountains of e-magazines but not the ones I love, yet. They have to be user-friendly too, and able to be saved, article by article.... not just be a pdf version of the paper product.

Here I am, 52, wanting to make the best use of the technology we have. There must be millions like me and millions of younger, more tech-savvy people ready to reduce their carbon footprint and take to the e-waves in a truly useful way. I saw on the TV that there are now 3 billion internet users now. What a customer base!

In the meantime, I have asked many people here if they'd like to share a subscription to The Organic Gardener, for example, .... people who fight for sustainability, grow their own food.... wonderful people in every way.... but so far no luck. I thought if 4 of us shared a monthly subscription then that would mean we could have the magazine for a week each. Maybe this rant will change their minds!!

Make the connections and DO something.

Friday, June 17, 2011

...and the winner is....a superbly ripe cape gooseberry

Which cape? Cape Town, South Africa.

image

.....full, rich, fruity, sweet, aromatic and quite elusive. (Sitting on top of a plate of oca, from previous blog post)

image Frost hardy, prolific bearers, incredibly easy to propagate from seed.... just place the whole, ripe fruit on a pot of soil and watch the seeds germinate inside the capsule! image

 

 

If anyone has the cape gooseberry with the orange capsule, please let me know.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Two new seasonal tastes in my garden

Plus one from the sea....

First, "Tassie Berries" or Chilean guavas have been in abundance even on my small bushes planted only a year ago. Because they grow so well here, someone is marketing them as Tassie Berries as once New Zealanders chose the name Kiwi Fruit for the Chinese gooseberry. They grow soooooo easily from cutting taken now too. Chilean guavas are ripe right at the end of autumn/early winter and explode in your mouth with a taste of summer. Evidently they make superb jam but I have so far only eaten them fresh. They are tiny and very tasty and you just pop them in your mouth, a bit like those tiny alpine strawberries. Everyone at the community garden enjoyed them when I picked some and took them to the tea table.

I want to get people to try whatever is in the garden that they maybe did not know was edible or have never eaten before. At the moment we have lots of Asian greens waving their hands in the air, saying "Pick me, pick me!" but hardly anyone is! So one day we all sampled the different parts of the plants, as the flavours and intensity vary from flower (usually the sweetest part) to stem and then to young leaves and finally old leaves (strongest). Its worth knowing this, then you can choose which part to use to suit your own tastes. And, unlike a lot of European vegetables, Asian greens do not, on the whole, become stringy and bitter when they go to seed and can be eaten at any stage. Furthermore, the green seed pods of, especially, the daikon radish are, I think, the best part of the whole plant. Throw them into a stir fry and they stay crisp like water chestnuts and are very mild.

image Next is oca or the New Zealand yam, which actually is not native to NZ either! It is from the Andes and is in the oxalis family. Oca is ready to dig once the foliage dies off. This is now, in my garden. They are very popular here in Cygnet and I am looking forward to trying them tonight. They say you just cook them as you would potatoes. It was quite delightful to push the fork into the soil, lift the clod and see so many, beautifully coloured tubers. Mine are pink but they evidently also come in yellow and purple, a bit like sweet potatoes.

Third, is seaweed. It is sad they are called a weed, when they are perfectly lovely, native sea plants. Yesterday I went for a walk on what is left of the beach at Randalls Bay. After the south-easterly storm last week, most of the sand has gone and in its place, is a mountain of kelp and other seaweeds. I have often tasted seaweeds on beaches in SA and I must say that this one was very edible and rather nice in comparison! Not only is now a good time to collect it if you are growing asparagus or making liquid manure, but it must be the perfect time to eat it too, as there it is, free, tossed up at us. We must be crazy to think that food originating in a foreign land (mostly Europe) is more worthy of consumption than what is under our noses. If you don't want to eat it raw, dry some, crumble it up and use in soups. This is an idea gathered from the Japanese who do this a lot with sea plants.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wheat biodiversity, draught exclusion, split peas and Elizabeth David

It happens often; I am washing the dishes, while listening to the radio or just meandering through my mind, when an idea comes along that I absolutely must write about that minute. Off come the washing-up gloves, up flashes Live Writer and before a word is typed, something else pops into my brain, from another day or another life and then there are 2 topics that need attention. Sometimes I jot down a link or a couple of words about both so I don't lose either of them in the excitement. Then I relax a little, cast my eyes out the window and catch sight of another topic, as a bird swoops by, a frog croaks or a spring onion uncurls an out-of-season flower......

And so it is today that I concoct such a crazy heading as the one above. Actually they are all related, as everything is in reality (OK Alex, I am sure you will suggest otherwise!!). It is one of those days when no-one goes outside who doesn't have to. The wind is ferocious, blowing in powerful, turbulent gusts straight off the Antarctic. There is flooding in Hobart and Huonville. Snow is causing chaos on parts of the road I was driving on in the sunshine, only a couple of weeks ago, north of Hobart. The rain is horizontal, and has been all day and most of last night, lashing the windows and creeping into the bathroom through a poorly designed vent directly above the toilet! My pond is full and the creek is gushing, almost up to the top of its bank. It is 9C which seemed icy when I was out battling with the wheelbarrow and the wood heap but I am very warm inside with just my small, slow combustion fire on low.

And that is the thing..... this wind is very southerly, maybe even a little south-easterly, not the usual north or south westerly. And what that means is that the wind is hitting straight onto the back of my house which is the laundry and (wet) bathroom, instead of the kitchen and lounge room where more of the windows and doors are. The bathroom and laundry are forming a great draught exclusion zone. I knew draughts were a problem with this house but I did not realise how significant they are, despite my efforts at using weather strip and other products to try to fill the gaps around my old windows and doors. I wish I had an answer.

 image

So, what does one do when gardening is cancelled and an inside day is thrust upon us? Cook, that's what..... pea and ham soup, Tamari-toasted seeds and bread.... well not actually make bread yet but read about it in a book I had never really looked at much although I have had it forever.... Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery, published in 1977.

 

image

It is such fun to read a book written in a particular era, about that era, rather than as an historical depiction of an era past, if you see what I am saying!? I was 19 in 1977 and thought I was very modern, no doubt, but now it seems like I am reading about the 19th century, when Elizabeth David talks about all the different flours available, and buying flour from a baker, if you like their bread. There would be parts of Australia nowadays where you would not find a baker making real bread for hundreds of kilometres, never mind asking for a special flour!

image

One very interesting thing she mentions is the use of the exact same idea of the 85% flour that I use and recommend for making my sourdough bread. As with Four Leaf's flour mill, the older, English mills did not remove the germ, but instead just some of the bran, making the flour less course and easier to work with.

 

 

I am passionate about biodiversity and believe it is the answer to many questions related to maintaining and improving health for humans and the planet, as well as adapting to a future of uncertain climatic conditions, worldwide so I revel in Elizabeth David's words describing the huge range of wheat varieties used in different parts of the UK, Europe and America up to and including the 1970's.... I wonder how this compares to today?? .....Then she goes on to discuss equally interesting facts about rye and barley and other grains and how they vary all over the world, making the history of breads a fascinating topic. .... and there's another 500 pages to go.

image

 

Every 20 minutes a little, brightly coloured, plastic and wire-spring bloke does the Samba on my kitchen bench, telling me its time to stir the soup again..... thanks Alex, he makes me laugh every time. Its not every timer that is so entertaining!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Using and re-using vertical space in a fishy kind of way.....

When people just get on and use their initiative like this it re-ignites in me the belief that the answers are there.... all of them.... we just have to work them out and not wait for others to do it for us.

I found this video on Ooooby.... Out Of Our Own Back Yards

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Am I the only one who gets it??

I have been sitting by the fire watching the world's woes presented as unrelated events, each with a different reporter, in a different part of Australia or the world.

First, was the carbon tax.... please tell me if I am wrong but I thought that was to try to help or force (depending on your point of view) industries to look at innovative ways to do their business while making less carbon pollution.... and I thought that was because there seems to be some agreement amongst some levels of government that we should do something about climate change. However, it seems that a carbon tax is just another excuse for immature behaviour amongst politicians, without any discussion on the root cause of why we need one.

Second, was quite a lengthy piece on how the high Australian dollar is making it hard for fruit growers and processors in Victoria to export their goods. In fact, it showed 2,000 perfectly good, 80 year old pear trees being ripped out of the soil. Then the screen was filled with the picture of a supermarket shelf loaded with cheap, foreign, tinned pears(mostly grown in China, they said), packaged with Coles home brand labelling.

Now, to me, naive as it may be, these two items are bound together as if with super-glue and any decent current affairs programme would have been asking serious questions about the dedication of a government, putting itself forward as being tough on climate change, whilst allowing our own fruit growing and processing industries to be sabotaged by cheap, poor quality, foreign fruit being shipped thousands of kilometres across the seas to supermarket shelves, where they sit in tins lined in plastic, instead of in decent, Australian steel (of course steel has its down sides but let's not get side-tracked!!). There needs to be an incentive to buy Australian and someone needs to stand up and explain the connection between all this carbon dioxide in the air, and all these foreign tins of fruit in the shops.

Third, there was an economist explaining that the terrible floods in Queensland back in January were the cause of the bad state of the Australia current account deficit; you see, many coal mines had been either flooded or had access to them cut off by the floods and thus have produced a fraction of their usual coal exports ever since. He was then explaining that all will be up and up (on the graph to nowhere), once that production is back to normal again.

Again I actually naively imagined that coal was one of those industries that maybe should be rethinking its future, now we are all agreed that we are getting tough on climate change... and that getting back to full production and filling those world markets for massive amounts of coal was the whole reason we are having such an affect on our climates.

So, I thought maybe if we stopped importing so much rubbish from China and started eating our own, Australian-grown fruit and veg, then we could break even with this current account deficit thing. And if we started putting solar panels on every roof (in the sunniest country on earth) then we could make electricity even in the floods and we wouldn't need the coal to be mined.

Am I the only person who sees the link between these news items? Perhaps I should send Julia an email and explain the simplicity of the whole thing.... tough action should mean encouraging everyone to grow food, buy Australian and catch the bus.